Worship as Spiritual Formation

by Valerie Hess

The Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi essentially means “how we pray influences what we believe and how we live our lives.” The phrase is important because it means that all aspects of worship influence spiritual formation, both for individuals and for gathered worshiping communities. Spiritual formation is anything, Christ-centered or not, that forms our deepest being. Everyone on the planet has a spiritual formation of some kind, for good or for ill, as everything we read, sing, and listen to contributes to the formation of our souls and spirits.

Advertisers utilize this concept heavily, though they don’t call it spiritual formation. They successfully spend billions of dollars to get us to believe that this product or that idea will change our lives for the better. For many in our congregations, spiritual formation through TV is hours longer than formation through worship or Bible study each week. Anyone who works with youth can attest to popular culture’s success in spiritual formation to its values.

While much of this happens unconsciously, worship planners must be conscious of what they are doing. Choosing hymns and songs, anthems and liturgical pieces will contribute to or inhibit people’s ability to pray, believe, and, ultimately, live each day well as Christ-followers. We need to seek to counter-balance the functional heresy most of us live under. An example of a functional heresy is the belief held by many, often unconsciously, that “God helps those who help themselves.” Yet, the Church proclaims that God helps those who can’t help themselves. Does our worship reflect that? Another functional heresy is the belief that one doesn’t need to be associated with a faith community to be a Christian. While there is an element of truth to this, there is also a deep, subtle heresy. God usually speaks to the people as community: the nation of Israel, the Body of Christ. Do our songs and prayers focus on “we” or “I”?

The following questions may help when planning worship as spiritual formation:

  1. Is the text theologically sound or has it been sacrificed to the rhyme scheme?
  2. Is the theology of the tune consistent with the theology of the text? That is, does the tune work with or against the text?
  3. What is the overall message of everything in this service? What is really being said about God in Christ at work in the world in every hymn/song/anthem text, prayer and liturgical piece?
  4. Is the full Biblical message conveyed over a number of Sundays? We can’t cover the waterfront in one service nor should we try but over a liturgical season, are we giving a full and accurate rendering of the Biblical record?

We who plan worship are forming adults and children into or away from a Christ-centered faith. It will affect the way they live every day. Choosing one thing over another is more than a matter of taste and preference! It is a responsibility and an opportunity for good. May we seek to choose wisely.

Posted on Sep 24, 2012 8:26:25 AM
Filed Under: Potpourri, Filed Under: review-prelude,

Valerie Hess

Written by Valerie Hess

Valerie Hess is a musician, instructor in Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, and an author. Her writing and speaking primarily focus on issues related to spiritual formation through music and through the spiritual disciplines. She has been involved with Renovare, the small group movement that grew out of Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline, for twenty years. Valerie received her Masters in Church Music and Organ from Valparaiso University. She has a B.A. in Music and Psychology from Metropolitan State College in Denver. She is currently the Coordinator of Music Ministries for Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder. Additionally, she is a music reviewer for the American Recorder Society.