Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Reflections on 2014 Sabbatical: Worship

I have been reflecting a little further specifically on worship issues that arose out of my visits to a number of churches.  So here they are!
Hillsong in London.
One of the churches I visited.

1.   Within a number of mainstream churches in recent times the shape of church services has often been built round Approach to God, Ministry of the Word, and Response, often emphasised by the shape of liturgies included in Worship books that are published by denominations.

As I travelled to different churches and experienced the shape of their services I found that many took the shape of more distant years where the service would build up to a climax and challenge at the end through the sermon.  So the shape would be more like Worship of God with an emphasis on music and song, notices and information shared, Ministry of the Word.  Response would usually come as an invitation to respond to the word before or during the last song.

I was challenged to consider whether the idea of putting the sermon at the end, as was the case some decades ago might be valid once again.  I did not explore with church leaders why they shaped the service in this way, but it seemed to me that having the sermon at the end might be more overtly missional and aimed at encouraging commitment to grow as a disciple. 

Should we be more flexible with our shape of liturgy within worship?

2.   Music Provision in the churches I visited was usually built round a music group rather than a single musician or instrument.    The organ was non-existent or occasionally used (where one was installed at all).  There seemed to be acknowledgement of a wider range of gifts, greater participation and buying in to the worship with the use of music groups.  The gift of worship leading was more visibly present and encouraged and there appeared to be a more collaborative ministry being exercise where worship leaders and leaders of the church and preachers had to share together rather than one person being very definitely in charge of the service.  I was prompted to think whether within Methodism we quench this spirit of partnership and co-operation with our insistence of authority vested in the accredited preacher.   I wondered whether we need to adopt more of a partnership model.  Maybe the theological basis of this might be that we reflect the relationship of the Trinity if we encourage people to plan and minister together as partners in enabling worship rather than making one person the authority figure.

3.   Some of the churches I visited had the focus of worship very much on the front, perhaps with lights dimmed and stage lit.  Many people may have been involved in the service (visibly and behind the scenes) but attention was very much towards the front and the “main players”.  When is it worship rather than performance?  Do some modern buildings look more like auditoriums than worship centres? In many of the newer churches there was a noticeable lack of Christian symbols.  Is this important or is it just more Methodist than Methodism?

4.   Within the Methodist Church for our Local Preacher and Worship Leader training we place a solid emphasis on the importance of being aware of, and including different types of prayer in services.  I found that in a number of the churches I visited that although Praise and Adoration would feature often other elements such as Confession, Intercession and The Lord’s Prayer, could be more lacking. I should say though there were some very creative ways in other churches of including intercessions, eg at Hillsong in London prayers of praise and intercession are collected as people arrive and a number of these are posted onto big screens. 

Overall I found a number of the services I attended had a sense of incompleteness to me with some of the main elements of prayer apparently missing on the weeks I visited.  On the positive side I think sometimes it is possible to become a slave to an order of service and shape of liturgy and perhaps there are times when we need to hang a little looser to the shapes and orders that we can become so used to and so fond of.  Does the liturgy always need to be balanced or might we benefit from greater flexibility and freedom in the types of prayers we include and leave out?

In relation to the Lord’s Prayer it might be worth reflecting on whether it is important to resource people with that as a standard prayer that is learned, and whether there are risks to losing The Lord’s Prayer as a conscious and regularly used feature of private and public worship because of lack of use.

5.   Visible Leadership in relation to worship – (already touched on in Appendix 1 number 7 – the first main reflection on my Sabbatical) which means that maybe our present system of preachers chasing round churches with the lack of consistency that can bring at a number of levels is out-dated.  Unfortunately Church Stewards, who are the constant leadership in the church, are not really seen in the context of worship other than those who welcome preachers and share notices.  The answer could be that Church Stewards take Worship Leading courses, but some would not see this gifting.  So the idea that has been around for a number of years might also be worth re-visiting, that is a Pastor in every church, but this role should include high visibility at the church, including on Sundays.  Preaching Plans might also be drawn up which encourage the development of teams in specific churches rather than the general approach being preachers moving around whole circuits.  Are our preaching plans part of the problem?  Should we be seeking more visible leadership with perhaps a Pastor in every church?

6.   Concept of Welcome and Hospitality as it relates to Worship.
How do we make people feel at home?  Do we explain what is going on and why it is going on?  Do we make those whose styles of worship we are comfortable with feel at home, or do we push the boundaries of worship ourselves to ensure that we are able to welcome in those who might not always worship as we do?  This was not something I saw greatly in evidence anywhere.  It leads me to ask the question how far do we only want to attract people that will fit in with our worship rather than those who will help us be challenged to have a greater, deeper, wider understanding of worship.  Are we more at home with formality than informality?  Are we comfortable with one style of hymn or song?    How far do we challenge our existing congregations to grow and develop in worship and how might we do this?

7.   Minimalism seemed to be the hallmark of worship in a number of larger churches (although this did not mean short services).  In other words central elements such as music were incorporated (often with up to 15-25 minutes singing, particularly towards the beginning of the services) prayer, a longer rather than shorter sermon and opportunity for visible response.  No drama sketches, or dramatic readings, no displays from young ones leaving for Sunday School etc.

8.   It was not unusual to find Notices were on a screen and sometimes there was a film piece that advertised notices rather than text on the screen.  How can notices be a creative part of worship rather than an intermission where one feels that popcorn should be served?  But then is there anything wrong with serving popcorn at church J?

9.   I found that a number of churches specified that visitors should not feel they need give anything in terms of financial Offerings.  This was seen as the responsibility of the church members rather than anyone who came through the door. 

 Just a few more ramblings to add to the pile!