I love liturgical worship. There was a season during seminary where I served as an interim pastor in a small church that followed a liturgy for its Sunday services. My prior experience with liturgical worship was when I was young and didn’t want to be at church. What I considered to be boring and monotonous when I was young, was the very thing that drew me to love it during my interim pastorate. There are so many great elements: the repetition, the awareness of what was coming next, and the fact that as a church we were all walking through the liturgy together. The repetition helped me to not only remember what was being said and/or what needed to be said, but it also enriched my prayer life. Sometimes one just needs to pray, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” The liturgy also helped facilitate a common language among the church. For example, when we talked about confession, our minds all went to, “we have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves…” and so on. Nevertheless, this isn’t a post about worship, but instead about discipleship. I am aware that others have coined the term “Liturgical Discipleship,” and my intention in this post is not to coin or re-coin terms, but merely to give a description to a practice that has blessed me.
I have already discussed repetition and common language as being core elements of liturgical worship and I suggest that these are core elements of Liturgical Discipleship as well. I am not, as the link above, referring to Liturgical Discipleship as discipleship that roots itself in the liturgy, but rather that discipleship should have a liturgical aspect to it. This is then worked out practically in repetition and common language.
The above image is a picture of a canvas that hangs in my study at church. In the picture you can see a few quotes and the entirety of the canvas has a whole smattering of quotes on it. These quotes are all from a mentor of mine, who was our pastor for a number of years. The canvas was made by a fellow congregant and distributed out to a few of us who were all equally blessed by this particular pastor’s ministry. Each of these quotes are not just hanging on my wall, but they are firmly lodged into my brain and heart. Behind each quote is a story and within each story is a biblical principle/passage. I have heard each of these quotes and their subsequent stories so many times that I could tell them just like he did. And that is the point. That is Liturgical Discipleship.
Throughout the duration of my sitting under his ministry, these stories and their bite-size quotes and biblical passages were preached from the pulpit, discussed over coffee, delivered during funerals and weddings, and spoken through tears and laughter. In other words, these stories, quotes, and passages were woven throughout life together with my pastor. The significance of this is that I am not the only one who took part in this liturgy. The congregation by and large could and did recite, “confession is good for the soul,” and know what it meant. In times of struggle many would recite to themselves, “God is not in the business of wasting a consecrated life.” Though we may have rolled our eyes and chuckled to ourselves when we heard one of them for the fifteenth time that month, we knew and ascended to the truth of these statements.
My mentor would not want me to make much of him in this post, because his intent in delivering this liturgy to us was to point us to Christ, which of course is the point of any proper Christian liturgy. In the above link that I mentioned before, James K.A. Smith delivers a lecture entitled, “Liturgical Discipleship: Worship as the Center of Spiritual Formation.” He said, “liturgies are rituals of ultimacy that are love-shaping.” In his lecture he gets after some of what I am referring to here. My pastor worked to create a common, repetitive language (what I am calling a liturgy) that he used to help shape our love of Christ. Smith explains in his lecture that there are other rival liturgies that seek to foster our love of things other than God. The creation of a Christ-centered liturgy helps us to shape our love of Christ in the midst of the world.
The reality is that every Christian that disciples anyone already does this. We already have the little platitudes that have been worked into our lives that we in turn pass on to others. However, I am suggesting that we not only need to do this more, but we need to be intentional about doing this. Many attempt to disciple others through just reading a book together, reading scripture together, or some other action that is done together. None of those things are bad, but simply going through the process of doing something together is not necessarily discipleship. I would suggest that in order to lead in the process of discipleship or rather to disciple someone, we need to be responsible in creating a Christ-centered liturgy (repetitive, common language) to draw disciples into. A great example of someone who did this is Jesus (see the parables). Another example is the Holy Spirit (compare Paul and Peter’s teachings in their epistles). Finally, Paul in his various letters to different churches says many of the same things in many of the same ways to each church (compare Ephesians and Colossians). Obviously, Paul’s synthesis of ideas throughout his epistles is ultimately attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Smith says in his lecture, “liturgy is about discipling desire.” While he is talking particularly about liturgy in relation to worship, I think the statement fits what I am aiming at here. What we can ultimately do through creating these liturgies of discipleship is upholding the otherness of the Christian life in relation to the world around us. These liturgies that we create for the purpose of discipleship help us to foster desire for Christ through digestible and repeatable truths that are tied to stories and ultimately THE story of the Bible. This Liturgical Discipleship gives us a baseline for our lives in Christ and with His body.