Thursday, March 21, 2013

Worship and discipleship

During his time in our congregation Paul Manuel convinced me that I had an impoverished and entirely inadequate understanding of formal worship. Since then I have thought much more seriously about what worship is and the ways worship affects our relationship with God. Worship, James K.A. Smith argues here, forms us as disciples. From Trevin Wax's conversation with James K.A. Smith, author of Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works:
.... I think we need to remember that the hub and center of Christian discipleship is worship.

The point is this: a lot of Christians (including pastors and Christian leaders) have implicitly and unwittingly bought into a view of action and behavior that overestimates thinking. This is even true in sectors of evangelicalism that are suspicious of education and intellectual life. ....

But on a gut level, we all know this doesn’t work. My failures to follow Christ in holiness do not stem from a lack of information or knowledge. I know very well what He calls me to. I don’t do it because of bad habits that I’ve acquired. And the fact is, you can’t think yourself out of bad habits. You undo bad habits through “rehabituation”—through practices that inscribe new habits in our gut, as it were.

I think most contemporary evangelical understandings of discipleship have no place to appreciate the power of habit (except perhaps negatively). But that is a very odd scenario since Christians across the ages have long understood habit formation to be at the center of spiritual formation and discipleship. ....

...[W]e have bought into a reductionistic view of worship. When we say “worship,” many of us just think “music” or “singing,” which is already a reduction of historic understandings of worship that comprise the entire service. ....

So historically, worship has been seen as not only expressive, but also formative. When the people of God are gathered by God around his Word and seated at his Table, that sanctuary is the space where God is molding and (re)making us. In that sense, worship is training, is formation.

As I argue in the final chapter of the book, if worship is going to be formative, that means we need to think carefully and intentionally about the form of worship. Not the “style” (this isn’t about pipe organs vs. mandolins), but the narrative form of the Story that is enacted in our communal worship.

...[Y]ou can’t just go pick some “popular” cultural form and insert the Gospel “message” and think you have thereby come up with “relevant” worship. Because it’s more likely that you’ve just imported a secular liturgy into Christian worship. Sure, you might have changed the content, but the very form of the practice is training us to love some other vision of the good life. This is why I think a lot of innovation in worship, while well-intentioned, actually ends up welcoming Trojan horses into the sanctuary.

The response is not to come up with “the next best thing” in worship. It is to find new appreciation for historic Christian wisdom about the form of worship for the sake of discipleship. .... [more]