Pastors are called to be creative liturgists

The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus as a ‘liturgist’ (leitourgos): as our high priest he is “a minister in the sanctuary” (Hebs 8.2 NRSV) i.e. he serves in the worship of God. The root etymological meaning of our English word ‘liturgy’ is “the public worship of God”. Liturgy has nothing to do with a particular form of words – it simply denotes the worship which we offer to God.

In the words of the Methodist scholar, Geoffrey Wainwright, “Into the liturgy the people bring their entire existence so that it may be gathered up in praise. From the liturgy the people depart with a renewed vision of the value-patterns of God’s kingdom, by the more effective practice of they intend to glorify God in their whole life” (Doxology: A Systematic Theology, Epworth, London 1980, 8). This is the context in which I wish to argue that many pastors, particularly those who serve in so-called non-liturgical churches, need to re-discover their role as ‘creative liturgist’.

Or if the phrase ‘creative liturgist’ does not appeal, then how about the term ‘worship composer’ used by Peter James Flamming, a Baptist pastor in the USA? In a 1992 Baptist World Alliance study commission paper, Flamming wrote:

Consider a worship service with the five movements of praise, nurture, commitment, inspiration and quiet centering [meditation]. As in a symphony, the number of movements may remain the same week after week. It is what happens with those movements that makes every symphony, and every sermon different.

To carry the analogy further, the notes and chords that make up those movements might be Scripture, preaching, music, sharing and prayer. Other harmonies may also appear such as the offering, communion, baptism, baby dedication, a shared witness [testimony], and a call to commitment. It is how these are used that gives the service its life, its stability, and its variety. In a given church the movements of worship are not apt to change much, but the variety within those movements needs to be changed from week to week.

Such richness and variation within the worship symphony do not just happen. They come about as the result of the skill, dedication and hard work of the worship composer.

The demands of Sunday-by-Sunday worship call for creativity upon the part of the pastor. Alas, in many evangelical churches pastors seem to have given up being creative – and neither have their worship leaders seen the need for creativity. Australians Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, reflecting on their world tour of churches, commented that one of their lasting impressions was that churches:

“… tended to be invariably dull and rather predictable. They had a disturbing propensity to look, feel, and act in basically the same way. They sang the same basic songs and followed the same basic order of service in their corporate worship. The sheer predictability of it all was quite shocking and deeply disturbing. It sometimes seems as if there is some form of ‘template’ at work in evangelical churches, all over the world, regardless of language and culture” (The Shaping of Things To Come, 1 Hendrickson, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2003, 82)

No wonder so many people find worship ‘boring’. Pastors need to do better!

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