Friday, May 1, 2015

What Does It Mean to Engage in Worship?

In the latest issue of Liturgy 30, no. 2, whose theme is “Liturgy in the Digital Age,” Lisa M. Allen-McLuarin writes about what it takes to be truly “engaged” in worship as a participant. She examines the effects of using social media in worship and asks, in the context of the new technologies, what makes worship transformational.
I have heard many people complain that worship in their context is stilted, dry, and even boring, and I wonder whether it is the worship elements, the order in which they fall, the performance of those elements, or a person’s mindset that causes those perceptions. By mindset, I am referring to whether people are aware of God’s movement in worship and are open to responding to that movement, or do they see worship as a set of prescribed acts that satisfy the category “Religious Instruction/Participation” on their list of weekly activities? Edwin Womack, the author of Come, Follow Me [CSS, 1984], states that worship is the most important thing we do. Indeed, worship comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word woerthan, which meant to declare how much something was worth.  
 Further, worship is action. The Greek New Testament uses several words translated into English as worship. Notice that they are all verbs––action words. The first word is sebomai, which means to lift up or exalt. In Christian worship it means recognizing God as highest, as greatest, giving God the glory and honor God deserves. The literal meaning of the second word, proskuneo, usually translated bow down, is to kiss forward. In ancient times, when a person would come before the king, she or he would literally bow down, with her hands, feet, and forehead to the ground. In this position of subservience, the person could not fight and was completely helpless. We show this kind of complete submission when we bow down before God. The third word, latreuo, means to serve. Part of our response to God, in gratitude for God’s mighty acts of salvation, grace, and mercy, is to serve God’s people. These three verbs, exalt, surrender, and serve, help us engage theologically, rather than superficially, in worship. When we engage theologically, when we seek to understand what God is doing in and through us in worship, individually and corporately, worship becomes more than a static event or a set of acts to complete and check off a list. Worship becomes an encounter with God, Who created us, the risen Christ, Who redeems us, and the Holy Spirit, Who comforts, convicts, empowers, and transforms us for the work of ministry. 
 . . .  If we truly are engaged in worship, participating fully in the acts of exaltation, surrender, and service, it is highly likely that we will experience worship as mystery and dialogue. If a worshiper’s mindset is one of expectation, of wondering what God will be up to in the worship event, then the worshiper’s ability to connect with God through the various acts of worship will be heightened. If someone senses God’s presence through revelation in singing, praying, reading of the scriptures, proclamation of the word, and response, that person is more apt to experience a transformative encounter that lasts long after the worship event has ended.

Lisa M. Allen-McLaurin is associate professor of church music and worship at The Interdenominational Theological Center and pastor of West Mitchell Street Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Lisa M. Allen-McLaurin, “Let Me Post This Praise on Facebook: Questioning the Use of Digital and Social Media in Worship,” Liturgy 30, no. 2 (2015): 45-51.

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