North Broadway United Methodist Church

Worship: Form and Substance

Our recent worship survey, and conversations about worship emerging from that survey prompt me to reflect on our worship practices at North Broadway.  The word worship means to give reverence and honor to God.  Reverence means taking seriously what God has done, is doing, and will do in the world. It means acknowledging ourselves as creatures, and God as creator. It means gratitude for the gift of life which comes from God. It means devotion to the creation and the other creatures who also have their life-source in God.  Because our worship is distinctively Christian worship, it means attending to the call to discipleship that issues from the gospels, and offering our lives for the healing, mercy and transformation that is given through Jesus Christ. What we call “worship” is the time set aside for these purposes.

At North Broadway, we practice what is usually called “liturgical worship.”  Liturgy technically means “the work of the people.”  So the form of worship or order of worship that we follow is intended to facilitate the gathered community in acts of praise, gratitude, reverence, confession, invitation, relationship and transformation.  Liturgical worship involves certain form and order, utilizes the Revised Common Lectionary for the weekly scripture readings, and follows a distinctive calendar. (More about those in future posts).

Liturgical worship has defined form, but within that form it can be rich and diverse in substance, especially as practiced over time through the liturgical year. There is a sense of order that accompanies worship guided by liturgy. Why be concerned about order and form? Because of what we understand about how God has revealed God’s self to us.

At the very beginning of our scriptures, in Genesis 1:1-2, we are told, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was without shape or form.”  God, then, begins to order and give form to the formlessness by speaking. “God said…and it was so.” Light and dark, day and night, land and sea, bird and fish, and finally—humankind, into whom God breathes God’s own breath. We are creatures who are “formed” in a world being “formed.” So our worship should convey to us something about God’s character as one who gives “form” to our lives.  In John’s gospel, John 1: 14: “The word became flesh, and lived among us.”  The same word that orders creation becomes incarnate in Jesus, took on substance. So our worship should have “substance.”

Form and substance. What do we say, and how do we shape the worship so it faithfully reflects the character of God, and still leaves room for the freedom of the Spirit? Those are the questions worship planners must always ask.

Next up: Liturgy and the Community


Pastor Deborah Stevens