How it works, why it matters
Paul Bradshaw and Peter Moger (Editors)
Category: Worship & Liturgy
This is a book that demands attention: its bold, assertive title challenges whilst the single, focused flame on the cover whispers devotion. Inside, its magazine-style format continues the drama, with full colour graphics and short blocks of text combining to convey a sense of mystery, awe and wonder. Or, I wonder... I found myself wanting to rephrase the title and subtitle, to turn them around, to change them into questions: Can worship change lives? How does it work? Does it matter — and if so, why?
Turning to the back cover, I found these questions posed: What is worship? How does it work? Why does it matter? Does it change anything? My questions, anticipated. But still, I wondered: why not ask the questions in the title?
After the contents list on page 1, we're greeted by another bold proclamation:
Worship connects with the God who, through Jesus, transforms us and the world. (p.2)
To which I reply, "Really? Why then do so many worshippers of this God seem to be such self-righteous prigs who want nothing more than to condemn everyone who disagrees with them to everlasting hellfire?"
It's an angry response, I admit, and even as I make it I am rebuked: a story of specks and planks comes to mind. Yet my question remains: where is this transformative process, for my own life, let alone those of others? This transformative connection, then, is what worship should be. That bold proclamation, even as it annoys me, forces me to step back, to reflect, to reconsider. The fact that worship frequently isn't transformative is perhaps more down to... what? I was going to say, a failure on our part to realise the connection... but I'm not sure about that. Must we blame ourselves, tangling ourselves in a morass of guilt? Do we blame the radio when the signal breaks up? Sometimes, I guess, we do...
We've gone digital with our TV. Lots more channels, but we've noticed that the signal breaks up when there are people wandering around outside. We've also got wireless internet, and we've noticed that the connection is intermittent at times... usually when we've put a clothes airer between the wireless transmitter and the computer. Move the airer, and the signal's back to full strength & stability. Odd: a clothes airer with internet access...
What am I trying to say here? Only that sometimes, I guess, the reason worship doesn't offer the transformative connection it's supposed to is because there's something in the way. Sometimes that's our own doing; other times, well, who knows?
But I do think that taking time out to tune in is worth the effort, and this book — forcing me to ask questions just by its cover and its opening pages — will help you to do just that: to explore the questions of what worship is, why we do it and how we can make it a better all-round experience for all concerned — for regular members of our congregations, for guests and visitors, and, I dare to hope, for God.
The book has four sections: Basics, Belonging, Becoming and Believing. Following the sections through we move, step by step, a little deeper into the Christian worship experience. The sequence is, I think, important: believing comes last, as it did for Jesus' first disciples. Meeting Jesus touched something basic, at the core of their being: they knew, somehow, that they belonged with him; they became his disciples as they shared something of his hopes and dreams; and so they believed, and worshipped. Or perhaps I'm reading too much into that sequence?
Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas put forward, at only £4.99, with discounts available on multiple copies (see the Transforming Worship website for details and an order form), this is an ideal book for any group wanting to review their approach to worship. There's plenty to stimulate discussion along with plenty of valuable insights drawn together from a variety of sources: enough to challenge without overwhelming. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Phil Groom, March 2008
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.Church House Publishing | Order from www.christianbookshops.org