Issues in Worship Renewal (II) (Bible Study)

Perhaps you have seen examples of churches that have become more vital than ever through an examination of their worship life, and perhaps you have also seen churches that have been damaged by worship conflicts. What can we do to be sure of the one and not the other?

Lesson 7                          See all lessons
How can we participate in a process of renewal and be assured that we will become healthier instead of weaker? How can we walk our way through the maze of issues, influences, and resources and make judgments that will be worthy of those who have been entrusted with something so sacred? 

Those are pressing questions. And there is an answer! The answer is to be found in the practice of "discernment," a gift that the Bible tells us comes from the Spirit of God. Discernment is both a gift to be received and a skill to be developed.

Scripture: Proverbs 3:13-18; Colossians 3:12-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Introduction

Last month we began our consideration of worship renewal that is underway in so many churches today. Churches are thinking and talking about issues in their worship life to a degree that we haven't seen in this generation before. We are examining why and how we worship. We are asking questions about matters we assumed were settled before. We are open to new songs and new ways of worshiping, and are exploring new resources constantly.

This process of reexamination can be a golden opportunity for growth, maturation, and renewal. It can bring new resources that bring fresh air, and new vitality and a better understanding of why we worship. Indeed, it can bring exciting new life to the church.

But the opposite can happen too. In the clamor to be "new," we could just jump on bandwagons that are part of an unhealthy parade. We could adopt fads that are only passing. We could become more divided, polarized, and weakened through conflicts that may result.

So how can we participate in this process and be assured that we will become healthier instead of weaker? How can we walk our way through the maze of issues, influences, and resources and make judgments that will be worthy of those who have been entrusted with something so sacred? Perhaps you have seen examples of churches that have become more vital than ever through an examination of their worship life, and perhaps you have also seen churches that have been damaged by worship conflicts. What can we do to be sure of the one and not the other?

Those are pressing questions. And there is an answer! The answer is to be found in the practice of "discernment," a gift that the Bible tells us comes from the Spirit of God. Discernment is both a gift to be received and a skill to be developed.

Scriptural Counsel

In the three passages listed at the head of this lesson, Solomon and Paul speak to us from very different situations about the ever-necessary gift of discernment. Though it may go by different names, the essence is always the same—the ability to see reality, understand it, and identify the difference between what is genuine and what is counterfeit, what is helpful and what might be dangerous, what may be of the Lord's Spirit and what may be of another spirit.

Solomon calls discernment “wisdom and understanding” when he writes Proverbs. He writes as a father. "My son," he says a dozen times in the first six chapters, expressing the earnest desire of a parent's heart. In Proverbs 3:13-18, a section set in the middle of several chapters that hold high the desire for wisdom, he exclaims its beauty and value. This wisdom is the path on the way to a life of blessing and value. Consider these two things as well: (1) Solomon prayed a prayer for wisdom when he was first crowned king to follow his father David to the throne. He asked that the Lord would "give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong" (see 1 Kings 3:4-15). (2) Solomon personifies wisdom in Proverbs 3. We might consider that a quaint literary method, if Paul had not made it clear that Jesus has "become for us the wisdom from God" (1 Cor. 1:30). Christian maturity for leadership today depends on the exercise of such Christ-centered wisdom.

Paul speaks to the Colossians about the virtues to be found in the life that has been raised with Christ (3:1) and is hidden with Christ in God (3:3). This raised-and-hidden life will be marked by such virtues that it will serve the welfare of the body of Christ in outstanding ways, giving evidence that God's Spirit lives in them. These kinds of church members will promote the thankfulness and peace of the body of Christ (3:15); they will be able to wisely teach and admonish each other in and about worship (3:16); and will be God-directed in all things (3:16). In other passages, such as 1 Corinthians 12 and Galatians 5, Paul makes it clear that such a gift comes only through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.

When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he acknowledges thankfully that they are showing evidence of the "sanctifying work of the Spirit" and "belief in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). He counsels them that their exercise of leadership must always include the earnest desire to remain faithful to the calling they have received from God. And this faithfulness will involve standing firm and holding on to the teachings that he has passed on to them (2:15). This highly concentrated exhortation is consistent with Paul's many other warnings about influences and dangers that would cause them to forsake the foundation he has laid for them. Sometimes, he tells them, what may look like renewal is really the opposite; they need the gift of discernment to understand and to lead.

Renewal Issues

With this emphasis on discernment and wisdom in mind, we should look at more of the issues that face our churches today in their search for worship renewal. We encourage you to review the list given last month and consider the following to be a continuation of that list.

1. Observing the Christian year.

Instead of assuming that our church year follows the church program (September through May), the meaning of time becomes more significant when we begin with Advent (the anticipation of Christ's birth) and continue through Lent (preparation for the consideration of his suffering), Eastertide (his resurrection and living as those raised with him), and Pentecost (the work of the Spirit for the Church.)

2. Ecumenical learning.

Christians of widely different traditions are now more eager to learn from each other. While we each aim to retain the integrity of our own tradition, we learn each other's songs, prayers, readings, and methods of worship. When we practice discernment we find this enriches our worship.

3. A global awareness.

Christians of widely different cultures also are more eager to learn from each other. Since the average Christian today knows and understands more about the world and its needs through print and television, the church is able to know about the life and needs of its counterparts in other parts of the world. We learn to appreciate what it means to be part of the "holy catholic church," and we bring that awareness with us into worship.

4. Social justice.

Yes, we usually all bring our local needs before the Lord in worship, and we remember to pray for one another in our congregation and our community, but what about the suffering peoples of the world? What about those oppressed, persecuted, starving, victims of injustice, and threatened by genocide? How can we possibly worship genuinely without crying out to God about such needs?

5. Evangelism and hospitality.

Are we willing to think about our welcome to the stranger, the visitor, the seeker? Are we expected to do evangelism through our worship services? If so, what changes must be made in worship? If not, what other methods can we develop to create a welcome?

6. The role of children.

We no longer believe children should simply remain quiet, assuming they are unable to understand. We want to include them early; we want them to feel included; we feel the need to speak to them in the worship service. Should we sing their songs? Can they be part of worship leadership? How large a place should we create for them?

7. Issues of style.

There are many discussions about the style of worship. We experiment with any number of labels to try to identify different styles. We hear voices that tell us this style or that style is better and more effective. And everyone easily defends their own preference with great passion, sometimes producing more heat than light.

8. The use of sanctuary visuals.

What does your worship space look like? How much do you use visuals, symbols, and art to aid worshipers? Do you have a very plain sanctuary? Are the colors of the different seasons of the church year obvious to the congregation? Is it important to have a pulpit, communion table, and baptismal font visible in the sanctuary? Many churches today are asking these questions again.

9. The use of technology.

Technology is not new to worship. We've had electric lights and sound systems for years. But today new possibilities are entering worship—including projection screens and PowerPoint presentations. Churches are entering this field with questions such as Will it aid our worship, or distract us? Do we have the expertise and training to make good use of these tools? How much amplification should singers have? What are the dangers? And the benefits?

When you add these nine issues to the eight that we presented last month, it becomes obvious that churches are dealing with many issues and questions that rarely surfaced a generation ago. Those of last month dealt more with the essence of worship; these focus more on practices and themes that affect our worship. So discernment and wisdom are more important than ever for worship committees and worship planners.

Tips for the Discussion Leader

We offer the same caution this month that we gave last month—so many issues have been raised that you must be careful not to get sidetracked into a discussion or debate on any one issue. Each of the seventeen issues cited in the past two months is worthy of separate consideration, but that is not the purpose of this discussion. Keep focused on the main theme—discussions within the church about the renewal of worship.

Review with the group the theme of renewal and how prominent it is in churches today. Remind them that it has great potential for good . . . and harm. Have the group focus their discussion on assessing the state of such things in your own congregation in the light of these issues. Aim for a whole-group discussion, with everyone participating, to make an assessment of the current needs for leadership in your setting.

Discussion Starters

1. Return to the questions of last month. Sometimes an interval of reflection adds new insight that did not occur in the first discussion. Center on these questions:

a. What further reflections do you have on the spirit within our congregation? (Review some of the comments you noted on this matter last month.) How ready and eager are the members of our church to consider and discuss matters of worship renewal?

b. Of the issues listed above, are there some that we have already dealt with? Which ones?

c. Which two to four of these issues listed above are most pressing in our work as a committee?

d. How can these issues be dealt with so they will be helpful and healthy for our congregation?

e. How could they be dangerous or risky?

2. What can and should we do as a committee to lead and aid our congregation in a way that will serve our worshiping health?

Further Reading
Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003). Note especially chapter one: "The Things of the Spirit" (pp. 1-11).

Lesson 8
See all lessons

Comments