Summary: There are at least three dynamics to be considered when planning worship.
“The Word on Worship: Under the Influence”
Acts 10: 23-48
Whatever happened to the day when the Sunday worship services could be planned in a matter of minutes. Bulletins were ordered a year at a time with the worship order already printed on the inside cover; the only thing which changed from week to week were the hymns, Scripture reading, and sermon title. Why is planning for worship now such an intense, involved process? Part of the answer is that worship is a passionate expression of the heart and soul. And in a world of great diversity those expressions differ greatly. We are unlike each other in many ways, yet we come together for common worship. How do we, as worship planners, know whose expressions to use or provide? It’s a big question – and Scripture teaches us that THERE ARE AT LEAST THREE DYNAMICS TO BE CONSIDERED WHEN PLANNING WORSHIP. If we begin with these we can, I believe, greatly increase our understanding of and unity in worship.
The first dynamic of planning worship is that WE ARE CULTURALLY INFLUENCED. We often hear that someone was charged with DUI - driving under the influence. We should all be charged with not DUI but LUI – living under the influence – not of alcohol, but of culture... The clothes we wear (or refuse to wear), the jewelry we buy, the words we use, the jobs we hold, the schedules we keep are all influenced by our culture. While the Bible tells us we should be pace setters for culture, more often than not we are reflectors; we live under the influence.
Think about Luke’s account in Acts 10. The first-century Jewish Christians found it difficult to accept Gentile believers because of cultural differences which they found ungodly and offensive. So God used Peter - a strongly entrenched Jewish Christian - and Cornelius - a strongly entrenched Gentile Christian - to teach His truth. Cornelius was firm in his commitment to Christ but comfortable in his culture. God used Peter, the most Jewish of disciples, to open the door for the Gentiles to come into the church without adopting the Jewish culture and customs. The issue, by the way is addressed again in Acts 15. As a result of that conflict the early church came to recognize that cultural differences, which are not moral or theological differences, need not separate Christians. There is no one divinely appointed culture. Sound pretty foreign and removed from us? Think about the struggles many of you experienced or heard about when the battle was over worshipping in English or Dutch. Remember the heated exchanges about what was the true language of heaven? In every town where there’s a First Reformed Church, it’s likely that 2nd Reformed Church began because old First church wouldn’t go to English worship services. The debate over what language to use in worship literally, at times, split the church.
Here’s the point: WE ARE ALL PRODUCTS OF A PARTICULAR CULTURE. Many different cultures, and backgrounds, are represented here today. And Hope Church is located within a particular culture. And around us are fewer people with a church background. So God is worshipped in a variety of ways. Yet that’s not new; missionaries have known it for a long time. If we would ask the McAuleys (Africa), Jansens (Japan), Chad VandenBosch, and Goff-Rudys (Honduras) about their worship where they serve overseas, we’d hear about four different styles of worship – because they are located in four different cultures. And we have no problem with that. Yet when we come to worship in our home town, we suddenly assume one size fits all – that there is one style, one form, which is right for worship. Yet is not South Haven diverse? Are not our ages diverse? Are not our backgrounds diverse?
Let me point to music as an illustration. How many of you would list Classical as your favorite style of religious music? Country-Western? Gospel Music? Jazz? Praise music? Traditional hymns? Contemporary? Rock? So what do we do with this diversity in worship? As I think about it – there was controversy even when all we sang was traditional hymns. People couldn’t agree on which ones to sing most often! Let’s never forget that the issue is not, “Did that music stir my soul?” The issue is “Did that music stir God’s soul?”
So here’s the first worship planning principle: SINCE WORSHIP IS OF THE PEOPLE, IT MUST REFLECT THEIR DIVERSITY. The Jewish Christians worshipped differently than the Gentile Christians. The word “liturgy” – which is the order and elements of worship – historically meant a work of the people. Worship, then, should be an appropriate expression of the particular community which is gathered together. For us that means diversity and variety in music, in form, in order. It means more than one style of worship. It means understanding that the person seated next to me may like the very music, form, or order I’m upset about. It means recognizing that worship is first and foremost corporate – of the body, not the individual and therefore may not always be 100% comfortable for me. And that’s OK - because worship is for God, not for me. We must not go so far as to be sure that every week every person’s expression is honored and included so that we wind up with a hodgepodge of events with no order or purpose. Rather, we work, week to week and service to service at maintaining balance.