Making Changes to Your Worship Service in the Light of Pastoral Care…what History Teaches Us

Zac HicksChurch & Ecclesiology, History of Worship and Church Music, Worship and Pastoral MinistryLeave a Comment

You’re Not “Just the Music Guy”

We worship leaders tend to think too lowly of ourselves. “I’m just the music guy.” If we don’t say it, we often think it. Many of us are simply unaware of just how much we shape the people we lead. In fact, the way people are formed through our leadership looks strangely like the way disciples are made under other, well, pastors.

I’ve been jumping in an out of a teriffic old book called Pastoral Liturgy, by Roman Catholic liturgiologist, J. A. Jungmann. Toward the end of the book, Jungmann begins to jam on some under-thought-about themes of worship leading an pastoral ministry. Here’s a great little section. If the word “liturgy” is tripping you up, just think, “worship.”

The liturgy [i.e. worship] is the life of the Church…In all ages the priesthood [i.e. the pastorate] has seen its most sublime function to be the carrying out of public worship at the head of their assembled people. But in the times when the form of the liturgy was in a state of flux [i.e. when worship was changing] they had another special task as well. It had to create these forms and regulate them. What attitudes of mind lay behind the creation of these forms? Where do we find the key to the mystery of these varied and often enigmatic forms of words, to this alteration of reading, hymns, and prayers, to this wealth of movement and ceremony? Why, in general, this multiplicity of forms? The answer lies in the care of [the Church], for the Church…led by its pastors and even during its sojourn on this earth, are to offer worthy service to God and so to become sanctified. This care was decisive in the shaping of public worship. It accounts for everything.*

Jungmann goes on to explain himself, but let’s focus on his main point and attempt to translate it to our context. Jungmann is asking the question, “What is to account for all the changes that worship has undergone over the years?” Jungmann’s answer is, overwhelmingly a pastoral motivation. In other words, if we start to investigate the origins of why old liturgies were tweaked, modified, updated, reorganized, added to, subtracted from, etc., we find at their core a group of pastors committed to the belief that worship shapes the flock of God. Perhaps it is the case that if we want to study pastoral ministry at its finest (beyond the Richard Baxters and the Gregory the Greats who left us with golden reflections on the life and work of the pastor) we should look at the history of how worship was edited over the years. What a thought!

Compare & Contrast…Shifting Motivations?

Now, compare this with all the reasons we tend to give for wanting to change our worship practices. Just think about it. Chances are, you and I are all culpable in the shift of motivations: Whereas once worship was changed for pastoral reasons, now it is largely changed for pragmatic reasons. We do things differently because those new practices “work” better than the old ones. And the evangelical return back to more overtly liturgical forms of worship betrays that we are becoming aware of not just something deficient about all those changes, but actually mal-formative. Something in all the changes of our worship practices has begun to take its toll on us as a worshiping community. 

Hear me out. I am not decrying all the changes we’ve made. Nor am I decrying the fact that we’ve made changes. Changes aren’t the problem. Again, it’s the “Why.” Why are we making these changes? One could say that, perhaps in the best of light, evangelicalism’s worship changes come from a missionary impulse–a desire to “reach the lost at any cost.” Our desire, as evangelists, is that the Gospel become clear and unobscured by unnecessary pageantry, formality, unfamiliarity, etc. This is a fair point. And certainly, mission and evangelism are parts of a pastoral instinct.

However, if we’re going to go there (again, that’s the best of lights), we still need to see that pastoral motivations and evangelistic ones might be overlapping spheres, but they aren’t identical. Maybe, too, at some points they clash. The goal of this post isn’t to go too far in critique. Rather, hopefully it serves as a bit of a wake up call to a whole realm of thought that has characterized church worship decisions for millenia. Church leadership made decisions about changing worship largely in order to care better for their local flocks

As we make decisions about changing worship, we need to spend some time asking not only, “Who do we want to reach out there?”, but, “Who has God already brought us right here?” O Worship Pastor, who is before you…now? The people before us now are most obviously those that God has called us to care for because they’re, well, there. A great set of questions to ask, when making a change to worship is: 

  • How does this change help us to better care for the people of our church? 
  • Will this change help people to see God more clearly? engage Him for faithfully? hear Him more fully? know Him more deeply? 
  • Will this change further our hopes that they are formed in the Gospel and shaped more deeply as disciples of Christ?

And, yes, all these thoughts are fresh on my brain and haunting me because I’m writing about them in my little contribution to the worship conversation. My book, The Worship Pastor, is due out in 2016, Lord-willing and the creek don’t rise, as my mom would say. Read about it here.

*J. A. Jungmann, Pastoral Liturgy (New York: Herder & Herder, 1962), 369.

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