I admit it. I am a worship snob. They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but a lot of knowledge is worse. And the same goes for experience as well. Knowing what one wants in worship, and having experienced excellent worship in the past, makes it difficult to settle for anything less. There are seven attributes of worship that are important to me, and unfortunately they are scarce in most United Methodist worship settings.
- A strong focus on gratitude and thanksgiving
- Balanced prayer — confession and pardon, intercession, petition, thanksgiving, adoration, and blessing
- Affirmation of the faith by the community
- Thoughtful interpretation
- Invitation to discipleship and growth
- Consecration through the sacraments
Focus on Gratitude and Thanksgiving
We call it “celebrating” worship for reason — we have so much to be thankful for, but often gratitude gets relegated to a brief doxology following the morning offering. The goodness of God — the GREATNESS of God — gets lost in a miasma of announcements, performances, perfunctory prayers, readings, recitations, and rote ritual. Energy suffers, passion dissipates, and people leave unmoved and unchanged. This happens most readily when the focus of worship shifts off of God onto us. There are glimpses of gratitude and thankfulness breaks through in dribs and drabs. But the worship that fills my soul and frees my spirit is all about gratitude to God.
A Balance of Prayer
Worship is the brief time when the whole congregation (or, at least, a representative sample) gathers together as community in Christ. Corporate prayer is at the heart of a faith communities sense of identity and purpose. We cannot confess and receive God’s forgiveness together and not be moved. We cannot lift our prayers of intercession and petition without entering into one another’s lived reality. We cannot offer prayers of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving without sharing a vision of God’s goodness. We cannot share signs of peace and blessing without extending a caring heart. Prayer makes us a unique and counter-cultural community. It redefines us and makes us one. Where the pastor does all the praying, or prayer is excised to make room for other stuff, worship loses much of its power for me.
Where do I begin! A ‘moment of silence’ for United Methodists generally lasts about 13 seconds and often has organ music softly playing in the background. Listening for God is every bit as important as what we have to say to God, but we seldom grant equal time. There is so much crammed into our worship time (hour) that we are much too busy to listen. People get itchy with too much silence, so we give them as little as possible (and heaven help us if we broadcast — there is no way we can allow even three seconds of dead air time). The problem is, we need to quiet our hearts, center our spirits, and attend to the gentle proddings of the Holy Spirit. Good luck doing that when all the bells and whistles (and choirs and liturgical dancers and drama groups and praise bands) are blaring full blast. You may be picking up on my subtle opinion, but for me to be fully present in worship, I need a good measure of silence.
Affirmation of Faith By the Community
‘Liturgy’ means ‘the work of the people.’ It is not enough to go and have worship done ‘at’ us and ‘for’ us — we need to ‘do’ worship together. We need to pray, sing, witness, read scripture, confess, praise, give thanks, and affirm our faith TOGETHER. It is why we gather together, and when someone else does is representationally for the congregation, something significant is lost. Creeds, affirmations, and responsive psalter readings are falling from favor, and many congregational worship leaders have abandoned them altogether. The corporate affirmations of our faith remind us of who we are, challenge us to reflect on what we believe, and help us to learn the core tenets of our faith.
When I enter the sanctuary, my attention turns to God. As I pray, sing, listen to the scriptures being read, and engage in other worship practices, I am constantly reflecting on who God is, what God’s will is — for me individually as well as for the church and world — and what is expected of me as a Christian disciple seeking to live faithfully in the world. I don’t need to be entertained, or wowed, or impressed. I want to hear thoughtful insights based on sound theology and good exegesis. I want to be challenged in my thinking. I want to be inspired by the story and motivated to change for the better. I want my intelligence respected and my spirit provoked. I love questions a lot more than simplistic answers, and I like a good open ended story much better than an empty platitude. I love to listen to people who obviously love God, love God’s Word, and love the challenge of exploring all the mysteries of God.
Invitation to Discipleship and Growth
What does the Lord expect of us? What challenge does the faith make to our individual and corporate status quos? What am I willing to take a stand for? What commitment am I willing to make to grow in my Christian discipleship? These are the kinds of questions I want to be confronted with every time I worship. I want to be expected to ‘stand up for Jesus.’ I want the claim of Christ on my life to be stirred up each and every week. I do not want to leave worship the same as I entered in. I do not want to be comfortable, complacent, coddled or complimented. I want to be challenged and encouraged. That makes worship cook!
Consecration Through the Sacraments
I cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper too often. I cannot experience too many baptisms, and I love any and all invitation to remember my baptism. These are two of the essential practices that define me as a member of the body of Christ. They inspire me. They humble me. They make me proud. They make me want to be a better person. And the remind me that I am not alone — ever.
I don’t want anything fancy. In fact, I basically just want… the basics. What’s sad is that I have such a hard time finding these things. I find good music and professional preaching, entertaining performances and interesting topics — in the best situations. Unfortunately, I also find an abundance of uninspired sermons, lackluster singing, embarrassed appeals for money and volunteers, and a lot of going through the motions. Like I said, I’m a snob.
What is it that makes worship come alive for you?
Categories: Congregational Life, worship
My name is Joe and I’m a preacher. (Ironic, how close that is to what I used to say; “… an alcoholic and drug addict.” lol) United Methodist and late Boomer. Conservative when it comes to sin but Liberal with grace. More Christian than religious (yes, there’s a BIG difference!).
You’ve got good ideas. The first hard part is the historical challenge of Acts 2:42-47 — finding a crowd who enjoys those things in the same proportion as you do without interrupting your spiritual reverie.
And the 2nd hard part is who to do what for an encore. Many people would enjoy the experience you describe if they were properly prepped for it — once. The freedom, the strangeness, the graceful liturgy (carefully staged by someone – who? – has to remain conscious of the demands of the time and place and elements and therefore cannot freely enjoy them personally). And then what? “Poof!’ and we dirft away happily and somehow magically reappear together where and when? Who will sing? Who will pray? Who is sick and needs a visit?
Obviously the 1st Great Commandment is to love God. To celebrate his greatness, his goodness, and to grow into his image. These things take more effort than a dreamy appreciation of his undefinable awesomeness. They take molding into a form.
And we all know the 2nd Great Commandment requires us to love our neighbor, and functionally speaking, that’s the 2nd purpose we gather as the church. More forming.
Congratulations on knowing what worship should be like. Now, get up there and make it happen, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday — without it becoming boring. I’m not trying to quench your spirit; just helping you to see the challenge. Can you personally stage such a service of worship? “Hi, how are you? Your coffee’s ready and the thermostat is set and your pillow is plumped. Let me play through the first verse while I start the Powerpoint and lead your singing before I preach a novel approach with thoughtful perspective. In our antique building, funded by a bunch of people who might or might not bring you back for a 2nd act? May I light your candles while we close with a new liturgy I wrote?”
Oh, I forgot — no announcements because everything moves freely. And it will do so in the big building that is freely supplied and freely cleaned.
I’m not saying it can’t be done. What I AM saying is that 2,000 years of Christians have tried to recapture that Acts 2 church experience. 2,000 years of arm-waving and word-mouthing preachers and diligently-serving pastors have struggled to reveal the living God to the world. The stage is set for you to move the Church from your dream to earthly reality.
Email me when you’re ready and I’ll give you a tryout in the two churches I serve. Have a God-filled day!
Oh, Joe, don’t get me wrong. Simple and easy are two different things. We have created the beast we’re trying to tame. In our culture, where one hour is the most that many will allow for their spiritual “fix,” ours is an almost impossible task. There is no way to please everyone, nourish everyone, appease everyone, and still honor and glorify God. We’re all over the map in The United Methodist Church from the truly ridiculous to the blissfully sublime. To do good worship occasionally is indeed a challenge; to do it weekly is beyond comprehension. And still we try.
I don’t mean to demean anyone’s best efforts. I framed my reflection in terms of snobbery for a reason. My expectations are of no greater value than anyone elses, and the plight of the preaching pastor is to attempt to navigate dozens of different expectations each and every week. I believe it is one more reason that so many good and faithful pastors burn out and feel like they are somehow failing. I am more sad than angry at the current state of mainline worship. And God bless everyone who takes it seriously and tries with all their heart and soul to make worship meaningful. My prayers are with you!
Good reflection. I understand that silence is rarely a significant part of the modern worship service. Do you believe there is a scriptural or traditional basis for including silence in our corporate worship? Obviously the Bible gives witness that silent time is important in order to hear God’s voice, such as Elijah and the cave, Jesus getting away to be on his own, or the Psalmist saying “Be still and know that I am God. . . ” Many of those texts seem to me to be geared to the individual experience. I guess my question is more along the lines of whether or not silence is incorporated into Jewish worship contexts (I imagine finding a quiet place for reflection at the Temple would have been difficult – what about in the synagogue?) Furthermore, is there any evidence from Acts or Paul’s letters that early Christians should use silent time as a part of worship? If not in the Bible, what of the early church fathers?
There is incredible evidence for corporate silence throughout the Jewish, early Christian, Catholic, and Protestant sectarian movements (think Quakers) throughout history. Periods of silence were woven into a variety of worship experiences, and there is evidence that early Christian house churches had long periods for silent prayer and silent scriptural reflection. Wesley, in one of his letters, instructed a young clergyman to allow as much time for silence in prayer as was given to speaking. I can’t put my hands on it at the moment, but I have a wonderful quote from a frontiersman’s journal about tent meetings, where he refers to “an interruption in the 13th minute of silent prayer.” What essentially killed silence in worship was the Western cultural move to a 60 minute worship hour. In my own history (Presbyterian until age 13), what shortened our services and put an end to times of silence was the NFL kicking off at 1:00 Eastern, 12:00 central. In my church, men started leaving at 11:55 whether the service was over or not — so in short order, 11:00 worship ended promptly at 11:55. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. I’m sure there are other reasons we have lost silence from worship, but silence has a rich history as a central part of worship. Gordon Lathrop and Rodney Stark both talk about worship in their books (Lathrop’s “Holy” trilogy and Stark’s, “Rise of Christianity.”)
I am a worship snob too. I hate poor worship. My list isn’t identical to yours, but I would say your #s 5 an 7 are at the top of my lists.
in re: 5 — There was a great quote in a UMNS article (which I can’t find, nor do I remember who said it…) that was addressing the issue of the feminization of the church (which sounds reallllly misogynistic to me.) The person quoted said, “Men don’t come to church for their spiritual diaper to be changed.” I agree. I want my ass kicked. I want to be challenged. I don’t want a very pacific sermon given in a loving, “everything will be alright” tone. We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. We can’t pretend that there isn’t death around us; we cannot act as though there is only resurrection. Sermon’s that pacify us into a false sense that “everything is okay” when nothing is, are contrary to the Gospel as I understand it.
in re: 7 — the Eucharist NEEDS to be celebrated weekly. I believe that it is through communion that we are both made into the body of Christ and reminded that we are already the body. And there are some parts of the eucharistic liturgy that need to be there. I was at one communion that failed to mention Jesus. I was dumbfounded. Seriously? “The Lord’s Supper” with no “Lord?” Come on now! There needs to be a constant reminder why we do what we do. (And there needs to be an epiclesis, damnit!)
If you have a minute check out the order of worship for our prime:: (early morning) service at http://www.onlywonder.com and let me know how it conforms to your snobbery.