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Monday, July 21, 2008
6 Questions for Theme Driven Worship
Anytime I am asked to preach somewhere, the planners want to know what I am going to talk about or what is my theme so they can plan the worship around that topic or theme. It's why I most often tell them to sing songs that paint a large picture of Father-Son and Holy Spirit. But in point of fact, this theme question is the instinctive question asked by all of my worship designers almost every time-- what is the preacher talking about or what is the theme. Though we wouldn't say it this way, what we are ostensibly trying to do is make the songs serve the sermon. Aren't we?

A few questions to ponder:

1. Why should the theme of the sermon matter to the larger worship service?

2. Should the songs serve the theme of the sermon?

3. Do we impose our own agendas on worship when we do this (no matter how relevant our agendas are)?

3. Why do we want to plan an entire worship service around the sermon or the sermon series?

4. If sermons and sermon series are driven by the felt needs of the people, or some catchy cultural theme as they so often are, doesn't this pose a major danger-- that our worship will be driven by the culture and centered around people?

5. What would be an alternative approach?
posted by John David Walt | at 7/21/2008 08:33:00 PM



Blogger Todd Wright said...

Isn't it an issue of connection? Where I lead, we don't do "theme" every week, but it sure does seem to help our congregation focus on the Word.

At my place, we need help getting our minds off of ourselves and onto what the Word says...even the hard stuff!

You're right, though, that the cultural desire for "sermon series" type of worship can be a bit weird (and wrong), but in my opinion, there's not ENOUGH thematic worship going on these days.

9:57 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

there is another way to look at this, not that it is happening everywhere that thematic sermons or series occur. perhaps what planners are trying to do is to take the felt need or cultural element of a series or sermon and center that on Jesus.

so if we are talking about freedom, the music and other elements focus our minds on freedom in Jesus; freedom from what, freedom for what, what is that kind of freedom?

also (and i know we got in a lengthy discussion on this before), if we want to give people an opportunity to be responsive to the Word, to what the Spirit is doing in them, doesn't it make sense that the emotive response would be thematic?

the danger does exist, though...good food for thought.

8:07 AM EDT  
Blogger J.D. Walt said...

thanks todd and rob. I like the push back and appreciate it. what I am attempting is to catalyze a shift in our fundamental perceptual framework concerning both the Word of God and the Worship of God.

We are all steeped in a definitive framework through which we perceive and see life. One of the most difficult things about effecting change is that people literally cannot see what you are talking about. Our own fundamental framework literally blinds us from seeing anything other than that. One of the clearest ways of catalyzing a shift in in our primary framework is to confront the old frame with the contrast of a new frame. (i.e. Extraction vs. Immersion). As an analogy-- think about analog cell phones vs. digital cell phones. Why would we ever have gone digital when analog seemed to work fine. Someone had to point up the superiority of the contrasting features of digital to shift our framework (not to mention canceling analog).

I submit that this is what Jesus is up to-- confronting the religious establishment's way of approaching, reading and consequently "using" Scripture. He confronts through contrast. (think Sermon on the Mount)

Now another way to catalyze a change in framework or paradigm is through creating an inescapable experience, which Jesus also seems to do constantly. (think woman caught in adultery and also emmaus road bible study).

(some years back i happenstance discovered a book on change that has greatly influenced my thinking on these issues.)

So the point I am getting around to. I contend that the primary perceptual framework or paradigm of Western Christianity (or at least modern evangelical Christianity) is a functional paradigm. We want to "use" Scripture and consequently "Worship" as a means to an end. And while this end may be justified and warranted by Scripture itself, I want to suggest that this is the primary approach of the Scribes and the Pharisees. It is well intentioned, it has proven effectiveness to create behavioral change (i.e. spreading scriptural holiness) and yet it misses the fundamental agenda of the Word which is to orient a community of persons inside of the Transcendent World of Revelation.

So to use a technical term-- the larger paradigm shift is from functional transcendence to transcendent functionalism.

One more piece--- behavior is a function of identity. it is symptomatic of identity. Worship in Spirit and in Truth handles and unveils the Word of God in a way that reveals our true identity as sons and daughters of Abba and our Spirit empowered vocation in the World as the Body of Christ. Worship is the place where we become intimately and securely attached to God, gaining a real sense of self that can actually be denied in love for others instead of constantly depracated with words of denial. (i.e. It's not about me!). This is why we enter worship through the waters of baptism (remembering our identity) and depart digesting broken bread and poured out wine (shaping our vocation in the World as the Body of Christ.)

I recognize that I run the risk of overstating the case to make a point. (i.e. think "cut off your hand). This is a tactic. So keep bearing with me, stating your objections, slapping me around, ;-) and lets keep the conversation going.

9:13 AM EDT  
Blogger Timothy Miller said...

I tend to tell my worship leaders to be Christocentric - and I'm trying to do that in my preaching as well, no matter what text or topic. I learned this from some guy with a last name like, "Ruth," or something...

10:55 AM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

wow...if you think that was slapping you around, i haven't slapped you around enough. :)

I do understand what you are doing, and I think it is excellent sustenance for cranial activity (i thought i better up my vocabulary on the "food for thought" comment given your last post).

I just find pushing back to be entertaining, and since I'm a Western Evangelical Christian, entertainment is what it's all about, baby!

Seriously, just so you know I'm not a complete dufus...I'm sending some of your latest posts and the comments onto Ron and the programming team so they can chew on it.

3:16 PM EDT  
Anonymous michele francesca said...

Just a thought. I am assuming that the minister would have sought God as to the direction of His sermon, what God was doing in that hour - what was in the heart of God for His people. I would like to think that the lead worshiper would also desire for God's direction in where he should go. After all, doesn't the Holy Spirit help us in prayer? He also brings to remembrance the things that Jesus had told us, which presents us with opportunities to obey Him - another form of worship.

I have seen many instances where the songs that the lead worshiper (having sought God) had chosen or parts of the worship session itself had been in line with what God was doing through the minister, without having priorly conferred with the him. I guess the main focus is God and what He desires. Look at it this way, if you love somebody, you give them what they want, not what you think they want.

4:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

ok, I greatly appreciate where you are pushing, so I offer these thoughts as conversation along the way of working this stuff out.

1. The theme of the sermon matters to the larger worship service because the worship service is about our enacting the Story of God. Worship includes expression of faith and formation in faith. Given that the sermon is well-grounded biblically (I'm excluding self-help preaching in both evangelical and mainline expressions), that is, it serves to authentically lead the congregation in encountering and enacting the Word/Story of God... keying on the theme of the sermon would seem to move us in the direction of the immersion experience that you talk about in the former post.

It seems to me that the real point of contention is not whether or not the songs and prayer time are coordinated with the sermon text, theme, and/or message (variously tight or loose), but rather whether or not the sermon and the whole service are following an immersion paradigm or an extraction paradigm.

Am I on to something here or am I missing what you're trying to get at?

1:14 AM EDT  
Blogger J.D. Walt said...

GUY-- i think you are onto it. i think i am saying two things-- yes to the immersion over extraction and yes to making worship a celebration and orientation with "ultimate" reality rather than an instrumental means to something else. My point is that when the sermon drives the entire worship service, we tend toward making a worship service the instrumental means of getting our point across. It is a quite rational approach well rooted in modernity and academic disciplines. We approach worship with the notion that we want to accomplish something with it. Don't you think the proper approach to worship is one of the danger and delight of becoming lost in the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Worship services and their design must begin with an orientation to the Big Story and then texts. Then lets place songs and prayers and sermon and table within that large orienting framework.

I like to think of the whole of the worship service framing the sermon rather than the sermon framing the whole of the worship service-- if that metaphor helps. In this way the preaching of the Word is set within the larger, grander setting of the World of the Word, which gets unveiled as we speak and sing and pray and confess and embrace and break bread together. Herein lies the wisdom of the Christian Calendar.

7:42 AM EDT  

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