A Vision For Worship

By Jason Elwell

Meet Jason Elwell. You know him as IBC’s Worship Pastor for the past 10 years. Our staff knows him as someone who is passionate about knowing and experiencing God in a deep way. Here is a part of his story, his “why” behind what you experience each Sunday during our services, plus what he is hoping for the future of IBC Worship.

I grew up nearby in Carrollton, as a part of the Assemblies of God Church, which is a branch of the Pentecostal tradition. After college, I decided to pursue music instead of going into fulltime ministry. During that season, I met my wife Crystal and we wound up at IBC when we got involved in Mezzanine Floor, which was a monthly night of worship at IBC at the time. We fell in love with the IBC community and from there made it our church home. Three years after that, I joined the IBC staff as associate worship pastor and ten years later here we are. 

Growing up in the Pentecostal movement gave me a deep appreciation of what Ian Morgan Cron calls the “sacramental imagination.” This idea that we live in a very “enchanted” world — in that, we believe deeply that God, by his Spirit, joins us in our worship and in our witness. That Jesus is more than words on a page or a theology to be grasped. We can feel him in our midst just as if the Word becomes flesh again and again among us. We believe deeply that our purpose for gathering together for worship is to do the work of offering our gratitude and affections to God for his goodness to us. Worship for us should be an act, not an experience. These are all ideas that were planted deep inside me growing up in the Pentecostal church.

Author and theologian, N.T. Wright, has another concept that speaks to the deep significance of what we do in worship. He talks often about the sacraments being the opposite of a “speech act.” A speech act is a word that serves a function in communication, such as when we offer an apology or give an invitation to someone. Wright would say that a sacrament, like the Lord’s Table, is the opposite of a speech act; it’s an “act speech.” Meaning, it is an act of worship that says something deeper that we could ever communicate with words. This is a beautiful thought when you think about it in terms of worship. Worship means to declare the worth of something. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I don’t have the words to explain how I feel about God. In those moments, I’ll lead my heart with my hands and offer an “act speech” to God, which reminds my heart and head through my body that God owns all of my life and I am his humble servant to be used as he sees fit. 

When we sing, some might say we are expressing our thoughts to God or our love for God. This is true, but there’s more going on than just simple expression. In the fourth century, the church father Athanasius articulated a different understanding of singing. Athanasius believed singing is centrally a spiritual discipline — an important practice in Christian spiritual formation, and a means of growing in the life of faith. For example, he would say that when we sing the Psalms, we are imitating rather than expressing. We are taking David’s words, which aren’t ours, and making them ours, which then over time forms in us a Psalms-shaped worldview. It’s living out this idea of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vevindi. 

This is just to tip of the iceberg of why it is so important for us to DO worship. It’s not easy sometimes to engage in worship. We’re tired; we don’t’ think we can sing very well; lifting hands or other forms of expression and imitation are uncomfortable for us, which I totally understand and struggle with myself. However, I’d love to challenge you over the next few months to step out and engage the worship at IBC in new and more expressive ways, as you are comfortable. As you do something different and experience this spiritual discipline in a new way, I believe you will encounter God in deeper ways. As you do worship differently, you will see God differently, and the way you live life in-between the Sundays will become different. You, and our IBC body, will be shaped to look more and more like Christ through worship. So, let us gather each Sunday and offer our act speeches to God and see what he does in and through us.

To be clear, my heartbeat for IBC is not to become Pentecostal. My desire is to see IBCers become more expressive in our worship to God, because I believe the way we worship shapes the way we believe about God and thus impacts the way we live in the world. The ancient church had a Latin idiom for this that said, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vevindi,” which means, “The law of praying is the law of believing is the law of life.” This tongue twister boils down to this: what we DO in worship impacts the way we SEE God and as a result shapes HOW we live our lives in the world. 

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