Q & A with John Indermark
1. In the foreword you mention Worship in Light of the Cross has two purposes. What are they and why are they important?My first and primary purpose for writing this book was to provide readers with a devotional journey in Lent that lifts up what it means to worship in light of the cross. What do I mean by that? Many congregations and denominations have long-standing traditions of observing Lent through special worship services (midweek, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week) and/or Sunday sermon series. Often these services relate in one form or another to the theme of the cross. But while we may address the cross in worship during Lent or at other times, do we take the next step and allow a theology of the cross to shape and perhaps challenge the hows, and even the whys, of our worship practices?
My second purpose for writing this book was to help folks explore implications for discipleship that grow directly out of cross-formed worship. Response to the gospel is not exhausted in the comfortable confines of sanctuary. Worship prepares us for life outside those confines—and I would argue, the life for which cross-formed worship prepares us is inevitably distinct from worship formed by entertainment or worship formed by a health-and-wealth gospel.
2. What makes Worship in Light of the Cross unique from other Lenten devotional resources?Lenten devotional resources have all kinds of focuses and themes. Speaking from my own writing experience, I have worked largely on biblically themed resources for folks to use as guides during Lent: whether based on books (Genesis of Grace), characters (Neglected Voices), or spiritual practices (Traveling the Prayer Paths of Jesus). Others have provided helpful Lenten guides that have to do with particular aspects of Christian living or workbooks for personal or congregational spiritual growth.
What I believe makes Worship in Light of the Cross unique from many such works is the specific focus it has on examining what we do in worship through a theology of the cross. The elements of worship are not “mechanical” in nature, much less accidental. What we do in worship, and why, should grow out of our beliefs and priorities of faith. And for me, that means assessing those elements in one of our faith’s most basic symbols of the revelation of God’s love (not judgment).
3. Your Ash Wednesday devotion speaks to the transformative possibilities of a cross-formed faith. Talk a little more about this concept.Part of the reason for my linking “transformative” to “faith” comes from an age-old problem in language. In English, “faith” is a noun. But in the language of the New Testament, there are both noun and verb forms of the Greek word we translate as faith. As a result, we sometimes lazily limit “faith” to an abstract body of content or something we “have” when in truth, “faith” is also something that must be “done.” So when I speak of transformative faith, I mean the dynamic of relationship with God that inevitably seeks change in our lives for the good.
Cross-formed faith simply makes explicit the focus of faith in action that takes seriously what change the cross seeks in our living. And possibilities? God bestows on us free will. Even in light of the cross, or maybe especially in light of the cross, we may turn our back on the change for the possibilities God seeks for us and in us. I believe the story of the rich young ruler is just such a story of possibilities kept at arm’s length because of what transformation asked. So while cross-formed faith is filled with transformative possibilities they remain just that, possibilities, until we choose to follow (“faithe,” if such a verb existed) God. I also believe the same dynamic is at work when the cross is reduced to a wall hanging or a pendant filled with nostalgia but void of transformation.
4. What do you hope readers will take away from reading Worship in Light of the Cross?I hope, first of all, readers will bring greater appreciation for the depth and possibilities of the worship element that they have been exploring in the readings, practices, and prayers of that week. For example, after reading the first chapter on worship as “Gathering: Forming Community,” I hope they will be attentive to the ways in which the gathering rituals in their congregation enhance—or impede—a sense of community whose identity hinges on the meaning of the cross. Beyond that, at the conclusion of their engagement with this book, I hope readers will never enter worship without a sense of how the cross informs what is said and done—and commissioned.
5. How might small groups use Worship in Light of the Cross?This book is designed primarily as a Lenten experience. It begins with a reading for Ash Wednesday and ends with Holy Week readings for the days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. In between those bookends are six chapters, with each chapter dedicated to a common component of worship: gathering, invocation, confession, proclamation, creed, response.
There are six reflective readings for each chapter that explore the weekly themes. Ideally, a small group would meet weekly with participants having read the chapter that would be considered in the meeting (six readings would allow scheduling the meeting on the seventh day). There is a Leader’s Guide for such meetings contained in an appendix.
To begin the study, participants could meet briefly on Ash Wednesday to read together that day’s reading and gain an overview of the book and how it will be explored. For those groups so interested, there might also be a closing meeting the week after Easter, not only to review the Holy Week readings but to reflect on the experience as a whole and discuss what, if anything, might come next.
A different type of small-group experience involving this book would be having a church’s worship committee or task force use it in a planning process for exploring the congregation’s practices of worship. Such a study need not be done during Lent, and it might be that more than one week could be given to explore one or more of the components that are under particular consideration.
6. What are your hopes and prayers for Worship in Light of the Cross?My hope and prayer for Worship in Light of the Cross is that it serves God in recentering Christian worship. Millennials are not the only ones who express doubts about the need or value of corporate worship as it is practiced today.
Years ago, I attended a denominational gathering of clergy and lay leaders from western Washington. As was the tradition in this district, the home church was in charge of the worship service. It had a striking sanctuary, quite new, with theater seating and a cross prominently displayed, as one might expect, in the chancel/stage area. As worship began, however, a huge projection screen descended from the ceiling and completely obliterated any sight of the cross. Later, in the pastoral prayer segment, the senior pastor sat at a grand piano, the house lights were lowered, and he offered a prayer while softly playing the keys—with the main light in the room being a spotlight that put him and him alone at the center of worship.
What are my hopes and prayers for this book? I hope it speaks to folks who find something out of order when the center of worship is no longer the cross, in symbol and in theology, but rather the cult of personality and techno-gadgetry. I hope it speaks to folks who find something missing from worship that cannot be patched over with Starbucks and name tags in the narthex. I hope it speaks to folks who seek in worship a message of something more than a make-us-feel-good-but-don’t-ask-anything-hard Jesus. And in speaking to any and all such folks who may read this book, I pray it moves them to call and work for renewal of worship that is cross-formed.