21st Century Worship Ideas Should…

I’ve decided to repost this particular piece, as it garnered some interesting dialogue outside of the blogosphere, and I’d like to deepen some of its ideas with feedback. Feel free to offer comment, again or for the first time, this time around:

The following list is by no means complete, nor the first to be attempted by any means, but after our class today in Leadership In Ancient & Emerging Worship Practice, a few of these ran through my heart and head.

I’ve decided that, with continued reflection, I will continue to add to this list, and eventually, I would like to explore each topic in possibly a book, visual or audio format. It may emerge as a central “processing place” for the Worship And Arts Institute.


Nurture healthy theological views that celebrate and centralize on God in His revealed attributes,

affirm that all of life is an encountering ground with God, and the basis for the human response to God that is worship,

dignify the human person and bring rehumanizing elements into all matters of worship aesthetics,

facilitate personal and corporate dependence on God,

deny the modernist, dualistic worldview that affirms the concept of the secular, in space, people or ideology, as existing in a substantial way apart from the sacred,

emphasize the sacredness of all of life in a way that embraces the brokeness of the world,

unswervingly elevate ideas of biblical and scriptural truth in a variety of forms,

enhance memorization and quick recall of the biblical narrative and living text,

involve and explore more than simply auditory or literary formats,

affirm the human need for ritual, repetitition and predictability (to a degree) to reinforce worldview,

leave room for miracle and divine intervention and interaction,

revisit the concepts of sacrament and community participation in worship expression,

create multiple spaces for multi-level response to God,

discerningly incorporate ancient patterns and worship forms, liturgical/historical wisdom and expressions, and both current gifts in worship forms (such as contemporary worship music) and multi-cultural forms (both inside and outside of the western experience),

affirm the Jewish roots of the story we embrace,

re-narrate and re-tell the message of the Kingdom of God in fresh idioms,

affirm a faith language based on action and followership over and against a faith based primarily on the language of belief,

highlight the scriptures beyond just the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus; the entirety of the biblical story, and the stories of Jesus’ way among us should be creatively retold,

center our ecclesiology and communication on the Kingdom rather than the church, the community’s life in the world rather than only focusing on personal salvation (vital as it is),

illuminate that a realm we cannot see or touch exists around us, involving both forces of good and forces of evil (i.e. it should be discerning, and understand the power of spiritual forces in the world that we cannot “see or touch”),

affirm the alternative way of living and being that Jesus modeled,

affirm an alternative social order that is centered on Jesus’ teaching, and is teased apart from ethnocentrism, nationalism and political partisanship,

teach and train via various media content,

leave space and create room for mystery, wonder and personal interaction within communal worship, often by humanizing devotional spaces and reimagining the idea of sacred space by invoking art, architecture, taste, smell and other sensory experience,

embrace non-linear formats for devotional worship, communal care, and narrative story-telling,

affirm the roles of science, art and all forms of human endeavor in the language of worship,

and continue to look beyond solely western-based ideas of worship expression/experience for inspiration.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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15 thoughts on “21st Century Worship Ideas Should…

  1. Hey Dan
    If you didn’t want to get into this furthur that is okay, but I don’t understand either of these.

    affirm a faith language based on action and followership over and against a faith based primarily on the language of belief,

    center our ecclesiology and communication on the Kingdom rather than the church, the community’s life in the world rather than personal salvation,

  2. 1. to emphasize in the songs we write and use that the Christian life is as equally about how we act in the world, including caring for the poor, etc., as it is about what we believe. This is in contrast to a strong emphasis on what we believe in much contemporary worship music (which is vital), and a desire to bring balance by encouraging actions to which Jesus has called us.

    2. The Church, as we know it and define it, does not equal the Kingdom of God. Biblically, they are quite different concepts, the first being the people called to follow God in the way of Jesus, and the second being the overarching rule and reign of God in the world.

    Following Jesus regarding the Kingdom does not always line up with our paradigms of what “Church” is in the modern day. Ideally, a community lives out the Kingdom way in the world…

    But they are not the same thing.

    The second emphasis of the sentence reminds us that Jesus’ work is not primarily understood by the scriptures in terms of “personal salvation;” that is part of it, but by no means the center or the whole. His redemption work goes far beyond our personal encounter with that work, but that is often where it starts.

    The Kingdom of God that he ushered in has to do with the entire cosmos; not just my spiritual life today. Though, that too, properly understood.

    How’s that for a quick one?

    None of this is trying at all to decry personal salvation or the Church – they are just not biblically the center of the story – they are a vital part of a story that centers on Jesus’ work ushering in the Kingdom of God for all the world (which included individual people).

    The Church is not the Kingdom, though it has often been equated with it. Sometimes we as a people model the Kingdom, and sometimes we model what any social group following a belief models. Just a distinction that should mark the words we say and the songs we sing.

  3. okay, now I understand the first one.
    I wasn’t sure if by personal salvation you are referring to a moment in time, or our continual redemption which is a life long process. Wasn’t the point the redemption of all the world, which is each of us? Your wording “rather than personal salvation” sounds like a choice to centre on one or the other, which I don’t really follow. Isn’t the goal of our personal salvation to make us disciples in the world? And isn’t God about each and all creation simultaneously and indistinguishable one from the other?

  4. Yes, to your final question. In any season of the Church’s life, there is a continual need for course correction. Our emphasis on personal salvation and the sweet by and by is only one emphasis in the scriptures related to “soteriology” (salvation experience), and by no means the only, or even (gulp; cover our western ears) or even primary, emphasis.

    Our emphasis in today’s brands of Christian experience is almost completely based on individual salvation. Your understanding of the idea is correct, but in a day when that message is so convoluted with personal experience (we are the “if I feel it, it’s true generation”) there must be a return to the language of wider Church history.

    I would never neglect the personal salvation message; but today’s worship music and expressions are based almost entirely on the idea – and it is not the central idea the scriptures deliver to us related to salvation, or redemption. The story is much, much bigger than we typically capture (there are beautiful, and notable, exceptions).

    I and other songwriters are seeking to write some worship songs that aid this journey through our cultural Christian experience into the wider experience expressed in Church history.

  5. Reading through this post, I’m struck by a few things.
    1) That to firmly grasp some of these concepts, a person would need to receive in-depth, directed & formal training.
    2) That I’m perhaps not smart enough to be emerging…
    are there such things as Demergents?
    Rich in pokeyville Maine,USA

  6. Hi Dan, just coming back to your blog tonight. I LOVE this! In response I’ll point you to a few posts I did on worship and songwriting last year:

    ‘Atheist’ Worship

    Restoring Worship: An Example

    New Worship for a New Covenant

    It’s eerie how similar our ideas are!

    The one I’d add, and I don’t think I even blogged about this, is that I’d love to take a lot of the practical developmental wisdom from Christian writers in the contemplative/mystical tradition, when they wrote of the disciple’s spiritual ‘stages of ascent’ toward the ‘renewing of the mind’ and one’s conscious union with God. (Also the East Orthodox tradition of ‘theosis’ or ‘divinization’) I’d like to take some of this poetry, this wisdom, from writers from Meister Eckhart to Hildegaard von Bingen (herself a composer) to Francois Fenelon to Evelyn Underhill, and put it to music, put it to worshipful poetry that will itself be a transformative contemplative experience, by God’s grace.

    The problem is, I’m an author, not a musician. Alas…

  7. Great stuff, Mike. I appreciate your posts as well. I am a musician and an author, so I’m actually working on what you suggest above – in the background, of course.

    Great thoughts there.

  8. Hey Dan,
    I would add that worship should ‘regenerate and establish an ever expansive imagination.’

    Walking into the knowledge of God’s presence in worship either through the hearing of God words, God stories, or simply his incarnate presence, makes us aware….of something more, of something bigger. Our mind begins to wonder in worship about things we don’t understand; of things we long and reach for. Worship is the place we ‘become’ larger, and larger, and our mind is lifted up from the everyday.

  9. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for putting this together.. I’m excited that there are those who are pursuing an agenda for modern/post-modern worship values and taking the time to clearly lay them out for others to process.