Transforming the Worshipping Church
Sam and Sara Hargreaves, co-authors of Whole Life Worship and leaders of engageworship.org, explain why they’re so excited about the project.
For us, this project was borne out of what you might call a ‘divine discontent’. We’ve been involved in training and resourcing worship leaders for almost a decade and we are passionate about the possibilities of gathered worship. But as we’ve worked with church leaders and worship leaders, time and again we’ve come back to the same question: what exactly is the purpose of our gathered worship? This is far more than a question about the content of songs, or the way that visuals work in church, or any theological concerns we may have about the prayers or sermons. It is far more fundamental than that.
It’s a question that arises out of the discontent we feel when gathered worship gives the impression that this is the only place where worship ever happens, or when we’re given the message that the 6 previous days are irrelevant to God by saying things like ‘leave your problems at the door and come in to worship!’ So although we sing passionate songs in church about giving God our whole selves, we’re not often given any explicit encouragement or understanding of how to take that beyond our church walls, or we sing asking God to build his kingdom, without translating that to what we do on the school run or in the ofﬁce.
We love singing passionate songs, reﬂecting creatively on scripture, engaging in rituals and prayers, but sometimes it seems that these things have become an end in themselves. These songs and prayers all too often fail to acknowledge that the God we are worshipping cares deeply about life on earth outside of our buildings.
So what is our gathered worship supposed to be? An escape from the world? A refuge from life’s complexities and difficulties?
Or is it the arena where we gain a whole new perspective on the potential of our whole lives being used by God for his grand purposes?
We are convinced of the need for gathered worship that engages with every kind of person and each part of our lives. We want to help leaders and planners of worship to understand that what happens at church on a Sunday deeply affects the attitude of their church members on a Monday, and also that what happens Monday to Saturday should inﬂuence that hour on a Sunday. We believe there should be a virtuous circle where our scattered lives feed into our gathered worship, and our gathered worship feeds back into our scattered lives of glorifying God. This is the kind of worship that excites us; we believe that it is faithful to God’s word, and we are certain that it can transform this world for God’s Kingdom.
In partnering with LICC, we’ve found a team who share our conviction and vision for this, and together we’ve been challenged to think deeper and wider around these issues. It’s true that others have created some materials to help churches address this but it is still not the normal practice of enough churches. That’s why we were so excited to be able to work together with LICC on some new, much needed resources.
This is what motivated us as we wrote Whole Life Worship: Empowering Disciples for the Frontline. In the book, we begin by setting a Biblical framework for the idea that Christian worship demands a whole-life response, that everything we do can and should be worship. At the same time, we stress that there is something vital about gathered worship, that church services have an essential role in shaping us to be sent out again for whole lives that glorify God on our frontlines. To achieve this we then go on to provide some frameworks for how church worship can be re-imagined. We encourage people to stay within their own traditions, but to identify parts of their worship journey where they can encourage the congregation to look outward beyond the church walls. We also spend a chapter looking speciﬁcally at song lyrics and how they can shape people’s theology either to embrace an unbiblical sacred secular divide, or positively to see themselves in part of God’s bigger plan to renew all creation.
The second part of the book goes through stages on a church’s worship journey – gathering, praise, prayer, Bible reading, confession, sending and so on – and unpacks how each of these aspects can be viewed with a frontline focus. We give lots of practical ideas and suggested resources, so people can begin to apply this within their own church culture and context.
To go with this, we’d initially thought about developing a small group study guide. But having met with a number of church and worship leaders, it became clear that this thinking should not be limited to small groups within a church community, but that we should aim to help a whole church address the issues. So together with the team at LICC we have created a resource that can be used by a whole church in their Sunday services; Whole Life Worship: The Journey Pack. It has sermon notes, service outlines and a whole range of usable worship resources.
Our intention is that these ideas will not just sit with a pastor or worship leader, but will be shared and demonstrated with whole congregations, bringing about lasting culture change in a church.
The potential impact of integrating our lives and our worship is immense. As we gather together, ready to be constantly reshaped to reflect this glorious Jesus in every area of our lives, we are equipped, inspired and sent out to transform the world we live in. Our passion for the worshipping church is undiminished and our hope that we will have played a part in the liberation of the whole church for the sake of the whole gospel for the whole world has become our ongoing prayer.
Sam and Sara