Changing elements of worship can be refreshing, if they reflect the characteristics or themes of a particular church season – or if they speak to a common concern, a particular observation, or a crisis of some kind.
But change in worship can also be unsettling, and has a long history of causing conflict. I think I’ve lived through at least three iterations of the so-called “worship wars” – arguments in the last 30 or so years that have really revolved around style instead of substance. These arguments have even split congregations.
I’m really fortunate to work with people in my synod (geographical area of organization in my ELCA Lutheran church) who ascribe to a variety of style preferences, but who all agree on some basic guidelines: our pattern of worship is generally Gather-Word-Meal-Send, we begin with Scripture, context is EVERYTHING, and so on. We don’t change things without good and compelling reasons.
Sometimes in my church-musician identity, I get bored. I feel like changing things up in liturgy simply because I’ve heard it a zillion times. But that’s the time I need to remember, more than ever, that it’s not about me but rather the assembly – the folks gathered to worship.
What are their joys, sorrows, concerns, hopes?
How can our worship together give voice to the voiceless, and call us to the love of God that transforms?
As I talk to younger people than I – say, the 18-40 year-olds – they aren’t necessarily impressed by what in the theatre we called “production values.” Smoke and mirrors, fancy lighting, and other technology ring very hollow for them if there’s no substance. The questions these friends ask are more along the lines of “so what kind of difference do you seek to make in this neighborhood?”
Such questions remind me of the great advice given by Kelly Fryer and Dave Daubert at a conference some years ago. They feel that the essential formula for being church is simply:
Be Who You Are – Use What You Have – Do What Matters.
Don’t try to be the big church down the street. You do you.
Don’t bust your budget accumulating stuff (example: expensive sound & video systems) that will only incur an ongoing maintenance budget and will cause more headaches than they’re worth. We actually have more to work with than we realize.
Direct your energy to the things that need to happen, the things that matter, both in your congregation and in your neighborhood. Don’t undertake service projects with a subtext or ulterior motive of thinking you’ll “get them” to come to your church. If there’s a need, meet it. End of discussion. (Otherwise, it’s not a gift but a bribe.)
Change for the sake of change is inward-facing. But change for the sake of the world that God loves – that is outward-facing.
Change is never easy. But we all have stories about how some kind of change was ultimately a precious gift.
THAT’S the story to share.
Blessings as we enter Holy Week.