What does story have to do with worship?

“What does story have to do with worship?” How would you answer that question? Think of Bible story, history, personal narrative, parable and other stories.

But think also of the structure of story itself.

Regarding the structure of story as a shaping influence for an entire worship service, Tim Wright, one of the pastors at Community Church of Joy, has called it “story-driven worship.” At my home church, we sometimes call it “story-formed worship.” Norma de Waal Malefyt, of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, suggests that we think of worship style as a novel rather than a magazine.

For you, what does story have to do with worship? Share with the rest of us your comments, quotes, resources and examples.

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6 Comments

Filed under Story and Worship

6 responses to “What does story have to do with worship?

  1. Kelly

    My favorite picture of worship is children in worship at Prairie Lane CRC in Omaha, NE. As children, we had our own worship service that started just before the sermon. All the kids filed out of church and into the Sunday school wing. A teacher would greet us at the door. We sat on carpet squares and entered silently (or as quietly as possible for children). Together we sang “Be Still and Know that I am God” as the teacher lit a candle. When the candle was lit and the song sung, the lesson began. Flannel graphs aside, we watched 3D wooden cutouts move along a small mat while the teacher told us a Bible story. After the story we moved to the craft room. The craft always connected to the story we had heard. After the craft we sang all kinds of Sunday school songs, with actions of course. When our time together was just about over, we moved back to the story room. We sang “God be with you ‘til we meet again” while the teacher extinguished the flame. We heard the story, watched the story, played with the story and sang the story. By connecting to the story in so many ways, we learned the story.

  2. Understanding that “worship” is more than an hour on Sunday morning, let me talk about that hour anyway.

    That hour of corporate worship is like a story in that it has a beginning, content in the middle, and an ending. That hour is telling some stories: stories about the church (people), stories about God, stories about how we relate to God and His truth. One of the questions we could ask about that hour is this, Was this hour a page-turner? Or could you, at any point in the “story”, the corporate worship, just put the book down and walk away?

    When we view that corporate hour of worship as a story, or when we compare it to a story, we could also ask, Was it a good story? Was it interesting? Was it compelling? Was it believable? Was it well thought out and expressed? Would you read another story by that author?

    I am new at this stuff, this thinking about the storyline of a time of worship, or what “story” has to do with worship. But it is challenging and thought-provoking. I am going to enjoy following this process! Thanks Jeff!

  3. Jeff,
    I’ve often thought of corporate worship as conversation. I look forward to your development of worship as story.

    In a broader sense, I believe that corporate worship is always to be about THE STORY – God’s story. So often, we make it about our story…what we want and need in the experience. But I think our worship is renewed when we conceptualize it as a celebration of the people of God who have written into the script of the Grand Redemptive Narrative. We do that through our songs, our prayers, our creeds, our exhortations, and ultimately, at the Table.

    Blessings on your continued work.

  4. Mark Andersen

    Story is probably the most way of teaching and affecting the way people perceive themselves, others, and even the very nature of reality. This is the reason that Aesop told fables. This is the reason that Jesus told parables. They knew that when you tell somebody a story, you engage that person in their wholeness. A treatise or discourse on theology, morality, or ethics is a rational exercise in which information is received, processed, and possibly assimilated. Stories engage not just the intellect or the rational part of us. Stories engage the emotional…the primal…part of us. They make us feel. And what they have to say, beacuse I’m a firm believer that no one writes anything unless they have something to say, is not processed but almost absorbed by the person whose hearing or reading the story. This is both the beauty and the danger of stories. They shape us without our conscious knowledge, and whether that’s good or bad depends on the story.

    We invest ourselves in stories in ways that we don’t letters or other non-fiction type of books. We identify with one or more characters in the story and while we are reading or hearing the story, we, in some fashion, become those characters.

    The purpose and goal of Christian discipleship is to teach and train people to become like Christ, and sometimes Sunday morning worship is the only opportunity I, as a pastor, have to teach and train them in the way of Christ. During that hour or so they are here on Sunday morning, It is my hope that when they hear and read the story of Jesus Christ and of God’s people, that they enter the story and identify with the characters in such a way that after they leave, they remember the story that they heard…that they were and are a part of.

    The more storylike worship can be, the more people are likely to invest themselves in worship, the more likely they are to retain what they’ve heard, and the more likely they are to be transformed by the hearing because a story engages the whole person, not just the rational self. And from where I stand, transformation is the goal. I want to provide an environment in which the people of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may be increasingly transformed into the image of Christ. Story in worship, as worship, is an enormous tool in effecting that transformation.

  5. Adel Aiken

    I have just finished reading the introduction, and you have my full attention with this concept of worship as story and “worshipping out the bones” so we are known even as God knows us. Sorting through memories and connections with this idea, I came upon a memory from 25 years ago of you, Jeff, standing in front of the church with both arms stretched heavenward, explaining that we must be vulnerable in worship. I remember the scene because I was one of the players in the story, along with you, Karen and Bruce.

    A second image is an encounter I had with a story from scripture a year ago. It was the story in Luke 8 of the woman touching Jesus’ cloak. The storyteller recounts, “Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet” (v 47). Oh, how I could identify with wanting to go unnoticed. The story pricked my heart. If I wanted to be whole, if I wanted to worship, I could not go unnoticed. I would have to be open…vulnerable.

    A piece of text frames a third image, and I call it an image because when I read it in Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be (Middleton & Walsh), I visualized Lewis’s wardrobe door to Narnia, a doorway to imagination. “A liberated imagination is a prerequisite for facing the future” (p. 192). We need imagination even in the context of true stories to stimulate our hearts, transform our minds, and open our spirits to worship so that we are vulnerable before the King and his people.

    Thanks for telling the story, Jeff. I hope it becomes another neverending one.

  6. amy a.

    My earliest memory of story formed worship is from when I was little, growing up in a pentecostal style church.

    Sunday evenings always had a time set aside for people who wanted to ‘testify’. And boy did they. Sometimes the dedicated time came and went and the whole service was made up of testimonies and then an altar call.

    Old women would stand up and talk about the mundane things of life, like their trips to the grocery store. Men would tell their aches and pains. Grandma’s talked about how they were praying for their children and grandchildren. It always ended with how they knew the Lord loved them and how good He was to them.

    There is something about that popcorn style of talking in a big crowd that was meaningful to me then as a child and I still love it now.

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