Intimate Encounters:: Thoughts On Worship, Services, & The Liturgy.
From anglican to pentecostal, structured to free form, there are many schools of thought when it comes to what worship/church services look like. Raised in pentecostal churches, son of a worship leader/musician, a freelance musician in various churches of all sizes, a student at a baptist university, and a sound tech at an anglican church: I have a lifetime of experience behind the curtain of countless churches. These experiences, along with formal and informal education, have led me to examine, in greater depth, the formation of intimate encounters with God in church. This post will focus on some of the methods/ways (or whatever you want to call them) that anglican and pentecostal churches tend to follow.
I was first exposed to the liturgy in summer of 2012, when I first came on as a sound tech at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. Having been raised in non-denominational and Assembly of God churches, I was quite uncomfortable with liturgical services and didn't know how I felt about what I was experiencing. My uncomfortable feeling came from thoughts of "these people are repeating a lot of the same things week in and week out. Are they actually worshiping or are they just going through the motions? There seems to be almost no emotion or, as I was more used to, no excitement/energy in the services." These people could be faking everything.
One day over lunch with my friend Shaun Menary, we discussed these feelings a bit and he helped me see things from a different perspective. He said that he sees the calmness and lack of excitement/energy as a reverence for God as the congregation enters into worship.
Over the next few months (really more like years) I began to learn about the liturgy. I began to look for inverse parallels between my experiences/feelings and the experiences/feelings of someone, raised in an anglican setting, being exposed to a pentecostal setting. From my memory and observation, the feelings from these inverse experiences seemed to be rather similar. Though people might be faking everything as they participate in the liturgy, this doesn't mean everyone is. Furthermore, people can just as easily be faking in the pentecostal services I was raised in as in a liturgical service.
Over the past couple of years I have come to love liturgical services. The structure and progression of services can be a very effective tool to help lead people through worship, repentance, remembrance, and praise of Christ and the salvation He has given us.
(For the sake of this post, the term "worship" will be used as a reference to worship (and praise) through songs.)
Different ways of worship can look very different yet still be true worship. Worship is very interwoven into the other parts (collect, nicene creed, sermon, communion, etc.) of liturgical services. The worship often keeps with the themes, though sometimes only very loosely, of the altar book readings and scriptures.
Pentecostal services tend to have the majority of the worship right at the beginning, with a quick offertory song, and then usually a little worship at the end. From my experiences, the worship in pentecostal services, in comparison to liturgical services, does not keep with the themes of the sermon and other (if any) parts of the services.
I've found this thematic separation to be disruptive and disturbing. Especially because it often ends up feeling more like different parts of the service, similarly to different acts in a play, versus flowing more smoothly and intentionally.
I've been spending the past half hour trying to figure out how to open up this last segment but haven't been able to come up with anything. So where I am I going with all of this? Those of us that are pastors, worships leaders, rectors, etcetera have the responsibility of preparing for and structuring services that are conducive to a rich worship experience (rich in actual worship, not hype/feeling good) and that are not distracting and disruptive. Put first things first.
I know that thought may be hard to follow, so let me unpack it a bit. Let's first touch quickly on a few things I've found to be disruptive and distracting (and honestly, many times misleading) before going into more detail: countdown timers, announcements, the transition out of worship into the next part of the service, starting with praise and ending with worship, and production value. There are other things I could list but these should suffice for the sake of what I'm seeking to communicate.
How are these things distracting and disruptive? Announcements are usually either at the beginning or in the middle of services. We corporately gather to praise, worship, learn about, and remember Christ and what He did for us, repent of our sins, and to offer ourselves to Him. This can be a little more difficult to do when we are distracted and thinking about the men's retreat coming up next week, or that the release forms for your kids need to be turned in no later than Wednesday night, or when you aren't sure how many pies to make for the bake sale. Announcements are most often placed between the worship and the sermon (usually along with other things). We've just spent the time to prepare our hearts, through worship, to hear/receive the Word. Why shift that focus and direction of worship and reflection away from Christ during this time of transition? Remember: Put first things first. We are gathered to praise, worship, learn about, and remember Christ and what He did for us, repent of our sins, and to offer ourselves to Him.
Countdown timers, production value, and starting worship on in a high energy manner aids in evoking feelings and emotions. This can cause people to associate worship with this excited feeling versus associating worship with our Creator. So then what happens when people don't have that excited/hyped feeling? How much harder will it be to worship? I think about what is often referred to as the "honeymoon phase" when people start dating. They have these rushes and feelings of excitement which causes them to display affection for the person they're dating. But what happens when the honeymoon phase comes to an end? If their love and affection is given based on feelings, then it will eventually stop being given, unless the motivation to show said love and affection comes from their love of the person because of who they are. Why would it be any different for our worship? If our worship is rooted in a feeling of excitement versus a love for the character and gift of Christ, then when those feelings fade, the worship will eventually dwindle as well.
These feelings of excitement aren't bad. In fact, my experience shows that these feelings come more often and from a much wider range of triggers when my worship is rooted in who Christ is versus being rooted in feelings. They originate from the relationship I have with the Savior. If you teach people about Christ and His goodness, then, as they fall in love with Him, worship will be a natural occurrence. Think about sporting events: People cheer for their teams. They go crazy. But I can guarantee you that nobody taught them how to cheer for (worship) their team. It's a natural occurrence as they fall in love with their team.
So how should we structure a service? How do we create an atmosphere conducive to a time of uninterrupted worship as we go from piece to piece? I propose we reverse the typical praise songs to worship songs model of worship. I propose we interweave the worship with the offering, sermon, communion, repentance, etc. I propose we structure our services in a manner that gradually moves us from worshiping to praising as we are guided through the service.
A Service Order Example
(Please note that this is just an example to further demonstrate my points. Let's not get caught up on crossed t's and dotted i's as the pharisees did.)
- Before service starts, have some relaxing instrumental music playing and encourage people to enter into a personal time of reflection and worship as they prepare their hearts to worship corporately.
- Begin worship with slower worship songs to encourage people to stay in the place of reflection and worship they should be in by this point. Sing songs about God's goodness, His faithfulness, and our need for Him.
- Scripture reading.
- Sermon. This should expand on the scripture reading and/or somehow be relevant to the content of the scripture reading.
- We declare, as a corporate body, what we believe and know to be true, thus creating a stronger bond and unity with each other (which is very important).
- We pray together and for one another.
- We follow our declarations with actions of offering (which is just one example of us living out our claims to follow Christ).
- We receive communion in remembrance of the sacrifice Christ made for us.
- We sing praise songs that are more upbeat, exciting, and happy as we are singing about the freedom we have found in Christ, the new life we have because of Him, and the great commission to share the Gospel with the world.
Worship, scripture readings, sermon, etcetera should all carry the same theme(s).