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.
In Mark 11:1-11, Jesus is entering the Great Jerusalem, meaning “City of Shalom, City of completeness, wholeness, of God’s all-permeating Peace.” But as the Prince of Peace enters – the Prince of Shalom Himself – a holy mess is about to be made.
Jesus marks the beginning of His Passion week, as crowds before Him, crowds behind Him, and crowds all around Him voice a singular cry: “Hosanna!” – a cry of triumphant praise, that means “Save, now!” But no one is prepared for the kind of saving, the kind of rescue operation, the kind of deliverance mission about to be initiated by the One whose very name, Y’shua, means “The Lord saves.”
The year is 1984, and George Orwell’s dystopian future has not come to pass. A 50-year old musician’s career has reached an all-time low. A song he is about to write, rooted in a word that is thousands of years old, will rise like a phoenix from his creative ashes – flying right into the popular consciousness of a generation.
He is sitting on the floor of his hotel room in New York City, clad in only his underwear, with numerous lyric-filled notebooks strewn around him. He is banging his head on the floor as he struggles to complete a song for which he has 80 draft verses; a song that has been stuck inside him for at least two years.
I’ve now spent most of my adult life (30 years) thinking about, leading, and teaching on the topic of worship. It’s been central to my life’s call to reflect on why we do what we do in worship in settings like local churches, conference events, an universities. After interacting with contemporary worship ideas around the world over these past 3 decades, here are the top 5 most important things I believe every congregation needs to understand about worship.
As each of the following sections is a summary, I promise that I will leave out language about worship that is important to someone. But in this setting, the summaries will have to suffice.
Under each point, I suggest “What We Get Wrong,” and “How We Get It Right.” I hope these insights are helpful to our shared understanding of worship.
The following guest post by good friend Ryan Flanigan further explores the theme of friend Glenn Packiam in “What You Probably Don’t Know About Modern Worship.” His insights from his contemporary worship leadership roots and Anglican experience leading at All Saints Dallas are priceless in this conversation. If you connect with the contemporary worship experience, and the liturgical life of worship, you’ll love this addition to the conversation.
Photo courtesy of www.clairemccormack.com
Making “Sense” of Modern Worship: Scripture, Spirit, and Sacrament
By Ryan Flanigan
Glenn Packiam is one of the most important voices in modern worship. In an attempt to reason with those who continually slam modern worship, Glenn posted this fantastic blog on what critics might not know about modern worship:
As Glenn argues, not all modern churches are alike, so it’s usually unhelpful to make blanket statements about what’s wrong with modern worship or to lump all megachurch worship with modern worship. He also observes that much criticism of modern worship comes from people who want to “kill” it rather than people who want to make it better.
He then speaks to the good in modern worship, such as its Spiritual inspiration, missional impulse, and emotional engagement.
Glenn and I share similar journeys and convictions about worship. We were both born into liturgical traditions, have both spent considerable time in the charismatic world, have both been educated in evangelical theology and have both found our way into the Anglican tradition, where there is freedom for all three of these streams — liturgical, charismatic, and evangelical—to find full expression and form. (Read my story here.)