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Questionnaires on preferred styles of worship usually force people into categories that are mutually exclusive—formal versus informal, traditional versus innovative, complex versus simple. Most of these categories miss the point. One might call a service "formal" simply because it occurs in a formal setting, or "traditional" because a biblical reading was used, or "innovative" because a dancer took part in the service. Yet none of these terms does justice to the total worship experience.
A service with many congregational parts though, labeled "liturgical," may flow with natural grace, while a service with a very "simple" structure may suffer from jarring discontinuities. A service that looks very "formal" on paper may be conducted warmly and may have room for much spontaneity, while a service that appears to be "informal" may be conducted in a stiff manner and have no room at all for anything new.
Innovations may take place in the context of structured worship. But there are worship leaders whose goal it is to have each service be entirely new. This kind of worship, while exciting to the worshiper at times, puts heavy demands upon the leader. The emphasis tends to be upon the one conducting the service rather than on the worshipping congregation. Such worship may become a performance rather than a communal act.
Liturgical worship includes familiar elements to which a worshiper can relate and make one's own. It is a drama in which each is a player with a part. There is a dignity of language in forms that have been carefully created and honed by frequent use. But there is a risk of "vain repetition"—the hardening of words and phrases through mechanical recital so that they become devoid of meaning. If liturgical worship is to be vital, its forms must be renewed periodically and if necessary, be rewritten. Structure and consistency are important in worship, but so are spontaneity and a feeling of newness and freshness.
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Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.
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