The practice of passionate worship

September 18th, 2018

Why use passionate to describe the practices of fruitful churches?

Without passion, worship becomes dry, routine, boring, and predictable, keeping the form while lacking the spirit. Insufficient planning by leaders, apathy of worshippers, poor quality music, and unkempt facilities contribute to an experience that people approach with a sense of obligation rather than joy. Worship loses its passion. Interpersonal conflict can also threaten the worship life of community, with participants and leaders distracted and exhausted by antagonism. Some services feel inauthentic or self-indulgent as leaders push themselves into the center of attention. Or services can seem as somber as a funeral, when people attend out of obligation, respect, or genuine affection, but privately they wish they were somewhere else. Services sometimes include so many announcements, jokes, digressions, and stories that have nothing to do with the theme, that it feels like a loosely planned, poorly led public meeting. Even with worship in homes, dinner churches, or with online communities, conversation can degenerate into complaining or rumor-mongering. Worship may be the first contact the unchurched have with a faith community, and yet guests may not find genuine warmth or a compelling message. When this happens, people come and go without receiving God.

Worship should express our devotion, our honor and love of God. Passionate describes an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance. Passionate speaks of an emotional connection that goes beyond intellectual consent.

Passionate Worship fosters a yearning to authentically honor God with excellence and with an unusual clarity about connecting people to God. Whether fifteen hundred people attend, or fifteen, Passionate Worship is alive, authentic, fresh, and engaging. People are honest before God and open to God’s presence, truth, and will. People so desire such worship that they reorder their lives to belong. The empty places in their souls are filled. They experience a compelling sense of belonging to the body of Christ.

"Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Revised and Updated" (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here: http://bit.ly/2IKi7IC

In spiritually alive communities, there’s a palpable air of expectancy as people gather, a vibrant curiosity about how God’s presence will become known. Musicians, readers, greeters, and other hosts arrive early, and with care and eagerness they prepare together, encouraging one another. They genuinely delight in one another’s presence, and they give attention to the smallest of details. The gathering, even when it includes many guests, never feels like a crowd of strangers. There’s a unifying anticipation, a gracious and welcoming character to the way people speak, act and prepare. Clearly, the leaders and worshippers expect something significant to take place, and they’re eager to be part of it. They expect God to be present and to speak to them a word of forgiveness, hope, or direction. Singing together, joining in prayer, listening to the Word, confessing sins, celebrating the sacraments—through these simple acts, they intermingle their lives with one another and with God. Worship is compelling. It permeates the air.

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Passionate Worship can be highly formal, with robes, acolytes, stained glass, organ music, orchestral accompaniment, and hardwood pews with hymnals on the rack in front. Or Passionate Worship can take place in an auditorium, gym, public park, or storefront, with casually dressed leaders, videos projected on screens, folding chairs, and the supporting beat of percussion, keyboard, and bass guitar. Authentic, compelling worship derives from the experience of God’s presence, the desire of worshippers for God’s word, and the changed heart that people deliberately seek when they gather in the presence of other Christians. An hour of Passionate Worship changes all the other hours of the week.

The regular practice of worship gives people an interpretive lens, helping them see the world through God’s eyes. Among the many competing interpretive contexts in which people are immersed—fierce individualism, acquisitive consumerism, intense nationalism, political partisanship, hopeless negativism, naïve optimism—worship helps people perceive themselves, their world, their relationships, and their responsibilities in ways that include God’s revelation in Christ. The language of the Spirit—love, grace, joy, hope, forgiveness, compassion, justice, community—provides the means to express interior experience and relational aspirations. Stories of faith—scripture, parable, testimony—deepen perception and meaning. The practices of worship—singing, praying, the sacraments—rehearse connection to God and to others. People look at the world in a different way and rehearse their unique calling as people of God and their identity as the body of Christ. Worship changes the way people experience their whole lives.


Excerpted from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Revised and Updated by Robert Schnase. Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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