If you dig back through the archives of this blog I have been all over the map when it comes to what is called the emergent church movement. Considering how much of an early adopter I normally am I came into the game pretty late really waking up to the whole trend with the purchase of Dan Kimball’s book The Emerging Church. I have to say that I was totally floored by that book and really jumped head long into many of the ideas and practices.
What grabbed my attention wasn’t really a new look at philosophy or a new orthodoxy. What made me sit up and take notice was the use of creative ways to not only worship, but also connect with God in a personal way. All of my life I have been sort of trapped in traditional church settings and I knew that there had to be another way to use the arts to worship God because I just didn’t respond to "special music". What I found in the worship styles of the emerging church seemed to be what my heart was longing for: a way for me to connect with God in a way that spoke to who I was.
But over the course of the 6 years or so since our first winter retreat (which was my first public use of these ideas) the emerging church has become more than just a renewed look at worship. It has become a movement and a change in beliefs that I don’t know that I can always follow. I know that many people feel a deep sense of unease about some of the things going on in certain parts of the church right now and I would have to agree with them.
The problem is that that unease carries over into unease about creative worship. For some, the whole emerging church movement has soured them on any type of alternative worship and even is used as a reason to avoid that sort of worship altogether. For me I am grateful to many of these people, most of whom still believe what I believe and all of whom I feel are doing their best to live the life that God is leading them to live. There has been an awakening in my life not only to creative worship, but also to dealing with post-modernism and how the church should address the world in which we find ourselves.
I am no expert in the emerging church. You can find people who come down on every part of the spectrum about it on the net if you simply look. I am not the person to give you a detailed defense or critique of some of the people who claim to be part this new "movement." But I do think that creative worship should have a place in the church. We have kept the arts from our sanctuaries for too long and as a result we have not only missed out on a deeper connection with God, but we have also driven off a whole generation of creative and talented people who are desperate to worship in the way that God created them.
So after way too long of an intro I wanted to talk for a bit about the origins of creative worship and also why I feel that creative worship is so important today.
The Average Youth Minister Looks at Creative Worship
Biblical references to creative worship
Right off of the top of your head I am sure you can think of at least 3 or 4 places in the Bible where people used creative ways to worship God. David danced before the Lord as did Miriam and the prodigal son’s father, even Solomon said that there was a time to dance. But more than dancing and lifting of hands you find throughout the Bible worship filled with much more than preaching and singing. It is a rich heritage of symbols and rituals; it is an experience that connected with all of the senses of God’s people.
- The Passover: The people of God were to eat the meal ready to leave (coats and shoes on). It was a symbol of the readiness of their hearts. God created a "hands-on worship element" that reminded the people that he was about to deliver them.
- The Tabernacle and Temple: Check out Exodus 25-27 (even even further if you want) and you will see the decree of God about the Tabernacle. It was a place of opulence and beauty. God used visual cues to remind people of His greatness and majesty. The artists and artisans of the day were used to create a place of beauty that turned the heart and mind to God.
- The Temple Worship: In the tabernacle and temple there were several elements of worship. Of course the big one would be the sacrifices, a drama of life and death played out as a picture of God’s forgiveness and the savior to come. There was also incense burned and praises proclaimed. The priests went through ritual cleansing in a big bronze basin and even the veil that separated the holy of holies was a symbol of God’s holiness.
- In the New Testament we have the 2 ordinances of the church Communion and Baptism.
- The New Testament also shows Jesus teaching with stories and with object lessons.
All throughout the Bible God uses symbols and art to proclaim his glory and his message. I didn’t even get into the actions of the Prophets and how God used them to declare himself to his people. So if the Bible isn’t afraid of using methods other than singing and preaching to proclaim the gospel why should we.
5 Types of Creative Worship and Why They "work"
I hate to use the word "work" when talking about worship, but what I mean by that is why they help people focus their hearts and minds on God. This isn’t an exhaustive list; I just think 5 is a good number.
- Drama: Lots of people use drama in worship so I am not going to belabor the point here. Drama is great for presenting material in a "case study" form. It is also good for going beyond the logic and getting to the emotions of an issue.
- Visual Art: This is really 2 different things: visual art creation and visual art viewing. The old adage that a picture says 1000 words is just as true in the church as it is anywhere else. Just the right piece of art can force someone to look at God’s truth in a fresh way or just lead them to worship. Creating art requires you to use a different part of your brain. It forces you to take a fresh look at a subject. With so many churches seemingly mired in tradition looking at things in a new way can be a very powerful thing.
- Object Lessons: Jesus used objects that he found in his everyday life to proclaim the good news. He used a fig tree, sent Peter to catch a fish and continually used word pictures that helped connect with people. Object lessons in the modern church setting can have the added benefit of being hands on. So many thing in our world are virtual and so many parts of our church services don’t require the average person to do anything. Object lessons let you be a part of the teaching and that helps you to learn.
- Journaling: Again I feel that journaling is effective because it takes people from being spectators and turns them into participants.
- Worship Stations: Of all of the things in my life the past few years the addition of worship stations has changed the way that I view worship more than any other. You and I were not created to worship in the same way, and the things that make your heart leap may be the same things that bore me to tears. Worship stations are great because they allow for that difference. They are a great way of taking all of these elements of creative worship and combining them into one corporate worship gathering. They also force participants to interact with God instead of just sitting back and watching the show.
I guess that is about all that I have to say tonight. I have been working on this for much longer than I wished and my zeal for it is gone. My main concern was to make sure that people understood that creative worship isn’t radical, it is Biblical and just because you use stations in your worship time doesn’t mean that you are part of some fringe religious sect. It simpl
y means that you understand that God is too big to be worshiped in just one way. I hope this was more helpful than rambling.