By Paxson Jeancake
I have been planning and leading worship in a full-time capacity for twenty years now. It is an honor and a privilege. Personally, I want to steward my planning and leading well so that in worship our people are bringing honor and glory to God; connecting with one another as the body of Christ; and growing in their desire to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. It is my hope that this post will offer a paradigm for those who lead and plan worship each week - those who steward the story God is writing in the local church.
Because of the cherished influence of John Frame, I often think in triads. Frame's technical vocabulary of the normative, existential, and situational perspectives has shaped how I think and process so many different facets of life and ministry. Thus, I have a number of triads that serve as paradigms for me as I think about and share different aspects of worship.
In my book, The Art of Worship: Opening Our Eyes to the Beauty of the Gospel, I describe a triad that deals with the various roles of the worship leader. I discuss how a worship leader should be able to think like a theologian, labor like an artist, and shepherd like a pastor. As I lead seminars and workshops with churches or at conferences, I often share another triad as I discuss a philosophy of worship that includes leadership, theology, and context.
In recent years I have begun to articulate a new triad that guides some of the various aspects of planning and leading worship. In this paradigm I see the role of worship leaders and worship planners as Gospel storytellers, and on any given Sunday there are, at least, three stories to tell: God's Story, Our Story, and My Story.
Building upon Frame's perspectives, God's Story would be the normative perspective of this paradigm, focusing on the events of the life of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit as past, present, and future realities. At the macro level, worship tells God's story throughout the course of the Christian Year. The rhythms and seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost tell the grand narrative of redemption each and every year. These seasons and celebrations form and transform us as we are re-oriented into the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all of its implications for us - past, present, and future.
Our Story is the situational perspective that declares and processes what God is doing among us in our local context and congregation. At the micro level, worship tells the story of each unique congregation of believers. Each local expression of the church lives in a unique culture and setting; studies various topics and books of the Bible; witnesses its own joys and sorrows; navigates its own path in spreading the gospel and making disciples. At a more personal level, worship tells the collective testimonies of redemption and restoration - the various journeys of faith represented by the congregation.
Finally, My Story is the unique way in which God is at work in each of our lives, as leaders, bringing about sanctification and restoration. This is the story we tell as wounded healers. It is our opportunity to make ourselves vulnerable before those we serve. While leading I will, at times, share about a personal struggle, choosing to be transparent before our people to encourage them and let them know they are not alone in whatever challenge they may be facing.
There is an old Latin phrase championed by our Anglican brothers and sisters, lex orandi lex credendi. It is loosely translated as, "the law of praying is the law of believing," or that "liturgy leads to theology." Whatever your particular view of this phrase may be, it is true that the Scriptures we read, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and the testimonies we share are all highly formative, shaping our faith and our beliefs. Thus, as worship leaders and worship planners, we need to make sure we are serving our people and stewarding our times of corporate worship well.
I want to take some time over the next several weeks to unpack this particular triad (God's Story, Our Story, My Story) and offer some reasons why it brings balance and richness to our worship services. Next week we'll dive deeper and discuss God's Story.