Ministry To Homo-Liturgicus (Part 1: Time Worshippers)

The first time I saw a liturgical statement in my local Target store it stopped me in my tracks. There on the wall was a call to worship, crafted by the high priests of consumption culture and chiselled (ok, painted) onto stone:

Yes,
Mr and Mrs Average Australian shopper buying socks and jocks at twenty
per cent off, that means you! Of course Target doesn’t need you to
recite their vision statement, much less memorise it. Its true power
lies in you enacting it, letting its assertions shape your habits and
expectations, acquiescing to its view about what you should expect out
of life. It is, as Jamie Smith calls in his book
Desiring The Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, a “cultural liturgy”. And as with all liturgies, its aim is to trump competing liturgies for your affections.

Now,
lest I be misheard, I should define some terms. By ‘liturgy’ I don’t
simply mean a bunch of words that you read about God in a traditional
Christian meeting—to put it crassly. It means more than that. It means
more than that because even that bunch of words we read about God are
designed to shape our practices and habits. Liturgies announce truths
that we then enact in our lives; or don’t. And the aim of any liturgy
is to, as Jamie Smith states, “trump other liturgies”: to make them the
guiding force in your practices as opposed to anything else. And once
you realise that, you can see how our culture is positively full of
liturgy—from the ads that sell us wares, to the self-help books that set
us our goals in life. And as we practice these liturgies, they become
self-fulfilling and habit forming.

So, notice above that in relation to liturgy, I said “affections”. Smith, in echoing Augustine, labels humans homo liturgicus. We
are at our core, worshippers; shaped more by what we want than by what
we know. That we are so shaped means at least this: liturgy is something
we
do. Smith says the key to a triumphant
liturgy is that we end up doing what it says. And the very doing of it
is self-sustaining and self-affirming. Liturgy believed is liturgy
enacted, and liturgy is believed just that little bit more every time it
is enacted.

Gospel workers in the
Western world must grasp this reality. Whether or not you are in a
denomination with formal liturgy, what we do when God’s people gather is
not simply offer a liturgy, but a
competing liturgy.
The aim of gospel ministry is to present God’s people with a desire
that trumps other desires. Of course this will necessitate knowing as
well as wanting, but without the wanting the knowing slides off like
Teflon.

As a church planter my experience is that even with a
core team that wants to plant with you, it isn’t until you start to
compete with alternate cultural liturgies, that you get any sense of
what you are up against. The core team may sign off on all the values
and visions you have laid down on your funky new website before you even
start, but those first two or three years of planting will reveal much
about the beast that is
homo liturgicus.

I
suspect that while every Australian believes they have the right to
look good and feel good, even more deeply ingrained is the view that
every Australian has the right to determine how they use their time. And
because time is so precious—especially so for middle-class busy
Western Christians—suggesting how they use their time, time that
happens to include their Sunday mornings after a busy week, is a
competing call to worship!

With discipleship the buzzword for
the church today, I have come to the conclusion that the foundation
stone of discipleship for young modern Christians is not prayer or Bible
reading or even mission/evangelism. They will do these things; if they
have the time! But simply turning up? Week in? Week out? Carving out
that time in a world that competes for it with kids’ parties, school
sports, weekends away? That’s where the sparks tend to fly these days.
The modern, busy, western family worships primarily at the altar of
time.

Ministry to Homo-Liturgicus (Part 2: Time Redeemers)

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