iMonk has a series on various aspects of Evangelical life. This is just the beginning of iMonk’s post on congregational worship. This is probably the best analysis of this subject I have read. Of course, Evangelicals have differences among themselves on this subject, but this will expand your understanding of Evangelicals, even if you differ with some of iMonk’s definitions. Liturgical church members will have a different set of priorities. Contrast and compare your understandings of worship with his. You can access these writings in his CHURCH category at his blog listed in the blogroll. One of the fun things on his blog site are the comments (mostly from Evangelicals of different backgrounds). There are also the comments from Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, etc.
I’ve been thinking about this post quite a bit, and for the life of me I really can’t think of much to say than some of the obvious.
The evangelical worship service is the worship of the people of God. God acts, speaks invites and offers. God’s people respond in worship, service, ministry and mission. This is the character and content of worship as a gathered event and as a continuing influence. To make the evangelical worship service anything else is to misrepresent worship.
The congregation represents the human and cultural spectrum in which the church exists. To create a congregation that distorts the natural human and cultural context may provide an effective matrix for growth or other activities, but will have serious consequences for many aspects of church life where multi-generational and natural contexts are important. (A congregation of twenty-something skateboarders only is certainly possible, but will have issues regarding leadership and mission beyond that age and culture.)
The congregation is not an audience. They are not consumers. They are not a market. A congregation is a gathering of God’s people, and their participation is defined by that identity and not any other. If a gathering is treated as anything other than a congregation of God’s people, it is difficult to call what happens a worship service. It may be a legitimate gathering for outreach, entertainment or communication, but it is not a gathering of the church. (I am completely comfortable with gatherings that are not intended to be the worship of the gathered church, but we should be honest about the congregation’s role.)
Every opportunity for participation by the congregation should be utilized. Singing. Praying. Responsive reading. Active listening. Adding the Amen. Ministering to one another. Serving and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Reading/listening the proclamation of the Word.
The design of worship should be with the congregation’s worshiping response to God as the foremost human goal. The congregation should not be rendered passive or irrelevant.
Much that is done in evangelical worship treats the congregation with less than the respect due the people of God. Leaders are not celebrities to be adored. Responses that are human responses to human actions are of little interest in worship, but congregational responses to God are of great value.
It is the congregation that is the great worshiping instrument in the evangelical liturgy. Leaders are worship prompters by reminding the congregation of God and the Gospel. God the Spirit is present in the Gospel and the sacraments. The response of the congregation to God- and nothing else- defines the purpose of a gathering of the people of God for worship.
There are, therefore, occasions where boundaries to “congregation” may be necessary. Various Christian traditions will approach these boundaries differently. If membership in a congregation exceeds union with Christ or participation in the Kingdom, there may be excessive emphasis on boundaries. But without boundaries, the idea of the people of God will sometimes be nonsensical.
More on this topic at iMonk