So I’ve been thinking a lot lately on liturgy, whether to have it or not to have it. I started realizing that there really is no not having liturgy, even the more contemporary churches who don’t do a traditional liturgy have a liturgy.
So upon coming to the conclusion that this contemporary style is a liturgy I began debating on which was better, the traditional liturgy or this “new” liturgy.
The pros of the traditional liturgy is that it is wrought with symbolism, its centered around meaning in absolutely everything even the most minute details; now I’ll admit there are details lost on me and I have no idea what some things symbolize, but I would like to know nonetheless. The symbolism gives this liturgy its power, the way the worship area is set up down to how the service proceeds. If you could get tap into that symbolism and get people to “get it” then the experience of worship becomes amazing.
There are cons though, and ultimately churches, in my opinion, have done a down-right crappy job of helping people get it and because of that the service doesn’t explode with meaning, but gets staid, tired and old. The service drones on because people aren’t emotionally involved. Sure you can spice it up with some good songs and some good words and phrases in the right places, but if the people don’t connect with the meaning behind everything then its all for naught and you have simply hit an emotional nerve. Which is why people seek out the new liturgy, it taps into their emotions.
So the pros of the new liturgy are that they do indeed touch our experience and emotions, they seek to connect with us in that way because the symbolism and ritual, all wrought with meaning, is lost on these worshipers. Thus, they set up the worship setting and service in a way that enables people to connect… a rock concert. Don’t deny it, you don’t go to a concert/show/performance of some band/artist you love and don’t get totally caught up into the songs/lyrics/moment. So as I was saying with the symbolism, you tap into people’s experience of things and they get caught up into it and it moves them. This can connect with people, its why a lot of traditionally traditional churches are moving to it. They want to reach the unchurched and dechurched who are turned off and repulsed by the perceived deadness of traditional churches because the symbolism didn’t connect with them.
But there are cons to this too. Where is the meaning? Its essentially flip flopped from the old liturgy, it hits people’s experience, but by purely emotional means and not by the power of ritual and symbolism. There’s a reason traditional churches look completely different than the boxes of new churches, one is built around symbolism and ritual, and the other is built around experience. So I am frustrated by the lack of symbols and ritual. They reach these unchurched and dechurch and get them caught up in the experience of joy found in a relationship with Christ, and yet they don’t get at the nuances and the beauty of the minute things, which are actually big things, in Scripture that the symbolism gets at.
So the conclusion that I have come to is, well, I prefer neither or I prefer both. They both have amazing strengths, but those strengths become their weaknesses. We need a mix of both, and that has been done, I’ve experienced it. Unfortunately, that experience after a while became staid and dull as well. Ultimately, I would prefer to some how mix the two, but it can be just one type of mix. I love having the experience of a church rock concert every now and then just as much as I enjoy having the experience of a high church service every now and then just as much as I enjoy the experience of a blended service, so long as they are done well.
I guess what I am trying to get at is what we don’t need is a liturgy that we can plug in because it works well and then forget about it except for changing the songs and prayers each week. Nor do we need a service that we use because it gets across what we want it to get across without somehow inviting people into what we want the liturgy to do and what it means.
Liturgy needs to be dynamic, because God is dynamic. One set of symbolism and ritual doesn’t get at the complexity of God and it never can get at it unless we load it with so much stuff that we need to make a reality show of it on A&E. We should not only be willing, but needing to change up how we do church more frequently than we do. We need to change it not because membership is dropping or because we want a new format, but because we need to, want to express the glory of God in a new way. Heck do it every week if you can, but don’t even do it on a time table, make it haphazard, cause really that’s how we experience God, and that’s kind of how God revealed himself, in crazy ways that we look at and are like “huh?”
Liturgy also needs to be done well. It can be the most dynamic, amazing, symbolic, emotional experience ever and still be terrible and isolated from the congregation. We can’t just do it and hope people get it. We need to invite people into it every step of the way, with a sentence or paragraph at the beginning or at every point in the service that we do something. And it needs to be done IN the service, not have a class on it, or a Wednesday night study on it. It needs to be able to invite long time members as much as first time visitors from other traditions or lack of tradition.
That’s my conclusion, now the problem is…. how do I get this to “work?” How do you get a church in on this and what are the practicalities? Personally I have never seen a church service done like this except here at Candler, but that’s only during the non-communion services and I kind of wish they could figure out a “new” way to do communion than just going between different traditional liturgies…. So I guess I have more to think on for now.