A Possible Next Step?

5 comments Written on September 9th, 2011     
Filed under: Arts, Better Together, Formation, Leadership, NPTS, Resources for Worship
Today’s post was written by Geoff Twigg, a pastor, singer/songwriter, worship leader and ministry consultant in Bedford, New Hampshire. Geoff serves the ECC as a member of the denomination’s Commission on Worship.

This blog entry should have a preface: “The opinions promoted here do not reflect the current policies of the denomination.”

That’s because I’m reporting and commenting, as usual, on the conversations that center on the “Better Together” page… but in particular, I’m going to focus on a discussion that occurred over a couple of weeks in August, started by this question: “Will the Covenant ever create a “department of worship ministries? Does it even need anything like that?” which prompted a strong correspondence over the next week or so.

The original contributor went on later: “A Department of Christian Worship… ideally would oversee the development of worship leaders – both those currently called to churches and those who are looking to a future call. It would strengthen the entire denomination to have worship leaders trained in how to plan and lead worship, recruit and equip volunteers, gain exposure and expertise in diverse worship styles and languages, and to have an understanding of what the Covenant is all about – especially as it related to our worship life.”

There was some discussion about the name – someone suggested “Department of Christian Arts” and most people seemed sympathetic to the fact that worship is currently cared for by the Department of Christian Formation.

It would strengthen the entire denomination to have worship leaders trained in how to plan and lead worship, recruit and equip volunteers, gain exposure and expertise in diverse worship styles and languages, and to have an understanding of what the Covenant is all about – especially as it related to our worship life.

Among several other contributors, the Executive Minister of Christian Formation, Doreen Olson, wrote at length, including these comments: “Worship has found its spiritual home in Christian Formation for the past nine years. Supportive initiatives in the area of worship arts come primarily through the Commission on Worship. Prior to our working with it, the commission was focused exclusively on publishing our Covenant hymnals as well as the Covenant Book of Worship. About 7 years ago, we restructured and re-purposed the commission to a broader mission of support for ECC worship arts practitioners… While the commission itself is in a period of transition, there are some wonderful initiatives that have come from its work during the past few years. North Park’s degree in music and worship was created as a result of the commission’s request. And this lively Facebook-based conversation was created by Matt Nightingale, on behalf of the commission, as a way to connect and build community among you all. “

I agree; the kind of training and resourcing we’re currently offering is good, but we’re failing to meet the need. This denomination has a glorious history of music and art, which should be leading to newly published expressions of faith, new multi-cultural collaborations and worship leaders coming to our churches with greater theological insights and musical skills. Whether we train people centrally in the NPU/Seminary system – or regionally as part of a coordinated national strategy – we must raise our sights and our standards to the glory of God.

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5 comments “A Possible Next Step?”

Thanks for these words, Geoff. In certain areas where the need for communicating our values has become too great to ignore, we have stepped out and devoted resources and personnel to those areas–like we did with Compassion, Mercy, and Justice. The need to take such an initiative in the area of Worship is equally urgent, because so much of what we do and who we are as Christians and Covenanters depends on it. To do this right may require substantial resources and personnel, but it would be well worth the investment!

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This is certainly an interesting idea.  I could see how many in the denomination would want this and feel the need for it.  I think I agree with Geoff here that we need to do more.
But if we were going to move in that direction I’d also like to see the denomination also work on exploring support of more “liturgical” and “traditional” forms (I hesitate here because I see all styles as liturgical and even praise and worship style is no a tradition), that are our inheritance from the Church through the ages.   This is also part of our tradition as anyone who studied under John Weborg knows.  I had one course on worship in my seminary days, the only thing I regret from my seminary training is that I didn’t have more training in this area.
My point here is that this “Style” of worship I’m talking about generally doesn’t need “worship leaders” as such, but it does require some sense of liturgical action, something I picked up on the fly and by observing Weborg but  would have liked more training in, and I think should be encouraged and probably also needs to be revived somewhat in our denomination.

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When I wrote Covenant Distinctives nearly thirty years ago I commented that we as a people were more interested in a service than  a show.  I don’t know whether that is still true.   

Have worship scholars  put some sweat equity into establishing the essential differences between a service and a stage production?  Without that work, this conversation will continue to lack definition and authority. 

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Everett, I was just thinking about you the other day when I was talking with a friend about Covenant Cedars. You spoke at my junior high camp there back in the 70’s!
To those for whose worship experience consists mostly of simpler expressions, some approaches to worship can seem to be nothing other than a stage production. And it is true that the creation and performance of certain styles of music involves production.  This is just as true of classical oratorios with full choir and orchestra, as with popular-styled songs played by a high-power band with drums, guitars, amps, and microphones.  Yes, production can be and sometimes is taken to an extreme.  But for the most part, it is simply a means to present music with excellence. Isn’t excellence a good thing to aspire to whenever we bring an offering to God, who is worthy of our best?
Perhaps what you are talking about is not so much production, but entertainment.  You may be referring to art that glorifies or caters to people instead of to God.  I agree that when we venture into those areas, what we do is no longer worship.  I share the concern that when American churches play into the marketing mentality of trying to please consumers, we have begun to lose our way in worship, and sometimes have lost it almost entirely.
But you may be surprised to know that this concern is shared by many of us who lead worship in our churches week after week.  As I’ve gotten to know my worship colleagues in the Covenant, it is clear to me they each have a heart for glorifying God and for giving people a language that enables them to connect to God and to each other in corporate worship.  If accomplishing that goal involves a bit of production, those means are only a way to the more important end.  Despite varying approaches to style, I can assure you that God-focused worship is alive and well in the Covenant!
Regarding the “sweat equity” you mention, there has been a significant amount of that behind the scenes.  I believe it has helped forge our “Core Values of Covenant Worship,” a document that originated in intentional conversations eight years ago and has since been promoted and revised by our Worship Commission.  And there are number of individuals within our ranks–not the least of whom is Geoff Twigg, the writer of this blog post–who have done a great deal of work to further discern, study, and clarify our response to such questions.
In response to you, Larry, let me add that I do think within our denomination there continues to be a strong awareness of liturgy and its heritage within the historic church.  That is often behind-the-scenes, as it may be harder for some of us who have grown up in the more revivalistic side of our heritage to envision how liturgy fits within the contexts of our individual churches’ worship. But that’s where training and resourcing would be of great help, and I believe it would be welcome.

Randall Wilkens
Associate Pastor of Worship and the Arts
Bethany Covenant Church, Mount Vernon, Washington
Member of the ECC Worship Commission

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I appreciate this conversation so much. We just can’t help but live in this tension – our Christian culture demands excellence of our musicians, who often have been trained to perform. But we aren’t putting on a performance. It seems to me that even when we know this, though, performance, entertainment, and consumer-driven presentation drive what we do, and only with careful determination can we make sure it comes back to engaging people IN ORDER to help them do liturgy, to bring ‘the work of the people’ as an offering to God.
I love the idea of Covenant musicians calling one another up higher, so to speak, to keep thinking this way. And I hope we do continue to introduce musicians and pastors to a broad range of liturgy, so that all are equipped to serve the people of God across that range, thoughtfully and theologically. (I’m the pastor, not the worship pastor, so I appreciate you guys doing this work so much.)

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