Almost seven years ago, I was at a worship conference in Kansas City. The conference was a sort of “choose your own agenda,” so I was looking through the optional breakout sessions when one caught my eye. It was about early church worship practices, and the instructor was with a school called The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (IWS). I decided to attend the breakout. And thus began a very important season in my life.
See, I didn’t go to seminary. I went to UNL for a BA in Music and a BSBA in Marketing. I felt called into worship ministry a couple years after college, and was encouraged to put my resumé out there. Before I knew it, I was five years into full time worship ministry with no real sense of what that meant. I yearned for a deeper understanding of worship.
Fast forward to today. I’ve spent six years reading, studying, writing and praying. I’ve been instructed and encouraged by a diverse faculty of wise men and women on a variety of topics related to worship. I’ve attained a new title as of April 13: Doctor of Worship Studies. And while I don’t feel much different today than I did on April 12, I know the past six years have forever changed me. And I know I’m not done. Here’s some of what I learned, and what I am continuing to learn…
We need each other. At IWS I was part of a cohort: we were together from orientation day to graduation day. The exchanges I’ve shared with my classmates—who come from many denominations from around the world—over the years were sometimes eye-opening. I’ve seen my own faults, and learned to speak with love and grace, and to listen. This was a tremendous time of growth for me. I ended up writing my doctoral thesis on unity. We need others to speak wisdom into our lives.
Worship looks around as much as it looks up. Half of worship is inviting others to know God the way we know God: through Jesus. The minute we put ourselves ahead of our neighbor in worship, we start to miss the point entirely (Isaiah 58:1-11; Amos 5:21-24). Worship isn’t for me; worship is for we. How do we worship in Christ? How are we being invited into God’s story? How do we respond to the story?
God is bigger. When I started learning about the history of the church, the variegation of worship around the world, and the depth of meaning behind symbols that we tend to take for granted, I realized how limiting my view of God has been. It’s like I’ve been looking backwards through a telescope at God: He looked further away, and small. Now I see God is bigger than anything that can come my way, and He is closer than I imagined, and I have to sweep my telescope back and forth to take Him into view. Until He comes again, I will never be able to fully comprehend or appreciate God’s greatness. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
We all have these seasons where God stretches us, changing us forever. Are you in one now? Or has God just led you through a season? Or do you feel a yearning that might lead you into a time of change? How will you respond in worship? Who will you invite along?