For the ministry team at Redwood Covenant Church, worship begins long before the opening prayer.
Words by Matt Nightingale, photos by Nicole Hoefer
It’s all worship.
I know it’s clichéd to say this, but many people still equate music with worship. As in, “After we worship, we’ll listen to the sermon.” It’s all worship. As a church we take time periodically to talk about what worship is. I actually preached on that last fall—and we try to remind people in our day-to-day language about worship. We don’t go to church. We are the church! We worship through giving, we worship through music or the reading of Scripture.
I moderate a Facebook group of Covenant worship pastors and leaders. It’s called Better Together, and I think that name sums up one of the Covenant’s greatest strengths: its celebration of diversity. We have churches with all kinds of different approaches to worship, and we choose to celebrate that diversity instead of calling for conformity. I love gathering with the whole denomination at Annual Meeting or the ministers’ Midwinter Conference, because that diversity is on full display. The worship gatherings are rich and beautiful, firmly grounded in the word and the sacraments while at the same time highlighting the different ways we approach worship.
The most important thing to consider as I plan and engage in worship is congregational participation. I really believe that worship is not to be entertainment. I’m not producing a concert. I’m inviting God’s people to worship—to bring themselves before God and offer their songs, their prayers, their offerings, their gifts and abilities. If people are just watching while my team and I play music, we’ve all completely missed the point.
I remember the first time I experienced a Taize-style worship service. It was back in 2000, on the campus of Stanford University. It felt so foreign to me, with the repetitive chanting and the formal liturgical approach. I was also somewhat suspicious of the ecumenical approach, as Catholics and Protestants were worshiping together. I had never experienced many of these things. But as I entered in and experienced God in that setting, I was profoundly moved. In every church I’ve served since then, I have tried to introduce the church to Taize-style worship.
A sacred calling.
I’ve served congregations where there was a lot of passionate disagreement about how the church is supposed to worship, and I’ve served congregations where it’s just not that big a deal. Each congregation has its own language of worship based on its shared history, experiences, and values. I try to listen and understand where people are coming from. Each perspective is worthy of my attention. But then I have the responsibility to somehow hold all those opinions and perspectives, and, together with my teams and my leadership, make choices about how this congregation will worship God collectively. I really consider it a privilege, and I know it’s a sacred calling. I have to trust that God is leading and will give us the grace and guidance we need to pull it off!
About the Contributors
Matt Nightingale is a commissioned Covenant worship pastor from Santa Rosa, California, where he serves Redwood Covenant Church. He is passionate about helping people connect with one another and with God. He enjoys Twitter and Facebook, possibly a little too much, and he secretly dreams of being the Covenant’s first executive minister of social media. #lol #jk #inittogether #ilovethecov
Nicole Hoefer was enthusiastic about the idea of stretching beyond her comfort zone with this photo shoot, which is her first magazine project. She loves to search real estate listings even though she has no intention of moving, ever. For more of her work go to nicolehoefer.com.