A True Story
The youth group had just returned from a week-long mission trip to a large, urban center. While there, they learned a rap-style worship song that beautifully embodied the soul of their week together. Still buzzing with the energy of their trip the Sunday morning after they returned home, they sang that rap-song for the congregation with lively, pre-recorded accompaniment, and then shared a couple epitomizing stories from their week.
After the service, elderly John Wellstone cornered the youth leader Amy and blurted out, “I have to tell you I didn’t like that rap song at all. I wasn’t able to worship with it. But frankly, I don’t care; just seeing those kids so beautifully blessed by that song was more than enough of a blessing for me. Thank you for taking the group on that trip and investing so much of yourself in them.”
After someone told me that (true) story, I had to pray, “thank you Lord, for John, who has learned the spiritual discipline of being blessed by the blessings that others receive in worship.”
A Spiritual Discipline
I wonder if that spiritual discipline is one of the most important ones that we as worshiping communities need to cultivate today. One of the (many) unintended consequences of social media is that we are more inclined to identify ourselves with sub-communities of folks who are like us. This tendency is exacerbated by political polarizations which sharpen us-them divides. When these tendencies are allowed to grow unchecked, they lead to communities that are insular, inhospitable, and judgmental.
But the gospel of Jesus breaks down all those tendencies, and worship provides many opportunities for us to embody such hospitality. I’m reminded of Paul’s powerful exhortation to the Philippian church: “Consider others more important than yourselves - Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2: 3-4).
An Intentional Cultivation
How might we encourage such a John Wellstone attitude to flourish through our worship?
Imagine if a group of middle school girls were taken to the seniors home, and, in pairs, interviewed the residents there who belong to their congregation. Imagine they asked “what is your favorite hymn and why?” Imagine Mrs. Borman saying to them, “Four years ago when my Frank passed away, we sang “Beautiful Savior” at his memorial service, and there were so many lines in that hymn that reminded me of our deepest times together during our 62 year marriage.” Imagine that two weeks later the two girls introduce that hymn during Sunday worship, and very briefly summarize Mrs. Borman’s comment. Imagine Mrs. Borman watching a DVD of the service two days later. Can you picture all the different ways in which the discipline of being blessed by the blessings received by others is woven through this process?
I once belonged to a congregation which practiced the sharing of “life Psalms” during its worship. Folks of all ages could volunteer or “be volunteered” to read a Psalm and very briefly (3 minute maximum) describe why this Psalm was significant for their faith journey. I’ll never forget the professor who read Psalm 13 and tied it to his lifelong struggle with depression. He concluded by sharing how the Psalm’s hopeful conclusion carried him through many dark nights. The sanctuary was so quiet as he spoke that it seemed like everyone was blessed in glimpsing the blessings he received from this short but powerful Psalm.
How does your congregation intentionally cultivate the discipline of being blessed by the blessings received by others?
One answer to Syd Hielema’s final question is testimonies, or more simply the sharing of stories. Here are two additional resources to consider:
“The Contagious Power of Testimonials” Reformed Worship Blog post, October 2015, John D. Witvliet
Faith Storytelling Toolkit prepared by Faith Formation Ministries of the CRCNA