Potluck Worship

April 28th, 2011
Photo credit: tobyotter via flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

A colleague of mine recently forwarded an email about potlucks and banquets.  It was written by Dr. Ed Robinson, the president of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

Dr. Robinson asks us if our worshipping experiences are more like banquets or potlucks. And by that he means: do you come to worship and wait to be served, or do you bring something to the experience and try what is offered by others?  (You can read the full article here)

I think it is a fascinating metaphor for both our worshipping life and our experience as the church.  Is the church a place and a program that meets your needs or are you an active participant with something to contribute?  Are you being served or are you serving? Are you a person in a pew or a part of the body of Christ?

I happen to love food.  And I love potlucks even more.  I'm not sure that you can be a good Methodist without loving these two things!  So, it's probably obvious where I fall and where I encourage you to land in the choice between a banquet church and a potluck church. 

But how do we turn our churches into potlucks?  How do we encourage folks to bring something to the table? (or the sanctuary?)

First, I think we need to create opportunities in worship for folks to be active.  Participation in a responsive liturgy is not enough.  We need to ask people to get up, move around, think, respond, speak, and do things in worship. 

This can be scary for churches that are accustomed to stand-and-sit worship.  But what I have found is that people are hungry for the chance to be stimulated mentally, physically, and spiritually. 

In my own congregation, we have interactive worship every so often. It is never something that is forced upon folks; people can stay seated if they want to. What is important is that whatever we are doing directly is related to the message for the day. 

One of the first pieces of interactive worship we used related to the Lent 1 text from Genesis in cycle B.  As we remembered God's promise to Noah after the flood - we affirmed, as a congregation, that we are blessed by God.  We proclaimed that God desires not the death of a sinner, but that we all repent and live. We celebrated that God promises  to be, and has been, with us through the storms of our lives.

Our youth group prepared the canvases by painting them red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.  Then, following a brief mediation on the texts, I invited people to come and paint on these canvases signs of God's promises to us.  We remembered how God has shown us grace and mercy.  We wrote words of hope and life.

Those canvases still hang at the front of our sanctuary.

Second, worship needs to connect with the congregation on a deeply personal level.  It is not enough to simply preach a sermon that talks about the world around us - it needs to apply to what they are daily struggling with. 

I have borrowed and adapated resources from a number of different locations, but one of my favorite sites is creativeprayer.com.  One Sunday for worship, we talked about the sins in our own lives and used this idea for "confession with sand." All around the room we place two-gallon buckets filled with sand and handed each person a brown paper lunch sack.  As we wandered around the room, we read the questions above each bucket and if that sin applied to us, we put a scoop of sand in our bag. They got heavy.  It was a personal journey for each of us - and yet no one could see how much we were carrying.  It was between us and God. 

Near the end of worship, we took those heavy bags and we laid them before the cross.  It was one of the most powerful worship experiences we have had in our church, because the message hit you personally.  You carried the weight of your sin to the cross and left it there.  Literally.

Third, the voices of the congregation need to have a space to be heard in worship. You cannot participate if you are not allowed to speak, to sing, to respond, to question.

While we don't do this every Sunday (and sometimes I wonder, why not?), every so often our worship takes on a form of lectio divina.  We ask folks to reflect on the scriptures and to share with one another what they think. There are other days when I ask folks to respond with their own questions. Even hymn sings provide the opportunity for individuals to share their favorite music and why it is a meaningful selection from their own experience.

I have also realized that there are some people who will never speak up during church.  They don't feel comfortable in front of large groups.  I have attempted at various times to engage in "Roundtable Pulpit" sessions where a small group of folks help me to reflect on the text for the coming week.  Those questions and ideas are then woven into the sermon.  It provides an opportunity for voices other than my own to be heard and included.  I love the concept, I have just had a difficult time getting a diversity of people to show up for the weekly gatherings.

Just as we have fantastic cooks in our local congregations, so too do we have people who are gifted in word, song, dance, creativity, passion, experience, and dedication.  Just as we celebrate the good eats that come to the table when we feast together, so too should worship be a feast to God with all people offering of themselves together.

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