One of the things that I find myself thinking about a lot (at times, too much) is the actual experience of a worship service. I try my best to attend a variety of services and even participate in as much as possible in many different roles. I think it's because of the incredible amount of emotion that is called forth when people gather together to give praise to God that I am so drawn to it. A good worship service (no matter the style) evokes the emotions in a way that allows God to enter into the worshiper's heart. This is why we place things of the utmost importance (baptism, communion, etc) inside of these services. These times that we get together as a body of Christ are the times when we connect and grow together. They are important.
As I have mentioned several times, I was a child of the "contemporary movement". You know, guitars, keyboards, drums, lights, and gyms instead of sanctuaries.
It was my definition of church.
Because of this, we rehearsed music, dramas, transitions, and the like in order to create an experience that flowed well.
Those of us who still participate in this practice today get accused of making this experience a form of "entertainment". Like going to a movie theater. For a while, I nodded my head and bought into their arguments. I go to school with many of them.
They were, and still are, wrong.
The argument, as I best understand it, has to do with whether or not church should be entertaining. To them, if church is something that you can go to, enjoy, be anonymous, and not have to commit to, something is wrong. And...the argument is that this new form of worship enables this attitude toward worship and church. It was a fair argument because of the naming of the services. My home church growing up called the service, the "Seeker Service". The name implied that the real Christians, those no longer "seeking", went to another service. As if us Christians aren't always seeking. This implication wasn't the intention though. To outsiders, it may have seemed so.
The other half of the argument was the stupid part. Whether or not they admitted it, they just didn't like this form of worship. So the whole "holier than thou" mindset was a good way to argue against it instead of admitting that it worked.
I sang with the Duke Divinity Gospel choir the other day.
I have sung in worship services since before I can remember. I have led worship for big groups, small groups, in contemporary style, and sung in choirs in traditional services. I have even lead hymns from the guitar.
But I have never really sung in the tradition of the African American Church. One of the things that I noticed was the flow of the service. We sang our songs and the congregation followed along as well as they could. The songs went on for a long time, and involved both the choir and directors interacting with one another. The lead soloist lead us through "Sanctuary" and used techniques to interact with the congregation so that they were "along for the ride". It was awesome.
My realization: the service was truly creative. One of the songs we sang had two parts. The director lead us through it, showing us what to sing, when. There was no sort of "Verse, Chorus" outline prior to the service. It required him to interact with us and us with him. It required him to interact with the congregation.
It required creation to happen.
My belief is that God created us to be creative and I TRULY think that he is OFFENDED when we don't use those talents and gifts inside of our worship services.
Many advocates of traditional worship would argue that their organist is creative. He or she probably is. Many of them would argue that those who write the music for their services is creative. He or she probably is. Many of them would argue that their pastor is very creative. And then their friend sitting next to them (also an advocate) would elbow them in the side because they know that it isn't true.
But in that argument, they would argue against being even more creative in a contemporary setting. Why? Because they don't like it, it makes them uncomfortable, or it's hurting the attendance of their services.
Today I was reminded of what creativity in worship can include. These are pictures from a man who calls himself a "worship VJ" and uses software from Renewed Vision (primarily PropPresenter and ProVideoPlayer) to portray an immersive experience behind the musicians that are leading in worship. You can follow him on twitter at @worshipvj or his site at worshipvj.com
I think that this use of technology and creativity only adds to an experience that helps to connect those who participate, to God.
Lots of people disagree with me.
Again, I believe them to be wrong. I think God rejoices when we use the gifts he has given us to praise him in new ways.
If, somehow, this requires that the lights to have to come down, and that techniques that we used to only see either in movies or theaters have to be used, so be it. This is church. We should be incorporating the brilliance of God's creation in our ongoings before anyone else. And yet we don't. Because we are concerned about tradition.
And because we are wrong.
Let's rejoice in the variety of worship forms. Let's rejoice in creativity no matter where is appears. Let's rejoice in what God is doing in our churches, no matter their "style", and invite others to partake and experience it as well.
**Apologies to those who got the preprocessed notification of this via email. My fat fingers accidentally hit the Publish button and there was no going back**