Worship Seminar

30 06 2008

To carry on from my post about worshiping in spirit and in truth, I attended a worship seminar last Saturday. It was hosted by Donna Dinsmore of Regent University in America. The same seminary that has such professors such as J.I. Packer, Gordon Fee and Eugene Peterson.
To be honest I think it was more of a forum than a seminar, either way I enjoyed it immensely.
It made me think really hard about a lot of ways I had been approaching Worship. I’m not doubting my own or other peoples sincerity in worshiping God, but I think sometimes we approach worship in ways that are not helpful for us, nor edifying for the body.

I’ll give you a quick breakdown of what happened on the day. It started off with Donna introducing herself and giving us a quick breakdown of her story. Her first day of leading worship at Chapel in Regent would have been very scary to say the least. Then she asked us to get out our handouts we had been given when we arrived. It was a liturgy, and if you’re anything like me that word has a lot of bad connetations. However I was quickly reassured by Donna that in fact every church has a “liturgy” and that it refers to the way your church does things. (E.g. The order of service, style of music, confessions, call and response etc). We started out by reading a confession, and different bits were read out by different people in the audience. It was not a confession in the sense that we had to confess how bad we had been that week, but rather we confessed things from scripture over our lives. She had written the confession in a way that made it very personal, as if we were the person writing the scripture crying out to God, expressing the Joy of His love, telling others of His Character and so forth.

Then for the strangest part. She lead us in song, acappella (To be honest we didn’t have any music at all apart from acappella singing). Not only did we sing without music, we also sang in Greek!
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kryie Eleison. It means God have mercy, Christ have mercy, God have mercy. We sang it in the style of an old Gregorian chant, and Donna reminded us that this was how our forefathers used to sing. I was blown away by how beautiful it sounded. People were harmonising perfectly and it sounded angelic.

From there we moved to the three key questions that would be the basis for our discussion.

1. Who is God?
On this one we filled a large whiteboard with words describing God, and then we discussed them as best we could. Two major themes came up as you would expect. God is our Father, and God is our Lord. People seemed to emphasise these attributes of God, but she pointed out a problem with our thinking. Jesus was God in the flesh, He was 100% Human and 100% God. We are good at emphasising the divinity of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but we seem to be unsure of how Jesus’s humanity can relate to our worship. Its a tension we seem unwilling to embrace, and if there is one thing I walked away with from this seminar it was to “EMBRACE THE TENSION”. Perhaps our worship of God needs to be more human. We seem to live in the extremes rather than in the tension because its easier. God is unknowable but can be known. God is both mysterious but has also revealed some of the mysteries.

There was also much talk as to how certain ideas of who God is can be offensive to certain people who have grown up with different cultures or family situations. Particularly the idea of God as our Father. Our society being rife with single parent families and abusive parents, people sometimes have a genuine issue with God as their Father. It is however something I am well aware of and don’ feel the need to press the point home. Another point brought up was the idea of God as Father and Mother. This was quite a controversial point for some, and to be honest it did strike me as odd. But I feel to limit God to the masculine does not do justice to other 50% of the worlds population. But that is not the point either. Rather what we see in the relational nature of worship is that what takes place between a man and woman and how we can be two separate people yet one flesh is where we start to understand how God can have both masculine and feminine Characteristics.

2. What does it mean to be human being?
Do we always understand ourselves? Do we know why we do certain things and not others sometimes? The short answer is no, and humanity has been trying to figure itself out as much as it has been trying to figure out the question of God. In that we also see something of God in all of humanity.

We are well aware of how sinful we are and we feel it everyday. We know that we stand before God solely by His grace and  mercy. We bring nothing to salvation. But we also need to be aware of our inherent value to Jesus. We are worth dying for. We are Christs workmanship, we are joint-heirs with Christ. We are valuable to God. Again we need to embrace the tension. Both sides are correct but taking it completely one way or the other we don’t get the full picture. The tension here is not a bad thing. In fact it leads us to a richer more full experience of God and Humanity. By overemphasising sin we may become depressed and our sin can become a greater problem. By overemphasising our value we miss the truth that we are living with the legacy of sin and thus our sin can blindside us.

3. In light of those two questions how then do we worship God?
Irenaeus an early church father said that “Man fully alive is the Glory of God.” Contemplating and reflecting on the character, nature and truth of who God is, and discovering who we are in relation to God will lead to a deeper experience of worship. Worship it not limited to singing songs on a sunday, its not just a lifestyle, its what we were made to do. The more we come to grasp the truth the more we realise just how big God is and the more we are drawn to worship Him. The more we grasp at the humanity and divinity of Jesus the more we come to appreciate that we have a God who has been in our position and we have a high priest who can sympathise with us. God knows our struggles, and sufferings. He also knows our joys and excitment. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
My advice would be to understand the object of our worship, the more we come to understand God the better our worship should become. Secondly in coming to that knowledge we learn something about ourselves and we are edified a little more each time. To say that worship is all about God is to do an injustice to the fuller picture. Worship is also about us. Its a tension we must embrace and learn to live out as best we can.

There were some other elements to the day that I will briefly touch on for the sake of time. One that hit me square between the eyes was the times of Silence or “Selah”. The whole place went so quiet, there was not a sound to be heard bar the traffic outside. It was beautiful. Too often we are afraid of silence in worship, and it makes us uncomfortable. Why is that? What are we so afraid of? Sometimes I think we have placed too high a priority on comfort rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to something new. To change us, to rearrange our priorities. Sometimes prayer and worship can become very me focused. I enjoyed the silence, it was a welcomed break.

The conference was a good change from the norm and it was great to be able to ask genuinely difficult questions and not feel like I was a weird for asking them. I’d reccomend Donna Dinsmores approach to worship as a good way to get out of the rut you may be in in your style or worship.




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