If you are a United Methodist, you might be aware that on April 6 there was a Leadership Summit held to attempt to address the major issues facing the United Methodist Church. The Summit was carried live on the web which allowed anyone to watch live as the conference took place. Many Annual Conferences (including mine) held large meetings where leaders gathered to watch together and discuss the major questions lifted up in the course of the event. The second hour alone was devoted to giving time for remote meetings to discuss questions in their respective room.
While many gathered among leaders on the district or annual conference level around the country, I watched in the privacy of my office at the church. But, I did take part in something very special–maybe even more so than a larger, more formal meeting around this Summit.
For those not familiar with Twitter, this is called a hashtag. If you search hashtags on Twitter you can find trending topics of discussion. Thanks to the hard work of Rev. Jeremy Smith you can take a look at the entire transcript of tweets around this topic. In the spirit of dashboards and scorecards (see major discussion points of the Summit) that’s 32 pages of tweets around this topic! There were so many tweets that this became one of the major trending topics on all of the Twitter for awhile yesterday.
The Rest of the Story…
So what does this mean? Well it means a few things. First, this means that when we attempt to address pressing issues facing the church, we need to take in to consideration that the Internet and Social Networking sites have allowed more people to be a part of the discussion. If more people are a part of the larger discussion, then more perspectives are offered and more time will be needed to truly hear the voices of everyone around the table.
Change on the Horizon?
This could be good or bad for our denominational structure. Again I reference the great work of Jeremy Smith. Have a look at this blog post that includes a word cloud collected from the various tweets. It’s a simple concept, the larger the word, the more often it was used. The smaller the word, the less often it was used. It’s a great visual display of reactions from the Summit. Notice the largest words here? I’ll let you make your own interpretations over the value of the larger words vs. the smaller words. All of this is to say reactions tell a lot of what was heard and also unheard. If technical words (words like “vital”, “structure”, “change”, or “leadership”) are more prevalent than adaptive words (“conversation”, “story”, or “vision”) then it says a lot as to how these issues are being approached. If the larger Twitter conversation does anything, it shows that top-down, technical solutions won’t easily solve adaptive problems.
Wesleyanism at its Best
One theme came to mind yesterday as I sat at my computer, one screen with the conference streaming live and another devoted to the Twitter discussion: Holy Conferencing. I saw connectionalism at its very best when conferencing sprung forth organically among United Methodists from all over the country. We probably didn’t hear much more than we already know. We probably didn’t learn very much at all. But if our leaders want evidence that there’s hope and life in the United Methodist Church, the website is: Twitter and be sure to search #umclead when you’re there. Maybe Wesleyan values such as connectionalism and conferencing aren’t dying anymore than the United Methodist Church is. Maybe it’s all simply changing into something different, new and even more faithful. I, for one, think Mr. Wesley would have been proud had he been on Twitter yesterday.
What is worship? I know that sounds like an elementary sort of question. But really, what is worship? Why do we organize once a week, at an odd hour of the day, and sing strange songs and say funny words? I ask because I wonder sometimes if whether we really think about teaching a theology of worship in our local congregations.
Thanks to Christendom (and in particular, my context in the southeastern United States) attending worship is a bit of a cultural norm. The irony is that we no longer live in a world where Christianity and the church sits at the center of cultural life. Blue laws are a thing of the past and even my state of Georgia is beginning to ease into the idea of selling alcohol on Sundays. These aren’t necessarily bad, they only point to a larger reality that Sunday is no longer observed by the wider community as a special day set apart during the week for Christian worship.
All of this raises the question, in a world where Christian worship is no longer accepted as the sole cultural norm, what does it mean to worship?
This is why worship as experience has been the driving force behind our theologies of worship for some time now. Seeker Services, Praise Services, Small Group Retreat Services, all of these have an implicit goal of generating an experience between the worshipper and the divine. This trend lays at the heart of the worship style debate that has dominated many local faith communities for 25 years or more.
“We need to worship like we’ve always worshipped, it’s been meaningful for us all this time.”
“If you want new people to come, you need to worship in a different way; one that will be attractive to someone outside of our circle.”
These are common responses in the debate of “traditional” vs. “contemporary” styles of worship. I intentionally put quotes around both terms because they are, by and large, misused by our local congregations.
Traditional worship tends to reflect only recent tradition. An aesthetic worship experience with fancy words and a push toward beauty and art as a focal point of worship is not very traditional at all. This doesn’t take away any of its beauty or grandeur, we just have to recognize that this style is rooted in much more recent tradition that we sometimes realize. It carried some ancient elements but also intrinsic goals of not only allowing the attendee to worship, but also to teach through beauty and art.
On the other hand, contemporary worship covers a wide spectrum of style and tools for worship. The average person in a local congregation may have their thoughts immediately go to screens, projectors, and electric guitars when they think of contemporary worship. But the truth is, the vast majority of so-called contemporary worship reflects a style that is now going on 25 years old. So we have to ask ourselves, how long before something can no longer call itself “contemporary.” Keep in mind, the misuse of a lable does not take away from the power and stirring nature of a service geared specifically toward heartfelt praise and adoration.
The problem with the discussion of style is not which style is better than the other. The problem is in the discussion itself as a whole. Why is style the driving force behind meaning in worship? Why is it that we see it fit to use worship as an evangelistic tool for our local church? Why is the question always posed in an either/or argument?
[My guess it is much of this is symptomatic of a generational divide in our churches and church leadership, but that's a post for another day]
Worship is about participation in a larger reality; one that remains a mystery and yet where the very transformative power of this reality is found in its mystery. It is an exercise of praise, adoration, lament, proclamation, and fellowship. Faithful worship does not seek to create experiences with God. Instead it’s about creating space where experiences can occur. It may sound like a simple manner of semantics, but please note the emphasis in the two statements: one puts humans and human desire at the center and the other puts the worship of God at the center; the by-product of which can create space where the Holy Spirit can meet us by the surprising grace of God.
Issues of style become secondary to the worship of God. And the worship of God quickly becomes a statement not of our taste or preferences, but a statement of who are and who we long to be.
What does worship mean for you? And how does practicing Holy Commuinion every week fit into this framework?