There’s an interesting post about leading worship making the rounds: “An Open Letter to Praise Bands” by James K.A. Smith. Smith is an intelligent writer who raises several good points, so certainly read his post. Because many of you contribute creative elements to worship services, I thought you might be interested in Smith’s response to worship leaders who add creative modifications and improvisations to worship songs:
“And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.”
Like I said, read the whole thing.
I don’t know about you, but I love exploring the tension between passive and participatory elements in worship services and other events. Whether or not you agree with Smith, he has given us several things to think about in his post.
Luke Larsen at Christ and Pop Culture articulated a few key points of disagreement with Smith’s post, and I think Larsen’s post is worth your time as well. Here’s a good excerpt:
“Trying to define what makes something ‘worship’ in terms of anything but the posture of your heart toward God is stepping on some dangerous ground as far as I’m concerned.”
Like Larsen, I was somewhat taken aback by Smith’s concrete terms: “If ______, it’s not worship.” I tend to soften my views a bit. If I’d written Smith’s post, my refrain might’ve been, “If _____, it’s difficult for me to fully participate in corporate worship” or “If _____, the community worship experience isn’t all it was meant to be.” My feeling is that this issue is a matter of degrees (the relative depth of a given experience in terms of interaction and formation) rather than a dichotomy (it was/wasn’t worship).
That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? Is worship qualitative or quantitative? Could we reflect on a corporate worship experience and describe it as ranging from 1-10 or from Terrible to Good to Fifth Great Awakening? Or must we check one of two boxes: Worship | Not Worship?
Let’s say two mature believers attend a church service together, and let’s say each of Smith’s “not worship” indicators are present throughout. If one of the believers walks out and says, “That was worship,” but the other believer responds, “No, it wasn’t,” what do we do with that? Who’s right?
The way we answer those questions says a lot about our definition of worship. But where do our respective definitions of worship come from? My guess is that they’re largely derived from our upbringing, our experiences, our reading, and our personal preferences. For instance, Smith doesn’t support any of his “it’s not worship” judgments with Scripture references. So while his opinions about worship might be thoughtful and logical (and they are), they’re still his opinions. The same goes for Larsen’s response and my thoughts here.
Let’s keep talking about corporate worship. Let’s keep pushing ourselves toward more engaging and formative worship experiences. As we do, we’ll have to sort out what the Bible has to say, what we observe in the course of serving the Church, and our opinions on the matter. Although we may never arrive at a singular expression of corporate worship, we may arrive at a variety of expressions that invite individuals to connect with their Creator in the midst of community. Because if that’s not happening, it’s not worship. Right?
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.