“Passionate Worship” is one of the buzzwords around UMC circles these days, mostly because of Bishop Schanse’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.
Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to think a little about what passionate worship means. I was asked to record some thoughts on video for a youth retreat–a pastor’s perspective on “passionate worship.” Two thoughts came out of that invitation to reflect that I’m still mulling over.
First, it occured to me that we might do well to go back to the root of “passion” when we’re thinking about passionate worship. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my default response to “passionate worship” is to think about what I can do to “put more into it” and be more passionate myself in order to have “passionate worship.” While I’m reminded in this what a narcissist I am (anybody with me?), I did occur to me that the passion of Jesus might have something to say about our efforts to be passionate in worship and to have passionate worship in our churches.
These days, passion is taken to mean “intensely emotionally engaged” or something of the like. But in the Christian tradition, passion is the older word to refer to Jesus’ sufferings leading up to his death on the cross. “Passion” is taken from the Latin “passio,” meaning, “suffering” or “enduring.” With this in mind, to talk about passionate worship, in particular our being passionate in our worship of God, is to speak of imitating something of Jesus’ actions in his endurance of suffering en route to the cross.
The passion of Jesus represented a complete self-emptying and self-giving of love for the sake of the cosmos and its redemption in obedience to the vocation given Jesus, God the Son, by God the Father. If we are to be passionate in our worship of God, then this is what it is truly about: profound self-emptying and self-giving in obedience to God for the sake of his purposes in the world. This is a place where we can see the connection between worship and mission.
This also means that “passionate worship” isn’t so much about being emotional, although being emotionally engaged is a great thing. But the truth is I can’t control my emotions. I might feel “passionate” one Sunday morning and not so much the next. But approaching worship by imitating the passionate self-giving of Jesus is something that I can intentionally engage in. It isn’t an easy or simple thing by any means, but it is something I can try to offer.
This would have been helpful enough in expanding my understanding of “passionate worship.” And, of course, I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of it (as if I came to it on my own!). But later, that thought led to a second one: “Passionate Worship” has a lot more to do with the Triune God being passionate about us than about us deciding to be passionate about God, or at least about a worship service.
Why on earth I continue to be so self-referenced in the face of God’s love in Jesus is sort of baffling.
What makes our worship “passionate” is our encounter with the One who endured the “passion,” the “suffering” for us! In that sense, we can’t be clever or creative or media-saavy or traditionally reverent or anything enough to conjure up some “passion” to make our worship more lively and less boring. As if the point is just to avoid boredom. It’s a noble goal and all, but it does seem to fall short of the God of Jesus Christ, does it not? We need Jesus to show up. When he shows up, things tend to get passionate kind of by accident. At our best, we’re not as interested in passionate worship as Jesus is. We’re not ready for how passionate it can get when Jesus has his way with us in worship.
The one thing we can do–though I don’t think he even requires this–is to cultivate our sense of expectancy for Jesus to show up. Not that we’d know what to do with him when he does. But if we’ve had an experience of worship when Jesus, the One who suffered the Passion for our sake, invades our otherwise comfortable and predictable gathering, we just might get interested in the sort of passionate worship that God is interested in.