How do we make worship contextual?

If you were to visit a church in North America today, chances are you would be faced with a choice: contemporary or traditional. Occasionally there might be a third option of “blended.” There might also be additional styles of worship offered (emerging, recovery, Taizé, liturgical, etc.). Faced with these choices, those assembled are practically begged to answer the questions, “What is my preference?” “What do I like?” and “What works for me?”

These choices for worship have come to be expected in many churches. Is there anything wrong with them? Perhaps they are a cultural phenomenon in a society bent on individualization (a symptom of the Burger King ethos where you can “have it your way”). Perhaps they are the church’s most missional effort to reach as many people possible with the gospel of Jesus. However, a church that encourages self-preferential behavior seems to run against the path of discipleship that teaches, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). What style would worship take if those assembled regarded others as better than themselves?

Reframing the style question

When a new church is birthed or when an existing church launches a new opportunity to assemble for worship, do they ask, “Are we going to be traditional, contemporary, or blended?” Do they look at what the largest church in town does and duplicate it? Is there another way to discern what style of worship a church should employ? Maybe a church has decided that offering multiple styles of worship has become divisive and done more harm than good. Perhaps their question is, “How do we move past traditional and contemporary?”

“Traditional,” “contemporary,” and “emerging” are merely labels. There are instances when our labels are not necessarily helpful or accurate. (see also, “How is worship traditional? How is worship contemporary?”) Regardless of their benefit or precision, these styles for worship have developed and the labels have become affixed to the church’s conscience. In order to move past these labels, a better question may be needed: “How do we figure out what our local worship should sound like?”

 

Nairobi statement

How do we makeworship contextual-

“Jesus whom we worship was born into a specific culture of the world. In the mystery of his incarnation are the model and the mandate for the contextualization of Christian worship. God can be and is encountered in the local cultures of our world. A given culture’s values and patterns, insofar as they are consonant with the values of the Gospel, can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship. Contextualization is a necessary task for the Church’s mission in the world, so that the Gospel can be ever more deeply rooted in diverse local cultures.” (Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, 3.1)

The Nairobi Statement reasons that worship, as it dynamically relates to the given culture in which it is enacted, is contextual. Worship cannot be disconnected from the time and place in which it is enacted. Many of the factors pertaining to how worship is offered are determined by its particular context. “We call on all churches to give serious attention to exploring the local or contextual elements of liturgy, language, posture and gesture, hymnody and other music and musical instruments, and art and architecture for Christian worship.” (Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, 6.1) Faithful worship does not ignore the people or culture in which it is located.

 

Suggestions for making worship contextual

To return to our reframing question: “What should our local expression of worship sound like?” Contextual worship makes use of the music, language, and artistic forms of the local culture the church is planted in. This means that Lutheran worship in downtown New Orleans will potentially be radically different than Lutheran worship in rural Montana. Regardless of how radically different they appear in form and content, they both remain faithful enactments of Lutheran worship. The willingness to connect to the surrounding culture and become contextual make their worship faithfully Lutheran, not their predilection for Baroque-era European music. Contextual worship requires rooting into the neighborhood. There are no shortcuts to contextual worship; real, relational, outwardly focused ministry is the only way to discern context. Contextual worship does not imply a disregard for global music or the historical practices of the church.

 

The sounds of a worshiping assembly should be reflective of the culture that it is planted in. The musical gifts present that are present within a local church should be used to make worship contextual. The Holy Spirit, equipping her for ministry, gives these gifts to the local church. Many churches have a preconceived idea that worship should sound a certain way, requiring particular instruments for worship to sound that way. Instead of hiring a drummer or hiring an organist because of the perception of what worship should sound like, worship should sound like what you are.

The sounds of contextual worship, produced by the people that God has gifted to a church, should be current and modern, as well as reach back into the history of our faith.

P.S. For further analysis of how to enact faithful, Lutheran worship that is also transcultural, counter-cultural, and cross-cultural, see Can We Talk? Engaging Worship and Culture.

 

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Weekly Worship Thought – Hurricane Liturgy

hurricane liturgy

As a resident of the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey has made an impression on me. We take storms of this caliber very seriously. So seriously that schools close for multiple days and churches cancel Sunday worship services. We are better safe than sorry. Flooding and dangerous roadways are the biggest concern.

With so many churches canceling worship services on Sunday, there have been several devotions made available for home use. Here is a list of litanies, prayers, and devotions I found for use in times of inclement weather. Feel free to share others that you may know.

Weekly Worship Thought – Taxonomy of Contemporary Worship

I’m convinced that labeling worship isn’t helpful. It puts our gatherings in boxes that they aren’t meant to be in. It creates the illusion that our assemblies are homogenized and that we can get away with using one genre or style that reaches and represents everyone. We should be able to design and implement any order of service with a full, robust toolbox of resources that draw from the best the church has to offer from all time and traditions.

This is why I have issues with labeling worship “contemporary.” It suggests a genre of music, and perhaps a philosophical approach, but is too vague. I’m growing to appreciate the work of C. Michael Hawn in identifying different streams of song in the church today. You can go knee-deep in this idea in his article from The Hymn, “Streams of song: An overview of congregational song in the twenty-first century.”

Here are the seven streams he identifies:

Stream 1—Roman Catholic Liturgical Renewal Song

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Roman Catholics have been finding their voice. This voice is diverse ranging from folk and classical song to African American gospel and various Latino styles. Many of these songs may be found in most Protestant hymnals, adding vitality to liturgy. Some of the key names include David Haas, Michael Joncas, Marty Haugen, James Moore, Cesáreo Gabaréin, Omer Westendorf, Delores Dufner and many more.

Stream 2—Contemporary Classical Hymnody

These are the hymns that follow in the tradition of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Their themes range from creation, ecology, mission of the church, social issues, to worship and the arts. Some of the most important names include Fred Pratt Green, Timothy Dudley Smith, Brian Wren, Carl Daw, Jr., Tom Troeger, Ruth Duck, Shirley Erena Murray, Mary Louise Bringle, and many more.

Stream 3—African American Gospel Song

This streams includes major African American voices including Andraé Crouch, Doris Akers, Margaret Douroux, Edwin Hawkins, James Cleveland, Kirk Franklin, and more.

Stream 4—Urban Gospel Song

Urban Gospel Song writers are represented by the Gaithers, John W. Peterson, and extensions of this song in the UK, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, and Keith Getty.

Stream 5—Folk Hymnody

These songs use an acoustic musical idiom grounded in the folk and protest movements of the 1960s. The theological focus of these songs is on direct language, unvarnished frankness, a social consciousness, and a simple singability that allows everyone to participate.

Stream 6—Pentecostal Song

The roots of CCM/CWM may be found in the Pentecostal movement that began with the Azusa Street Revival (1906) on the west coast. Vineyard, Hillsong, and others.

Stream 7—Ecumenical Global Song

The twenty-first century church is the recipient of songs from the world church—signs that the overseas mission efforts of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries have born much fruit. The former mission fields are sending their songs back to the church in the West. More than two-thirds of Christians now live outside North America and Europe. They have been singing our songs for nearly two centuries and now we have the opportunity to reciprocate by singing the songs of the world church.

Weekly Worship Thought – Inner Power

On Easter Sunday at Faith we only offered one style of worship in our sanctuary services (we offer a Chinese language service in our gym). This was a change from how we normally do Sunday mornings. Normally in the sanctuary we have one Heritage service (organ and choir) and one Gathering service (band-led).

After noticing the low attendance at our Gathering-style Christmas Eve service last year, we decided to experiment. For Easter, we only offered the Heritage style worship service. Why? Because our hunch was that people think Easter (and Christmas) should feel like “church.” Despite what hundreds of thousands of people who go to big-box churches might lead us to believe, in our context, for church to feel like “church” it needs the historical flavors of our tradition. That would be organ, choir, vestments, formality, liturgy, and hymns.

Oddly enough the building was packed and no one asked, “Who took away my worship service?”

This is not new, but the continuation of a documented trend. And here.

What is the point?

I’ve been reading a new book about the emergence of contemporary worship in the church (for an upcoming book review in the ALCM CrossAccent journal). The book chronicles the Anaheim Vineyard church as it swelled in growth through the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the components that are considered today to be the backbone of contemporary worship were synthesized at this church (a continuous set of worship songs; intimate, God-directed language; openness to God through music, etc.).

As I read the book, the one thing I am struck by is what many mainline churches have left by the wayside in their adoption of contemporary worship practices: the work of the Holy Spirit. The Anaheim Vineyard was a pentecostal-ish church with the gifts of the Holy Spirit on display in their worship. Speaking in tongues, prophetic words, healings, and other charismatic signs were regular parts of their worship. Participants would show up to church an hour before the service in expectation for God to move. I’m left wondering if we are missing something?

My impression is that, for the most part, mainline churches that employ contemporary worship practices have “taken the meat and spit out the bone” of the Anaheim Vineyard experience of worship (or maybe we just kept the bone). We have hijacked the parts of their worship that we think (hope) will cause people to encounter God (and attract them), but tossed out the questionable parts that don’t jive with our theology or make us squirm. It reminded me of 2 Timothy 3:5, “They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it.” (Forgive me for pulling a sentence out of context.)

What is the inner power of contemporary worship? What is the inner power of any worship?

If the church is not filled with the breath of God’s Spirit as it worships, regardless of the style, there can be no inner power.

The Future of ELCA Worship

The Future of ELCA WorshipOn October 19-21 I will be in Chicago for a trip to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide offices. It is an honor to be asked by Rev. Kevin Strickland, Director of Worship for the ELCA, to participate in the Consultation on the Ongoing Renewal of Worship in the Church. We will be discerning what the continually unfolding renewal of worship in our churches might look like in the years ahead. As I prepare, I have been reflecting on what I long for in my own life and in my own ministry context. Where do I need to experience growth in my pilgrimage as a disciple following along the Jesus path? In what ways do I want to see the worship I design and lead stretched and deepened? Here are three areas I want to discover and grow into the future – both personally and corporately:

  1. Learn to Worship – I realize that stating a desire to learn to worship can sound bizarre coming from a professional church musician. Perhaps a better proposition would be that I desire for all my assumptions about worship to be challenged. Asking the right questions can peck away at our engrained assumptions about worship. Where is my understanding of worship one-dimensional when in reality it is three-dimensional? When am I distracted from truly worshiping in the midst of the assembly? Why don’t I make room for quiet and stillness? Where is God present when I assume God’s absence? How do I faithfully prepare my heart for worship before every assembly? Why do I suppose the living, breathing, moving God of heaven and earth is restricted to my preferences and tastes? What would a Sunday without music or speech look like? Where have adiaphora taken place of the central things? Renewing worship means asking critical questions about why our worship is the way it is.
  1. Learn to Feast – I have long felt that communion is more feast than funeral. Yet we more often than not connect the weekly Eucharist to Jesus’ last supper, betrayal, and subsequent execution. What about every other meal Jesus ate? What about the food with tax collectors, and the miraculously expanding fish and loaves, and the meal with two disciples at Emmaus, and the post-resurrection fish breakfast tacos? Jesus was doing something significant in reconstituting the Passover, no doubt. Christ is our Paschal Victim/Victor. But I think there is something important beneath it all: Jesus ate with people. Our celebrations around God’s table are connected to every meal Jesus ever ate – including the everlasting meal to come in God’s eternal Kingdom. What does the ritual action of feasting look like? How can communion become more feast than funeral?
  2. Learn to Converge – We are trapped by the need to clearly label and categorize our worship. Using worship as a tool to target a specific group of people produces consumers, not disciples. Instead of being preoccupied with the copyright date of the songs we sing (as if church music had an expiration date), we should be singing the best and broadest types of music from God’s people in all places and times. In doing so our worship becomes countercultural (perhaps counter to the surrounding culture, perhaps counter to the prevailing church culture). Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way. Through singing broad types of music we also become cross-cultural and can see God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own. This is the heart of convergent worship. Convergent worship is not a style. It is a mindset. Convergent worship is the coming together of the historic and the contemporary at every level of worship (not just the music) to create maximum opportunities for engaging worshipers with the presence of God. Convergent worship expresses a willingness to reopen all questions about worship and to learn from the entire worshipping community. Convergent worship has a healthy respect for the past while maintaining an absolute commitment to contemporary relevance.

These are the areas where I see a need for growth in my own personal and corporate worship. What about you – what does the future of worship look like to you?

Evaluating Worship

(HT: Lester Ruth and Dean McIntyre from whom I borrowed)

(Download: EVALUATING WORSHIP Questionnaire)

Worship is always being evaluated. Although it may be informal, everyone that is sent forth from an assembled worshiping body has evaluated that service in one way or another. Evaluations might be based on any number of things: the number of people in attendance, the length of the sermon, the pronunciation of the lector, or the number of flubbed notes by the musician.

These questions are designed to move beyond surface-level evaluations into the deeper substance of worship. These questions help us consider things that are essential for all Christian worship, things that are faithful to a Lutheran heritage, and things that are biblically rooted. As a means of evaluation these questions can be applied to all types of worship regardless of time, contextual location, leadership, demographics, or style.

After each statement, select the response that best applies to your church/service. 

1 – Strongest agreement

2 – More agreement than disagreement

3 – Neutral, no response, don’t know

4 – More disagreement than agreement

5 – Strongest disagreement


  1. Our worship is richly Trinitarian (names the Trinity and all three Persons). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  2. God’s story of salvation is central to our worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  3. The ministry of word and sacrament is at the core of our worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  4. The primary symbols of communion table, baptismal font, and ambo/pulpit are present in our environment for worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  5. There is enough Scripture and scriptural content in our worship to tell a full, broad, deep, rich story of God’s salvation. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  6. Our worship is reflective of the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, risen and active today. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  7. The content of our prayers is true to Christ’s character and the breadth of his Lordship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  8. Our worship seeks the full, conscious, and active participation of all people assembled. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  9. Our people are filled with the Holy Spirit in worship (they talk about what the Spirit tends to talk about and are filled with love). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  10. Our worship is sensitive to the needs of visitors and guests and takes their participation in worship seriously. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  11. The leaders of our assembly are reflective of the Body of Christ that transcends class, age, ethnicity, and gender. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  12. The language of our worship includes a balance of addressing God and addressing people. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  13. Our worship helps the congregation experience its relationship with God. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  14. Our worship is contextually relevant to the culture and setting of our people and community. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  15. Our worship is a feast for the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  16. Our worship is filled with life, vitality, and joy. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  17. Our worship offers opportunities for reflection, confession, and lament. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  18. Our worship welcomes and calls people into the baptismal life (united with the death and resurrection of Jesus). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  19. The word of God, read, preached, and sung by the assembly, is essential to our order of service. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  20. Our worship regularly experiences Christ’s presence at the table with bread and wine. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  21. Our worship sends us out as disciples of Jesus, following his mission of serving, blessing, and loving the world. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5

Worship @ Synod Assembly 2012

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This year I had the honor and privilege of being part of the team that designed and led worship for Synod Assembly. Every year the Gulf Coast Synod of the ELCA (gulfcoastsynod.org) gathers for business, worship, andfellowship. The Assembly was May 11-12, 2012 and it was hosted at Lakewood United Methodist Church in northwest Houston. The team that planned worship met for several months working on all the details that go into planning an event for the whole synod. We had to design the services (including selecting the Bible readings, songs, prayers, and other elements), create and edit the worship folders (which we can proudly say were all printed onsite in the Faith office), and recruit and instruct all the worship leaders and assistants for the services.

The Synod Assembly this year was a huge success! The worship services were joyful celebrations of who God is and what God has done. It can be a challenge and stretch to create worship services for people coming from such a broad geographic context. How do you create a worship service for rural farmers in Brenham, suburban Houstonians, and urban folks from New Orleans, all assembled together at the same time? As the team discussed designing worship for such a diverse crowd, we found the Assembly to be the perfect place to celebrate what makes us each unique. As we sang each other’s songs, we realized we have much more in common than different.

One of the highlights was the Holy Communion service on Friday evening. All of the worship services were designed in a convergent style: many diverse languages, music, and ritual actions converging together in a prayerful way. Friday’s service used the service music from Setting 7 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, all sung in Spanish and led by a Mariachi Band! After the Hymn of the Day (using the organ), we participated in a Thomas Mass, which is a form of Lutheran worship originating from Helsinki, Finland. During the Thomas Mass, the people assembled were invited to move freely around the room and interact with several stations. They could serve and be served using a basin and towel for foot and hand washing, write intercessions for the world on a banner, create mosaic artwork for a communion paten, offer prayers of confession and receive forgiveness, receive anointing for healing, and leave an offering for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. We then celebrated the holy meal together around God’s table. This service was a beautiful picture of diversity and unity and I’m sure it will have a profound impact on me for years to come.

Pictures from the Holy Communion service taken by Larry Bose. A complete sketch of the order of worship is below.

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Order of Service

GATHERING

Prelude from Mariachis

Recognition of First Call Theological Education Pastors

Kyrie & Gloria – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Prayer of the Day

WORD

First Reading – 1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8 (chanted with shruti box)

Second Reading – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Gospel Acclamation – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Gospel Reading – John 6:35, 41-51

Sermon

Hymn of the Day 480 O Bread of Life from Heaven (Organ)

St. Thomas Mass Stations

Sharing Christ’s Peace

MEAL

Dialogue/Preface

Santo, santo, santo – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Thanksgiving at the Table

Lord’s Prayer

Invitation to the Table

Cordero de Dios – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Communion Song 485 I Am the Bread of Life (Piano/guitars)

Communion Song 472 Eat This Bread (Guitar/Taize)

Prayer after Communion

SENDING

Blessing

Sending Song 618 Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer (Organ)

Dismissal

Postlude (Mariachis)

Beyond "Times New Roman" – Ideas on Projection in Worship


Slide1(On Saturday, May 12, 2012 I gave a workshop at the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod Assembly. These are the notes/images from that workshop!)

Introduction

  • The video screen has become the new stained glass in 21st Century churches.
  • Why projection?
    • We live in a visual culture. The common currency for communication has shifted from text to images.
    • “It’s not either image, or text. It’s both/and, image and text. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was a man (image) living among us. He was also text (the Word become flesh).” ~ Leonard Sweet, The Gospel According to Starbucks

Basic components

How to make a great looking PowerPoint slide

  • Don’t just throw a Times New Roman font on a white screen! Creating beautiful slides is intensive and time-consuming.
  • Helpful Guidelines:
    • Don’t overload the slides with content (MAX: 6 lines of lyric, 6 words to summarize point).
    • Limit your font choices to 2. Choose fonts that are easy to read and use the styles consistently throughout your presentation.
    • Backgrounds:
      • Not distracting, but not too simple.
      • Choose a background that will attract the viewer’s eye to the words. If your background requires the words to have an outline and a drop shadow to be readable, it is no longer attracting the viewer’s eye to the words.
      • Use the negative space (Dark background/light text; light background/dark text).
      • Use imagery that tells the story of the text.
      • Avoid clipart at all costs. Use stock photography or artwork.
    • Use simple transitions (cross fade).

The move toward presentation software

  • CCLI integration, Bible integration, moving backgrounds, announcements, real-time editing, PowerPoint integration, etc.
  • EASY WORSHIP, ProPresenter4, MediaShout, ProWorship, etc.

Web resources for graphics

Q&A

Resources:

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