I prepared myself for the big question and took another bite of my burger. (Church people eat out a lot.)
“Would you characterize your vision for worship as celebratory…or….reflective?”
The question caught me off guard. I had a pretty good idea what he was talking about, but I was surprised by the either/or aspect he was suggesting. I remember thinking that corporate worship should be both.
A worship leader friend recently mentioned a similar interaction with a pastor and it brought to mind that awkward lunch I had years ago. We throw lots of words around in church culture without knowing what they actually mean and “celebratory” tends to be one of those.
I’m not a linguist and I highly doubt you’ll keep reading if I try to tell you the origins of a word. However, “celebratory” is often connected to religious gatherings. Jump over to a dictionary app and you’ll see that a religious ceremony is referenced in the word’s definition. The actual definition is pretty clear. So what do pastors really mean when they want more celebratory worship?
“Celebratory” worship isn’t about volume, tempo or musical style. It’s about creating a balance between declaration and response.
RESPONSE is built on a theme of adoration. These songs and service elements are reactions to God’s love and provision. (i.e. God-you-did-this and it-changed-this and I’m-so-grateful and love-you-with-my-whole-heart) Response songs and prayers are personal and, dare I say it, emotional. Consider them to be “thank you” moments. Response is individualistic…it’s personal. This aspect of worship is valid, but not complete.
DECLARATION is built on the theme of corporate proclamation. It’s not I-love-God-because but rather hey-everybody-listen-to-these-attributes-of-God. Declaration extols God and His acts. It’s a corporate act; something that we engage as a body of believers.
When ministers start talking about celebratory worship, they are very often feeling a lack of declaration in the services. In many of these cases, worship leaders have been stacking five or six response songs in a row every single week. Not only does this present an unbalanced approach to the worship of God, it also risks alienating those who are new to faith – or even seeking – who may not respond to the more emotional, I-love-you response moments.
Let’s get practical. What do you do if your sets don’t have the declaration/celebratory aspect?
1. MORE “WE”
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but most every “I” element in worship is responsive. Build some more corporate, “we” connotations into your sets. Look for songs that call the whole body of Christ to extol His praises. You’ll get plenty of “I” from your responsive stuff. Focus on the we-declarative!
2. THIRD PERSON
“Don’t sing about God / sing to Him” was the cry of the modern worship music during what’s known affectionately as The Worship Wars. But they were wrong. We should sing about God. We should speak of Him in the third person and make room for those sort of declarations in our services.
3. CELEBRATE SERIOUSLY
A lot of worship leaders carry an unhealthy and unrealistic burden that they’ve got to drag people into the Holy Place in a 4-song, 25-minute set and work to ensure that every element of the service is serious. That’s good. It should be serious. It should also be joyous. Make sure you haven’t been equating sobriety with spiritual maturity. If you’re serious about celebrating, then celebrate with all you have! And smile, too.
If you’ve been having tough conversations (like this one) with your pastor, and you need somebody to talk to, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. This job is hard and you need people you can confide it. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter and Facebook if you need to reach out.