Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Worship Philosophy, Why do I do what I do?

There are a lot of misunderstandings that circle around among churches about worship and worship style.  It has become a large controversy in the church at large.  Many churches struggle with moving from a very traditional service to a more contemporary service in hopes of attracting new people.  And that's legitimate.  However worship is not merely about the genre of music or the style.  Worship is an experience we have as we gather that helps us connect deeply with God and express our love to God.  Worship involves reflecting corporately on God, contemplating as a congregation on God's character and what God has done for us personally and in the Christian community at large.

So why do I choose the music I do?

St Francis UMC has chosen to practice a hybrid service that involves a variety of musical genres bridging its history and its future.  We keep elements of a traditional liturgical service and blend those elements with more contemporary features.  For example: we still recite the Lords Prayer during the pastoral prayer time, we begin with a call to worship and we still sing the doxology.   However, Pastor has carefully updated and even crafted some of the language so that when non-churched people come they will understand and also be included in the service.

Each week I try to choose music that in some way blends with Pastor's text, picking elements to build a worship set around.  It is important to me that the worship set be filled with meaning so that we as a congregation can reflect deeply on the meaning and be inspired toward offering and expressing our love to God.

What do I hope to accomplish with the music I choose?

There are a number of things I hope to invite the congregation into as I choose music.  First, I want the music to, as much as possible help us think theologically in worship.   While hymns provide a great deal of theology, praise songs also provide theology.  Some theology centers around God's transcendence such as Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise...or the praise song Above All Powers... God is big and unlike us--God is amazing and above us.  Some theology centers on God's immanence such as Holy Spirit You Are Welcome Here or In the Garden... God is present and with us.  As we consider God's transcendence and God's immanence we reflect on who God is and what God has done.

Second, I hope to help us as a congregation contemplate God.  One of the skills the early church had were skills of contemplation.  Contemplation is reflecting on a single phrase or word that might jump out at us or be meaningful.  It maybe a simple phrase such as "you are worthy."  What does it mean that God is worthy?  Now that is worth contemplating.  Contemplation takes us deeper and beyond the surface of our faith.  In contemplation, we are invited to move from the daily grind and connect deeply with God.  Contemplation is found in the Psalms and throughout the Bible.  In our fast-paced, technology filled world taking the time to contemplate is becoming a lost art.  But contemplation is necessary for our transformation.  Even science has shown that the brain changes when people meditate.  Contemplation is the Christian version of meditation.  By focusing our thoughts on God and who God is and what God has done, we in some sense even change and grow our brains.  The prefrontal cortex (the part that deals with the fight, flight response) grows and is better able to respond to stressors.

Third, I hope to help the congregation respond.

Some songs are very, very simple in their construction.  They help us contemplate as I showed above but they also help us pray and respond to God.  You will notice that often, the third song in the set is a song that is structured like a prayer in which we might speak directly to God.  We offer thanks, or praise or even ask for something.  For example, "I Need You, Oh I Need You" is a heart cry expressing our dependence on and need for God.  Usually there is a sort of hush that comes over the congregation when we move into the third song and the congregation begins to enter in to connection with God.  Some will feel God's presence and others will notice the silence and the hush, often there will be a stillness or a sense of peace.  Some will even have tears as something deep inside of them is touched.

What I most want the congregation to see is that constructing a worship service is more than about the genre of songs we choose but about helping the congregation connect deeply with God and experience God's presence.

I'll close with a story.  When my children were young, we used to worship around the campfire.  One of my children invited a friend to go camping with us.  He had not been much of a church person and his family did not attend regularly.  After about the third or fourth worship song we had sung together he stopped us and asked, "what is that feeling?" We explained that he was sensing the presence of God as we sung together and focused our attention on God.  Not long afterward, he became a believer.  When a person connects deeply with God or experiences God's presence in profound ways, it's pretty hard not believe in God.

It is said that we grow in the context of relationship with God and with one another.  Worship helps us do that.

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