A Lesson in Worship Planning

Most students come to me thinking that music equals worship.  They might not say that, but music is pretty much all they would plan for worship, if left to themselves.  In order to expand their thinking (and their theology), I ask students to plan a “worship set” on the spot, and then give them 15 minutes to work.  Half-way through, I tell them “someone has stolen all the musical instruments, and the electricity is out.”  I then ask “can we still worship, or should we send the people home?”

Don’t get me wrong; I love music.  I have a performance degree from a good Conservatory.  But to confine worship to music is like hiring a plumber and then telling him to use only pliers.  The Bible gives many tools for worship, and this variety of expression helps keep the Body of Christ fresh, engaged, and growing.  Doing the same “stand and sing” thing each week does not grow disciples.  Worship leaders need to use more of the tools in the toolbox.  They need to lead their people in remembrance (Anamnesis) and anticipation (Prolepsis) so that the whole story of God is told, celebrated and experienced.

To encourage new thinking about corporate worship, I take music away from my students.  At first, they’re paralyzed; then they get mad.  Soon, however, they begin asking “what else is there; what else can we do?”  This is when things get exciting.  They begin designing corporate prayer where the people actually do the praying, rather than semi-listening to someone else pray.  Students try writing creeds, calls and responses (litanies), and they get creative with Communion.  They solicit public engagement and agreement, and devise appropriate postures and avenues of corporate response.  They use Scripture in new ways; all kinds of liturgies pop up.

I demand that my students develop a theological plan for their worship “sets” and services.  I know the word “liturgy” freaks most of us out, but it simply means “the work of the people” (Leitourgia).  The path of least resistance is to plan a glorified concert so that people can ‘lose themselves’ in the music.  But having a theological roadmap helps keep the main thing the main thing.  It turns an audience back into a congregation, equipping them to do the work and service of worship.  Worshipers stop ignoring each other, and start experiencing God in, with, and through others.

When I finally let my students use music, it has become purposeful.

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