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Worship that is changing

Posted by: Simon on 25 March 2019.


I would imagine many of you have lived through multiple changes of worship styles down the decades. When the latest offering first appears we deem it to be radical in its thinking and is both exciting and unnerving at the same time. The 1960’s saw the start of ‘Family Services’ which became caricatured as the singing vicar with a guitar, complete with a rainbow strap! Suddenly we were singing choruses! By the 1980’s / 90’s it had morphed into ‘All Age Worship’. This form sort to hold onto what was deemed to be valuable from the past while embracing the new songs, greater engagement of musicians and members of congregations. Drama, poetry, dance, crafts and the like all found there place in this buffet of worship. What was once a homily had become the sermon and was now the talk.

All these changes had at their heart a desire to engage with the worshipping community as a whole. Children were desired to be included (in theory) yet they were still ‘sent out’ to their own classes for most, if not all the service. There was a growing recognition that the majority of people attending didn’t live in families that consisted of Mr & Mrs with 2.4 children. All this while at the same time seeing the decline in church attendance and Christian understanding.

These formats started with promise, but never quite ‘did it’ for people. They never really delivered on the unspoken desire to somehow be a worshipping community. I think this was because we had ignored the changes in society that influence our thinking and living, for good and sometimes for bad. Over the last couple of decades, the dominant ideology has been egocentric living. Simply put me first and last. A simple example of this can be seen in so much of what we sing in church starts with ‘I’ rather than ‘We’. We have become independent worshippers, we have moved from corporate worship (everyone worshipping together) to collective worship (being together while worshipping on my own), mirroring the way schools now structure their assemblies. We have lost the ability to be interdependent on each other and as church communities, we should also be seeking to be intradependent. So what is next?

The failure of All Age Worship has been well documented and is often described as ‘dumbed down’ worship. The perception is that everything is simplified to the lowest common denominator in an effort to include everyone but the result is that it ends up serving no one. To combat this issue this type of worship has evolved and is now constructed in such a way as to offer bits for everyone at different times during the service. There may be a traditional hymn in an attempt to appease the older generation, a children’s song with numerous actions and much bouncing about in an attempt to include the children, the Teens are given faux responsibilities to help during the service including taking up the offertory, doing one of the readings etc. and the latest songs from the likes of Hill Song et al are offered by a zealous worship band to try and capture the rest of the adult congregation. This is deemed to be All Age Worship as it has something for everyone, but once again it has fallen short of what people really want and desire. Individuals only engage with the bits aimed at them and tolerate the rest. So what next?

The new kid on the block is called Intergenerational Worship (IW). All Age worship is ‘Multigenerational Worship’ (MW) where everyone is present but not corporate in their worship. Generations stand alongside each other but remain separate. At its core, IW isn’t about what elements are included in the service as such, but that whatever is done, all seek to engage with them fully to worship. The onus is not on ‘me’ and what I get from the worship, but on ‘us’ and my responsibility to support others in their worship, as they support me in mine. There is a corporate responsibility to seek to be one. It is a sacrificial style of worship as it is possible to leave having given my best to enable others to worship and not necessarily felt any individual benefit. This is, of course, counter-cultural in its approach. It’s not about me but about us. It is opposite to so much of the ideology of MW where the emphasis is, ‘what’s in it for me’, ‘the worship was good this morning as I felt blest’.

This attitude change is where the real shift comes and takes time to adjust to and learn how to be. When we enter into a Service with our aim being to enable and support others in their act of worship, we start to worship in an intergenerational way.

When we sing, with gusto an old hymn that really is of any interest to us, yet is important to others, we aid their worship; When we attempt to sing the children’s song in a way that doesn’t patronise or put up with it but seeks to model to the younger members of the congregation that I want to worship with them and I value it and them as well, we aid their worship; When I take time to seek out and interact with a bashful teen and thank them for their contribution in leading a part of the service, seen or unseen, I aid their worship; When I don’t clap a contribution to the service by a young person because I wouldn’t clap the contribution of an adult, I elevate their act of worship to a parity of everyone else and I aid their worship; When I model how to be silent alongside others who are using the silence in worship, I aid their worship; When choose to stay for refreshments and make small talk after the formal act of worship, even though I might prefer to make a getaway, I aid their worship.

Worship is all about my attitude not about my performance. As I model that attitude of others before myself, so others respond by mimicking my attitude. The portions of worship that really resonate for me are then supported and entered into by others so that I might worship with the whole body of Christ.

Once this has been accomplished then it is possible to look at the nuts and bolts of what we do in IW and how that works in practice. That’s for next time.

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