Mar 22 2011

Isn’t Worship Conflict Really Just the Result of Conversational Narcissism?


NarcissismConversation is interactive communication involving two or more participants.  Even though conversation is not often scripted it may revolve around a central theme or subject.  A healthy conversation includes a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.  Meaningful conversations usually occur as a result of relationships built on familiarity achieved through repetition.

God’s revelation and our response to that revelation is a great model of meaningful conversation…we call it worship.  Robert Webber’s assessment is that, “Worship proclaims, enacts, and sings God’s story.”[1]  If you agree with Webber’s understanding then you will also realize that the conversation does not begin with us.  What we do and how we do it is a response to, not the initiation of the conversation.  God started the dialogue and graciously allows and encourages us to join Him in it.

Conversational Narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us and our personal interests.  Derber writes, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2]  Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting the topic to focus on our selfish interests. 

Conversational Narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic (God’s story) and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing (our story).  When the worship conversation continues to point to self instead of the story of God, we become narcissistic.  Instead of focusing on God and God’s story, our worship conversation focuses on me and my story.[3]  Shifting the topic of our worship also shifts the object of our worship.  The conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but on the worshiper.

Worship conflict begins when I constantly point the conversation back to me…what I need, what I prefer, what I like, what I want, what I deserve.  This worship conflict which occurs as a result of my narcissism is a great example of a one-sided, selfish, and unhealthy conversation.  I call it worship preferences…God calls it sin. 

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.

[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26-27.

[3] Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.


Jan 3 2011

What Is Wikiworship?


Wikipedia is a collaborative online resource of quickly editable encyclopedic information.  The name originated from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki, which means quick, hurry, or fast.  The founder of this informational resource, Jimmy Wales stated that Wikipedia exists to bring knowledge to everyone who seeks it.  And yet, in most high school and university academic circles its entries are not accepted as reputable references.  The reason…Wikipedia consists of user-generated content that is not always verified as accurate, not always appropriate, and is often accused of being systemically biased.     

What does this have to do with worship? 

Worship is not our attempt to be with Jesus, it is our response to having been with Jesus.  Depending on worship actions to connect with Jesus is user-generated, not always accurate, and not always appropriate Wikiworship

Wikiworship is…

  • The belief that what we do or how we do it will determine if God shows up.
  • When we reduce worship to music…and not just any music, but the music I like.
  • The belief that if we sing or play it in a certain style…worship will automatically occur.
  • When each one of us believes that true worship began with the music of my generation and will probably end with the music of my generation.
  • The belief that my favorite is also God’s favorite.
  • Asking God to enter our user-generated story.

Worship which begins with Jesus is entering and doing God’s story.[1]  It is speaking, praying, singing, dancing, playing, telling, preaching, teaching, listening, reading, and living God’s story.  Worship in Spirit and Truth is the realization that worship begins with a relationship with Jesus and the response to that relationship is manifested in our worship actions.  Worship which begins with Jesus is the understanding that God has already shown up and is initiating a relationship with us.  Our response to that relationship which cannot be contained in a single expression is…Worship. 

Robert Webber wrote, “Reflection on the incarnation and its connection to every aspect of God’s story is the missing link in today’s theological reflection and worship.  The link is found in these words:  God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.[2]   



[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 29.

[2] Ibid., 35.


Oct 7 2010

What Style of Music Does God Prefer?


The psalmist points out that God takes pleasure or enjoys the praise of his people through music…”Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.  For the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:3-4).  Are there certain musical styles he takes more delight in than others?  Are we arrogant to assume that he can’t stand certain styles because we can’t stand them?

As long as we see our worship music with the linear eyes of “we know what he likes and he likes what we know” our worship conflict will continue.  It is obviously more convenient when my favorite is also God’s favorite and therefore a more appropriate and spiritual expression of worship.  “Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear” (Ezekiel 12:2).  God sees our worship music from a multi-dimensional God’s-eye view.  Reggie Kidd wrote, “It is amazing to me what odd sorts of people Jesus loves and how oddly many of them sing.  Yet he seems to be fond of all this strangeness.”[1]  May the apostle Paul’s prayer be our prayer as we consider viewing worship from God’s perspective:  “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). 

Does God enjoy our belief that relevant worship music began with and will probably end with my generation?  Or…have we so focused on our own delight that we aren’t really even considering what God prefers.  Will the preferential divide ever allow us to realize that God doesn’t really care how our music is offered to him…just that it is offered to him?  The scripture never tells us what style of music God prefers.  However, the book of Isaiah does tell us what style he doesn’t prefer when the author writes,  “The Lord says:  These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).  Reggie Kidd also wrote, “It has to matter to me that Jesus hears harmonies that sound cacophonous to me.  It has to matter to me that he dances to rhythms that do not move me.”[2] 

[1] Reggie Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 120.

[2] Ibid., 129-130.


Oct 1 2010

What Is the Relationship of Mission and Worship?


Congregations considering worship renewal (which might also include radical change) usually look first at what they do and how they are doing it.  The prevailing thought is “if we sing new songs/bring back the old hymns; incorporate visual stimulants/actually hold the hymnal; dress down/dress up; or simply mimic those congregations we view as successful then worship renewal will occur.”  All of these worship elements may be culturally appropriate for individual congregations.  However, those congregations will continue to struggle with worship renewal and worship conflict until they focus on worship not just as what they do in the church but also who they are in the world.

In his book Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal wrote, “The missional church is not a what but a who.  When we think of church in what mode, we focus on something that exists apart from people, some ‘out there’ that people join and attend and support.  We try, then, to build great churches, believing that this is God’s primary strategy to engage the world.  Inevitably, this pre-occupation leads to discussions of how we can ‘do church’ better.  Thinking about the church in who mode focuses on what it means to be the people of God.  The central task is developing great followers of Jesus, believing that God has created people to demonstrate his redemptive intentions to the world in and through them.  This perspective frames an agenda so that the community of faith may encourage all its members to be faithful to God and to his mission as they live out being the church in the world.[1]

If worship is not just what we do but who we are can it ever occur outside of mission?  Check out the following video featuring Fuzz Kitto:


[1] Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 20.



Jul 27 2010

What Are You Reading About Worship?


What are you reading about worship?  Are you reading about worship is probably the more penetrating question.  The words of Eric Hoffer are profound as congregations consider worship renewal and potential change that might be required for that renewal.  Hoffer stated, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”[1]  When those who lead worship stop learning, they stop leading.  Leaders who lead solely on what they know instead of seeking insights and wisdom from what others know are coasting.  It is much easier to coast…but is it what we are called to do?  A lifelong learner is one who understands that it is never too soon or too late to learn.  So, what are you reading about worship? 

Below is a short list of worship renewal must-reads.  For additional resources please open the Worship Evaluation Reading List link above.  Your responses to this post with additional resources will also help us all. 


Berglund, Brad, Reinventing Sunday:  Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship (Valley Forge: Judson, 2001).  “One of the ways to develop creativity is to experience creativity.  Worship leaders who do not experience worship outside their own environment are limited to their own designs, traditions, and personal church experience.”

Best, Harold M., Unceasing Worship:  Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003).  “But everything that worship is on the human side is an outpouring of what it means to be created in the image of God.  Worship, in this initial and final sense, is human outpouring to the outpouring of lordship.  Thus, if our theology of God and our theology of imago Dei are correct, our theology of worship will likewise be correct, and we can link continuous outpouring to continuous worship.”   

Byars, Ronald P., The Future of Protestant Worship:  Beyond the Worship Wars (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).  “The church can exist without denominational bureaucracies, without hierarchies, without buildings, without public approval, and even without degrees granted and official screenings of its future officers, but it cannot exist without worship.”

Carson, Timothy L., Transforming Worship (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003).  “Worship wars may actually be about worship; people do have legitimate concerns and convictions about the way people worship their God.  Just as often, however, these skirmishes reflect a more generalized struggle for power.”

Cherry, Constance M., The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).  Note:  I have this book ordered and have only read excerpts.  However, anything written by Constance Cherry is a valuable resource.

Clark, Paul B., Jr., Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing (Nashville: CrossBooks, 2010).  “Congregational song reflects the communal nature of our worship and our oneness in Christ.  The act of such singing serves to sensitize us to the ministry needs and concerns of those in our midst as well as to others for whom we as congregation need to play our role as a royal priesthood; a bridge between God’s truth and hard realities of life.”

Doran, Carol and Thomas H. Troeger, Trouble At the Table:  Gathering the Tribes for Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992).  “The patterns that we encounter in revitalizing worship are symptomatic of a culture that honors feeling more than belief and commitment.”

Frame, John M., Worship in Spirit and Truth:  A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practices of Biblical Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1996).  “When we substitute human ideas (whether past traditions or contemporary notions) for God’s word, the result is bondage to human wisdom.  God’s yoke, though binding, is much easier and lighter.”

Kidd, Reggie M., With One Voice:  Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).  “Authentic Christian faith is not merely believed.  Nor is it merely acted upon.  It is sung – with utter joy sometimes, in uncontrollable tears sometimes, but it is sung.”

Nouwen, Henri J.M., With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994).  “Communion makes us look at each other and speak to each other, not about the latest news, but about him who walked with us.  We discover each other as people who belong together because each of us now belongs to him.”

Van Dyk, Leanne, Ed., A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005).  “Worship is, for Christians, both ‘primary school’ and ‘graduate school’ – a place where we are always learning the basics of how to be in true relationship to God and yet also reaching for the advanced skills we need for obedient and faithful Christian lives.”

Webber, Robert E., Ancient-Future Worship:  Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008).  “One crisis of Scripture is that we stand over the Bible and read God’s narrative from the outside instead of standing within the narrative and reading Scripture as an insider.”

Witvliet, John D., Worship Seeking Understanding:  Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).  “For comfortable North American worshipers and worship leaders today, the great temptation is to slip into expressions of petition, thanksgiving, and proclamation that are nearly exclusively focused on the present moment.  Perhaps this is an inevitable result of lives and churches that are content with the status quo.”

York, Terry W., and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation:  Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005).  “We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas.  If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”


[1] Hoffer, Eric, Reflections on the Human Condition (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 32.


Jun 17 2010

Why Is Worship Evaluation Essential?


Worship renewal will only occur when congregations prayerfully consider the biblical foundations, theological tenets, and historical precedents of worship.  If worship leaders agree that these foundational elements are necessary why do they continue to depend on song selection and stylistic change to negotiate the worship impasse?  The need for worship renewal must be determined first by considering worship principles before trying new worship practices.

Intentional, consistent evaluation can provide “a constructive way to articulate what a congregation has learned about itself and its worship practices, as well as to help prioritize which goals are most important to address in the future.”[1]  Unless an organized plan of evaluation of the deeper issues of worship is implemented, the tendency to focus on style and mechanics consumes the energy of worship planners and leaders.  Worship leaders could feel threatened by the prospect of an evaluation of service mechanics and personalities.  Reassurance can be found when reminded that “the purpose of evaluation is not to give a grade to the musician or preacher or worship leader, or to provide a ready-made forum for resident critics to explain what is wrong with worship.”[2]  Instead, it is a process of determining if our liturgy is truly incarnational.  The liturgy, instead of the individual becomes the evaluand.  This removes the focus from personalities or preferences and returns it to its biblical foundation.

Internal Evaluation

Internal worship evaluation is a valuable instrument once a framework for a deeper understanding of worship renewal has been established and practiced.  The danger of internal evaluation without a deeper understanding is the perpetuation of ideological evaluation based on likes and dislikes, mechanics and styles.  Some advantages to internal evaluation to assist in worship renewal are:

  • There is a greater likelihood that the evaluation will be tailored to the information needs of organization members.
  • There will be greater access to data.
  • Organization members can develop evaluation expertise.
  • There is a greater chance of evaluation becoming a sustained, institutionalized practice that is integrated with other work tasks and strategic planning.
  • The evaluation results have a greater probability of being used for decision making and action.
  • Knowledge of the organization and its members may provide greater insights into the evaluation’s design, implementation, and results.[3]

Disadvantages lie in the realization that since the evaluators have a more personal interest, there is a danger of organizational politics entering into the evaluation process thereby impeding the validity of the evaluation.  Internal evaluation should be an ongoing method of determining if a congregation is remaining faithful to worship renewal once the initial parameters have been established.   

External Evaluation

External evaluation offers a process of evaluation from an outside source providing a greater degree of objectivity.  The hope through this process would be an unbiased or unprejudiced evaluation of the worship depth of a congregation.  Again, the focus of this evaluation would not be on mechanics or style.  External evaluation should precede internal evaluation and be executed much more infrequently.  External evaluation provides the ‘big-picture” worship renewal areas of concentration, where internal evaluation determines how consistently a congregation is implementing those areas.  Advantages to enlisting an external evaluator may include:

  • Increased evaluation expertise.
  • Greater independence.
  • Ability to see the whole picture and provide a different perspective.
  • Less susceptibility to cooptation.
  • Evaluation may be completed in a more timely way.
  • Organization members may be more honest with an outsider.[4]

 Embedded Theology

A successful external evaluation could be hindered by a limited understanding of the theological culture of a particular congregation.  Discerning the generally accepted beliefs of a congregation will allow an evaluator to assess them in light of these convictions.  This accepted understanding of faith “disseminated by the church and assimilated by its members in their daily lives”[5] is called embedded theology.  This rooted understanding of faith and practice permeates the entire life of the congregation, including its worship.  The challenge for an external evaluator is the balance between understanding a congregation’s embedded theology and still remaining objective during the evaluation.  External evaluation within the same faith culture or denomination will allow some implicit insight of a congregation’s faith and practice.  Since the practices of a congregation so often reflect its understanding of theology, a challenge to those practices are where we find ourselves in conflict as we strive for worship renewal.  The realization that this embedded understanding began for some at birth gives additional credence to the significance of external evaluation.

Don S. Browning gives insight to this understanding of embedded theology when he explains, “We come to the theological task with questions shaped by the secular and religious practices in which we are implicated – sometimes uncomfortably.”[6]  When a congregation comes to the place of a crisis in practice it begins to question the theory of that practice.  Browning points out that theory and practice are related.  All our practices are in response to theory, even though we might not recognize the theory.  Our practices are such an embedded part of who we are as a congregation that we often fail to extract and understand the theory behind those practices.  When congregants come to a crisis such as the worship wars, they begin asking questions about their practice.  If worship renewal is to occur they must look at the deeper understanding of the theory.[7]  External evaluation can give a perspective outside of a congregations embedded understanding to help facilitate the process of evaluating these theories.  Browning additionally proposes that this view “goes from practice to theory and back to practice.”[8]  Not all embedded theology is flawed.  The hope is that through evaluation a congregation would take a second look at its embedded practices to determine if they are theologically sound.  

Deliberative Theology

The theological discernment that emerges through careful reflection on embedded understanding is referred to as Deliberative Theology.  This second thought reflection is sometimes called second-order theology.  Previously taken for granted understandings are set aside or evaluated along with additional relevant information in an effort to discover a deeper theological awareness that a restricted personal understanding might not allow.[9]  The danger with this deliberative theological reflection is that it could become too academic or insensitive in its approach.  As a congregation begins reflection for the purpose of worship renewal, it must take into consideration the deep-seated emotional connection congregants have with their embedded understandings.  A sensitive and judicious approach in the reflection of these divergent views will help ensure a more palatable transition and ultimate transformation.


Involving congregation members in the evaluation process helps to eliminate the potential for an insensitive and mechanistic approach to change.  A collaborative-participatory approach assumes that those involved can engage in healthy dialog to reach understandings about their deliberative theology.  Caution must be implemented so that this approach does not allow for ideological or political influence.  Undue influences or influencers could potentially manipulate the reasons for the evaluation, persons selected as evaluators, and the way in which the evaluation is executed.  Darlene Russ-Eft and Hallie Preskill offer the counsel that the collaborative and participatory approach is particularly useful when there is a desire to increase the likelihood for using the evaluation’s findings and to obtain buy-in and involvement from key leaders.[10] 

An organized plan which involves worship leadership through external evaluation and congregation members through internal evaluation will ensure the inevitable dialog will not turn to secondary concerns.  The Worship Sourcebook offers insight that “Discussions on these matters takes practice and intentionality.  Over time, congregations and leaders can learn how to engage at this level.  One important result of this is that gradually the attention of both leaders and worshipers is drawn to deeper matters.”[11]


[1] The Worship Sourcebook, (The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker, 2004), 763.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Darlene Russ-Eft and Hallie Preskill, Evaluation in Organizations: A Systematic Approach to Enhancing Learning, Performance, and Change (New York: Basic, 2001), 35. This volume was written to develop more efficient evaluations in secular organizations but has profound implications for congregations.

[4] Ibid., 36.

[5] Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke, How to Think Theologically (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 13.

[6] Don S. Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology: Descriptive and Strategic Proposals (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 5-6.

[7] Ibid., 6.

[8] Ibid., 7.

[9] Stone and Duke, How to Think Theologically, 16.

[10]Russ-Eft and Preskill, Evaluation in Organizations, 92.

[11] The Worship Sourcebook, 763.


Jun 1 2010

Is Corporate Prayer Causing Worship Conflict?


If prayer is the act of communicating with God and worship is a conversation…wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) every act of corporate worship also then be an act of prayer?  Is it possible that departmentalizing worship elements away from this singular unifying act of worship as prayer has contributed to worship conflict and passivity of worshipers? 

In the seventeenth century, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, an uneducated brother who served as a cook in a French monastery found himself in the presence of God even while pealing potatoes as well as when he was kneeling in prayer.  “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God:  those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive; it is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us.”  -Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (Fifth Letter)

The departmentalization of worship elements has relegated prayer to a stand-alone act where predictable leaders lead predictable prayers at predictable places in the worship order.  Prayer becomes a worship service selah to transition worship elements, offer the congregation a breath of fresh air before a long section, or discreetly move the worship band to the platform.  Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Worship wrote that a crisis exists in the neglect of public prayer.  He stated, “The neglect of prayer is the failure to conduct all of worship as the prayer of the church for the life of the world.  This failure to grasp all of worship as a cosmic prayer has several underlying causes.  The most fundamental reason why worship is not seen as prayer is the failure to grasp that corporate prayer arises from the story of God.  We think of corporate prayer as arising within ourselves.[1]   

Webber pointed out that prayer arising from God’s story is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving “directed, not to the people, but to God.  This approach is a paradigm shift from the current presentational notion of worship.”[2]  He continued by stating, “Today worship is frequently seen as a presentation made to the people to get them to believe in the first place, to enrich and edify their faith, and to bring healing into their lives.  But the ancient church did not design worship to reach people, to educate people, or to heal people.  Yet in their worship, which was a prayer of praise and thanksgiving offered to God, people were indeed led into contemplation of God’s mighty acts of salvation and stimulated to live a life of participation in the life of God in the life of the world.  The point is, of course, that how we pray shapes who we are.”[3]

Would the worship of your congregation be radically different if worshipers viewed the unique elements such as the gathering together, congregational singing, verbal prayers, preaching, the Lord’s Supper, the reading of Scripture, and the Offering as the single unifying worship act of communicating with God in prayer? 


[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 150.

[2] Ibid., 161.

[3] Ibid., 161-162.


May 10 2010

Can Worship Occur without Sacrifice?


In his search for the roots of violence that could lead to war, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi drafted a list to give to his grandson titled the “Seven Blunders of the World.”  Number seven on that list is Worship without Sacrifice.  Worship wars have occurred as factions within congregations have drawn lines in the sand in response to worship preferences, traditions, perceived relevance, and as a response to culture.  Gandhi shared this list with his grandson in what would be their last time together not long before he was assassinated.

To sacrifice is to surrender for the sake of something or someone.  It is the act of giving up, surrendering, offering up, or letting go.  The antonym of sacrifice is to hold on to.  A bunt in baseball is designated as a sacrifice for the purpose of advancing a runner to assist in the success of the team.  Executing this sacrifice is called “laying down” a bunt.  What an interesting word picture for the church as it gathers in community for worship.

In the book of Romans, Paul focused on the divisions by which we segregate ourselves.  In the twelfth chapter he wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul used body to represent the whole person…which would also include traditions and preferences.  The Old Testament sacrifice required the shedding of blood and a slain sacrifice.  Living sacrifice signifies an ongoing, constant dedication.  Charles Thomas Studd, an English missionary who served in China, India, and Africa had this statement at his motto:  “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”

Those who have read stories of Mount Everest expeditions will know the names of Hillary and Mallory.  These men have been recorded in history as some of the greatest climbers.  The Sherpas from Nepal, however, are the climbing guides who have made the most trips and the fastest ascents to the peak of Everest.  Those outside the climbing community do not even know their names.  The Sherpas job is not just to reach the summit but to lead others to the summit.  Their responsibility is to assist those with less skill, less experience, and less knowledge of the mountain.  Reggie Kidd said, “Despite every attempt we make to pare his song list down to a manageable repertoire, Jesus is constantly expanding it.  In defiance of congregations’ insistence on dividing themselves along age and affinity lines, Jesus teaches his people to defer to one another.  Thus he blends the songs of generations and nations and families and tribes and tongues to make sweet harmony to the Father.”[1]

Worship Sacrifice Is…

  • The understanding that I may not always like the worship preferences of my daughter but I am willing to make concessions because I love her.
  • The realization that worship did not begin and will not end with the worship preferences of my generation.
  • Realizing that I have been arrogant to assume my favorite worship style and God’s favorite worship style are the same.
  • Having the attitude that 6 days and 23 hours of the week I can choose my worship preferences but as my worshiping community gathers for worship I am willing to sacrifice my preferences for the unity of the body.

 C.S. Lewis in Answers to Questions on Christianity shared the following account of his early days after becoming a Christian:  “When I first became a Christian, I thought that I could do it on my own by retiring to my room and reading theology, and wouldn’t go to churches and gospel halls.  I disliked very much their hymns which I considered to be fifth rate poems set to sixth rate music.  But as I went on I saw the merit of it.  I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.  I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew,  and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”[2]

“We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas.  If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[3]


[1] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 178.

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 61-62.

[3] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 108.


Mar 24 2010

Blended Worship: In Our Attempts to Please All Are We Pleasing None?


BLEND:  To combine or associate so that the separate constituents or the line of demarcation cannot be distinguished.

Has blended worship become a watered down musical expression reminiscent of the ‘80’s pop style of Air Supply?  Has this generic approach to the mixing of musical genres contributed to a worship expression where neither side of the musical spectrum is ever really happy?  Has our desire for worship relevance created a bland mixture of worship elements that no longer resembles what it started out as?

Most congregations define blended worship as the mixing of traditional hymns, praise and worship songs, and possibly a few visual elements such as drama and video.  Churches have chosen to move to a blended service in an effort to reach multi-generations or to stave off the exodus of younger church members to congregations with more lively music.  In an effort to remain relevant, these moves are sometimes based on the observed success of congregations considered more contemporary in their musical approach.

Robert Webber recognized that there are three predominant group responses to this uncertain worship culture.  The first group wants worship to be as it was.  Their response is to resist change and the incorporation of new.  The second response is that traditional is irrelevant and new is significant.  Webber offered a third option that respects tradition, while implementing worship styles formed by contemporary culture.  This convergence worship begins with a willingness to reopen all discussions related to worship.[1]  Webber continued with the explanation, “convergence worship is an alternative worship that is concerned for order and freedom, the historical and the contemporary, the verbal and the symbolic.[2]  How much more profound is this understanding of convergence worship as opposed to blended worship which becomes an exercise of balancing musical selections in an effort to please everyone and in reality never completely pleasing anyone?  Convergence worship is the occurrence when Kairos (God’s time) meets Chronos (chronological time).

Webber outlined the following characteristics of Convergence Worship:

  • Worship is constantly in the process of reform.
  • The entire worshiping community has much to teach us.
  • The past has much to contribute to the present.
  • Convergence is committed to a broad range of musical content and style. 
  • It is committed to a recovery of the arts in worship.
  • Affirms an acceptance of the Verbal and Symbolic Word.
  • Understands that worship is both rational and mystical.
  • Worship is personal and corporate.  God meets the church but he also meets me.
  • Worship is both giving and receiving.
  • Convergence worship is also both comforting and disturbing.
  • Discourages passive and encourages participative worship.

Instead of believing true worship began and will end with my generation we must be reminded that worship is portrayed in the scripture as being cumulative.  We seem to have forgotten that “earlier centuries of Christians faced equally shocking and shaking developments.  We forget the innovative and sometimes heroic ways they adapted and often flourished.  By remembering, we can avoid the inclination toward either excessive self-congratulation or undue self-pity.”[3]  Webber reminded us that our past led us through the present and will continue to lead us into the future.  Worship reform will commence when we agree to regularly evaluate our liturgy in light of biblical and theological parameters, not on the basis of feelings, style, or mechanics.  Since we are not the first to experience this clash of culture and generation we must be reminded that “worship is not created; it is discovered and recreated.”[4]  Worship renewal is a continuation as well as a modification.

Moving beyond the simple formula of blending a few praise songs and hymns is a difficult and painful process.  Worship renewal through a deeper understanding of biblical and historical foundations must occur to curb random sampling of various styles.  Considering the deeper issues of convergence worship instead of the secondary stylistic and mechanistic elements of blended worship will help encourage worship renewal in our congregations.  Transition is often a painful process but if the ultimate gain is transformation, it will be worth the effort.  We have forgotten that “what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas.  If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[5]

For additional understanding of Webber’s Worship Convergence see “Ancient-Future Worship” and “The Complete Library of Christian Worship.”



[1] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 3, “The Renewal of Sunday Worship”  (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 122.

[2] Ibid., 124.

[3] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 1.

[4] Berglund, Reinventing Sunday, xvii.

[5] Ibid., 112.


Mar 15 2010

Are We Missing Worship in the “In-Between?”



Worship renewal is a time of transition requiring biblical understanding, prayer, sensitivity, discernment, preparation, and even sacrifice.  The fusion of congregants steeped in post-modernity with those longing for the comfort of modernity is reflected in the uncertainty of worship preparation and implementation.  It is logical to assume that the desire for culturally relevant worship will parallel the nature of that culture.  Since many congregations are made up of individuals who still live in both worlds, which do we choose?  The transition to post-modernity was a comfortable progression for some, while others strain to hold onto the familiar tenets of modernity.  The conflict arises as congregations attempt to find common ground between the two worlds in corporate worship practices.  This impasse has precipitated the practice of multi-venue congregations in an attempt to meet the needs of all.  Conflict arises as congregations come to terms with the various comfort levels associated with this lack of stability.  Has the longing of one generation for what worship was and the hope of another generation for what worship could be caused us all to miss worship in the in-between?

Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep identified and examined patterns of transition and renewal within communal systems.  Through his study, van Gennep identified this genre of social transition as the Rites of Passage.[1]  As a living organism, a community of faith also passes through developmental transitions as a natural progression of the life of that congregation and a reflection of the surrounding culture.  Victor Turner continued van Genneps’ study by further outlining the rites of passage as a separation from what was known to a transitional or liminal stage, ultimately leading to a reaggregation or reincorporation.[2]  This word liminal originates from the Latin word, limins, meaning threshold.[3]  “Liminal reality is that space and time that has broken with prevailing structure, whatever that may be.  Precisely because it is positioned between the structures of life, it holds latent power for future transformation.”[4]  Liminality is the place where we find ourselves in our present culture of worship in the in-between.  The danger of liminality as it relates to worship renewal is in balancing the desire for complete abandonment with the desire for holding onto foundational touchstones.  Worship renewal begins when a congregation embraces transformation as developmental rather than rejecting it because of hesitancy to change…while welcoming its rich worship history as formative to present and future practices rather than viewing it as archaic.  For this to occur, transformation must be viewed as a Renovation of the Heart rather than just a change in worship practice. (see Dallas Willard)

Although the liminal stage can be a time of uncertainty, it could also be a time of hope, expectation, and even unity.  Turner refers to a special camaraderie which sometimes develops among those sharing a liminal stage as communitas.[5]  The spirit expressed in the understanding of this Latin noun is harmony within a community based on its common purpose, not necessarily on its common practice.  Encouraging a spirit of communitas enables those who are sharing a liminal stage to develop a community of the in-between.  This relationship “creates a community of anti-structure whose bond continues even after the liminal period is concluded.”[6] 

Is it possible that reaggregation leading to worship renewal will not occur until we figure out how to do it during the in-between?  Or, is it even possible that the liminality we are experiencing in worship is the almost but not yet and that reaggregation will not occur until eternity?  If either one is true, we better get after it.  Robert Webber recognized that there are three predominant group responses to our uncertain worship culture.  The first wants worship to be as it was.  Their response is to resist change and the incorporation of new.  The second response is that traditional is irrelevant and new is significant.  Webber offers a third option that respects tradition, while implementing worship styles formed by contemporary culture.  This convergence worship begins with a willingness to reopen all discussions related to worship.[7]  Next weeks post will explore how convergence worship could help encourage worship renewal in the in-between.









[1] Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960); referenced in Timothy L Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power: Pastoral Interpretation and Method,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 7 (Summer 1997): 99.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between,” quoted in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 100.

[4] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 60.

[5] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (New York: Aldine, 1969); as referenced in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 101.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 3, “The Renewal of Sunday Worship”  (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 122.


Feb 15 2010

Have Free Church Worship Leaders Become Protestant Priests?


The priesthood of the believer is one of the foundational doctrinal tenets of congregations in the Free Church culture.  Our belief is that in the new covenant Jesus became our mediator and serves as the intercessor for the people of God.  An earthly priest is no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’ blood was offered; the veil was torn in half; and the way was now open for all to worship him.  We adhere to this precept but do we really practice it?  Have congregants abdicated their responsibility and have worship leadership designees guarded that territory as a place reserved only for those called and trained? 

The attitude that worship will occur when leaders create worship flow has consigned the accountability of the individual worshiper to the leadership of an earthly high priest reminiscent of the old covenant.  The new covenant outlined in Hebrews 9 and 10 offers Jesus as “a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (Heb 8:2).  In this place of ministry, Jesus has become our Liturgist and serves as our mediator in worship preparation and implementation.  As the tabernacle and its elements are described, the author points out that the old covenant limits access to God.  Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies one time a year with a blood offering (Heb 9:3, 6-7).  The place where God’s presence was most realized was not available except through the high priest and only at certain times of the year.  The new covenant through the blood sacrifice of Christ gave and continues to give believers access to the presence of the living God.  The earthly high priest was no longer needed for access to God since “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come” (Heb 9:11).

Additional justification for passivity of the untrained worshiper is often found in the feeling of unworthiness, which contributes to the relinquishment of responsibility to others more qualified to perform the functions of worship.  Have worship leaders unwittingly or perhaps intentionally perpetuated that understanding?  Is there anyone who should feel more unworthy than the one God has trusted with the responsibility to lead?  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we can enter the presence of God with boldness not available in the restrictions of the old covenant.  He writes, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).  Who reads, speaks, prays, testifies, leads, sings, exhorts, offers communion, baptizes, encourages confession, blesses, offers thanksgiving, and mediates in your services of worship?  Can we expect participative worship when the only participation available is observation?  Can some of these elements traditionally presented by leaders be presented by the people?  The new covenant has provided access to all who follow Christ.  Genuine participation is limited when worship is done for us by a select few.


Feb 8 2010

Did Inattention to Discipleship Start the Worship Wars?


When Jesus initiated the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, he began by talking to her about her spiritual condition (John 4:10).  In an effort to divert his attention from her personal life and character, the woman brought up the ongoing worship argument between the Jews and Samaritans about which temple was in fact God’s dwelling place (John 4:20).  Does that argument sound familiar?  Instead of joining her where and how worship argument; Jesus stretched her thinking by addressing the spiritual nature of the worshiper.  He said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).  Those who worship in spirit and truth are not those who know about worship but those who know of worship. 

Did our intense focus on how we worship instead of why we worship start and perpetuate the worship wars in our congregations?  Our response to what is occurring on the inside (discipleship) should be manifested in our actions on the outside (worship).  Have we so minimized our focus on discipleship that we have it backward?  Have we misplaced so much of our energy and effort that we are depending on our outward worship actions to determine what occurs on the inside?  Has this singular focus caused our worship to become our discipleship and the sole measurement of what it means to be a Christ follower?  If worship was an intrinsic response to our having been with Jesus instead of our sole effort at being with Jesus, would we continue to fight these battles?  Agreeing this has occurred is much easier than trying to determine what can be done to rectify it.