One of the better books I read last year was Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition by Wendell Berry, an author of more than 40 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This work of nonfiction is great “for those who still have a yen for counter-cultural criticism, here is some vintage brew from an environmentalist who has taken the high ground for years and years.”
I found that the book included a multitude of insights for life in general and for the local Christian Church in particular. I really liked this commentary by Berry:
Good artists “stick things together so they stay stuck. They know how to gather things into formal arrangements that are intelligible, memorable, and lasting. Good forms confer health upon the things that they gather together” (150).
As I read that quote it resonated with a subject close to my heart: corporate worship. I couldn’t help but connect Berry’s description of good artists to my experience with effective worship planners or liturgists. Seems like the good ones are artists who have a God-given gift to gather worship practices and rituals in ways that intelligible, memorable, and lasting.
Following Berry’s lead, I suggest that we view the liturgy or order of service as an art form. Might we agree that a liturgy represents far more than a mechanical collection of rituals or practices? And that, instead, it is a life-giving form that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, holds potential to bless each participant?
We may draw many implications from such conclusions but one addresses the relationship between worship artists and worship committees. Perhaps you have noticed that effective liturgists or worship planners struggle when placed within a context where the liturgy or order of service is created by a committee or a team. There is a simple explanation for this. While, during the creative process, an artist may solicit input or feedback from others, the idea of creating a life-giving form by committee is unthinkable for the artist. The creativity of the artist is often dulled by the well-intended suggestions of non-artists. For that reason and more the artist desires freedom to stick things together in way consisted with his or her personal vision.
The intentions behind the creation of worship committees are no doubt admirable, but if congregations desire life-giving Sunday services, they may want to begin by affirming the good artists among them: those who, with their God-given gifts and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can “stick things together so they stay stuck.” Then find ways to realize the intentions behind the creation of worship committees.
Of course, once the order of service or liturgy has been created, we still need another artist to lead worship. While the worship planner and worship leader may be the same person, they need not be. The worship planner may choreograph the dance while the worship leader dances. One may plan while another leads – but both are artists.