"Liturgy" means "the work (or service) of the people." The idea is that everyone in the weekly worship gathering works (or serves). Of course there are leadership roles, but the job of the staff and volunteers is simply to lead all the people (or servants) into doing the work. It is NOT the job of the leaders to do all the work themselves. But I think this is precisely what is happening in much of the church, at least in perception. Many churches seem to have removed the work from the people and put it into the hands of pastors. Volunteers come alongside the pastoral staff to help them get their work done. Over time a split has developed between those who "serve" on Sundays and those who don't. It's usually an 80/20 or 90/10 split. It's fueled by a culture of consumerism that bombards our lives from every angle.
The question I have is this: What does "service" mean when we gather for a worship service? What is the "work" we intend to do when we gather for worship, and who does it?
First, I think it's important to note that no amount of work on our part is worth doing unless God is working first. God acts first in worship. God calls, we respond. God acts, we re-act. Even Jesus did only what he saw his Father doing. We must imitate this. When we get ahead of the work of the Spirit, we derail into the realms of worldliness. Our actions in worship reveal the cultural narratives we've adopted as our own, and those same actions cement us further into their accompanying false identities: consumer, spectator, individualist, etc. This is why Christian worship is a counter-culture. Through the worship service--the work of the people--God actually transforms us into a new kind of people: a community of self-giving participants. The world finds us peculiar, because we go against the grains of culture. And many will find us refreshing and will be drawn to the Story that defines who we are. Worship is primarily about what God is seeking to accomplish in us. The work of the people starts with the work of God!
To serve during a Sunday gathering is different than to fill a leadership role, such as communion team member, band member, or usher. Only a small percentage of people can fill these roles. The goal of full participation is not to find a role like this for everyone who gathers. Serving is different than leading. Leaders create space for the people (for everyone!) to serve. Another way to say it is, leaders lead the people to serve. Leaders create space for God to act, to encounter us, so that everyone can serve God.
There are about 300 people who gather for each of our weekly worship gatherings. Out of these 300, there are about 10 musicians/techs. There is 1 reader, 1 preacher, and 1 other facilitator with a microphone. There are 8 communion servers and maybe 6 hospitality folks. These are the people who are scheduled to “serve." In all, it is about 10% of the people gathered. When you count all the kids and students gathered elsewhere in the building and all the staff and volunteers for those ministries, it comes to about 20% staff and volunteers who are "serving." I’m suggesting that although these folks are indeed serving, it is better to think of their role as leading. If they are thought of as the ones who are serving, then what does that mean for those who haven’t “signed up” to serve in one of these roles? What work are they doing? I suggest that it's better to think of the ones who sign up for these roles as leaders who create space for the “service of the people.” What they do is indeed a service, but it is more a leading of others into service.
What kinds of things are included, then, as service on Sunday mornings? Simply showing up is an act of service. Whether conscious of it or not, anyone who attends worship on Sunday has responded to God’s call to come. Standing when invited to stand, sitting when directed to sit, and following other simple instructions such as these is an act of service. (Submitting to the leadership of others is very counter-cultural, by the way, in this every-man-for-himself, no-one-tells-me-what-to-do world.) Lifting our voices together in song and corporate prayer is a service of the people. Listening to the words of Scripture read aloud, searching our hearts for our messy realities and receiving the proclamation of the Word right there is a service of the people. Coming forward to partake of the body and blood of Christ at the Table is a service of the people. The people who are scheduled to serve communion that day aren’t the only ones serving. (Really, they are leading!) We are all serving the Lord and one another by actively participating in these practices.
So when we gather for worship on Sundays, who are the servants, just the ones on the microphones and schedules, or all of us? I think if everyone began seeing themselves as servants, then active participation would naturally happen, the “worship service” would be embodied as “the service OF the people” rather than “the service TO the people.” This paradigm shift would help to shape us out of the 80/20% dichotomy we've fallen into (80% congregational consumers of goods and services / 20% staff/volunteer producers/providers of goods and services), and help to shape us into the fully participating body of Christ that God envisions us to be, where every man, woman, and child serves the Lord and one another through the simple practices of worship.
These are just some scratchy thoughts of mine, but what do you think of this distinction? Am I way off? How might people act differently if they saw themselves as servants instead of consumers? What might leaders do differently if they saw themselves as leaders of servants rather than service providers?