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Worship Across the Spectrum

03/26/2010

As we learn more about the life and culture of Phayao, we are constantly asking ourselves how communities of faith can be contextually relevant here. One of the main areas we spend time thinking about is worship. And one advantage of taking a year to learn and discern is that we have the freedom to explore possibilities when our team meets to worship. While we want our time together to honor God and form us spiritually, we also have an eye towards creating a worship experience that will connect with people in Phayao. The result is that we decided to be intentional with “trying out” a variety of worship styles. We are taking a few months to utilize different worship experiences from the Christian tradition. For a lack of better terms, we have divided our Sundays into the following worship types: liturgical, devotional, theological, and contemplative. The emphasis has been on exploring different spirituality types in the setting of communal worship. Thus, in the liturgical type, we are focusing on ritual, communal participation, and the “narrative”” of the service. In the devotional type, we are emphasizing experiencing God, self-expression, and fellowship. In the theological type, we are stressing the spoken word, the written Word, and teaching. Finally, in the contemplative type, we are attempting to be silent, to contemplate, and listen.

We have spent a few weeks trying out the various styles (and various aspects within each style) and will continue for a few more weeks. The goal for this (besides honoring God in our worship) is to equip ourselves for when others join in our communal worship. A goal of ours is to enable the local community to discern how Christian faith is lived out here. We do not want to impose our own biases and tastes on future communities. Thus, we have to be very intentional and aware of how we present things in the initial phases. It would be very easy to worship how we have always worshipped, thus creating one particular model for new believers to experience. They would then, most likely, assume that model is THE model. And so the local community would have a tougher time discerning for themselves what worship looks like in Phayao. Therefore, if we can provide various experiences and options, the local community will then have a better chance of exploring and adapting as they grow in their faith. We realize we will not do this perfectly, but we want to do our best to allow the Spirit to move in creative ways within new communities of faith.

On a personal note, I have grown a lot as we try to stretch ourselves as a community in worship (remember that our whole team comes from the Churches of Christ, thus we have to work really hard to tap into styles that are not common in our history). I have seen that I have different reactions to each style. I feel most comfortable in the “theological” type (shocker, right?). I feel most drawn to “liturgical.” I feel most stretched in the “contemplative” style. And I feel most disconnected in the “devotional.” (I have enjoyed this style but it is the most unnatural for me. Just being honest.)

These reflections have made me think about the possibilities for other churches as well. My experience is that churches get comfortable with one worship style (or should I say, one type of spirituality) and rarely verge from it. I think this is a natural tendency and lots of good can come of it. However, I wonder if there would be some benefit in trying to push against that tendency a bit. It might help in including some people who do not resonate as strongly with the “norm.” Think about music for example. Most churches today utilize contemporary Christian music. This is great. The problem, though, is that not everyone connects with that genre of music (myself included). Thus, the preference of the majority in the church can easily marginalize those who have different tastes, or spirituality types. Expanding the music genres, and other aspects of worship, could possibly create an even stronger inclusive atmosphere.

Another benefit to expanding the range of the worship experience is that it could present possibilities for unforeseen spiritual formation. God has much more to offer than any one worship style can capture. We miss something if there is never time to be silent and listen. We miss out on the power of language if everything is extemporaneous. We miss out on lament if everything is praise and worship. We miss out expressing ourselves emotionally if we only sit and listen. And so on. Thus, exploring other worship styles could shape the community in rich ways for the sake of the world.

Therefore, I highly recommend exploring various worship styles and emphases within your community. You might try this in the large assembly or in your small group. It definitely creates a higher propensity for awkwardness. And it takes a lot of hard work in preparation. But, the benefits for the WHOLE community and for you are worth it.

Our team worshipping as we eat the Lord’s Supper (Thai style) together


Brynn leading “Jesus Loves Me” at the beginning of a “liturgical” service

Our team singing together in a “devotional” service

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4 comments

  1. When we were talking about these matters a year ago, I could not envision how you guys were going to keep from setting a pattern or an example that would shape the future of Phayao worship for years to come. Now I see…you are rotating through a whole series of worship styles. Very cool, but remember even this rotation could grow roots and become “the norm” you were talking about.

    We pray, talk, think and hope for you guys daily.


  2. Thanks for this post! I really enjoyed reading it and it seems really challenging. Recently in my preaching out at Oplin, TX, I have switched to following the lectionary. As I’ve done so, I’ve come to appreciate the “seasons” of the liturgical year even more than I have before. I wonder if there’s a way one could rotate through these different worship styles as if they were “seasons” – like you kind of matched up the different worship styles with the liturgical calendar (if that’s possible at all). Anyway, you got me thinking. It’s an exciting post and I think you’re right – it’s important to (as I guess Dr. Ray would say) find ways to manage polarities.

    Keep up the great work!!


  3. Beautiful, thoughtful post. I agree with all of this. One of the phrases we repeat to ourself all the time at Hill Country Hill Tribers is that we’re going into the Burmese refugee community with “structured flexibility.” That’s what this sounds like to me. Teaching new Christians the structure of these types and traditions while infusing in worship a sense of flexibility seems incredibly rewarding. And, while I’m sure this will look different in the future than how you can imagine it today, I love the fact that your team is committed to listening and learning from the community you’re in. I’m really looking forward to the next several years to see how these ideas play out, how you adapt and adjust to the Christians and situations that arise, and how the Spirit guides you in your worship. Love you guys!

    Jess


  4. Very thoughtful post. Makes me think that what we do looks pretty similar at every service.



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