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Friday, June 20, 2008
Whose Story?

One of the crucial questions we need to be asking about our worship design work is, "Whose story is being told through the service?"

Robert Jensen, in his essay entitled, How the World Lost its Story, offers this admonition.

The story is not your story or my story or 'his-story' or 'her-story' or some neat story someone read or made up. The story of the sermon and of the hymns and of the processions and of the sacramental acts and of the readings is to be God's story, the story of the Bible. . . . . . What is said and enacted in the church must be with the greatest exactitude and faithfulness and exclusivity the story of creation and redemption by the God of Israel and Father of the risen Christ. As we used to say: Period.

I find that most worship services are designed around the "theme" of the sermon or sermon series. The "theme" of the sermon is often motivated by the needs (stories) of the people or the needs (stories) of the particular Church. Appropriate or relevant Scripture texts are chosen to serve these ends. The worship service, therefore, becomes sermon-centric or theme-centric and if we are theming around the felt needs of people or the felt needs of the church then we get a worship service constructed primarily around people or movements. My question: How do we design our worship "with the greatest exactitude and faithfulness and exclusivity [around] the story of creation and redemption by the God of Israel and Father of the risen Christ?"

The late Robert Webber offers an incisive word as to why this is so essential:

Me-oriented worship is the result of a culturally driven worship. When worship is situated in the culture and not in the story of God, worship becomes focused on the self. It becomes narcissistic. . . . Much of our worship has shifted from a focus on God and God’s story to a focus on me and my story.

Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 231.
posted by John David Walt | at 6/20/2008 11:40:00 PM



Blogger sara said...

My name is Sara Escamilla, and I met you this afternoon after the worship central event in Peoria, IL. I asked you about my husband possibly getting his master's degree at Asbury. :)

Just wanted to say thanks for your incredibly poignant teaching. We NEED this!!

9:35 PM EDT  
Anonymous john page said...

I've been in worship design meetings and the focus was on "theme" or "message series" and everything else in the service focused on that. So a series on prayer brought up:
what songs to sing about prayer,
Prayer moments
how to end the service in prayer,
and so forth.

Tough subject!

4:05 PM EDT  
Blogger J.D. Walt said...

John-- thanks for your candor here. You define the issue well with this dilemma. why would we build a worship service around prayer. prayer is an element of worship-- certainly a key dynamic that should be part of every worship service, but to build the service around the "theme" of prayer. again-- Father-Son-Holy Spirit-- the story of Creation and Redemption-- that's what we design with. right? do you agree?

and sara-- good to hear from you. enjoyed the session Satuday

9:16 PM EDT  
Blogger JAy. said...


While I think that I agree in principle with your point, I think that there may be some latitude that should be allowed with worship and the worship planning.

While I would would never want to take God out of the service, I think we have to discuss the intent of the service when we consider what to include. If the point of the service is to be only worship, then you are correct. The "story of creation and redemption" should be central. I would think the same is true if our intent is conversion of new Christians. The sermon then becomes secondary to the worship.

However, most church services strive to also teach existing church members how to live more like Christ. If you include this intent, the sermon has to take a different point to it. It should still be grounded in scripture (and hopefully more than one verse), but the "story" has to be how we interact with God, not just God's power through creation and redemption.

How you design the rest of the service is up to the worship planner, but I think that tying at least some of the service to the point of the sermon has a nice "reinforcing" aspect.

7:36 AM EDT  

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