Skip to main content

relevant worship

i found this article over at thunderstruck, which is basically a link-fest for all things related to faith and culture. steve beard, a united methodist, does a great job running the site, as evidenced by this review: "Best Christian blog? The astounding Thunderstruck, where Steve Beard lists and links thousands of key articles from a host of sources, all calculated to make Christians think more carefully about their faith and the culture they live in. I have to watch how often I go there; I start clicking on his links, and whoops, it’s suppertime." --John Allan, Christianity & Renewal magazine.

anyway, this article from christianity today caught my attention, and i would encourage you to read it if you are interested in worship and how different people worship and how the church might attract newcomers to church through worship styles. One of the main points of the article, as i read it, is that many churches have tried to make worship "relevant" to certain groups of people (usually twenty or thirty-somethings) by imitating culture. so you get a band that sounds like something you would hear on the radio, and you get a preacher who is trendy and cool, and you make the space look pretty neutral, like a convention or something. or you do whatever you can to make it relevant to your target audience. and i get this, i really do. i think we have to find ways to make the Gospel relevant to an always changing world (or maybe we don't have to make it relevant at all; maybe it already is relevant, we just have to help people see that). but the author of this piece, mark galli, makes a great point when he talks about how some young people have really been drawn in to more liturgical churches where the pastors wear robes and the music is ancient and the liturgy is fixed: he says that this kind of liturgy points to God as someone completely other. he argues that since liturgy doesn't seek to imitate the surrounding culture, it actually serves to show a different way, a better way. it puts some mystery and holiness (other-ness) back into worship.

last night i heard someone read matthew 7 from the message, eugene peterson's translation of the Bible, and i was struck by these words: don't be flip with the sacred. banter and silliness give no honor to God. don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. in trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

i am wondering if anyone has any thoughts about this. how much do we redesign worship to make it palatable to unchurched folks? do we stand to lose more or gain more by imitating the culture in terms of 'style?' what do you think about all of this?


Erin said…
this is interesting, as i just want to a catholic mass with my mother in law for mother's day. obviously, this was completely different from the church i normally attend, with "modern" worship and a pastor who wears khaki's and a polo shirt. while still not my "style," i did find it interesting that this catholic church was not "dead" or full of people over 70. there were lots of families with children, young couples etc. i'm not really stating an opinion, but i do think there's a definite balance that churches need to be aware of.
Steven Manskar said…
I think what Galli is getting at is that Christian worship ought not be about relevance or balance. Christian worship is all about holiness; in particular, the holiness of God. Seekers are looking for an experience of God and God's holiness. Galli observes that the historic liturgy of the Church, conveys the mystery and holiness of God in ways that most "contemporary" worship cannot.
Crafty P said…
I'd love to take some time to read the article, but right off the bat, I'd say that it already is relevant and that we need to help people to see that.
I agree with this wholeheartedly
"since liturgy doesn't seek to imitate the surrounding culture, it actually serves to show a different way, a better way. it puts some mystery and holiness (other-ness) back into worship."

Maybe knowing my background, Greg, you can see where my point of view comes from. I really don't "feel" like I've been to church when I've gone to other services. It just feels like that group we had at GCC....what was that called? Oh, Warriors? I'm all for the liturgical.

that's just right off the top of my mind for now.
pete s said…
Man..where do i start?

A bunch of acquaintances of mine from Asbury converted to Eastern Orthodoxy (Monica among them) after college. I "re-verted" to Lutheranism (my parents were Lutherans prior to my birth). How did all of this happen? My somewhat unrefined response is that we didn't find our churches of origin "churchy" enough. I spent a whole lot of time in very contemporary churches (some not even "contemporary" in a 1980s sense!) and while some churches make it about God well, some make it about...well...I don't know. best example i can think of is Quest Community church in Lexington--an offshoot ("illegitimate daughter"?) church of the one i grew up in.

the irony, as well, is that most mainlines (certainly the ELCA) are WAY behind the times here, trying to make more contemporary services with rock bands, etc--while many of us come full circle to liturgical worship.
cathyq said…
There is something to be said for mystery, stained glass, and the hushed awe of a congregation standing in reverence while the acolytes touch the flame to the candles on the altar. I have never understood the "pole barn" mentality that makes worship seem like a party where any sense of liturgy is not only eschewed but ridiculed. As you know, I grew up in a church that prided itself in letting "the spirit move" rather than have any type of "order of worship" and having a bulletin was anathema to them. I find myself drawn to the formality of "high church" and am at peace just sitting in the sanctuary of God without any need for cultural relevance. Honestly, I don't want a rock band in my service; give me a pipe organ any day!!!!
Crafty P said…
beautifully stated, Mrs. M!

I love the mystery, reverence, candles, etc etc

AND I love to lift my hands in worship to the King, as well... just not as my main form of Sunday worship, ya know?
Elizabeth said…
Nice post. I just read in article in Relevant magazine with someone who attend several churches and found that the one they liked best was the high liturgical Episcopalian worship, for some of the reasons you and others have suggested here.
Joel said…
ay ay ay, like pete, i dont know where to start. lets just say i have been to the gamut of church services and like you said, the gospel is the gospel. it is relevant no matter where or how it is presented. what first interested me and then intrigued me and later wooed me to the liturgical style of orthodoxy can be summed up in one word- beauty. the beauty i found in the prayers, the songs, the art, the stories was a window to the uncomprehensible beauty of God. living in romania, orthodoxy isnt a fringe religion, it is mainstream, so the attraction of something different wasnt the same as maybe a liturgical church in the states. for me it was a connecting to God through beautiful means and receiving grace and healing through it. i really dont know how to express it. but i do think relevant should not be the number one goal in worship.
Anonymous said…
GregC said…
Seems to me we stand a better chance of 'reaching' people who are unchurched (I don't like that word very much) by our words and our actions rather than by how we worship. For me, I've felt the Holy Spirit more often in places like basement chapels and people's living rooms than in traditional or contemporary worship services (though I have indeed felt it in those places). I grew up in the Catholic church and remember thinking, after attending Protestant worship services, "Where's the pomp? Where's the circumstance?" I got over that and some of the most memorable worship services have been traditional - in UMC churches. Anyway, to end this blather, seems to me these are all man-made artifacts. You, Greg, have commented on other areas of faith where you suspect God chuckles at us frail, feeble, etc...humans. I suspect this area may be one of those. After all, He's just trying to get us to hear him: "I'm here, I'm with you, I love you." Simple, really.

Popular posts from this blog


i made these comments and prayed the following prayer at one of our worship services at SPWF yesterday, and had a few folks asked if i would post them, so there they are: 
It has been a season of terrible tragedy.  And I have noticed in the news a trending phrase: thoughts and prayers.  It even has its own hashtag on twitter and other social media, but net necessarily in a good way.  People are understandably tired of hearing about others’ thoughts and prayers, when that is only a thinly-veiled way of saying that our only obligation to those who suffer is a brief moment of silence, or nothing more than a tweet or public statement.  The truth is that, for those of us who follow Jesus, much is required when our neighbors suffer.  We are called to do justice where we can, to love kindness and mercy, and to walk with God through it all.  But let us be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  We are, as people of faith, those who know that prayer is not simply an em…

a divided tree

there is a tree in my back yard.  i'm pretty sure it's an oak tree.  at least that's what i think Shannon told me.  i don't know my oaks from my maples, my elms from my locusts.  to me, it's a tree: a corinthian column bursting up into life and glory.  full of sap and pulp and rings and bugs and cells pulsing with water and always reaching for something.  it is full of rhythm, reach and flourish then fall and die, and repeat. 

this particular tree, though, isn't of one mind. 

half of it's rusted orange leaves have given up their grip and surrendered -gracefully or not - to the pull of gravity and the threat of winter.  the north side of this inauspicious oak is just about bare naked, all sticks and straight lines, a skeleton of itself.  but the side that looks south is stubbornly resisting change.  no longer green, the leaves have compromised their summer vibrancy, but they are clearly not ready to concede death just yet. 

i feel like i can relate to this …

thankful right now

"if the only prayer you ever say in your life is 'thank you,' it will be enough." -Meister Eckhart

"thanksgiving is inseparable from prayer." -John Wesley

i've been thinking about gratitude quite a bit this week, and how to foster a thankful spirit in the midst of the barrage of bad news that for me is punctuated by yet another "breaking news" notification on my phone, interrupting the busyness of my day to rudely remind me that the world's brokenness knows nothing of limits or boundaries, not to mention my schedule or sanity.  still, the bad news keeps coming. 

i just scrolled through my most recent notifications just from the last few days and they contain phrases like "crimes against humanity," "57 million users hacked, but not reported," "alleged pattern of sexual abuse," and "extremely disturbing," just to name a few.  how am i supposed to be present at a staff meeting when my phone is buzzing …