Incorporating Liturgy in a Modern Context

In recent years, there has been sort of a return to liturgy in the church. When the church took move away from liturgy in the 20th century, many in younger generations are seeking a return to it. I find that the older I get and the more I grow in Christ, the more formal my approach to worship becomes. This has nothing to do with style, for I still enjoy modern stylistic elements, but my approach to how I worship becomes more formal. Worship is certainly a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Robert E. Webber often spoke of the ancient-future concept of worship. In other words, worship transcends eras and time and has an ancient aspect to it but is applied to a future context. Stylistic elements are ever-changing, but the content and structure of worship never do. As a worship leader then, it is my job to facilitate the corporate worship experience for Godís people. This means applying liturgy to the context I am called to serve. Whether we admit it or not, everyone has a liturgy including non-liturgical churches. A liturgy is simply a structure. While many churches might not incorporate a lectionary, they certainly have a structure. My aim here is to provide some helpful reminders for those who desire to apply historical liturgy in a modern context. This can be a difficult task, but when done well has tremendous benefits. Most of what I would like to deal with is structure and content (the most important aspects of worship, more than style), but I will also end by giving some practical application to employing liturgy in a modern context.

Liturgy Is Informed by the Word

It has been said that ďthe finger of liturgy is connected to the first of theology, which is informed and shaped by the divinely inspired arm of scripture, which reveals Godís grand story of salvation throughout the shoulder of history.Ē What worship leaders and worshipers alike must realize is that correct liturgy is informed by the word. Doxology is right worship, and for right worship to happen, the word must be the governing authority of all of faith. It is a sad day when the word is informed by liturgy. Liturgy is created around scripture, not the other way around. Worship leaders must strive to not only remember this but to also apply it to the context they serve in, and all worshipers must be careful not to let liturgy change their lives but to allow Godís holy word to mold and shape them. Liturgy is informed and shaped by scripture.

The Service Serves the Text

We must also note that the worship service serves the text. Whether a liturgical or a free tradition, every aspect of the worship service must serve the text. A common problem in modern society is that most things are adapted to fit people. In corporate worship, however, we should not adapt the text to fit our lives, but we should adapt to fit right worship. Worship has little to nothing to do with our own desires and wants but everything to do with proclaiming and telling the story of God and who he is as revealed in scripture. Therefore, the liturgy or the structure is a non-negotiable. This might be carried out in various ways and through disparate stylistic approaches, but the content and structure is absolutely imperative. The content is the word, and the structure is the gospel story and message. This is the liturgy. When we stray from that, we no longer have Christian worship. That is why the worship service serves the text of the word.

Liturgy Is Not for Ritual but to Live in the Reality of the Gospel

The purpose of liturgy is not ritual; it instead creates a very intentional method for Godís people to live in the reality of the gospel. We are a part of his story throughout history and in his global kingdom work. The Bible is a meta-story and must be treated as such. We, however, are a part of his continued story through Christís bride, the church. When we only remember Christís resurrection and but neglect to remember other aspects of his work, we do not proclaim the full counsel of God. Liturgy allows us to do so through an intentional method. We do not have to search for ways to tell Godís story, for we already do it through the liturgy. This is where the lectionary is very helpful, but we must be careful not to use it as simply a ritual or to somehow falsely believe that it is wrong to use anything but the lectionary. What we must strive to do as worshipers is live in the reality of Godís work in the lives of his people. Liturgy helps us to do so.
It Is Not Necessary for Worship Leaders to Inform People about Liturgy but to Teach the Theological Truths in It

My job as a worship leader is not necessarily to inform people about the liturgy being used but rather to teach the theological truths being manifested through it. Liturgy in and of itself is powerless. It is the power of the Holy Spirit through liturgy that changes people. Therefore, it is not as important that people know the exact liturgy being utilized. It is crucial, however, that Godís people realize the gospel truths being presented through the liturgy. The purpose is the proclamation of Godís story.

Liturgy Is Employed in a Modern Context through Stylistic Elements

Remembering these things, how then do we employ liturgy in a modern context? While everything else Iíve hit on in this article has to do with content and structure, the employment of liturgy in a particular context has to do with stylistic elements. Style is negotiable, but it is important that worship leaders adapt to their context to help their people worship in the most effective way possible. In order for this to happen, I have five suggestions that will help in creatively employing liturgy in a modern context.

1. Do not put on a show. In a self-seeking and ďall about meĒ society, it is tempting for the church to put on a show for spectators rather than be used as a catalyst for Godís people to worship. The only spectator in the worship space is God himself. We are merely participants. Therefore, we should not try to cater to the desires of humans but rather to God. We must remember this when employing liturgy in a modern context. Having said that, aesthetic beauty is crucial to liturgy being carried out in an effective manner. It is a fine line, but worship leaders must strive to teach Godís people right worship in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible without putting on a show for people.

2. Adapt language. Because liturgical elements of the faith are often ancient practices, the language used must be adapted to fit into a modern context. The principles and theological truths should remain constant, but it is certainly possible to modify the language to a more contemporary style while continuing to keep the reverence associated with worshiping God.

3. Adapt music and arts. In the same way, music and the arts must be adapted. Do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying to trash choirs and organs. In fact, when used properly, these mediums of artistic creativity can be very effective even in a modern context. There, however, has to be a shift stylistically. If a modern context is what is at hand, choirs and organs must change the way they are utilized. Choirs, for example, must take on a mindset of being a worship leader. The choirís purpose is not performance but to engage Godís people in worship. The same is true with an organ. Much of this adaptation will fall at the feet of the primary worship leader. Creativity is necessary.

4. Be creative. It is sad that even in modern contexts, there is a lack of creativity. Some of the most creative worship services Iíve ever been a part of have been in ďtraditionalĒ settings. Human nature is to go for routine and become stuck in a rut. Try different things though. If it doesnít work, donít do it again. Creativity is crucial to applying liturgy in a modern context.

5. Do not be afraid of scripted and rehearsed services. Something that comes along with modern contexts is shying away from scripted and rehearsed services. It somehow seems fake and forced. Who is to say though that someoneís scripted prayer is any less genuine than anotherís extemporaneous prayer? The fact is that genuineness is a matter of the heart. In the same way that one giving a prepared speech can be genuine, so someone giving a scripted prayer may also be genuine. It is not right or wrong to use scripts or spontaneity, but preparation certainly contributes to using liturgy in a modern context if executed properly and genuinely.

Conclusion

We too often throw out the baby with the bathwater when adapting for modern contexts. Our faith is full of incredibly rich and deep practices that can help us in so many ways. It is not wrong to shy away from liturgical elements of the faith, but it certainly is wrong to trash the truths found in them. Liturgy simply creates an intentional method for telling the full counsel of God. Let us consider our purpose as worship leaders and how we can be most effective in leading Godís people.










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