As a pastor in a mainline progressive denomination, I sometimes long for deeper engagement in worship. We Protestants can be a pretty stiff and stodgy group, worshiping with the same order of worship this week as we had the week before and the week before that. We follow the order in a printed bulletin. The structure rarely changes, only the words of a confessional prayer, the tunes of the 18th century hymns, and the artwork on the bulletin cover. Move the worship order around, and you can see the congregation twitching…and not in a good way. Throw in a new hymn, and I feel like I’m singing solo. Our worship style is more cerebral than experiential. In our church there are few surprises, and most who attend here want it that way.
I’m not complaining. I like predictability myself, and I enjoy the style of worship that we have adopted. But I’ve worshiped in other settings during my lifetime, some that felt less comfortable and more edgy; some wholly unpredictable. I’ve been in churches that have auditoriums with screens and bands rather than stately sanctuaries with a robed choir and a pipe organ. I’ve worshiped in storefront meeting places, in a family’s home, around a campfire, in a nursing home, and at sports stadiums. I’ve waved my arms and (meekly) shouted praise, but I know that’s not really my style. It’s too “out there”. It seems too base for my Anglo sensibilities.
My Catholic and Anglican friends involve more of the senses in worship with smells and bells (incense and all), and that seems good. Charismatics speak in tongues, dance, hug, and seem to worship more physically. I’m not suggesting those things for our congregation, but I wish we could be a little more balanced and open to the Spirit in new ways. As long as it’s within MY comfort zone.
Rod Dreher wrote an interesting blog post and shared a YouTube video on a charismatic congregation that offers the “Holy Ghost Hokey-Pokey”–the children’s dance song–for adults in worship. Some come forward to give testimony to healing after the Hokey-Pokey. I’m at once put-off and fascinated by it. His post is here. The video is priceless.
I talked with a couple recently that is wondering how to deal with her preference for traditional, mainline Protestant worship and his need for a more energized, evangelical form. We talked about finding a way to celebrate and enjoy both styles, and to do it together. But I suspect that will find them either straddling two churches, or–more likely–not going at all.
I hate that we feel a need to draw lines among us Christians and label ourselves or each other as we do: Protestant, Catholic, liberal, evangelical, charismatic, spirit-filled. A church-shopping woman stopped by the office recently to ask if ours is a “Bible-believing” church. Well, of course it is! But she had clear ideas in mind of what that meant, and it was equally clear that we don’t fit her prescribed categories. She left with a disgusted look on her face. I’m sure she’s praying for us right now, which can only be a good thing, right?
Different styles of worship meet different spiritual needs, I suppose. Even the first century church struggled with finding orthodoxy within the diversity of traditions that were represented among the first Christians. Perhaps the message of the New Testament church is that there’s no single right way to praise, to confess, to thank, to give, to listen. It’s more important that we just do it in a way that connects us, as individuals, to the Holy One.