One of the things I look forward to each week in getting my church bulletin is getting a sneak preview of our Sunday "worship services" (I despise that terminology, by the way). I love being able to know what to expect ahead of time, as far as what songs we're gonna sing, what verses we're gonna read, and what the sermon is gonna be about. This week, however, I confess that when I saw it, I was a little disappointed. Sad, I know. I get excited when it's going to be a "service" that I know will be uplifting for me, personally--mainly songs that I like; and I get disappointed when I don't like the particular songs, scriptures, etc. that they've chosen.
I know I shouldn't feel like that; it's as though I am only contributing to the tremendous amount of pressure that is on our worship planning teams in trying to create a "worship service" that will be uplifting for as many as possibly 1500 different people. Not an easy task, by any means, so I respect them for putting forth that effort. And since I realize this, on the times that i feel disappointment, I have to work at it. It doesn't mean worship won't be good or uplifting for me; it just means that I'll have to work at it to stay engaged and focused. Interestingly enough, this morning, although I was not personally a fan of most of the songs that we sang, I was very engaged by another part of the worship that is not normally as uplifting for me as the singing is; that is, the scripture reading this morning spoke to me, more so than it usually does.
I'm sure you all don't wanna read more of my thoughts on worship, and for that I apologize, but it's been on my mind ALOT lately, especially on days like today (Sunday, that is!) so that's why I'm sharing this...
Having recently read a chapter of Darryl Tippens book Pilgrim Heart, a chapter entitled "Singing: The Way to Heaven's Door", posted at the wineskins.org website and the accompanying portion of the study guide, by Angela and Keith Brenton, also posted at wineskins, I've been examining alot of aspects of singing and worship in general. And I've thought about it alot this weekend, as I anticipate the arrival of that book, which I ordered last week. The study guide came in the mail on Friday...now if only I had the actual book!
But having only read that one chapter, it's stayed with me unusually long...I believe it was a couple of weeks ago that I read it, and I am still meditating on it! Perhaps because I am such a music person. No doubt about it, I am officially a band nerd. Was in band all the way from 6th grade through college. The only nerdier band nerds are those music majors...most of whom were my closest friends in college! I love music. And I love to sing. (Ironically, I tend to be pretty shy about singing in front of people...go figure!) A couple of questions in particular in the study guide have kept me thinking about it. It is challenged, "If you do not sing loudly during triumphant songs of praise in your worship at church, try it. Remind yourself that God doesn't expect your voice to be better than the one He gave you. Speak to others so that they can hear your words of encouragement. Join in enthusiastically when there are songs that do not particularly speak to you, but do speak to some of your brothers and sisters in Christ." That is quite a challenge for me...but was especially on my mind this morning, when, as I mentioned earlier, the particular song selection didn't speak to me.
Also, the question is raised, "Is part of the power of singing its communal nature? What other worship activities do we perform in such a clearly communal way? Should our practice of communion and prayer be more community-oriented than individualistic?" I've given ALOT of thought to that question as well. Any type of music-making that I've ever participated in as part of a group has been very communal. It's not any one of us making music; it's all of us together that make the music beautiful. I'd like to think the same thing of our songs of praise in corporate worship. We all lift up music to His throne, while encouraging each other at the same time, and that's what makes it beautiful. Unfortunately, it seems to me that almost everything else we do in worship is lacking in a communal nature, especially (ironically) communion.
We usually listen to others read scripture to us. I don't know about everyone else, but for me, personally, that is one of the most dis-engaging parts of worship; I don't do well listening to someone else read to me. Most of the time I don't have time to pick my Bible up and open to the scripture being read before the reader starts. It helps to have the words up on the screen. But I've grown to love the congregational readings that we do (we did one this morning!) because then I am more engaged, as I am reading from God's word. In fact, a lot of the time, in an effort to stay engaged and focused, I'll catch myself quietly mouthing the words to all the scriptures read, whether they are intended to be congregational readings or not.
Praying in corporate worship seems to be a little difficult as well, sometimes. We all tend to bow our heads and close our eyes. Doesn't seem communal to me at all. Most of the time, I don't close my eyes, because if I do so, my mind tends to wander. Again, sometimes it helps to mouth the same words that the person leading us in prayer is saying. Communal prayer is much easier in smaller groups, though. I loved when, growing up, we would say a "chain prayer" where everyone in the group would have the opportunity to pray aloud. Probably haven't done that since I was in high school. Of course, that wouldn't work in a large gathering. However, there is something we did when I was in high school that was effective, at least for me. Our youth group would always sit together in worship, and we somehow got into the habit of holding hands during prayer. I think we were the only ones in our assembly that would...but anytime any prayer was led in worship, our little section, our three or four rows of teenagers, would always, automatically hold hands with the people on either side of us. What can I say, I'm one of those "touchy-feely" people that loves hugs, etc. So I thought this was a great idea. I realize not everyone is this way, so not everyone may be comfortable with holding the hand of someone that they may not necessarily know that well. But what do you need to know, really? They are your brother/sister, and you all get to talk to God together. Something that simple is a nice way to be connected to each other as we approach His throne in prayer.
I'm not sure how we could make our giving more communal. It feels communal to me, as we usually sing during the offering at our church; so that tends to work for me. It's also helped for me, in the past, whenever we've taken up a special offering for a specific purpose. Then, you have the opportunity to see something specific that all the monies collected from the group accomplish. Any other ideas on that?
Communion...where do I begin? We tend to take it individually, not looking at each other, not wanting to distract anyone, as each person is reflecting on the sacrifice that the Lord has made for them. But in doing so, I fear that we miss out on so much more! I would love for the day to come when we can enjoy fellowship as we commune at the Lord's table. I think I've done this once in my life, again, when I was in high school. When we were at a retreat, on a Sunday morning, we were all given a larger-than-your-typical-pinch-size piece of the unleavened bread. We were instructed to find one person to share the communion with. So after the bread and cup were blessed, we got up, moved around the room, and found one person that we wanted to share the communion with. We shared with them why it was that we wanted to share that communion experience with them; we spent a few minutes talking about our individual walks with Christ; we reflected on His sacrifice for our sins; then we took of His body and His blood. I think it was one of the most amazing things I've ever done in a "worship service," and I'm sure I'll never forget it.
I suppose this covers my thoughts on how our worship should/could be more communal. At least it covers the "five acts of worship" that we practice in our assemblies together. I'd be interested to know what you all think about this. It's just something that I think of often now, because, as I've said before, my church family is the only family that is actually in close physical proximity to me. My biological family is a couple of hours away. So the communal nature of my church family is important to me, because they are important to me. I love the fact that I can be two hours away from my family and still have brothers and sisters just down the street from me.