One Worship Design: Variety, Spontaneity, Familiarity

Planning and preparing worship on a weekly basis can begin to weigh a person down after a while, especially if there is more than one type of service, or services of differing styles. We can only include so many songs, dramas, Scripture readings, prayers, and other elements before there begins to be repetition. Our congregations can only learn a certain number of new songs, yet we don’t want songs repeated too often either. We don’t want to wear people out with too much of the new, or bore them with too much of the familiar.

As worship leaders and planners we will always struggle with that balance, but I’ve found that when we allow people to be comfortable with songs and elements they like and are familiar with, they will be more apt to allow for some newness and variety as we try new things. This certainly speaks to the issue of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship discussions, yet many churches have made the grave mistake of eliminating the familiar and opting for what they think is more “hip” and contemporary. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it damages the ministry and leads to all sorts of problems such as people leaving for other churches.

Worship should be a means of unity, not one of disunity.  Corporate worship is the culmination of the gathered Body of Christ that has already been worshiping daily as each Christian has served God by serving others (i.e., the life of worship). The corporate gathering becomes the opportunity to raise a unified voice of thanksgiving and praise to God Who has worked in their midst. It is the response of God’s people to His salvation and sanctifying activity in their lives. All of this takes place in the fullness of the horizontal and vertical aspects of corporate worship that are evident in a study of biblical norms.

I think a balanced approach is, more often than not, a positive experience for a congregation. We can stretch their understanding and experience of worship when we allow them the comfort of what they already know and understand. There must be a balance of variety and familiarity.

Worship leading is, after all, about leading. Sometimes a congregation must be led through songs and worship styles that are well-known. They are comfortable. At other times, they must be led through songs and worship styles that are not-so-comfortable. The songs are new, the music style is different, and drama or other creative material is inserted into the worship experience. This will stretch people and help broaden their faith.

The Key is balance. No one wants to be uncomfortable all the time. And, no one should be left comfortable all the time. The worship leader can only strike this balance by understanding the context within which he or she is ministering. Get to know the people in the congregation. Listen to them and take their advice. Lead them and help them grow.  As leaders it is our responsibility to both bring them comfort (in the familiar or comfortable), and to challenge them to new spiritual understanding (in the unfamiliar or uncomfortable).  As we serve them in love we can gradually demonstrate the vitality that can come in our worship through a balance of the two.

“Corporate” worship is specifically that time in which the church, as Christ’s body, gathers to recognize God’s work in our lives as believers. We gather because God is a relational God, and we are His relational people. We gather as feet, hands, ears, and eyes because Christ’s body is not complete otherwise. We gather to hear from Him, through His word, and respond to His love, grace, and mercy poured out into our lives.  We do this in a celebrative community, which can be offered in the familiar strains of a favorite song, or the spontaneity of something newly penned.

In corporate worship, not only do we come to celebrate personal victories and gain support and prayer for personal struggle (as though corporate worship flows from our personal lives), but we also gain perspective from the larger body as to why we are called to live as we do, serving the way we do (as though our personal worship flows from the corporate identity). These two realms of worship are symbiotic. They exist together and flow from one another, and feed each other.

First Corinthians 12 is a beautiful description of the diversified body worshiping and serving as one body. When we serve faithfully with our gifts, doing our part as God has given us to do, we come alongside others doing the same. We come together in a unified body, living our lives in a personal life-style of worship, to pursue a corporate life of worship. The church (the Body of Christ) is vital to give our individual lives perspective in the larger plan of God in the world.

It is within this context of the Body of Christ in which we can best understand the value of the familiar and the new. There are many reasons that the older couple in the pew have remained through all the trials and joys of the local body. The comfort and familiarity of hymnody and traditional prayer, among many other things, has given them a staying power in their relationship with Christ – and with the body found in their church.  Similarly, there is some wisdom in giving new expressions a place in our body and its worship, for each generation must find their own voice in their commitment to the Lord.

As we learn to unify around our diversity, we will find a joy and vitality to our faith that was previously unknown. Clearly, God desires unity, yet not by crowding out the variety and spontaneity that He Himself placed within them.  As their Creator, He has made them creative!


(Original Post on August 13, 2013 at the Worldview Church:


Posted on April 7, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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