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Monday, July 27, 2009
Worship Quote of the Week: The Lewis Admonition
In the trajectory of that last post on novelty v. innovation in worship-- here's a quote I call "The Lewis Admonition." I share it with our worship design team every year in our training week (a.k.a. Levite Camp).

A worship service works best when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. . . . The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. but every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. . . . Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god. A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. . . . There is really some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was’Feed my sheep’; not ‘Try experiments on my rats’, or even ‘Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’" C.S. Lewis.

HT to Chad Brooks, our Team Leader, who reminded me of this via a comment to the last post.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Lewis Admonition. And someone tell Clive those things will kill him!


posted by John David Walt | at 7/27/2009 07:29:00 AM



Anonymous guy m williams said...

See my comment on the original post... case in point with the Lewis quote (thanks to who remembered that! Letters from Malcolm?)

This is a case in point, I believe, of comparing apples to apples and thus gaining better clarity about the differentiation observed.

5:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Ed said...

Wow... I have always admired Lewis (so much so that I've read over 20 of his books), and I've noted ways in which he deeply prepped me for Orthodoxy, but I never would have imagined how direct he could be on this issue.

5:17 PM EDT  
Blogger John David Walt said...

means of expression v. medium of experience.

yes-- perhaps these are close to one another. i like pitting things like this against each other to catalyze new reflection and deeper thinking.

i did ask though, which more characterizes the role of music in worship. I'd say the former.

here's my take. music is obviously essential to worship. (i.e. see the Psalms). but there is something far more essential to worship than music:


The primary medium of REVELATION is WORD AND SPIRIT. not music. now, don't hear me wrong. Music has unique capacities to freight WORD AND SPIRIT. But music, as we all know, can work just fine without them.

Here's where I think we get in trouble as worship leaders/ designers. We find music or a song or a "set movement" that "works" so to speak, that leads people into an experiential reality and we begin to rely on that to the point that we can lose sight of the fundamental medium of Christian revelation; which again are WORD AND SPIRIT.

We can make the same argument with respect to visual liturgy, but I won't here.

One of my growing assessments is that we may be coming to a point in "contemporary" worship where we over-rely on music to do the essential work of worship.

The bigger question for worship is "What are we hearing and seeing," rather than what are we "experiencing and feeling." The latter are important-- but not as important.

push backs? where the heck are you Rob Mehner?

8:13 AM EDT  
Anonymous John D. Palmer said...

When your context is Christian worship I don't think you can divorce the two. They should function in sync. Music should be a means expression AND a medium of experience. In the end it is how one has been taught to worship and taught to think about one's role in community and for that matter what community means.

What has happened in the melting pot of American living is people no longer have a uniform understanding of community and their essential role in community. This speaks to how individuals might connect in corporate worship. For individuals who have grown up in the independent minded USamerica everything has become about them. So then music is "their" experience. They have learned to value "Their" experience rather than to see that what they are doing in worship is joining in a communal means of experession. If individuals understand that what they do in worship is essentialy joining their community in proper response to God's activity in their life then whatever happens in their worship will be a means of expression and then worship will be a medium of experience. It shouldn't be viewed as good or bad.

We can have worship that has no music, but is a deeply moving experience. We have worship that is void of instrument and noise but still be musical and expressive. When it is done in community and that being the most important thing is our communal response to God then it feeds the individual.

I'm rambling now.

10:14 AM EDT  
Blogger Michelle said...

I think the key between means of expression and medium of experience is being in tune with the congregation. A delicate balance between the two exists almost like a dance and what keeps cutting in is novelty. I agree with changing things up to reach the congregation in a new way. It's like cross training your body. If you don't change things up and use some different muscles, you body gets over adjusted to the same way of doing things and doesn't get any stronger. Same with worship. Although instead of novelty, tipping the balance between experience and expression may be all that's necessary. As a worship leader, it's my desire that I know the music and the order of service so well that all I am concerned about in front of the congregation is creating a worshippful experience, but admittedly if my expression isn't there...if I'm distracted... the congregation becomes the same way, and nothing novel will replace or restore that worship. The difference in my mind then becomes a vertical experience versus a horizontal one.

4:21 PM EDT  

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