Monday, January 21, 2008

What I'm thinking about today

Worship at its core is participatory. The very basic component of worship is that of God’s action and our response. So often, worship turns into an event where a few people do a whole lot of acting and a whole lot of people watch. This would be a fundamental difference between worship and entertainment. So, why does worship seem to frequently degrade into entertainment?
Perhaps entertainment is not the right word. Perhaps that’s just the form that passive worship has taken in our time. Was the passive worship that pervaded the Christian world throughout the Middle Ages a form of entertainment? That was less about mere entertainment and more about fulfilling a supposed duty imposed by someone else. The duty or duties were not performed because it was a law. The people had been successfully convinced that these duties would buy their way out of the burning fires of damnation. Worship had become an act of propitiation. Worship was no longer an act of thanksgiving. The Christian life was no longer a Eucharistic one. And isn’t that kind of worship the very kind that had such a death grip on the people when Jesus came into our world: worship as propitiation instead of thanksgiving? There are plenty of examples in the Old Testament of worship that was full of thanksgiving. So, again worship had degraded from thanksgiving to propitiation.
In our current times, instead of worship as propitiation imposed by the Pharisees or the Roman Church, worship has degraded from thanksgiving into entertainment. The shift from thanksgiving to entertainment, just as it has been in the past, is a slow and mostly innocent process. In times past, at least, we could point with blaming fingers to certain people and/or groups of people. But, entertainment, and the cultural mentality surrounding it is much more sly and subversive. It’s much more difficult to find the problem and root it out.


Blogger Elaine said...

Ok, so the next question is, what constitutes participation in worship without devolving into performance?

Norman, OK

12:47 PM  
Blogger Amy Stewart said...

You're absolutely right. I think the most obvious difference between participation and performance is that it requires some action on the part of the congregation. Choir anthems and such can easily devolve into performance, and so can sermons and even prayers. But, when the congregation is encouraged over long periods of time and in different ways to participate in those elements, then you can guard against devolution. (I'm guessing that's really a word because the spell checker isn't kicking in). Ways to encourage participation: periodically have an anthem that invites the congregation to sing as well; choose anthems that support the scripture text of the service - and point that out; be intentional about the language used in reference to anthems and other presentational music inside and outside of worship(i.e. instead of 'performance' say 'offering' or 'sung prayer')

Hymns and songs of any style can be fully participatory when they are led in such a way that encourages and even compels the congregation to join in. But, they become performance when they are led in such a way that makes it difficult to participate. That could be anything from a bad choice of key to too high a volume, to uncomfortable tempo, to too much unfamiliarity or too much familiarity.

I could probably go on and on, and probably should in a post... maybe I will just do that :)

2:16 PM  
Blogger Ph said...

This is an interesting post, and rather timely given the fact that we spent our Sunday youth meeting discussing worship, where our church is and how to engage more people in worship. Also I was randomly thinking about worship this morning.

It is a very fine line between worship and entertainment. I get the opportunity to take our youth to multiple concerts and events with Christian artists and I consider those less about the entertainment (though they are entertaining) and more about being around hundreds of other Christians worshiping.

But where is the line drawn? Personally I stand by the fact that worship should be fun and entertaining (and this is what I came up with in my car on my commute as I was talking to myself). This is your opportunity to give thanks and praise God. Shouldn't you be having fun doing it? A person should be excited to do it.

But that's just me and my random "I don't want to suffer road rage so I talk to myself" thoughts.

So how do you decide where that line actually is? If you're enjoying it, isn't that in a form entertainment? And does that make it wrong?

10:04 AM  
Blogger Amy Stewart said...

PH, you make some great points. I agree that worship should definitely be engaging and that certainly includes the idea of fun. Though, not all of life is fun, so therefore, not all of worship should be fun, if worship is to be a reflection of life and a shaper of life. Well, ok, worship isn't the shaper, the Holy Spirit is.
The danger comes, I think, in when our worship becomes about what is 'fun' or 'entertaining' to me. We live in a rather narcissistic age. Although, honestly, has there ever been a time in human history where narcissism has not played a very present role?
Entertainment, in and of itself is not bad, but I think we have go guard very carefully against worship being judged on the scale of "was I entertained?". Or even, "was I fed?". It's not about that. God was very specific when He said he wanted no other gods before Him. I think that includes ourselves and our own wants and needs.

You should definitely be joyous in your praise and thanksgiving to God. But, there also needs to be space for us to be sorrowful for our sinfulness, space for us to mourn the tragedies of our lives before God, space for us to quietly sit in the holy presence of God. If our worship is only ever fun and entertaining, then what happens when we're faced with an up close and real tragedy like the loss of a loved one, or rejection, or something as horrible as 9/11. That fun and entertaining worship becomes rather shallow and empty if it's not balanced by a sober, honest and full worshiping life in the context of the community that is the Body of Christ.

I'm really trying to not come across as the worship ogre - I actually have an amazing amount of fun in worship. I just also feel that fun is only one of many facets of life, and therefore worship.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Sally said...

Thank you for this Amy- finding the balance between good participatory worship and performance is difficult. Enabling participation is key I guess, but often difficult....looking forward to reading more of your thoughts

5:45 AM  

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