Worship Arts: Actively encountering God
Use of the arts recalls Booth’s innovative approach to evangelism.
by Sue Schumann Warner (edited by) –
It’s Sunday morning at the local corps…the congregation sings a hymn of praise softly as, near the altar, dancers in flowing robes gently dip and turn, arms extended, with movements responsive to the tempo and timbre of the hymn. The sanctuary is filled with a sense of the divine. And then the sermon begins…while elsewhere, across the territory in another corps, costumed teens present a dramatic reading about the prodigal son…and at yet another corps, a mime—dressed in black, with whitened face—acts out the parable of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep.
Holiness meetings? Yes, they might be—as Salvationists respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit and awaken to new possibilities in worship experiences.
“Forms of worship in The Salvation Army are changing, driven by a variety of forces, internal and external…” said Colonels Gwenyth and Robert Redhead, in “Worship Together,” (The Officer, November/December 2004).
Prior to their retirement, the Redheads were the General’s Representatives for the Development of Worship and Evangelism through Music and other Creative Arts.
Recently, they were guest speakers at the West’s territorial worship arts retreat, where delegates explored a number of new and expressive means of offering worship—from Latin dance and drama to multimedia, mime, hip-hop, keyboards, and more.
Unusual means of worship? Perhaps. But then, the Army is rooted in innovation: “When William Booth founded The Salvation Army, he introduced a very different style of worship meetings,” said (then) General John Larsson in “Needed: revitalized meetings” (The Officer, July/August 2005). “Out went unwelcoming formality. In came warmth of worship, informality, joy, hearty singing, participation through prayer and testimony, the note of praise, and Bible messages that spoke to the hearts of the hearers, challenging them to decision. There was even a place for humor, and always room for the unexpected. Freedom was a key characteristic. The meetings were inspirational.”
Looking at worship today
Colonel Gwenyth Redhead explored elements of worship in a three-part series printed in The Officer magazine. The following is excerpted from that series.
What is worship?
We are all familiar with traditional elements that contribute to worship: hymns, prayers, music of songsters and band, stained glass windows, a cross, and holiness table—things that are both internal and external, and are expressed individually and corporately.
We are all worshippers. It is an innate part of our being. We need to ask: ‘What or who is the object of our worship?
According to scripture, worship is lifestyle as well as ritual (Matthew 22:37, 39; John 4:23; Romans 12:1). Louie Giglio writes: “Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God—for who he is! And what he has done! Expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.”
What kind of God are we talking about worshipping? Surely, a God who is huge, beyond anything our minds can conceive…True worship takes place, personally and corporately, when there is recognition of God’s transcendence (his having a continuous existence outside the created world) and response to his immanence (closeness, within the world). It truly is a rhythm of revelation and response…Yet the rhythm is possible only because God has always taken the initiative and always will.
A healthy congregation doesn’t go home from a worship service asking, “What did we get out of it?” but “What did God get out of it?” We have become consumers of worship rather than being consumed in worship.
Let’s remember that worship—corporate or individual—really is “more than a song,” as songwriter Matt Redman puts it. It’s true that worship and music very often go together—Jesus and his disciples sang psalms together, and many of his followers have done so ever since—but worship and music should never be carelessly equated.
Captain Len Ballantine, territorial music secretary, Canada and Bermuda Territory, points out: “Someone has said there are three kinds of worshippers: the ones who like traditional hymns, the ones who like contemporary songs, and the ones who are so intent on worship they don’t notice the difference. And then there’s the fourth kind, who are so intent on frustration that they miss out all together.”
Songwriter Graham Kendrick writes in his book, Worship, “I learned that praise and worship are the overflow of a way of life, a life of worship, and that no amount of encouragement, enthusiasm, methodology or threats can draw true praise out of spiritually parched lives. It is the overflow of our hearts that provides the fuel for worship.”
“Older sanctuaries, by their cross shape and lofty height and their visual focus on the altar, could keep worship participants’ gaze on God,” states Marva J. Dawn. “The placement of the organist and the choir in the balcony permitted them to be servants of worship instead of performers. Worship attendees in contemporary and traditional spaces must all be reminded that they are—each one—actors in worship; that the leaders are not there to perform but to direct the action; that God is the audience (object) of the ‘work of the people’ (the Greek leitourgia or liturgy).
Robert Webber, author of the article, “Authentic worship in the changing world,” states: “I think what is being said is: ‘We are tired of playing the worship game—traditional or contemporary. What we want is an authentic experience of worship, and encounter with God with life-changing results. What we don’t want is phony, loud entertainment worship or ritualistic worship.
“All these styles of music and instruments will still have a place in worship so long as they serve the goal of achieving a genuine encounter with God, characterized by depth and substance.”
Let’s be prepared to take sanctified risks by being open to the new winds of the Spirit that are blowing all over the world. Corporate worship is an adventure into God. He is waiting to be explored in new and creative ways by congregations everywhere. Let’s be willing to take the risks necessary to move our congregation forward.
We must encourage congregations to take ownership of a definition of worship and provide teaching to ensure the members of the congregation understand the meaning of the definition.
There is so much to learn about God and there are so many ways to encounter him. Let’s take the fullest advantage of every opportunity, including providing opportunities for congregation members who have been living on inherited traditions to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s possible for people brought up in a “Christian” family to engage in whatever style of worship their parents engaged in without ever having a personal encounter with Jesus.
Let’s seek guidance from the Lord on how to engage with those whose judgmental attitudes indicate that their hearts are far from God and their “worship is a human commandment learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13, 14, NIV). Let’s explore the benefits and disadvantages of inter-generational worship, blended worship and diversified corporate worship. And let’s help congregations understand what “corporate worship” means.
There should never be just one worship style on offer. The responsibility for engaging in corporate worship lies with the congregation, not the leader. Leaders can prepare and lead to the best of their ability but it is worshippers who must take the first step. Then, if they are obedient to the Spirit, he will open hearts and minds and usher them into the presence of the living God.
It can be helpful to form a worship committee to plan holistic worship. Ideally this will be made up of a diverse range of people who are committed to working as a team and open to suggestions from the congregation. They should also have an understanding that biblical worship is interactive vertically and horizontally, that corporate worship is about participation not performance, and that the goal should be for everyone to become actively engaged in an encounter with God.
In conclusion, I quote Robert Webber: “It is well to remember we live in a pluralistic world. All the styles of worship we currently know will continue to exist, some to even flourish. Each congregation needs to be open to how God, the Spirit, is leading their particular church. The ultimate and most important thing a congregation can do is to be real, authentic and genuine, and to be open to God’s leading as they listen to the text of Scripture and culture. We sense a new, widespread resolve to rediscover the nature of worship and see its relationship to evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual formation.”
(Note: Excerpted from The Officer in “What is Worship?”–November/December 2004; “Worship War”—January/February 2005; and “ ‘Successful’ Worship”—March/April 2005.Reprinted with permission.)