Emerging Worship

This week I’ve spent most of my free time devoted to reading Dan Kimball’s book, Emerging Worship. I first got to know Dan’s work last fall at the National Youth Worker’s Convention when I attended two of his seminars and was quite impressed. I especially liked the way Dan handled sticky issues that he raised in the “Emerging Questions: Questions Emerging Generations are Asking” or something along that line. He was honest, straightforward, but fair. I clearly remember him raising the issue about the role of women in worship leading:

Dan: Now how many of you are in churches that ordain women? (about a third of the hands – including mine – go up)

Dan: Now how many of you are in churches that don’t ordain women? (about two-thirds of the hands go up)

Dan: Okay, now one of you is wrong, but regardless within the parameters of your theological understanding of the role of women you need to find ways to have both men and women involved in the leadership of worship at your worship gatherings.

I was impressed. Anyway, part of my job at Hampton is to work with turningpoint, which is our “modern” worship service. It, in both style and content, is different from our contemporary and traditional services and is a service intended to reach out to those who are unchurched or have stopped attending church.

As I read Dan’s work I realize that he is coming at “emerging worship” from a very different perspective than I am. He is “emerging” from a traditional evangelical setting where the form of worship where as I am “emerging” from a more traditional reformed style of worship. While there are some commonalities between these two styles, there are also some major differences. Here are some of the common themes I see

1) Both traditional evangelical and traditional reformed emphasize one-way communication: In both traditional settings it is largely the worship leaders speaking to the people.

2) Both traditional evangelical and tradtional reformed emphasize the people worshipping in unison, albeit in different forms. Traditional evangelical tended to do this through unison singing while traditional reformed uses hymns and liturgical elements (call to worship, unison prayers, etc.)

3) Both traditional evangelical and traditional reformed emphasize up and down motion. In both settings you pretty much were either sitting down or standing up, and that’s it. On occasion, you might come forward to respond to an altar call (traditional evangelical) or taking communion by intinction (traditional reformed)

4) Both traditional evangelical and traditional reformed emphasize the message as the central part of the worship service.

5) Both traditional evangelical and traditional reformed emphasize auditory communication over other forms, although traditional evangelical moved toward limited visuals sooner.

However, there are some key differences.

1) Traditional evangelical did away with many “churchy” elements. Traditional liturgical pieces (call to worship, unison prayers, etc.), the church calendar (Advent, Lent, Ascension Day, Christ the King Sunday, etc.), crosses, pews, communion tables, baptismal fonts, organs, stained glass, candles, processional/recessional, bulletins, robes and vestments, etc. went away. The traditional evangelical worship space looked very similar to a school auditorium rather than what is traditionally thought of as a “church”.

2) My wife pointed out that traditional evangelical worship placed a high value on energy – more upbeat music is maybe the easiest place to see this.

Now one thing I am not doing is saying which of these two forms is better. I grew up traditional reformed and know many people who that form of worship has been essential to the growth of their faith. In the same vein, I know many people who grew up in traditional evangelical circles where that form of worship has been essential to the growth of their faith. So I am not saying one was/is right and one is wrong, I’m just pointing out where I see the differences.

So what it seems that Dan is suggesting is largely a recapturing and transforming of some traditional reformed elements (greater emphasis on the sacraments, a return to the church calendar to give a sense of history, crosses and other visual symbols of the faith) meshed into a shift in values toward a community planned and driven worship gathering. Also, Dan suggests a big emphasis on multi-sensory elements that engage all the senses. So, more visuals, taste, touch, etc.

I guess what I find so interesting about the emerging conversation is how a lot of it appears to be traditional evangelicals reclaiming that which we’ve (traditional reformed) have always had and reinventing it into something fresh and newish. This isn’t to say that what is being done and suggested in emerging circles is just traditional reformed with a new face (that’s not true – the multi-sensory piece isn’t not part of traditional reformed worship)

The question that I wrestle with is what those of us emerging from traditional reformed circles do with those things that to so many have become symbols the past which is marked by dry and rote worship.


  1. Rob
    September 5, 2006 at 5:42 am

    I too have spent some time this summer with Kimball’s Emerging Worship as well as Emerging Church. The question you bring is a good one, but I see things from a slightly different perspective. I was raised in a Roman Catholic setting (I am protestant today). In my opinion, the meaning and symbolism of traditional worship styles has been lost over time. I don’t think that sanitizing ancient ritual and symbolism from worship is the answer. I also don’t think that we should “dumb-down” the deep and meaningful teachings of Jesus and the Bible so as to avoid confusing or scaring away seekers.

    I think that ritual and symbolism needs to be brought into worship with the explanation of its significance. To just do something without knowing why doesn’t cut it in this society… People want deep and meaningful explanations instead of “because that’s how we do things” answers.

    I took a new perspective of worship from Kimball… That worship doesn’t need to follow some template week to week. Worship should be deep and personal and meaningful. It should never become empty ritual. Whether you call it traditional, contemporary, modern, or emerging… If it is locked into a solid, unchanging template, I think that it is bound to become mundane.

    I also love the ideas of offering prayer stations for a kind of an a la carte worship experience… Two people could attend the same exact worship service and come out with entirely different experiences depending on where they are. Amazing possibilities for open-minded churches that God has blessed with creative gifts and a heart for reaching people in new and powerful ways.

    So I pose some questions that I have posed to others (with little thoughtful response)…
    Why can’t God’s people come to corporate worship with a sense of anticipation?
    Why can’t there be a sense of the unknown associated with going to church?
    What scares people so much about this?

  2. December 9, 2006 at 10:50 am

    I don’t have any great wisdom for you, unfortunately. I am an episcopalian hwo is running into similar issues. I love many of the concepts and underpinning of the emergent theological movements (you described them) but there is some disconnnect when those of us from traditions where reintroducing deck chairs some groups threw overboard isn’t such a radiccal step. Eventually they are just deck chairs….and we are re-arranging them. At least that is how I feel. I think Dan has done us a great favor in bringing his perspective, but I think some of us are going to have to figure out what it means to me emergent from our other places. It will be interesting to see what develops to fill this void. I am trying to attend the mainline-emergents conference in Atlanta next year. Perhaps this is a topic that can be discussed there with folks likely to be facing the same Q’s. Like I said, no answers, just solidarity from an emerging Episcopalian.



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