You probably see the same things on social media that I see. Ever increasingly, when it comes time to compose the prayers of intercession for weekly worship, all I have to do is open Facebook to see what we should be lifting up in prayer. Disturbing posts like this have become all too common in my feed:
According to Nairobi, one thing worship does is stand against the prevailing attitudes and assumptions of the culture when they don’t align with Jesus’ gospel.
“Worship calls us to alternative visions, questioning and critiquing culture. Praising God may be at odds with what the surrounding culture deems worthy of praise. Worship needs to challenge us to live into the freedom we receive in Christ, a freedom from all that defies God. The counter- cultural lens asks us to reflect upon what in worship does not look and sound like the cultures we take for granted.” (“Can We Talk?: Engaging Worship and Culture,” p. 3)
Worship at Faith this Sunday will be counter-cultural by having the assembly sing in 4 different languages (Shona, Arabic, Chinese, and English). Out of the 8 pieces of music that will be used in worship, only 1 was composed in the United States. The other 7 all come from different corners of the world.
God’s kingdom has no borders or official language, besides the language of love.
“Baptismal unity will never be that of an “insider” group. Baptism, which constitutes the Church, also calls Christians to identify in solidarity with all people. Its celebration will therefore have certain counter-cultural elements as well. The poor will be baptized with a least as great a dignity as the rich. Women and men, children and adults, and people from all ethnic/class/caste backgrounds will stand here on equal footing, equally in need of God’s mercy, equally gifted with the outpoured Spirit. Baptism, which creates members of the local community, also at the same time creates these people as member of the one universal Body of Christ. Baptism calls us to unity, not to division.” Chicago Statement on Worship and Culture, Lutheran World Federation, 2.3.
This week I will begin to lead our worship band through some discussion using the new resource: Can We Talk? Engaging Worship and Culture. This resource is a type of study guide to help churches practically flesh out how and why worship intersects with culture. It uses the Nairobi Statement as a lens to view worship. Although our worship band mainly provides the music for the service, it is helpful to think about worship as a whole and how our music serves it. We will have some discussion about what worship looks like (how is our space used and what can visual arts do?) sounds like (music and the proclamation of God’s word), and how worship engages mind, body, and spirit through ritual practices like prayer, the sacraments, and blessings. I was thrilled to be a contributing author for this resource and highly recommend checking it out.
One of the projects I’m currently working on is a fresh, practical application of the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture. If you’re not familiar with this document from the Lutheran World Federation, you can find it here. This statement has 4 main ideas:
Worship is transcultural.Certain elements of Christian worship transcend all cultures, binding us together across time and place. By lifting up the transcultural elements of our worship, we can keep the holy things central in our assemblies. Here are some examples of things that transcend all cultures in worship:
Scripture is read.
The waters of Holy Baptism wash us.
The meal of Holy Communion is shared.
Worship is contextual.Certain elements of Christian worship adapt to the context they are in. The basic idea behind being contextual in worship is using what you’ve got where you are. In other words, the worship of a big cathedral church in a metropolitan area need not look the same as the worship of a small church in rural Montana. It is OK that they do not look, sound, or feel the same. Here are some examples of how worship can adapt to different contexts:
There is no single or preferred sacred language. The language of the local people is always appropriate in worship.
Music is reflective of the surrounding culture.
Local customs can be adapted for use in worship (think “Go Texan” Sunday).
Worship is countercultural.Praising God may be at odds with what the surrounding culture deems worthy of praise. Some parts of our worship will stand in defiance to the world. Here are some examples of how worship can meet opposition in the surrounding culture:
Jesus welcomes all with open arms, where the surrounding culture may seek to reject those who don’t fit.
God speaks in silence, where the surrounding culture prefers noise and hurry.
Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way.
Worship is cross-cultural. The church is gathered into one from many times and places. Throughout scripture God is encountered in the “other.” Our worship should give us chances to experience the strange/stranger and find God’s presence in everyone. Here are some examples of how worship can cross over cultures:
We can imagine more of God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own.
We can hear the gospel in cultural stories besides our own.
We can exercise humility and sacrifice by singing the songs of cultures besides our own.
Stay tuned for more as I continue to think about this…