Designing Worship: Sensing the Gaps-Coursera Lessons for the Church

What’s a Mediocre Preacher to Do?

I am taking an online course called “Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society“.  It is being shared by the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera: an online education clearinghouse.  I am taking this course to help me better design worship.  I am not that good of a preacher-I tend to be boring.  If the Mountaineers play late, I know that worship will be difficult.

I have several caveats from my self-admission of being an average or lesser preacher.  The first is that I have gotten better in my 6 years of ministry.  The second is that I have never had a great preacher as a pastor.  I’ve had solid preachers and okay preachers, but never great.  And I learned to love church anyway.  I spent a brief time attending Riverside Church in NY.  James Forbes was ranked among the greatest preachers in the English-speaking world at the time.  Indeed, his sermon on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11 was stellar (it’s time to sing our song).  But I also heard him deliver a dud about Spiritual Warfare.  Nevertheless, he was my preacher, never my pastor.  I eventually left there for a more staid preacher of a warmer congregation.

Sensing Gaps

One of the concepts of the first week of the Design course is to identify “gaps” in experience.  In adherence to the course, I identified 10 gaps in my life and set out to design a solution for one.  (That solution is an item that helps me organize my car, kind of like a closet organizer for the car.  Here is my first mock-up.)

But more importantly, I am thinking of gaps in experience in worship.  At this point, I have to “sense” what the gaps are from the congregation’s point of view.  The purposes of worship are: to experience God’s grace, to discover God’s presence in your life, to discern God’s will in your life, to grow in faith, to become more loving of God and neighbor, to confess sins, to pray, to praise and thank God and to cultivate a meaningful relationship with others.  Just this first step in the thought process is helpful.  Preaching is not the purpose of worship, but a means to the end of worship.  There are other means.  As a worship leader, it is my duty to cultivate those other means, just as it is my duty to cultivate my abilities in preaching.  Preaching isn’t obsolete by any means, but there is nothing biblical that says that preaching is the primary way God is experienced in worship.  Indeed we elevate two worship items as sacraments and neither of them are preaching.  I would add that God is still more primarily experienced through one’s relationship to the congregation.  Communal worship, therefore, allows God to be experienced en masse, whereby the common grace of God is illuminated.

Here are the gaps in worship that I discern:

  • lack of honesty about sin and therefore a lack of forgiveness of sin
  • lack of awareness of God’s presence in small matters
  • lack of urgency regarding the needs of the community
  • lack of acceptance of the call to “work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
  • lack of connection between worship and the rest of life.

Despite this list, I do see people growing in faith through the church.  Certainly, I can identify people paying attention in worship, even after game days.  And certainly, people’s sleepiness in church isn’t always my doing.  However, if there is anything I can do to wake people up (short of a foghorn), then isn’t it my responsibility to so do?

So, after 1.5 weeks of Design class, I am already thinking better about worship.  This Sunday is All Saint’s Sunday.  Greenview has lost 7 members in the past year.  I can clearly sense a grief in the air at church.  We have a clear opportunity to do something different.  And I am excited for it.

For You

What gaps do you sense when it comes to worship? In what ways do you address those gaps?

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