-Agent Smith, The Matrix Reloaded
As a word, purpose is on the verge of become cliche. Rick Warren’s famous book The Purpose Driven Life, the best-selling hardback in U.S. history, created an entire trend around the word, in church circles and the culture at large. There are purpose-driven business models, purpose products and marketing campaigns, more purpose books, and even a Purpose Prize funded by the Templeton Foundation. Like with anything of influence there’s also a thriving counterculture that opposes elements of Warren’s approach, such as the idea of a causal purpose from God for every individual, or the very framework for his philosophy, which has been characterized as modern, linear and out of touch with emerging ideas about community (pun intended).
Amidst all of these big ideas, congregations must continue to produce worship every week. One of the big problems for everyday churches is the inability for everyone involved in worship planning to find agreement about the goals and direction for worship service(s). In many of the consultations we do for local churches, the most visible problem is unspoken disagreement about what worship is and for whom worship is designed. We like to say that rather than worship “on purpose” we often see worship “on accident.”
Worship On Accident
Often, strategic decisions on a particular worship service occur by accident. Worship planners pay little to no attention to the “big picture” questions, and so what happens on a weekly basis becomes a reflection of the dominant personality or personalities in the planning process.
Worship with a strong leader may function well in this scenario for a time, as the leader imbues the process with his or her individual theology and philosophical approach to worship. This may for a time seem like a workable, even ideal scenario. But dangers await. Several examples of the disasters than can befall congregations that approach worship without an agreed upon, overall purpose:
1) The leader leaves without a strong personality to replace him/her.
Maybe you’ve witnessed this scenario: First Church has a contemporary worship service held in the fellowship hall. When the service first started, it was led by a charismatic singer with a guitar. Worship attendance grew, as people were attracted to the singer’s style and personality. But after 18 months, the singer vacated this role, without malice, when his wife finished her doctorate and they had to move. Without another, equally charismatic personality to step in, worship seemed to lose its vitality, and attendance dropped precipitously.
2) A change in leadership.
Consider a congregation that undergoes a pastoral change. The outgoing pastor had an outreach focus in worship, using the corporate gathering as a time to connect with the community and communicate using ordinary ideas, images and metaphors. The new pastor has a discipleship focus and uses the corporate gathering time as the main venue for in-depth exploration of biblical texts. Such a dramatic shift can create immense tension and controversy in a congregation, especially when the shifts are not addressed.
3) Two leaders with conflicting philosophies.
When the purpose of worship is assumed, major differences can lay below the surface, exploding like a bomb when someone innocently activates the tripwire with an inquiry about style. This often manifests in the form of a pastor and a “worship leader” who have fundamental differences in worship that are never addressed.
4) The leader suffers a moral indiscretion.
When a moral indiscretion occurs, the leader’s worship philosophy, which has over time become a central part of congregational identity, comes into question as well, in a “baby with the bath water” scenario. The congregation blames not just the leader but the worship service itself and suffers what can be a mortal wound.
Each of these scenarios are real world. We’ve seen them happen firsthand. In each case, the results were disastrous for the worship service, congregation and God’s Kingdom.
Worship on Purpose
The alternative is to design worship, as a body of Christ, with purpose. In spite of the buzz around the term “purpose”, it is vital for worship design teams to discover a commonality of vision on worship design. A worship team with purpose comes to consensus about major directions in the service’s theology, methodology and style. The team also has an agreed upon structure for how to design worship. A mutually-agreed upon team purpose is able to withstand each of the above scenarios, as it is not dependant on one person’s charisma, but rather on a grounded, prayerfully agreed upon set of principles.
What are these principles? Here’s some basics that a worship purpose statement should include: