Louis blogged the other day about Structure or Spontaneity in Worship.
If you read my blog via a feed reader or email subscription, you may have already seen a post referring to this, a post which I pretty quickly withdrew from the site. Apologies. It was written in haste and I decided it was better to wait a few days and properly express myself. This is quite a different post, I think.
It was something of a response to an email I had sent him in answer to his question about how we thought the church’s worship could be more scripturally faithful and God-pleasing.
Louis details for us the three stages of reformed worship – approach, listening, response. Good things. Necessary things. Things I would certainly agree should make up the form of our worship services and generally do.
As Louis says “the readings, hymns and songs, participants, and prayers change weekly”. He also says that the “the Spirit’s role in worship is already taking place during the week, when the services are being planned and written”. However, in my experience, the writing and planning of a service, and the changing of all these things, simply means referring to rotas and calendars and filling in the gaps in last weeks’ order of service. My favourite services to plan and partake in are always the ones which have the most thought and energy put in to them. I love it when we are creative and prayerful about the 75 minutes God gives us on a Sunday morning. I’m not saying that there should be no structure within the service, or that these elements are not all key, but often we feel that this is a structure which we “ought” to stick to. It is also easy for the worship to become stale when we do things the same way, week in, week out. When it becomes stale, we as participants become complacent and complacency is something to be feared in the church.
Our services at St. Columba’s can also be very stand up, sit down, bow your head, stand up, sit down (“keep moving . . . we’ll all be merry and bright!”). It can feel disjointed. A little more fluidity would go a long way to creating a less formal, more comfortable atmosphere.
Prayer in the church is a funny thing. I know that corporate prayer is different to personal prayer but I don’t see why prayer in a service has to be all that different to prayer in a prayer meeting. The logistics might be a little trickier but if we work round that, the congregation could be more involved in the prayers of the service and take a better understanding of prayer out into daily life. Praying for individuals as a family of believers, leaving space for everyone to be involved in the prayers, inviting people to share things they think we should pray for. Making corporate prayer about “leading prayer on behalf of the congregation” leaves the congregation isolated from the praying. They sit there and listen, agree a little, but are not encouraged to really make the prayer their own.
Louis briefly mentions gifts of the Spirit: “the issue of when and how they are expressed for the benefit of all is one that needs to bear in mind the difference between the church as it gathers in large numbers, and the church as it congregates in homes and in other smaller ways”. I’m going to assume he is talking about gifts such as prophecy and tongues, healing and knowledge. And I don’t see that the Bible differentiates between using the gifts in gatherings of large or small numbers. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:12 “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church”. As the rest of the chapter goes on to suggest, the gifts are to be used build up the church, all of it, everyone together. And if these things are not exemplified and taught within our main meetings, how can we expect people to biblically use the gifts in smaller gatherings?
A little spontaneity is great. If someone is moved by the Spirit, they should be able to share it with the congregation. But more than spontaneity, what I’m advocating is change. Doing things differently. Not all of it every time. But some of it. Most of the time.