Thursday, December 03, 2015

Worship, Life, and Corporate Worship

I read this post by Scot McKnight way back in August and am just now getting around to writing about it. Sorry.

He's got some good things to say there, specifically about how corporate worship has become institutionalized in a specific format that's difficult to change. He begins to suggest some ways to be more diverse and inclusive in how we interact corporately, but I'm not sure he really goes far enough.

I'd start with an understanding of worship. Worship is really everything we do - from the time we spend watching TV to the after school discussions with our kids, to, yes, serving Thanksgiving dinner at the local homeless shelter (oh, yeah, and all that church stuff, too). Worship is our life, because the way we spend our time, the principles by which we actually live, are our expressions of worship.

I don't mean this as a guilt trip - that you should be doing more "worthwhile" stuff with your life, because frankly I don't know and the last thing I'd want to do is badger people into being busier. We don't usually need that help. I am saying that our actions determine our beliefs, not our minds or our mouths. Those actions are worship. It's not something we set aside specific time to do. Worship is life.

That's not to be confused with the specific times people set aside to worship together. Those are intentional (usually, the church stuff) and important. For Christians, specifically in the West, but I imagine almost anywhere, those times look remarkably similar, both to everyone else and to the last 500 years (or more) of Christian tradition.

We gather together, sing some songs, pray some prayers, hear scripture and a homily of some kind. We usually collect money. Very often eating is involved. McKnight suggests some ways to include other elements in that basic structure, but the post referenced above sort of leaves it at that - as if this form of corporate worship is simply a given.

For all the fights that have been fought over the years on style (what kind of songs, prayers, and sermons to hear; how we dress or where we sit), the actual structure of our corporate worship is largely unchanged and near universal. I'm not wondering if, more than changing elements of an existing system, we shouldn't be exploring alternative ways to structure the corporate worship events themselves?

The late, great Phyllis Tickle wrote the seminal, The Great Emergence, around the notion of 500 year (give or take) epochal changes in the structure and function of Christianity. We're certainly in the midst of one of those right now, but it's still very unclear exactly what kinds of reforms and changes will emerge.

There's a lot to be said there (and I likely have and will continue to do so), but I wonder if worship and our perspective on worship won't be one of them? My family and I moved to Middletown, Delaware with a sort of crazy dream. We wanted to move into a community to just be good neighbors. We want to live our worship out in the midst of a people, try to love and serve those around us, and see what happens. It was all sort of based on a different notion of worship - that the acts we're doing to live out our beliefs (that all people are important, that we HAVE to live together and sacrifice to get along, that community is important, etc) are worship and become corporate worship when we do them together.

So far it's been less than explicit. The dream was to have one or two other families make the same move, so there'd be a specifically Christian core of people with the same idea of worship and mission. It would allow us to do corporate worship differently, but intentionally - sharing meals together, helping with child-rearing, sharing our stuff and abilities. To do life together.

It didn't work out exactly that way (there's a lot of "great idea, but not for me," which is cool - but, seriously, it's a great town if you still want to come), but we have found great neighbors in this place. It doesn't look anything like my lofty visions, but it looks like what it's supposed to. We do dinners and parties in our shared back yard, we try to organize community events, we share cars and lawnmowers, we take care of each other's pets and homes and kids.

I see all of this, in some sense, as corporate worship. It's not as fully developed as I'd like, but it's starting from the right place, I think - an understanding of life as worship. There's no need to worry about right beliefs or who has to believe what - it's a relationship of action, caring for one another, learning to develop trust. We trust that our neighbors will come through for us and that we can expose our flaws and weaknesses to them; they won't take advantage of us.

I get the sense in which others will say this isn't specifically Christian, because it's not - at the same time, though, it is. This is the care for others that God challenges us to. It's also fair to say, "this doesn't look much different than any other neighbor relationship out there." Yes and no. I don't think people know or trust their neighbors too often in our world; what's more I'm not sure people even really want to all that much. Yes, it certainly happens some places and we see these kinds of relationships thrive - maybe that's corporate worship, too - even if nobody knows or says that's what's happening.

Now, I'm working on how to do this a little more overtly. I want to have a gathering where we can get together and talk about beliefs - not to argue over which ones are right, but to seek out why our friends and neighbors believe what they believe, to figure out how my beliefs impact my actions, to see things from different perspectives and for each of us to grow deeper in our own journeys towards doing life well.

I think that'll be a lot more specifically religious (if not Christian), but I hope it's not Christian in the way that turns so many people off. As McKnight says in the post above, the way we've done things - what's come to be the standard definition of corporate worship for everyone, whether they participate or not - doesn't work well for everybody; it has a kind of bad reputation, mostly as something unhelpful (at least to those people who don't go, and even some who do). I'd like whatever gathering we manage to put together to be Christian in the sense it looks like Christ - people who are genuinely interested in each other, seek to be life-giving and encouraging, to love and trust one other as we do life together.

I'd love for everyone to be doing this in whatever communities you find yourself a part of, but if you want to come do it here, let's talk.

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