What is liturgy?
Throughout the week we go through various rhythms, habits and routines. Parents know that these are highly formative, which is why parents are disciplined about getting their child to sleep by a certain time. A certain rhythm and routine will teach them how to sleep as they grow. Basketball coaches know how important practice is, which is why they have their athletes practice free throws by the 100s AFTER they have a consistent technique. Muscle memory kicks in.
So as we go through everyday life, every week, we must be aware of the formative influences that shape our lives and priorities. So when we come to worship God, we go through a liturgy. Liturgy is "the work of God's people." When we gather for worship, we sing and pray, read Scripture and hear a sermon, we greet one another, we confess our sins to God, we hear of Jesus' love and forgiveness, we celebrate the Lord's Supper, and God sends us out to love our communities. We do these things to recover our humanity. Each of these parts of worship help do that. So worship is incredibly important.... We do these things because God first loved us. We get to experientially rehearse the good news of Jesus together several times throughout our worship.
Every church follows a liturgy (i.e. an order of worship). So when we use the word liturgy we want you to know two things:
We value the ancient practices of the historic church.
We live in an era where we celebrate the latest thing, thinking we know better and reject the past. CS Lewis, writing in WW2, called this 'chronological snobbery.' I mention Lewis to show that this is not just a millennial generational trait but a human one.
When we look at Scripture, we see that God loves extemporaneous prayers. So we create space for praying like this via prayers of adoration and a pastoral prayer in our gatherings. But we also recognize the beautiful language and wordsmithing that is found in various prayerbooks (i.e. Book of Common Prayer, Canyon Road, Valley of Vision, just to name a few.)
I personally learn a lot about what it means to follow Jesus from this prayer: "Forgive us from the things we have done or left undone.... Set us free from a past that we cannot change, and open up to us a future in which we can be changed." (This is taken from the Penitential Order found in the Book of Common Prayer.)
We value the ancient practices of the church because they help us follow Jesus in the 21st century.
Liturgy should be engaging and hospitable.
But when many people think of liturgy, then think "old," "stale" and "dry." While this may be a true description in some churches or in your own experiences, this should never be the case as there is a lot of drama to worship.
Here's what really happens when we gather to worship God:
God calls us to come to him: "Come to me all who are weary, and I will give him rest." "Come, let us reason together... I will make your sins, which are crimson red as white as snow." So we come. We praise him. We shout prayers of adoration. And we acknowledge that we sinned this past week, even though we tried not too. So we know that we don't deserve to be there, yet God loves us and welcomes us. We puts out the fine wine and artisan bread on the table and invites us to sit down with him.
That's dramatic. We should feel this tension every week. It should be engaging our emotions and minds, challenging our unbelief and answering our questions. Liturgical worship is participatory. This is why we have a responsive tone to worship, and this is why we don't have a pastor do everything in our gatherings.
Liturgical worship ought to be hospitable. The words that we use to confess our sins should be part of your everyday vocabulary. The prayers that we pray in worship are meant to help you learn how to pray from your home, with your family, at work and when you are with others. It should be easy to pick up, as every week we follow the same rhythm. So if it still feels unfamiliar to you after worshiping with us 4 times, then that is my fault as the pastor! We'll unpack this in our next blog post, as this is a big reason for why we sing the songs that we do.
Simply put: when the ancient practices of the church are in our everyday language, then it is a powerful, formative experience where we become more like Jesus.