Posted by: Philip Rushton | May 31, 2010

Why Mr. Bean Doesn’t Need To Be Concerned About My Last Blog Entry!

In my last article I pointed out how there has been an increasing interest among younger evangelicals in liturgical forms of worship. As I discussed this topic with a number of people I realized that the term “liturgy” could probably use some clarification.

Some of us may have negative associations with the term “liturgy.” Some of us would describe liturgical worship services as ‘boring,’ ‘wooden,’ or ‘overly formal.’ Perhaps when you think of liturgical services you think of the classic scene from “Mr. Bean,” where Bean is stuck in a boring worship service and can barely keep himself awake.

Since the term liturgy brings about some mixed reactions, I’d like to clarify what I mean by the term. Perhaps as I clarify the term I may also be able to clarify why an interest in liturgy is on the rise, and why it is something that can benefit us in a profound way.

A “liturgy,” at the most basic level is a public service of some sort. In ancient Greece, the Greek term for liturgy was used in the context of sporting events, theater, or large banquets. In the Bible, the term is used in the context of temple worship in the Old Testament and worship services in the New Testament. Essentially the term “liturgy” has come to be associated with our forms of public worship.

Now here’s the thing – all of our worship services are at some level liturgical. Whether our services are highly planned or are more spontaneous, we always follow some sort of structure or form. That is why I find it unhelpful to distinguish between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches. I went to one church for many years that advertised there services that way. There was the “contemporary service” at 9 and the “liturgical service” at 11. The reality is that all of our services are liturgical.

In fact, the Quakers sometimes called their spontaneous waiting services, “a liturgy of silence.” You can’t get much more spontaneous than this. These services involved people sitting in silence and waiting to share what the spirit is teaching them. Yet, at a basic level this was liturgical precisely because it was a form of public worship.

The growing interest in liturgy among evangelicals is not simply about returning to formal forms of worship. This trend does not necessarily mean people are wanting to pack away the guitars. The desire among those who are thinking about liturgy is to broaden and deepen our worship experience. What evangelicals are starting to realize is that if we don’t pay attention to the patterns of our worship, we may get stuck on focusing solely on our emotional needs. Furthermore, if we don’t think intentionally about the form of our worship services we may miss out on some important aspects of worship.

Robert Webber, suggests in his book Ancient Future Worship, that our contemporary worship can be broadened and deepened by paying attention to a basic liturgy or structure that has guided the church throughout its history. He argues that from the very early church through to the present day, Christian worship has had 4 basic elements. Christian worship has involved gathering, hearing the word, sharing the Lord’s Supper, and sending people out to do mission.

When you look at this basic pattern one can see how this might broaden our worship. Rather then just focusing on our emotional needs, this basic liturgy brings us into community, points us to truth, draws us into God’s grace at the table, and sends us out into the world. Notice that this pattern doesn’t say a whole lot about worship style. We can use these basic elements in a very formal or a very contemporary context. The point is that when we pay attention to liturgy our worship experience can be profoundly enriched.

Perhaps a more applicable example can be shown in the context of prayer. I used to think very little about how I went about praying. I did not consider giving any type of form or liturgy to my prayers. As a result my prayer life was very narrowly focused. I usually prayed about my own needs and I mainly prayed when I needed help. More recently, however, I have prayed either through the Lord’s Prayer, where I focus on each line for a few minutes, or the ACTS prayer, where I focus for a few minutes on Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. These are more liturgical prayers. The beauty of these prayers is that they broaden and deepen my conversations with God. Rather then just asking God to help me with the ‘crisis of the day,’ I am spending time reflecting on the name of God, spending time in confession, learning to be grateful and interceding for others.

The renewed interest in liturgy, then, is not an attempt to get rid of contemporary worship music or force people to attend very formal worship services. The concern is to broaden and deepen our worship life by thinking about the way in which we form our worship.


  1. Well thought out, well expressed. Keep on keepin on………………..en Cristo…………..

  2. Hey Phil, great thoughts!

    I like this: “Rather then just focusing on our emotional needs, this basic liturgy brings us into community, points us to truth, draws us into God’s grace at the table, and sends us out into the world. Notice that this pattern doesn’t say a whole lot about worship style.”

    I’ve reflected a little bit about liturgy and worship style in relation to jazz improvisation – structure creates space for creativity. There’s no freedom to experience spontaneity without the underlying framework of basic music theory. Liturgy, likewise, provides our framework to creatively encounter God together. How this looks, as you say, is open to interpretation.

    Oh, and you’ve probably heard of the Nelson Boschman Trio and their project, “Keeping Time,” which travels the liturgical calender with jazz selections. It’s a great project. See more here:

  3. Hey Dave,

    Great analogy to jazz improvisation! When we have spontaneity without structure in music performance we end up with mediocrity and chaos.

    Even during our past careers as ‘rock stars’ with Frank (slight overstatement :)), we had to really think through how we layered and structured our songs – and that we a very free form of music.

    We should try and schedule one final show with Frank before I move away!

  4. Thank-you for thinking about us and inviting us into your blog. Your thoughts on worship come at a time when we continue to struggle to find a corporate worship experience that is “worshipful” for us. In the various churches we’ve visited, I find myself bothered by the same stumbling blocks regarding worship and praise. In churches where praise music goes on forever, I feel guilty when I really just want to sit down and rest my vocal cords. Several churches I’ve gone to where people speak of their “amazing worship bands” offer such a professionally prepared woship experience that I wonder if I’ve come to a worship service or a concert Of course, most songs are in such a high key that the average joe (baritone) can’t reach most the notes. It’s hard to worship when you’re in pain. Then it’s the “show” that gets me most. As I watch the worship leaders raising hands and swaying in praise-like trances, seeming to try to outpraise the congregation, I wonder why people seem to need stage lighting, center stage “amazing” worship bands, and lead guitar solos to reach a crescendo of praise to our heavenly Father. Personally, I find myself drawn to raise my hands and adore God when I’m bow-hunting out in the woods by myself. I’m cynical whether it’s worship or emotion that results from an excellent electric guitar solo — does it bring people closer to Spirit of Christ? The one church we’ve kinda come to enjoy the most is the one where the music is the least professional sounding (an accomplished musician would think it’s horrible), but the song choices (which are singable for the most part) always seem to point my heart in the direction where the morning’s message hits home. The LYRICS of worship songs should take center stage, not the band, and given a singable key with a minimum of distractions, I can sing them to the Lord as if they were my own. By the way, Cindy and I both agree that the Longview Community Church worship team leads with the best balance of musicality, spontanaeity, transparancy, and humility of all the churches we’ve visited.

  5. Hey Eric,

    Glad to welcome you to the blog! I appreciate you’re thoughts.

    I sense in your response that you have a deep longing to have a meaningful encounter with God when you come to worship. One of my professors said once that we bring our longings for heaven when we come to worship. That is why we have such high expectations and high hopes for the worship event.

    These “other-worldly” longings will inevitably be disappointed, at times, when we try and realize them within a broken human context. That is why I think there is a need for us to come to worship with an attitude of humility and grace for those around us. This, I must say, is something that I struggle with. As a musician, student of theology, and “average Joe baritone,” I share some of the frustrations and questions you’ve encountered lately.

    Grace and peace as you continue to seek the living God!

  6. Hey Eric,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about your post this week. I mentioned in my response how there is a certain amount of grace we are called to extend to those in worship. The reason why I think this is necessary is because the community of faith is not exempt from human brokenness.

    As I wrote this, though, I did not mean to communicate that we are wrong to feel frustration and to seek to make positive changes.

    I wrestle with this dynamic a lot. How do we extend grace to others and yet still pursue what is right and true? I guess it comes down to what Paul says in Ephesians about learning to speak the truth in love. But I know from my own experience that this is easier said then done.

  7. My heart listens to all the above , my head is nodding, but maybe the question ought to be:..Is God pleased with my worship?….
    Probably heaven is so big that there will be an area for the praise folks, the choir people and of course the Church of Christ denomination will have a section with no musical instruments.

    And Hey Eric, you promised to go sailing some time……………….

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