I was going through some of my old blog posts that I haven’t included on my new website and stumbled across this gem. I shared this a while back through my old worship website and after reading it again today feel compelled to share it once more. This post was written by a former pastor and campus minister of mine, Vance Rains, who is beginning a new appointment at Ortega United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, FL.
I recently defined “Robust Worship” as, “worship that is soulfully engaging and involving, substantive and affective, leading worshipers into authentic encounters with God, others and themselves.”
“Worship” is defined as to “ascribe worth.” Thus, Christian worship is a corporate expression of our belief that God is first, God is great, God is above all things, God is all-in-all. Worship reorients the worshipers, removing ourselves from center-stage and re-orienting ourselves around the eternal throne of God. Through songs, actions, objects, images, and ideas corporately engaged, God is present in the midst of the worshipers. Thus worship is also an encounter with a God who is holy and transcendent, and intimately present.
Though I have fairly specific opinions and feelings about my preferred ways of worship, I don’t mean for the term “robust” to imply a particular style of worship. As I am using the term, I believe it is possible for “robust” worship to be “high” or “low,” traditional or contemporary, formal or informal, liturgical or “Spirit-led.” I am not advocating for any one style. Rather, whatever your particular ministry’s style might be, I am asking, “Is it robust?”
In my opinion, “robust worship” must include the following characteristics…
Robust worship must be liturgical – not passive.
“Liturgy” is defined as “the work of the people.” Thus, worship is work. Liturgical worship need not be a particular style, but it must fully engage the worshipers. Worship is not entertainment, or a spectator sport. Worship is not passive. Worship engages the whole worshiper – body, mind soul and strength – via singing, responding, actually praying, thinking, utilizing all of the senses, and any number of bodily movements.
Robust worship is both ancient and new.
We are blessed to be the recipients of two millennia of prayers, creeds, hymns, rituals, and traditions. Countless theologians, priests and pastors, martyrs, missionaries, monks and nuns, mystics, and laity have put the Christian faith into rich, meaningful words and practices. Sometimes their language or the meanings of their rites are foreign to us today. That doesn’t mean we should abandon them. Sometimes they require explanation and reinterpretation. Likewise, the Spirit continues to move and to inspire us to sing new songs and worship God in new and innovative ways. After all, every sacred tradition began as a controversial innovation.
Robust worship is deeply grounded biblically and theologically.
Too much worship lacks depth. Too much worship is either poorly planned, overly sentimental, or based too much in emotion. Emotion in worship is not a negative thing. But, it must be grounded in a deep exploration of the biblical text, the creeds, and substantive theological application.
Robust worship is enthusiastic.
“Enthusiasm” means to be “full of God.” Enthusiasm implies heart-felt engagement and freedom of expression. Too many worshipers sit on their hands, half-heartedly sing the songs, daydreaming during the sermon, while wholeheartedly expressing their enthusiasm at concerts or sporting events. If your favorite band or team deserves attention and applause, God deserves more!
Robust worship is beautiful.
God is beautiful, a creator of beauty, and a lover of beauty. God the creator created us in his image as co-creators, endued with artistic abilities and an appreciation for beauty. Engaging the artistic gifts of your community honors the gifts God has given and enhances the worship experience through music, visual arts, video, dance, creative liturgy and drama.
Robust worship is multi-sensory.
Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox have a rich tradition of engaging all of the senses in worship. Yet, much of Protestant worship and contemporary seeker worship is focused primarily on the transmission of theological information. God made us whole beings, capable of worshiping God with our whole selves – touch, taste, sight, smell, sound.
Robust worship is culturally relevant.
Every historical expression of worship was created in particular time, place and culture. We are shaped by the culture we live in. We understand ourselves and the world through the cultural forms of words, images, and traditions. While we may learn from and value the cultures of others, it is our own culture that is truest to who we are. Thus, cultural forms like language, the arts, architecture, and technology are vital in every age of worshipers, as well as the particular needs, questions and concerns of a particular culture. Robust worship is global and timeless – and current and local.
Robust worship is communal.
Though one can read their Bible at home, and sing along with recorded worship music in their car, worship is intended to be a communal experience. Unlike a lecture, or a movie, or a theatrical presentation, where the majority in the audience are strangers, worship is meant to be a gathering of the Christian community, the body, the family of God. Rather than corporate worship simply being the accumulation of individual voices and offerings, “robust” worship is a harmony of diverse voices, prayers, talents, gifts, expressions, joys and concerns, praises and laments. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper reminds us that we are individual recipients of bits and sips of the Lord’s body and blood, which in turn makes us unified members of the Lord’s body on Earth.
Robust worship is life changing.
A pastoral mentor once told me, “Never preach a sermon without the expectation that a life will be changed.” Too many sermons specifically, and worship services in general, seem to have no purpose beyond filling an hour with religious activity. Robust worship is a meeting with God, who knows our deepest needs, fears, hopes, and longings, and is fully capable of meeting them. God is present any time two or more meet in his name. Worship, itself, and the individual components of worship are means of grace, and capable of healing, forgiveness, and restoration.
Robust worship is grounded in prayer.
Has the pastor prayed about the message? Have the musicians prayed about the music? Have the artists asked for inspiration? Have the worship leaders – musicians, pastors, liturgists, greeters, priests – asked for God’s leading and blessing? Has the worship time been surrendered to the Spirit’s control? Or, is worship merely a religious production?
Surely more can be said about worship in general, and varied opinions about what makes for “robust worship. Authentic worship occurs in a myriad of styles in ancient cathedrals and modern mega-churches, in the living rooms of house churches and under trees in the developing world. An argument for “robust” worship is not an argument for a particular way of worshiping. Rather, it is the question, “is the way you worship robust?”
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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