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Worship and Work Go Together
Churches need to emphasize both piety and action, author Marva Dawn told worship conference participants at Canadian Mennonite University.

If God's plan to restore the world is to become a reality, Christians need to both worship and work—and the work flows out of worship.

Marva Dawn: Worship should also help Christians realize that "reconciliation is God's Work."

That's what theologian Marva Dawn told over 250 people at the January 18-20 Refreshing Winds music and worship conference at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). Theme of the bi-annual conference, which attracted registrants from many different denominations from across Canada, was Worship as Reconciliation.

The temptation is for churches to emphasize either "personal piety" or action, said Dawn, author of 20 books on a variety of church and worship-related topics. "We need both piety and work in the world to help bring about God's restoration on earth. On Sunday's we need to preach the bigger story—not just one of privatized religion, or one of reaching out to serve the world, but both."

Along with Dawn, an educator with Christians Equipped for Ministry of Vancouver, Washington, and a Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., the conference featured Ken Nafziger, a Professor of Music at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and workshops on various worship, theology and music-related topics.

Reflecting on the role that worship plays in reconciling people to God, Dawn stated that church services need a "ritual by which we know we are forgiven, through confession and absolution." Noting that everyone carries a burden of regret, she said that churches need "bold, clear, declarations of forgiveness, so that people can get rid of their burden."

To "tangibly announce forgiveness is a powerful thing," she added. "Why don't we offer forgiveness more often, since our world needs it so badly?"

She went on to say that "forgiveness is a fact, not a feeling. The problem with some church services today is that they put a high emphasis on emotionality—'if I feel it, it is true.' But we can't live based on how we feel. A relationship with God is not based on whether we feel that God is there."

Worship should also help Christians realize that "reconciliation is God's work," and churches should not just be places where people are told to "try to work harder," she said. "We can't change what God has accomplished."

Dawn also decried the "worship wars" that some churches get caught up in. For her, worship should be a mix of styles of worship, including songs from the past. "Worship should not be about style or music—it's about worshipping God," she said, adding that "I hear that God has highly eclectic tastes."

Quoting Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, she went on to note that the church is like a river with many tributaries flowing into it. "Sometimes the tributaries change the colour of the river," she said, adding that various tributaries are needed to enrich the life of the church.

She added that Christians need to live with a "dialectical tension" in worship-balancing the intellect and emotions. This tension "can stretch us, enable us to grow," she said, noting that "we tend to be on one side or the other."

Ken Nafziger leads singing along with conference organizer Irma Fast.

In his sessions, Nafziger stressed the importance of respecting various musical languages. "We do a disservice to these various musical traditions if we make everything sound the same," he said.

He also urged song leaders to be prepared "so you're not stumbling" when leading singing, help people pay attention to the text and remember that leading music in church should require "our very best. Don't wait until the evening before to choose songs or get ready for service. You wouldn't do that if you were playing a recital, so we shouldn't do it in our worship."

In addition to the keynote speakers, the conference offered times of worship, prayer, visits to local places of worship and workshops on topics such as Leading Music in Worship; The Healing Potential of Music; Worship in a Digital Culture; Blending Musical Styles in Worship; What Actors can teach us about Worship Leading, Storytelling and Preaching; and Symbol, Sign and Ritual in Worship.

The next Refreshing Winds conference will be held in January, 2009.

Originally published in News From CMU, February 2, 2007.




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