An interesting conversation yeserday, but one I seem to have had many times in the last decade, about the fact that many Baptists lack any sense of what they are doing when they create an act of worship. Songs and hymns are picked because they are well-known, well-liked and often upbeat. Prayers are not just extempore they are extremely awful (OK, I'm a Pharisee a la Luke 18) and shoved in wily nily without thought to why they are where they are. Scripture reading is minimal and sometimes not even alluded to in the sermon. There is no 'journey' no 'call and response'. Intercession, if present, is little more than 'me, myself and I'.
Most of the Baptists I know who read this share the same frustration that so many of our churches have lost their way in creating worship, so that it becomes, in extremis, high tech, high energy, very creative, Christian entertainment. There are quite a lot of us (or at least it seems that way to me) who bang on a lot about the need for 'better' - for acts of worship that take people on a 'journey' that lead them through different feelings and thoughts, that expect our encounter with God to lead us to do something.
Back in the days when I was a student, the text we used was Susan White's Groundwork of Christian Worship. Nowadays, there is an excellent Baptist authored book by Chris Ellis, Approaching God, which was reviwed by Andy Goodliff who also interviewed the author a couple of years ago. The collection of worship material produced by BUGB, Gathering for Worship, has some guidelines on what worship is too, as well as a CD ROM so you can quickly copy parts for use in church.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about worship, it is easy to confuse 'what I like' with 'what is authentic'. The other week we made bread during the service. Of itself, that could have just been a gimic, it could have been a meaningless attempt at something creative. It was only because the same bread was used in communion, only because our intercessions included prayer for people who are hungry, only because we gave thought to metaphors and symbolism of bread that it became authentic.
I think it is fine to be a bit experimental in worship, to try out new things, to push a few boundaries now and then. It is even OK to fail. But in order for it to be worship, and for the congregation to feel safe enough to take risks, it needs to be carefully crafted and skillfully managed. Gathering, praising, confessing, listening, responding, scattering - simple elements, stages on a journey of worship. Get the basics right and freedom and creativity will follow.
In many larger churches - and even some not so large - more and more of the service is led by people who aren't the minister, aren't the preacher... people who have had zero training in what it means to create or lead worship. They cannot be blamed for not knowing or understanding - but those of us who do know have a responsibility to educate them, and to work with them, so that our worship becomes richer and more meaningful. Thankfully God's Spirit is not constrained by our stumbling and fumbling, but it does seem as if we might try a bit harder to keep in step with her as she dances the dance of worship...