Book Group Reflection: Passion for Worship - How Do We Get It?

Mery Elder, Fredericktown, Ohio, reflects on "The Church of All Ages"

Mary Elder

In the book The Church of All Ages, ed. Howard Vanderwell, Pastor Stan Mast reveals (following his church’s yearlong study on passion in traditional worship): “If the congregation has not entered into worship after spending the week in close communion with God, the members will not worship passionately.” (136)

Mast writes later in the chapter, “to help young people understand and appreciate worship, parents must also be passionate worshipers.” (141)

What is a passionate worshiper? Webster’s Dictionary says passion is a strong deep feeling; love; an intense desire. How then can we help individuals develop their love for God and grow in their desire to worship Him?

On the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website, numerous blog postings in response to book discussions about The Church of All Ages touch on what passionate worship must look like:

“We need to be careful to make sure all those services focus on God.” (Sunnyside)
“Worship is not intended to make you happy. Worship is and always should be about God.” (Sunnyside)
“In worship, help people focus on Christ rather than on whether or not they like the preaching, the music, etc. It’s all about the Word.” (Santa Ana)
“I find that it’s not how we worship that’s important but who we worship.” (Fredericktown)
“It’s important for children to see their parents worshipping God.” (Ancaster)

In his 2010 Worship Symposium workshop, “Leading Congregation-Based Worship Beyond Sunday Mornings,” John W. (Jack) Stewart lectured on how congregations’ members worship in four venues: corporate, small groups, family, and private. His message to us was that unless leaders of these venues led well, they wouldn’t be listened to.

All churches have leaders for corporate worship. Some have more than others based on size and amount of resources. Many churches have training and leadership programs for small-group leaders. Where do our churches stand in training parents and individuals in developing and leading family and private worship?

The blogs on the CICW’s website list concerns for parental education and training:

“Is it really possible for parents to take the time at home to cultivate the practices/habits needed for children to be prepared for worship? It seems out of reach for many if not most.” (Brookline)
“Parents are not able to help their children come to an appreciation of the role of worship in faith formation.” (Schenectady)
“Parents need to be taught how to help their kids worship”. (Sunnyside)
“We actually need to do a lot of work educating parents in the church as to what worship could look like and how they could be a part of it.” (Surry)

Churches may offer parenting classes to help educate children about worship but do we need to help our parents and families learn how to be in worship during the week?

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 instructs us on the importance of families teaching God’s truths to their children and it teaches us that this is a lifestyle and not a weekly event.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Stewart, in his Symposium workshop, said that all of us learn initially by imitation. I feel that churches must ask: What can we do to provide opportunities for families to be in worship during the week where they can imitate what has been modeled in a small group or corporate worship setting?

Also, in today’s world, churches must help families and individuals learn how to be in worship throughout the week because we live in a culture where our digital technologies occupy so much of our time that they often distract us from worshiping.

In a 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation study called “Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” a key finding was this: “Over the past five years, young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by an hour and seventeen minutes daily from 6:21 to 7:38, almost the amount of time most adults spend at work each day except that young people use media seven days a week instead of five. Moreover, given the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time, today’s youth pack a total of 10 hours and 4 minutes worth of media content into those daily 7 1/2 hours, an increase of almost 2 1/4 hours of media exposure per day over the past five years.”

Next, let’s think about the venue of private worship. Who is the leader there? It is each of us. What could church leaders do to provide opportunities for us as individuals to be in private worship during the week? In this digital age, are there new or creative ways church leaders could provide tools to encourage us to engage in a dialogue with God? What could church leaders create and provide to individual worshipers to nurture prayer, the reading of the psalms, and to provide opportunities for creative responses to what God has done for us?

Take it one step further. If we hold to the belief that all worshipers are of equal value, then how do church leaders help parents encourage private worship for their children?

I believe that if leaders of the four venues of congregational life work together to intentionally and continuously nurture worship in all four venues of congregational life, then we will develop passionate worshipers. By developing more passionate worshipers, when we do come together in corporate worship we will feel greater unity in the body of Christ.

Church leaders can accomplish this by first deciding on what foundations of worship need to be nurtured, then generating guiding questions for all leaders in the four venues of congregational life to ask of their members.

Corporate Worship leaders could ask:
How can we model the use of digital technologies so that they can enhance worship rather than detract from worship? How can we add times of private worship (solitude) to our corporate services? How can we plan worship so that we provide opportunities for families to lead worship together? How can we help families plan worship at home? What resources could we offer small groups to encourage worship and reflection as a part of the small-group meeting?

Small Group leaders could ask:
How can we structure our meetings to offer times of silence and reflection? How can we model prayer for families? In what ways can we pray for family members? Who in our church needs acts of kindness that our group could provide? In what ways could our small group serve in and/or support our corporate worship?

Parents/Grandparents (Family Worship leaders) could ask:
In what ways can we provide solitude for family members? What could we do to help our children reflect on their private worship? How can we help our children discover their spiritual gifts? In what ways can we model praying for our children? Who in our various small groups needs our prayers? What could our family do together to participate in /lead worship? to be more prepared for corporate worship? What projects could our family do together to support our church ministries and show kindness to others in need? Can we find ways to use media to share our faith stories with our church family?

Individuals could ask:
Who in my family, small group, or church needs my prayers? What can I do today to show kindness to someone in my family or small group? What actions can I take to be more ready for corporate worship? What can I do to respond to what God has done for me? How can I share my faith story with someone else?

In conclusion, one response from a Toronto blogger on the CICW website gave me pause: “It’s the one who foots the bill who gets to decide what’s important in congregational life.” Do our church budgets tell a story about our commitment to private and family worship?

In our churches, if we intentionally devoted the time, money, staff and energy in planning family and private worship that we do for small groups and corporate worship, would we see more passionate worshipers?

Author’s notes on Reading Groups –
Reading groups can serve to move people beyond the mentality of reading for enrichment and into a larger collective learning process. My paper is a reflection of this statement. The material for my article did not come from just the dialogue within my small group even though there was a lot of valuable sharing within the group. I drew from several of The Church of All Ages blogs, from comments made during our discussion times at Symposium, and from outside sources gleaned from workshops taken during the Symposium. Had I not been exposed to the larger collective learning process and been open to the Spirit working in me, I would not have asserted what I did in my article. It probably would have sounded more like a summary of what we had said.

I think for local churches, reading groups consisting of people with a wide range of ages and experience can be beneficial in helping to guide church ministries and outreach.

Bibliography

“Book Group Reflections.” The Church of All Ages. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Sept. 2009. Accessed 15 Jan. 2010, www.calvin.edu/worship/pub/all_ages_groups.php

“Report: Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation. 20 Jan. 2010. Accessed 2 Feb. 2010, www.kff.org/entmedia/8010.cfm

Stewart, Jack. “Leading Congregation-Based Worship Beyond Sunday Mornings.” Lecture, 30 Jan. 2010, Calvin Symposium on Worship. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI.

Vanderwell, Howard, ed. The Church Of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2008)

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