Underneath the surface of our expectations, we all have unwritten rules about how we encounter God in worship. Some have a hard time engaging in worship if they do not sing what they refer to as “the old hymns,” for others, worshipping without a sermon or open worship would be unthinkable. Ironically, the idea of worship in church history, is best characterized by an understanding of “liturgy.” Liturgy sounds funny to us “low church” Quakers, but in Latin it means “the work of the people.” This is how worship has been historically thought of, before our consumerist cultural values have caused us to rethink that. Nowadays we are plagued by a mentality were worship has lost its “work” and worship that requires us to get outside of our comfort zone is looked at with suspicion. But worship is not supposed to be like baseball: a lot of people in the stands who desperately need exercise watching a few others on the “field” who desperately need a break.
As I continue to write about my interview with Jared Ross, the choir director of Barclay College and worship pastor of Haviland Friends Church, an understanding of what is meant by liturgy needs to be grasped to fully understand what he was saying. Especially to understand his response to “What specific goals and objectives do you have for the congregation, as you are leading worship?” Jared answered:
My main goal for them starts in my planning, whatever worship actions I am planning I am hoping to create different worship actions that will allow the people to encounter God in real ways, to experience Him and respond to Him. My goal then is the same as that of hospitality, setting up an environment that is going to allow people to engage and respond to God. For instance, musically I want to pick songs that can be sung by the majority of people. I want to make it easier for people to encounter God and respond to Him, not necessarily just singing the hippest newest thing. My second goal is that they will respond. I want them to participate. Worship is their work.
Jared’s twin goals of attempting to create an environment where people encounter God in real ways and respond to Him speaks from the heart of most anyone planning or leading worship, but he goes further in connecting this to a spirit of hospitality. How would you characterize the level of formality at College Avenue Friends? Would you see elements of that formality that add to a spirit of hospitality, or elements that take away from it? Realistic and healthy expectations about musical talent and ability might add to a spirit of hospitality, in which experimentation and empowerment are encouraged. Whereas unrealistic expectations can actually quench that same hospitality, as people are not encouraged to use their gifts, rather they are encouraged to be spectators who watch the “professionals” do their thing.
You may have noticed at times in my worship planning I try to allow for alternative ways to respond. This has taken a few forms over my time here, involving anything from sticky notes to rocks, or pressing people to share with their neighbor. While I recognize this pushes people a bit out of their comfort zones at times, a crucial part of the reason I do this is exactly what Jared stated his second goal to be: desiring participation. Letting “the people” do their “work.” If worship becomes too bound by our expectations, something is lost. Worship should feel like a journey we are on together, and journeys can take unexpected turns. Worship should allow room for surprise, for being caught up in the moment, not always being too worried about what time it is, especially if we see God’s Spirit at work among us. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, but also the “Convicter.” It is hard to let the Spirit move among us when we cling too hard to the familiar, to the things that comfort us— we can actually miss that engagement element that is a part of true worship.
Ephesians 4:12-13 reminds us that the work of a pastor is not to make people comfortable, but “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This means encouraging the church to passively sit in a pew as a spectator is not a legitimate goal. A pastor is called to push the people to do the work of worship, as well as equip and build the people up. If my work as a pastor is stretching you to grow and do new things together on our journey with God, that is a good sign. That means I am on the right track. So often we buy into popular models like “the pastor as CEO,” or most commonly “the pastor as superhero.” People can mistakenly expect a pastor to do the people’s “work” of worship for them, or expect the pastor to do all the reaching out to the community, or various other unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.
In Ephesians 4 we find the work of the pastor is not to go alone as a superhero, but to take others along. Really, to equip and build up others to go new places the pastor will not go; to respond faithfully in the ministries God has called them to however exotic or mundane. It is not the work of going alone, but of building up others who will in turn, win, build, and send others. A pastor’s job is not to make people comfortable, but to help them see that we have not arrived, that we still have plenty of growth and plenty of ways God is calling us to reach unity, grow in maturity, and strive for the fullness we have in Christ. I for one do not feel called primarily to a “hospice” ministry—that of keeping people comfortable until they die—but to a ministry of hospitality where people are empowered to use their gifts, to experiment, and to find their own way along their journey toward Christlikeness. I recognize of course that I have a role to play in comforting and loving on people, a role that I am privileged to fulfill. Yet the big picture of connecting “the work of the people” inside and outside the church is not something I can neglect if I truly want to be a pastor, rather than merely a CEO (or a person bound by the messianic delusions of a superhero). So I invite you, humbly, to the work of worship. It is here that we are transformed by an encounter with the living God, a presence far more powerful than our own preferences and comforts. We come to receive grace, even when that grace looks a lot like work; the work of God’s people.