We don’t want to say it. It sounds like we’re consumers, wanting more entertainment, and we know that’s not the problem. Worse, it might sound like we’re tired of God – when we know we’ve only just scratched the surface of the infinitely creative, dynamically relational being he is. Hence the collective sigh of relief in the London School of Theology Deep Calls to Deep conference when the outgoing Director General of the Evangelical Alliance, the highly respected and deeply passionate Joel Edwards, used the ‘B’ word without apology or caveat. ‘We’re bored in worship’. You could almost see tense shoulders sag and bright eyes perk up. We’re allowed to say it! Our worship has become boring!’ It was like permission, not to whine or complain or place blame (people do that enough about worship anyway), but to admit the weaknesses in our contemporary corporate worship lives and to begin to address authentic, fundamental and God honouring change.
His full quote expresses it best:
“There is something about the charismatic movement which brought something new and fresh. It came out of something new God was doing.
I am thirsty for something new again. I have to confess to you that mostly on a Sunday morning I am bored! And I wonder if one of the reasons why people are not singing is because they too are bored.
It may be a good thing to discover what you would write down if you spent two months noting what songs are sung on a Sunday morning. I cannot believe that so much of our repertoire has become so narrow. So predictable. That the formation of what we do on a Sunday is so utterly predictable. And I think to myself, how come the God who has formed the constellations and put the stars in place and has a new idea every second, doesn’t have something new for us for a Sunday morning? I wonder whether he might not be vaguely bored too.”
And so a conversation is stirring between worship leaders, pastors, songwriters, congregations, and (radical thought) the communities we are trying to reach, about how we might innovate our worship. No one person, movement or website has all the answers, but we’re pretty sure the questions begin with how we get out of this predictable, narrow, reality-dodging, inward looking spiral towards a creative, indigenous, multi-sensory, outward-looking expression of worship.
Problem – Predictable, Consumerist
Like going to any shopping centre and finding the same stores, we seem to be able to go to almost any contemporary evangelical church and find the same songs, the same themes, the same ‘one-size-fits all’ worship solutions. But do they? We know of the tragedy when colonial missionaries export a western worship style into a non-western context, squashing indigenous response. But don’t we ‘import’ the styles we find at the latest conference, or the successful church, or the hit CD, and expect them to work in our context?
Possible solution – Indigenous Creativity
What are the artforms practiced in your church, and by the community you seek to reach? Do they feature on Sunday? Where is the creativity, beyond singing? What is the heart-cry of where your church is at, and is it expressed in relevant media? How can we inspire indigenous creativity, and share with the best of indigenous creativity from other local congregations worldwide?
Problem – Narrow Aims
Contemporary worship has had intimacy with God as its primary aim for the last twenty years or more, and we should never grow tired of drawing close to God. But isn’t there more? How do we engage with a broader picture of who God is? How do we come to him with more of our emotions, needs and experiences?
Possible solution – Rediscover different ‘Movements’ of Worship
Do we need to turn back to some of the traditional ‘movements’ within corporate worship – gathering, praise, thanks, confession, intercession, lament, creed, testimony, communion, etc – and learn how to draw them into our worship life, expressing them through songs and other creative artforms?
Problem – Lost connection with humanity
Is worship a place where we leave our problems at the door, and lose contact with reality in wonder, love and praise, or is God interested in our whole lives? When does our worship embrace and celebrate our redeemed humanity? How can worship be a holistic experience of our bodies as well as our minds and souls?
Possible solution – Multi-sensory
Can we rediscover worship which engages with our tastebuds and sense of smell? Can we use more for the ears than a narrow range of music and spoken words? Can we create worship which paints a rich, varied visual picture of our God and his people? Can we put things into people’s hands to touch, break and recreate?
Problem – Inward Looking
Is worship all about ‘me and God’, or does God engage with us as a corporate body? More pressing – how much of our worship engages with the community around our building, and the wider world which God so loves? Is our worship ‘good news to the poor’, is it grappling with the big global causes and issues, is it missional?
Possible solution – Outward Looking (clever eh?)
Is intercession seamlessly linked to our worship, or an add-on after everyone has sat down? Do we recognise the pain and suffering of our planet, and sing about God’s heart for justice, equality, and restoration of this broken world? Do we sing the songs of the world church? Can we connect our worship with our missionary and evangelistic efforts?
OK, that’s four to get you started. Your thoughts?
Sam Hargreaves is co-founder of engageworship.org. He will be blogging regularly for Musicademy and we’ll also be uploading some of EngageWorship’s great free resources each month.