Reformed Worship

500 years ago, On 31st October, a young monk challenged the status quo of the church by pinning his thoughts to the door of a church in Germany. He challenged the principles of the Roman Catholic church, in particular the practice of charging money for absolution of sins; paying for salvation.

The monk was Martin Luther, and his actions triggered what we now know as the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

500 years later and we are making the same mistakes again on, quite literally, an industrial scale. This time it is not salvation that is up for grabs for a price, but our worship; that feeling of connection with God, the ability to express our faith in creative ways, that artistic expression of eternal gratitude and recognition of who our maker is… is being sold to us.

We can purchase it for 79p a track or ¬£9.99 for an album’s worth of blissful spiritual escapism. If we’re really desperate for a ‘worship fix’ (because of the hard week we’ve had, the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, or just that we ‘need’ that warm fuzzy ‘worship’) we can pay out for a ticket for our favourite priests worship leaders’ concerts worship events.

In this environment, worship songs is not so much a bad description of a musical genre that shouldn’t exist as much as it has become a command: worship songs.

Musical expression, singing together, worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’ are all fantastic and sacred acts in our individual and collective spiritual experience. But the industry that has developed around it is flawed.

To charge people to worship (in the narrowly defined way the industry has taught us to understand the very nature of that worship!) is surely wrong. To have transformed into a commodity material specifically created to facilitate worship experiences – and by definition turn those who purchase into consumers, albeit informed to a greater of lesser extent – is wrong.

Jesus had some very sturn words to say about those in his time who charged the public to worship; “you’ve turned the house of God into a den of thieves!” He threw them out. He removed their means of prohibiting people from worshipping unless they had the right currency, or the right album and the merchandise to go with it. He put an end to that system… and in the creation of this ‘worship industry’ we have merely reassembled the money-changers’ tables and sold CD’s and downloads from them instead.

What would worship look like in a re-reformation era? What would the Church’s gathered expression of worship sound like if we were free to express our worship indigenously in each local congregation instead of feeling coerced into replicating album after album? How different would our churches be if everyone brought to the table something of personal and vulnerable sacrifice instead of hiding behind bland, rehashed, boring lyrics accompanied by over produced backing tracks?

What if the record companies went the way of the indulgences salesmen of the past and worship was reclaimed, re-calibrated, refreshed and reformed. Just as the printing press was the new technology of the Protestant Reformation giving everyone the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves instead of relying on priests, what if we used the technology available to us – the internet, social media, live streaming apps – to distribute worship material across the globe for free?

It’s not about which mountain, it’s not about which record label or which singer, it’s not about the songs or the currency: A time is coming, and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.

Reformation.

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The Mind of Worship: Part 4. A Disciplined Mind

Every Christmas, our friends, the Muppets, remind us so succinctly that any way of life is a discipline. “If being mean’s a way of life you practice and rehearse, then all that work is paying off ‘cos Scrooge is getting worse!”

Again, every Christmas we are reminded that, in Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – we see an equally disciplined way of life, a life of worship, modelled perfectly; practiced and rehearsed. Whether you choose to be like Jesus or like Scrooge, it takes more than just that fuzzy feeling when you’re in the right frame of mind; it takes discipline.

Learn the disciplines of loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving your neighbour as you love yourself; practice and rehearse. Learn, practice and rehearse on your own – think about why we worship and how we worship. Learn, practice and rehearse together – think missionally and inclusively and horizontally.

Exercise your mind of worship, and may God bless us… every one.

Merry Christmas.

Jimmy

The Mind of Worship: Part 3. A Nourishing Mind

Nutritionists will tell you “we are what we eat.” We’re told in order to stay fit and healthy we should eat a balanced diet consisting of a range of different foods in moderation and to take regular exercise. What if we applied the same dietary needs to our spirituality.

What is your current worship diet?

Is it nourishing your spiritual self; giving your soul the healthy nutritious food it requires in the same way you give your physical body the nutrients it needs?

Are you exercising? Is there an output to your worship life or are you a worshipping coach potato.

Are you preparing your own food, using locally grown produce or regularly serving up mass produced processed instant meals, because there’s too much else going on and we feel we just don’t have time to ‘cook something properly’.

There are countless TV shows and magazine articles examining the content of our food; the battle between fresh produce and processed instant meals. What if we take a deeper look at the contents of our worship diet – would we find traces of ‘horse-meat’ in our favourite song? Or significantly less than our RDA of spiritual nourishment?

What if it we discovered most of the worship food we regularly consumed turned out to be cheaply made, quickly produced, neatly packaged, instant meals that for a while left us feeling full but was actually high in additives and low in nutrients? There might be some flavour and nutrition there but for the most part it’s padded out with artificial flavours and preservatives and is dangerously close to it’s use-by-date by the time it reaches you.

If worship is a lifestyle then the material we use to convey and sustain our worship is the food that fuels it. There is so much choice in the worship ‘market place’ we can, with a bit of imagination, easily create for ourselves and our congregations a balance diet (even indulging in the odd treat here and there). But it can be often seem too easy to just buy and serve up ready-made instant meals. As with any diet, the odd processed meal won’t hurt and the occasional takeaway can be a nice change. But, in my humble opinion, there is nothing better than a home cooked meal.

My wife, following her father’s example, likes to grow her own vegetables and I can honestly say that homegrown veg is so much more flavoursome than the supermarket equivalent. And I may be so bold as to say that homegrown worship material is so much more enjoyable to partake in than the ‘supermarket equivalent’. Spend time nurturing your homegrown producers – yes there will be seasons of growth and seasons of waiting for the harvest, but the results will be so much more nourishing than purchasing ready meals in the hope they’ll be just as good.

The Mind of Worship: Part 2. An Inclusive Mind

There’s an ancient proverb that says “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I think there should’ve have been an additional piece of advice written that stipulates “and when people and iron are in the sharpening process, things very often get heated and sparks will fly”.

As we consider the Mind of Worship, I am struck again by just how personal worship can be. One important element of worship is a genuine and intimate connection between the worshipper and their God. Intimacy is deeply personal and immensely vulnerable; be it between friends, lovers, spouses or worshippers. Consequently, one’s personal worship is a complex arrangement of preferences, values, interpretations, nuances and understandings. Things get even messier when we begin to add other people into the mix!

But add others we must. Jesus, the extraordinary Rabbi that he was, managed to sum up everything that he stood for in two simple statements: ‘Love God. And love your neighbour as you love yourself.’

That element of personal worship, with its vulnerable complexity and intimacy and individual expression takes care of the first statement. It is the embodying of Loving God, with all our individual heart and mind and soul and strength. However, you can’t have one without the other. The Mind of Worship must include loving other. This is the inclusive mind.

To be inclusive is to welcome others, and their otherness, and invite them to be involved. It’s about thinking horizontally. And so the messiness begins. The deeply complexed personal offering we bring is mashed and meshed together with the offerings of other people. It could become horribly entangled as people battle to fit their oddly shaped puzzle pieces into the overall picture, and believe me, I’ve seen such chaos ensue… but remember the opening verse of this post:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Things will often get heated, and undoubtedly sparks will fly. The inclusive mindset of Worship insists that grace is the soothing, cooling water or oil essential to the sharpening process and we refuse to allow our preferences to become prejudices, as we lay aside our priorities to serve others and sometimes allow others to express their worship by serving us.

Ultimately, we all want to be sharpened; we are all striving for something more, to be the best we can be and live the best we can. Not one of us can achieve that on our own. We need one another. Things will get heated. Sparks will fly. But an Inclusive Mind of Worship is one that loves its different neighbour throughout the sharpening process.