Soul in worship
A summary of the worship seminar led by
Rev Rowan Rogers
Bedfordview Methodist Church
25 – 26 September 2009
Worship here is used in its widest context, with the Sunday services being the high point of celebration as the body of Christ. Most delegates to the seminar were members of worship teams and so focussed on their calling to bring “soul-full” worship to the congregations they are serving.
How did we lose our soul?
Worship loses its soul:
- – when we are dishonest. The psalmists are always truthful and the psalms express a wide range of emotions, from despair to celebration; from anger to intimacy and love; from brokenness to healing. The songs we sing in church can be cloyingly happy. There are not many laments, songs of confession or songs that describe a broken people.N T Wright said, “To make worship more accessible we have trivialised it. The only appropriate response is to fall on our faces.” We should not be escapists. Like Moses we are sent to Pharoah with the cry, “Let my people go!” The things of the world should become strangely clear as we worship God.
2 – when worship is uniform and uncreative. “Heaven will have much more variety than hell” said C S Lewis, so choose where you want to spend eternity! This is not to say that liturgy is bad – only liturgy that is used badly. It is possible to work within a framework creatively, but what puts us off is the time involved in planning and execution.
3 – when we repeat clichés. God’s grace is not ONLY amazing – it is beautiful, challenging, demanding, energising and so on. God is not indescribable – he is too describable but we need to find the words. Poets and the psalmists talk about concrete things – trees, rivers, music, animals, and in these we find wonderful expressions of worship. We need to find new ways of expressing our innermost feelings towards God.
4 – when we use careless ultimatums and adolescent hyperbole. Brian D McLaren speaks of “platitudinous dishonesties”. Of course lines like: “No-one else will do” or “I could sing of Your love forever” have their place in our times of worship but we should be aware of how much we are singing these kinds of things and of how real they are in our lives. We need to connect with the truth of what we are singing.
5 – when we sing about ourselves all the time. We are created to worship and so we must sing about the One who created us. When it becomes all about me the focus can tend to shift. Again, it is not bad to have songs of personal intimacy with God. Just make sure they are not all beginning with ‘I.’
6 – when worship lacks authenticity. N T Wright again: “To enjoy worship for its own sake is like Moses coming upon a burning bush and deciding to cook his lunch on it.” Worship is not just fun. It is not simply to arouse warm feelings or tears of joy. It is a transforming experience, an encounter with the living God and should be entered into as such. Boerewors or shoes off? Awful or AWE – FULL?
7 – when worship lacks integrity, when it doesn’t reflect the heart of God, when it doesn’t bring to mind the values of God’s Kingdom. We need to leave from our Sunday worship and be true witnesses in our world. How we treat the least, our attitude to money, our expressions of joy and love all demonstrate the level to which our worship extends.
So what should worship be?
Colossians 3:15 – 17 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of the body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (NIV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly: as worship leaders we should be well-equipped, teachable, and humble. Leading God’s people in God’s things in God’s place is an awesome task to which we are called. We should be CARE-FULL.
We need worship that feeds the church: teach and admonish one another as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts. We have a great Methodist heritage – Charles Wesley took the music of the gospel in new and accessible forms to the people ‘out there’ as well as writing beautiful theology in poetry that has lasted. Worship is feeding not feeling. The Psalms are the Top 150 out of hundreds of songs that have lasted for 3000 years and they cannot be ignored or forgotten. Our hymn book contains music of the last 300 years. To last that long they must have something to offer! Worship requires three levels: the ancient (psalms), creative, well-written poetry (hymns) and spontaneity (spiritual songs)! These songs/prayers/teachings are to help one another to grow and transform into Christ-likeness.
We need worship that connects with the world. “Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Worship on a Sunday should inspire us to take God into the every day, to view the world as God sees it, to embrace the broken.
Remembering why we worship.
- It is the claim that God has got it all together, not us. A place where we can find hope.
- True celebration sustains our human-ness.
- People are hungry for beauty – both in the physical sanctuary as well as in the liturgy and music and sacrament.
- It is the maintenance of a daily witness to the sovereignty of God in the world. So that when something terrible happens we remember that God is good for always.
- For instruction. Theology is taught in a simpler, memorable way. So we need to think about what we choose to sing.
- For gratitude. We must learn to live gratefully. Eugene Peterson says there are two prayers: Help me! and Thank you!
- It completes us. “The praise completes the enjoyment.” C S Lewis.
- It builds community.
As worship leaders, as we prepare and lead worship services we need to take these factors into account in our community.
Creating Soul-Full worship
We should be writing, singing and choosing new songs.
- Songs of hope (Jesus in the midst of present struggle.)
- Songs of mission (look outwards)
- Songs from the ancients (creeds, prayers, liturgy)
- Songs about God (describing the nature of God)
- Songs of lament (mourning songs)
We should be praying good prayers.
- Based on the Lord ’s Prayer: God’s Kingdom; Daily Bread and Forgiveness.
There is a place for spontaneous prayer but in soul-full worship the prayers should be prepared and thought out, relevant to the community and not mere rambling shopping lists, badly formed and time-wasting.
We should have declarations of faith.
These are creeds and there are many that can be found but new ones can be written that relate to you as a community, both what we wish to do and what we are doing (a living creed).
There should be symbols and images in the place of worship:
Communion, baptism, candles, the Bible and any other images that suit the theme at the time. Technology can be a great help in showing images or sounds that can help the worship experience. The use of art and drama is also of value in asking questions and expressing mystery.
The Scriptures should be read, creatively and with expression, by one or by many. The word of God is living.
“do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Colossians 3 : 17b (NIV)