Words About Worship


At Mosaic Edinburgh we are thinking about our format and gatherings and inevitably that will mean thinking about worship. So I thought I would update and repost something I had written about worship a while ago to help us think through some of the issues.


The most detailed discussion we have about worship gatherings in the NT is in 1 Corinthians 14. Now we have to be careful how we handle this passage as Paul was writing to correct some damaging things that were going in worship gatherings at Corinth so he’s not simply writing a list of what should happen in worship. What Paul says here about worship then is more descriptive and corrective (describing what happened and what should change) rather proscriptive (describing what must happen) or exhaustive (describing everything that could happen). However I think we can still use what he says to distil some principles which I think will be helpful to us thinking about our Gatherings.


Our worship gatherings should based on what Paul says here I think have three main aims, to

Glorify God … As he is dealing with problems in worship rather than just teaching about the nature of worship Paul doesn’t mention praise and worship directly, however its evident from the rest of Scripture that when God’s People gather that one of their main purposes is to glorify God.

Mature Believers … “But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” 1 Cor 14:26 Our gatherings should encourage, build up, teach, inform, challenge, deepen fellowship and inspire us as believers so we can continue to mature in the faith. Some has used the metaphor of a football game, rather than being the game itself, our worship gatherings are like half time when players receive information and inspiration from the coach, sustenance to keep them going, treatment for wounds and inspiration etc

Convince Unbelievers … “As they (unbelievers) listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” 1 Cor 14:25 Gatherings of believers should help convince unbelievers of the reality of God, Christian community gatherings should make something of God’s presence tangible and his truth understandable for those who are seeking him. We are not an “Attractional” church in the sense that we don’t believe the prime means of mission is to get people to come to our gatherings nevertheless we do believe that through our mission people interested in seeking the truth about .god will come to our worship gathering and we want them to have an encounter with Jesus not simply hear us sing some songs.


So let’s think if Paul gives us any helpful principles for how our worship gatherings should look

Participatory … “Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarise. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” 1 Cor 14:26 Paul as I said earlier is being descriptive rather than proscriptive, describing what was happening at Corinth not what must happen in every gathering. However I do think we can see an underlying principle here “one will … another will … another will” rather “one person will do everything” I think Paul assumes here that Christian Gatherings are participatory, that people are more than just passive observers or listeners to one person or to a small music group. These Gatherings seem to have had opportunities for people to take part, to do something. .
Open but Ordered … “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. but everything must be done properly and in order” 1 Cor 14:39 Paul through out this chapter assumes that there will be an openness to the Holy Spirit but he makes it clear this is not to be some sort of wild, free for all that puts unbelievers (or any one else for that matter) off. Our Gatherings need to be both open to the Spirit but ordered in the sense of making sense and not being off putting. Of course this assumes sensitivity to others, worship is not just about what we like doing as individuals
Word and Spirit … Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarise. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. 1 Cor 14:26 Some churches focus on preaching, its all about the Word of God, other churches seem to neglect teaching and focus on the Spirit of God. its all about prophecy, praying for healing etc. Paul assumes that Gatherings will be about both Word and Spirit “another will teach” and “another will tell some special revelation” Across our gatherings we need to make sure we do justice to both Word and Spirit
Head and Heart …. Closely related to the above is that there were different components in the Gatherings which connected with head and heart. The teaching, and the words of prophecy were rational, in the sense that they were to be understood and thought about. Singing and the impact that Paul describes these gatherings having on unbelievers suggests that he saw these components as being more experiential, they moved people at the level of their hearts. Our Gatherings need to be designed for head and heart, those who are more rationalistic and those who are more experiential should find some component that connects with them in a meaningful way.


Obviously our Gatherings aren’t happening in a vacuum, we meet in Edinburgh, in Scotland, in Europe, in a particular culture, where there is a move from modernism to post modernism, from christendom to post christendom. Our Gatherings have to be “contextual” that is make sense in our culture but still be a faithful expression of the Kingdom of God. This means some aspects of our Gathering will be shared with all other churches as we are part of the universal church but some of the ways we do things will be unique to our setting because we are the church of God in Edinburgh in 2013.

Len Sweet a theologian and thinker has coined the phrase EPIC WORSHIP to describe some principles which he argues will help the church connect better (contextualise) with contemporary culture.

Experiential …. If you look at most older presbyterian churches you will see that they are virtually set up as lecture theatres. That is because worship gatherings were primarily designed to be “rationalistic” to connect with the mind through a sermon. Catholic and Orthodox churches by contrast tend to be full of images, smells and colours, suggesting a more “experiential” gathering. Sweet says that protestant churches to connect with contemporary culture must design worship gatherings which are both, rational and experiential. “If post modern worship can’t make people furiously feel and think (the modern church only made people think) it can’t show how God’s Word transforms the way we feel.” Len Sweet

Participatory …. Just think about the growth in popularity in the last 10 years of Karaoke and Radio Phone Ins, what does that tell us about contemporary culture? I think that people no longer are content to be passive listeners or observers, they want to participate. People wanted to be involved I think in more than just singing or listening. “The Body of Christ is a participative community. Not just in the Eucharist is everyone a participant, a part of the action, not apart from it. There are no more professional clergy and pew sitting laity. There are only ministers” Len Sweet

Image Driven … Logos provoke an immediate response from people today, they understand the values of the company from the logo. Most younger people prefer to watch the film of a story rather than the original book. Those are both reminders that we are becoming again a visual culture, more and more communication happens through images and yet the church largely is still dominated by the written and spoken word. We need to make sure that we “speak” to people visually as well as verbally in our Gatherings . “Visual language is no longer an option. We are a print saturated, word based, church in the midst of a whole new visual culture” Len Sweet

Connected … One of the stand out features of the new emerging culture is the desire for community and community experiences. Gatherings of the church must therefore be both personal and communal. Challenge people personally but also let them experience God communally as part of the community of God’s people. “Post moderns want participation in a deeply personal but at the same time communal experience of the Divine and the transformation of life that issues from identification with God.” Len Sweet

Experiential = Rational & Experiential
Participatory = Observer & Participant
Image Driven = Word Based & Image Driven
Connected = Personal & Communal


OK so what implications might this have for what our gatherings might look like over a period of a month

Components of worship

Praise & Worship = expressed in song, prayer, dance? poetry, art
Teaching / Interaction with Scripture = Sermon, Video, Images, Discussion, Lectio Divina
Prayer = prayer for healing, silent prayer, community prayer, prayer stations, written prayer / Liturgy
Fellowship = meals / coffee together, discussion,
Sacraments = Lord’s Supper at least one Gathering per month, baptism when needed
Ministry of the Spirit = Opportunities for people to be prayed for, perhaps linked to Communion? Openness to God speaking to us
Welcome = very old Christian tradition of people being welcomed into the Gathering of the People of God, ie Holy Kiss, Passing the Peace. etc Principle is that no one can come to one of our Gatherings without feeling the welcome of God expressed through his people.
Aesthetics = Winston Churchill once said that we shape our buildings and then they shape us, the aesthetics of any space says something about the community that meets there and their priorities. Some aesthetics helps us sense the nearness of god, others the fellowship of God’s people, others the holiness and “otherness” of God. We won’t own our own space but need to think and create spaces that help us connect with God and each other.

I don’t think we need to have all of those components in one Gathering but probably over the course of a month we need to make sure we express them all


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