October 23, 2017

Interview: More from Miguel

Read Part One of our interview with Miguel Ruiz.

In this second part, Miguel shares some insightful words about his own understanding of worship, and how he tries to meet the challenge of both drawing on tradition and ministering to younger generations.

* * *

You have been involved with both the contemporary evangelical church and the church from a historic tradition. How do they differ with regard to their understanding of the place of music in worship and the Christian life? How has exposure to both affected your perspectives as a church musician?

While serving in Evangelical churches we rarely started planning worship with the text.  We chose complete song sets often based on the subjective criteria of the “flow,” or emotional segue between service items.  We wanted to start uppity, wind down to meditative before the sermon, and go out on a high note, kind of like an hourglass.  I got the idea from a popular Evangelical book which encouraged the design of worship services based on the way it would make participants feel. (This was “planning for depth”.)

The Evangelical tradition seems to have a hard time articulating the distinction between worship and music.  Aside from the cliche that “worship” has become a genre of music, when you push for a more substantive explanation, you’ll often hear things like “Worship is our whole life offered to God in obedience.”  Feeding the poor and being a good husband are also acts of worship.  This is all true, but it doesn’t help at all, because if everything is worship, than nothing is worship.  It’s like saying “you’re completely unique and special, just like everybody else.”

The “Glorifying God” explanation route takes you the same place:  God is glorified when we love him with our whole hearts and our neighbor as ourselves.  This being the summary of the law, the problem is that evangelicals tend to approach worship entirely as law, or an act of obedience, something that we offer up to God.  But just as we will never stop sinning, such an offering could never be good enough.

Instead, Jesus offers himself in our place, and gives the perfect worship to the Father that we never could.  Because of His work on our behalf, we gather to receive the benefits of the salvation He accomplished on the cross for us.  Receiving the gifts of God is the focus of Gospel-centered worship, which is what the traditions of the historic churches were designed to protect and convey.

Another reason music and worship get so inseparably linked is that Evangelicals tend to define worship in terms of experience.  This may be due to the overwhelming influence of existential philosophy on post-modern culture (which, ironically, was pioneered by a Lutheran!).  They come to church expecting to encounter God, and the means of verifying this encounter tend to be highly subjective, ranging from the shiver in your spine to the emotional rush brought on the the production, whether the message brought you to your knees with conviction or simply if the snake did not bite.  (Even John Piper defines worship in terms of experience, and his theology is as far from touchy-feely as it gets!)

The main difference when worshiping in churches from a historic tradition is that they tend to be sacramental.  Differing nuances aside, they believe that Christ comes to us in bread and wine whether we have any special experience or not.  It’s a simple, objective  way of finding God in the whisper rather than the earthquake or hurricane, the regular, not the extraordinary, hence the term “ordinary means of grace.”  Any music in this ceremony is simply an adornment, meant to give voice to the gratitude God stirs up in our hearts or as a vehicle for proclaiming His word.

The two main things I have gained from my experience in the Evangelical church are; first, a thorough knowledge of the implementation of modern music styles in a worship service.  As much as I now prefer more traditional music, in my current position those skills are being put to regular use.

The second thing I have walked away with is a keen awareness of the interaction between music and emotions.  I get pretty irritated when I sense that music is being used to manipulate emotions, but at the same time I do not hold that the music of worship should be non-emotional.  Going back to my thoughts on the theology of worship, emotion expressed in worship should be a response to revealed truth rather than something manufactured.  I use this awareness in my current context as I attempt to create environments of exuberant participation in the new song of the redeemed soul.

You say that, “My desire is to create art that is Biblically faithful, draws from the deep wells of the ancient church, and connects to the next generation.” That sounds like a tall order. Tell us how you are trying to do that in your church and school, how people are receiving it, and what challenges you face in trying to implement your vision.

It’s really more of an ideal than achievable goal.  Drawing from the wells of the ancient church is fairly easy; our denomination has done all the work for us and compiled a thorough anthology of it into one handy resource (the Lutheran Service Book).  Of course, there’s always room to go beyond the confines of this superb collection in order to unearth some real gems, but there are more riches contained within than any one congregation is likely to ever mine.  The great thing about this resource is that it is also rock solid reliable in terms of its Biblical faithfulness.

I’m a major proponent of incorporating the fine arts as much as you can.  I don’t buy into this idea that classical music doesn’t speak to people.  When Wagner, Pachelbel, and Mendelssohn get dropped from our weddings, I’ll consider the idea.  I understand some churches would alienate more people than they befriend by going all classical, but I believe every church has something to gain from aggressively tackling at least some challenging music that requires finesse to pull off.  It’s a great way to develop musical skill in any ensemble and expand the thinking, understanding, and technical vocabulary of the volunteer musicians.  Plus, I don’t believe the sermon should be the only thing challenging the intellect in the service.  It’s ok for the music to do this too, as long as it’s not to the extent that it becomes such a prominent feature that it’s a distraction.

One thing I don’t do, quite emphatically, is chase after what youth culture portrays as “cool” in an effort to appeal to their interests.  Even if you can succeed at that, you still loose, especially when they catch on, and they’re getting smarter.  Instead of forming the music ministry around what I perceive my desired audience wants to hear, I form it around the gifts and talents that our volunteer musicians bring to the table.  I’m a huge proponent of collaborative creativity.  I feel the result has been a more authentic and less contrived sound that is an accurate reflection of who we are as a congregation.

My observation is that youth don’t want to feel like you’re trying to sell them something, but they want to know that you genuinely care for them.  My approach has always been to try to integrate them into the music life of the church.  When they begin to take a bit of ownership over it, they contribute their own significant touch in a way that older people trying to sound like younger people cannot.  Developing and seasoned musicians also have plenty to learn from one another, and so having youth through elderly serving alongside one another on the same team always reaps countless benefits.  I’ve led music teams which included members from Jr. High through late seventies, with representation from nearly every generation in between.  It’s multi-generational or bust with me, because I believe that our worship should bring families together, not split them apart.  The young and old need each other in the church, and not just in a musical sense.

Ultimately, connecting with the next generation must be done on a relational level, regardless of what the music sounds like.  If you create space in the creative processes to value their input, then the resulting sound will be in a language they can understand.  But if I could teach one thing to the young and old alike, it’s to be considerate of others and try to understand how somebody different than you might be more comfortable worshiping, at least in terms of musical style.

Another way I works toward this comes from an observation I had a few years ago:  In the tumultuous “worship wars” between generational preferences and theological traditions, quite often there is a lot of talking past one another in our differing camps.  One of the way I noticed this happens is that the old people tend to be more interested in their beloved songs.  When their sentimental repertoire becomes neglected, they begin to feel neglected.  Young folks don’t think that way at all:  They throw their own favorites away after a few years.  They just don’t want to sing any song in a dull manner.  You’d think the perfect compromise would be to play only old hymns and completely rock them out all the time.  And in fact, this is a significant percentage of what we do, and it goes over fairly well with nearly everyone.  The younger generation needs to know you’re not committed to cramming Baroque down their throats in the name of Jesus, so a little electric guitar with your chorale makes the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.

I don’t operate under the philosophy that church music and worship ought to be exciting all the time, but with all the good stuff we’ve got in 2000 years, I’ll be darned if it doesn’t just happen anyways on a regular basis.

Comments

  1. “While serving in Evangelical churches we rarely started planning worship with the text.”

    What does the “We” apply to hear. You and your wife? I don’t think that this is necessarily an evangelical trait. I always started with the text (or the sermon topic which was based on the text.)

    Once I had done that I would do something along the lines of what you suggest when you wrote: “We wanted to start uppity, wind down to meditative before the sermon, and go out on a high note, kind of like an hourglass.”

    In my case we would start with an upbeat song, usually a hymn, which was familiar and would invite full participation. Hymns like “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”, or the Graham Kendrick’s “We believe in God the Father” would be up on the list of what we would do. (I haven’t led much in the past 5 years, so songs would be different.

    I am not sure that meditative would be the word I would use. Evangelicals are accused of being “happy clappy”, well this is the worship leader’s attempt to focus on who God is, and our response. to that.

    • Oops. Meant “apply to here” in second line.

    • I think I just won my own award for most grammatically incorrect comment.

    • Being several years your junior at this craft, I would love to see some of the services you have planned in the past. But there are two main reasons why many evangelicals, though they do reference the message and support passages in planning the service, rarely use them as the basis and focal point of the planning process.

      The first is that often preachers are trying to hard to go “in depth” that they’ll preach an entire 60 minutes on half a verse. That does not give you a lot of text to work with. Usually the preacher is notorious about deciding on which supporting passages he will refer to in expositing that text until long after the musical prep work has to be done. I disagree VERY strongly with this preaching style, because usually the text simply becomes a pretext for talking about what you want anyways. When entire pericopes are read, there is a lot of context to restrain personal agendas, and much more material for music planners to work with. Find me an Evangelical who knows what a “pericope” is.

      The second reason is that often the sermons are trying too hard to be practical or helpful. If it’s a motivational talk on “how to have a better marriage,” “how to honor God with your finances,” or “five principles to help prevent hangnails,” then it is often very difficult to find music which coordinates with themes so specific to practical living. Not impossible, but the amount of resources at your fingertips pales in comparison to a sermon based on a lectionary gospel, which likely has multiple hymns specifically written for it already. Especially when many evangelical worship songs are so generic and full of exchangeable cliches like “you are holy” and “I want to serve/glorify/tell the world about you.”

      So “we” referring to the church staff, though we did make reference to what word of God is being used, it often did not contribute much to the discussion of what other service items to feature.

      I recognize there are many evangelical churches who read entire passages of scripture in their worship. Most are very uninterested in doing this. If there is an entire passage read from the old and new testament, this gives you a lot of theological material to work with, especially if Psalms are also included. But generally these days, the focus is more likely on the “sermon series” and the grand meta-narrative of the Christian faith is marginalized. My ideas are absolutely applicable in an Evangelical context. If I could find one remotely interested there’s a chance I’d still be there.

      • ” Find me an Evangelical who knows what a “pericope” is.”

        Any pastor who has been seminary trained would know what you meant by this. Which in my denomination would be 97% of them. I may have used the term used in a sermon once or twice in my life, so I would guess in the congregation maybe 2.5%.

        I do like the multiple scripture readings of the liturgical churches. At my church it is only one, but at least we read the whole pericope each time.

        • For those of us with no idea what this word means, including me, here’s a definition that I found that seems to fit.

          A pericope in rhetoric is a set of verses that forms one coherent unit or thought, suitable for public reading from a text, now usually of sacred scripture.

      • I was not that interested in this post or the series on worship but you blew me away with your insight into evangelical preaching. God bless you.

  2. ” You’d think the perfect compromise would be to play only old hymns and completely rock them out all the time. And in fact, this is a significant percentage of what we do, and it goes over fairly well with nearly everyone.”

    Agreed. One of my biggest beefs is putting new melodies to old hymns. In most cases you are just alienating most of your congregation when doing so.

    Last Sunday we sang “And can it be” to a new melody. Most of the congregation started with the old melody for a few bars (myself included) not realizing that this was not the tune that the people were singing at the front.

    Was the new tune better? Not at all. In fact it was probably less singable than the first. My daughter (14) complained that it was entirely unpredictable as to where the notes were going next.

    • And Can It Be is an awesome hymn typically sung to a fairly broad and challenging tune. As much as I love that one, I am in the process of seeking a simpler hymn tune which fits the meter and ethos of the text while being a bit more singable. Most of the contemporary compositions I’ve heard are generally good listening, but not any more practical.

      • Agreed, but challenging songs do become familiar over time, and thus less challenging. My point is, if a song is already familiar, then avoid messing with it. Or at least if you are going to sing it to a different tune, WARN THE CONGREGATION!

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Just curious, Miguel: when you refer to “And Can It Be” as challenging, are you talking about instrumental or the vocal? I play piano, and I’ve found it pretty simple to play, but that high D terrifies me.

        • The vocal part. Most settings I’ve seen are in G with a range from the low A to high E. On top of this, there are many double-slurs across wide leaps. It’s a workout. I love that the melody really takes you somewhere, but to somebody who didn’t grow up with it, it’s not the simplest tune in the bag. It is catchy, though!

        • Marcus, about hitting the high note: you might enjoy this cartoon from Sacred Sandwich:
          http://sacredsandwich.com/archives/8730

  3. Differing nuances aside, they believe that Christ comes to us in bread and wine whether we have any special experience or not. It’s a simple, objective way of finding God in the whisper rather than the earthquake or hurricane, the regular, not the extraordinary, hence the term “ordinary means of grace.”

    No one wants to be “regular”; everybody wants to be more spiritual than thars (reference to Dr. Suess).

    I think worship needs to be experiencial. Worship detacted from experience is either dead ritualism or inhuman ascetecism. To paraphrase Juris Rubenis, the error of the Tower of Babel is not that it raised man to close to heaven but that it raised man to high above the earth.

    The problem with peististic shivers, quakes, shakes, and strangely warm sensations is that it is such a thin, one-dimensional view of humanity. Sacramental worship, with its ‘smells and bells” is multi-demensional. The smell of wine wafts off the alter and fills the sactuary with the sweet smell of forgiveness. Contemporary worship has many dimensions of sight and sound, but lacks the symbolic connection of the sacraments (yes, I used “symbol” and “sacrament” in the same sentence. I don’t have time now to explain). When I see someone on stage belting out a worship song guitar solo, I am not drawn to the thought of Jesus, his sacrifice and his victory, but to the stereotypical rocker wanna-be persona. Regular or common worship establishes the shared symbols, words, and meanings which draw two or more together in worship. Personal worship preferences can’t do that – even if you could gather a group of worshippers with the same tastes and opinions, because tastes and opinions change and are different for each individual.

    There are similarities between conservative worship and conservative politics: we don’t want to all arrive at the same place together, rather, we each want be over-achievers and leave everyone behind – leaving no doubt who truly is the “greatest”.

    • Yes, the irony is that liturgical worship is actually quite an immersive experience. But like many of the great things in life, they come about as a side effect of seeking after something else. Worship chasing experience becomes casualty of the law of diminishing returns and the one-upping game. But worship which focuses on Christ through His Word and Sacraments becomes an experience of spiritual renewal.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Worship chasing experience becomes casualty of the law of diminishing returns and the one-upping game.

        And where does this addiction/tolerance response end? With the Priests of Baal, whirling and screaming and slashing themselves with knives?

    • “When I see someone on stage belting out a worship song guitar solo, I am not drawn to the thought of Jesus, his sacrifice and his victory, but to the stereotypical rocker wanna-be persona.”

      Speaking of stereotypes… what percentage of evangelical services are you going to see this in. Not many that I have been involved with.

      Organ solos on the other hand…. I have heard in every church that has an organ. They called it a prelude. 😀

      • Most guitarists on worship teams don’t really have the chops to pull of an honest to goodness guitar solo. It does happen sometimes, though. Actually, I think the last time I actually heard a guitar solo at church was during an offering song. At my old church, we would have instrumental interludes during songs, but they weren’t really there for the musicians to show off.

      • The absence of technical virtuosity does not seem to impede the use of extended musical interludes. Often on videos from groups like Hillsong, there is a section where the guitarists goes of on basic octave riffs or something, but it lasts a while and the band is just rocking out. This gets mimicked in many local congregations, and is usually significantly less exciting at more reduced volumes.

        There is a difference in how organists and rock bands approach the use of instrumental music in worship. As an organist, the instrumental portions I do are either peripheral to the service (prelude and postlude), transitional (allowing time for movement in worship) or background, like while the offering is collected.

        Rock bands, however, typically use their interludes right in the middle of everything when their playing is the chief focus of the service. Every musical group uses interludes, but the question should be how long and for what purpose? There is a tasteful way to do this which encourages enthusiastic participation, and then there is a “rocking out with your bad self” way of doing it which models some slight aesthetic narcissism. Maybe I’m being judgmental here, but often times it can seem musicians are more excited about and into themselves than Christ or pointing people to Him.

        Extended interludes or solos can be perfectly appropriate in an offertory, “special music,” or anthem type piece. There’s always room to flex your musical muscle in the service, but I prefer to contain it in one location and not dominate the service with trying to impress.

        • A number of years ago I attended a worship seminar with Brian Doerksen. (At an Evangelical Contemporary Liturgical Charismatic Anglican church no less!) One comment he made that stood out to me was that he never accepts volunteers for worship teams. He observes people at worship and initiates conversations with those who are true worshipers.

          If you start your team with people whose hearts are in the right place, then ego is less likely to be an issue.

          • The whole idea of identifying “true worshipers” by their appearance during worship and making assumptions about their hearts based on that, creeps me out.

          • It’s also a bad idea to have some sort of bar “you must be at least this spiritual” to join the band. I’m into taking people where they’re at and allowing their service in ministry to be an opportunity for them to grow. But willingness to grow and learn is an absolute necessity. Without that, you’re of little to no use for any team. I’m more interested in team players than those who are deeply spiritual, because the former is actually a better indicator of the latter, and I’d rather spend more time working together than working against one another.

          • Probably a bad choice of words on my part. And perhaps a bad paraphrase.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Doerksen’s strategy also might not be very practical in many church communities. In most churches, including mine, about 98% of church services and operations are conducted by volunteers. If we waited for people to be “ready,” then the church would never be operational. In addition, pastors and church leaders never get the chance to mentor and become part of the spiritual formation of new leaders.

          • CLARIFICATION! When I said that doesn’t accept volunteers what was meant was….

            When someone comes up to him and says I really want to be on the worship team., he is very hesitant. Instead he looks for people who have their hearts (and egos) in the right place.

            When I look for people to join me on a worship team I am looking for the fruit of the spirit, or a desire to move in that direction. Miguel has talked about the person on stage being a distraction. I think that the people you get and train can greatly help in that not happening.

      • “what percentage of evangelical services are you going to see this in. Not many that I have been involved with.”

        100% of the services I have attended in the past several years – including a Lutheran church.

        Agreed with organ solo. To beat a dead horse, once again I raise the rarely discussed Lutheran doctrine of aiadaphora, i.e. “indifferent things”: There is room to make provision for things which do not detract from the gospel, i.e. altar flowers. But aiadaphora cuts both ways: if something is a distraction or a perversion of the gospel (e.g. the media is the message), then thow it out. If even tradiional/organ music is done in a way which is a distraction from the central message of the gospel, then it needs to be fixed or replaced. Some sacred cows are better served at the church potluck than in the worship service.

        There needs to be a balance somewhere. My family does not get liturgical worship (i.e. Lutheran divine service). That is partly why my recent experience is with worship services with guitar solos. Still searching for alternative; like politics, there is very little middle ground.

        • Upon second thought, maybe I have experienced it, but don’t find it distracting.

        • Final Anonymous says:

          I am one of those people who do not get liturgical worship. At all. It grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard.

          Ironically, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading posts and comments like these; they remind me that others are just as put off by contemporary worship.

          • I didn’t always “get” liturgical worship. I was raised in a tradition that was against it. One of the keys to understanding it is to understand that every church has a liturgy. The sequence of events in a service is not randomly selected in a vacuum, but has a history and theology, a how and why behind it. Most “non-liturgical” churches I have been involved with (quite a few) had the exact same order of service every week. It was their liturgy, but you’d better not question it!

          • “Most “non-liturgical” churches I have been involved with (quite a few) had the exact same order of service every week. It was their liturgy, but you’d better not question it!”

            That has been and is my experience as well. One of the weaknesses of the non-liturgical churches.

          • I remember going to a baptist church in East Texas in the 70s. They all knew exactly when to stand up, sit down as if it was scripted. And every Sunday we sang ‘Just as I am” and had an altar call. It was then that I started to realize that all churches are liturgical, its just that I was so comfortable with the format that I had not seen it.

            For most of my life I was highly suspicious of liturgy. If you have to read out of a book you have problems was my sentiment.

            Then I went to a nearby Anglican Cathedral and was astonished when I saw how biblical and Christ centered it was. It took me quite a while to ‘get it’, but when I did it has become among the most profound experiences of my Christian life.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Sacramental worship, with its ‘smells and bells” is multi-demensional. The smell of wine wafts off the alter and fills the sactuary with the sweet smell of forgiveness.

      A Wiccan told me once that Liturgical Christianity incorporates “the Four Elemental Correspondences”/four states of matter — the bread for Earth/Solid, the wine for Water/Liquid, the incense and scents for Air/Gas, and the candle flames for Fire/Plasma.

      Contemporary worship has many dimensions of sight and sound, but lacks the symbolic connection of the sacraments…

      Because humans, like all primates, are sight-oriented creatures (with hearing second). All Light and Sound can trigger “Monkey See, Monkey Do” without any depth at all.

      There are similarities between conservative worship and conservative politics: we don’t want to all arrive at the same place together, rather, we each want be over-achievers and leave everyone behind – leaving no doubt who truly is the “greatest”.

      Again, the zero-sum game of One-Upmanship. The first thing that SHOULD be ditched in church.

    • Dumb Ox said:

      Contemporary worship has many dimensions of sight and sound, but lacks the symbolic connection of the sacraments (yes, I used “symbol” and “sacrament” in the same sentence. I don’t have time now to explain).

      Symbol? Sacrament? If only. In some churches the cracker and Welch’s Grape Juice are merely Remembrance.

  4. (First paragraph should have been enclosed in double-quotes).

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    We wanted to start uppity, wind down to meditative before the sermon, and go out on a high note, kind of like an hourglass. I got the idea from a popular Evangelical book which encouraged the design of worship services based on the way it would make participants feel. (This was “planning for depth”.)

    Planning for Depth? More like the “para-symp organs” used by the Heirarchy’s theocratic dystopia in Fritz Leiber’s Gather, Darkness! to subliminally manipulate and mind-control the laity.

    One thing I don’t do, quite emphatically, is chase after what youth culture portrays as “cool” in an effort to appeal to their interests. Even if you can succeed at that, you still loose, especially when they catch on, and they’re getting smarter.

    Completely leaving aside what happens when what’s “cool” changes, and what WAS “cool” becomes “Sooooo Day-before-Yesterday”. Nothing gets old faster than Over-Relevance.

  6. “Receiving the gifts of God is the focus of Gospel-centered worship, which is what the traditions of the historic churches were designed to protect and convey.”

    I like that, Miguel.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    Reading this late this evening, and very much liking what I’m reading! This is important stuff for the church, in fact could be “reformational” if taken seriously. The questions have been so good, and the answers thoughtful. This is one of the best discussions I’ve read for a while.

  8. Great interview. Thanks Miguel and CM.

  9. The second thing I have walked away with is a keen awareness of the interaction between music and emotions. I get pretty irritated when I sense that music is being used to manipulate emotions, but at the same time I do not hold that the music of worship should be non-emotional. Going back to my thoughts on the theology of worship, emotion expressed in worship should be a response to revealed truth rather than something manufactured.

    A good balance, Miguel. Music should glorify God, not itself, in church, and it should never be used in a dishonest manner—but then neither should the sermon. I’ve heard some pretty manipulative sermons.

    There was some mention of smells and bells in the discussion above. I’m pretty low-church baptist, so no smells in my church (other than the new carpet in the entryway or coffee in the fellowship hall) but I wouldn’t be opposed to a bit of incense in the service, as long as it didn’t start an anti-papist riot amongst the members or aggravate alergies. I wouldn’t mind if worship did involve all of the senses, not just sight and hearing, to engage the emotions, if that truly aided worship and didn’t detract from it. We already involve sight, with our stained glass and candles; hearing with the music and the sermon; taste and touch with the Lord’s Supper (once a month); so why not smell too? If it didn’t become an end in itself, as music can also do.

  10. I’ve come around on the issue of guitar solos during worship. A few years ago, I was very reluctant to play them, because I thought it would be a distraction from the musical text. But now when the worship leader nods his head in my direction I’ll willingly take a solo — not shred, just play a melodic interlude, which is kind of like the difference between the solo in “Crossroads” and the slow section of “Layla.”

    By the way, from what little I can see of your guitar, it looks to be a Gibson 335.

    • Wish it were mine! The photo is actually from our wedding, where we hired a jazz band for the reception. They let me do a few standards with them just for kicks. The axe was a real beauty.

  11. Docena M. says:

    Miguel, not quite sure I get all this, but I know we worshipped together at church. I am thankful God continues to grow you & use you. I especially like what you said about keeping the family together being so important. That is a great need if we truly worship in “spirit & truth”. Enjoying your music & thoughts. For Christ alone!

  12. Miguel,
    As a dedicated amateur singer, I have always appreciated and enjoyed your comments as coming from a position of expertise, talent and experience.

    One interesting take-away from your interviews for me is your picture: I’ve only seen it before as your avatar, and up until now thought you were wearing a”poofy” shirt like some stereotypical mariachi player. Forgive my prejudice 🙂

  13. They come to church expecting to encounter God

    Well, yes. If not this week, then some week soon.

    Worship chasing experience becomes casualty of the law of diminishing returns and the one-upping game. But worship which focuses on Christ through His Word and Sacraments becomes an experience of spiritual renewal.

    Worship that is suspicious of experience puts an encounter with God at a distance. Worship that focuses on liturgy/chatechism is in danger of becoming a self-validating head trip, an intricate game of deliberately obscure rules.

    So how do you know when your spirit is renewed? Are you in danger of chasing after that experience?

    • Yeah, it seems sort of odd to take the line that we aren’t ever to seek certain experiences. Everything in a liturgical service is an experience as well. It’s just a different type of experience than a non-liturgical one.

      I guess I’m naive enough to think that if a person is a Christian, they should have some sort of sense within them as to whether or not what they are experiencing is a genuine act of worship or not. This doesn’t mean that their spine tingles or whatever, it just means there’s some sort of resonance within their spirit. I liken it to being in tune with a tuning fork or singing harmony. Even people who don’t have a lot of musical training can tell when something is horribly out of tune.

      My observation is that regardless of what a service is like, humans are fully emotional beings, and if there’s not an emotional outlet, say, for celebration within a service itself, celebration will be delegated somewhere else in the life of the church. In Orthodox and some Catholic churches, this happens a lot in festivals, weddings, and other celebrations. This is when people will cut loose. In a Pentecostal service, they don’t relegate such things to happening simply outside of services. I guess this why despite my having a lot of issues with a lot that passes for Pentecostal theology and practice, I still consider myself a Pentecostal. It just seems like a more holistic vision of the faith to me.

      • It just seems like a more holistic vision of the faith to me.

        Funny you should say that. My Pentecostal experience was the opposite. We tended to engage on one, and sometimes two levels. We would deeply engage on an emotional level, and sometimes on the word. Rarely the intellect.
        Worship was not a complete experience for me, just a rip roaring good time that eventually grew old.

        No sense of history and being tied to the past, no sense of being tied to the church universal (we were among the few in town that we considered saved). No transcendence in worship space. Sermons rarely tied into what life is really like when you walk out the door. An overemphasis on people being in ‘full time work’ and those who were just mere plumbers, computer geeks, nurses and others were settling for God’s second best and a Christian life defined by getting saved and then baptised in the spirit.

        Having said that, the strong point was a belief that the Book of Acts is an ongoing saga for today. And that is what saves Pentecostalism from irrelevance. I am now Anglicostal, I have not changed my Pentecostal beliefs, I have just brought them into my Anglican tradition. And I think it is a great combination.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          An overemphasis on people being in ‘full time work’ and those who were just mere plumbers, computer geeks, nurses and others were settling for God’s second best and a Christian life defined by getting saved and then baptised in the spirit.

          i.e. Clergy & Laity, with the Laity a barely-tolerated second-class. Only the Clergy are truly of God; there is no such thing as Priesthood of the Believer.

          Tell me again what PROTESTANT denom this was?

      • Experience is good provided it doesn’t become ultimate. When churches advertise their services as a “worship experience,” I suggest that it probably has.

        I wouldn’t call you naive, but just leave room to consider the possibility that we could make mistakes in our assessment of what is genuine worship or not. I know I’ve made very many, and was not able to understand it at the time. Intuition isn’t bad, but like experience, it should not be ultimate. The Word of God proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners IS ultimate, and the defining characteristic of CHISTian worship.

        As to the tuning fork illustration, how many Evangelicals notice when their preaching and singing becomes Christless? Not enough, imo.

        Liturgical churches tend to drift toward the sublime, musically, and have to make an intentional effort to ensure there is an aesthetically celebratory aspect to the service. Really, the good news is cause for rejoicing, and so while this can be a weakness to high-church worship, it is fairly easily remedied if one is intentional about it.

    • Ironically, it was low-church Evangelical “non-liturgical” worship which caused me to be so deeply suspicious of experience. The more I was “supposed” to be having this experience, the more distant God felt. How do you know your spirit is being renewed? When you eat the bread and drink the wine. It’s really that simple. Otherwise, you’re left to judge by your emotions, and if they are anything remotely near honest or accurate, then God hates me most of the time.

      The self-validating head-trip idea is a real straw man, because most people participating in liturgical worship aren’t analyzing it on the depth that the worship planners do. They’re simply being carried along by the text as it directs their focus toward Christ.

      Liturgical worship is very experiential, but the experience does not come as a result of chasing experience. When Experience is chased as it’s own end in and of itself, often the result can be Christless emotionalism. But when we come with the desire to know nothing other than Christ crucified for sinners, the cross becomes a supreme comfort to us. And God’s word assures us that where we eat his flesh and drink his blood, he is there whether we “sense” it or not.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Otherwise, you’re left to judge by your emotions…

        How does that differ from the Mormons’ “Buring in the Bosom”?

      • I did time in an Episcopal setting, and I found liturgical service to be stilted and stultifying. Just goes to show, people are different, not everyone is so cerebral as to value desiring “to know nothing other than Christ crucified.” Some value desiring “to know the whole world filled with God”. What I get out of your post is, you know what you like; and God bless you for it, I’m sure you are an asset and a credit to your own community.

        Besides that, certainly there are places that “get into the word” as we Charismatics say and places that just go through the motions without penetrating; I just don’t think you can justly equate that with style of worship.

        • Marshall being Anglican myself I know what you mean. Liturgy can be stilted. But I have also seen that happen in charismatic circles where we just go through the motions.

          One of the best combinations I have seen is liturgical churches that are charismatic. It is then that you see liturgy come alive, because really, it is not the dead faith of the living, rather the living faith of the dead.

        • Being Christ centered has nothing to do with being cerebral. Everything has a focus, a drumbeat, and a story behind the story. If it’s not about Christ, it’s not Christian. You certainly do not have to be high-church in order to be Christ centered, but older traditions tend to foster a built in focus. Low church charismatic worship can certainly be biblical, God-honoring, and focused on Christ, but it’s really hit or miss. There’s nothing inherent in the style and form that requires it to address the major themes of the gospel.

          Just because somebody “values” something doesn’t mean it’s equally good for them. Just because a certain type of worship “bores” somebody doesn’t make it bad for them. And FWIW, there are plenty of Charismatic and Pentecostal churches these days experimenting with recovering liturgical traditions. Consider that just because you had a less than compelling experience in the Episcopal church doesn’t mean you can’t have a very compelling experience in a liturgical church if they take a more robust and enthusiastic approach to music.

          But you’re dead right about one thing: “getting in to it” or “going through the motions” has nothing to do with the style. There is no tradition immune from autopilot syndrome. At some point, the worshiper needs to make a conscious decision to apply himself and engage with what’s happening around him. I find a liturgy to be much more attention grabbing for the ADD mindset because there’s always something different coming up. The services changes so many times in so many ways. It was harder for me to pay attention in the 20+ min song sets of the charismatic tradition I was raised in.