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By Robert Schnase
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2008 Robert Schnase
All rights reserved.
What Does the Bible Say?
From the earliest accounts of faith, people gathered to pray, sing, listen for God's word, and share in the common meal. Synagogue means "to bring together," and the Greek word for church, ekklesia, means "called out of the world" and refers to the calling of people from their ordinary life to gather together in sacred time and space. Worship breathes life into the community of Christ's followers, forms identity, and provides a place of common learning about faith and listening to God. People express love for God, serve God, and experience God's gracious love offered freely.
binds people to each other and to God
God reaches out to us through worship services conducted in traditional and ancient forms or services marked with extraordinary spontaneity. God speaks to us in beautiful sanctuaries and simple buildings, in store-front gathering places and hospital chapels, outdoors under the open sky, and in the homes of members. In every imaginable setting, through worship, people seek to connect with God, allow God's Word to shape them, and offer their response of faith. God's Spirit changes us through worship.
Worship was the reason given repeatedly for why God liberated the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. "Let my people go, so that they may worship me" (Exodus 8:1). Worship defines God's people. In worship, people practice the highest command Jesus has taught us: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). Worship bends hearts toward God as it stretches hands outward toward others.
God pardons sins
God restores relationships
God changes lives
Jesus tells the story of the tax collector genuinely and humbly crying to God in the Temple and says, "I tell you, this man went down to his home justified" (Luke 18:14). Worship is the most likely setting for people to experience the renewed relationship with God that Christians call "justification," in which a person realizes that she or he is pardoned, forgiven, loved, and accepted by God.
Worship is the church's optimum environment for conversion (the return to relationship with God) whether quick, dramatic, and memorable, or marked by gradual shaping and nuanced change over time. God expects lives to change in worship: attendees become disciples of Jesus Christ, and a crowd becomes the body of Christ.
The Psalmist describes an eagerness for relationship with God in worship, "My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; / my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God ... / For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere" (Psalm 84:2, 10).
Through the relationship to God, cultivated in worship, the psalmist goes "from strength to strength" (Psalm 84:7), receiving the encouragement and daily renewal that characterizes life in God. People practice and experience resurrection in worship; every Sunday is a little Easter.
These definitions describe community worship, a time before God together with other people. Community worship, whether traditional or contemporary, follows implicit consensus of structure, words, actions, pace, and movement.
Worship also includes those practices done apart from the physical presence of others in the body of Christ:
Both community worship and personal devotions depend upon each other; they complement and reinforce one another, adding richness to the experience of each.
One pastor described his intention for leading community worship by saying that, in each service, he tries to engage the intellect and the heart of the worshipers. Through engaging the intellect, worshipers learn something about the content of the faith. They learn about God, Jesus, the stories of Scripture, the practice of the faith, and the world around them. Worship changes minds.
Through engaging the heart, God reaches the interior life of worshipers. The intimacy of worship helps them know mercy, grow in hope, sense the Holy Spirit, experience grace, and offer and receive forgiveness. God touches worshipers through music, story, prayer, and Communion, and they experience belonging, support, and connection. Worship opens hearts.
And finally, the pastor seeks to engage people with a practical challenge to do something in their family, community, and world because of their faith in Christ. Worship equips and encourages people and calls them to alter their paths as they grow in Christ-likeness. Worship changes behavior.
Take time before your first session to think about these questions, and take notes as you read to remind yourself of your responses for the group discussion.
Worship: Not Just in the Sanctuary
What sustains your devotional life through the week? _________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
How do you prepare for worship? What are the resources, practices, and perhaps people who help you feel ready to worship God? ____________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________
What would happen this week if you, as actively as you can, with your group, prepare ardently for worship? What would that involve? _________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
Where does worship take place beyond the weekend services in the sanctuary? _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
How can we, as a congregation, encourage personal worship (prayer, devotional reading, Bible study) in our community?___________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
Expectation and Anticipation
Psalm 84:2 says, "My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD."
When did you last feel that you could hardly wait for worship? _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
What inspired that longing and eagerness to be in worship? _________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
How do we create expectation and anticipation for worship each week? _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________
List the components of your service in order:
___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________
Where do you see peaks of excellence? Where could changes boost the effectiveness and excellence?_________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________
The author says:
Worship changes minds.
Worship opens hearts.
Worship changes behavior.
Where in your worship is there opportunity for this? _____________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________
Examining Our Worship
Film the worship service this week if possible and watch the video together with your group at the next session. As you are in worship this next weekend, make notes to remember how the service felt to you. Look at the flow and pace of the service, where energy builds and then calms, where you find there is simplicity and complexity.What processes or activities feel excellent—where can you see improvement? (This isn't in individual performance but in how the service progresses.) Make notes, suggestions in the space provided to discuss in the next session. ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________CHAPTER 2
What Is Passionate Worship?
To worship speaks of devotion to God, the practices that support honor and love of God. Passionate describes an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance. Passionate speaks of an emotional connection that goes beyond intellectual consent. It connotes eagerness, anticipation, expectancy, deep commitment, and belief.
Passionate Worship means an extraordinary eagerness to offer the best in worship, honoring God with excellence and with an unusual clarity about the purpose of connecting people to God.
Passionate Worship is
In Passionate Worship, people are honest before God and one another and open to God's presence, truth, and will for their lives.
Why use passionate to describe the practices of vibrant, fruitful, growing churches? Without passion, worship becomes dry, routine, boring, and predictable, keeping the form while lacking the spirit. Insufficient planning by leaders, apathy of worshipers, poor quality music, and unkempt facilities contribute to an experience that people approach with a sense of obligation rather than joy.
Sometimes the service feels like a performance—inauthentic, even self-indulgent, as pastors or music leaders push themselves as the center of attention. Younger generations and newer Christians find some services incomprehensible because the forms of music, language, and liturgy are so restrained or so foreign. Worship is the most likely point of first contact the unchurched have with a congregation, and in some churches, many visitors do not find genuine warmth, a premium on excellence, or a message presented in a form that engages them. When a congregation loses touch with the purpose of worship, people come and go without receiving God.
In spiritually passionate communities, there's a palpable air of expectancy as people gather for worship. Musicians, ushers, greeters, and other hosts arrive early; and with care and eagerness they prepare together, encouraging one another. They genuinely delight in one another's presence, and they give attention to the smallest of details to make the service go well for worshipers. The gathering congregation, even when it includes many first-time visitors, never feels like a crowd of strangers. There's a unifying anticipation, a gracious and welcoming texture to the way people speak, act, and prepare. Clearly, the pastor, music leaders, and worshipers expect something important to take place; and they're eager to be part of it.
Many times we unconsciously enter worship in the evaluative posture of someone preparing a movie critique. We rate the sermon, the time for children, the prayers, and the music according to some internal scale. "How was the service? Well, the sermon was too long, the piano too loud, the children too noisy, and the room too cold." Our attention turns to the imperfections, mispronunciations, missed cues, discordant sounds, personal discomforts, and the weaknesses of the leaders and flaws of fellow worshipers.
In a mind-set of expectancy, as opposed to one of searching for every human weakness, worshipers discover that God wants a relationship with them and seeks to say something through the time together. People are not at worship to observe and evaluate but to receive what God offers and offer their best in response. "What is God saying to me through the words of Scripture, even if they are read imperfectly; through the sermon, even if the illustrations are weak; and through the unifying power of music, even if the organist drags the pace a little?"
"When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a [person]can be a Christian."
Passionate Worship is not restricted to any particular style; it can be highly formal, with robes, acolytes, stained glass, organ music, orchestral accompaniment, and hardwood pews with hymnals on the rack in front. Or Passionate Worship can take place in an auditorium, gym, or storefront, with casually dressed leaders, images on screens, folding chairs, and the supporting beat of a praise team.
Authentic, engaging, life-changing worship derives from:
the experience of God's presence
the desire of worshipers for God's Word
the changed heart people deliberately seek when they encounter Christ in the presence of other Christians
Worship leaves people challenged, sustained, and led by the Spirit of God; and it changes how they view themselves and their neighbors. An hour of Passionate Worship changes all the other hours of the week.
The regular practice of Passionate Worship gives people an interpretive lens through which to view the world, helping them see events, relationships, and issues through God's eyes. Among the competing interpretive contexts in which people are immersed (fierce individualism, acquisitive consumerism, intense nationalism, political partisanship, hopeless negativism, naïve optimism) worship helps people perceive themselves, their world, their relationships, and their responsibilities in ways that include God's revelation in Christ.
Worship changes people and changes the way they experience their whole lives. Churches aspiring to have Passionate Worship work hard to deepen spiritual life and improve the quality of worship to help connect people to God. They make worship appealing and accessible while deepening theological integrity.
* * *
When people passionately care about worship and expect to encounter God in these moments together, it changes how they behave in preparation for it. Churches cannot expect visitors and members to take worship seriously if they do not act as if it is important to them. We must ask, what can we do to improve our worship as a congregation? How can the passionate love of God help contribute to worship that is alive, engaging, authentic, appealing, creative, and theologically sound?
Flexibility to change the way of presenting God's Word is vital to Passionate Worship. Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations succeed because spiritually mature and passionate leaders visibly support and encourage worship and music in diverse forms and expressions. They keep the end in mind, helping people find a way to God by making God's gracious message available in worship.
All churches offer worship services. Passionate Worship means a church cares enough about the service to offer its best, its utmost, its highest. Churches that practice Passionate Worship make this sacred time as free as possible from distractions, annoyances, and inconveniences; and people sense the deliberate care in preparation and intention. By simple acts, lovingly offered, churches with Passionate Worship draw people to God and to one another in Christ's name, and they afford people the opportunity to be shaped by God.
In churches that practice Passionate Worship, the music is at least good, usually excellent, but never mediocre. Music speaks directly to the soul, setting the tone and the emotional texture of the service. In some congregations, music may be simple; but it is dynamic, inspirational, and high quality. Quality music resonates through congregations who emphasize Passionate Worship.
strengthens the sense of belonging
lifts the spirit
Services that reflect passion for worship are balanced, using a mixture of complex and simple elements to communicate the message, a rhythm ranging from fast-paced and upbeat to reflective and quiet, and a tone that varies from graciously lighthearted and winsome to serious and respectful. Variation speaks both to heart and mind, and addresses those who prefer linear verbal progression as well as others who learn through images, metaphors, and stories. When possible, significant spiritual leadership from both male and female leaders helps connect to a greater diversity of people.
Passionate worshiping communities enliven aesthetic sensibilities to the beauty of God, giving worshipers multifaceted pathways to the truth of Christ. Worship is approachable, accessible, and comprehensible to the people that passionate worshiping communities seek to serve. In churches marked by Passionate Worship, people don't merely show up and sit passively in their pews; they are actively engaged, genuinely connected, personally addressed, and deeply challenged. The message touches them, the music moves them, and the service changes them.
Excerpted from Five Practices by Robert Schnase. Copyright © 2008 Robert Schnase. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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