Welcome back for the thrilling sequel wherein I (attempt to) draw parallels and conclusions between concert setlists and worship in church life.
N.B. – This post got delayed in its completion for a variety of reasons. For those who were actually holding their breath (singuarly or collectively), I apologize. Breathe.
Favorite songs (aka hymns): Everyone’s got `em. They cause us to recall particular memories or periods of time, or we simply enjoy the tune and/or the words. Some are so deeply embedded in our experience that we need to hear just a note or two and <zing> we are emotionally, near-ecstatically transported to those moments of personal history. We are (often, not always) uplifted and soothed by the familiar verses and chorus that still seem to speak as pointedly to or about us and our circumstances now as they did when they were new.
But, y’see…there’s the rub. At one point, those favorites were brand-new, unheard, unfamiliar and strange. Things change, all throughout life – clothing trends, hairstyles (and/or color), architectural styles, team logos, restaurant menus, and so on. I’m confident you understand.
So, why then, is it still reasonably common that “new” hymns, new ways to communicate, are shunned, complained about, unsung by most, unexplored for their ability to grow or challenge our faith and spirituality? For so many, it seems, the church’s worship “setlist” should only consist of selections only from our extensive back catalog and only feature certain instruments.
It would be easy to shrug it off as a “generational” issue, that certain demographics just don’t get it. EXCEPT, I regularly encounter sexa-, septua- and octo-genarians who employ social media, know their way around smartphones and tablets as smoothly as any digital-native child, who have moved from non-power steering/no seatbelt-wearing to driving cars with rearview cameras, GPS, lane-drift warnings, etc. I suppose it IS quite possible that their satellite radios/streaming services are still tuned to “oldies” selections.
There is, however, a marked difference in the two situations. At a concert, you have paid for a ticket (or won them from the radio station, if THAT still happens) or received them as a gift. This seems to provide us some sense of entitlement in wanting to dictate what a “perfect” setlist would be. The problem is (believe it or not) other consumers (not to mention the artists themselves) seem to have their OWN ideas about the setlist (how DARE they)! If it doesn’t meet our criteria, we grumble and complain even if it was performed well-to-excellent.
In church’s worship, it is not an equivalent performer/audience setting to a concert. Some elements may seem very much the same, but they are not.
Worship is intentionally participatory. No doubt your favorite performer appreciates you trying to scream/sing the songs louder than the PA, but it is really not required (except when some artists, during some parts of their show, may invite the gathered crowd to do just that).
Worship is not about whether or not you or I got to hear/sing our personal favorites. Worship is not about checking the box next to the Sabbath commandment out of a sense of obligation or fear of divine reprisal.
While there may be many valid ways to worship, the work of community worship is (supposed to be) fully participatory. This is no longer the medieval Mass wherein the priest conducted the service irrespective of the presence of the passive people.
At least from my particular Lutheran understanding, community worship is where we trust we reliably encounter God, because God has promised to be there (among all the other places God IS). Community worship is where we are (hopefully) reminded of God’s love, and reminded of our participation in sharing that love in the world, well beyond the confines of a specific building or service. (Note: these are not exclusively the domain of Lutheranism)
You may be quite inspired by a particular concert performance, dare I say even elevated or momentarily transcended, but that is not worship.
As Richard Foster notes in his work, ““Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. Right techniques, methods, best possible liturgy…but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit.” (Celebration of Discipline)
Worship is the place where we serve God through our active participation (not just attendance), and where God simultaneously serves us (renewing and reorienting our lives).
If worship = performance, it should be done away with, or at the very least re-examined and redefined.
At this point, you may sense that I am struggling (and have been) to be clear and concise in wrapping things up. Kudos to you for sticking through it!
Not to be a tease, BUT…I’m beginning to think this may take further exploration in additional, future posts.