We ran into Sally Morgenthaler at the National Worship Leader Conference, May 18-19, and thought we should pull out one of her old articles from the WL archive for you to enjoy. If you want full access to the entire Worship Leader archive, subscribe today!
(Originally published in Worship Leader, March/April 2005)
The opening of the service was riveting. The hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth,” wafted through the congregation, drawing worshipers into God’s presence on an ethereal cord. A penny whistle started with a haunting intro and remained the single instrument until half-way through the second verse. Imperceptibly, a Celtic harp joined in, followed by a viola, doubling the melody at mid-range. Then came the images, the hymn morphing into a wide-eyed, sung prayer for the world God created and loves. Clips from the acclaimed video production, Baraka, scrolled over three screens in surround sight … images of unfathomable, geographic beauty, juxtaposed to urban sprawl, sickness, natural disaster and environmental devastation.
Tapestry of Art
It was one of the most transcendent worship moments in memory. Why? Was it the hymn? Was it singing and praying, listening and watching, all at once? Was it intercession with eyes open? (Is that possible? I’ve heard more than a few times that it’s not.) Was it the world presented at the poles of reality, both entrancing and hideous? Or was it the sparse instrumentation in a praise and worship church where “sparse” is not a known part of the English language?
I don’t honestly know. Perhaps it was all of these things. Together. A tapestry of art, both communicating truth and wooing response. A world beyond the beige, light-years past the one-color, one-sense default so common to what is otherwise known as contemporary. A tapestry of expression with oh-so-many many intertwined threads saying oh-so-many things: we love You, we thank You, we grieve, we celebrate, we plead, we repent, we adore … You.
I came away from that moment, transfixed, having encountered God in an entirely new way. It’s a good thing when this happens because, frankly, sometimes I ask myself, “Are the what and the how of worship important?” Talk about questioning one’s existence! But, after this experience, how could I ever doubt that? What worship is and the cultural mangers that contain it have never been more important. Silly me. At least one truth I encountered that Sunday couldn’t be more clear. Worship is more than a “worship time.” It’s more than the best song sets we’ve been putting together over the past two decades. It’s everything we do, say, feel, hear, give, touch and see in God’s presence, the entire time we are together, and it’s what we take with us out into the world beyond the walls.
This year, will the worship in your congregation be—more often than not—a transfixing, engaging experience? Or, will it just be more of the same: a pretty-good song warm-up before the message with a few extras thrown in for good measure? Will your church’s worship be as compelling for the skeptical as it is for the already convinced? Have you considered that our tendency to “over-sing” may be a barrier to the lost? If worship is where real humans meet a real God then we need to be crafting experiences for real humans with eyes, noses, nerve endings and taste sensors as well as ears.
If we access God through all of our bodies then worship is not just about singing. It’s about everything. And that is extremely good news. At the very least, it means we have the chance to expand our how-can-people-worship repertoire and watch God work through the artistically gifted people in our communities.