What exactly is the thrill we seek in corporate worship? Certainly it’s different for everybody. For some it is defined by this thing called worship style. Worship or “Liturgy” (meaning, “the work of the people”) has changed a lot in recent decades.
Contemporary, modern, post-modern and traditional styles intersect across a variety of more intricate layers. That is to say, there are beliefs about worship that go deeper than the culturally driven styles. Things like speaking in tongues or raising hands when you feel led, or making the sign of the cross when the Trinity is spoken – those are what I deem as being worship beliefs.
My little Anglican church has quite an array of worship tastes. Our little wood pew 100-seater may seem worlds away from the big glitzy stages and folding theater seats, but we have liturgical turf scuffles too. One service doesn’t even allow music, not an organ prelude or even chanting, everything is spoken, or silent. I think it is boring most of the time and 8am is too early for myself and my family. I can’t help but think I might be missing more than music.
There is a thread that runs between styles and beliefs. We know it by what happens in us as our beliefs coincide with the worship style. Let’s call it… immersion. Everyone in a service is immersed, for better or worse, in the weekly work of the church.
While planning, church creative teams usually know the style they serve. What the church believes about their worship is often taken for granted by planning teams. The immersive experience is what a corporate service is judged on. Visitors will walk away with a verdict about everything from the greeters to the coffee hour. The deep connections that were made (or missed) will be the talk of your community afterwards.
Of course, we have a responsibility to be present and available as the creative people (or, ‘creatives’) who plan, develop and host the experiences. We must work to avoid the mundane. We are tricked into believing that dullness occurs only in traditional styles, or when the projector lamp burns out.
The truth is that the mundane can befall any service in any style. It can happen when the heightened pitch and beat continues without change, or when the Hook & Hastings organ pipes pound out the same four Germanic chords for half an hour. You sense it when the dramatic sequence opens with the same line for ten weeks in a row: “Hi honey, I’m home!” Mundane happens.
So it’s not about the dramatic sketch or the calypso beat you threw at A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Neither a hymnal nor digital projector will be the camel’s straw. Forget the struggle between King James poetry or the perkiness of The Message. The value of corporate worship won’t be remembered by hands raised high or palms up at waist level, or ecstatic preaching or a weekly altar call. When you boil it down, it seems that we’re only left with what the Holy Spirit does in our midst.
This is the tricky balance. Even too much excitement can become routine. Our creative challenge is to prayerfully place our preparation in a contemplative space, a place of inner-personal rainmaking. This is incredibly hard to do. A chief trait of a well prepared creative person is empathy. Another one is imagination. And both of these qualities are mandatory, oddly enough, for faith.
When Mundane Happens- An Example
If you’ve developed or participated in a creative team for your worship planning, you know that it can quickly become a monotonous exercise of ‘fill-in-the-blanks’. Take for example a theme for a service sequence based on idolatry.
It goes something like this: “O.K. we’ve got the prelude, the welcome, the drama, the special music, three praise choruses, the offertory and let’s see, oh yeah, the postlude. The sermon series is ‘American Idol-atry’. What do we have for a dramatic sequence?” Then your team goes down the list and keyword searches the lyric database for all things idolatrous. The film fan begins to recall excerpt-able clips, and the visual artists look at americanidol.com for adjustable logos. The drama starts out, “Hi Ba-al, I’m home…” Press the handle down, and out squirts a worship service, Play Dough Factory style.
Let me offer another direction. Structure your creative session in a way that is not predictable, however risky. For example, start by brainstorming categories that have nothing to do with the list of service elements.
In this case, let’s use attributes common to the human-to-God relationship. Here’s a list you might play with: laughter, lament, rejection, despair, comfort, longing, peace, anger… Now, work at taking your creative team through exploring idolatry from these perspectives. Storyboard, or list the role idolatry plays in these areas. Go to the seats in the sanctuary and look at the place. Visit the likes of www.apple.com/trailers and view movie trailers. These concise, often powerfully edited shorts can be used to get your head in the game of our culture. If you’re well prepped as a creative director, you might want to download several of these trailers and play them for your team.
Ask, “What is this theme really about? We think ‘idol’ and we think ‘graven images’. Perhaps idolatry is about the threat of a relationship; the relationship… ” See where that discussion takes you.
Consider prepping your creatives by giving them the themes and exercises in advance. Challenge them to be rainmakers. Contemplative times of waiting on God throughout the week for inspiration may prove more effective than getting together as a team over pizza and a service element ‘laundry list’. In this particular case, you want every team member to be deeply frightened of their own personal idols so they’re ready to apply styles and beliefs to an immersive experience.
Perhaps I’ll try again to get to that 8am service at my church. I haven’t considered until just now that their removal of music may be what I was missing the week before. After all, it’s only a style change. Should the Holy Spirit meet me there and we together rediscover one another peering over the din; that service may become my word of mouth in our church’s community. The immersion into stark spoken words and the silent spaces between them could be the simplicity that I need.