Reflection #36 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 36 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #36: Having grown up in a low-church environment, I have come to appreciate much more the care taken to construct sacred space in many high-church fellowships.  It does impact my worship, causing me to appreciate God’s transcendence in special ways.

Church-hopping on many Sundays as my wife and I do, I’ve been impressed by the number of free-/low-church congregations trying to do a bit more with aesthetics and sacred space these days.  To be sure, the sanctuary-adornment default setting for contemporary worship in these settings still leans heavily toward the utilitarian, and, I confess, I can’t help but feel the motivation for such lies in an unnecessary over-correction prompted by perceptions of cultural irrelevancy where by-gone implements of “traditional worship” are concerned–as if stained glass, baptismal fonts, or ornate altars would have seekers running for the nearest exit.

01e17a856fac7ec16a0e90d5966fad4bBut we have visited a number of non-mainline churches that are doing some excellent and creative things with staging, lighting, and set design that go far beyond the mere pursuit of the trendy and cool, moving into metaphysical realms that can, in the best cases, lend meaning to the overall worship.  (The accompanying pic comes from First Baptist Church in Elgin, Ill., where my former Judson University Worship Arts student, Joshua Hoegh, is the Worship and Creative Arts Pastor.)  In an age where educators tell us more and more students learn best via a multitude of different learning styles, paying attention to elements of worship leadership that go beyond what we typically associate with (and ask of) the person with a guitar standing in the center of the platform (i.e., a more holistic understanding of worship that transcends band direction and song selection) just might increase the impact and effectiveness of our corporate worship.

Worship leaders, if utilizing aesthetics that promote sacred space isn’t a strong suit, I get it.  During my 30+ years of weekend-warrior worship-leading, I focused mostly on music, but in a couple of ministries I had lay folks who contributed considerably to our efforts to enhance our worship space.  Their efforts supported mine and facilitated a richer time of worship for all.  I would encourage any worship leaders for whom this isn’t a gift to seek out church members who could come alongside them in powerful ways.

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week: service length in contemporary worship.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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