Diagnosis: Worship

April 9th, 2012

Have you ever left a worship team meeting exhausted? feeling like you got nowhere? wondering if anything will ever happen to get certain people to cross “party lines”? Whether people are of differing generations or theological backgrounds, there are always disagreements about how to worship. If this feels like your church, the following exercise, “Diagnosis: Worship,” may help your worship team get to the bottom of the matters that keep them stagnant. This metaphorical device is one that I have found helpful.

  1. Patient history: A doctor would never prescribe or diagnose without knowing something of the patient’s medical history. Often our worship conflicts have roots in unresolved grief or old, unfinished issues. For example, we are a church with older charter members which has an influx of new members moving into a growing neighborhood.
  2. Symptoms and the "dis-ease" these symptoms point to: Simply trying to “fix” a symptom without diagnosing the underlying problem is like putting a bandage on an infected wound. There may be an unspoken or even unconscious fear or misunderstanding behind a symptom. For example, the “symptom” of dis-ease could be a squabble over using different kinds of candles other than the brass candlesticks given “in memory of” Aunt Betty at the time of the start of the church. This squabble is not just about someone acting “inflexible.” The disease itself is probably an underlying (and justified) fear that the past is being forgotten, that memories of the church and the contributions of its founding members are slipping away. Additionally, we have forgotten that the symbol (the light) is ultimately to remind us of Christ, not just Aunt Betty or not just to use “cool stuff.” This points to problems with the understanding of symbolism. The theology of “stuff” (as I call it) is lacking depth.
  3. Emergency procedures: Recognizing what the symptoms point to is the first step to resolving the conflict. What else must be done immediately in order to begin to heal? In our example, the worship team could prepare a service of remembrance and celebration where the stories of the beginnings of the church are handed down to the new “generation” (including how Aunt Betty herself was the light of Christ to many people). All Saints Sunday is a great time for this. Make a tradition of getting out all of the memorial gifts as well as pictures and stories for display that day. Putting Aunt Betty’s candlesticks in the closet for a while will then be less traumatic and you can begin to use a diversity of materials for the symbol of the light of Christ in our midst. Additionally, education about why we use candles and the theological grounding for it will help us as a congregation to grow in our ability to worship God.
  4. Preventive medicine: Once we have come to an understanding about the root of the problem, what can we do to make sure the symptoms don’t reoccur? For example, use a great variety of worship settings on the table for different seasons so that we don’t have an “either/or” situation.
  5. Nutritional information/balanced diet: Our tendency in change is to overdo it. Change happens slowly and the balance of old and new is needed in the first stages of a new way of doing things. For example, don’t wait an entire year to bring the brass candlesticks back out for a Sunday or season.
  6. Sense of well-being: The beauty of dealing with “dis-eases” in a healthy way is that we open the conversation to look at other aspects of our worship. How healthy and balanced are we in other areas? Can we use our successes to raise other issues (lovingly)? For example, perhaps talking about why we had conflict about the candles will help us talk about reasons why we experience tension with regard to certain music, texts, and actions (is the dis-ease nostalgia, unfamiliarity, fear?).

Many of us don’t talk very much in our worship teams about the “health” of our worship practices, our understanding of those practices, and our relationship to each other. But any conflict can be seen as creating “dis-ease” among us. Instead of staying focused on the symptoms, do a thorough checkup to see what kind of remedy can be proposed (and don’t forget, there is always more than one way to treat a disease).


This article is adapted from The Worship Workshop by Marcia McFee, © 2002 by Abingdon Press. This title is included with a subscription to Ministry Matters.

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