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Emerging Worship

August 25, 2006 2 comments

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.

Thoughts?

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