As a small town young man in high school, I was selected to attend a prestigious 5-week program in the Arts in my home state of Pennsylvania. The program was made up of young artists in various genres (kind of like the movie Fame) from around the state, and I was in the Theater Program. The last thing I expected to learn during that time was a lesson about racism – from a fellow student.
With professionals training us, from a Broadway actress to a university theater director, we were learning from the best. Our acting program was intensive, and the sessions themselves were physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.
While I loved the improv classes (learning to throw lobs to one another, like Who’s Line Is It Anyway), some of the other exercises we did were a little, say, stretching for me.
If you’re going to go deep into the world of acting, the training is designed to help you develop a wide range of emotional skills – affective skills – that will enable you to act more convincingly in a variety of roles.
My experience during one exercise, in particular, has come back to me in force in these troubling days of racial tension – and it feels like yesterday that it happened.
One crowd says worship expression needs to be better art (greater complexity for meaningful reach to today’s world). Another crowd says worship must maintain greater accessibility (broader, meaningful service to the Church). Both crowds are right – and both need a good talking to.
The creative expressions of worship in our time are part of the Great Art of the Church, and therefore must never been minimized – even when critiquing today’s worship subcultures. To diminish their necessity, vitality, or centrality to spiritual life – in its deepest human forms – is to lose our way in every single conversation about the topic.
What diminishes our conversations about worship? When we speak about worship as if it is a tool, a music genre or style, or even, simply put, a consumable art form for our personal devotion. This kind of language needs a hard core fix.
Add 10 years to your life. How old will you be? Now, look at your current habits in one area of life that is continually not working out how you want it to. Multiply your current habits in that area times 10 years. Do you like what you see?
If you don’t like what you see, today is the day to – literally – kill the habits that are dragging you down.
Killing A Habit – The Example Of Health
I’ll start with an example. I’ve been wrestling with weight loss for some time now, and a trajectory in my family line toward diabetes, heart-disease, and other issues that rise and fall on daily eating and exercise choices.
I’ve tried and failed in many ways, and the truth is, most of what I do is half-hearted.
So let’s call any habit this is not helping me arrive at who I want to be in 10 years “bad.”
Related to my health, I have some bad habits (and bad attitudes that keep them going). Ready for honesty?
I asked good friend Brannon Hancock to write about the catalytic influence a deeper treatment of the Sacraments (visible signs of an inward grace), such as the Eucharist and Baptism, could have in a contemporary church’s worship life. With 10 reframing ideas, Brannon opens a sacred box for us all.
Could a generation ripe for “embodied stories” be craving worship that prioritizes the physical and the ritual to to engage the emotional and the cerebral? A generation swimming in emphases on the empirical and the immanent (see James K.A. Smith’s and Charles Taylor’s work) is responding to tangible worship practices and the enacted stories found in sacramental approaches.
Here are Brannon’s top 10 ideas, and every one opens up a world of its own. +
The following is, I submit, a theological course correction necessary for Worship Leaders and Pastors who lead in settings that intentionally welcome the Holy Spirit to be “manifest” as we engage in worship. It is for those who love when the presence of the Holy Spirit is experienced, at all levels, by a community who has gathered to worship.
First of all, let me affirm this: I love the Holy Spirit. I also love when the Holy Spirit is manifest in a room in a palpable way, and people are responding (aided by expressions of worship) to the invisible, yet overwhelming, presence of the living, loving, ever-present God.
But as pastors and worship leaders, we have a responsibility to think about the way we talk about that experience to our congregations. We may mean one thing theologically, but when we’re not careful with our words, we communicate another. Theological ideas can be helpful or unhelpful to the discipleship of Christians – what we believe about God and how He works – and the following addresses what I believe to be a theologically faulty way of talking about God’s presence in any given worship environment.
Do We Bring The Presence Of God When We Lead Worship?
Here is my answer: We don’t “bring” the Presence of God by our music, worship, messages, or prayers.
I believe such language is theologically faulty, and confuses Christians when we use it. It suggests that we ourselves are the primary actors in the worship story, and that our actions precipitate whether or not the omnipresent God is “there” or not.