Practicing Passionate Worship

February 11th, 2019
This article is featured in the The Future of Worship (Feb/Mar/Apr 2019) issue of Circuit Rider

Leaders who practice Passionate Worship strive for an open quality to every service, making it easy for people to participate and connect. They invite people to take the next steps in their spiritual journey. Everything says, “We’re glad you’re here. Come back. Learn more. We’ll help.”

Such leaders give worshippers multifaceted pathways to the truth of Christ. They use a mixture of complex and simple elements, a rhythm ranging from fast-paced and upbeat to reflective and quiet, and a tone that varies from winsome to respectful. Variation speaks both to heart and mind, and addresses those who prefer linear verbal progression as well as others who learn through images, metaphors, and stories. They address more than one or two of the five senses. Silence as well as song deepens unity. Visual focal points draw people’s attention toward a cross or communion table. The bread tastes good and smells freshly baked, flowers are fresh, and candles glow with real flames. In traditional sanctuaries, stained glass retells the stories of faith and the building’s architecture lifts the eyes and heart. In contemporary settings, well-lit screens show images carefully selected to supplement the purpose of the service and not to detract from it. Everything supports the message. Worship is approachable, accessible, and comprehensible...


“I am the vine,” Jesus said, and “you are the branches” (John 15:5). Worship connects the branches to the vine, keeps people connected to the source of life, and helps them grow in Christ. Worshippers who are absent feel that they have missed something, and they also feel missed. There’s a contagious quality to authentic, compelling worship. Just as in the early church, God adds to their number day by day because worshippers naturally invite those with whom they have other things in common, bearing witness to the spiritual sustenance they’ve found. Worship nourishes all other ministries, giving life, direction, and encouragement to the whole body of Christ. Everyone has a role in fostering Passionate Worship.

Imagine a faith community asking each ministry, class, study group, fellowship, choir, band, mission team, member, guest, and volunteer to do something extra “for the love of God” to strengthen community worship.

Imagine leaders reviewing the functionality and effectiveness of microphones, sound systems, and lighting, and looking through the chancel, sanctuary, foyer, and nursery to see that these places look fresh, inviting, clean, safe, and well-lit.

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Imagine a congregation-wide prayer ministry. The congregation might print seasonal devotional collections, soliciting volunteers to compose meditations, and distributing them so that everyone is reading and praying the same material at the same time.

Imagine women planning an overnight Lenten or Advent retreat at a hotel, guest house, or retreat center to focus on prayer or other spiritual disciplines.

Imagine people stepping forward to serve by using their technical experience to establish an excellent website, livestream capacities, email newsletters that follow up with thoughts on the previous week’s sermon and preparation guides for the week to come.

Imagine laity assuring that the pastor and staff have adequate time every week for spiritual preparation and worship planning. Imagine the faith community funds travel to workshops and seminars on worship and preaching.

Imagine ushers, greeters, nursery personnel, and other hosts meeting to pray and discuss how to deepen the hospitality so that it exceeds all expectations.

Perhaps no one effort would improve worship by 100 percent. But maybe a hundred things would improve by 1 percent, and the passionate love of God evidenced in these changes would renew congregational life.

Jesus mostly taught outside the synagogue and temple. He used spaces like hills and homes and shoresides. He found teaching opportunities in ordinary things like flowers, birds, and fields. He used simple examples drawn from people’s everyday lives.

Imagine your congregation boldly taking worship to other spaces. Church on a Trail is an outdoor worship experience of Berkeley United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. People meet in the parking lot of a nature area once a month before hiking into the woods to sing and share words of grace and encouragement before a time of prayer and contemplation. People stay for snacks and conversation, and return at their own pace, pondering a question given them by the pastor, Wilson Pruitt. The gathering reaches beyond the congregation by posting invitations on various hiking sites, and they use the Meetup social network to stay connected. Imagine the laity who could offer similar patterns of worship among people who share their hobbies and passions.

The responsibility for the quality of spiritual life in the congregation does not reside only with the pastor. Staff can’t do it on their own. What each person brings to worship shapes the experience for everyone. Passionate Worship begins with each individual.

One way to deepen the experience of worship is for each person to spiritually prepare before attending. Nothing reinforces the practice of community worship better than a vibrant personal devotional life. Many churches share scriptures and sermon topics on social media during the week so that people can prepare for worship. Other churches encourage people to take notes, or they provide a sermon outline so that people can rethink the key points at home after services.

Worship soars on the God-given gifts of people. All individuals must offer their best as they sing and serve to support authentic, excellent worship.

John Wesley, in his 1761 “Directions for Singing,” encouraged early Methodists to “sing lustily and with good courage. Be aware of singing as if you are half dead or half asleep, but lift your voice in strength. . . . Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature.”

In how we sing and pray, in how we greet others, in how we approach the sacraments, Passionate Worship reveals our love for God, our desire to open ourselves to God’s grace, and our eagerness for relationship to God.

People come to worship carrying many concerns. Some worry about a cousin serving in the military; others face financial struggles that tear at the fabric of family life. Some sense a disturbing lack of fulfillment in their careers, fear health challenges, or feel deeply affected by the immensity of a distant tragedy. Some face monumental decisions while others must constantly moderate conflict at home. Some are overwhelmed with gratitude, humbled by feelings of love, or seeking discernment before a major decision.

Every congregation, large and small, is a tapestry of hope and hurt, a collage of experience and anticipation, a patchwork quilt of gifts, needs, fears, and aspirations. People come to connect to God and one another as well as to feel restored, reminded, remembered, and refreshed. They wonder what God has to do with all that’s going on inside of them and in the world around them. Having a relationship with Christ changes their lives. In their searching, God finds them, heals them, sustains them, and forms them anew.

The motivation for enhancing the quality of worship and multiplying the opportunities for worship is about allowing God to use us and our congregations to offer a more abundant life for all. God works through us to change the world. Worship is God’s gift and task, a sacred trust that requires our utmost and highest.

Adapted from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations 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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