Re-imaging worship

“Indigenous, Core and Sustainable”: FX Worship top-tips with Sara Hargreaves

One of the best things about being a Fresh Expressions – FX – roaming reporter is meeting people who (unintentionally) illuminate how little I know about an area through their rich and reflective observations on it. One such encounter was at the ‘Dying to Live’ rural conference, where I cornered Sara Hargreaves as she queued for her lunch and gave her a good grilling about worship in the FX context. Sara (above with Sam), who was leading worship at the event along with her husband Sam – who together also co-lead Engage Worship [link] – was not allowed a moment to eat her jacket potato in peace (always a conference hazard, in my opinion) as I winkled out some worship wisdom from her to share with you, FX readers! Here are the highlights of Sara’s observations, and you can also find all the worship resources which she and Sam used at ‘Dying to Live’ here:

Me: “So, Sara, isn’t ‘worship’ a bit awkward with people who aren’t used to church at all? What does worship even mean in a non-church environment, and how do you make it feel natural to people who may be new to all this malarkey?”

(Told you she didn’t get to enjoy her lunch…)

Sara: “It starts with our understanding of what worship is. A crucial word is ‘indigenous’ – in other words, how can you take activities that your community feels passionately about and turn them toward glorifying God? It’s about not forcing assumptions about church onto communities. Are they into craft, outdoor pursuits, cooking, playing, campaigning…? Music is a fairly universal interest across communities – but what kind of music? If you find some answers to this question, you might have found a fresh form of worship that fits within a FX context.”

Me: “Ok, that’s all helpful – but do you find it’s a style of leadership that comes naturally to people? It sounds like it needs a lot of creative thinking…”

Sara: “It’s not easy, but it’s vital. Think of Victorian missionaries imposing their worship styles on new converts.  We see pictures of African Christians in the 19th century, sitting uncomfortably on wooden pews, singing Western hymns and even wearing wool suits! Such a ridiculous way to quench these new Christians’ own creativity and ways of expressing themselves. The missionaries had the best intentions: this was the worship style that meant something to them, where they had met God.

Despite our scorn, we do the same thing on a regular basis! We decide that because we met God in long sets of intimate worship songs projected on a screen, that must be the way to meet God. And yet, this comes with so many assumptions; of class, literacy levels, music education levels, even taste in music. It’s important that leaders imagine something different from their own experiences – and that’s where the word ‘indigenous’ comes in.

Me: “That’s a helpful illustration. No more imposing of wool suits… Have you any thoughts, though, on how a FX can develop an expression of worship that fits within local culture but is also distinctive? How can an FX make sure they don’t become so like its context that there is nothing transcendent about the worship – nothing that points beyond ourselves and those around us?”

Sara: “I think it’s about holding another word in tension with my first point! This word is ‘core’. There will be some things which are ‘core’ to expressing your faith, non-negotiables, which your group won’t be church without. Some things, like style of music, should be negotiable – it doesn’t really matter if we sing worship to God in R’n’B’, folk tunes, or hymns – but decide on what is core and then decide if and how these can be expressed in an indigenous way.

I heard a good example of this here at the ‘Dying to Live’ conference from a leader who wanted to celebrate communion on Easter Sunday, despite this not seeming particularly ‘fresh expression’. She ended up informally inviting her community to share Holy Communion in her home instead her usual FX venue, and come Easter her living room was packed out. The Lord’s Supper is not going to be an indigenous expression in most secular communities (although eating is), but this might be a ‘core’ activity that sets you apart from the local rotary club or WI.”

Me: “These are top tips! Indigenous and Core – two words for any FX leader to focus on when developing worship in their context. Any more last pearls to share before I leave you in peace to queue for your pudding?”

Sara: “Ok, lastly – plan something sustainable! You might decide that the indigenous way to express worship is to create an animated movie every week, but is this form of worship sustainable? If you’re passionate about growing something lasting in your community, have sustainability as one of your values to avoid the burn-out so often associated with entrepreneurs and pioneers.”

That’s where we left it, and I think you’ll agree it was well worth interrupting Sara’s lunchbreak for. The Engage Worship website is packed with resources and more insight, and these three words – indigenous, core and sustainable – provide a fantastic framework for developing FX worshipping styles. Over to you, FX-ers  and let us know how you get on…..


Interview by Hannah Skinner