Let’s say you have recently arrived at your new pastoral appointment. You’re wondering just what sort of people you are serving. Worship services can give you a strong indication of how people perceive their power in relation to the world. This sense of personal power defines a group so thoroughly that it is often invisible to them. And to us. But get it wrong consistently, and people will begin to react. Get it right and you will master a key element of emotional intelligence.
If a church service focuses only on the sovereignty of God, or the need to wait on the return of Christ, or the overwhelming presence of evil in the world about which only Christ can take action, then independent and innovative risk-takers may feel restless, uninspired, and even depressed. Their attendance may become spotty or they may leave—feeling there is not enough call to action, personal or corporate empowerment, or encouragement.
On the other hand, if a worship service focuses only on the power of human free will, the need and ability of the congregation to act, and the necessity to overcome evil or apathy through personal action, your harmony-seekers, stability-creators and conscientious may wilt, feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed.
Learn how to read the dynamics of a worship service and you will understand much of what makes a church function the way it does. Get savvy about how to adapt worship to address all the behavioral styles, and you will be a miracle-worker! Don’t be surprised when more people say that God spoke to them, they were fed, they were inspired, or they learned/heard something new.
Check out these four examples of worship to see what they communicate about power.
Sts. Peter, Paul and Mary Roman Catholic Church holds a praise Mass. Featuring acoustic guitars, and easy to sing songs, this Mass has been popular for decades. The musicians/worship leaders wear jeans, and the Priest often ministers from down front. Rather than being held on Sunday morning, this Mass takes place on Saturday night. As is true in most Catholic Churches a wide array of generations are present. Children sit with their parents and grandparents and are instructed as they go along. Everyone seems to sing, and enjoy it. Instruments are passed out and people worship joyfully. A relaxed attitude prevails. Worshipers linger after Mass has ended, enjoying coffee and dessert and occasionally the thoughts of a visiting speaker. Two offerings are taken during each Mass; one for the Parish, and the second for a charity that varies month by month.
Lutheran Church of the Ascension is high church from start to finish. The processional features young people carrying in the cross, then the Bible. Next comes the minister and lay reader. From there, a well-ordered service unfolds that includes traditional liturgy, a creed, four scripture readings, three hymns, and Holy Communion. There is no children’s message. Small activity bags are given out to children who stay in worship but most of them attend Sunday School. From the stately processional to the chanted psalm response to the closing hymn, the powerful pipe organ decisively leads each song and chant, as if carrying it up to the throne of God. Announcements are noted in the bulletin, not spoken. No prayer concerns are solicited from the people, rather a liturgy of prayer is recited, and an optional anointing before worship is offered to individual worshipers. Other than responsive readings, the only people speaking in worship are those of the robed minister and the lay reader. People leave as quietly as they came.
Suburban United Methodist Church conducts a well-rehearsed and imaginative service; four of them in fact. The 10:30 am service generally features four pieces of live vocal music, two of which are usually secular pieces of music. The latter selections are done in a startlingly fresh way. The service begins with a short dramatic piece to set the theme of the day. The call to worship is sometimes sung, sometimes recited, sometimes chanted. While there is an order to the worship, it’s not the type of liturgy that can be predicted. It’s always something different at this church, with a variety of people involved in the worship service itself. The preacher does not robe, but is impeccably dressed in business attire. The sermon is often interactive including Power Point or video shorts. When creeds and responsive readings are used in the service, they are set against images on a screen. A children’s message is delivered each Sunday. Catered meals, Bible studies, or collections for disaster relief follow services each week.
Rural Church of the Desert has begun a new contemplative Taizé service. The service opens with the lighting of candles and the singing of Taizé chants. A long period of reflective silence ensues before the next Taizé chant. A single passage from the New Testament is read and reflected upon several times. No sermon is preached. However, Holy Communion is served, after which worshipers may light prayer candles or write out prayers. Then, two kinds of offerings are taken. The first is a monetary offering for the upkeep of the church. The second is a prayer offering in which the prayers of the people are lifted up. The worship leader blesses both offerings. The written petitions are then re-distributed through the congregation for prayer during the week. The service ends with the holding of hands, the singing of a Taizé benediction, and a personal blessing for each worshiper. Many people stay for coffee hour.
Which congregations communicate personal power? Corporate power? Which service would you be most comfortable with? How about your people?
Want to discover what your worship service is really communicating? Or to learn the EQ dynamics that contribute to engaging and empowering worship? Send me a copy of your worship service at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s set up a brief consultation.
This blog is adapted from the Workbook on Congregational Intelligence, by Rebekah Simon-Peter, from Track 1 of Creating a Culture of Renewal.