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May 11, 2006


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David Hamstra

I feel your pain, buddy. I've only been a part of one Adventist church that really worshiped, that the reason was their implementation of the spirit and principles of a book called Experiencing Worship. You can get it (maybe you already have?) from Advent Source.

As a result of taking it to one of my churches, we made the big (but it's actually small) change of putting the sermon first followed by the singing. It's been positive for our worship experience, but it still feels too much like we're going through the motions at times. How do we change that? I don't know.

Sherman Cox II

Your desire to move from lifeless worship is interesting. And also your discovery that contemporary worship does not necessarily mean real worship, it may only mean "louder" worship.

Perhaps what you are longing for is a true community where worship demonstrates the communities longing for God. Perhaps we go to contemporary worship to try to satisfy the true longing of a real connection to the divine that can happen in a contemporary and a traditional church. Perhaps the whole idea of "seeker-sensitive" has replaced a church that caters to the whims of the elderly with one that caters to the whims of younger people and thus still bases its worship on human individual wants and desires alone which would work against the creation and maintence of a community where real worship can take place. Perhaps individualism again has fooled us into thinking if we get enough individuals enjoying the worship then worship will be meaningful.

Pastor I think you are trying to say something subtil, and I am also trying to speak to it, but am having as hard a time as I think you are...

Marcel Schwantes

What a great discussion. You know, I just have to say, I am very touched by the forum of young pastors struggling to solve an issue that has been essentially an ingrained culturally-Adventist problem before I was around.

This post was perfect timing since I just read an article about the topic. Rather than pasting the whole thing here, check out this link:


A survey of church leaders within the evangelical world was taken to get insight into the next generation of worship.

I just want to highlight the points that really struck me from their conclusions (I'm using my numbering system below). Please refer to the link for the full results:

1. The strongest and deepest desire of the twenty something worshiper is to have a genuine encounter with God (88%). Worship that is authentic and real, not glitzy and showy takes first place.

2. This longing for an encounter with God is not merely a desire for an individualistic encounter, but one that takes place within the context of community (88%). The experience of "being-in-community" is essential to good worship.

3. Worship of the future will be more participatory. Worship is not a lecture or a concert done to us or for us. Authentic worship is done "by" us. We are the players, God is the audience (73%). No more concerts, Please!

4. It is not surprising that this generation wants a more creative use of the senses (51%). The current communication revolution has shifted us toward a participation that is more visual. This generation wants to "see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it."


Anyway, I think we all feel the same way. I, as an elder in a contemporary worship service in Glendale, CA, have always felt emptyness in the middle of the loudness, and I'm all for a rockin band kicking out a good jam session. But I just don't sense that the average Adventist pew-warmer has made the transition in their hearts to accept that they are each called to worship beyond just coming to church to fill their spiritual cups and listen to a concert. It has to start with what's inside the heart and how grace has transformed them. What's inside dictates what comes out. Coldness, distance, fear of engaging. Or child-like joy and happyness that makes you want to cry out with open and outstretched arms, "Abba Father!"

Marcel Schwantes

Ryan, I got your message on my other blog - http://reinventingsdawheel.blogspot.com (sorry, shameless plug). I'm up for coffee anytime! Toss me some dates.


Let's face it, there are times when we do simply go through the motions, OR we don't worship at all that Sabbath. That is the way life is: Sometimes at the end of the week, I look back over what I've spent time on and I'm discouraged because it didn't amount to much. Sometimes I am so exhausted, I don't really feel like I have anything to say or give to anyone else. Christ clearly felt that way on occasion. He told the woman at the well, "Give me a drink; I'm thirsty." He said something similar in agony on the cross. In the end He felt that His father had deserted Him. When He mosted needed his closest friends to join Him in prayer (in the garden), they were too drowsy to be any help. When He most needed someone to stand with Him in His hour of trial, Peter (that erratic fool) was first ready to take on the army with his two swords and then cursed when a slave girl challenged the veracity of his statement that he knew nothing of Jesus. There is no shame in coming to worship empty, broken and lifeless. That's one reason why we come to worship.

Community is essential to real worship. If we are going to be honest to God, we have to begin by being honest with each other. The essential inhibiting factor in conventional American worship (all brands and flavors) is the pretense, the fear of spiritual intimacy. We want too many people in on it, so we can hide in the crowd. We want the music to do it for us, or the sermon, or the silence or the "smells and bells." Where we need to begin is something like an AA meeting, "My name is Monte, and I'm a sinner who Christ died for." People who are willing to take the risk to support one another and exact "a fearless inventory" from one another in love because they too know they need it. Challenge one another to open the Bible because it give us God's word and to be fearless in grappling with it in a group where we are real with each other. Of course, it helps to be sensitive to cultural context and language and symbol and get onto the wavelength of the others, but if the core isn't there, the rest of it seems inspid and lifeless.

Here's the key about leading worship when you get beyond the beginning years of ministry: Don't write a sermon. You are prepared; you've studied for years and know more than most of your hearers will ever remember; you continue to read and dig to feed yourself. Ask yourself (and God in prayer) all week, Who are these people? What do they need? How can I show them that I really love them? (Do I have the courage to really love them?) What is God wanting to say to them? And trust God and go out there on the high wire without a net. It will be more frightening, but it will be less plastic! What people are really needing is the authenticity, not all the other stuff!

Neville Salvador

As a fourth-generation SDA, from a very traditional Adventist upbringing, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into new ways of worshipping, I’d have to admit I’ve felt the same emptiness in worship at times. I can relate to many of the previous contributors, and I’ve also had some great memories and experiences of worship.

The times I’ve experienced the best worship has less to do with worship style, quality of presentation or environment, amount of personal involvement, nor to a lesser extent, even my “connection” with other worshippers (that’s not to say I didn’t feel a sense of community); as it has to do with how much, and how authentic were the experiences I brought to worship; and how open was I to receive a blessing.

From my earliest memories as the child of missionary teachers, I remember with fondness worship in the least attractive environments where my dad would often be invited to preach: under stiflingly hot, metal roofs, in thatched-roof sheds with muddy, earth floors, in over-crowded living rooms, or outdoor venues infested with flies or mosquitoes. What made these experiences great? I think it may have been my dad somehow imparting a sense of mission--that we were “doing something important for God.” Or perhaps it was the build-up and anticipation, the excitement of discovery and travel, whether by diesel smoke-belching bus, jeepney, pedicab, or outrigger canoe.

Later in life, in my mid to late twenties, burned-out and disillusioned about my career, and life in general, I took a couple months off to drive across the U.S., with no schedule nor agenda. It was a most enlightening and cathartic experience. Some of the greatest memories of that trip had to do with worshipping in whatever Adventist church I looked up in the telephone directory the Friday night, in my motel room, before any given Sabbath. Whether it was singing hymns, off-key and a cappella, outside, behind a church under construction, with the only family that didn’t go to camp meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico; being invited for lunch after church by the nicest family in Des Moines, Iowa; or, after watching the sunrise over the Atlantic (a magical experience for someone used to watching sunsets over the Pacific Ocean) worshipping with, what on the surface appeared to be an older, up-tight congregation, but once I got to know them, was quite a friendly and open group in Cape Cod, Mass., worship wasn’t so much about what I found at church, as it was about what I brought to church.

As recently as a decade ago, discouraged and disillusioned by local church politics and the pressure of feeling that the church “depended on us too much”, my wife and I took a break from our own church and started attending different churches (Adventist and not). First surprise: the church didn’t even miss us. Humbling but also liberating. Second revelation: there are a lot of other churches out there doing good things in worship (and also struggling to find the answers). Third discovery: it’s really not about worship style, liturgy, volume of music, or the order of various elements of worship—we found good and bad examples of all types wherever we went. Nothing earth-shattering nor ground-breaking, just good reminders about what matters and what doesn’t.

Whether it is wrestling with God alone in the darkness, or basking in the warm glow of a loving and embracing community, worship happens best for me when I bring who I am at that particular moment, and come with a specific intent to encounter God (and perhaps, if I’m up to it, His people).

Just a quick comment about worship style from one who has had to lead worship services in traditional, contemporary and blended services, often, more than one type every Sabbath: Traditional services obviously work best in traditional and structured environments with systems and organizational structures in place--in the Adventist context, these factors occur more naturally near Adventist institutions. Up-side: rich in precedent and traditions, better at conveying the power, majesty (and perhaps) the mystical qualities of God. Downside: can be oppressively stuck in certain historical periods or cultural attitudes; the skills required for this type of service are getting increasingly rare (elocution skills, organ playing, choral singing or simply music-reading skills, etc.). Contemporary services are more naturally geared at communicating an accessible, contextual, relevant God; but seem to lose some of the richness and the “weight of tradition” of orthodoxy. Blended services have the pluses, minuses and the expense associated with both (In my humble opinion, only mega-churches with “unlimited budgets” can do blended services right by capitalizing on the pluses, avoiding the minuses, and incurring the expense of both the traditional and the contemporary). Worship style is not the magic bullet. Context, location, one’s audience/target group/community makeup, and available skill sets within the congregation (or available for a price outside the congregation) seem more of a determining factor for determining which worship style will enhance worship the most.

Having said all that, as one involved in worship planning/leading, the challenges still remain. If worship is about how much, and what I bring to church, and my intention to encounter God, how do I create an environment where everyone else (or at least a good portion of the congregation) also experiences worship? My best attempt at an answer, at this moment: be relevant and encourage relevance, be contextual and encourage worship in the context of where people are at the moment (even if it is to be merely be a spectator—I haven’t found anyone who was successfully cajoled or shamed into participating), be authentic and encourage (perhaps even demand) authenticity in return; be open to surprises and miracles, be vulnerable, be transparent and let His majesty and power shine through; and when all that fails, be humble and start over again--much easier said than done. Just one layperson’s (architectural) perspective.

Pedro Torres Martínez

Hi again! In answer to your comment in my blog, what about in having a parallel blog in english? It's to say, the same content but in english and spanish. I'll work on it! I'll try to register the blog as "countdown", which is the same as cuenta-atras. And please, try to find some time to summarize what is "re-church network" I'm really interested in that (at least sounds good ;-) )

David Hamstra


I've been considering the comment I left the other day. I don't think I've hit on what made worship at that church so special (special as in, pastors of other non-Adventist churches would visit and say that church had the best worship in the city).

I think what made it different was a group of lay leaders and a pastor who were radically into casting down idols, this case, the tendency to worship the human participants rather than God. I believe that this was the root cause of their willingness to change the focus of the service from the sermon to the participatory elements or to have the worship leader and singers turn their backs to the audience during the climactic moment of the service. This communicates that we're about worshiping God, not ourselves. And for me, that's when true worship starts to happen.

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