Contextualising worship for Indian Christians

The following exerts are from Indiginized Christian Worship in India: Some Considerations.

Westernized Posture

“Another significant aspect that the Indian church lost in worship was the posture of worship. In most Indian religions worshipers sit on a thick mattress spread on the floor. People sit on the floor, with their legs crossed, as an expression of their respect to their deity. During the time of prayer they kneel, with their heads bowed to the ground. But the Christian churches accepted the Western form of sitting on pews for worship. According to the Hindu tradition no one may enter the place of worship unclean or wearing sandals. But Christian churches do not emphasize these aspects in their worship. In the mind of an Indian these show a lack of respect and devotion to God.”

Westernized Preaching

“Preaching in Indian churches is also influenced by the western heritage. Indian churches typically use an elevated pulpit or a preaching stand. In recent years, influenced by the charismatic preaching seen on international Christian television channels, the preacher tends to move around on the pulpit and preach very loud in his attempt to imitate the Christianity viewed on the television. But in Indian tradition, teachers of the scriptures sit on the floor on a slightly elevated place with the scripture open in a small book holder. The name of the Hindu scriptures, upanishads, is a word picture of this aspect of teaching in Indian context. Upanishad means the inner, or mystic, teaching. The term upanishad is derived from upa (‘near’), ni (‘down’) and s(h)ad (‘to sit’): that is, sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him. This does not match with today’s Christian preaching.”

New Possibilities

Now, say you had Hindu neighbours who expressed interest in learning more about Jesus. You are invited to their house. Could you adapt your worship posture and teaching style to a form they found more natural, even if it felt less natural to you?

Worshipping As You Go

An essential aspect of a sent Christian lifestyle, in my experience, is worshipping as you go. If you’re going to be connecting with God in the world, if you’re going to be modelling church amongst the unchurched, it’s important to develop the discipline of worshipping God, wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got. Even if it’s as simple as meditating on who God is and what God is doing in the world and giving thanks. That can be done anywhere, even outdoors. Indeed being outdoors can even be an aid to that kind of worship.

Worship without artificiality

I don’t know about you, but I find it so much more engaging to worship God without the artificial enhancements of sound systems and electric lighting, to worship God in more natural ways, under the open sky, with my naked feet in touch with the earth. It may sound strange to worship God this way, in this day and age. Yet if we recall the story of Jesus, this is often how he and his earliest followers engaged with God – praising and praying as they crossed fields, mountains, and lakes. It wasn’t so strange to them.

Who are you worshipping Monday to Saturday?

Too often worship is put in a box. Many Christians speak of worship almost exclusively in terms of singing a few songs at a Sunday church service. But if your worship begins and ends on a Sunday, who or what is receiving your adoration and reverence Monday through Saturday?


Hebrew poetry for non-Hebrews

I find that, if I am going to try and write a psalm of praise and worship, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the poetic devices I have at my disposal. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up from my research and experimentation.
Poetic devices not normally present in Hebrew poetry
  • meter
  • rhyme
Poetic devices used in Hebrew that do not normally survive translation
  • repetition of sounds -alliteration, assonance andparonomasia
  • acrostic
Poetic devices used in Hebrew that do translate well
  • Synonymous parallelism – second line repeats the first in different words having the same meaning
  • Antithetic parallelism – second line contrasts with the first
  • Synthetic parallelism –  second line adds to the first
  • Climactic parallelism – successive lines build to a climax or summary
  • Eclectic parallelism – combination of different types interwoven
  • Emphatic parallelism – synonymous words used for emphasis
  • Emblematic parallelism – literal statement is contrasted with a metaphor or a simile
  • External parallelism – syntactic units balance one another across multiple verses
  • Introverted parallelism – the order of the parallel elements is reversed (also known as chiasmus)

Celebrating spring with Julian of Norwich

Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.

A poem by fourteenth century British nun Julian of Norwich

Imagining as an act of worship

imaginationLast night stimulated some further reflections on the place of imagination within Christianity, and on how we can recover it where it has been forgotten, neglected or exiled.

In the process I came across these words from Leland Ryken, in an article entitled, The Imagination as a Means of Grace. Ryken says:

“In our Christian circles we find a place for the arts as an aid to worship, but not often as an act of worship. Yet 91 out of 107 references to music in the Psalms specify God as the audience of music (Topp 13). The principle that emerges from this is significant for the arts: anything offered to God can become an act of worship. This means that our artistic experiences, whether as creators or participants, can be an act of worship–a means of grace.”

I would also insist, following Brueggemann, that the imagination can be prophetic. Or dare I say it, apocalyptic.

Worship quotes

Some quotes on the meaning of worship … and how we sometimes distort it.



“Our worship must cost something, or else it is meaningless. True worship always involves sacrifice. Of course, Jesus is the only sacrifice for sin, once and for all. Yet the term ‘sacrifice’ is not just associated with redemption. The word literally means ‘the act of offering something meaningful and valuable.'”


“It has been suggested that in worship man needs to intellectualize his emotions and emotionalize his intellect.”


“We are often so caught up in our activities that we tend to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”


“In the end, worship can never be a performance, something you’re pretending or putting on. It’s got to be an overflow of your heart….. Worship is about getting personal with God, drawing close to God.”


“Our heart’s desire should be to worship God; we have been designed by God for this purpose. If we don’t worship God, we’ll worship something or someone else.”


“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”


“Worship in truth is worship that arises out of an actual encounter with God, a response to the experience of knowing God’s real presence and activity in our daily lives. This has nothing to do with sentiment, thinking religious thoughts or having aesthetic experiences in church buildings; any religion can give you that sort of thing.”

The history of Thin Places

mount-annanOkay, so to return to the story of Thin Places. First I have to locate it historically. Thin Places began back around 2002 as an offshoot of Community of Hope, a ministry amongst New Age seekers at Mind Body Spirit Festivals that I’d been part of since 1997 or thereabouts. I could write a whole bunch of posts about this too, but for today I’m simply going to refer you to the book, Jesus and the Gods of the New Age, which covers this in a whole lot more detail.

Thin Places began as a conviction that we needed to take things further than just outreach events, that we were being called to more deeply integrate worship and witness as a contextual Christian community. So I gathered together a bunch of people, some of them converts from the New Age movement like myself, some of them just Christians with an interest, and started experimenting with alternative worship.

By this stage Neo-Paganism had began to edge out New Age as the cutting edge of alternative spirituality so we began to ask ourselves, what would a more ecologically sensitive and symbolically aware Christianity look like? We started experimenting with alternative worship in homes and nature. We aligned our gatherings with the seasons, eight each year, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Some of us became more integrated with the Neo-Pagan community and became involved in alternative gatherings such as the Winter Magic Festival.

There were however weaknesses to this approach too, which became more apparent as time went on. First of all, the nomadic element. Not everyone was as willing to travel, which led to irregularity in the group numbers. Second of all, reflective liturgy didn’t work as well for us once kids came on the scene. Thirdly, it was still weak on the discipleship side. Fourthly, and most importantly, I realised that in some ways we’d over contextualised, though in others not enough. Eventually these factors led us to move on, and Thin Places is no more, but I’ll have to continue this later.

What does story have to do with worship?

If there is one thing I have learned about worship through experimenting with alternative worship, it is that story is essential to authentically Christian worship.

Here are some articles on the story of God and the worship of God:

What does story have to do with worship? “How would you answer that question? Think of Bible story, history, personal narrative, parable and other stories. But think also of the structure of story itself.”

God Is Not the Object of Our Worship. “In recent years worship has been wrenched from the story of God and has been formed by some of the narratives of contemporary culture. Many find only a cultural manifestation of Christianity that bears no mark of spiritual nourishment or sustenance.”

The Biblical Story of Worship in less than 1,000 Words. “The starting point for most discussions about worship begins with last Sunday’s worship service. Meaning that, most of us define worship by the standards of our personal experience and traditions rather than a broader examination of the Biblical foundations of worship.”

The last article uncovers six basic questions to ask ourselves:

  1. The Patriarchal Question (2230-1500 BC): What do we have to offer in worship?
  2. The Mosaic Question (1500-1200 BC): How are we involved in worship?
  3. The Davidic Question (1010-970 BC): Is God’s presence manifest in our midst?
  4. The Question of Solomon (970-586 BC): Is our worship focused on God?
  5. The Exilic Question (586-0 BC): Is worship finding its way into our homes and communities?
  6. The New Testament Question (0-100 AD): Are we continually shaping our worship with Jesus as the center?