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Lisa Allen-McLaurin on the OneWord Worship Model

Lisa Allen offers an approach to worship planning that centers on the transformative power of holistic biblical worship.

See all episodes in Season 5

Episode Transcript:

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:00:04

And so if we start with the text that lays the foundation for that message, then that message gets recommunicated throughout the elements of worship in a service. So at the center of the model is the Word, and then everything else—music, drama, dance, movement, whatever else you may have as part of the worship service—then undergirds and underscores that message. 

Host 00:00:43

Welcome to season five of Public Worship and the Christian Life, a podcast produced by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. This season highlights the new Worship and Witness book series by CICW and published through Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf & Stock. The Worship and Witness series seeks to foster a rich interdisciplinary conversation on the theology and practice of public worship, a conversation that will be integrative and expansive. CICW staff member Noel Snyder, also one of the series editors, and Kristen Verhulst talk with the authors of the first seven books in the series. We are pleased you’ve joined us in this conversation, and we look forward to sharing this learning with you.

Kristen Verhulst 00:01:38

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Public Worship and the Christian Life podcast. I'm Kristen Verhulst from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. My guest today is professor Lisa Allen-McLaurin. Lisa is a professor of worship music and spirituality at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, as well as an ordained clergyperson and the coordinator of practical ministries for the Sixth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. She is the author of many books on worship and preaching, including the topic of our conversation today, The OneWord Worship Model: A New Paradigm for Church Worship Planning. Lisa, thanks so much for joining me today. 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:02:28

Thanks, Kristen. I'm so excited to be here. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:02:31

Lisa, tell us the story behind your book. Why did you write it? 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:02:35

I have been a seminary professor for the past eighteen years, and I have been teaching primarily courses on worship. And in my introduction to worship class, we have many conversations, of course, about the practical application of theories and foundations of worship. And as the years have gone by, I've culled information through course lectures, through papers, through conversations with students, and particularly students who pastor about how worship models work or don't work on the ground in actual services. So through the years I've been putting together my own model, which I call the OneWord Worship Model, and I'll talk about that in a bit. But I did it as a way of helping pastors and students to see how worship actually can be planned well using elements and acts of worship and the various categories of worship and involving the whole person, so a holistic model of worship. And as I've been writing, people have been saying, “This needs to be in a book! . . . We need this so we can have it and we can refer to it and use it.” And so that's what I did. I had some conversations with the publishers at Wipf & Stock, Cascade Books, and through Calvin, and we came to this wonderful meeting of the minds, and I've written the book and it's been published. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:04:28

What have been some of the comments or feedback you've heard so far on the book? 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:04:34

Well, I've gotten great feedback from students, from pastors, other worship professors who are using it in their courses, that it provides a very systematic, structured way of planning worship. A lot of students would say, “I want to plan worship well,” and pastors would say too, “I want to plan worship well, but I'm just not sure how to go about it,” or “I want to use a team to do it, but we need some help.” And so I've gotten comments such as “This really lays out very clearly and in a very structured way to how to go about planning worship from week to week.” So it's been good. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:05:22

Wonderful. So take us into what this OneWord Worship Model tries to bring together. What are the components you're bringing us all to and this idea of a holistic approach. 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:05:34

Absolutely. I've been a church musician for decades. I actually started playing for church when I was 12, and I'm not 12 now! But over the years, over the decades, in all of the churches I've served—and I've served many across denominational groups and in different areas and many different demographic variables—but across all of them, I've seen worship that a lot of times is culled together from disparate elements. So you might have the music department deciding we're going to sing these hymns or these songs on Sunday. And then whoever is responsible for leading worship or may be doing the scripture reading or the prayer might decide, Well, I'm going to pray this way, or I'm going to read this scripture, and then whoever is preaching might be preaching on something totally different. And you might have a liturgical dance or a drama or a skit or something that, while it's great, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the message that has gone forth. And so for me, that's why I titled it OneWord, because I feel like we have one word, which I'm meaning one message, that goes forth throughout the service. And that one message comes forth from a biblical text, an authoritative scriptural text, rather than multiple texts that you may hear in a worship service or multiple sources or elements of worship. And so if we start with the text that lays the foundation for that message, then that message gets recommunicated throughout the elements of worship in a service. So then at the center of the model is the Word, and then everything else—music, drama, dance, movement, whatever else you may have as part of the worship service—then undergirds and underscores that message. Then the various categories of worship—the gathering, the proclamation of the Word, response to the Word, Eucharist, the benediction and sending forth—all of them encompass acts of worship that undergird and underscore that text and that message. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:08:36

It sounds like a very formative way to think about worship planning and worship flow. But it also sounds like, of course, you need to bring several people together. And as we all know, people have ideas. So how do you bring people together, then, around a common vision or a OneWord approach that still blesses each of the contributions they're trying to bring? 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:09:07

I think that's one of the blessings of the model, is that rather than people just coming up with ideas on their own, everybody starts with that one word. Everybody starts with whatever that foundational text or that foundational passage is and how it's going to be used. And I want to make a distinction there, because a biblical text or any kind of text can have multiple meanings, so that even once the text is selected, the worship team—and I advocate churches to use a team to plan worship; oftentimes that's not the case. I've heard over the years from students and pastors, “Well, I end up doing everything myself,” of “Me and the musician . . . get together and plan.” But that leaves out so many voices. And that may or may not help people connect with with whatever the message is, but if you have persons who are representing the various constituencies of a congregation—if you have persons that are representing the Christian education department, the music department, the Sunday school, . . . the youth group, the children's group, the sound and tech ministry, the dance ministry, whatever particular groups you may have— if you have a representative from those groups. And if you say, “I don't have a big church; we don't have all of that,” you probably do have a musician. You probably do have someone who teaches Sunday school. You probably do have members of the church—because they don't necessarily have to be part of that leadership, but if they're regularly attending members, you want to hear their voices, and so you make them part of the team. And the team can be three or four people; it doesn't have to be a huge group of people. But you have them come together, you look at the message, the foundational text, and you begin to brainstorm. What are some of the things that this text evokes for us? What are some of the messages that we want to communicate as a body of faith, as a community of faith? And then you begin to identify whether there are other things that undergird this particular text, . . . what music might. And that's why you want to have these representatives, because they can help you. If you're the pastor or you're the person who regularly plans worship, they can help you—”Oh, yeah, we know a song that would be perfect for that.” Or “Here's a hymn that goes perfectly with that.” Or “Here’s a drama piece,” or, “Here are some prayers I know that I've read that are from my devotional that would work well with this.” And so you get a lot of different perspectives, but it's all based on the same text and message. So it's not a lot of different messages going. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:12:32

Right. And I love how you said earlier it's an opportunity to hear the voices of many different aspects of church life. . . .

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:12:42


Kristen Verhulst 00:12:43

. . . and what a beautiful thing that worship can be, that activity, that gathering, then all of the members of the community can really find themselves and their needs, their joys, their sorrows in worship. Have you had any examples that came to mind where there were just some beautiful ways that by having this collaborative team approach, something did come up that maybe otherwise wouldn't in more of a siloed approach to worship planning? 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:13:17

Well, yes. That's one of the reasons why I've made sure to include this holistic piece with what I call the four quadrants of personhood. So the text, biblical text, Jesus that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And so each of those represents a quadrant of our being. So as we're planning, we're thinking, how do we include the mind in this service, the intellect? How do we include the soul, the emotions? How do we include the physical being, the strength? How do we include the heart, which is the volition, the ability to choose? And so as we're looking at the various elements of worship, as we're looking at how we want to put this message forward, this holistic piece actually invites people to say, “This is what this evokes emotionally for me. I think people really would appreciate us dealing with, maybe grief or loss or despair or depression, or addressing this in this text and in this message as a way of helping people find hope.” And sometimes that's not what one person would think of because that's not where they necessarily are. Or somebody might say, “We want to include people physically, but we have people who have physical impairments. How do we include them in this physical movement? How do we make sure that everybody's physical abilities are honored and respected in this? And that's not something necessarily that someone who doesn't have those physical impairments might think of. I've been part of planning various services where people help you to think within the model structure: How do we include others? How do we include whatever we're trying to get across across a broader spectrum of people and not just the two or three people who “normally” plan worship or lead worship. And that allows for a greater . . . offering, a greater invitation to people. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:16:00

I appreciate the embrace of inclusive community across, abilities, disabilities. But also, I think that speaks well to inclusion across ages, so an intergenerational approach.

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:16:16

Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:16:18

And I do think this is one area where younger people . . . You said at twelve years old you started leading at church, right? The young people also want to be there as part of, I think, a collaborative process. 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:16:34


Kristen Verhulst 00:16:35

Are there any special hints or ways to reach out to younger people or to encourage adults in the congregation to make space for the young people to come to the table and plan and have ideas and share? 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:16:52

Well, I definitely think the pastor or pastors have to take the lead on that and make sure they're being very intentional about inviting children, youth, and young adults, because they don't all go in the same category. A lot of times we'll leave our children in planning; we’ll leave out youth sometimes. But we need to be very intentional about making sure all of these groups know that there is a place for them. So I think the pastors have to take the lead, but I also think pastors have to communicate, and that's part of the model as well. Before you begin to use the model, you have conversations with your various leaders and say, “This is a new way that we're looking at doing worship planning. We want to make sure we're including as many voices as possible across as many demographics as possible. And so let's be intentional about including the voices of children, youth, and young adults. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:18:18

That intentionality, I think, is behind your phrase “transformative worship” that pops up throughout the book. Tell me just a little more about what you mean by “transformative worship.” 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:18:31

One of the questions I asked my students in one of the first classes we have in an Introduction to Worship class is “Why do you think people come to worship?” Particularly now in the twenty-first century. Because when I was a child back in the Middle Ages, we were made to attend church. You didn't have a choice. Your parents were going; you were going—whether they had a children's church, whether they had anything for young people, whether you had to sit on their pew and twiddle your thumbs until service was over. Hopefully you didn't have to do that, but you were going. Well, we are two or three generations out of that model. Nobody is making people go to church anymore of any age. It is absolutely a choice now for most people. So then why are they coming? Well, they're coming for many different reasons. Some are coming because this is a place for me to see persons I love, persons I know, that I can socialize with and have fellowship with. Some people are coming because these are people that I can see and maybe network my business. Some are coming because I just don't want to sit in the house alone. Some are coming because [they] grew up in that model that you go to church on Sunday. But are any of these people actually coming to be transformed? Because throughout the biblical text we see that any encounter with the divine leaves the human changed. Any encounter with the divine—whether they want to be changed or not—any encounter with the divine leaves the human changed. And so when we are coming to worship, we say we're coming to worship God. We are coming to be in the presence of God . . . and invite God in to be with us. And we are coming to reverence and to surrender and bow down and to leave empowered to walk in the will of God. All of that requires, in some sense, transformation. And so the worship service itself, the model of it, as the ancient ones in the biblical text go up to worship, to the temple, they prepare themselves. They cleanse themselves. And they sing as they go up to the temple. And then while they're in the temple, they are in the presence of the holy, of the divine, intentionally. And they are going through the rituals and the liturgies that help them to connect with the divine. And then they are empowered as they go out into their communities. So they are going out hopefully as changed individuals and as communities because they've been with the Lord. And so in our twenty-first-century worship spaces, that is something that needs to be communicated. Are we coming to be transformed? The Bible says “Be not conformed, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So as we come to worship, these holistic practices that draw us in and speak these messages to us are to be transforming us. To be in the presence of God and in these acts of worship, then we should not be the same when we leave. So when I say facilitating transformative worship, hopefully the planning that we're doing is leading to these worship encounters with the divine that then transform individuals and communities. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:22:48

Yeah, a beautiful model. Well, Lisa, it's been really wonderful talking with you. I wonder if we could end with a closing word of encouragement for those who, maybe, like you have been doing worship now for decades and might be feeling maybe a little tired, maybe discouraged. What words of blessing and encouragement would you give those folks? 

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:23:12

Oh, I would say that we are created to worship, and when we worship, we are not the audience. The congregation is not the audience. God is the audience. And as we live in this realm, we prepare for the day when we will be among the four and twenty elders that worship without end. And so let us go and continue to prepare wonderful worship services that prepare us for that great day when we will see face to face our God and worship in spirit and in truth. 

Kristen Verhulst 00:24:09

Amen. Thank you so much, Lisa.

Lisa Allen-McLaurin 00:24:11 Thank you so much.