Liturgy in the church is something which can cause quite an argument. Some individuals have the view that without liturgy to guide worship, there has not been genuine worship. On the other side are individuals who view liturgy as a heavy burden from the ancient past which causes worship to be dreadful instead of energized. More than a few remain somewhere in the middle. In recent times, this has been a struggle played out among many congregations and within many denominations. Little surprise that there exists a broad spectrum of the type and amount of liturgy experienced throughout the church.
For those who may not understand the term of liturgy, it is the form which public worship takes within a religion, most often Christianity. The arrangement of the different elements of the worship service is prescribed and followed in each worship service with only a little variation. The actual words, music, and prayers may or may not change but the order and structure remains the same.
My experience in the church has been one in which there has always been some type of liturgy guiding the worship service. I have been in settings where it may not be as pronounced but it is still present. Participants in some worship settings in which I have participated may not even think about the liturgy being used or the basis for the choice of liturgy.
Like many aspects of the church, there are positives and negatives when it comes to the liturgy. First, some positives. The most evident one is that by using a prescribed liturgy, the worship participants who attend regularly know exactly what will happen next in the service whether they have a printed guide or not. In addition, many parts of the service are easily memorized since they are used every week. An example would be a liturgy which includes the Lord’s Prayer. The participants tend to memorize these words early in their worship experience and each week it remains the same. Another benefit to a liturgy is that for worship leaders and planners, it provides a guide for their work. Each week they know what elements they need to prepare. The leadership also knows the order and movement in the worship space.
Now, some negatives which accompany the use of liturgy. One negative is that liturgy can lull a participant into going through the worship service almost on autopilot. All the positives listed above regarding memorization and knowing what comes next can allow a participant to not even think about what is being done. Another pitfall of liturgy is that often the meaning behind the elements and the ordering of those elements gets lost. I mentioned earlier that some participants may not even realize that a liturgy is in place because they have forgotten or it has not been explained what the liturgy is and the reason for every aspect of it. Most liturgies have a theological, practical, and spiritual meaning to them but with time those understandings can be forgotten. The third problem with liturgy is that if someone is a new participant, the individual can become lost since regular attenders just move from element to element with little or no explanation. This can turn a newcomer off since they do not wish to feel ignorant or become very self-conscious of their lack of knowledge.
Much of the negative can be overcome. The key is that communication about the chosen liturgy must happen regularly both verbally and in print. Discussion around the meaning of what is done and why it is done in the prescribed fashion must occur with those who are regularly participating. Explanation of each element and the flow needs to be shared by the worship leaders and/or in whatever printed materials are used so that the newcomer feels she/he has a guide which empowers them to participate.
So here are the questions which I would like each reader to answer:
- Does your worship setting use a liturgy? If so, what is that liturgy?
- Do you understand why a liturgy is in place and what the elements of it might be?
- Is liturgy an aid or a hindrance to the worship experience?