By Mark A. Taylor
How should we worship? Maybe we can take some comfort in the fact that throughout church history, Christians have answered that question in wildly differing ways. As both Paul Blowers and Tom Lawson point out this month, lavish artistic expressions of worship centuries ago eventually gave way to abandonment and even destruction of them by Protestant reformers. The motivation for each approach was the desire to please and praise God.
Across Christendom today, we find everything from formal liturgy in classic settings to simple, quiet contemplative gatherings in smaller groups to exuberant, loud, guitar-driven, drum-syncopated megachurch worship accompanied by smoke machines and strobe lights. All of it happens, according to those leading it, for the glory of God.
This fall I shared a link to a blog post about contemporary worship, and one commenter said, “I just miss the tradition.” But each of us has his own tradition. I wanted to ask my friend, “Which tradition do you miss? The energy of 1950s revival meetings? The formal recitation of Scriptures and prayers in a mainline church? The organ and piano duets of the small congregation in the country?” The fact is that “contemporary” worship can be as formulaic as anything prescribed by The Book of Common Prayer. I’m guessing 60-year-olds 40 years from now will be missing today’s tradition.
But Laura Dingman and her colleagues have decided to step beyond tradition. Instead of a formula, they start with the task of telling a story as they mix musical, visual, and spoken elements to provide fresh experiences.*
When I spoke with Gary Johnson, senior minister at The Creek in Indianapolis where both he and Laura serve, I complimented her article and approach. But Gary spoke of something Laura hadn’t mentioned. He said the spiritual formation happening in her life is the crucial factor. “This is the essential element for any leader,” he reminded me.
Of course, no one would say getting closer to God is enough. Obviously, a worship leader needs creativity and talent. But those external qualities, while able to produce artistic results, will not move worshippers like a Spirit-infused approach led by a person depending on God and focused on the needs of those she leads.
So while we talk about forms, while we describe artistic expressions, and while we encourage the use of every gift to praise God, let’s remind ourselves of something more basic. Improving the externals dare not be our first concern. God looks at the heart, and so must we. Only as we open ourselves to being led by him will our creativity make the greatest impact for his glory.
*See some samples at https://christianstandard.com/?p=32918.