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What is Vital Worship?

A summary of the meanings and implications of vital worship.

Vital worship cannot be reduced to a formula or generated by a set of techniques. We invite you to prayerful consideration of the dynamics or hallmarks of vital worship, which we continue to learn about from congregations:

  • Vital worship is not something that human ingenuity or creativity can produce or engineer, but is a gift of God's Spirit.  It is a gift for which we pray, rather than an accomplishment we achieve.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mid of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  –Romans 8:26-27, NRSV

  • Vital worship mines the riches of scripture and leads worshipers to deeper encounters with the message of the gospel.

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. –Psalm 63:1-2, NRSV

  • Vital worship arises out of and leads to the full, conscious, and active participation of all worshipers—young and old, the powerless and powerful, newcomers and lifelong worshipers.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit . . . The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. –Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, nos. 14, 48.

  • Vital worship leads a congregation beyond itself, to give itself away to minister to the needs of the local community and the world.

The way we talk in worship affects the way we talk in the rest of our lives, and vice versa . . . The words of worship are like stones thrown into the pond; they ripple outward in countless concentric circles, finding ever fresh expression in new places in our lives. . . . It’s a provocative idea—worship as a soundtrack for the rest of life, the words and music and actions of worship inside the sanctuary playing the background as we live our lives outside, in the world. –Thomas G. Long, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian

  • Vital worship happens best in healthy congregations, which are marked by honesty, integrity, unity, and pastoral concern for each worshiper.

Congregational worship should be integrated with the whole life of the congregation. It can serve as the “source and summit” from which all the practices of the Christian life flow. Worship both reflects and shapes the life of the church in education, pastoral care, community service, fellowship, justice, hospitality, and every other aspect of church life. –John D. Witvliet, editor’s foreword, Vital Worship, Healthy Congregations series, The Alban Institute

Pastoral worship leaders who yearn for vital worship begin by asking thoughtful questions about the purpose and meaning of worship before addressing the style or mechanics of worship. A worship committee, a board, pastoral staff, or worship team might begin by asking questions such as:

  • How can we help our congregation to pray more honestly and deeply through the words we speak and the music that we sing together?
  • How can we proclaim the gospel message more meaningfully through preaching, music, and the arts?
  • How can we practice Christian hospitality in worship more intentionally?
  • How can we celebrate baptism and the Lord's Supper in more profound and significant ways?
  • What practices will form our congregation more richly in the contours of the Christian faith?
  • How can we improve patterns of communication among worship leaders and between our leaders and all members of the congregation?

These questions will eventually lead to suggestions regarding worship practices and style, but they begin by probing deeper issues about worship.