worship band  In the final chapter of Constance Cherry’s book on worship planning and structure she addresses what it means to be a Hospitable Worship Leader.  She draws a crucial distinction between program worship and participatory worship, and with firm biblical support suggests that we must move from the former to the later.  She strikes a convicting chord as she states:

For decades (even centuries), worship in many traditions has resembled a religious program.  There is a topic (God) and we sing about God or tell about God or discuss God.  We put in order a sequence of events designed to instruct or entertain the public.  We arrange for the performers, hoping that they will add an effective dimension to the program.[1]

The author effectively identifies the passive nature of this worship.  In matter of fact fashion she correctly identifies how program worship invites judgment.  As an observer for whom this worship has been planned, the person in the pew naturally responds to the program by evaluating what was liked, or not liked, what was learned or not, what was inspiring or not, what was of excellent or poor standards.  Responding as a critic is quite natural, “for a performance is done for us and begs for our satisfaction.”[2]

I fear this confronts us with a disturbing reality and seriously begs the question of understanding our role in pastoring – shepherding – guiding in Christian worship.  Worship presented in scripture is participative, not passive.  In worship that is shaped by gathering, the Word, the Table (responding), and sending.  There is active motion in the communion/encounter with God.  Utilizing this simple, though biblically and liturgically sound pattern of four-fold worship structure, let’s consider how a “program worship” mindset can interfere with participative worship where we engage with the Triune Living God.  We will look at each one of the sections (Gathering, WORD, TABLE, Sending) in separate blogposts.  I pray this might spawn your thinking and even open discussion to aid a more engaging worship environment.


GATHERING – When program worship is planned our invitation to worship becomes an invitation to see and hear performers, even though the performance may be about God things.  Consider present-day environments where lighting clearly resembles a theatrical stage, and pre-service dramatic buildup leads to the entrance of platform personnel who will perform.  The community into which this piety may form us seems to imitate the faceless, nameless Rock concert crowd, rather than confessing disciples responding to the Spirit’s call to enter gates with thanksgiving.  Opening words like, “How’s everybody doing this morning?” whether spoken into an over-amplified microphone to continue that Rock concert feel, or delivered in the folksy, “How’r ya’ll doin’?” manner, either way seems to deflect attention from even the possibility of a Present Incarnate Deity.  If our Gathering is the people of God responding to His invitation to come and worship, recognizing that we are the Body that has been scattered, but comes to worship gathered, then surely we leaders must help prepare the way.  Dr. Cherry notes the purpose of the gathering as twofold: “(1) to unite our spirits in God’s presence and (2) to prepare us to hear the word of God.”[3]

This purpose holds great promise, and reason for anticipation in itself.  There is certainly good reason for church leaders to avoid a funeral home-esque pre-service atmosphere that might suggest that Holy Presence = somber sadness, just as they would avoid flippant pre-service gymnastics that seem to imply “Get ready, the big stars are comin’ up next.”  Serious, honest analysis of embedded messages in our methods, means, and materials utilized during Gathering must surely be an ongoing and regular practice for leaders sincere about God-centered, God-encountering, Biblically sound worship.  Precisely because so many of us who lead are performers at some level by training, such honest evaluation can prove difficult, even testing the fabric of our relationships.  If, however, we intend to guide genuine Christian worship, we must humble ourselves and engage in such analysis.  Otherwise, we risk just another program about God, rather than helping set the stage for transformative encounter with Him.

[1] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker), 269.
[2] ibid.
[3] Ibid. pg 55.
Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leader Relationships, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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