Ask ten people in your parish, “What is worship?”, and you’ll receive ten different answers. Though their answers may have some commonalities, for many (if not most) worship is a very subjective experience, both for individuals and communities. Our scriptures also stress the importance of regular communal worship as an essential part of Christian life. But, what happens if what I consider meaningful in worship is the exact opposite for you? How then do we cultivate meaningful and engaging worship experiences in community?
I’ve had the privilege of serving in leadership in numerous denominations, from charismatic evangelical to high Anglican. And, over time, I’ve noticed a trend. When we enter into conversations about worship, more often than not, our expression is what defines our intention. In other words, we’ve decided our What before we’ve explored our Why. Why are we singing that hymn or saying this prayer? Why are we using a hymnal instead of a screen? Why do we have certain people leading and others listening? Why do we stand and sit when we do? All of these Why questions are vital to cultivating authentic, accessible and relevant worship experiences in our churches. These are also timely questions. We need to be exploring our Why as we respond to changing local and national church contexts.
These questions are part of a larger intergenerational and interdenominational conversation. They are essential to the survival of every worshipping community; from high church to low church, and from fresh expressions to heritage expressions. The days of doing things because “we’ve always done them that way” are done. Our young adults, youth and children can sense inauthenticity and apathy from miles away. They are asking for a church that is a living, breathing, dynamic force that fearlessly proclaims the hope of Christ to all. I wholeheartedly believe that the Anglican Church has incredible potential to answer this call.
This is an awesome opportunity we find ourselves in the midst of. So where do we begin? Whether you’re a young person, lay leader, or clergy member who ponders these questions, my challenge to you is to allow these three attitudes to radically influence the way you do church.
Attitude of Authenticity
Authenticity is a state of heart, not a style of worship. Who are the people in your community? What are they passionate about? What inspires them in worship? What inhibits them from worshipping? Communities that know and understand their common identity are a force to be reckoned with. They understand who they are and why they exist. They are not static, but a dynamic collective that allows each new voice to energize and influence the larger whole.
Attitude of Accessibility
Accessibility is about asking questions like: How approachable is your community? Is it like a family dinner, where no person goes unnoticed? Or is it like a subway car, where everyone does their own thing and interact only when absolutely necessary? Can an outsider, or non-believer, enter and understand what’s going on or do they need a manual? Accessibility isn’t just about creating a place where all feel welcome. It’s about levelling the playing field so all are valued, regardless of seniority.
Attitude of Relevancy
Relevant communities grow because they meet people where they are at. Is your worship influencing and affecting how those in your community live? Relevancy is not about chasing trends, but prioritizing people over ideas. Our worship shouldn’t be a cultural commute, rather, a sacred extension of one’s being.
My prayer is, that in adopting these attitudes, we would rediscover our calling to be ambassadors of Christ. May we be bold in our pursuit of understanding this identity. May we inconvenience ourselves for the sake of those whom we minister to. May we be fearless in our attempts to reconcile our faith with the world around us. And as we step up and step out in faith, may God reveal to us infinitely more than we could ask or imagine.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Anglican Montreal.