Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wanted: A Worship Leader Who Places God in the Center of Worship

There are few topics that have prompted more discussion and even open conflict in the church than worship, so I will admit that I am on dangerous ground when I comment on this subject.  Terms like “traditional,” “liturgical,” and “contemporary” are often used to describe worship but the definition of each is very subjective.  Every form of worship was new and innovative at one time whether Gregorian chant or gospel quartet.  Worship is very diverse, but whatever style is practiced by a church the most important aspect of worship is what it says about the worshippers’ relationship to God.

A number of years ago John Claypool introduced me to Soren Kierkegaard’s ideas about worship.  Kierkegaard presented the concept that Christian worship was a drama. Although many churches of his day accepted that idea, Kierkegaard saw a variety of ways that churches practiced the various roles in the drama.  He observed that most often in worship, God was considered the prompter, the liturgical leaders (musicians, readers of the scriptures, preachers and celebrants) were the actors in the drama and the congregation was the passive audience. Skilled leaders had taken on the role of performers in the ritual because of their training and experience.  The congregants were simply onlookers.  

Kierkegaard taught that this understanding of worship as drama was totally wrong. People were taking on the wrong roles. The liturgical leaders (musicians, readers of the scriptures, preachers and celebrants) are to be the prompters in worship. All of us--the congregation as well as the worship leaders— are the actors in the drama of worship, and God alone is the audience for the drama.
No matter what your approach to worship may be, if we adopt this model the leader(s) of worship have several mandates.

First, the primary emphasis in God-oriented worship is not performance but submission.  Musicians, preachers, readers, and others will want to bring their best to the worship experience not in order to be praised but as an offering of themselves.  Even congregants will want come in an attitude of sacrifice and offering rather than disinterested observers.

Second, we should come to worship not expecting to be filled but to be emptied.  The chief end of worship is not to fill my own cup to overflowing but to empty my cup in worship of God.   If God chooses to fill me with the Spirit as a consequence of my participation, such filling is a gift of grace and has nothing to do with the way in which I performed a certain ritual.  

Third, worship is the work of the whole people of God (liturgy) and not of a talented few.  Worship is best when it involves all kinds of people representing the diversity of the congregation—men and women, old and young, various races and nationalities (if present in the church)—and involves them in different expressions of worship.

Let me suggest a little exercise.  When you arrive at your place of worship next Sunday, reflect on the worship experience and see what it communicates about whom is filling each role—prompter, actors, and audience.  This may help you to understand where your worship leaders place their emphasis.

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