Forming Faith Blog

Worship, Language & Community

To create expansive, inclusive worship, we need to focus on the language of faith and the web of relationships. All faith formation leaders (pastors, worship leaders, and educators) need to work together to evaluate, advocate, and educate to make this happen.

A family in worship teaching kids the language of faith.
Looking Back, Looking Forward

In this past month, I have been writing with the theme of “Insiders and Outsiders.” To sum it all up: congregations should fight the tendency toward exclusivism and aim to create an expansive, inclusive community of belonging around our common relationships with God and each other. Last week, I zeroed in on our worship services and how there are opportunities for both exclusion and inclusion.

For this next month, I will be focusing on the worship service and its various parts, specifically the liturgy, the children’s sermon, the sermon, and singing. But today I want to give a broader introduction to what I’m calling expansive worship.

Defining Our Terms

I think it’s very important to define our terms at the beginning of a conversation, so here is some of the language I will be using:

  • Faith Formation: This is what we do here at Spirit & Truth Publishing so I can write a lot about it (and have done so). Basically, it’s any act, experience, or relationship that shapes our relationship with God. This is about us.
  • Worship: Looking at the essence of worship, it is simply whatever we do to show God our love for all that God has done for us. This is about God.
  • Corporate Worship Service: This is the regular (often weekly on Sunday mornings) event where people gather together ostensibly to worship God, often using some set pattern of components (singing, reading, liturgy, sacraments, etc.). This is a faith-formation event.
  • Community: In its most generic sense, it is a grouping of people defined by one or more common elements. More specifically, a healthy, strong community is defined by an interconnecting web of relationships within this grouping. The community increases in strength when more and deeper relationships are formed.  
  • Expansive: This describes an experience that goes beyond feeling welcome and included. Expansiveness is the sense of belonging, a sense of being an integrated part of the body.
The Language of Faith

All of this “God stuff” is based in language. Our worship services, our fellowship opportunities, prayer, relationships, etc. are based in communication, usually through spoken or written language. And it’s more than whatever world language you are using. This “God stuff” covers a lot of things that can’t be described using concrete “secular” language. The Bible, our interpretations of the Bible, worship services, and much else include and create a language of faith. This is a natural thing. This is a good thing.

Language is about communication. It is the words we say, sign, and write. It is our body movements and vocal tones. It’s all about communication. But to use the language of faith, we need to understand it. Someone can teach me how to pronounce a few words in Hindi, and maybe I can pronounce them like a native. But if I cannot understand what I’m saying, then this is merely a parlor trick. And if I’m in a room with only Hindi speakers, I’m not going to feel like I belong. If we know how to parrot the language of faith but do not understand what it means, then what is the point? [I’m going to go into this further next week.]

A Web of Relationships

As I mentioned above, we can use the word “community” to mean a simple grouping of people based on a common element. I live in a particular community in Wisconsin. I am a part of that community only because of the physical location where I live. You can call the membership of a Facebook group a community, even if 90% don’t post, comment, or interact. This is not the kind of community that we are talking about when it comes to our congregations. It’s the difference between living in a community and living in community.

The kind of community that human beings crave—and our congregations should provide—is a web of personal relationships. The deeper, more authentic the relationships are within a community, the more cohesive the community is. The greater the number and variety of relationships there are within a community, the stronger and healthier that community is.

Expansive Worship

Corporate worship is the bedrock of a congregation. If a congregation is only doing one thing, it will be a worship service (in person or online). It is when most people associated with your congregation see each other and speak together the language of faith.

A shared language of faith and relationships are the building blocks of a congregation. If someone attending worship does not speak or understand that language nor builds significant relationships within that worshipping body, they will not feel like they belong. If our goal is to incarnate the gospel message of the kingdom of God, we need to do what we can so that people can experience that sense of belonging. When we do, we have an expansive community doing expansive worship.

What about Us Educators?

My topic here, and in the next few weeks, is about the worship service. The worship service is typically under the purview of one or more pastors and one or more worship leaders. In a sense, they are my target audience here. But I think it’s also critical to get every other faith formation leader on board with this. If you are a faith formation leader and are not a pastor or worship leader, you likely can fall under the broad category of “education” and often a specific group like children, youth, families, adults, or an intergenerational group. I am going to assume that you care about this group and are concerned for their faith formation. If you don’t want to just have a satellite ministry (tied to the congregation only by money, a building, and/or a name), then you need to integrate with the worship service in some way.

If you see a problem in your community, especially if the (age) group under your responsibility feels excluded or unengaged from the worship service, then it is important to advocate for change. Even if you cannot influence any change in the worship service, you can educate your charges in the language of faith (and worship) and facilitate building relationships with people beyond your group.

You are important. And you can make a big difference in your congregation, your community of faith.

In the love of Christ,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

2021-2022 Faith Formation Resources

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