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Is a Worship Service More Like a Concert Hall or a Banquet Hall?
This is Part 1 of a three part series where Glenn Lucke interviews Isaac Wardell on worship.
Glenn Lucke is the creator of Docent Research Group, which provides customized research for pastors, churches, and parachurch organizations. He has been doing sermon research and consulting pastors on constructing their sermons for ten years.
Isaac Wardell is the Creative Director of Bifrost Arts and the Director of Worship at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a graduate of Covenant College.
Glenn Lucke: Isaac, in the last year since the remarkable Bifrost Christmas album released, you’ve been in some cool situations with some interesting people. Any stories?
Isaac Wardell: Well, a few months ago, we were invited to take part in a worship conference with David Crowder, Louie Giglio, Matt Redman, Bob Kauflin, and a number of other writers and thinkers on the subject of worship.
That event was a new one for Bifrost. Folks who have been following our work will know that we generally teach and lead worship in groups of 50–100 people, using little or no amplification, and working with people to see worship as more participatory and less of a spectacle.
That part of our message is challenging when leading worship for thousands of people on a big stage with all the trappings of the concert arena. But we found that challenge to be really worthwhile, and it made us think a lot harder about the core message of our project. Ultimately, we were so encouraged by the warm response we received in that context, and it has us feeling very optimistic about direction of music and worship in the coming years.
We sometimes use the Scriptures themselves so sparingly, in such small sound bites that we people can construct those little Scripture sound bites into whatever constellation fits most comfortably into already determined lifestyles.
As far as a particular story, here’s one: At an event this year with Francis Chan and other well known leaders, I led the congregation in a prayer, in which I prayed through Psalm 104. Afterward, a number of people, including pastors and worship leaders, came up and asked if they could get a copy of “that beautiful prayer.” Repeatedly, I’d answer that it’s just Psalm 104.
One pastor even pushed further: “But where can I get that setting of the Psalm?” and I answered “the NIV.” That interaction really underscored to me the problem of so many churches regularly not using the Scriptures–the Psalms in particular–as a framework for our worship services.
Framework for worship
GL: That brings up the question—if we’re not regularly using the Psalms in particular or the Scriptures in general—what are we using as a framework for worship services?
IW: In many larger churches (and I work at one, so I’m aware of the difficulties) it seems to me that we often take our cues from the larger media culture. That is, the feel and rhythm of our services is designed with the sole purpose of making people feel at ease; we use familiar technologies and cultural cues so that our people know when to laugh and when to applaud. But we sometimes use the Scriptures themselves so sparingly, in such small sound bites that we people can construct those little Scripture sound bites into whatever constellation fits most comfortably into already-determined lifestyles.
To counter these tendencies, many smaller churches that see themselves as counter-cultural outposts, taking a stand against the “spirit of the age,” often adopt a more formal classroom model for worship. In this model as well, churches inadvertently bear witness to the false notions that our emotions are suspect, and that the ultimate goal of worship is education and cognitive understanding.
So I’ve made the observation several times that the church today generally takes its liturgical cues from the concert hall or from the lecture hall.
For more info on Isaac Wardell visit Bifrostarts.com and/or watch the video below: