Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Stages of Worship (Going Deeper)

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBlogger Rick, at A New Life Emerging, had an interesting post yesterday about Church worship. And it got me thinking: Are our modern churches offering ever-deepening pathways to God? Is there a Stage II and III after Stage I?

Contemporary, rock-n-roll style worship seems to attract people in droves to worship services across the country - ours included. And why should it not? It presents the truths of God through the language of the culture: cutting-edge video, rock music and drama. People are attracted to this - and continue to come back, week after week.

This is a great first step - meeting people where they are: providing our flashy, noisy lives with flashy, noisy worship. But what if some people long for a sanctuary from "the noise?" What if there are truths of God - perhaps very deep truths - that can only be experienced in the silence when we cease to have individual egoic preferences ("I like rock and roll instead of organ music") and turn inward to the unifying Christ within?

Are our churches providing more than one "type" of opportunity for corporate worship (and by type, I don't mean different STYLES of music and formality, I mean an entirely different form)?

Communicating the quiet truths of the Spirit through contemplation and reflection to stressed-out, MTV families is like trying to speak Japanese to a group of Frenchmen. Therefore, stages are necessary, but most churches are offering only Stage One. Perhaps our places of worship should provide (at least) 3 opportunities for corporate worship:

  1. Stage One - Using the language of the culture to communicate Truth and provide a place for people to turn their hearts to God. This could be traditional or contemporary worship in whatever form or level of depth. People choose amongst the different varieties of services based on what kinds of music and formality they prefer best. This could also be called "Spectator" worship - a congregation sits "out there" and watches people perform or do things "up there on stage." This is where 90% of churches seem to put their energies.
  2. Image hosted by Photobucket.comStage Two - Moving beyond spectator worship into Participatory Worship. What would this look like? Perhaps there would be theological conversations around tables, readings and prayers by all those in attendance, active experiences such as journaling or painting, sharing with one another our joys and concerns. Both Stage One and Two are about seeing God "without" - outside of yourself, in the world through art, song, other brothers and sisters, etc.
  3. Stage Three - This mode of worship moves beyond egoic preferences. It is not for entertainment (you would never hear someone leave this service and say, for example, "Boy, I really enjoyed - or didn't enjoy - that one song today") or about outward art and "God in the world," rather it is turning in and literally experiencing the Christ that is seated in the heart. Contemplation. Unitive Knowledge of God. The worship of mystics. The quiet, direct comprehension of the Godhead within (which, in turn, helps us better see God "out there" as well). Of course, this is best done privately when one is alone and "in one's closet," but I believe there is a place for it publicly as well (or at the very least if our churches would teach us how to go about it).

Obviously, as you move from one stage to the next, the number of people that are able (or desire) to participate gets smaller and smaller. But if we are only provided with ONE opportunity, we're not helping those who want to go deeper, experience God more fully, or experience God from more than one angle.


Mac said...

Very good blog. I like your progression particularly for big churches that already exist.

I have a long article at the Doghouse that is called No Assembly Required. It's more of a critique, but it is really about what could be.



Meredith said...

Trev, Thank you for this post. The other day you asked about Quaker worship, and, well, you just described it in Stage III. The opportunity is there in silent worship to go very deep, unencumbered by the litergy, costumes, pagentry, showtime themes of Stage I or even the processes and exercises of stage II.

However, that being said, I believe many people benefit from some sort of spiritual friendship to enliven and deepen the journey. Discussion groups, intimate conversations, shared reflections on experiences and reading can all be so immensely helpful to expand silent worship experience. Indeed, without it, many times Friends are observed and/or heard (!) to be sleeping soundly during a silent meeting!

I was thinking about what you wrote, "if we are only provided with ONE opportunity, we're not helping those who want to go deeper, experience God more fully, or experience God from more than one angle." In the Quaker experience, where this one opportunity is all that is offered, we are missing those who are in stage I, for sure, and probably many stage II-ers as well. I think what you are describing is a continuum, and the appeal could be broad, with the freedom and the invitation to move deeper when it feels right.

Jon said...

Thanks, Trev. I like your ideas of the three levels of worship; they seem to parallel Joseph Campbell's schema of social developement which Larry mentions from time to time, and I myself have been working a few months on a similar outline of the development of the soul. It's not ready for posting yet--I'll email it to you.


isaiah said...

Great thought provoking post. As a newly elected board member at Unity I am slowly developing a presentation to the rest of my fellow board members to try and initiate a new 'stage 1' complete with the rock-n-roll, contemporary music for those seeking out a different kind of spiritual experience.

A universal Unity Sunday includes music and a time for silence and meditation, and then a message from the Rev. I believe we have plenty of stage II and III in Unity- what I think we are missing is the stage I that you describe and experience.

I want to make room for a lot of stage I, matter of fact- and it may need to be phased in slowly or perhaps it’s meant for an entirely different evening.

Thanks for the post and thanks for your e-mail with your suggestions on music for our church. I plan on using some of your ideas in my presentation to the board coming up very soon at our retreat.

Larry said...

A very insightful post and great comments. I would just like to emphasize that the numbers decrease as you reach the higher levels.

Quakers are, or should be, keenly aware that quakerism is not for everyone. Some people are ready to jump out of their skin after even 5 minutes of silence.

Personally I'm somewhere between II and III. I agree that silence works best in solitude. And silence in the meeting for me works best after the first message.

Quakers are actually II and III. The silence always seemed to me the substrate out of which comes a message and after which we reflect.

Thanks to all for this lovely forum.

Anonymous said...