A Theological Look at Worship Pastoring: Part 1

Over the last few months, I have been researching and writing a paper for an independent study entitled “Teaching Theology through Worship Ministry in a Postmodern Context.” As a worship pastor, this has been the most important academic study I’ve ever done as far as influencing my personal ministry. Now that I have turned in my first draft of the paper I’m excited to share with you bits and pieces of the paper (It’s 30 pages long, so don’t worry, I won’t be sharing all of it). Overall, I argue that worship ministry is the perfect medium to teach theology to a postmodern culture because it is a ministry characterized by a dialogue with an incarnate God. In Part 1, I am posting the introduction to the paper framing the argument.

I know this might be a bit headier than is appropriate for a blog, but the truth is, there are a lot of people writing on worship ministry, but not many writing in a deep, theological way. Below is an attempt.

“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”[1]

Bob Dylan, in 1979, put out a very spiritually motivated album called Slow Train Coming. In one of the more popular songs on the album, a bluesy Motown throwback called “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Dylan posits that it doesn’t matter if someone is the president or a beggar on the street. Regardless of who a person is, he will inevitably serve somebody. Although it may not have sung as well, Dylan could have easily entitled his song, “Gotta worship somebody.” To serve something is to worship something.[2] The deferral of one’s identity to an outside influence, the subjection of a human to some form of authority, even the myth of self-authority, at its core is worship. John Calvin writes, “There is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity.”[3] Paul, in his letter to the Romans, observes, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”[4] Whether it happens properly or improperly, humans are bent towards worship.

To define worship as succinctly as possible, worship is dialectic. Worship is the dialogue that occurs between the initiating God and his responding followers. As Marva Dawn writes, “We worship only because God comes to us, loves us first, and enables us to worship. We respond with love and gratitude, adoration and praise.”[5] This dialogue can take many different forms, such as art, music, social action, prayer, tongues, bible study, etc. However, regardless of the form it takes, all worship is defined by the interaction between God and humans. Geoffrey Wainwright writes, “Whether the correspondence be located in freedom or reason or speech, humankind is seen throughout Scripture as made by God sufficiently like himself for communication to take place between the Creator and the human creature, a personal exchange in which each partner is meant to find satisfaction.”[6] Worship is dialectic.

Preaching, on the other hand, is rhetorical. Although in a broader sense the call to preaching may very well be seen as a dialectic response to God’s transformation on a person’s life, the actual act of preaching is rhetorical in that it can happen without dialogue. Preaching is the active transmission of information to a passive recipient. For much of church history, the main means by which people learned about God, the central conduit for teaching theology to congregations was through dialectic liturgy.[7] However, as the Protestant Reformation progressed, founded by such preachers as Luther and Calvin, the tide shifted towards rhetorical preaching being the preferred medium of teaching theology to the church.[8] Preaching fit well with the epistemological paradigm brought on by the Enlightenment.[9] There was no overwhelming cultural suspicion of religious meta-narrative as long as it came through a reasoned argument taught by a credentialed speaker. Therefore, theological knowledge was transmitted easily from a credible preacher to a receptive church.

Rhetorical preaching, however, is no longer sufficient in and of itself for teaching theology in a postmodern context. With the onslaught of postmodern angst and suspicion, the deconstruction of previously indestructible meta-narratives, and the rejection of systems of thought having carte-blanche authority over how people interpret the world around them, rhetorical preaching alone no longer has credibility. In order to effectively teach theology, preaching needs to occur within the context of strong dialectic liturgy. To put it differently, if a modernist wanted to learn about the homeless population in Dallas, he would go to the local library, find a few books on the topic, read some of the statistics, and collect the germane information to get a better understanding. If a postmodernist wanted to learn about homelessness in Dallas, he would go to Dallas and become homeless for a week. In each instance, both would walk away with a better understanding of the issue, but the means by which they reach their conclusions would vary immensely.

Dawn later notes that in a worship context we “learn more about God’s character.”[10] A postmodern culture does not learn about God by means of intuition, but by means of interaction. In order to effectively teach theology as pastors in a postmodern context, there must be a shift in priority from rhetorical preaching to dialectic liturgy. The specific field of worship ministry provides an advantageous office through which to teach theology to a postmodern church.

[1] “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Slow Train Coming, 1979,.

[2]A Hebrew word commonly used in reference to the worship of God has its etymological roots in the term for slave. So, the worship of God in the Hebrew understanding of it was tantamount to enslavement to God. Cf. HALOT, 773.

[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of Calvin, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2008). 1:5:12

[4] Rom 1:22-23

[5] Marva J. Dawn, “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Church in Postmodern Times,” in Confident Witness – Changing World, 270=282 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999). 271

[6] Geoffrey Wainwright, “Christian Worship: Scriptural Basis and Theological Framework,” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, 1-31 (Oxford: Ofxord University Press, 2006). 9

[7] Ibid. 14

[8] Ibid. 15

[9] Although the Enlightenment is a very broad term that can refer to multiple aspects of culture and history, the specific way it is meant here is the epistemological priority of reason over tradition in understanding the world brought on by Descartes’ famous statement, “Cogito, ergo sum.”

[10] Marva J. Dawn, “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Church in Postmodern Times,” in Confident Witness – Changing World, 270=282 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999). 271


2 thoughts on “A Theological Look at Worship Pastoring: Part 1

  1. Pingback: A Theological Look at Worship Pastoring: Part 2 | Shouts From the Wilderness

  2. Pingback: What Does it Mean to be a Worship Pastor? | Shouts From the Wilderness

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