A TALE OF AN EMPOWERED CHURCH*
Once upon a time there was a church where reliable and inspirational worship was the central activity of their congregation. Liturgies organized around the church year and excellent music were essential components. Congregants were active in service to each other, to their community, to the denomination, in broader contexts. Communal worship was the primary focal point of shared Christian life and inspiration for daily disciplines that led to spiritual growth. Theological truth and Scripture tied to music made worship memorable, lasting long after formal worship concluded.
Then pastoral leadership changed. New pastoral visions were implemented. Church did not feel familiar anymore. Lethargy ensued followed by changes to worship and music. Confusion resulted. Congregants missed the meaningful worship and music they could count on for nourishment.
Three basic changes happened to this congregation. (1) Clergy, with little or no training in worship or appreciation for the central role worship and music in this congregation, made significant changes to the most important activity of the congregation. (2) Congregational leaders, wanting to support the new clergy and without tools to understand how critical this shift would be, allowed the changes without comment. (3) Market-based, consumerist approaches to worship became the norm without assessment of potential consequences.
In summary, the congregation lost its central focus of worship along with years of tradition and meaning. The congregation abdicated its role in leading worship as “the work of the people” to leaders who were unprepared to lead effectively. Outreach and service suffered: the congregation was no longer being fed spiritually.
WHAT ARE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EMPOWERED CHURCH?
Instead of church websites filled with professional staff bios and the programs they lead, how about descriptors like these?
- Our church is driven by its congregationally-inspired worship that empowers Christian living and service.
- Our congregation is assisted by clergy and musicians who know historical, effective worship and music practices that enable the congregation to worship, to do the “work of the people.”
- Communal worship is the source of the congregation’s strength that empowers service to each other, community, vocations, and the broader world.
- Informed by historical Christian practices, our church holds a high view of Scripture and liturgy, and music is valued as a gift from God for prayer and praise in communal worship and daily prayer.
- As disciples of Christ, members aspire to offer the best of their lives and their worship to God.
- Our church is the source of a myriad of opportunities for seekers wanting to deepen their knowledge and skills to live the Christian life, to offer music and worship well, and to serve others with joy.
REDEFINITION OF “CHURCH”?
When a child, we learned a finger play, “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the door and see all the people!” Ah, a church defined by the people who inhabit it. Not by their “leaders and staff” with professional photos and bios, as important as these people are. A church defined by the character of the people who are committed to following Christ in a community where they are responsible to each other and to God, seeking daily to know God better, weekly to worship together, always to grow toward the people we can be. Not spectators to a performance, no matter how fine it may be. Not consumers of a market-driven product delivered to please the person in the pew at the time most convenient to the worshipper. Rather, pilgrims on a journey of life who seek to walk together, sharing sorrows and joys, abundance and lack, building God’s kingdom in our part of the world and beyond, responsibly and with excellence, sometimes leaders sometimes followers but all working together toward the same ends. Are we called to less?
ATTENTION TO THE SMALL THINGS
I recently read A Gentleman in Moscow, recommended by one of CMI’s longtime supporters. A novel set in the early 1900’s, it chronicles choices of a person of the bourgeoisie under house arrest for 30 years in the major hotel in Moscow during a period of great change. Seemingly few choices were available to this man; those left were apparently small. Yet the gentleman made careful “small” choices that had huge consequences in the long term.
So we seem to have only “small” choices, sometimes even in our churches that seem headed in a direction so different than we may deem wise. Yet as Paul Westermeyer reminds us, we are called to be faithful, not “successful,” and many avenues are open for faithfulness. Christopher Girata (St. Michael & All Angels, Dallas) observes most overestimate what can be accomplished in 3 years and underestimate what can be done in 10 years. Faithfulness over a long period of time is the goal.
CMI AND THE TALE OF AN EMPOWERED CHURCH IN 2018
Congregations seeking empowerment will have ample opportunity through The Church Music Institute in 2018 to explore alternate means of “doing church.” A new grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. will launch a pilot project to train clergy/musician teams working with their congregations for new ways of deepening congregational worship, building on local resources already available to them. Workshops will explore means of delving into riches waiting to be uncovered. Focus will be on learning at all ages. Christianity is a lifelong enterprise, after all. The music of our faith is a rich resource for learning, a beautiful, memorable vehicle of unending inspiration and variety that has carried Scriptures and wisdom of Christians through centuries. CMI libraries offer the best from all sources and times, available online, adaptable to any congregation. We are here to walk with you in 2018, eager to explore with you how you can best worship God through music, to empower your church. Call, email, or better yet, come see us!
Dr. Charlotte Kroeker, Ph.D.
*The church described refers to no one specific church but rather to a compilation of characteristics of churches known to the staff and colleagues of CMI, scattered across the U.S.