General Conference 2012 raised numerous questions about who we are as a body of United Methodists, and unfortunately, left us more confused and hurt. Trust level was low and tension was high. In the end, radical change didn’t happen.
So, what’s next? I believe what’s next is to stand on hope and celebrate the good that is in The United Methodist Church. In knowing ourselves authentically, we can find our call—our call to proclaim the gospel by being honest and offer from our abundance. Yes, we are an abundant community, and we need to discover that once again. Maybe not by money or numbers, but by faith. I recently heard Peter Block, author of Abundant Community, talk about the inherent abundance we have, but we have to realize that we need each other. We need to be able to talk with one another, and he strongly believes that the arts are a way to bring people together. When we sing and dance together, barriers break down. We are called to sing and dance at worship.
I see worship as a vehicle to discover who we are and whose we are. Worship is the center of a faith community’s life as it gathers together, usually on a Sunday, to praise and celebrate God. Oftentimes, though, we as Christians take worship for granted and go through the motions without really thinking about why we do what we do. We really don’t take time to consider why we worship and who our worship is for. We most often think it is for us, since we are used to getting what we pay for (after all, don’t we pay the pastor and all worship leaders to entertain us for that one hour?). Worship is treated like another thing to buy or a service rendered to us as a consumers. We forget that it is not about us, but about God. Worship is the performance by the body of Christ for God. That being said, worship is not done just by the “experts” (the pastor and paid church musicians) but by the work and voice of the people for God. It is the whole assembly that creates their time together in worshipping God. This may take time, but it certainly gives an avenue for one of the four foci of the whole church of developing lay leadership. What’s next is for the pastor to act as God’s talent scout and use those talents discovered to bring about worship by the whole congregation.
We cannot take anything for granted and assume that people know what is going on. We need to make the implicit explicit in order to establish a common ground and a common understanding of our time together. In Wisconsin, members and friends of the churches I have served did not all grow up as United Methodists. Most actually grew up Lutheran, Catholic, or Evangelical United Brethren. I have found that taking time during our worship services to explain things has made worship more meaningful.
I have discovered that creative worship is not about inserting one new thing because it is the latest fad in worship. Creative worship is about designing time together that is authentic to the context and makeup of the people who make up the church. Creative worship needs to have integrity, and the only way to have integrity is for the people leading the worship to have passion and commitment for what they are doing.
I would like to offer the following to be considered as a leader guides her congregation into creating worship that is specific to her context.
First, a leader must know herself. What is her own story in terms of her faith, family, theology, style of leadership/communication, or worship preference? What are her gifts? Are they in preaching, singing, organizing, or the arts? In knowing one’s gifts, one must know one’s own limitations. For example, my father’s pastor cannot sing; consequently, she has asked my father to lead the hymns so that a voice may be heard on the recorded worship. She is a wonderful preacher, and I appreciate her strength for knowing what she can and cannot do well so that she is able to tap others to lead with her.
Second, it will greatly benefit a leader to know her people. What is her context? Who is her faith community, and what are their faith traditions? Are they Methodist? EUB? Lutheran? Catholic? What is their theology? It is amazing how that impacts time together. I cannot stress enough that one cannot take anything for granted; we are not all the same, and the richness in diversity enhances our time worshipping. In keeping with knowing your people, take the time to find out your members’ gifts—are they vocal music or instrumental music, conducting, or organizing? Find out: who has a knack for oratory, drama, visual arts, or preaching? Is the body responsive, stoic, or reflective?
What are the styles of leadership and/or communication of your leaders? Your worship will be shaped by who you have and what they have to offer. They are your best resource.
For other resources, one of the things I would invite you to consider and reflect on is: what is distinctly United Methodist, and how you can incorporate that into your worship celebration? To name a few distinctly UM elements, consider how Wesleyan social holiness, prevenient grace, or Armenian influences impact the litanies and prayers you can offer. Consider, too, that when you worship, you are worshipping with the global church as opposed to a congregational or stand-alone church.
How does the Social Principle come into play as to how we respond to the proclamation of the Word? I invite you to look at the Social Creed 2008 Companion Litany, a work that was created by the whole church after the task force held consultations all over the world to hear how the United Methodists respond to God’s call to action. It is on the GBCS website in a downloadable file.
Use videos only if you or a member of your congregation is passionate about videos, and if the theology is sound and in keeping with what United Methodists believe. Do not use them just for the sake of having technology. Available resources include places such as Integritymusic—either by subscription or videos for purchase. Other worship sites include www.iworshipnow.com; Godtube; or www.theworkof the people.com. I personally subscribed to The Work of the People and used their films and loops to present the Scripture in different ways.
Another area open to creativity is the proclamation of the Word. I have found that it helps put into context the assigned readings for a given Sunday. It can also be helpful to deliver the readings as they were meant to be: in the form of a story. I remember Dan Dick saying in one presentation that United Methodists used to read the gospel together. Why not? You can present the scripture as a reader’s theater, a dramatic or interpretive reading, or by scripting. I personally have gone through the gospel or the Hebrew Scripture and marked the parts of the storyteller and the different characters. I then invite the whole congregation to participate in the reading either as the storyteller or one of the characters, such as the Pharisees, the disciples, or the crowd. I cannot tell you how the congregation has appreciated the opportunity to be part of the story; proclamation has been one of their favorite parts of the worship.
When looking for music resources, please consider using the Global Praise series in addition to our UM Hymnal and The Faith We Sing. This series is a great treasure trove of songs that our brothers and sisters from Africa, Europe, and Asia sing! I can imagine that in your church, you would have children and youth who are in school bands who would be willing to accompany the songs with instruments—especially rhythm instruments.
In defining your mission and vision for your church, consider having a theme song that speaks of that mission. For example, “Go Make a Difference” by Steve Angrisano and Tom Tomaszek was the theme song for my last church. We sang it frequently, either as an offertory anthem (with the congregation joining in the refrain) or the sending-forth song. I know this worked because my husband overheard two youths quoting it rap-style.
The resources you need are right in your backyard. Meaningful, creative worship needs to begin with knowing yourself, your people, and your purpose. What happens next will be your best offering to God!