2020 has challenged our understanding of what it means to worship and to be church. I’ve talked a lot of about church and our worship being practiced in both gathered and scattered ways. Encouraging my congregations to worship where they are, as who they are, despite the challenges we have faced in seeking to gather together.
Whole Life WORSHIP is a really helpful tool in understanding more fully this approach to worship as being every part of our day; week; lives. The book challenges the idea that our gathered worship (services, house groups, meetings) is divided and cut off from our scattered living (our frontlines of parenthood, volunteering, working… ) – arguing that our scattered living is equally our worship and in fact is that place we live as disciples – on the frontline. Thus our gathered worship should do all it can to resource disciples for living whole lives of worship.
“Whole Life Worship is not another fad or crackpot theory. It is a passionate call to allow God to expand our view of worship: to take a step back and be amazed by the scope of God’s engagement with us, his love for the world he has made, and his plans for our lives.
It is an invitation to assess church worship less by style and preference or how it made us feel and more by how it revealed God, who it formed us to be ad how it empowers us to be disciples of Jesus in our daily lives.”
p.xvii, Whole Life Worship, Sam and Sarah Hargreaves
I’d recommend the book as a must read to any person who is involved in leading worship. In fact, I think any worshipper who was ready and willing to be challenged to think more deeply and carefully about what worship means to them, both in services, and their lives.
A word of warning, you will truly benefit from reading this book if you’re ready and willing to reflect on your own approach to worship, be it as a a member of a congregation, or one who leads worship. I found many of the pages challenging me to think more carefully and creatively about the content of worship and the language and resources I use. but overall, I felt empowered and encouraged. The books is easy to read, with lots of short chapters and brimming with resources and ideas.
The book is framed in 2 parts. Part 1 presents the concept of worship being both gathered and scattered, and presents a framework to help reflect on ways to structure gathered worship to resource and empower people in their scattered worship. This framework revolves around a simple concept, that worship should be 3 dimensional:
UP: relationship between us and God
IN: relationships as a community
OUT: relationship with our community and the world
The second part of the book takes us on a journey through many of the ingredients of worship, prayer and music, gathering and sending, communion and the offering. Throughout this journey we are encouraged to reflect on how each ingredient can support and empower people for Whole Life Worship and discipleship. This section is brimming with ideas and pointers to other resources.
Prepare to be challenged and empowered as a whole life worshipper, and as a leader of disciples in whole life worship.
Whole Life Worship Authors: Sam & Sara Hargreaves Publisher: IVP
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
In John’s gospel we find a story of a woman who Jesus encounters at a well. It’s the heat of the day, the disciples have gone to get food and Jesus is leaning against the well when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water.
They talk, and the Woman is confused about what Jesus is saying. Jesus talks about the living water he has to offer. She doesn’t understand.
Jesus says to her you worship what you do not know – we worship what we do know. The hour is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. (John 4)
Lockdown has taught me that worship is bigger than I understand, or imagine, or ever intended.
Before lockdown, worship tended to be something I went to and often led.
As I prepared and led my hope was always that the offering was a tapestry of music and song and words and prayer and conversation and reflection and gathering and fellowship and participation – with the hope and prayer that God’s Spirit was moving as the thread that weaves it all together into a beautiful tapestry that gives God glory.
A beautiful image, but when lockdown hit, worship was no longer something I could go to. Fellowship and gathering changed. Many of my congregations are not on the internet so it wasn’t feasible or inclusive in the beginning to even think about zoom and streaming.
Worship had to change for us. But worship also had to change for me…. or maybe it was me that needed to change.
Suddenly worship was not something I could ‘go to’. Worship now was not an event to attend, but a practice to inhabit wherever I am. A way of life.
I think those words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman are words that can encourage us today as we seek to learn from lockdown.
We don’t see here Jesus saying – true worshippers will worship in a building for an hour on a Sunday.
We hear Jesus say true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth – true worshippers will not let rules and restrictions (of which there were a fair few back in Jesus day) get in the way of the spirit of worship, not get in the way of the truth of the God we live to glorify and praise.
The effect of lockdown, and the absence of things to ‘go to’ and worship to formally lead has enabled me to begin to embrace the practice of worship in the day to day, every day.
And I know I’m not alone.
There are things people miss – I long for the day we can belt out in song from the depths of our souls – but even as we look to facilitate face-to-face gathered worship in the coming weeks, that won’t happen for now.
But despite the things people miss, through time at home, in our gardens or walking in towns and hillsides people have found opportunities to worship with what they have, where they are, resources we’ve shared, and in doing so been meeting with God – who is with us and receives our worship no matter where we are.
People have been singing to CD’s, radio and TV, gathered online, or via phone conferencing. It may not be a physical face-to-face gathering, but whether alone or in number, these undoubtedly are gatherings of God’s people living a life of worship, where the Spirit weaves our offering into a tapestry that gives God glory.
Lockdown has taught me that worship is bigger, better, stronger, than I had ever truly imagined.
I wonder, as we learn from lockdown, how this might challenge us in how we worship in spirit and truth in the future?
In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I look at how Acts 15 might help us overcome some of the barriers physical distancing is forcing us to face.
Barriers. Barriers can stop us from getting from one place to another. Some barriers keep us safe. Some barriers get in our way.
Barriers can separate. Barriers can block and divide.
Some of us will have begun to get used to barriers at supermarkets, guiding us in or around the store, with markings on the floor to constantly remind us to keep 2m apart. Barriers to keep us safe that also keep us physically apart.
In 2020 we’re dealing with barriers in way’s many of us have never seen before. Due to coronavirus we’re blocked from being able to physically gather together. Christians can’t go to worship or prayer in church buildings, we can’t meet for coffee or children’s, youth and families ministry. Communities can’t gather for coffee mornings. We are physically distanced from one another.
But we are not socially distant. Over the last few weeks I’ve said many a time in conversations that I don’t find the term social distancing helpful, that I think it would be more helpful to have called it physical distancing.
Why? Because even while 2m or more apart, I think we can still be social. We may be physically distanced, but that doesn’t stop us being the social beings we are, made in the image of God to live in relationship. While not the same as physical meeting, the barriers of physical distancing can to some extent be overcome.
We can still have a conversation with the stranger who is walking on the other side of the road. We can still thank our posties and delivery drivers. From this week can sit in our gardens or in the park with a friend (still 2m apart of course).
In every phone call, every physically distanced catch up, every WhatsApp message, every video call, we have been gathering. Sharing fellowship. Seeking to encourage one another and build each other up.
I’ve been so deeply encouraged by just how ready so many in the churches I have been called to serve have been to phone, write, email, text and more to continue in fellowship together, encouraging and building each other up. And beyond that, reaching out to neighbours and friends, offering to pray for them, encouraging them, caring from them. This is mission, this is outreach, this is overcoming the barriers of coronavirus and building relationships.
For the moment we no longer have doors to open, so we are forced to use all that we have left, and we open lives, arms (metaphorically!) and hearts to others. And I wonder if in doing so we discover that it is in open hearted relationships in the streets in which we live, that we see the missio dei – mission of God – at work.
In Acts 15, at the council at Jerusalem Peter has his own barriers to deal with. Gentile believers were being told that unless they were circumcised there were not saved (15:1). The insider-outside separation that 21st Century human society seems so addicted to creating is no new phenomenon. Gentiles were not Jews, Gentiles were not circumcised.Gentiles were not the same as ‘us’ – so how can they be saved?
What does Peter say?
‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’
Acts 15:7b-11, NRSV
Cast our minds back to Acts 10, and we remember that Peter has already had is time to learn that God is bigger than the barriers of human society:
‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’
Acts 10:15b, NRSV
Peter had already been learning that God does not look for our outward actions, but at our heart. And that brings us in equality with our fellow human beings, not barriers between us.
“we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
So what may God be saying to us today through Acts 15? That’s for each of us to ponder for ourselves. For me, I think God is reminding me that I’m saved not by my actions but by God’s grace.
That I can let go of some of what I thought was most important. That for a time at least, my calling to this vocation will look very different. And while that feels to me very different, unfamiliar and uncertain, it’s going to be ok. God knows my heart finds the barriers of physical distancing tough. God knows that some days are harder than others. And despite it all, God’s grace is always overflowing, and God’s love always unconditional, he knows my heart. With God, barriers are overcome.
God knows your heart too. However you feel today, wherever you read this, whoever you are. God knows how you feel, your struggles, your anxieties, your joys. And God is seeing you right now, with a heart that is overflowing with love and grace for you.
With God, barriers are overcome.
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if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.
Yesterday afternoon we gave into temptation in our house. I say we, I didn’t have a lot to do with it, except I had to pay for it. Getting an email saying ‘thank you for your purchase’ was a little disorienting when my initial though was – but I haven’t bought anything…. then I remembered Louise was logged into my account. What did we give in to? After Disney released Frozen 2 online early, we gave in and purchased it.
Many of you know, and I’m not ashamed to say it as a 28 year old man, I loved Frozen 2. Perhaps not for the same reasons as my girls, but I love the themes, the story, and the way various theological threads and themes can be woven into the narrative. Many of you know that because I’ve already used bits of Frozen in services, and shared our experience of the screen not working in my covenant sermon his year.
We’ve has the soundtrack playing in the car for many weeks, I can just about sing all the songs without thinking, but of course – I’ve only heard the story, the spoken word within it once.
Louise and the girls were part way through watching when I joined them, which meant to first lines I really heard were from Kristoff and Olaf the talking snowman, just after they have evacuated Arundelle from the storm that is engulfing the city.
Kristoff: Are you ok there Olaf?
Olaf: (playing with some children who are stuffing shards of ice into his chin) Oh yeah, we’re calling this controlling what you can when things feel our of control.
Louise and I just looked at each other. It was one of those profound moments where God spoke, challenged, encouraged and affirmed all at once.
To be honest, much of this week has felt to me, out of control. The pace of the government’s measures to tacking COVID-19 has been incredibly fast, and for me it is part of the pace of change that has made me feel even more out of control, not knowing what announcements or measures might be next. Anxious for me, my family, friends, and all of you as we all, together, yes distantly, respond & react to the conditions we now face.
I that moment, I was reminded (and believe that this was God’s Spirit’s prompting) of the Serenity prayer, which I imagine many of us will know, though maybe not the second part quite so well…
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
Some things are in our control. Some are not. I pray God helps me and us all to keep hold of a sense of perspective as much of what we know of life and church activity pauses, and we reimagine, rediscover, and reinvent what it means to be church, disciples and community.
These are different and therefore maybe difficult times for many of us, but I am also filled with hope. Hope because I have already heard testimony of how God is working in these days, how relationships are changing, growing and strengthening, how the absence of stuff to ‘do’ as church is enabling people to ‘be’ with each other in new, different and exciting ways. I am hopefully and excited (though also nervous about what may come!) that when we get to the other side of this period, God’s church has the opportunity to be stronger, wiser, closer to God and each other. I think we will appreciate and value gathered worship, meetings and events differently, and I suspect we may even find ourselves continuing to do and be church differently when we all this is over.
In these coming days, as we seek to make sense and become familiar with who we are and how we are in these strange times, having wisdom to know what is or isn’t in our power to change will be immensely helpful in our own navigation of these unchartered waters, as individuals, as families and as church community.
The full prayer then goes on to remind us to take each day as it comes, one moment at a time, as things are, not as we wish they were. Trusting that one day God will make all things right. There is much about our current situation we cannot change, but one thing that cannot change, is God’s constant love for us, God’s everlasting presence with us, God’s unending compassion and grace.
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Psalms are filled with the turbulence of human emotion, question and struggle and lament and thanksgiving. I encourage you, if you’re struggling to make sense of your emotions, or not sure you can find the words to pray at the moment, reading the Psalms may well be a helpful place to go.
I find this verse, which comes in various places throughout scripture, a rooting reminder, one that helps me refocus on what really matters that the character of God is constant and unchanging.
On this Mothering Sunday, as many of us do not see family as had been planned, nor gather with our church family for the first time of what is likely to be a number of weeks, I pray that we may all know for ourselves, in new and helpful and encouraging ways, the parenthood of God, who is love and mercy and grace and faithfulness in abundance. I pray as you experience the love and faithfulness of God to each of us, you are able to place your hope and trust in God in these uncertain and anxious times.
While much around us has changed, God has not. God is constant. God is everlasting. God is God.
I leave you, with a video of Rebekah I recorded earlier this week, who has totally on her own made up actions to this song which she has been playing constantly all week (I’m glad the office isn’t next to the lounge!). I think & hope her enthusiasm, energy and creativity will make you smile – it’s been one of the many ways the girls have kept me going this week.
The song ‘You never stop loving me’ is from a CD collection called You’re a star by Chris Harding, who goes to my Aunt’s church in Tavistock. If you’re interested, this google search will point you to various sources for download and/or purchase.
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if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on this, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.