Beyond Words

The Rev. Warren Lynn, Executive Minister for the Office of Christian Vocations, Disciples Home Missions

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In an article written by Robert Glick for the Alban Institute, he notes, “Different people use different parts of their brains to varying degrees, and these differences have considerable ramifications for Christian worship…. worship must engage the whole person, and I believe that this is a healthy trend. Today’s younger people…are hungry not just to know about God, but actually to know and experience God with all that they are—mind, heart, body, and soul.” (Alban Weekly – Week of 7/3/2006)

Laurie Rudel, retired pastor in Seattle, Wash., notes that according to Harvard Professor and psychologist, Howard Gardner, “there are seven types of intelligences or ‘ways of knowing’ that lead to perception, understanding and insight. These ways of knowing are: verbal, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The vast majority of our (Disciples) worship services dwell in the first two “ways of knowing”: verbal, and logical-mathematical.” Rudel notes, “As worship leaders our task is to expand the ‘ways of knowing’” we use to worship.

Indeed, throughout the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) many congregations are discovering a transformation of their worship life as we move beyond worship wars and “fill in the blank” style orders of service toward a deeply collaborative effort to create worship that is fresh, balanced, and inclusive of all the gifts through which life and faith can be made real in our lives. For such congregations it is no longer enough to be concerned about what words are said. In fact, as Ron Greene, the pastor of Central Christian Church in Great Falls, Montana knows, the lack of words can be as powerful as any spoken word. In reference to Central’s regular use of silence as a part of worship during their last Lenten season, Greene notes, “Some say the time of silence has brought us the most depth in our worship services.”

Between the words and the silence, however, is a vast landscape of possibility for the kind of worship that empowers individual lives and helps to transform entire congregations.  A place to begin creatively navigating such choices is in the complimentary wisdom of Laurie Rudel and another Disciples pastor, Joan Dennehy, in Seattle.  Rudel reminds us that as we develop a life of worship for our churches we must remember, “God is the focus! Worship is about God, it is not primarily about us.” But Dennehy also would have us remember, “…God does not need or require our worship. It is we who benefit from it, who need it, who are strengthened by it.”  Certainly, the options for great worship are wide open even when such wisdom is honored, but it is an invaluable place to begin as we consider how each of our congregational communities might worship in a way that, as Robert Glick notes, “is fuller, richer, more biblical and thus more receptive to the Holy Spirit of God.”