Thursday, August 13, 2009

Worship and Flow

Here are a few thoughts on worship and flow.

God raised Moses up to liberate the Hebrews from slavery so that they might worship the Lord. “So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, "This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: `How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me...” (Ex.10.3)

God meets with his people in worship, and we respond to the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord. Through worship we focus upon God for who God is, are consumed by the presence of the Spirit, place our lives into the hands the Redeemer. We sacrifice to the Lord and develop a singular Christ-centered focus. As the Bride of Christ, we romance our beloved, as the children of God we revere our Father, as the servants of God we fulfill our duty.

Healthy worship requires flow. Rick Warren in Purpose Driven Church states one of the most important aspects of worship flow. Chunky, disconnected, poorly planned, us-rather-than-God-focused worship is likely to be tedious and merely endured by the saints or repulsive to those seeking a relationship with the Living Lord.

I’ve come to think of improving worship flow as removing barriers between the stream of the Spirit that flows between God and His worshipers. A river may flow well in as a slow, steady stream or Category 4 white-water rapids. The same river can provide a thrill and gentle beauty throughout the same waterway. However, a tree fall, boulders or pollution littered along the way clog the flow of water, create stagnation or distraction. Worship leader Paul Baloche provides a good way to think of flow at

Free Methodist worship takes many forms, but there are several components that comprise what we refer to as a “worship service.” Worship gives opportunity for: 1) the praise of God through prayer and congregational singing; 2) worshipers to receive insight into the will of God through Scripture reading and preaching; 3) individuals to commit themselves personally to God’s revealed will through calls to commit to Jesus and the sacraments; and 4) to strengthen the dedicated to do the will of God.

We sometimes hinder flow. When a beautiful and moving series of hymns or worship choruses comes to a grinding halt and the pastor immediately announces this week’s pot luck, a tree has fallen into the river. Better to move from worship songs directed to the Lord into prayer or reading of Scripture still directed to the Lord.

When communion is tacked onto a service like an odd appendage without much thought given to the centrality of the cross or the power of community created as people together receive the body and blood of Christ, a boulder has rolled into the stream. Better to intentionally plan how communion either leads to or acts as a response of faith in the gospel (let me challenge my Methodist friends to offer communion at least monthly). When more time is spent getting prayer requests (this focuses on us, not the Lord’s power to answer prayer) than actually praying, blockages in the stream begin to form.

When little care is taken to plan technology or people flow so that screeching microphones distract or visitors are forced to walk to the front seats in the midst of prayer, it is like litter distracting from the beauty of the moment. This may also embarrass the visitor who braved coming to your church this day. A good sound check and well trained ushers help remove such blockages to flow, as does a good crying room or nursery.

Testimonies can be powerful, when coached and planned they work well. On the other hand, when the same person gives the same testimony frequently or a beloved parishioner rambles on about how God helped find the lost cat, or is “led by the Spirit” to denounce the sins of people – flow is significantly disrupted. A planned interview with the pastor, or video testimony can be much more effective. Of course, the Spirit may well interrupt and lead to a healthy Category 5 white-water (rough at times) experience.

If the sermon is an unbiblical rambling about fishing trips or comments on the latest political or pop-psychology controversy it is unlikely that connections between God and the people of God are being made. Just as an athlete is able to carry out the best moves in response to the needs of the game only if she is well practiced, so the preacher will only be able to respond to the prompting of the Spirit with skill and effectiveness if she has studied and prepared for the
moment of preaching.

Take time after the next several worship services to prayerfully reflect with your team or a few folks you trust. Note those moments that seemed to be pregnant with the Spirit, and gave birth to a healthy response from the people. Note those moments that appeared to be pregnant but in which response did not come. When did you sense God was at work, and when did you feel you were going through motions – and why did you feel that way? What aspects of worship drew you into the presence of God, and what things served to distract from that singular focus? If a visitor dropped by, not knowing your church or heart, what would they say was important to your church based upon what they experienced? Would they be drawn closer to God having been with you?

“It is written; ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” Luke 4:9