As many of you know, we have begun exploring a new church plant. We have begun to gather for worship. We have also adopted a bit more of a liturgical approach than other churches we’ve been involved with. Here is a note I sent out to our church family explaining a bit of the reasoning for this shift.
When many people hear “liturgical” worship, they’re reminded of Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism: robes, gold-plated crosses, incense, pictures of saints, stand-up, sit-down, do the hokey pokey, and say a little chant. But there is a wide spectrum of what it means to have “liturgical” worship and we’re definitely on the more casual end of the spectrum. Let me explain.
First, a little context: “liturgy” simply refers to the adopted patterns any local church adopts in its worship practices. Every church has a “liturgy.” For many, this simply means 3-4 songs and a sermon; repeat. Unless your church does everything completely differently every week, you have a liturgy. It’s the repeated way you choose to do things.
In the bigger picture, it can also mean observing larger rituals like Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Each of these holidays is part of something larger called the Church Calendar. This larger liturgy traces the ministry of Jesus and contains pre-selected Scripture readings and pre-written readings and prayers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The notion of “liturgical” actually revolves around “liturgia,” which means “the work of the people.” It is a shared rather than a passive worship experience. That is why there is such an emphasis of corporate/responsive readings (including prayers). You are expected to participate.
We have decided to follow the Church Calendar and largely follow the Book of Common Prayer schedule for some Scripture readings. This means that we will observe seasons like Advent and Lent a bit more than you might be used to if you’re from an evangelical background. It also means that Sunday’s will likely be a bit more scripted than you might be used to. We will make heavy use of written out prayers, responsive and corporate readings.
There are, of course, dangers to having everything printed out. For example, though this approach is designed with participation in mind, passivity is always a danger. It’s up to us to actually focus on the words we’re saying rather than simply mouthing words to get through the service. Using pre-written materials allows us to clearly communicate focused theological truths in a much more concise manner. Let’s pray that these words would not only be spoken by us but that they will speak to us.
Another concern might be that having everything written out is that it can quite easily become rote, repetitive and unfeeling. This is the same argument many churches use when choosing not to take communion every week. I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing this one other than to say: Heaven help us when the great Gospel truths no longer inspire us simply because we regularly rehearse them.
Some struggle most with the idea of pre-written, corporately-spoken prayers. After all, isn’t Prayer my private talk with God and none of your business? There is definitely a private aspect to some Prayer. But Gathered Worship, by default, forces our attention to our place in the community of Believers. Using corporate prayers allows us to verbally pray with one another without bringing attention to any individual (whether they be quite eloquent or nervous). It is an expression of unity and shared dependence. It is many coming together as one.
Let me also briefly review some of the other things that have drawn us in this direction: This approach emphasizes the content rather than the personality of the presenter. The pre-written content and shared participation make it much less about any individual.
This approach makes it much less likely that the preacher or music leader is able to simply engineer an emotional response and call it worship. You must focus on the truths at hand. Again, we are not an audience. Worship is not passive and it is more than emotion.
This approach emphasizes the corporate nature of gathered worship.
This approach unites local churches with the Church Universal (“Catholic”) in focus and content, reminding us of the importance of pursuing unity rather than focusing on our differences. Churches around the world are saying the same things, reading the same Scriptures and hearing the same Truths. This approach also unites local churches to deep tradition while maintaining individual avenues of expression (even though we’re following the same schedule, local church personality is not sacrificed.).
I’d like to ask that you give it a chance. I’m sure there are lots of things I forgot to cover here, so please join in with any questions. We are thankful for each of you and humbled to be on this journey with you.
To Him be the glory, now and forever. On earth as it is in Heaven.