Monday, March 05, 2012

Worship as an Encounter

Last week a friend turned me onto this new online magazine on worship. I'm interested to read more, but I haven't gotten past the first article yet, entitled "Simplifying the Sunday Morning Story" by Stephen Brewster. You should read it, then come back if you want to read the rest of this post. Go on, I'll wait...

Still interested? Okay. Read on...

I found the article a bit frustrating. It contained a number of things I'd rather not see in a discussion of worship, and it lacked other things I feel belong in the conversation. So I thought I'd write my thoughts here.

One thing I appreciated about the article was the thread of intentionality. Whatever we do in a Sunday morning service, it should be intentional. A media background should be chosen, not because "it looks cool" but because it relates to the song, or enhances the color scheme on stage and thus helps with atmosphere and focus. Transitions should be carefully thought through to move the congregation from element to element in an appropriate way. Brewster is right on track with his attention on details, and his focus on intentionality.

I also appreciated his desire to make a service more than the sum of its parts. A worship service is not 3 songs, then a message, then the offering, then announcements. It's an experience. It's a journey. It's a conversation.

And here's where I feel that Brewster's thoughts miss the mark: the analogy of the story. According to Brewster, Sunday morning is not a conversation, it's a presentation: a story.

If all we are doing is telling a story, then we might as well be the local theater company. A theater company tells a great story. But that's not the focus of the worship service. If we treat the worship service the same as telling a good story, then we have made the congregation into an audience, and ourselves into the attraction.

Is that why people gather for an hour on Sunday? To hear a story? That might be part of it. But maybe they gather not only to listen, but to encounter and interact.

There's a beautiful word I learned a couple years ago that is familiar to the ancient church: anamnesis. You can find it in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, where Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me." Anamnesis is Greek for "remembering." In the setting of Christian worship, it is "remembering God's story." Worship is telling God's story, from creation to sin to forgiveness to Christ to reconciliation. In the songs we sing, the prayers, the Scriptures, the message, we hear God's story.

But it is much bigger than that, too. As Dr. Constance Cherry puts it in her book The Worship Architect, anamnesis means "we remember/recall an event ... in such a way that it is effective here and now; Christ's words, "Do this in remembrance of me," suggest anamnesis of his passion and resurrection." To the ancient church, and to some contemporary churches, remembering the Lord's Supper is the same as experiencing it.

So I think it falls short to compare worship to just telling a good story. It's a time to experience. It is a time to encounter the living God of the universe, the Creator of all things, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. When we worship, we are not only telling the story, we are living it out.

Worship is a conversation with God. Truly He is in our midst! Let's not forget that, and let's design each element of the service to demonstrate that fact. God has revealed Himself to us. So we gather to worship. We see in the Bible that God is worthy of our praise. So we sing to Him. We confess our sins or pray for help. God reminds us that we are pardoned and free from sin. God speaks to us through the message. We respond in giving. It's a back and forth: God reveals, and we worship.

Worship is an encounter with God. It's a meeting between God and the Church, the body of Christ on Earth. There's a reason the Tabernacle was called the Tent of Meeting. Worship has always been about relationship with God. The Church recognizes that our relationship is made possible through Jesus Christ, including our worship. When we gather, we've got a chance to meet with God. How amazing is that?

The danger of seeing the worship service as the telling of a story is that it becomes a time to tell about God instead of a time to commune with God. A story is static, unchanging, finite. Our God is dynamic, interactive, and infinite.

May our worship move toward Him, as He moves toward us.

Cherry, Constance M. The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids: 2010), p 98.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well said. You should contribute to the online magazine.
We often forget that God is the audience, not us. We are there to meet with Him and worship Him, not the other way around.

I'd say, consider what God really wants out of a worship experience, does it enhance your ability to connect with God or is it just the latest thing in worship design?

Good article.