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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.
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)
In the relatively few years I’ve been in United Methodist ministry I’ve been impacted personally and seen the church impacted by massive social and cultural change. In chapter 9, Transition and Culture, Alan Roxburgh states, “North American culture is in a process of radical change. It is being uprooted in a competition of values as an increasingly globalized, multi-cultural society emerges. At the same time, particular forms of Christian identity are being challenged and disembedded from their former role as a definer of core traits for our culture. .. Basic, long-held, tacit assumptions, frameworks and values of both our culture and our churchres are being challenged, eroded, and transformed.”
The core traits, values and world view, of the church are changing so rapidly that most lay leaders and clergy are bewildered and astonished. What is needed to address these changes? How can leaders come together to form communitas? “Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern together the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for a willingness from leaders … to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other. This is uncommon at the moment; however, it is possible.” (p. 111)
In my interaction with UM leaders and ministry leaders from other Christian traditions in the US and other parts of the world, the same questions and preoccupations come up over and over again. How can we be in community? How can we empower the church in this time of transition? How can we form new connections, new roles, a new future with God, the great “I AM”, the “I shall be there as there I shall be”? How can we share the life of Jesus Christ in relevant, life-sustaining and life-giving manners? How can we live our own personal and corporate/institutional lives in this time of massive change?
Share your thoughts and questions with me?
In the upcoming, ongoing visual curriculum series To Be Told, Latino pastor Claudio Oliver asks the question, “Do you have a mission or does the mission have you?” A short film, Missio Dei is from Red del Camino Network for Integral Mission in Latin America (www.lareddelcamino.net). To Be Told is an alternative multi-media, alternative teaching series featuring stories that reveal God’s Kingdom on earth. To see the video go to: http://emergingumc.blogspot.com/
God has been using stories to reveal himself since the beginning of time, but today many of these stories are never told. We are called to tell them. And like Jesus, we seek to tell them with creativity, and passion.
The stories that are told in the series To Be Told come from the margins. They are stories about a quiet revolution of hope among the mostly unnoticed citizens of God’s Kingdom. They are stories about people and communities of faith that are actively participating in God’s restorative plans for all of creation. They are stories that reveal new ways of thinking about faith, and new ways of living out that faith today.
To Be Told is an initiative of Del Camino Connection in strategic alliance with The Work of the People. Del Camino Connection (DCC) is a not-for-profit organization that was created to serve and support the Del Camino Network for Integral Mission in Latin America and the Caribbean, a movement of local churches committed to living out God’s plan to make all things new. The Work of the People is a community of artists and storytellers that creates visual media for worship and mission. (www.theworkofthepeople.com)