We recently got back from a trip to Florida. We traveled to my graduation/commencement ceremony at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL (www.IWS.edu). We also managed to do 5 days at Disney World for family vacation, but that’s another story.
I started the Doctor of Worship Studies program in 2007, after a year off from completing my MA in Worship. Interestingly, I began my studies the first session after the passing of Bob Webber, the founder of the school and worship guru. It was a heavy atmosphere, but profoundly formative for me regardless. I got turned on to Webber’s writings in the late 90s in Worship Leader magazine. His monthly column always drew my attention as I began to wade into the waters of leading worship. There was a depth to his writing on worship that attracted me and made me want more. Before finishing seminary, I knew I wanted to continue my studies at IWS.
Here are the big factors that impressed me about IWS and made it one of the best experiences of my life:
The focus on worship (not just music). It is unusual and unique for a school to focus that greatly on one area of study.
The professors. I received instruction from Andy Hill, Lester Ruth, Connie Cherry, Jeff Barker, and Reggie Kidd. They’ve said stuff that has stuck with me to this day and shaped how I do ministry. Not only were the profs great individually, but the courses were all team taught by 2 faculty – usually from diverse denominational heritages. It was so helpful to see unity and respect modeled in everything.
The communal feel. Sharing meals, singing in chapel, and working on practicum projects in a group. You get connected to people in a very intimate way – far beyond just lecture in class.
The diversity. The cohort I did my learning with was a great mixed-bag: Wesleyan, United Methodist, Mennonite, Anglican, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Charismatic, Foursquare, Evangelical Free, etc. The variety of experiences and backgrounds creates a layer of richness that you can’t really get any other way.
The curriculum. Every course in the doctoral program was fascinating to me: history of worship, renewal of the arts in worship, the liturgical calendar, and sacred actions (sacraments). Every course was very self-directed, especially in the final projects. You could take a direction that works for you and run with it. The practicum experiences were also invaluable. Planning worship services with a diverse group in a short time frame was challenging and inspiring.
A big THANKS to all who participated, especially Michael Nelson for hosting our gatherings!
Big Takeaway from Session 5: The general consensus was that Theophilus does need “members” (although “member” may not be the best term to describe what we mean). Members of Theophilus are simply those that belong to the community. The discussion also led to an agreement that there should be certain behaviors that are expected of those that belong to the community. Some of the possible expected behaviors that were discussed include 1) embracing a baptismal spiritual journey, 2) embracing diversity and welcoming new people, 3) investing in Grace Groups and the community life of Theophilus, and 4) discovering your unique spiritual gifts and using them to participate in the ministry of Theophilus.
Several of us had a great time reflecting on the question,“What does it mean to be a church community?” on Wednesday night. You can download the handout that guided our discussion so you can follow along: Session 4 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 4: We dove into some biblical and theological explanations of what the “church” is. The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit. No one really decides for themselves to become a part of the church. The Spirit of God is always drawing people into community first. The church’s model for community comes from the Trinity. The Trinity is our model for a relational, organic community of interconnected, mutually submissive relationships. The mission of the church is wrapped up in the narrative story of a Three-in-One (communal) God that is re-creating everything into a new and perfect community.
We also completed a comparison of how three different churches handle their membership practices. Several values and practices are beginning to emerge in defining how Theophilus might help people belong to our community:
It might be helpful for new Grace Groups to be created around new “members.”
A process for discerning whether “membership” is where God is leading someone might be a helpful thing to offer (but without a specific time frame expected for completion).
If a process for discernment is suggested, it would be helpful if the steps are easy to understand and communicated well.
It seems that regardless of people’s “membership” status, everyone should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate (with no guilt attached for not becoming a “member”).
If you’d like to follow along you can download the notes from Session 3 here: Session 3 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 3: We took some time to read an article called “A Rite of Passage“ (p. 12-16) that describes baptismal rituals in the early church. The symbolism and community participation involved in this rite would have had a profound effect on the Christian community. It has many similarities to modern day initiation ceremonies in social organizations. We then reviewed “Church Bs” membership practice for our comparison. This church talks about membership being similar to “teammates,” which is a helpful analogy using modern language. We also wrestled with questions around how to contextualize membership in an “open source/wiki” world. How do you help people belong to a community without setting expectations that are either too low or too high?
“Exploring the Future Church” is a series of discussions around the question, “What does it mean to be in a faith community?” These sessions are the foundation of the ministry intervention for my doctoral thesis (Discerning the Meaning of Church Membership at Theophilus). If you’d like to follow along you can download the notes from Session 2 here: Session 2 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 2: God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15) was meant to be a blessing for all people (Genesis 12:3). The fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all people is realized through the Holy Spirit working in and through the church (beginning at Pentecost, leading to today, and into the future). There is some difficulty in explaining ideas like “covenant” and “Kingdom” today. They are foreign terms for most people. God’s Kingdom and covenant can be simply understood as “God’s love working to bless all people and bring peace.” When it comes to the church, people are wary of joining institutions that are interested in their own preservation. The foundation of the church has to be authentic and genuine relationships.
I recently read Reggie Kidd’s With One Voice. So much good stuff in it about Christ as our singing Savior – our Chief Liturgist. As we sing our songs of corporate praise and adoration here on the earth, we’re merely echoing and pointing to the greater song that Christ is already singing to the Father as He leads all the saints in song.
The challenging stuff is about the different voices of Christ and His body (Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers). Congregations develop their own nuances and styles of corporate worship appropriate to the people they’re made up of and the surrounding culture. That’s the part of Christology we call “incarnational.”
“But we say something profound about the gospel itself when we stay a family and refuse to allow ourselves to become insular, a closed-in group. By God’s grace, we can nurture the good we’ve inherited from our family tree, further its contribution to the larger body of Christ, and at the same time appreciate – and perhaps learn from – folks who sing Christ’s song differently.” (p. 156-157)
Keeping a congregation opened-out to the variation of Christ’s song is tough. It’s too easy to just go to the top 25 songs from CCLI and create a set list every week. It’s too easy to just stick with what the denomination prints. It’s too easy to just keep doing what the Pastor or Worship Leader likes and prefers.
I think in most cases, a pleasing variety of Christ’s songs are present in any given congregation. Just from the people that are already there, the music of their hearts and backgrounds. The tough work is mining it. It means building relationships and learning about people. “What does it sound like for your heart to be engaged by God in worship?” That should be a frequent question from servant-leaders.
And then comes the skill of creating a collage representative of what God has already knit together in the congregation. And on top of that, the task of patiently explaining and teaching everyone that “It’s OK if you didn’t like, or get, or enjoy the musical offering/palette today. Rest assured that it was beneficial to someone else in this Body. And rest assured that it’s not about you.”
There are 3 ideas/images/sounds that are lingering with me after this session has finished:
1. Professor Reggie Kidd made this statement (paraphrased) in lecture one day: “You and I don’t make it through each day because of our good looks and accomplishments. The only reason we can make it is because we have a High Priest continually interceding for us in heaven. His prayers are continually offered up on our behalf. He was completely human and identifies with our struggles and sufferings.”
2. The DWS 704 class has the privilege of designing and presenting a Eucharistic worship service of healing. Our class focused on the theme of “Set Free to Serve.” The motif of chains was carried throughout the service. As worshipers entered the space they were handed a 6 in. piece of chain. As a response to the Word we invited everyone to come to the front of the room and cast their chains in a large metal receptacle. The jarring sound of the chains slamming into the container was powerful.
3. One of the other practicum presentations featured a dramatic presentation of Christ’s death and resurrection from the grave. But instead of ending there, the person portraying Jesus went on to become our Great Liturgist (“in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2:12), victoriously delivering the bread and the wine to the very table we gather around to share the holy meal. The reality of Jesus’ presence at the table has never been more felt. The connection of the holy meal to the resurrection (not just the death) of Jesus was heavy. I was left with the image of Jesus presiding forever over the celebration feast of heaven, as well as the table each time we commune.
p. 81 – “Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places. The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”
p. 86 – “It is essential to be able to discern…the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.”
Ouch. Yikes. This is good medicine for us in the worship leadership field. Most of us get in the game because we like to perform and we’re good at it. We like the spotlight. We like to feed on how people respond to God’s revelation in worship. Most of us that change employers go from smaller to bigger (upward mobility). But is it any wonder that we’re called to the opposite? Just look at the founder/leader/Savior of our religion. He borrowed everything like a bum and died between some thieves. That is the definition of downward mobility. And if I say I’m a follower/disciple of his, I shouldn’t expect any different if I’m truly learning to follow him. But there is a shiny pearl at the bottom of the muck – resurrection. The eternal illumination of Jesus’ presence and the restoration of the peace once found in the Garden.