X

The Colossian Forum Subscription Form

| Resume a previously saved form
Resume Later

In order to be able to resume this form later, please enter your email and choose a password.

Subscriber Information







Subscriptions

Resources

The Colossian Forum offers free resources to help you transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness.

Mailing Address







Please enter the required value for your country.

Our Blog
November 9, 2011 | James K.A. Smith

Glossary – Worship: Expression and Formation

Glossary – Worship: Expression and Formation

James K.A. Smith, Senior Fellow
November 9th, 2011

The Colossian Forum emphasizes the centrality of Christian worship as a resource for theological wisdom—the practices that “carry” the rationality of the tradition—as well as the space in which we are conformed to the image of Christ—one of the primary ways that we acquire the virtues of Christ (Col. 3:16).  However, in order for that claim to make sense, it might be helpful to clarify what we mean by “worship” in a full-orbed sense.

By “worship” we mean more than music or singing.  In many contemporary churches, we have fallen into the habit of talking about the “song service” as “worship,” which is a prelude followed by “teaching” (i.e., the sermon)—perhaps with another opportunity to “worship with our giving” after the sermon.  In some ways, this narrowing of the meaning of “worship” is part of a bad habit that we picked up after the Reformation:  the tendency to reduce worship to expression.  After the Reformation, and especially in the wake of modernity, wide swaths of contemporary Christianity tend to only think of worship as an “upward” act of the people of God who gather to offer up their sacrifice of praise, expressing their gratitude and devotion to the Father, with the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Obviously this is an entirely biblical impulse and understanding: if we don’t praise, even the rocks will cry out.  In a sense, we are made to praise.  The biblical vision of history culminates in the book of Revelation with a worshiping throng enacting the exhortation of Psalm 150 to “Praise the Lord!”  However, one can also see how such expressivist understandings of worship feed into (and off of) some of the worst aspects of modernity.  Worship-as-expression is easily hijacked by the swirling eddy of individualism.  In that case, even gathered worship is more like a collection of individual, private encounters with God in which worshipers express an “interior” devotion.

But over the course of Christian history (including the Reformation), worship was always understood as more than expression.  Christian worship is also a formative practice precisely because worship is also a “downward” encounter in which God is the primary actor.  Worship isn’t just something we do; it does something to us.  Worship is a communal practice that is one of those “habitations of the Spirit” described by Craig Dykstra: a tangible, embodied, communal rhythm that is a conduit for the Spirit’s transformative power.  Worship is a space where we are nourished by Word and sacrament—we eat the Word and eat the bread that is the Word of Life.

This is why, for centuries, Christians have described worship as a “sacramental” encounter—a place where the transcendent God meets us in the tangible, tactile elements of bread and wine and water and Word.  Word and sacrament are specially “charged” spaces of the Spirit’s formative power, which is why the form of worship is important.  These are not just channels through which we funnel our praise up to God; they are also embodied practices through which the Spirit of God shapes our imagination.  Christian worship that is gathered around Word and table is not just a platform for our expression; it is the space for the Spirit’s (trans)formation of us.  The practices of gathered Christian worship have a specific shape about them precisely because this is how the Spirit recruits us into the story of God reconciling the world to himself in Christ.  There is a “logic” to the shape of intentional, historic Christian worship that performs the Gospel over and over again as a way to form and reform our habits.


For further reading
:

Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro, “Introduction” to Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, 2010).

John Witvliet and Emily Brink, “Prologue” to The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive/Baker, 2004).

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic, 2009).

Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Baker, 2002).

Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (InterVarsity, 2007).

John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (InterVarsity Press, 2010).

______________________________________________________

James K.A. Smith is a Senior Fellow of The Colossian Forum and professor of philosophy at Calvin College.

 

Suggested Posts
Faith and Politics: A Conversation with Sid Jansma Jr.
November 3, 2020 | Sarah Nicholas
Faith and Politics: A Conversation with Sid Jansma Jr.
Our political beliefs, like our faith, are dear to us. As Christians, we strive to make political decisions based on the commitments of our faith. But what if our faith calls us to vote against a politician, policy, or party we supported in the past? Businessman, community leader, philanthropist, and Colossian Forum Board Chairman, Sid Jansma, Jr. shares how his faith has shaped and sometimes called him to change his political beliefs, in this conversation with The Colossian Forum President, Rev. Michael Gulker. Watch Now
Virtual Small Groups Can Overcome Isolation
June 26, 2020 | Monica Lawrence
Virtual Small Groups Can Overcome Isolation
Isolation is one of the deep pains we are experiencing as churches and individuals right now. The changes brought about by COVID-19 highlight how many ways we are separated from each other, even in God’s family. But loneliness in the Church isn’t new. As a millennial Christian, I know we have a habit of hopping from one church to another and a reputation for leaving the Church altogether. When I was in college, I attended several churches but never really got plugged in. I was always assigned to an age group, meaning I missed out on perspectives, growth opportunities, and encouragement outside my bubble. That’s part of the reason I love the inter-generational aspect of The Colossian Way. It pulls you out of your echo chamber and says, “look at all these voices that make up the Church.” It’s not just millennials who get stuck in echo chambers or feel isolated. As I coordinate our trainings and workshops and connect people with faithful conflict engagement resources, I see church leaders burdened with the heavy responsibility of supplying answers to hard questions and responding to conflict, all while holding their congregations together. It’s easy to feel alone in your struggle to navigate culturally divisive conflicts in the Church. My favorite part of hosting Colossian Way trainings is seeing Christians make connections to others struggling with difficult disagreements. To come together, to name those struggles, and to work toward a way forward – knowing you may never agree – is an incredible gift. But does that unity and relationship carry over to a grid of tiny Zoom boxes? Back in March, my colleague and I decided to lead a Colossian Way group online to see if it was possible to practice discipleship through Christian conflict engagement virtually. Here’s what we learned: Technological Skill Level Isn’t a Barrier to Participation: Facilitators should familiarize themselves with the video platform they use by accessing tutorials and perhaps investing in a paid account to access convenient features. Small group participants just need a strong internet connection and be able to log on to the platform. It’s Important to Get Used to New Conversational Rhythms: When you meet online, conversational rhythms of talking and listening can become more rigid; you lose the moments of excited interruption and “turn to the person next to you” conversations. Just like in an in-person small group, Facilitators should learn to be comfortable with silence and carefully manage time. If your platform allows you to split up into breakout rooms, be mindful of the extra time those technological transitions take. Take the Extra Time for Relationships: In the Colossian Way groups I’ve led, we took a little extra time to get to know each other. When we met in-person, we shared a meal before each session. Online, we took a few minutes to connect before the session began. One of our participants taught Spanish and used a different flag or photo from a Spanish-speaking country as his webcam background each week. Another, a healthcare professional, participated despite the strains of her job during a pandemic. Bonding over these interests and challenges helped us dive into difficult topics. In the end, our online group, like any group, worked, not despite a lack of relationship or closeness, but because we committed ourselves to building relationships with one another and to being spiritually formed to look more like Christ in the midst of disagreement. Facilitating a Colossian Way group is challenging but extremely rewarding. You’re joining a robust community of experienced guides who are playing an active role in making their congregations more loving, more resilient. In addition, we’ve designed training and resources to support you every step of the way. And, in August, Facilitator Training will be available online, making it easier than ever to equip yourself to guide your church to navigate conflicts in Christ-like ways. I’m a runner, so I’ll use a running metaphor. You can run barefoot. You may step on some pebbles, hit the pavement too hard, or scrape your toe, but you’ll absolutely get from point A to point B. But a good pair of running shoes will support you and help you run better. A good pair of shoes will protect you from rocks, support your feet, and help you run faster, longer. The Colossian Way Facilitator Training is like a good pair of running shoes. It teaches you how to balance your time, respond when somebody in your group monopolizes the conversation, and how to manage your own anger and anxiety. And perhaps most valuable, Training brings you into a community, because even though running can seem like a solitary sport, our endurance and speed get a boost when someone runs beside us or cheers us on at the finish line. For information about our newest small-group series, Political Talk, including how to become a Facilitator register for an upcoming free, one-hour webinar. To support other “runners” on this Colossian Way journey, I invite you to donate today to help provide online training and eBook curricula to Christian leaders looking for a way to hold together in Christ.

Stay connected and informed about the latest in faithful conflict engagement tools! Sign up to receive exclusive event invitations, blogs, prayer letters, e-news and other content.