Interview with Simon Woodman
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Interview with Chris Ellis on new book on worship

ChrisEllis-s Chris Ellis is a baptist minister, currently pastor of West Bridgford Baptist Church, Nottingham and before that Principal of Bristol Baptist College. His latest book, Approaching God (Canterbury Press, 2009) is a guide to leading worship and this accompanies Gathering: A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in Free Church Tradition (SCM, 2004) and Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples (edited with Myra Blyth, Canterbury Press, 2005).

He has kindly answered some questions. I'll post a review of his book soon.

Why do we a need a book on leading worship?
There is been considerable democratization in the leading of worship in recent years. Far more people are involved in leading – but this welcome trend has not been accompanied by any significant training. I believe worship to be the core activity of the church and of individual Christian discipleship – yet it is often led by people who have little idea of what they are doing. The book attempts to help people to understand what worship is about and what influence it has on the worshippers.

I think it is a very practical book but is more than just a ‘how to do it’ manual. It is a book which will help worshipers as well as leaders because it teaches through encouraging readers to THINK about what we are doing and why we do it this way or that way. To explore worship is to explore God!

Who is the book aimed at?
People who are currently leading worship, people who are thinking of doing so, lay people, musicians, ministers, ministers in training – and WORSHIPPERS

Do you think baptist worship is generally in a healthy place or does it need some serious attention?
I think I’ve part answered that one. But I can make an additional point. Along with other observers, I am concerned about the lack of intercessions in  much Baptist worship. However, I think it is a symptom of a bigger issue which is our inablility to connect worship (and the spiritual life as a whole) to the rest of life. I don’t think we take the doctrines of creation or the incarnation seriously enough and so tend to divorce worship and the rest of our lives. As I say in the book, when we do this worship becomes ghettoised and the rest of life becomes secularised!

It seems that more and more baptist ministers are responsible less for leading worship is this something to be concerned about?
Yes and no. My understanding of ministry is that the primary calling of Baptist ministers is to be pastoral leaders (episcope). As such they should exercise  oversight of worship arrangements and that includes leadership and content. It should also include the training of those who are delegated to lead – and I hope the book will help here.

What theologian/scholar has had the most influence on your theology?
That’s a tough one and I couldn’t limit it to one! Karl Barth reminded me to let God be God; Moltmann excited me with his approach to systematic theology; Alexander Schmemann helped me see worship as communal theology; and Thomas Merton is an on-going companion.

What was the last book you read?
John Henry Newman by Ian Ker – and the current novel is Sovereign by C J Sansom (I’m a sucker for historical fiction)

How does being a baptist shape how you do theology?
I often feel I am on a boundary between the Baptist community and the wider church.
When I look outwards, I want to remind other Christians of

〈        the communal nature of the church
〈        the importance of connecting contemporary concerns with the reading of scripture
〈        and the importance of our personal relationship with God

When I look inwards towards Baptists, I want to remind them of

〈        the importance of theology
〈        the awesome ways in which God has worked and still works through other Christians – especially through the classics of Christian Spirituality
〈        a concern for depth of devotion and relationships in local church life
〈        the danger of pre-packaged programmes. (Some people complain that Baptists are too pragmatic. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being pragmatic as long as your choices are theologically informed and Spirit-led! The problem is that often through laziness or desperation local church leaders choose other people’s solutions rather than seeking to discover God’s leading for their own situation. I believe in reflective practice!)

What do you think will be major discussion points in baptist theology over the next 10 years?
Hermeneutics – now we use the bible in making practical decisions.
Spirituality and Ethics – what is the nature and scope of discipleship?

What I would like to see explored by Baptists is the doctrine of God and, in particular, the implications of taking seriously the transcendence and immanence of God.

Can you tell us anything more about your current writing project/s?
Since I finished Approaching God in the autumn of 2008  I have written a number of chapters for various books including a chapter on the spirituality of ministry, a chapter on prayer in Baptist worship for an ecumenical book on liturgical prayer and a paper on the use of scripture in worship for a colloquium and book on Baptist hermeneutics.

The next task is to complete the editing of a book on Isaac Watts and his eighteenth century London congregation for a project published by Eerdmans on the history of worship through case study. After that there is nothing planned but I would like to explore further the relationship between spirituality and theology.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Held by grace


Chris S

Great interview! Thank you for this.

David K

Yes,a great interview. Well done to both! As to the question "What do you think will be major discussion points in baptist theology over the next 10 years?" that's surely worthy of further engagement. Here's my offering:

1. Faithful to Scripture: rethinking our understanding of God in a post-doctrinal world

2. Out of Weakness not Power: exploring the missionary imperitive for UK Baptist Churches today

3. Interfaith Engagement: loving God and neighbour with equal integrity

Any takers?

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