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Thursday, July 23, 2009
Worship Design Thought: Are we choosing novelty or innovation

In worship, familiarity can breed contempt, but predictability creates a sense of trust. There's a fine line.

Familiarity = Announcements + 30 minutes of singing + 40 minutes of preaching + 10 more minutes of singing.

The common mistake: engaging in novelty to break familiarity. Think about the last time you experienced "novelty" in worship. (i.e. motorcycles, parachutes, silly songs with Larry, etc.) I heard one worship leader say it this way, "We never want people to know what's coming; keeps them on their toes."

On the other hand, predictability is one of the gifts of Tradition.

Tradition = Biblical call to worship, corporate praying, the reading of God's Word, corporate-personal postures for expression, structured silence, holy embrace of one another, Prophetic Preaching, Creedal Affirmation, Preistly blessing, Apostolic sending, etc.

The problem: we allow Tradition to slip into the rut of familiarity, leading us to novel solutions. It doesn't have to be this way. The answer isn't novelty, it's innovation. We must learn to innovate and improvise on the Tradition in ways true to God and true to people.

It's another reason worship designers and leaders must grow in their capacities to think theologically about their calling and craft.

Guitar in worship = Innovation
Guitar hero controller in worship = Novelty

Summing up: Moving from Familiarity to Predictability in worship requires choosing careful innovation over attention grabbing novelty.


posted by John David Walt | at 7/23/2009 09:00:00 AM



Blogger JAy. said...

Innovation in tradition - the Roman Catholic church issuing a new translation of the liturgy.

Of course, when your innovation is too small, does it become an annoyance as well? I know that if I still attended an RC church I would be preparing to trip over my tongue for the next year or so during service. After all, 30 years of tradition is hard to break.

9:45 AM EDT  
Blogger D. said...

Thanks for this post. I think it is one of the best articulations of this idea I've ever read.

Just like in all aspects of ministry, novelty is a reaction to discontinuous change that we are ill prepared to receive. We are not called to react, but to faithfully respond and engage (i.e. innovate). A great book that speaks to this is The Missional Leader...I would love to go back and read this book with worship design in mind...would be a cool exercise.

10:02 AM EDT  
Blogger Matt Lipan said...

I like what you said, "We must learn to innovate and improvise on the Tradition in ways true to God and true to people."

Helping people see the relevancy of Tradition in worship is crucial. I really appreciate the relationship you draw between innovation and Tradition. Thanks!

10:33 AM EDT  
Blogger Team Reporter said...

After 35 years of worshiping and being part of lots of different expressions, I've come to long for:

- Christ exalting, Christ-centered worship
- Gospel-Promise-Driven substance
- The celebration of the Eucharist as a consistent expression of the above (predictable and alive). When sermon series takes us away from the core Gospel message, the liturgy of the Eucharist provides the weekly proclamation of the Gospel - a gathering centered in the crucified and risen Savior of the world. In gatherings, too often we too easily depart from fixing our eyes on Jesus. When the Eucharist is central, that's hard to do.
- An historically recognized liturgy to provide an open framework where spontaneity occurs (prayers, scriptures, prophetic offerings, etc). The Anglican liturgy provides this for me.
- within this framework, the gifts of preachers, musicians, artist, poets, dancers and the like provide the changing movements between one fixed point to the next.
- innovation is weekly woven into the fabric that already has Christ as the centerpiece of Zion's tapestry (the worshiping community - militant and triumphant).

However, I've found it hard to convey the value and beauty of an open liturgy to folks who have not experienced it in a renewed context. I tasted this long ago in Destin, Florida. My loving church family at St. Andrew's Episcopal (now Emmanuel Anglican) demonstrated all of the above to this then awe-struck teenager! It ruined me for life! Someway, I'm finding my way back home where it all integrates again.

Just my musings - Michael Flowers

10:39 AM EDT  
Blogger sandra r. said...

Way to knock it out of the park, JD!

This also made me think back to a comment in one of your earlier posts: the question about technology in worship isn't whether we should use it or not-- it's whether it facilitates attention or distraction.
Yes, exactly... facilitate attention...

Moving from Familiarity to Predictability in worship requires choosing careful innovation over attention grabbing novelty.

So well said!

1:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Stephen C. said...

I, for one, am really tired of gimmicks posing as evangelism in churches. It's not effective evangelism and it's not advancing the kingdom. As you said, it is a fine line, but we must walk it.

9:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous chad said...

I am surprised the Lewis admonition didn't make this post!!!

I think some of the issue with imagination is it doesn't help us to remember (anamnesis) very well. It instead points us to a new reality, instead of the constant rehearsal of something that is known very well.

I think some folks like the idea of worship being a party, and instead I really want it to be more like a nice lunch with an old friend.

8:19 PM EDT  
Blogger NAJS said...

And what of the congregations contribution? I know we're talking "Worship Design" but what of the responsibility of the Worshiper?

I was killing time ahead of at my mums graduation the other day - she's in her autumn years ;) - and started to read the introductions to the "Book of Common prayer". A document I've heard many bad things about. “Can’t believe they still insist on it”, “Why can’t people move on” etc etc.

I was moved by what I read. The function of the book was to avoid people being distracted by hearsay, superstition an non-biblical teachings/traditions. It was a book written out of a passion to re-centre people in truth. To ensure they heard Gods word in its entirety across the year, in their native tounge (rather than latin) where “…they understand not; so that they have heard with their ears only, and their heart, spirit and mind, have not been edified”.

Yes it was written in 15th Century and the language is dated, but the approach is not. Currently reading “Ancient Future Worship” (thanks for the pointer JD) and significance of the eastern church fathers.

So… let me turn this back to you JD - how do we influence a congregations attitudes to “tradition”, especially the youth, when it’s often seen as a synonym for Old/routine/done because we always have done it?

I guess you already answered… “Innovation”!

Another cracking post JD – thanks for the musings/challenges - most helpful.

4:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

Thanks for this post, JD -- very helpful. (I'm still here though I haven't commented in a while)

To press this a little, help me understand why the two service outlines associated, in turn, with "familiarity" and "tradition" (though here you must mean "predictability" according to the way you seem to have indicated the structure of your content in the first sentence). Is this arbitrary--it could go either way? Or is this specific commentary--the one is always only familiarity (and therefore doomed to contempt) while the other is always (or has the potential to become) predictable (and therefore always capable of trustworthiness)?

Another item of note is how clear the service order is that is designated as "familiarity". There's no question what "Announcement + 30 mins of singing + 40 mins of preaching + 10 more mins of singing" is. But, though reared in quote-unquote traditional worship, I'm not entirely clear on what actions some of the terms under the service order designated "tradition" are supposed to indicate.

What makes the call to worship "biblical"?
By corporate praying, do we mean a collect, or a pentecostal everyone-at-once prayer?
What are "corporate-personal postures for expression"?
What is "holy embrace of one another"?

Finally, both orders of worship might be considered familiar or predictable (in the synonymous use of the terms--though I recognize the work of differentiating them here) within the church traditions that structure their worship services accordingly.

Might it be more useful to contrast a "traditional" service that is familiar vs one that is predictable and, on the one hand, a "modern" service that is familiar vs one that is predictable, according to the use of the terms we're seeking in this post? Perhaps I'm missing something, but I'm not sure we've arrived at comparing apples to apples yet, which might provide better clarity on the differentiation intended. More clarity on that would increase the usefulness of these categories, I think.

5:22 PM EDT  
Blogger Blake said...

I'm curious to know how one is to draw the line and determine what is an item of innovation and what is an item of novelty? Is there a period of time when something that is novel becomes innovative? I just wonder if at some point in history (or even some churches today) saw/would see an guitar in worship as a novelty.

So does any of these determinations hinge on the background and culture of those people making up the congregation? Does it hinge on the leaders who crafted the service? Or is there something else?

11:53 AM EDT  
Blogger John David Walt said...

Blake-- you are asking the right questions for sure. First off, there are no hard and fast rules-- it is a matter of discernment which comes from the ongoing cultivation of the mind and heart of a worship designer/leader.

It is enough, for starters, to simply ask the question-- to get this kind of analysis into your design process.

re: the guitar-- yes, it would be an innovation I think; however, we see stringed instruments referred to in the Psalms frequently. this probably does not refer to a guitar, but some predecessor instrument perhaps.

guitar hero guitar in worship--- definitely novelty. guitar hero chords to worship songs on screen-- definitely novelty.

the screen itself is an innovation in worship-- how we use it can definitely lend itself to novelty-- discernment is needed to make good decisions. this comes mostly from experience, and the ability to ask good questions-- which you demonstrate in your comment.

thanks. jd

1:51 PM EDT  

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