Engaging Imagination in Worship
Let’s look at what a Wikipedia article has to say about imagination:
Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through sight, hearing or other senses. Imagination is the work of the mind that helps create. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world.
That certainly sounds like something that needs to be involved in the worship of God as we seek to help people make sense of the world. And after all, when we worship a God Who is Three in One, Who we cannot physically see, and Who saves our soul which we cannot see, and when we are promised an eternal life we have not yet reached and have not yet seen, it seems imagination may be paramount in our worship and communion with a “God who is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit.” (John 4)
One of the challenges of the free church worship environment is that we who are charged with crafting those services may fall prey to one of two inclinations; to lack creativity and thus to engage the imagination of the worshiper very little, or to go over the top whereby over-stimulating the imagination (or trying) is wrapped in novelty, thus shifting the controlling point of worship where it becomes more about enticing the worshiper than it is about engaging with the Triune God and bringing ultimate glory to Him. Either of these excesses are problematic and become distracting for the worshiper not to mention their awkward theological implications. Several things are at issue including the challenge of planning worship in the free church in the first place – having little if any set framework for the worship conversation can pose a challenge when the worship planner’s mind wanders, or when he/she strains to find an idea. This problem brings up a root issue which is a lack of biblical worship education (for planners and members of the congregation). There seems to be a prevalent mindset that worship is a free landscape just waiting for a bunch of innovative ideas to be planted with the endgame objective being to inspire the worshiper/attender. Another issue in many instances seems to be an inadequate understanding of the use of art in worship, including music. I recently heard a good reminder that creative is not something you do, but rather how you do something.
Art engages the human imagination. Seems to me this God-given trait in humans participates in connecting the seen to the unseen. In fact, we do not feel, taste, touch, hear, or see God in a physical sense, yet we speak of all of these senses as characteristic indications of our connection to Him. Can we trust that the God Who placed the imagination in the minds of humans will speak to that imagination through artistic expressions we might employ?
Our guide and foundational boundary related to art in worship is scripture. Worship leaders need to be diligent students of the Word in these matters. The Bible will both stir our own imaginations and help us as we try to facilitate worship through appropriate art forms that help worshipers engage through mind and spirit. After all the writer of Hebrews himself called faith “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of the things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
Worship music leaders you have tools and skills applicable to consideration of how to engage worshipers’ imaginations through the arts. In fact, you use imagery all the time in teaching music; singing or playing. It comes with the territory. I encourage you to consider how you are applying or should apply some of those same tools in helping the congregation worship as imagination is employed when we envision a God the Father Almighty, Who created heaven and earth; and His only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was crucified, buried and rose from the dead, ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, and from which He will come to judge the living and the dead. Consider how you can employ the arts to foster availability and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, connection to the Church, the communion of the saints, and lives forgiven and forgiving of sins, faithing resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
Lost in Wonder, Love, and Grace,
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