On the Importance of Appearance, the Catechumenate, and Appropriate Words of Greeting

Q. Our worship coordinator has hccn stressing the importance of our visual appearance as we lead worship. She's been asking us for a lot more smiles. But I think she crossed a line when she said, "You can always tell when people are worshiping." I'm uncomfortable with this emphasis on appearance. What do you make of this?

A. The growth of worship teams lias led to a significant emphasis on the visual appearance of worship leaders. Unlike an organist, whose back might be to the congregation, a worship team not only provides "sound cues" to help singing, but visual cues that can invite, inform, and inspire.

It Is important that those who lead worship— whether a choir, a worship team, or a pastor—are aware of how their facial expressions invite or discourage worship. A choir singing a joyful anthem with stone-cold faces is a visual contradiction. So is a worship team singing a psalm of lament with forced smiles. Honest, inviting, warm facial expressions are best.

But having said that, I think your coordinator did cross a line. No matter what expressions are used, it is impossible to judge our motivation on die basis of external appearance. It is perfectly possible for someone to be quiet, introspective, and even solemn while deeply involved in worship. It is also perfectly possible for the most engaged, alive, and energized person not to be. Suffering, grieving worshipers are most honest precisely when they aren't all smiles in a worship service.

In his brilliant theological treatise Religious Affections, New England theologian Jonathan Edwards explained how deceiving external appearances can be. Edwards wrote glowingly about the importance of having a pure, devoted love for Jesus Christ. At the same time, he noted that it is extremely difficult to make determinations about human motives. That is something only the Lord can do (1 Cor. 4:5). We do well to follow his wise advice: never assume that a particular gesture, facial expression, type of prayer is a foolproof sign of genuine worship.

Q. Our pastor recently came back from a conference on "the catechumenate." What is this? It doesn't sound very relevant.
—New York

A. This is a great question for this time of year. It has everything to do with why we have the season of Lent. In the early church, Lent was not an extended period for meditation on Christ's suffering. Instead, it was a time when candidates for (adult) baptism would engage in group study and prayer to prepare for their baptism on Easter. These baptismal candidates were called "catechumens" (think of them as "catechism" students or "seekers"). To support these study and prayer sessions for learning the faith, Lenten worship became a time when the whole congregation committed itself to live up to the calling of baptism. Lent, then, was a season in which evangelism, discipleship, and worship were linked.

In the past decade, many congregations have begun new programs to restore this way of linking evangelism, discipleship, and worship. New materials on "the catechumenate model" have been published by Mcnnonites, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists (see conference "Welcoming New Christians" on p. 48). Think of this as a form or model for a seeker ministry that seeks to unite rich liturgical worship, deep concern for evangelism, and a high priority on small group discipleship. So while the word "catechumenate" might sound irrelevant, relevance is actually one of its key ingredients.

Q. Every week our worship leader starts with a weather report: "It's great to see everyone on this sunny day" or "It's great to see everyone despite this snowy weather." Can't we do better than that?

A. These phrases are probably designed to be a low-key, comfortable way to start die service. They function just like many of our everyday conversations: "Hi, how are you? Nice weather isn 't It?" The goal is to be warm, inviting, personable, hospitable. And that's good.

But still, I think that you're right. This way of starting a service seems like a missed opportunity to communicate the sign ificance of what is about to happen. Notice the difference even between "It's great to see you all on this snowy day" and "We gather for worship this morning in the warmth of God's love—quite in contrast with the weather outside." The latter words have begun to introduce the spiritual significance of the worship service. That's also what biblical and traditional calls to worship do best. "Come, let us worship and bow down and kneel before the Lord our maker" or "The lord be with you," or "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of die Holy Spirit be with you all" have the virtue of clearly communicating that the event that is beginning is not a churchly infomercial, not an entertainment production, and not a spiritual social club meeting.

It's nothing less than a Spirit-led encounter with God in Christ.

Suppose we say that the opening of worship should do both. It should communicate the spiritual significance of worship and be done with a warm, invidng, and hospitable tone.



We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you'll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids. Ml 49S60). fax (616-224-0803), or e-mail (info@reformedworship.org). You can also e-mail John directly (witvliet@calvin.edu).

Rev. Dr. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.

Reformed Worship 55 © March 2000, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.