Time to meet with God – hopes for 9:22
What’s in a name?
The name was not the first thing to come – but it does remind us of one to the most significant parts of the 9:22 Project. During our Bible in a Year scheme we were reading Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians. The Church at Corinth struggled with themselves as well as the community around them. It seemed that they were often more concerned with reputation than with worship; with the cult of celebrity rather than servant ministry and with arguing with each other rather than encountering God. But the Apostle Paul loved them in Christ and invested time and tears into helping them grow into a Christian fellowship. In his first letter to them (1 Corinthians 9.22) he says, ‘I have become all things to all people, that by all possible means I may save some’. When we read that together as a church it spoke to some of us of a worship event that was made deliberately accessible to people outside traditional church as well as for those within it. 1 Corinthians 9:22 is a commitment to do all that could be done to introduce people to Jesus. In time, this idea became part of an ongoing conversation with God about developing needs in worship and we adopted 9:22 as the name for our new worship programme and as a reminder of one of the important aspects of being Church. We are here for those who do not yet know Jesus as their friend and Saviour, as well as nurturing those of us who do. We need to build the church of tomorrow as well as grow the church of today. If you look closely at our logo you will see that the blue square in the top right hand corner is in fact a ‘post-it’ note (it REALLY is). It is a reminder of what we are about. It is a reminder of 9:22 and our commitment that ‘by all possible means’ we will seek to bring people where they can encounter Jesus for themselves.
9:22am is an odd time to start a worship event – a really odd time. But at least now you know why it has been chosen!
What are we trying to do through 9:22?
God has made each one of us unique and our personalities and characters will mean that we like different things, find different experiences helpful and have personal preferences in most aspects of our lives: and that includes our worship experiences.
Is it just a question of musical style?
9:22 is not just ‘traditional worship’ in which the organ is replaced by the Band and the hymns are replaced by worship songs. It is much more significant than that. For many people experiencing 9:22, it will be a completely different way of worshipping God. It will be less structured. It will be less predictable; It will be less consistent in style and order.
What is it about worship songs?
Of course, there are similarities between hymns and worship songs for both enable us to encounter God through music and word, but there are also some fundamental differences too.
- Some complain that worship songs are repetitive; but so are the Psalms, so are Taize songs, so – for that matter -are Gregorian Chants, and it is in the very repetition of the words, musical phrases and ideas, that worshippers can somehow move beyond themselves and connect with the Father.
- Some say that worship songs can be overly emotional: some are – and we try to avoid those which over -sentimentalise our faith – but again, emotion has always been part of a transforming worship experience. The Psalmists and mighty hymn-writers stand as testimony to the engagement of our emotions in the worship and praise of God. This openness in word and song can allow people to be honest with God and allow him to meet our deepest needs.
- And of course many of the songs are new to us. Over time, of course new songs become more familiar (and in the early days we intend to repeat songs and limit the repertoire to help this), but part of this free-flowing worship is to find a blessing in those around us singing – be it Band or congregation – whilst we are silent and allow the words to speak deep into our hearts.
- We can sometimes use the unfamiliar to give space for our prayers and our reflections;
- we can use the unfamiliar to draw close to God as others minister to us in song.
Many of us have grown up with a worship structure where a hymn is announced, we all stand and we all sing the words of the hymn before returning to our seats; 9:22 worship is not intended to be a mirror-image of that style. Instead the music and songs takes us on a spiritual journey visiting many places along the way as we ae drawn ever closer to the heart of God. Often this will mean that there will be a number of worship songs flowing into one another, introducing different themes, changing tempo and volume as we go. Some of those songs will well-up within us as shouts of praise, and we will want to stand and sing them out with gusto; some will help us to look within ourselves, our needs, our weakness, our hopes and through others we simply immerse ourselves in the presence of God as we worship. So worshippers are encouraged to use the periods of sung worship in a way that feeds their hearts and to allow physical responses to reflect the place where they are upon the journey with God and each other that day. So, some will stand, whilst others are sitting; some will pray quietly whilst others are singing; some will raise their hands or kneel down as an expression of their worship.
Where have the prayers gone?
Our worship, both corporately and individually, flows out of our worship journey and seeks to be responsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as we share together. So in prayer too, we find a difference between the ‘9:22’ style worship event and the more traditional models of worship with which many of us are familiar.
In those models we expect set-piece prayer times, perhaps of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and intercession, at predictable points in the service and for those prayers often to be led by one person from the front.
- Perhaps some aspects of our prayers are expressed through the style and words of the song, and so become ‘corporate prayers’ offered by the congregation as we sing.
- Perhaps the Band will continue to play quietly as someone prays ‘over the top’ of the music before moving back into worship songs together.
- Perhaps, in the silences, a member of the congregation will feel moved by God to offer a short prayer of adoration or thanksgiving;
- Perhaps our prayers will sometimes be personal and in silence, sometimes corporate and through creative prayer stations.
Once again, it is the flow and the flexibility in worship that shapes what we offer to God and how God comes to us. Those who are leading worship week by week do have a plan and a structure to which we work, but it is deliberately flexible to allow us to respond to the sacred nudging’s of God’s Spirit. We hope that we will always be ready to change what was planned in the week before a service, to allow God to do what he wants to do in the moment. Worship Leaders have an important role in enabling others to praise God, but we should never become obstacles to what God wants to do!
This style of worship is very new for most of us – a new way of worshipping – even if we have previously shared in Engage worship on a Sunday evening. It is not simply a change in musical style. Our hope is that as we become more used to this different way, so we will be more comfortable with individual people expressing their worship around us. Just because someone next to us decides to do something does not mean that we need to do it too. But equally, just because the person next to us is NOT doing something, does not mean that we cannot express our worship in a way that is a blessing to us; because to do so, may be a blessing to others too.
The place of children at the heart of 9:22:
At the heart of our new worship adventure, is a longing to help young people engage with God through worship in a very real way. We want our children to grow up understanding how to worship God; how to respond to those spiritual experiences in their own hearts; how to pray naturally both at home and in public and sometimes to pray for one another too. To that end, we want to allow our young people to immerse themselves in the experience of worship alongside adults.
9:22 is NOT all-age worship, although we hope that it is worship for all ages. It is important therefore that we understand that 9:22 is not intended to be either an ‘elongated version of the J-Team slot’ nor ‘a slimmed down version of a Family/Parade Service’.
Once again, we discover a difference here between traditional models of worship and our new approach at 9:22. Traditional Church over the last 200 years has effectively separated children from adults at the earliest possible opportunity, and even when children have been present in worship, the style has tended to try to entertain and occupy rather than inspire and encourage an authentic encounter with God. Traditional models of Sunday School have had a primary focus on ‘teaching the faith’ through stories and activities. In 9:22 we want to encourage each person to ‘catch the faith’ and develop ways of expressing that faith in worship. We want our young people to grow up with a deepening and developing relationship with God – a God they actually ‘know’ rather than only ‘know about’. So teaching is part of what we do, but only part. We hope to sow seeds at 9:22 but then provide resources to allow that seed to be developed at home. [This teaching will be supplemented by events such as Messy Church and our new all-age worship after Easter.]
Our priority in 9:22 is to teach children to worship, to encounter God in song and prayer and ministry. This cannot be nurtured so effectively at home because it finds its place naturally amongst God’s worshipping community. So, just as we want our adults to share fully in the worship experience, so we want our children to share in that too;
- we want them to be present when people pray so that in time they may choose to pray too
- we want them to develop the capacity to express awe in the presence of God and to know the reality of God moving amongst his people
- we want them to learn to worship in songs that they don’t know as well as in songs that they do
- we want them to develop the gifts of expressing themselves in worship; expression that flows out of worship in which they are actively present and participating rather than simply conditioned by what they do ‘during’ worship
9:22 is not only a new way of worshipping for many adults, but for our children too and they too will be going on a journey of discovery. There will be times along the way when that journey is anything but smooth, that is inevitable, but we hope that it will be exciting and empowering too. It is too easy to belittle the faith of young people and to assume that they have nothing to contribute to the ‘real’ worship life of the church. So 9:22 will not seek purely to entertain young people in the faith, but rather seeks to expose them to faith expressed through worship and so encourage each of them to encounter God for themselves.
Some parents may feel that it would be helpful to have some time set aside to help explore the new style and worship experience with their children and perhaps even to explain some of the things that we are doing. We will try to do this within worship as far as possible, but I would be delighted to set aside space to help on this journey and to try to answer any specific questions the children have. After Week 1 one child asked me ‘why did he have his hands up?’ – and it was a delight to try and explore that together. Please do not wonder or suffer in silence – we need to share together as we grow together.
To be part of the worshipping community at Truro is a blessing that we should not take for granted.
Week by week our traditional worship in a ‘non-conformist’ style is of the highest order, with the musical leadership by the choir, Phil Davey on the organ and the other instrumentalists beyond parallel in the County (and far beyond). Evening worship is becoming increasingly scarce and yet, each week our offering is always well prepared and helpful. Each month Café Church takes place at Tresillian, and each week Sunday Club is part of the traditional village style service at the chapel. We have the opportunity to share in quiet and reflective communion services early on Sunday morning and during our Tuesday lunchtime service. There will soon be band-led worship events and alternative worship experiences on one Saturday evening each month; and after Easter our mid-week all age worship will begin after school, supplementing the hugely successful Messy Church programme.
9:22 is but one part of a rich tapestry of worship experiences available here at Truro and Tresillian. Please pray for the entire worship programme – its various styles, times and leaders – that ‘by all possible means’ together, ‘we may save some’ (1 Corinthians 9.22)
Mark Dunn-Wilson 9th January 2016