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Notes for Worship Leaders Who Don't Believe in God

Is that title sufficiently provocative?

By "don't believe in," I really mean, "don't believe about." When people talk about believing in God, they usually mean believing certain constructs or definitions about God or conforming to expectations about what we should think and say about God.

In that light, I don't believe in God. I experience God. Others might speak of experiencing the divine or the transcendent. I often feel a sense of resting in holy presence.

Please don't think of these as rules or guidelines. They are not a summary of worship or a treatise on what it means. They are reflections.

1) Worship should take us into a transcendent place.

To facilitate that, I as worship leader must be in touch with my own authentic spirituality. For me, that means focusing on being in love with God. I envision Jesus as present. I "see" Christ listening, when I pray. I don't expect other leaders or other congregants to lead out of the same experience. The authentic spiritual experience of others will differ from mine. It may require different language. However it is experienced, though, a worship leader must lead out of their own authentic spiritual life.

2) Worship should offer people the opportunity to bring their unique experiences into the service.

Music, poetry, and metaphorical language tend to open up space for individuals to interpret or "apply" the feelings, images, and words as relevant to them. As worship leaders, we must trust the rest of the congregation to "get it." We should avoid over-explaining things or forcing the meaning that is most important to us.

3) As a worship leader, I am not responsible for others' worship experience.

Yes, I am responsible to fashion an order of worship and elements that others can work with, but worship is not a consumer product or a spectator sport. All members of the congregation must bring their best spiritual intentions to the time we spend together. The worship leader's work must honor those efforts and intentions. When I lead worship, I cannot do the work for anyone else.

4) Indeed, the "work" we do in worship is to learn not to work at all.

We simply open up room for the Spirit.

Modern Western culture defines and controls. Our science and philosophy arise from the assumption that all of life is discoverable in a way that can be fully described, manipulated, and rationally explained. We assume - in a very western, privileged way - that we have not only the right but the duty to manage the world. Worship engages the world that resists definition, that we do not completely - and may never - understand and that we do not control. It feels almost anti-modern and anti-Western, but please don't confuse this with anti-rational, fundamentalist, science-doubting religion, which merely expresses the need for control and definition in alternative ways.

Worship doesn't explain life. It helps us embrace it in its mystery.

Worship doesn't help us "believe in" God. It puts us in touch with God.

Worship ushers us into the heart of God. It enables us to live out the love we find there and embrace life in its multiple dimensions.


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