Saturday, August 08, 2009

Classifying Worship

I just finished reading a paper by Lester Ruth (professor of liturgics at Asbury Theological Seminary) dealing with the categorization of worship (A Rose By Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Protestant Worship). He begins by discussing the problems with most popular labels such as “traditional,” “contemporary,” “blended,” “seeker sensitive,” “liturgical,” etc. The meat of the paper is the three questions he asks in order to classify protestant worship.

1) What story does worship tell?

He suggests two possibilities: personal-story and cosmic-story. Those churches who tell personal stories in their worship organize worship around “felt needs.” In this worship, planning might begin with a theme or a need and developed from there so that music, prayer, scripture, sermon, etc all revolve around this theme. Those church who tell the cosmic stories in their worship tend to organize worship around the story of salvation history, often beginning with a piece of the story (eg, creation, fall, incarnation, etc) and the service would develop from there. He also mentions that cosmic-story churches tend toward the church calendar and the lectionary.

2) Where is God’s presence?

Here, he contends churches answer in one of three ways: in the music, in the sermon, in the sacraments. This seems self-explanatory. Where do people expect God to “show up”? What is the most important part of the service? Which part of the service gets the most attention and preparation? Which part of the service is given the place of prominence in furniture, furnishings and equipment? When people “encounter God”, to what are they most likely to be referring?

3) Where is the ultimate authority for worship planning?

Ruth gives two possible options: “congregational” and “connectional.” In congregational churches it is most common that the pastor or some other local leader(s) sets the order, chooses the scriptures, decides if there will be a sacrament or not, determines how the sacrament will be celebrated. In connectional churches, the local church has very little say in such things. There is an official order and assigned readings. I have an acquaintance whose sole job is to view liturgical requests of parishes in a diocese and determine if the parish may or may not do a given thing in worship. There is, says Ruth, a third option. There are churches (he point out the United Methodist Church as an example) who are officially connectional, but are practically congregational.

As I read the article, I began asking myself two questions: (1) how would my congregation answer these questions and (2) how would I answer these questions.

1) What story do we tell? I would guess that before I came, this was a very personal-story church. However, since I have come, it is now much more toward a cosmic-story church. I like to start with the cosmic story and show how the cosmic story is our personal story and where our personal story fits within the cosmic story. I think this is the only one of the three questions asked by Ruth that a pastor has any immediate influence over.

2) Where is God’s presence? I don’t think this is a yes/no type question, but rather one of priorities. I think every church experiences God’s presence in each to differing degrees. In my church, I would say music is first, preaching is second, sacrament is third. For myself, I expect sacrament to be first, music to be second, and preaching to be third.

3) The source of authority? As Nazarene’s we are a cut and dry congregational authority. My people wouldn’t have it any other way. I, on the other hand, am not as sure. I am that way with many things, however. I don’t like to make up my own schedule of maintenance for my car, I want the Owners Manual to tell me what needs done and when. I just don’t know enough about cars to do it myself. I don’t like to make up my own workout routine (if I ever decide to work out!). I would much rather get a routine from someone who knows much more about exercise and physiology than I do. I think of worship in the same way. Very few pastors (myself included) have thought about and studied worship long enough and deep enough to really feel comfortable making my own liturgy. Worship is far too important to me to just do whatever.

I guess I am curious (1) how you would answer those questions for yourself and the church you either serve or in which you worship. (2) What comparing your responses and your church’s responses might reveal.

No comments: