Weekly Worship Thought – The Crisis of Worship

In his book, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, Robert Webber identifies three crises facing worship today (p. 90-91):

  1. The crisis of content
  2. The crisis of structure
  3. The crisis of style

The crisis of content has to do with the story we tell in worship. His point is that worship should both remember and anticipate. Worship leads us to remember the mighty acts of God’s salvation in history as well as anticipate a new creation. The content of worship often falls short in providing the full breadth of God’s action in creation, incarnation, and re-creation.

The crisis of structure has to do with how the story is narrated. If worship is to remember and anticipate God’s story, it is best accented in the Four Fold historical model of worship that hinges on word and table. God’s word helps us remember, God’s table helps us anticipate. This is not to say that readings and preaching can’t cause anticipation, and that the Eucharist can’t cause remembrance. Word and table are less a rigid framework that stifles and more an acknowledgment of how God comes to us in worship (and in examples throughout the Bible, such as the Emmaus Road story).

The crisis of style has to do with how the content and structure of worship are communicated. Webber suggests that the content and structure of worship should be made indigenous to the local setting. I would use the word contextual. Style is less important than content and structure. Appropriate use of style makes God’s story more readily heard in any given culture.

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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.

Philosophy of Worship, part 4


Philosophy of Worship4. Worship should employ a wide range of styles.

There are as many styles of worship as there are tastes of music. Since we are the church [in a catholic sense – the universal church] we should use as many styles of music/art that we can. Of course this is all relative to the demographic of each congregation. If a congregation is contextually made up of X people [X = African, Korean, Native American, gangstas, cowboys, etc.] and serves a community that is primarily made up of X people, then X style of music/art should be used. Context is key.

But we are still a universal body of Believers. And something/sometime in worship should speak to and prepare the worshiper for that day when all tongues will be united in one song. What will the style of the song be? What language will it be in? We don’t really know [and perhaps it doesn’t matter], but we should be preparing ourselves for just about anything as we approach that day.

The church is not only made up of our brothers and sisters across the globe, but also across time. We need to be historically connected with our brothers and sisters who served God to insure that the message of Christ made it to us. We can do this by singing the songs they wrote and preserving the art they produced in service to God.

In my opinion this is one of the reasons why the church is in such sad shape today [from a modern/American perspective]. Good chunks of the church have failed to recognize and celebrate their past. Sacred liturgies, prayers, songs, rituals, calendars/seasons, creeds, etc. have been abandoned. We have dissected ourselves from the root from which we grew. We can learn something from those who walked before us. They worshiped the same God we do, they confessed the same faith, and they struggled the same struggles we do. And their songs/art are expressions of what they felt walking on the same path we find ourselves walking on.

Philosophy of Worship, part 3


Philosophy of Worship3. Worship should seek diversity and encourage it.

God is diverse in taste. God loves spicy Latin worship. God loves chicken fried Southern worship. God loves fancy-shmancy upper class worship. And the diversity represented in the world also represents the diversity of worship styles and forms. Biblical case for God’s love of a diversity of styles of worship:

Acts 2:1-12

The majority of participants in the Pentecost experience could have communicated in and understood Greek. But, God wanted them to hear the words in their own language. God wants to speak and communicate with us in our most native and heart-felt tongues. God wants us not only to hear and understand, but to feel and know. And I think just as God spoke through them in a variety of languages, God desires to be spoken to and worshiped through a variety of languages both verbally and musically/stylisticly.

Don’t forget though that worship is not dependent on style. We should be able to reach a place of authentic worship despite the style of music/form being used. If you say that you can’t worship without a certain style/form, then you’re really confessing to the weakest type of spirituality…one that is completely limited to our own desires.

A diversity of styles should be encouraged in worship in order to teach people to adapt in worship. What if we were all forced to worship in a culture other than our own? Would you be lost spiritually, not able to find a way to connect with God? Or would you be able to adapt?

Philosophy of Worship, part 2


Philosophy of Worship2. Worship should seek to glorify God – not us.

Worship that glorifies us sounds like this:

  • The worship was ok today, but I wasn’t really into that one song.
  • What was up with that guitar today, it was way too much.
  • The message was good, but the pastor’s shirt wasn’t really workin for him.
  • The style of the music just wasn’t what I like, I wish they did more _______ [your prefered style].

Worship that seeks to glorify God gets past all the trappings of our human nature. Instead of centering on what the worship does for us, we think about what we offer to God. When the main concern of services/gatherings of worship is “what did I get out of it?” or “what did I like about it?” we become the focus of our worship. The point of the service is to please ME.

Worship that seeks to glorify God, seeks to please God. God’s pleasure is the primary focus of the worshiper. God’s story is the primary place of attention. The point of the worship experience isn’t for me to get fed/hyped/filled/pleased. The point of the worship experience is for God to receive a sacrifice that is pleasing. What pleases God?

Some practical steps toward seeking to glorify God in your worship:

  • spend time in prayer before entering any worship experience…pray for the eyes of your heart only to be set upon God
  • don’t sing the words to every song in corporate worship…read/reflect/pray through what you’re actually saying to/about God
  • frequently worship God in styles of music/liturgy that you’re not familiar with…the less one-dimensional we are, the better