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The power of space to change and enhance worship is rarely considered, except perhaps when a building is (or was) being designed by an architect. The space and the furnishing of the place of worship directly impact people’s experience of God’s presence and how they perceive God and one another. The atmosphere, the visuals, the furniture, the spatial distance, the size of the sanctuary, the “look and feel” from inside and out, converge to influence and shape the worshipper’s response to God.

The important feature of Christian worship is that the internal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ, combined with immediate external expressions of this experience, has stamped the use of space in Christian worship with a particular character. Spatial arrangements differ as a result of varying emphases on table fellowship, preaching, baptism, the orders of ministry and gifts, and the sense of body ministry.

Worship in emerging churches as a holistic experience of the saving grace of God is created in part by space. The return of worship to the people, as a work of the people, permits greater use of artistic interpretation, Scripture reading and prayer. In that participatory experience, worshippers acknowledge and celebrate God’s mighty acts of salvation.

Worship is no longer something to be watched or listened to, but something to be done by the people. Thoughtful reconstruction of worship space in sanctuaries constructed many years ago can bring new life and direction to a congregation. Large aisles and larger chancel space allow for greater movement and participation in expressions of worship. Churches that invite people to come forward for prayer, for laying on of hands, and for other kinds of ministry need adequate space for these functions of worship ministry.

New attention is being paid to church architecture. New or refurbished church buildings need to facilitate the relationships of people to one another, renew the holy and allow for appropriate use of artistic symbols, sights and sounds. Above all, the church building must express hospitality and acceptance.

In Romans 12, worship is described as presenting our whole beings to God as living sacrifices because of his grace and mercy. These sacrifices are a spiritual act of worship, sacrifices of ourselves for God’s glory. God reveals Himself to us in worship; we respond to him in joy, praise and thanksgiving. He speaks to us through His Word: the story of His kingdom communicated verbally, visually, spatially and experientially. His Spirit convicts our spirits, hearts, mind and emotions; we are changed; we repent.

God extends his love and mercy to us and in worship, we offer ourselves to him, loving him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls and our strength. We experience personal connection, personal healing and personal restoration. We experience joy.

Dance, an art form long disallowed in the church, is returning in the form of choreographed liturgy. Worship is redeeming this art form of the use of the body. Charismatic churches have championed its renewal… dance in worship is gradually being understood as a movement of praise, a means of setting the body free to worship God.

Art has the power to reach the emotions are nothing else. When words are used creatively, using poetry or story people’s emotions will begin to respond. Nevertheless, when verbal expressions of worship speak more to the rational mind than to the heart, emotions are not engaged. The use of the arts is not emotional manipulation but an intentional effort to encompass the full range of biblical worship.

God taught his people wandering in the wilderness to worship him with a full range of artistic expression. They decorated the tabernacle with beautiful artistic ornamentation. God called two artistic leaders to empower all with creative gifts to participate in the creation of the tabernacle. God calls pastors and leaders today to affirm the creative gifts he has placed within his followers today. Leaders in the future will intentionally and effectively create space and opportunity for the creative arts gifts in community, allowing and encouraging artists to become all that God desires for them. Just as communities of faith have encouraged and empowered people with musical abilities, those with other artistic gifts are waiting to be unleashed to serve God. Through the arts in worship, we will discover many ways to engage people’s heart and souls through experiential worship.

(continues in installment 7)

Use of arts in worship is controversial in some traditions. Emerging or future worship churches value creativity and the entire spectrum of arts-related gifts. People who have had no place to use their gifts to glorify God are now beginning to find their creative gifts valued and affirmed. Our creativity is but a shadow of the creativity of God that we see in his creation. God originated all forms, patterns, colors and configurations. God’s creativity extends from the blades of grass and the form of an insect to the shapes of the clouds, stars, and human persons. In these and all other forms and shapes of the created order we see God’s creative power.

The scripture gives examples of the use of arts – visual, literary, music and dance – in worship. The Scripture affirms the visual arts, particularly through the use of the arts in the temple (2 Kings 6-7). The temple artists, under the direction of God, brought theological themes into the temple so that God’s people could actually see God’s truth. Many contemporary churches do not see the need for excellence in visual art. Visual experience is perhaps the most underutilized aspect of worship in most churches today.

In contrast, in the emerging or future worship setting, the use of imagery, symbolism and iconography, through all types of visual mediums create a richness of experience and encounter with the sacred. Good art stirs each person, no matter what their level of maturity, to new insights and visions.

In ancient times of oral tradition, the presence and mystery of God was conveyed with iconography, frescos, mosaics, paintings, stained glass and statuary. Churches in Europe and Asia epitomized the visual, sensory experience of the Almighty. The Protestant Reformation imposed a visually barren philosophy of many subsequent generations of Christians, as the Reformers reacted to the superstition and idolatry of their generation. Meanwhile, our culture is more and more driven by sensory experience, involving the visual, the auditory, tactile and even the sense of smell. The church is in many ways in a time-warp of sorts, print-saturated and word-based while a new sensory culture develops around us. Images are the primary language of many of our time.

The creation of a deeply sensory worship experience can “become a beacon of hope for countless people in the emerging culture who are looking for a spiritual center in a dislocated world… there is a tremendous potential for deeper experiences of worship when we move beyond words into the creative use of ancient art, contemporary graphics, artistic photography and thematic video.” “This complete examination of the visual environment of worship has prompted mainline churches and free churches to look more seriously at their own environment of worship.”

Other arts, such as the movement and literary arts, require the participation of the community in a way that the visual arts do not. These arts represent the dynamic character of God, a God who acts to deliver the people from their bondage. Movement art, whether in dance, the gestures of bowing, kneeling, and lifting the hands; or in a procession, is a choreographed expression of the dynamic God whose saving actions are being enacted in worship.

(continues in installment 6)

Ancient forms of liturgy and worship are taking on new meaning as they are placed within the context of new creative forms of worship. A renewed reverence for the holy, a journey of faith and mystery, create an expectation and desire to experience the power and presence of God.

Among emerging generations, there is a desire to seek the ancient. There is even a backlash against the church feeling like a modern business. So a revival of liturgy and other ancient disciplines, when brought back with life and meaning, are a desired approach to worship in the emerging church. There are beautiful expressions of worship from various times periods we can integrate into how we worship today.

Among future oriented churches there is a growing interest in the Christian calendar and in Jewish religious rites and roots of the faith. Among emerging generations there is a fascinating revival of interest in singing hymns as part of worship. The lyrical content of many hymns is rich and deep, something emerging generations desire.

Music continues to be one of the primary ways to involve all worshipers in a bi-directional relationship with God in worship gatherings. Music also affirms the corporate unity of the body of Christ because it is something that the entire congregation does together.

Recently contemporary music artists and song-writers have begun to write music with more depth, theology and mystery. This music is filtering into the traditional and contemporary churches. But as a congregation begins to develop new patterns, it should keep in mind that the essential nature of the assembling of the people is a divine call and a human response. No matter the forms of worship, God continues to call to his people and desires a response to his love.

The challenge of future worship is to identify those choruses and spiritual songs that have lasting value, to retain the music from the past that is characterized by depth and a power, and to combine these many forms of music into an order of worship that remembers, proclaims, enacts, and celebrates the story of salvation.

(continues in installment 5)

According to a biblical understanding, from both the Old and New Testaments, worship is an ordinance of grace… there is always a double movement in worship—a God-humanward movement and a human-Godward movement—and both must be understood in terms of the gift of grace, the gift of the God of grace who provides for us a way of loving communion.

Communion with God and community with others who are seeking Him is the heart’s cry of many people. Many do not know that their heart is hungry for the power of God to touch their lives; that they are looking for a genuine encounter with the life of God. They do not realize that the triune God is in the business of creating community, in such a way that we are never more truly human, never more truly persons, than when we find our true being-in-communion.

In the emerging worship settings of what some are calling “progressive emerging worship,” worship leaders and pastors try to create a worship experience that engages all of the senses, the heart and the mind. These experiences move away from being a “spectator sport” as so many contemporary services have been, toward a more inclusive, participatory model – as the work of the people. These gatherings are about the saints gathering to live out Psalm 95:6, which says, ‘Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.’ It is a multisensory approach of bowing, kneeling, listening, learning, looking, singing, caring, touching, and loving with our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.

Now and in the future, the power of the story of God’s interaction with people, is and will be, an integral part of worship. The Church into which worship enfolds believers is a community of people who have, throughout the ages, participated. Telling the story through visual media, drama, dance, and liturgy, teaching and preaching creates worship within a tradition that enables us to be actively conscious of the Church’s past as well as of its eschatological future in Christ.

Sadly, many see the church today as totally irrelevant. The church seems antiquated and out-of-date. Preachers and worship leaders seem to go through the motions week after week, year after year, and the power of the story of the gospel of God is absent. Marva Dawn quotes H. Benton Lutz as writing “these pastors force stale, dry words into our hearts rather than telling the stories of Scripture in ways that illuminate our lives. They do not crack the kerygma open and let those stories spill over the real events of our daily lives.” As churches keep God at the center, they will tell the stories of faith so that God’s presence and intervention will become visible in people’s lives.

(continues in installment 4)


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April 2009
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