Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Seeing, Hearing, Tasting, Smelling, and Touching: That's My Kind of Worship

This week, I asked the students in my church youth group what the word "worship" meant to them. I fully expected them to answer, "singing worship songs," or something to that effect. So I was a bit surprised they knew worship was a lot more than just worship music. They knew it was about taking time to express love to God in myriad ways.

Guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. "Experiential worship"--worship that offers an interactive experience for churchgoers, often employing many of the five senses--has been gaining popularity, and I've been able to witness it at my current church. My church is big on getting folks to paint, write, dance, play instruments, act, and sing as expressions of worship. The church staff likes to include exercises such as having each member of the congregation put our hands into planting soil, carry a rock around, feel a chain, step on to damp beach sand. We once took communion in an interesting way: We individually entered a tent and laid on pillows in front of a low table that was beautifully set with linens, candles, a Bible, and the communion elements.

It seems a lot of churches are moving beyond the purely auditory experience of music and listening to the sermon. Many are now using videos, props, skits, and interactive illustrations. I've heard some folks say churches are becoming too entertainment oriented, too focused on the presentation rather than on God. Now, I've been at some rock-concertesque worship events, complete with smoke machines and laser lights, so I understand that concern. I couldn't even begin to worship with all the flashes in my eyes and booming in my ears. But for the most part, I think it's cool when the church provides diverse examples of worship. After experiencing interactive sermons at my church, I've been inspired to worship in ways I never would have tried. To be honest, I would have felt silly in the past doing some stuff I do now.

For example, I now feel comfortable dancing before God ... in the privacy of my own home. I won't be dancing in the streets any time soon, but I've found great joy privately expressing my love for God in this way. Most recently, I added a symbolic gesture to my devotional time: holding my Bible to my forehead and over my heart and praying, "God, I want your words to be in my thoughts. I want your words to be in my heart."

There's no way I would have done this a couple years ago--I would've felt way too lame. As I was praying one recent evening, I felt moved to do this symbolic action as a way of showing my commitment to God's law. As soon as I did it, I was reminded of seeing a Jewish friend lay tefillin back in college. With the Bible over my heart, I immediately knew the Holy Spirit had moved me to do this simple action because God knew it would be meaningful to me. I believe God gave me this new way of symbolic worship because it helps me better understand and experience my commitment to him.

Next time you feel prompted to worship in a way that seems a little lame, consider God may be moving you for your benefit. When we can experience God in different ways, I believe it helps us understand his character just a little bit more.

To ponder:
1) What is your favorite way to worship? Why do you enjoy worshipping this way?

2) What do you most love to do? Whether it's baking brownies, talking on the telephone or playing soccer, there's a way for you to worship by doing what you love best. Ask God to show you how to combine your passions with your love for him.

3) How do you best learn (hearing, seeing, hands-on)? When choosing a way to serve at your church, consider your own learning mechanisms. For example, if you're an auditory person, you might consider helping with the audio elements of a church service or event. If you're kinesthetic, ask about ways to serve using your hands.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog post on worship. I’m glad your Sunday session with the youth was a success. Your point about worship being too entertainment oriented is SO important. Recently I have compared worship in many contemporary churches to watching American Idol, or perhaps, a late night infomercial, but for Jesus. Mega-churches have driven this trend toward “Worship-tainment.” That is precisely why we try to make our worship interactive and experiential because it moves away from the congregation as audience and pastor and worship team as performer. That is why, among other reasons, we have also begun to base our celebration services in liturgy.

However, the issue is bigger than just making it an interactive experience. If that is all it is, we have just replaced one “me centered” technique with another. By “me centered,” I mean the idea that worship begins with me and my needs. An entertainment paradigm assumes that the church “consumer” is looking to be entertained. A participatory paradigm can easily be one that assumes the church “consumer” is looking for spiritual experience. We all know that worship is supposed to begin with God, but in actual practice, OUR worship can tend to become about us. Just look at the average contemporary worship song. Many of them are so focused on MY feelings toward God. In fact many of our songs can easily either be sung to God OR to someone we are in love with. There is a place for that, but worship begins with God and the fact that HE is worthy of our worship no matter the state of our feelings toward God that day.

Holly said...

Well stated, Brooke. Here are some links for you all about this topic. I had to do some creative spacing to get them to fit in the comment box, so you'll have to copy 'em, paste them in a blank document, take out the spacing, and then recopy and paste into your browser. Well worth the effort.

Beyond Sermons and Songs: Why Experiential Worship Isn't Enough

Disposable Worship: a caution about using too much technology in worship

The Greatest Show on Earth: Sunday morning should be the most entertaining time of the week.