Join our mailing list

How One Campus Is Learning to Worship God in All of Life

It's not every day that a Baptist professor walks into a Catholic religious supply store and spends over $2,500. A feature story exploring the how one college is learning from the community around them.

Philosophy professor Dr. David Naugle says he loves teaching at a university where "the heart of the mission statement is integrating faith and learning" and "promoting servant leadership through vocation and calling."

He appreciates the "enthusiasm, vibrancy, and musical excellence" he experiences at Dallas Baptist University (DBU) chapel services.

But he senses a hunger among students and staff for a deeper connection between DBU's mission and its worship. And, based on reactions to what he and his campus worship formation team began introducing in fall 2003, Naugle is on to something.

DBU received a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to help staff and students see their mission within a holistic theology of worship.

The team began by inviting people to study a book on worldview. They applied their insights to required and optional chapel services before Christmas. Now, at the request of Dr. Gary B. Cook, DBU president, the team is introducing the Christian liturgical year concept to the entire campus.

Rethinking worldview

"I felt that if we really want to expand our view of worship—to acknowledge and worship God in the whole of life—then we need to address our dualism. Evangelical Christians tend to divide life into the dualistic categories of sacred and secular and to compartmentalize the Christian faith," Naugle says.

The result? Though many Baptists feel a strong sense of personal salvation and dedicate themselves to evangelism and missions, they may miss out on the joys of feeling connected to the communion of saints or seeing God at work in creation.

In fall 2003, the DBU team sponsored monthly book discussions about The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview. They also hosted a Saturday seminar about creative worship ideas. A core of 50 very interested people emerged from among the 175 faculty, staff, and students who participated.

Naugle says the reading groups talked about how limiting their concept of worship to the sacred realm (such as religious services, prayer, Bible study, and evangelism) makes Christians "unconsciously adhere to and worship false gods and idols in the so-called secular realm." In other words, because they view vast portions of life as evil or outside God's plan for redemption, they don't see how their faith could shape their everyday lives.

The reading groups looked at another option-living as a community of Christians who evaluate history, culture, and their own lives according to the themes of creation, fall, and redemption.

"There was a different attitude on campus, a buzz in the air. People noticed changes in chapel," says music major Ben Bolin.

Taking small steps

Bolin and Naugle say that Baptists value spontaneity, so most Baptist services have an informal, casual feel. People participate mainly through singing, and the music is upbeat and contemporary. Sanctuaries are simple, often adorned with little more than an open Bible atop a table.

The campus worship formation team began introducing new elements in some chapel services.

Instead of listening to the preacher pray or share the scripture before launching into a message, chapel attendees now sometimes join in responsive readings and recite the Lord's Prayer together.

They've started to sing classic hymns and enjoy dramas and poetry. They've even recited the Apostles' Creed together in chapel. "That is revolutionary for Baptists," Naugle says.

"We're taking it very basic on the themes of creation, fall, and redemption. We don't want to blow them out of the water. God's been showing us the beauty of collectively worshiping, saying scripture together, confessing sin together, praying together. We're experiencing the supernatural unity that Christ intended. It's a joy to have my friends say, 'This is a wonderful way to worship,'" Bolin says.

Recovering the Christian calendar

Noticing how liturgical elements help keep people involved in chapel, philosophy major Matt Slay suggested that the campus worship formation team should sponsor Advent services.

"I became exposed to the beauty of liturgy after reading the book Liturgical Spirituality and writing a paper on the recovery of liturgy for the post-modern church. It provided a new depth for my personal faith. Liturgy connects us with biblical history in a way that helps us actually become part of that history," Slay says.

The optional Advent services-a first in DBU's 105-year-old history-drew more people each week, including English prof Dr. Philip Mitchell, who went on to help plan an optional Epiphany chapel.

After the Epiphany chapel, the DBU president asked Naugle's team to help plan how to celebrate the whole Christian year on campus. That's when Naugle and Slay went out and bought massive liturgical banners for every church season. They also purchased a portable table, liturgical table linens, Lord's Supper cup, and other accoutrements to symbolize connections to the goodness of God's created world.

The more liturgical chapels will be offered as a mix of main (twice-weekly compulsory events) and optional services. "There'd be static if we tried to change all the main chapels," Mitchell says.

Experiencing a difference

The five Lenten and Holy Week chapels, all required, made an impact. "Sometimes we ask them to enter in silence, rather than, as is typical, engage in lots of chatter till someone stands up and says, 'Good morning!'

"Some students find that the more liturgically-oriented services help them partake of reverence and the holy. Liturgy connects young evangelicals to the early and medieval church. Just as the Israelites of the Bible did, we are celebrating God's mighty deeds of history and doing it in a prescribed order. This helps us worship according to biblical and ecclesiastical traditions, rather than capitulate to cultural trends, though contextualization is important," Naugle says.

For the Lenten chapel, the team handed out suggestions for observing Lent. "Worship is formative. The Lenten service was especially enriching. It made me face up to sins I hadn't paid attention to," Mitchell says.

He asked his students for written responses to the new approach. Several mentioned that liturgy helps them focus on worshipping God, rather than on being entertained by a person or performance.

"This is the first service in a long while in which I felt I was a genuine participant and not just someone observing what was being said. This must be a form of worship fashioned after that of heaven," Timothy Wade wrote.

Learn More

Read The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View by Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton.

Check out this review of David Naugle's book Worldview: The History of a Concept. Hear Naugle speak at the 2005 Calvin Symposium on Worship.

Mine The Worship Sourcebook for ideas useful for churches anywhere along the traditional-to-contemporary worship style continuum.

Use DBU's Lenten service as a model for planning one on your campus.

Just for fun: admire Kuyper, Naugle's dog. True, Naugle is Baptist, and his dog is named for Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch and Reformed statesman who declared that every "square inch" of the world is under Christ's lordship. But what do you expect from a guy who writes about worldview?

Start a Discussion

  • What elements do your worship services always include? What would you gain or lose by adding or subtracting liturgical elements?
  • In what ways does the average congregational member participate in your worship service? What would you gain or lose by offering more opportunities for members to participate?
  • Does your congregation follow a lectionary or observe seasons of the church year? Why or why not
  • In what ways do you allow for spontaneity in your worship services? How important is spontaneity in worship anyway?

Share Your Wisdom

What is the best way you've found to introduce new liturgical elements in your congregation?

  • Have you used visuals, sensory experiences, dramas, formal liturgies, or other methods to celebrate seasons of the Christian year?
  • When you introduce liturgical changes, how do you explain to worshippers what you're doing and why it matters?
  • Have you surveyed your congregation to discover whether people recognize or understand your order of worship?