No, this isn’t a blog about human origins or creation. (Although maybe if I pretend that it is we could get a lively debate going!) I’m wondering about a different kind of life—the kind that people mean when they say, “That worship service was full of life!” or “There just wasn’t much life in our worship today.”
A musician-friend recently visited two Lutheran churches to participate in their worship services. Both churches closely follow their lectionary, so he experienced the same worship plan, nearly the same words, same communion liturgy. He was fascinated that, with so much content being identical, the two worship services felt entirely different. He said, “one was full of life, the other was not.” Using a musical analogy he said, “they played all the right notes, but it just wasn’t music.”
I’ve had the same experience in various churches I’ve served—sometimes there is a worship-life beyond what we could plan or anticipate, but sometimes it seems that the hour drags on gasping for air. Most often there have been enough differences in the content of these worship services that I assumed that “life-less” worship was due to lack of good content. But my friend made me reconsider. What if the life of worship is not inherent in the content? Then where is the source of worship-life and how can we experience that life in our own churches?
I’m not talking about “life” as equivalent to energy, speed, celebration, joy, enthusiasm, volume, etc. I think there is life in worship that can be either exuberant or reverent—and sometimes both. In fact, loud and energetic worship is not necessarily life-giving. Sometimes the volume drowns out the life and the speed races past a life-giving moment. At the same time, quiet, somber reflective worship is not always reverent. Sometimes the solemnity squashes the life out of the worship.
So if worship-life can’t be easily identified as a style, then what is it and where does it come from? Practically speaking--Who is to blame when it is not there!!?
- Isn’t the Holy Spirit the source of life and the one who shapes our hearts and minds for worship? If this same Spirit abides in us and in our churches, why does the “life” of worship seem to ebb and flow? Is it the Spirit’s fault?
- Is it the worship planner who selected the ‘wrong songs’ –too wordy, too old, too new, too simple, too schmaltzy, too intellectual, etc. . . . ?
- Is it the musicians’ fault? Good music was selected but it was played without life.
- Is it the preacher’s fault? Would one more cup of coffee have done the trick that morning?
- Is the congregation’s fault? All the leaders have done all they can, but the people come without the heart to worship and it just falls flat.
Where does the life of worship come from? If we can find the source, can we bottle it and sell it for a million bucks!?