Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Worship & Arts at the Center [part 1 of 8]: A New Model and a Renewed Liturgy

Between the weeks of July 12 and August 30 the Worship & Arts team at Union Center will be working through eight lessons that focus on the specific actions we peform together in worship each Sunday.

While my hope is that the team will do most of the commenting here as a way of adding to the conversation and engaging with the material, if you are reading this post I'd love to have your comments, too!

Ready? Here we go!

Week One: A New Model and A Renewed Liturgy

Why Does This Converation Matter?

One of many important reasons this conversation matters is that the way we worship (intentionality) forms our view of God, each other and ourselves.
A simple evaluative technique I use in parishes is not whether they get the rite right. That's easy to evaluate; I can go down a checklist. Real evaluation of our liturgies, our worship in our parishes, can only be analyzed five, six, seven years down the line when we look at our corporate personality as a parish or a congregation and either do or do not see growth. If we do not see growth, we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing? If we see growth, then we have to thank God, because it's God's doing. -- Joyce Zimmerman
Definitions of worship
  • shachah = to prostrate oneself as a subject to a master; to bow down and stoop (Ps. 66:4, Nehemiah 8: 5,6)
  • proskuneo = to prostrate oneself; to do reverence; to kiss towards
  • Worship is organized and directed action toward God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and through the power of the Spirit.
  • Worship is orchestrated action that we do in community. Worship is work. (Story of a seminary professor who often said: It’s time for chapel. Let’s go get God worshipped.)
  • The OT and NT contain words that suggest worship is work.
  • Abad = the work that the priests and Levites do in order to “get God worshipped”. (lighting lamps, burning incence, preparing animals, sweaty, messy, dutiful things)
  • In the NT, Greek counterpart: leitourgia = service, work , ministry (Romans 12:1, Hebrews 9:21, Luke 1:23; Hebrews 8:1,2)
  • koinonia = participate, fellowship, partnership (Phil. 1: 4,5)
  • Worship is to do something, to become active, to invest in an enterprise, to roll up our sleeves, to bow, to serve, to light lamps…
{notes from an online presentation of The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; presentation given by Dr. Constance Cherry, professor of Worship and Christian Ministries at Indiana Wesleyan University }

Forms of worship

We have one term in the English language that has to do a tremendous amount of work. We have one term to mean three different things.
  1. Worship of God in all we do in life (Romans 12:1)
  2. Worship as an assembly
  3. Worship in private moments of adoration
{notes from Transforming Culture Symposium, John Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, 04/08}

While worship as a lifestyle and a devotional discipline are significantly intertwined with the corporate expression of worship, this conversation is focused on the weekly gathering(s) of worship at Union Center Christian Church.

A new model

Based on the belief our elders have communicated that Union Center has what it needs in our current resource and personnel to get God worshipped we propose a team-led rather than a personality-led approach to our weekly worship gathering(s). This flattened model would best steward the talents, personalities and gifting of our current musicians and artists and would increasingly blur the lines between the team on the platform and the team in the pew.

A renewed liturgy

We feel that the corporate worship expression at Union Center has not grown up with the rest of our ministry learnings (formally and informally spoken). One example of this could be our covenant value of prayer. How much time is spent in our service order doing the work of desperate prayer together? Another example is our covenant value of freedom. How much time in our weekly 75-minute service order is spent hearing stories of freedom or celebrating specific freedoms experienced in our congregation, or the opposite of that—mourning the brokenness in our community?

Combining both the positive and negative factors of worshipping in a non-denominational church under a leadership that encourages us to pursue a broad spectrum in worship, the vision drift under a variety of worship leaders and the influence of a consumer-based para-church subculture we are a generation of shallow, uneducated, unformed, doctrinally and biblically illiterate worshippers. The question can not be whether or not we use liturgy. Liturgy happens on its own with any group that gathers together to worship on a regular basis. The question instead is whether the liturgy we employ is intentional or unintentional? If worship indeed forms us we would propose a sturdier, historically and biblically-grounded order for our weekly worship gatherings.

The term liturgy is another English word that must do many jobs. The following definitions and descriptions are intended to aid in this conversation:

Definitions of liturgy

1. a form of public worship; ritual

2. a collection of formularies for public worship

3. a particular arrangement of services

4. a particular form or type of the Eucharistic service


A worship that will have staying power is a worship that is firmly grounded in the old, yet aware of and concerned for new ways to respond to the old, old story. -- Robert Webber, Worship Old & New, p. 18
For the purposes of this conversation, we are really looking at two forms of the word liturgy. We consider the larger sense from the biblical definitions of worship as a work of the people (corporate), as the work that goes into getting God worshipped. We also consider the more specific definition of liturgy as a particular arrangement of services.

If we, in fact, value an emphasis of the corporate over the individual in our weekly worship gatherings we see worship as a true work of the people. If we, in fact, desire the worship expression at Union Center to connect with the historic Bride of Christ and the global church, then we treasure its common expressions, or liturgy. (e.g., the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, etc.)

Excerpt from Eugene Peterson
Liturgy is the means that the church uses to keep baptized Christians in living touch with the entire living holy community as it participates formationally in Holy Scripture. I want to use the word ‘liturgy’ to refer to this intent and practice of the church insofar as it pulls everything in and out of the sanctuary into a life of worship, situates everything past and present coherently as participation in the revelation written for us in Scripture. Instead of limiting liturgy to the ordering of the community in discrete acts of worship, I want to use in this large and comprehensive way, the centuries-deep and continents-wide community, spread out in space and time, as formed by the words in this book – our existence understood liturgically, that is, connectedly, in the context of the three-personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and furnished in the text of the Holy Scripture…
Liturgy gathers the holy community as it reads the Holy Scriptures into the sweeping total rhythms of the church year in which the story of Jesus and the Christian makes its rounds century after century, the large an easy interior rhythms of a year that moves from birth, life, death, resurrection, on to spirit, obedience, faith, and blessing. Without liturgy we lose the rhythms and end up tangled in the jerky, ill-timed, and insensitive interruptions of public-relations campaigns, school openings and closings, sales days, tax deadlines, inventories, and elections. Advent is buried under ‘shopping days before Christmas.’ The joyful disciplines of Lent are exchanged for the anxious penitentials of filling out income tax forms. Liturgy keeps us in touch with the story as it defines and shapes our beginnings and ends, our living and dying, our rebirths and blessings in this Holy Spirit, text-formed community, visible and invisible.
When Holy Scripture is embraced liturgically, we become aware that a lot is going on all at once, a lot of different people are doing a lot of different things. The community is on its feet, at work for God, listening and responding to the Holy Scriptures. The holy community, in the process of being formed by the Holy Scriptures, is watching and listening to God’s revelation taking shape before and in them as they follow Jesus, each person playing his or her part in the Spirit.
It is useful to reflect that the word ‘liturgy’ did not originate in church or worship settings. In the Greek world, it referred to public service, what a citizen did for the community. As the church used the word in relation to worship, it kept this ‘public service’ quality – working for the community on behalf of or following orders from God. As we worship God, revealed personally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Holy Scriptures, we are not doing something apart from or away from the non-Scripture-reading world; we do it for the world – bringing all creation and all history before God, presenting our bodies and all the beauties and needs of humankind before God in praise and intercession, penetrating and serving the world for whom Christ died in the strong name of the Trinity.
Liturgy puts us to work along with all the others who have been and are being put to work in the world by and with Jesus, following our spiritually-forming text. Liturgy keeps us in touch with all the action that has been and is being generated by the Spirit as given witness in the biblical text. Liturgy prevents the narrative form of Scripture from being reduced to private, individualized consumption.
Understood this way ‘liturgical’ has little to do with choreography on the chancel or aesthetics of the sublime. It is obedient, participatory listening to Holy Scripture in the company of the holy community through time (our two-thousand years of responding to this text) and in space (our friends in Christ all over the world). High-church Anglicans, revivalistic Baptists, hands-in-the-air praising Charismatics, and Quakers sitting in a bare room in silence are all required to read and live this text liturgically, participating in the holy community’s reading of Holy Scripture. There is nothing ‘churchy’ or elitist about it; it is a vast and dramatic ‘story-ing,’ making sure that we are taking our place in the story and letting everyone else have their parts in the story also, making sure that we don’t leave anything or anyone out of the story. Without sufficient liturgical support and structure we are very apt to edit the story down to fit our individual tastes and predispositions.
-- Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, p.20
Forms of liturgy

Studies of worship throughout every era of God’s people doing the work of worship together provide rich resources for our learning and encouragement in this era at Union Center Christian Church. We find our heritage from the Old Testament Hebrew tabernacle and temple traditions, the New Testament churches, the Byzantine ceremonial traditions and love for the aesthetic, the Roman simplicity in symbol and love for architecture, the Reformation and free-church movement’s focus on the preaching of the Word and evangelism.

But for this conversation it would be more helpful to focus on the modern and postmodern church’s response to this rich heritage. The following represent three attitudes, responses or stances taken by the church:
  1. First, there are the traditionalists who want worship to be as it was. These are the people who resist change or are so deeply committed to a particular historical model of worship that talk of incorporating new styles of worship is intolerable.
  2. Second, there are those who wish to jettison traditional worship as irrelevant and go in search of a worship that is contemporary. Contemporary worship is difficult to pinpoint since there are so many forms of creative contemporary worship, ranging from the guitar mass to entertainment models of worship.
  3. A third approach…blends both the old and the new, a worship that respects the tradition yet seeks to incorporate worship styles formed by the contemporary church…refer to this approach as worship old and new.
{Taken from Worship: Old & New by Robert Webber, pp. 12, 13}

If we have heard Pastor John and our elders well and have presented accurately the vision and values we have heard from them, we believe the best way to get God worshipped at Union Center is not only with a new model but with a renewed liturgy. And we propose this renewed liturgy be formed by a solid understanding and skilled practice of the worship old and new described above.

Discussion Questions

1. What is another way to say that "the way we worship forms our view of God, each other and ourselves"? Comment on Joyce Zimmerman's quote at the top of the lesson.

2. Consider the statement: Worship is to do something, to become active, to invest in an enterprise, to roll up our sleeves, to bow, to serve, to light lamps… What does this kind of "rolling up our sleeves" look like in our modern day worship assembly?

3. What are some of the benefits and challenges of a team-led approach to worship leading?

4. List a common service order or liturgy at Union Center from the past several years. What elements seem intentional? What seem unintentional?

5. Tell me your favorite part of Eugene Peterson's excerpt. (the premise is that everyone will have a favorite part!)

6. What are some clues that "contemporary" liturgy has faded into "traditionalist" liturgy?

7. Give me your best idea of a service element that blends old and new forms of worship.

Rules for Commenting

This is intended to be a conversation that happens over time. (eight weeks to be exact!) Please limit your comments to the subject matter of this post. (in fact, I would be delighted if you used one of the questions as a prompt)

It goes without saying, that your comments do not need to be in total agreement with the content in the post but they do need to be respectful and civil!

This is intended to be a conversation that involves many people -- no lurkers allowed! If you are uncomfortable using the comment feature on this blog, you can email me your thoughts at tmurphy@unioncenter.org

What are you waiting for?? Click on the "comment" button and start writing!
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