In-Sight: Liturgy-Centered Worship

I am hesitant to post another writing about the liturgy, lest you think I am trying to “sell” you on it.  Let me be clear—there are various ways to worship God.

But at the same time, I must be honest and say I am finding liturgical worship to be an increasingly meaningful part of my spiritual formation.  Today, I want to add one more reason for you to consider.

For quite a while, I have been influenced by the writings of Eugene Peterson (and others) who have warned that one of the serious problems in North American Christianity is the “cult of personality” which often surrounds a church.  The propensity to elevate people to the level of “stardom” is usually in relation to the pastor, whom congregations love and admire. But it can be anyone else.

Sometimes, the person is not even in the congregation, but on radio or television—which creates an unhealthy comparison between the actual folks in our church and the “heroes” we’ve come to admire and elevate.  How can a devoted pastor or flock ever look as good as a ministry that brings in millions of dollars a week?

So, I agree with those who are saying that the “celebrity syndrome” has a definite and even dangerous downside, because it creates pastor-centered congregations and it caters to a dangerous egotism in both pastor and people.

In contrast,  liturgical worship takes the emphasis away from the “personality,” or “charisma” of the pastor, and puts Christ squarely at the center.  Week after week, the liturgy leads us to God, not anyone else.  In fact, not one word of the service changes, regardless of who leads it.

In an experience-oriented culture, we might conclude from that last sentence that this means worship is “boring.”  But the fact is, it is “beautiful”—precisely because the attention is not put on the person leading the service, but upon the God who is central in the service.

To test this out, listen to what others say, or what you catch yourself saying.  Things like this: “We have a really wonderful preacher”—-“The choir was really good today”—-or, the opposites.

Our compliments and criticism may be true, but they are wide the mark of the center of worship.  They miss the mark of what makes for authentic worship or a genuine church.  Over time, they create a “person centered” perspective.

By contrast, liturgical worship creates a “God centered” experience.  And in a generation where we make it appear that only a handful of “celebrity Christians” are doing anything significant in the Kingdom, I think a liturgical approach is a very important reminder as to where the Center always is.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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