As the emerging church, we in the ELCA are called to proclaim the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ to an ever-changing world.
Discussions about the emerging church reveal a certain tension between the gospel and worldly culture and inevitably turn to conversations about worship.
Worship in this emerging church is the purview of Evangelical Lutheran Worship and its resources, which support the core principle of grace in word and sacrament.
They support an ever-growing understanding of worship leadership as a shared task in the community. And the resources find more ways to affirm that God is at work in the world, not merely in the church.
Reflection on worship in the emerging church offers four areas for a congregation to explore:
Worship is the action of God. The pattern for Holy Communion in Evangelical Lutheran Worship describes what God is doing in worship in four sentences:
- The Holy Spirit calls us together as the people of God.
- God speaks to us in Scripture reading, preaching and song.
- God feeds us with the presence of Jesus Christ.
- God blesses and sends us in mission to the world.
Focusing on the action of God in worship turns us away from personal preferences. Worship planning turns away from what we do, or what “they” want, and moves toward how we participate in the greater story of God at work in our lives and the world.
We focus on God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, rather than drawing attention to ourselves.
Worship includes all members of the body of Christ. Worship is the mission of God for the sake of the world. To this end, all God’s children called by God to worship have a place and purpose in the assembly’s worship.
Congregations should reflect on their worship practices and ask how the children of God of different ages, abilities, cultures, personality types, pieties and experience are welcomed in the worshiping assembly.
Beyond hospitality, we are challenged to see how the disruptive toddler, the worshiper who is quieter or louder than ourselves, or the person with a disability are essential participants in worship.
Worship engages all of our human senses. Lutheran worship has long celebrated the verbal proclamation of the word of God and has a rich musical treasury. However, our bodies are blessed with a variety of senses with which we engage the world.
Congregations are encouraged to explore how all the senses are engaged in worship. From the aroma and texture of fresh bread used in the meal to rich fabrics and art that point to the central locations of word and sacrament in the worship space, worship engages all the senses.
Our bodies also engage worship through movement when we gesture, move around the worship space or greet one another.
As a reflective exercise, worship planners might make a list of which senses are engaged in a typical worship service of the congregation. In so doing, less-engaged senses will become evident, and planners might seek ways to address them.
Worship is part of a line that is connected to the past and leans forward to the future. The body of Christ has been alive for centuries and continues to live in the gathered church in worship. Thus our worship maintains a tension between elements handed down through the history of the church and the contextualization of worship to a particular community in time and place.
Today we can look to practices of worship employed by previous generations of Christians and employ those practices in a new time and place. Chant, candle lighting, incense, ancient symbols and more can support and enliven today’s worshiping communities, helping them locate their lives of faith in an ongoing reality of Christ’s incarnation through the ages. We move into the future church, daring to change current practice and to explore new and renewed ways to worship.