The Holy Work of Worship
Forming disciples is a natural part
By Carrie Madren
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' last command to his disciples is to "go and make disciples of all nations." Two millennia later, the church is still fulfilling the Great Commission through training, offering experiences and instruction and financially supporting modern-day disciples. It is also lived out during worship.
|Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas offers several styles of worship each week, including Cornerstone, a family-friendly, high-energy praise and worship service.|
|COURTESY HIGHLAND PARK UMC|
Worship's first purpose is to glorify God, but it also plays a primary role in forming and nurturing disciples.
Disciple-forming worship experiences often contain language encouraging participants to take action and deepen their faith. The Rev. Jeff Hall, associate minister and director of adult ministries at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, doesn't dismiss worshipers from a service, but sends them into the world to practice their faith. He makes a point always to include a note about going forth to be Jesus' disciples in the benediction.
Through sermons, liturgy, prayers and music, Hall says, "Worship is the primary place in which disciple-making happens." Supplementing it is the learning that goes on in Sunday school and small groups, mission and outreach experiences, youth group and other ministries.
"If I have excited you and inspired you to think more deeply about being a disciple, it's up to you to seek a Bible study or small group to explore more deeply what that means," explains the Rev. Safiyah Fosua, director of Transformational Preaching Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship. "It starts in worship and flows out to other ministries of the church."
Practice for the real world
Many worship rituals — giving offerings, passing the peace, greeting each other — are practices that prepare disciples to go out into the world, says the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, discipleship's director of worship resources. "What matters is not do we pray well, but do we live well what we pray."
|Young singers and dancers were among the worship leaders when St. Mark United Methodist Church in Sumter, S.C., dedicated its new worship center.|
COURTESY TELLEY GADSON|
James K. A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom [Baker Books] makes the point that humans "are fundamentally ‘desiring' animals," Burton-Edwards says. "The role of worship and ritual is to shape our desires [in the case of faith] toward our Triune God," he explains. "When one is discipled by a master, that is a process of having desires shaped to be like the master's."
Doing rather than explaining gives worship the potential for deep formation, he continues. "In worship, we're not just hearing, we're being the body of Christ before God." Ritual allows worshipers to embody and emote their faith together, "and what we learn in worship is an etiquette of grace: we learn what it is to hear the word of God together. We all hear different things but are listening to the same word."
At St. Mark United Methodist Church in Sumter, S.C., the Rev. Telley Gadson, pastor there for 12 years, seeks to incorporate disciple formation in a way that empowers people and helps them to see Jesus.
"Our best opportunity to be the church happens on Sunday morning," Gadson says. "One of the things that has taken us from 35 to 200 has been doing worship well — we plan some parts, but we understand that the free movement of the Spirit is the hallmark of our worship experience." She believes their worship experiences draw people to ministry programs the other six days of the week.
Most services at St. Mark last from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., but worshipers are often so engaged that they don't notice the length, she says. "That's what worship does for us: it's engaging, it's empowering and it's life-transforming."
|The Rev. Walt Marcum leads Kerygma: A Teaching Service at Highland Park United Methodist Church. In-depth exploration of the scriptures replaces the traditional sermon.|
|COURTESY HIGHLAND PARK UMC|
A coordinated, unified, scriptural theme is key to a service that seeks to makes disciples, Fosua says. With a theme, "the sermon, liturgy and songs all work together for one transformational purpose." Those elements can work together in any style of service — from traditional to contemporary – and in any size of church. A unified worship experience takes advanced, communal planning, but pays off in worshipers' understanding and grasping of the message.
"Even if someone didn't get the point in the sermon," she explains, "they may have heard it in the song, or they take their bulletins home and maybe reinforce it with prayer."
Also, to better form disciples, sermons must be local, Fosua believes. "The best sermons are ones that are contextual: the people, the times, the economic climate ... the best sermon is found between the biblical text and community text.
"I don't need to tell you something interesting about the Bible, I need to tell you what to do with it. Worship and sermons are important parts of being transformed."
Music, whether contemporary or traditional, has the same potential to shape a person.
"Singing in worship not only forms you to the core and [influences] what actions you take and how you live your life, it also teaches you," says Dean McIntyre, discipleship's director of music resources.
"Hymns like ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God' teach us who we are as a people of faith and a congregation as we sing and internalize them," McIntyre continues.
"We may not remember the sermon, the offertory prayer or the words of institution for Holy Communion, but we will remember, until the day we die, the words of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,' and we'll sing ‘How Great Thou Art' on our deathbed."
Music is internalized and connects worshipers to each other and to God. He recalls visiting a man in his 90s who couldn't speak and often had his eyes closed, but when McIntyre and his five-year-old daughter visited and sang a hymn for him, the man would sing along.
"Even when we're totally out of our minds, we're still connected through singing," McIntyre says. "Music has such a deep and abiding impact on who we are, what we believe and what we do with our lives — that's how music is an important factor in the shaping and forming of a Christian ... their character, their beliefs."
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Olney, Md.
RELATED ARTICLES AND RESOURCES
Ancient traditions still influence Easter, http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=9355529
United Methodist Worship (blog), http://umcworship.blogspot.com/
General Board of Discipleship worship section www.gbod.org/worship