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An Emerging Practical Ecclesiology: Worship

A final aspect of the Emerging Church Movement’s (ECM) practical ecclesiology is worship. What is ECM’s proposal for worship in the postmodern era?

For many within the Emerging Church Movement, the large mega-church worship gathering is the epitome of the modern, market driven church. Dan Kimball summarizes,

If the church has become the place instead of the people on a mission, leaders only naturally start focusing their efforts on what people experience when they come to the place on Sundays. In recent years, we have even added the words excellence and relevance to our value statements for church. In doing so, we naturally began spending more time focusing on the quality of the music, sound system, and bulletins. As the church grows, the pressure to continue this focus increases and the problem escalates…As we create a culture in which people come to church, people generally are content to remain spectators.

As a result the modern evangelical, especially seeker-sensitive, church embraces several values: “worship “services” in which preaching, music, programs, etc. are served to the attender…services designed to reach those who have had bad or boring experiences in the church…services designed to be user-friendly and contemporary…crosses and other symbols removed from meeting place to avoid looking too “religious”…uses modern technology to communicate with a contemporary flare…(and) services designed to grow to accommodate the many people of the church.” Although Kimball acknowledges that modern worship services “neither are right or wrong. They are simply different values for different mindsets,” it is clear that he and others within ECM view modern worship as something that is holding the church back from ministering in the postmodern era. Kimball concludes, “the changes in our culture are influencing emerging generations to crave a raw and vintage approach to Christianity and church. Therefore, contemporary seeker-sensitive methodology goes against what connects with them most deeply.”

ECM has reacted to modern worship in a variety of ways. Gibbs and Bolger note the several congregations who have attempted to maintain a church with no corporate gathering. “These moves toward meetingless church illustrate some of the radical questioning regarding the nature of church.” However, over time, Gibbs and Bolger report that many of these churches realize the importance of a corporate gathering. But those churches who have maintained a corporate gathering have attempted to redefine what such a gathering looks and feels like.

In worship, Gibbs and Bolger claim ECM “looks to communicate the gospel in language that both they and their hearers understand in the context of a world they both sha Contrary to the sermon-centered worship gathering of the modern church, ECM believes “God communicated in a multisensory way and received multisensory worship. In the emerging church, we must revisit a holistic multisensory approach to worship, an approach which is biblical.” To accomplish this, Kimball proposes several aspects that differentiate it from the modern church. First, the gathering will be nonlinear. That is, the service might be designed around a theme of Scripture and this one theme comes through in music, art, message, and any number of other elements, rather than the sermon being the focal point of the service. Second, the gathering will be multisensory. Rather than focusing merely on cognition by listening to a message, the gathering should include seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Third, the gathering will include members of all generations. Finally, the gathering will be experiential. Church should not be a “spectator sport,” but everyone should have an opportunity to participate. Such a service would communicate to the postmodern values that are post-rationalistic, post-individualistic, and post-dualistic.

So what do I think of ECM’s proposal for corporate worship? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. I admit that the idea of not having a corporate worship service scares me a little and, as noted above, many of these churches do not survive without one (but I also realize that I’m a little modern and a little old-fashioned). However, the house church movement is becoming very popular in ECM and missional churches. This seems to be a very good, and often successful, alternative. I’ve never participated in a house church, but I see the value. My in-law’s church (Xenos Christian Fellowship) began in this manner and, although they’ve added a corporate teaching service, it remains the essential component to how they do church.
  2. I appreciate ECM’s concern for being multi-generational (something we have at GLBC) and multi-sensory. They rightfully acknowledge that not all worship occurs through cognitive teaching and we can use many other avenues to communicate God’s truth.
  3. At the end of the day, most of ECM’s worship proposals are merely another attempt to be trendy and end up catering to a consumeristic midset (“I’ll go to that postmodern church because they have the best multi-sensory worship!!”). I really don’t think this proposal has advanced the church much. In fact, with the missional church movement’s regular criticism of “attractional” ministry and an attempt to be more “incarnational,” I’m surprised ECM spends so much time on the corporate worship service. Maybe they are a little more modern than they’d like to admit!

In my next post, I’ll provide some concluding thoughts on ECM’s practical ecclesiology.

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