Emerging Worship

My wonderful. amazing, and pretty cool administrative assistant keeps asking me when I’m going to start an “emerging service” at our church. The issue of starting another service has been bumping around in my head for quite a while. Some of this is the remnant of the church growth gurus echoing in my head that says when the sanctuary reaches 3/4 capacity that it is time to start another service. Some of this is due to the resonating issues of marketing in a community that is largely composed of young adults that have little connection to white, Southern, middle class, traditional Methodist worship (the Bill Gaither Homecoming DVD’s aren’t big sellers among this population!). Some of this is due to my own needs, my own desires, my own longing for a worship experience that more directly connects me to God.

Being a pastor in a “traditional” congregation is an interesting place. Certainly, I participate in our Sunday morning worship gathering. I do experience God in that setting. I am confident that what we do for the 190 folks on Sunday morning is the right thing to connect them to God. Yet, although I am a participant, I also recognize that my heart is probably in a different place, that I have different needs, that I connect to God most clearly through other types of experiences. It doesn’t mean that our Sunday morning worship is bad, wrong, or flawed. But it may mean that it doesn’t need to be the only expression of worship in our community.

It’s a tough sell at times. The “worship wars” rage on in my denomination. There are lots of folks jumping on the “contemporary worship” bandwagon (what an outdated notion!) and doing it badly. My own congregation experimented with a contemporary service before I came with mixed results. And the tendency of folks to be competitive about the value of their worship experiences is great.

Anyway, as I think about starting a new service, I am again confronted with what it means to “emerging” in the context of worship. With that in mind, here are some initial thoughts about where I think we are headed:

1) Any new service that we create is not primarily for the folks already in the church, but for the community that we haven’t seen yet. With this in mind, we have to consider the makeup of our community and discern how this worship expression connects in this multi-cultural land.

2) This form and style of this service must be authentic to the worshipping community. This means that adding candles or other a burning pumice stone (thanks for the idea Jonny!) does not make an emerging service. It’s possible that this service could use bluegrass or country music to connect with the local community. It may be more Afro-Cuban in orientation. There are any number of ways that this service could move.

3) This can’t be pastor driven. Need I say more?

4) The success (by whatever measures you want to use) is completely tied to the participants willingness to participate in other small group activities.

5) Whatever form the service takes, it must maintain a certain theological integrity. This means that this isn’t a fluffy sales piece to convince folks to become Christian. We musn’t soft sell the radical call of Christ in our lives. This means that faith must be integrated into every part of our lives, not something that we experience once a week in worship. Thus, the service becomes a gathering around which the theology of the Christian community is developed.

I confess that as much as I want to take this on, it terrifies me and makes me tired thinking about it. It would be very easy to coast with our existing service, going through the motions, adding a few folks along the way, and not adding to the burdens of time and family. Yet, I believe that the cultural shift needed by this congregation will require a movement toward other worship experiences. It may be my own arrogance, but I think God is leading us that way. I just need all of you to hold my hand as we try to birth this baby into being.

After all, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin no babies!”

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