Tuesday, July 24, 2007,9:43 PM
Experiential Worship vs. Simple Living
During the Midwest Emergent Gathering, I got to attend most of Lilly Lewin's workshop on creative worship. I am fascinated by what she does and how she uses art to help people connect with God. I wish more churches could learn from her and incorporate experiential worship into their services. We learn more and make deeper connections when we are engaged in experiences that engage our whole self instead of just passively sitting and listening to a person preach. And she helps people enter into experiences where that can happen.

All that said, as she spoke I found myself torn between conflicting ideals. One of the most common elements of experiential worship is that of giving a person a physical object to touch that relates to whatever the point of the lesson is. So as Lilly suggested, let people eat Swedish fish or goldfish as you talk about Jesus providing the disciples with fish. Or hand out cotton balls or foam cut outs - whatever can be tied into helping people remember what they are hearing. It works - it generally works quite well. The physical objects drives the abstract thought home and serves to help a person remember what they have heard. Of course that isn't the only (or best) form experiential worship takes, but it is an easily employed technique. What bothered me was how it seemed at odds with simple living.

I guess what I am wondering is if one is striving to live simply and ethically (i.e. not over consume, respect the environment, buy fairly traded items) would being able to better understand and remember a concept be a sufficient enough excuse to collect piles of junk. As Lilly mentioned (and as a former children's pastor I can attest) all those little take aways collect on your desk, the bottom of your purse, or in the back of some drawer. Lilly saw that as a collection of good memories and meaningful lessons, but try as I might I have a hard time seeing them as anything other than clutter and junk. I don't want my life filled with items made from petroleum products in a sweatshop in China that take up space and increase chaos (I have way too much of that already). I don't think that I can see something like that as an aid to worship.

But then the question gets raised - where do I draw the line? So perhaps a little plastic cross is unnecessary, but what about a stained glass window, or a cloistered garden, or an art installation? I take pleasure in such things and often see them as an aid to worship. Or what about having children making bricks as they learn about the slaves in Egypt or building a manger for a Christmas play? What about the Christmas tree itself? What is really necessary? What can be justified? Should it have to be justified?

I have never considered myself an iconoclast. I have no problem with the idea of letting art and beauty move us into worship. But I am beginning to feel uneasy with the consumeristic nature behind such things. I guess I am seeking a balance for myself here. I am not ready to throw out art or other aids to worship in favor of barren striped down intellectual encounters with God, but I am seeking a form of justification. I love music and art (and most other new forms of experiential worship), but I am struggling with supporting the expense (in the broad term). Is there a way to enjoy and employ such things justly? I know this issue has been a constant struggle for the church as a whole, for while some found the great cathedrals to lift them into rhapsodies of worship, others saw the golden trappings next to the starving masses and walked away from the faith. Is it all worth it? Can it be justified? And where is the balance?

I have no answers. I am just beginning to ask the questions. Have others struggled with this? What have you learned in that struggle?

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posted by Julie at 9:43 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/26/2007 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Wandering Monk

    You are raising some very valid questions about worship.

    I am a part of an orthodox Anglican parish that is seeking after God and His call to minister to this hurting and dying world. We see that the world that we are called to minister is looking to experience God with all of their senses and not just one. This is where the beauty of Anglicanism can provide this type of experience.

    How ever, the Future Team that I lead at our parish grapples prays and discusses the balance of sacramental/iconic worship vs. the early desert fathers/monastic form of worship. We wrestle with two questions. We first must look at what sensory items can we use to enhance, support and invite us into worship without being "over-top" or "material focused". Secondly, how do we do this in a manner that meets the needs of those individuals attending our service? (I realize there are many other aspects to the church but this is focusing on the “worship” service)

    One of the major hindrances of “over the top” or “material focused” worship is the church's allowance of American Consumerism to sit next to Holy Scriptures. I understand that we must give our best to God in worship but what about being good stewards of what He has given us. What about the widows, the orphans that the Apostle James commands of us:

    Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world James 1:27.

    Personally, God is placed on my wife’s and my heart, along with our kids, to simplify our lives. We are currently selling our home to downsize to a smaller home so we might be able to minister without all the work involved with a large house, lawn and pool. Additionally, it calls us to live below our means so we can be ready if He calls to give or go. This is a form of worship.

    I apologize for my rambling, but this balance has been something that I have been wrestling with personally in addition to facilitating our Future Team discussions. We can even go into our stewardship of the environment and its relationship to “Experiential Worship.”

    If you want to discuss this more, I would be more the happy to discuss publicly or privately. I have been an assistant pastor in a Pentecostal church, a church planter and now in the process of Holy Orders in the Anglican church.

  • At 7/26/2007 08:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    What is a Church planter?

    I think there are two separate and important issues here.
    The first is addressed by the wandering monk. People seem to need art objects as part of worship, in that I include statues and prayer books, stained glass and music.
    Artists need to create and share liturgical art as part of our calling, as our organic God-made way of being with God.

    The service or the Mass , the art and the music sometimes enhance our connection to God and sometimes disrupt it.
    Some individuals are more open to hearing, some to seeing, some to silent meditation. Some of us need different support on different days.

    The other issue; the use of resource wasting, clutter creating, and often not particularly aesthetic , frequently plastic, items as teaching aids is another issue completely and deserves to be seperately adressed.

    So many crafts and lesson aids we use with children particularly are so ugly and uninspiring. I put energy into creating projects and tokens that are actually meaningful, but so many on my catechetical team see these things
    as time fillers and not worth a lot of thought or effort.

  • At 7/27/2007 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Thanks for the comments. And to answer the question, a church planter is a person who starts (plants) a new church.

    I see that a balance of art and other sensory worship elements and good stewardship is needed. Its the finding that balance is hard. For some people to do away with art would be asking them to rip out their soul. For others the art is something that gets in the way of worship. So I wonder if it really does depend on one's situation and is why so many different types of churches are necessary. (now if they would only stop setting themselves up against each other...)

  • At 7/27/2007 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Wandering Monk

    When reading through the comments by Anonymous and then looking at your church's website, I remember a couple of different activities that we did with our children during Lent.

    It is our tradition that on Good Friday we come together as a community to walk through the Stations of the Cross. The entire family is welcomed so participate in this excellent meditative and focused form of worship. This past year we conducted the Stations at a local mountain preserve. At each station, there was a cross for us to gather around as listened and responded to the liturgy. When the station was finished, the cross was picked up by an individual and carried during the rest of the stations. We found that the children were especially invested in carrying the crosses as we progressed through the Stations.

    Another year, while we conducted the Stations at our parish, the children were gathered together to do their own stations. They were given individual blank paper books for them to put the Stations of the Cross in with their own drawing of the Station. My daughter, at the time in 3rd grade, loved the project and loves the Stations. This was a time where the “Art Project” really assisted in the worship of the children, and some of the adults.

    Again, this is a great discussion topic.

  • At 7/27/2007 01:23:00 PM, Blogger Ellen

    Some of my favorite worship activities have been through our children's ministry. One year at lent the kids formed clay or plaster in the shape of a cross and pressed votive candles into them. Each week we would read a Scripture, light a candle and say a prayer. Each Easter the children are encouraged to make their own "Alleluia!" banners to use during corporate worship. I love these because they are multisensory, use creativity (rather than just purchasing an object) and include the children in worship.

    So, maybe part of the answer is creating rather than purchasing items used in worship. Ask the congregation to come to an event where they actually participate in the creation of something that is used in worship. When you are create the object you can control what materials are used.


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