Why Have Alternative Worship Experiences?

(This is a transcript from a workshop I did in Port Charlotte, Florida.)

Thanks for coming to this workshop.  Today we are going to use our redeemed imaginations and expand our abilities to imagine.  We are going to learn a different way of worship that requires creativity and imagination.  Genesis tells us that we are created in God’s image and the very first verse in Genesis tells us that “In the beginning God created…”, so the first thing He ever tells us about Himself is that He is creative.  Therefore, we are creative.  And just look at the world around you, God obviously has a great imagination.  Before we begin, though, we are going to pray and I am going to bless our spirits.

Opening Prayer and Blessing

Right now, I call each of our spirits to the front and I say to your souls to step aside.  I call your spirit to attention in the name of Jesus.

Child of God, God cares for you from His position of magnificence, from the majesty of being the God of gods and the Lord of lords, because you are a reflection of Him.  You are a piece of His greatness.  You are a piece of His majesty.  You are a reflection of the immensity of Him as He crafted you together in your mother’s womb.  You were created in His image.  I bless you and your spirit with an understanding of the creativity of your Father and ask you, spirit, to expand our imaginations beyond that of the soulish realm.  Spirit, I ask you to look in the face of your Creator and get an understanding of the creativity He has placed in you.  Break the barrier we have placed on our minds and let the wells of fresh ideas flow.  I bless you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Now, I call into captivity every thought that exalts itself above God and every vain imagination.  Lord, let our imaginations be as though we are really there in what we are imagining, make it a reality before it even happens.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Form Versus Function

Form is how something looks.  Function is what it does.  There are lots of makes and styles of cars (which is the form).  No matter the bells and whistles or lack of them, all cars perform the same primary purpose, which is the function.  They get us from point A to point B quicker and more conveniently than walking or taking a horse and buggy.

The type of form of a car that a person drives or owns usually reflects need, taste, lifestyle, economics and a host of personal likes and dislikes.  It has nothing to do with the chief function of a car which is to move you from place to place.

It is possible to confuse form with function. The primary function of the church is essential to what makes it the Church.  The function or heartbeat of this living organism The Church is found in a life or worship, service, honest fellowship with each other, intimate relationship with our Father and application of the living word of God.

Scripture is clear that “The Church” is not a building shaped or designed a certain way nor is it a specific order of service or worship.  Rather, it is a living organism, the community of faith, the body of Christ.  Its about people living in relationships with Christ and each other.  We are the Church.

So, it is the function of the church that makes it The Church, not the form it may take; and, because it is a living organism, it is always changing, growing and transforming.  We as people, and even nature, are always changing.  We age, we wrinkle, our hair changes, our bodies change, our muscle tone changes.  Nobody stays exactly the same throughout their entire life.

As the Church has grown, it has changed.  The people in the world have changed.  God never changes, but we do.  Our thinking has changed, the face of the Church has changed.  The way the Church operates has changed.

In the past, the preacher was the leader and everyone else followed suit.  I’m not here to say that that is wrong.  We need a leader and someone who is going to shepherd the flock.  Someone has to be in control.  But, for too long a lot of the congregation has just sat and not done much.  It could be because they didn’t know what to do, or maybe were scared to try anything new, or felt that the way things were done were the only way things could be done.

A Different Way to Worship

Well, I am here today to show you a different way to worship.  We call it alternative worship experiences.  It is worship that for one thing gives you honest tools that enable you to make worship for yourself.  It doesn’t depend on the expertise of one person. Ideally, it takes a team to organize.  It also doesn’t have a predetermined end.

Why do this?  There are many reasons, but I’m only going to cover five today.

Using Our Five Senses

The first reason is alternative worship experiences connect our physical and spiritual worlds.  Through AWEs, all 5 senses are affected: sense of hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling.  God gave us five senses, or five gates that can connect us to Him.  These aren’t the only gates, but the senses are what we are focusing on right now.  The five senses connect us to the world and to God.  An example of this is I have a friend who is a pastor of an Assemblies of God church and his church always smells like lavender.  His church is very peaceful and I enjoy being there.  I have learned to associate that smell of lavender with his church.  The other day I went in to a restroom at a Mexican restaurant and they had that same air freshener in there.  I felt like I was in church right there next to the toilet.  I was reminded of God, and, therefore, I thought about Him.  Some people can go all day and not think once about God.  In that bathroom I was instantly at peace and felt “at home”.  For me, God is in that lavender scent.

The power of scent is incredible.  I read in a scientific magazine that during chemo therapy treatments this one particular study group had the smell of roses pumped into the area where the patients were getting chemo, so their bodies learned to associate the smell of roses with the chemo.  Eventually, they stopped the chemo and were receiving a placebo, but continued the rose scent.  Their bodies responded as if they were receiving the chemo.  Amazing!

Seeing God All Around

Another way AWEs connect our physical world to the spiritual world is we learn to see God all around us.  When I was studying for this I was sitting out on my back lanai looking at my pool fence.  I felt God say, “Just like this fence keeps Ethan, my son, from getting into trouble and drowning in the pool, I (God) am your protector.”  Seeing that fence and associating it with God allowed Him to speak to me in terms I could understand and relate to.

In alternative worship experiences we make church out of the elements of our everyday lives – the issues, the culture, the language, the media, the music. Church becomes more like home – a place where we belong and which belongs to us. And, this can help us to see that home, and the rest of our world, can be church – life lived in the presence of God.

Being a Spectator or a Participant

Another reason to do AWEs is it encourages people to quit being spectators and begin being active participants in worship.   Some of us have become very spiritually lazy, or maybe not necessarily lazy, but bored.  If you are one of those who thinks church has become boring and is always the same, that’s ok.  Even if you don’t think its boring, doing new things are always great.  Quite a few people think coming to service on Sunday morning, hearing the preaching and singing a few songs is all that is available or necessary. God is wanting ALL of us.  He wants our thoughts, our actions, our deeds, our hearts.  It is time to take a proactive approach to our relationship with God.

In the alternative worship service, if you don’t engage you will get nothing.  You have to find God for yourself.  You create worship for yourself.  The cool thing is every person may get something different from the same station.  There will be an art installation that will move one person in one direction and another person in the total opposite direction.  The use of symbolism will connect with people at different levels.  At every station there are directions or guidelines, but there is always an element that is completely up to you.

Alternative worship offers people the chance of creative expression in worship.  It tries to give people “tools” for honest encounters with God.  “Tools” might mean prayer, pens and paper, a video loop, something to eat, someone to talk to, Holy Communion, or anything else that can help us to meet God in some way.  But the tools used in alternative worship have one important characteristic – they don’t lead to predetermined outcomes.  That is to say, alternative worship seeks to bring God and the participant together – but not to predetermine what the outcome of the meeting might be.  This is essential to protect the genuineness of the encounter.

Producing a Sense of Community

The third reason, or benefit, for this type of service is that they produce a sense of community because ideally it takes a village to create these services.  AWEs are not a one-man show.  You’ll want to get as wide a variety of people and skills as you can on the team. Involve as many as possible in the actual presenting of the services.    Alternative worship is intensely concerned with creativity.  This is due to the belief that creativity is essential to human wholeness and should be offered back to God, the Creator.  Everybody is creative since we are made in the image of God; part of the purpose of alternative worship is to help people rediscover this truth for themselves. As well as healing people’s self-worth, creative expression opens new channels of communication to God and to others.  There are people who when they come to these services and are given the chance to write spontaneously, or paint, or create spontaneously, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, they will finally say, “I’m home!”

Unfortunately, life and often the Church, try to tell us that we are not creative and  that we have nothing worth offering.  In many congregations, creative expression is discouraged. Some ministries teach that certain actions are okay outside of church, but not during church.  God is wanting us to realize that there is not a time that we are not “in church”.  We are always in the presence of God.

Another way it creates community is by always having food at your services.  It doesn’t have to be an elaborate spread, just things to snack on.  Something about food makes people open up and relax.

Reaching Others

The fourth reason AWEs are valuable is that they are going to reach a people group that traditional church will not.  There are many people out there who don’t like to go to church because they see it as an “unreal” and “irrelevant” place.  They don’t like all the structure that many congregations have.  Some churches have an order, and nothing, not even the Holy Spirit, is going to change that order.

Young people want to experience what life is, especially experience life for themselves.  They want life to explode all around them.  This will be achieved through offering worship experiences that are physical, emotional, and intellectual.  Worship gatherings and services where people are not only hearing powerful truths, but seeing vivid images, feeling strong emotions, touching actual objects, tasting enjoyable flavors and even smelling symbolic aromas – these types of services will have a much greater potential for becoming life-changing experiences.  The more senses we engage and the more vividly we engage them, the more powerful the experience.

Did Jesus engage the senses when He was teaching?  Let me read this to you and you tell me:

Matthew 6 says,

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not or more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;  they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

In these scriptures He refers to the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the grass…He was sitting on a hill looking at these things as He taught, and so was everybody else who was there.  They were seeing the things as He spoke, which made it more relevant and real to them.

The people sitting there were also very familiar with grass and fields, gathering stuff and putting into barns. Jesus’ choice of words were very relevant to His audience.  AWEs use relevant objects and ideas so people can more easily understand Biblical truths.  Not many of us can easily understand the whole farming scenario.

The last supper is another great example of Jesus engaging the senses.  Do you think the disciples ever looked at wine, lamb and bread the same way again?  Each time they drank wine or ate lamb and bread they were probably reminded of Jesus at that last supper and what He said and how they felt.

Today’s world is a media-saturated, technologically driven and visual culture.  Just 100 years ago the primary mode of communication was the spoken word.  The principle form of entertainment was being read to.  Today, many people don’t read books anymore.  They surf the web and watch movies.  Most people aren’t accustomed to listening to long speeches.  They listen to sound bites and look at graphics that show information visually.  Look how hugely popular music videos are..it adds a visual element to their music.

Helping All Types of Learners

This leads me to my final reason which is AWEs help the visual, tactile and kinesthetic learners.  Many people can not learn to their full potential by just listening; they must see it and/or do something to cement it in their minds.  It is awesome to have a visual demonstration to the audible lesson.  You would be experiencing the teaching, not just thinking about it.

Oh, the Possibilities!

Before I finish and you begin the alternative worship experience I’ve set up here, let me paint a picture for you of what church could be.

You’re sitting in worship and on the platform the praise team is playing passionate love songs to Jesus, totally immersed in worship, producing such incredible music that your heart can hardly contain what you’re feeling.  In front of the praise team are the dancers who are prophesying and worshiping with movements, doing warfare in the heavenlies and are demonstrating God’s heart. To your right, the creative writers and authors are sitting at tables writing love poems, psalms and other prophetic stories that reveal deep mysteries of God.  Behind you are the culinary connoisseurs – those gifted in cooking – creating food that tells a story.   Food that ministers not only to our taste buds, but to our noses because of the awesome aroma of their creations.  On your left are painters, sculptors and other artists crafting works of art with such insight and beauty that you can’t even find words to describe it, works of art that you can touch and feel.   All of these worshippers are working in concert with the word that is coming forth from the preacher in the pulpit.  All of it is related, confirming the message.

What would you think of a service like this?  Really different, huh?  Today’s alternative worship experience is just a crumb in the full-course meal God wants us to experience.  I hope you take what you’ve heard and what you see and expand it greatly in your congregation.  There is information on the back table that explains more about this type of worship and gives you some points from which you can start.

Before we get started with the next part of this workshop, let me give you some guidelines.  Try not to congregate all at one station.  There is no particular order, go to any station you want.  Be sure to visit every station, though.  Try to only socialize and talk in this area, so as not to disturb those at the stations.  Help yourself to drinks and food.  Over here is the station where you can draw or write.  At every station there is paper and pens, please use them.

If you have any question, I’ll be happy to answer them.  Thank you.

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