Long: Honoring God in Worship
Thomas Long. Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Herndon: Alban Institute.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Before I attended seminary, I spoke with a pastor who began quizzing me about a worship service that she was planning. The question totally stumped me. For me, worship was that mysterio
us experience on Sunday mornings that drew me closer to God (or not). I had no idea what worship was or how to plan it. As I studied worship in seminary, Thomas Long’s book, Beyond the Worship Wars, helped reduce the mystery in worship planning.
Long defines worship as: what happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of a living God (18). But how does a faithful church actually bring people into awareness of God? Long offers an interesting insight:
Even when Christian worship is at its best, it is much like that Mother’s Day breakfast. It is always the work of amateurs, people who do this for love, kids in the kitchen overcooking the prayers, half-baking the sermons, and crashing and stumbling through the responses on the way to an act of adoration (vii).
Does the word, humility, come to mind?
Beyond the Worship Wars is written in 10 chapters whose titles are instructive:
- Worship wars: a report from the front lines.
- Why do people come to worship? The presence of mystery,
- Why do people come to worship? A sense of belonging.
- All the world’s a stage—and heaven too.
- O for a thousand tongues: the challenge of music.
- Tents, temples, and tables: the space of worship.
- Serving in this place: neighborhoods and mission.
- Come to the joyful dance: memory and celebration.
- In the spirit on the Lord’s Day: Leadership.
- Epilog: Can revitalized worship happen here?
These chapters are preceded by a preface and acknowledgments and followed by notes and a bibliography.
In surveying Long’s chapter titles, is anything in all of creation left out? This is not an idle question, but more a theological one. The apostle Paul writes: And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). In writing about the cultural wars, new cultural realities lead Long (2) to observe that: rare also is the congregation that has not felt some stress, some measure of conflict over all this ferment in worship [and in the world!]
Long (2-9) sees the conflict arising between two groups. The first group seeks to recover the genuinely biblical worship of the ancient church as represented by interest in Bishop Hippolytus of the third century following Vatican II. The second group focuses on seeker  worship symbolized by the praise music of the Willow Creek Community Church (www.WillowCreek.org) led by Bill Hybels. While recognizing that the seeker worship is influenced more by our television culture than the Gospel story, Long sees wisdom in looking for a third-way that adopts the best of both worship styles (10-11).
How do we make room for God in worship, regardless of style?
Motivation clearly matters. Long (26) sees us coming to worship for two fundamental reasons: the hunger for communion with God [a sense of mystery] and the hunger for human community [a sense of belonging]. Theologians call the first need transcendence (God above us); they call the second immanence (God with us). When we come to worship, the question of authenticity quickly arises because if our view of God is too transcendent, worship is dry and lifeless. And if our view of God is too immanent, worship is too worldly. Hence, true worship involves balancing this tension.
Long (107-110) ends with four insights:
- Pastoral leadership is the key to worship renewal.
- Whenever worship is renewed, some congregational conflict is inevitable.
- To change worship, significant lay involvement is necessary.
- Education and publicity help pave the way for worship renewal.
How do we make room for God in worship? Long points out that the best worship is to some degree learned by heart (86). This is because when worship is memorized, we are less distracted and more open to God’s presence.
Long’s Book, Beyond the Worship Wars, is a helpful book which I have given as a gift to friends. Like many of the books published by the Alban Institute (www.alban.org), it is worth a look.
 A seeker is someone interested in (seeking) God , but not yet a believer.