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I want in!

January 16, 2009

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

The first week of our essentials course has got my head swimming with positive energy! And most of that optimism is around the idea of those who choose to worship Jesus deepening their understanding of God; a deepening that can be ignited and fueled by specific theological intentionality on the part of the lead worshiper.

One of the things that drew me to the Vineyard movement in the first place is the embracing of the heart’s innate longing for God, particularly in a personal, relational way. N.T. Wright suggests that a human desire for relationship is a “signpost for God” or the “echo of a voice” that belongs to the Almighty [1]. And I believe that we are constantly searching for the perfection of our limited human relationships, a pinnacle to be found only in communion with God.

So much of the body of songs that the Vineyard movement has contributed to the world’s greater hymnbook allow for a deep and prayerful entrance into that sort of relationship that Wright suggests all of humanity is searching for. What excites me is that greater possibilities could exist as the creative personalities behind those songs deliberately engage with theology, church history, current landscapes of faith and life and the hopeful future of Jesus’ presence in the world.

Already, more than one hundred of us have started this in our own way and several themes emerge as we dialog over our prescribed readings. We notice gaps in our worship lexicons. We see themes that we long to express better. We stretch our minds and emotions to absorb new ideas and rich God-thoughts that have emerged in a classmate’s blog post or facebook discussion. [tangentially, I’m incredibly proud of the Institute for pushing us to dig further into internet social networking. It’s been a long-held belief of mine that the church should be shepherding people into fostering healthy and enriched internet lives, a world that is both potentially beautiful and dangerous.]

When all of these influences stir the hearts of creative people, the entire world benefits as the church as a whole is engaged by the results and brought to life in new ways. Dr. Peter Davids says this about the worship leader’s intentional study of scripture, for example:

If one sets out to study the scripture with a heart intention of knowing God better, one often ends up encountering God in a way that goes beyond rational study.” [2]

And if the songwriters, the performers, the painters, sculptors, liturgists, photographers, dancers, the lead worshipers are encountering God more, so by extension, I may hope, is the rest of humanity. Art inspires the mind, hands and feet.

Consider the film industry. How many films in the world inspire, through their content, stronger feelings of love between a couple after watching a romance? Or a greater fear that there is evil in the world? Or a better hope for the future of the world? Or a more intense feeling of sadness for the past? Or an inspiration to go and do something (save the whales, serve the needy, reconcile a friendship, drink Pepsi)?

So when a church violinist is more engaged with God, as she stands on the deck of an inspired symphonic offering of praise, built upon her soul’s truly enlightened encounters of the sacred, echoing forth an intertwining of divine beauty and truth, she is further leveraging her influence over the congregation to become, themselves deeply engaged. Oh the communal beauty!

As for what happens at that point, who knows? But I believe that God is one who acts powerfully and that we are vehicles for the divine intent for an enriched world. I want in!

[1] N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006)

[2] Dr. Peter Davids, The Importance of Scripture Study for Modern Worship Leaders (Inside Worship Magazine, Issue 48, October 2002)

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