I am currently teaching an online course entitled Worship Leadership. The course explores the church’s worship setting beyond just the songs of worship. One of the optional texts is Robbie Castleman’s Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History.
I wanted to posted up what I believe are some important thoughts of hers regarding liturgy – especially in light of the church currently walking through the season of Lent.
Here are her words:
The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek language and originally meant “the public work or service to their god(s).” The use of the word “liturgy” therefore focuses on how a particular group of people go about worshiping God. So a “liturgy” essentially is an order of worship. Worship is work. Worship is how God’s people serve the maker of heaven and earth. Liturgy is the rhythm and design of this worship through which all worshipers join together to please God. Biblical liturgies, whether they reflect an historically full or only partially developed pattern, all have a rhythm that helps the worshiper anticipate what comes next in a congregation’s service to God. Regrettably, the use of the word “liturgy” is sometimes misused as a shorthand for a particular kind of worship. Liturgy is often attached only to services with an atmosphere for formality, such as services that incorporate written prayers, set refrains used as congregational responses, three hymns and a benediction. However, all orders of worship use a liturgy, all congregational worship is liturgical.
It is not uncommon in certain communities to hear someone say, “We don’t have a liturgy. We come in and sing for about a half an hour and then we have a teaching. Then we end with prayer and another set of songs.” That is still a liturgy. That sequence, which rarely varies, is how people in that community of faith go about serving God through worship. A similar point was made earlier regarding “style,” whether the congregation meets week after week in the gymnasium for a “contemporary” service or in the sanctuary for the “traditional” service. In light of this, it is honoring to God and helpful for the congregation if the ordering of worship elements is repetitive even if variations are evident within a set liturgical rhythm.
What a congregation does sequentially in the liturgy not only reflects a particular understanding of who God is as Creator (and Redeemer) but, in the long run, will shape congregations and individual believers as disciples. For example, for nearly two thousand years Christian worship has incorporated another source for a biblical pattern of worship, that of the birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Using the incarnation, public ministry life, and Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension as a rhythm for worship year after year helps school the congregation’s theological balance and helps counter an overemphasis on only part of the story that may lead to a truncation of the whole gospel for all of life.
The central significance of marking the liturgical year is to help shape the Christocentric reality of the church. Jesus’ story is the Christian story, the foundational story that shapes, tests, and vindicates Christian life and faith. This is the rhythm of the Christian faith: the anticipation of God’s visitation, the narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection and ascension, the Spirit’s empowerment of the church’s witness and mission, and the anticipation of the consummation of God’s eternal kingdom. Christian worship reflects this rhythm, this story, through the order of worship and its great cycle throughout the Christian liturgical year. (p34-36)
Being in a charismatic setting, I used to despise things like liturgy, ultimately seeing it as opposed to more “freer” worship. But I now realize that we all participate in liturgy, that is, we all participate in the rhythmic practices that help form us spiritually. Of course, some churches have more defined rhythms than others. But we all have rhythmic cycles to form us corporately as Christ’s church (and personally).
Liturgy is beautiful.
The Spirit finds liturgy beautiful.
The Spirit finds beautiful all practices that help shape who we are in Christ.
Let us continue to be shaped by the Spirit of Christ as we pursue Christ in our liturgy – the songs, the Lord’s Table, the reading of Scripture, the prayers, the confession of creeds, and more.