One day I was sitting in my church office when our pastor came flying through the door. (He enters each room much like Seinfeld’s Kramer – exploding with energy and ideas. Nothing is ever boring when he’s around!)
He grabbed a marker and drew a circle on my white board, then split it up like slices on a pizza. Circling one of the big slices he said, “Aaron, I think you guys are are doing a killer job with modern rock, anthemic worship. Your bands sound great and you are really serving us well in this area. But remember, this is only one form of worship – stylistically and theologically. Throughout history, God’s people have worshiped and connected with God in many ways and from many approaches. Our collective worship tradition is a rich, deep, and varied one.”Quotable
Our collective worship tradition is a rich, deep, and varied one.
As our pastor continued, he started writing words in the other “slices” of the pie on my whiteboard.
“…What about the great African-American Spiritual tradition? What does our community have to learn from how they worshiped God? What about a more liturgical approach? What about the joyful explosion of a gospel music celebration? What about non-singing worship? ”
“…What about…God forbid…gasp…country music?”
And that’s where I kicked him out of my office. We all know that country music is entirely devoid of all spiritual value. (Kidding. Sort of.)
But this short conversation reminded of me of how narrow I had allowed our church’s worship experience to become. We were dangerously close to reducing our worship equation to:
2 Tomlin songs + 2 Hillsong United songs + 1 hymn = worship
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with this approach. God uses these kinds of worship experiences all over the world – every Sunday – in powerful ways. But they’re simply not wide enough. If you eat one kind of food every day – even healthy food – you will become malnourished. I can’t help wondering if our communities are becoming full of malnourished worshipers.Quotable
If you eat one kind of food every day – even healthy food – you will become malnourished.
And so, at Mars Hill, we decided to learn from other traditions and push ourselves out of our comfort zone. We began on the surface with new musical styles. The all funk Sunday (complete with a volunteer horn line) was a blast and helped us celebrate like we hadn’t before. The first string-quartet led Sunday took our breath away. The Reggae inspired Sunday was, if I’m honest, kind of a disaster. (We never managed to find that magic pocket.) But we kept trying and experimenting and learning.
And pretty soon, the same old songs and hymns we’d been singing for years became alive again. When a drum line marches in the back door and joins the worship band, it’s hard not to sing “O For a Thousand Tongues” with a new passion and energy. The all electronica Sunday brought us into a reflective place before communion beautifully. But as much as these new styles added to our worship experience, we began to realize that the answer wasn’t ultimately about musical style.
We were still singing 4 or 5 moderately connected songs and calling it worship.
But when we looked back at our rich, historic tradition, we were reminded that worship can be so much more.Quotable
When we looked back at our rich, historic tradition, we were reminded that worship can be so much more.
Our more liturgical brothers and sisters teach us to approach a worship experience as a spiritual journey that we all create together. How can we experience and retell the Story with our voices, hands, hearts, and minds? This is very different than beginning with, “Okay, we have 20 minutes to worship. What four songs should we sing?”
Following their lead, we’re learning to begin by asking: “What part of the story should we tell? What journey should we invite our community on?” Quotable
What part of the story should we tell? What journey should we invite our community on? Once we know the story, we can then ask, “What are the best ways to do this? What part of the journey is best traveled by reading scripture? What part is best experienced through silence? Open mic sharing? Spiritual practices? And what part(s) of this journey is best served by singing together?”
So these days, for us, it’s all about the Liturgy.
(I admit that I’m using the word “liturgy” loosely. My Episcopal priest friend just shakes his head when I tell him about the New Liturgy we’re creating.)
Admittedly, I’m in my young Padawan days of exploring and learning about the Liturgy, and am completely captured by the thought that worshiping God can be more than singing a few songs. In fact, it must be!
And as we’ve experimented with including liturgical elements in a completely modern church, the results have been quite beautiful. We’re rather early on in the journey, but there’s something new being birthed and we’re going to keep stumbling along the way.
This Sunday, what part of the Story do you want to tell? I encourage you to break free of your worship equation and create your own New Liturgy.