rediscovering

Rediscovering Worship’s Role in Church Life

Discipleship takes place through dozens of different faith practices. Might the increased isolation due to COVID be calling us to build capacity for significant conversations and quiet times through which we encourage one another and ourselves as we die and rise in Christ together?

A few years ago I published a piece in Reformed Worship which declared that worship is the “quarterback” of discipleship and faith formation in congregational life. At the time I’d been leading worship for 35 years, and I believed that my experience validated that claim. Every congregation participates in a variety of discipleship programs and practices, and I suggested that these are coordinated and led by a congregation’s worship practices.

I cannot write that piece again today. COVID-19 has proved it to be false.

Writer and visionary Alan Hirsch describes this change in worship’s role using the form of a parable based on his father teaching him to play chess. (What follows is paraphrased from a Hirsch interview.)

“My father said, ‘If you really want to learn to play chess, Alan, take your queen out first. Then your opponent will keep the queen. He’s going to cream you for a long, long time. But you’re going to learn what all the other elements of the chess table can do, and then you put your queen back in.’ And at that point, you’ve actually learned to become a champion without over-relying on a singular function. For highly reformed folk it’s a sermon, or for most evangelical churches, it’s the musical elements of worship. That’s their queen, and they have over-relied on it, and now the queen’s taken out. They don’t know what the other pieces in the equation can do. And I think that’s a working parable for us” (see www.vantagepoint3.org for the full interview).

Discipleship—becoming more like Jesus in order to bless the world God so loved—takes place through dozens of different faith practices. Social isolation had already been growing through the use of social media, but is now greatly exacerbated by COVID restrictions. Might this increased isolation be calling us to build capacity for significant conversations and quiet times through which we encourage one another and ourselves as we die and rise in Christ together?

A church planter friend told me his leadership team is practicing “decentralized discipleship,” providing opportunities for folks to bless each other in small “huddles” on back porches (or ZOOM). He now sees Sunday worship as a time to strengthen the opportunities for such decentralized discipleship.

Almost everyone I know laments (but accepts) the state of COVID-restricted worship. I ask them how they are compensating, and here’s a sampling of replies:

Small prayer groups, checking in with others by phone, being blessed by God’s presence in nature, listening to music at home, silence, finding ways to serve those most hurt by COVID, actively pursuing racial justice, listening to podcasts, and more.

In other words, they are learning to play chess without the queen (or, more accurately, a limited queen). It’s not fun, but perhaps it’s an opportunity to grow toward greater and deeper faithfulness.

Digging Deeper