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Becoming Participants


A couple days ago we had an All Church Meeting. At this meeting I had the opportunity to share a bit about the changes to the structure of our worship services, which we call Celebrations. I specifically wanted to address four major changes that have wrought anxiety and questions from some: Offering Boxes, Corporate Prayers, Weekly Communion, and Praise & Worship at the End. You might find some, or all, or none of this helpful. Here is what I presented:


Celebrations: Becoming Participants
Ryan Flanigan
May 27, 2008

If you have been attending River Valley for at least seven months, you have noticed some major changes in the structure of our Celebrations. Many of you have wondered why the change. What I want to do is address some of your questions and testify to the increased participation and responsiveness of most of you as we have been worshiping God in these new and ancient ways. But before we dive in, let me identify three kinds of worship services alive today. According to Robert Webber, every church falls under at least one of these categories: Traditional Church (TC), Contemporary Church (CC), or Blended Church (BC). I will use broad definitions, which are by no means all-encompassing.

Traditional
Traditional churches are liturgical. You might identify their worship as “high church” or “mass.” They stick to a rigid structure of worship from start to finish, but the general framework they use is four-fold: Gathering, Word, Table, Dismissal. Their style consists mostly of older language usage, proper delivery, robes (or vestments), lots of significant architecture/d├ęcor, and old music. Some branches of the TC are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican/Episcopal Church. We are not a TC.

Contemporary
Contemporary churches are non-liturgical. The CC has morphed significantly over the years, beginning with the usage of fiery preaching and altar calls, which is still alive today in many Pentecostal and Southern Baptist churches, to name a couple. The more current CC, though, uses roughly the following structure of worship in their services: Praise & Worship, Announcements, Sermon. Music plays a huge role in the worship experience, a wider use of the arts is incorporated, Communion is a once-in-a-while thing, and overall, the service is culturally accommodating. We are not, by this definition, a CC.

Blended
Blended churches draw worship structure from both the TC and the CC. The extent to which a BC gravitates more toward the TC or the CC depends on what best engages the culture of the local community. In other words, BC’s take from both the TC and the CC what is relevant to leading their own local church into right worship. By this definition, we would fall more in the Blended Church category, meaning we have drawn some of our structure from the TC and some from the CC.

Our Current Structure
In order to better engage you, our local community, in our Celebrations, that is to say, in order to allow you to respond to God in the truest possible way, we have adapted and adopted our current Blended model. At the foundation of our Celebrations is the Traditional four-fold structure of worship (Gathering, Word, Table, Dismissal). A typical Celebration looks something like this:

  • Gathering: Opening Song, Greeting and Giving, Announcements
  • Word: Teaching
  • Table: Communion, Praise & Worship
  • Dismissal: Blessing, Prayer Ministry

If you haven’t noticed, every change we have made has been to encourage more active participation and response from you, God-worshipers, and to discourage passive entertainment. The leadership of this church is not here to entertain. We are here to lead this church in true worship of the Truine God. What we do in our Celebrations is meant to aid you in this worship.

Offering Boxes
The first significant change we made in our Celebrations was setting up Offering Boxes, or Giving Stations, instead of passing around Offering baskets. Giving has been up since we have done this. Now, I would encourage us all to make it an even more intentional act of worship by really taking time and putting meaning into giving. Take your tithe or offering, go to one of the boxes or do this at home, do it with your family if you want, pray over your gift, thank God for His constant provision, ask Him to use this for His Kingdom. The purpose of Giving Stations is for us to actively worship God in our giving.

Corporate Prayers
Go to this post, or here's the summary: 1. Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. 2. Godly men of history have spent hours putting into words what we oftentimes have a hard time articulating ourselves. 3. There just something about the body of Christ lifting one voice to God in prayer. The danger, and the concern of some here, in using corporate prayers in worship, and not only in corporate prayers but in every act of worship, is that it may become rote and meaningless noise coming off of our lips. The truth is, it is up to us as individuals to engage our hearts and minds in the act. Sometimes even the simple act of joining in with others is enough to stir our hearts into a right attitude of prayer.

Weekly Communion
This has been the most questioned change, and fair enough, considering the vast history of Communion being overused and abused. In fact, the Contemporary Church intentionally avoids taking Communion often. We believe that attitude is more reactionary than responsible. It seems in the Book of Acts that the early church celebrated the Eucharist every time they gathered. They simply couldn’t get enough of it. And we ought to rejoice in the same way. Yes, Communion is a reminder, but it is also a joyful feast of forgiveness. If we approach the Table in the right attitude of heart, it becomes a very meaningful act of worship, as often as we eat and drink. Someone in this church said to me a few months ago, “You know, I was a bit skeptical about this whole Communion-every-week thing, and was just waiting it out to see how people would react. And then I began to really think about it…and of all the lousy things to complain about in this world, how stupid is it to get bent out of shape over taking the Lord’s Supper every week. Now I absolutely love taking it.” Additionally, in order to encourage even more active participation, we come forward to receive the bread and cup more often than not. It’s just another little change to encourage more activity and less passivity.

Praise & Worship at the End
We have moved the bulk of our musical worship from the beginning of our Celebrations to the end. This way we have already received the Word and Communion and have a whole lot more to respond to. We have seen a tremendous increase in worship response from just about everyone since we have made this change. There seems to be a much greater connection happening in our hearts and minds, and sometimes even out bodies. Our Worship Ministry volunteers have sacrificed a large chunk of their time for the sake of leading this church in a better worship response.

What it comes down to is, who is the audience? Then we plan and structure things around what best glorifies God and creates ways for us to enjoy worshiping Him. Our Celebrations are for God. True worship is for God, not for us; active, not passive. True worshipers are participants, not observers; givers, not consumers. Our purpose is to be the church, not to be churched. Our spirituality is finding our place in God’s story, not fitting God into our stories. The last thing we want is a church full of “checklist Christians,” just checking off church attendance from their list every week. Following Jesus requires action. How else can we passionately pursue God? We have been hearing testimony after testimony about people who absolutely love being a part of this church. Onlookers have noticed how we actually like going to church. I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely loving being a part of what God is doing here. I can’t get enough of it.

Please email me if you have any questions about this: rflanigan@rivervalley.net. And visit my blog: www.reformworship.com. I am obviously very passionate about this, and I want more than anything what God wants for this church.

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The Great Divorce (Part 2)


As one might imagine, I was quite convicted after reading the conversation between the Ghost of the artist and the Spirit at the foothills of heaven(see Part 1). I have since shared this passage with some of my fellow musicians and friends, and we all shared some of the same convictions.

”Looking comes first”

I must look and reflect. I must live in the understanding that my art and music is intended to show glimpses the truth that I have seen. I need to spend adequate time “looking” before I try to write or sing or paint. Even if the subject of my art is not necessarily God, I need to know that whatever measure of talent I posses is a gift from Him and not intended to glorify myself but give people a glimpse of the greatness of God.

“Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”

My forms of artistic worship must not be the end, but a means to the end of God's glory. The songs I sing must find their end in God and not in themselves. I struggle with finding myself being “drawn away from the love of the thing I tell to the love of the telling.” I want the music I play to be cool, perfectly executed, and inspire people, and I often get consumed with the art instead of God. This is why as an artist I must have the Lord's grace. Without it I would likely yearn for my own reputation and eventually my own destruction.

“When you have drunk of it you forget all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else’s: without pride and without modesty.”

I long for this perspective. Sometimes I find myself wondering what people think of my songs, and my pride stops me from receiving any constructive criticism. More often than not, when people compliment my work, I respond with modesty and sometimes even insult it saying, “It's not that good.” I need to keep in mind that God has given me certain talents, and in insulting these gifts, or treating them as my own, I sin. I must view them as God's. Our sin nature will cause us to be drawn to pride and modesty. The only way to overcome is to “drink” of God's truth.

"Do you mean there are no famous men?"

"They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognized by the only Mind that can give perfect judgment."

I struggle with the desire to be known. In our culture we are obsessed with famous people. Everyone wants to be the next American Idol. In the end it doesn’t matter if millions of people know who we are or hear our music if we are not known by the One who gives "perfect judgment." We must know that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Feel free to comment on how you keep a healthy perspective of your Art and how you have struggled and/or overcome the struggles of being an artist.

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Rote?


Corporate prayers, especially the Collects from the Book of Common Prayer, are becoming a regular part of our worship celebrations. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Jesus teaches it. In Matthew 6 Jesus tells his disciples to pray like this:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.]

The Collects, a collection of well-thought-through prayers written by great men of history, are for the most part crafted using the structure of the Lord's prayer. For example, here is the layout of the prayer for Ascension Day, which we prayed corporately today.

  • First, we address God--Almighty God.

  • Then, we tell of who God is or what He has done--whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things.

  • Next, we beseech God--Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages.

  • The prayer closes with a salute to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

2. The Godly men of history who wrote these prayers labored for hours and sometimes days over each one of them. Sometimes reading these great traditional prayers helps us put into words what we know and feel in our hearts but may have a hard time articulating ourselves.

3. There's just something about the body of Christ lifting one voice in prayer to God. We're already used to singing songs together, which is essentially the same thing, only with a melody. Lifting our voices together in prayer as the community of God attests to the communal character of God most beautifully represented in the unity of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The danger in using corporate prayers in worship, and not only in corporate prayers but in every act of worship, is that it may become rote and meaningless noise coming off of our lips. The truth is, it is up to us as individuals to engage our hearts and minds in the act. Sometimes even the simple act of joining in with others is enough to stir our hearts into a right attitude of prayer. What I encourage our congregation to do is pray the same prayer, which is always printed in the bulletin, throughout the week; to engage the mind and heart, to meditate and contemplate, to make more of it than just a Sunday morning one-time thing.

The Lord's Prayer itself has the danger of becoming mechanic and thoughtless, as I'm sure many of us have seen and experienced. I encourage all of us in our personal devotions to use these prayers as templates for deeper prayer. Read the first line. Stop. Dwell on it for a bit--Our Father in heaven...Wow God, you are our Father, intimately involved with each of us, yet you are in heaven, infinitely greater than anything we could ever comprehend...

Get it? It's up to us whether these prayers and other acts of worship become ritualistic or full of meaning.

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