Unselfish Worship

Notes for season 4, episode 6 – originally posted 2-3-14

Worship – what does it look like, how should we do it, and why does it have to last so long?

In order to tackle these many questions Jonathan thought it might be best to bring on someone who wrestled with such questions on a regular basis. Jeff Olson is the former Worship Arts Pastor at Christ Church in East Greenwich and was happy to be a guest host.

First off, worship is the entire time that you are in the building. It is not the 20 minutes of singing before the sermon or the extra long, extra silent prayer where you can snooze for a little bit and have a great dream about finding that perfect couch that is more comfortable than you ever imagined would be possible only to wake up finding yourself fully reclined on the pew. It is not that. Worship happens throughout the whole, entire service (and beyond).

Tell a story. This might be the big take-away of the conversation. Worship should be telling a story. These are stories with archetypes, narratives that speak to despair and hope, anger and release, pain and healing, doubt and faith, and much more. Some may say that you should always tell the story of the cross. Perhaps that is true, but that story is embedded in the other narratives that make up the daily struggles and hopes of life. Keep the cross present and bring in all of the other nuances and aspects of life and faith.

Try to engage people with the narrative. Invite people into the story; help them find their own place where they find hope or where they can share their sorrow.

Give room for God to work. Leave unscripted moments when God can speak in the silence, in the quiet music, in the sharing, in the spaces within the liturgy let God speak.

Finally, don’t be so darn selfish about worship. It is not always about what you like, but where you can find God. The worship service is not just about you but is about a community gathering together to find and encounter God and that will vary for every person. What may not speak to you may speak strongly to someone right next to you and part of being a community is celebrating the different ways God reaches and speaks to us.

FYI - Jeff spoke a bit about Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son – it is a good read.


Jeff started his angry time ranting against the culture of personal preference. The entire culture! Now before you go off and accuse this nice young man of being culturally insensitive, understand that he is taking issue with people who feel that worship (and life overall) should be about “what I want and when I want it.” It is all the fault of the iPod. Not really, but the ability to pick and choose what kind of music you like lends to this culture. It is the idea that worship should have the songs that I like, the preaching style that I like and should be the length that suits me best. This is the worship of personal preference. This is bad and should be eschewed (didn’t get to say that word in the last two episodes). It is about more than you so back off!

Jonathan is taking issue with a broad, lack of nuanced approach to doubt. Specifically Jonathan is looking at the story of Ryan Bell, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor who is giving up believing in God for one year. His blog can be found at yearwithoutgod.com. Doubt and faith a deep are profound parts of life, things that cannot be whittled down to a publicity stunt or a five minute sound bite. It is not so much the approach that Jonathan is having difficulty with, but the lack of nuance that is offered and the lack of awareness of the places in the Christian tradition where doubt is lifted up and embraced.

Opening the Word

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Stop being so mean to Paul! Don’t be so quick to dismiss him because of some of the things he has written about women, there are many other things with Paul to celebrate. Anyway, in this passage we have the opening of a letter to a community where Paul is starting to lay out the bigger argument of his text. Paul has a problem with people who create a hierarchy of spiritual gifts. He does not get into that right away, but starts with encouragement to the people in Corinth. They all have gifts and all those gifts are important and necessary. They all have those gifts as a community. It is not a Lone Ranger approach to Christianity, but one that celebrates the many gifts that are found in the community.

Watcha’ Into?

Jonathan is enjoying the 1982 classic movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial – it is wholesome goodness for the entire family.

Jeff is reading Stanley Crouch’s work Kansas City Lightening about the life and times of Charley Parker. Listen to some good jazz (not that easy listening, light stuff, but good, solid jazz) and enjoy this book.


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