Three Levels of Participation in Worship

Don Saliers (in Music in Christian Worship) presented the idea of three levels of participation in worship. The first level of participation is the actual doing of the liturgy (singing, praying, reading, etc.). The second level of participation is the same actions of the first level, but doing them as the church. This level implies that worshipers are performing the functions of the liturgy not for their own fulfillment, but looking to the interests and preferences of others. Worship is done in community with those in the local Body of Christ, with the Body of Christ through the ages past and yet to come, and with the Body of Christ that is marginalized. Finally, the third level of participation in worship includes entering into the mystical communion of the Triune God. Here our lives join the divine life of the three-in-one God.

Most pastoral musicians spend the majority of their time and energy at the first level: the design and logistics of actually doing the liturgy. The second level is where I struggle. How do you nicely communicate to someone (or everyone) they are being selfish and narcissistic in worship, and not lose your job? How do you model worship that places the preferences of others over the preferences of self? We are lucky to observe glimpses of the third level. Often times joining our lives with the dance of the Trinity sounds like something only possible in the world to come. Perhaps it is also helpful to think of these levels of worship participation in reverse. Consider that every believer has unity and communion with the Trinity that is established through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Because we each have unity with God, in Jesus, we can share unity and communion with each other as brothers and sisters, fellow heirs of Christ’s kingdom. Finally, it is out of our unity with God and communion with each other (saints gone-by, yet to come, and forgotten) that the liturgy finds its voice and actions. The first level of actually doing the liturgy should only be approached in the knowledge that our faith is a gift of grace, and that faith is to be lived out in community.