As Lauren and I have looked for a church, one of the main things that We’ve been hung up on is the worship format. And by “worship format” I’m talking about the singing, preaching and whatever else goes on during the main service. For the two of us, our experience is pretty limited to baptist traditions in the strain of Southern Baptists and Independent Fundamental Baptists with some experience in the last few years with non-denominational, more informal, but still baptistic-styles of worship.
I don’t feel entirely comfortable with what I’ve experienced. A lot of times, I feel like I’m left wanting something a bit deeper or more substantial. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some of the more contemporary praise and worship and I certainly enjoy southern gospel, but a lot of times, for me, the worship experience in these formats seems disjointed or even theologically shallow. That may not be your experience, but it’s mine. So, I’ve been looking for something different, something a bit more intentional…purposeful worship.
When I was in seminary, I took a course called “Ministry of Worship”. It ended up being one of the most thought-provoking classes that I’ve had. Basically, we studied the question: “what should a worship service look like and why?” It’s not just about singing songs we like just because we like the way they sound and how they make us feel. Whatever format is used, there should be a purpose behind it, a movement of focus throughout the service. At the church we’ve been visiting, the worship service has seemed more intentional than other places we’ve been. The songs, readings, prayers, and preaching have had common threads running through them. This morning, we noticed in the bulletin that visitors were encouraged to pick up a “welcome” folder that had more info about the church. I grabbed one and it had some great info in it. What stood out from other places we’ve been is the care and theological depth that was crafted into the info about the church. One section in particular that grabbed my eye was “How we Worship”, which read:
“Our worship is biblical in that it is shaped by the movement of God’s redemptive story in Scripture. Each week our worship takes us through God’s story of redemption so that our lives become patterned into His story. Worship enables us to bring our lives to God, re-enter His story of redemption, and be dismissed as redemptively-shaped people going out into the world. Specifically, that means that our worship moves from preparation to adoration to confession to proclamation to dedication.”
I absolutely love that description of this church’s worship style, and it accurately describes what I’ve experienced in their services. Even my kids have picked up on the difference. I was surprised when they told us that they liked going to this church better than the popular, more contemporary church we’ve been at for the last couple of years. They seem to be picking up on the idea that they are there for a purpose, not to be entertained, but to participate, learn and “move” toward God and others.
This church also describes their worship as:
“liturgical in that it practices the rhythm of the Christian calendar. As we move through the year, our worship moves us through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. In conjunction with the seasons we use the traditional liturgical colors.”
Until recently, my religious heritage has been completely void of any experience with the Christian calendar or any of the traditional liturgical forms of worship. In fact, I would venture as far as to say that many of the churches and pastors I’ve been connected to would warn against anything that even hints at traditional liturgy as “vain repetition” or “too Roman.” I don’t think that they rightly understand or appreciate liturgical worship. There’s a great post over at The Internet Monk – Another Look: Church Year Spirituality – that explains the Christian calendar and lays out some very good reasons for incorporating it into worship. The Internet Monk referenced Robert Webber’s “Ancient Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year” for a deeper look at the Christian calendar, and a closer look at Webber’s work led me to adding his “Ancient Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World” to my reading wishlist. This connection with the past is something that’s been lacking in my Christian experience.
I like the tradition and symbolism of this worship format and it brings me a bit closer to understanding where I’m at in my faith and spiritual journey.