The Worship Leader as Midwife

Image The following is adapted from a final reflection paper I wrote for my Foundations of Worship and Preaching class.  Lately, I have been thinking about the tight connection between midwiffery and spiritual leadership.  Midwiffery has long been a passion of mine.  I never did end up studying it professionally, however, I have passed many an afternoon or evening reading countless books on pregnancy and birth and am always up for discussion on these topics which I am fascinated by.  Some of my happiest summer memories include my field education placement at a pregnancy resource center where I connected with young teenage mothers and helped instruct on the topic of birth. 

I cannot help but recognize a pastor’s role as being one who helps coach the birth of a worship service in the making.  This paper also touches on the topic of perinatal loss.  When I mention perinatal loss, I do not do so flippantly.  I have never experienced the traumatic effects that it has on couples and on individuals, but as someone who is interested in birth, it is impossible to ignore this troubling concept.  Sometimes I feel that the terms “Spiritual Midwife” and “Midwife of Justice” are a bit misused.  Sometimes used by people who don’t agree with the midwife movement.  However, if one is to use these terms they must be ready and willing to deal with all aspects of the birthing process including the most difficult aspects of pain and loss.

Church should be the most inclusive place in the country, yet, every Sunday it remains the most segregated.   It remains segregated because of theology, because of social issues, and because of ethnicities.  While much can be learned from brothers and sisters who share in different worship patterns, many push away from anything other than what they grew up with; and some even go so far as to say the other ways of worshipping are wrong, thus implying that their method and mode of worship exceeds that of the other individual or group.

My time at Tyndale University provided me with some fresh viewpoints as to what worship is and what it is not.  Through my time in college as well as my time taking Foundations of Worship and Preaching at AMBS, I have learned that worship is any act which ascribes worth to God whether publically or privately.  Most worship will likely take place in the form of music, artistic expressions, poetry, and corporate worship, however, worship is just as meaningful when it includes a thoughtful paper written or true scholarship crafted and shared with others.  Listening to Taize and reading Karl Barth are both equal and valid forms of worshipful expression.  However, for the purposes of this paper, I will primarily focus on the communal aspects of worship.

Community worship provides a corporate expression of extolling God and helping others to find their identity through their Creator.  Worship leaders and preachers are able to act as midwives who coach the worship experience into being and who stay with the individual until well after the birth has taken place.  Leading worship does not imply that one’s position is over as soon as the hour is up on a Sunday morning, rather, they are to continue to promote and provoke thought in their hearers throughout the week and into the coming Sunday.

While music and art are definitely of great importance in church life, preaching is the most common way that many in Anabaptist and Protestant traditions distil the key teachings and form their identity with the church and the world.  The preacher is called to affirm, exhort, and challenge Biblical and theological notions in a way that provides insights and comfort for others.  While the pastor should always offer a word of hope, this does not always imply that they should only share positive and happy thoughts with those in their midst.  Indeed, there are times when a pastor will be called on to be a prophetic voice in the midst of much resistance in the church.[1]

Although this role may be uncomfortable, it is imperative that in helping one give birth, the midwife does not forget that the mother will inevitably be going through much pain.  The goal, therefore, is that after the birth the mother will forget her pain because she will be so enamoured by the miracle of bringing life into the world and sharing this life with others.  In the same way, hearing Scriptural truths can be difficult, but the goal should be to allow each individual to move forward with the truth even though they may be in the midst of their own personal struggles and tribulations.

A church which seeks to be true to the Scriptures must find ways of including all people into a  formative community while at the same time not neglecting their own religious and theological convictions.  Too often the temptation is to “water down” Christianity because one does not want to offend anyone.  The truth is that Christianity is an offensive religion.  Jesus was, at times, an offensive person, but that does not mean we are free to do without his words for fear that someone would be upset because of them.  He once wrote that if we denied him on earth, he would deny us in heaven.[2]  Therefore, it is important for the pastor to retain a healthy level of authority, but at the same time to allow for communal discernment of the Scriptures so that there will not be any hierarchy.  Balancing power is perhaps the trickiest aspect of worship, but at the same time, the most necessary in order to maintain a healthy church.

For in birth, one woman does not give birth alone in the majority of cases, but she is surrounded by others who help her to birth and also are with her after the ordeal to celebrate new life with her.  The child is not raised solely by one parent, but by a host of other people who love and care for her.  In the same way, we are formed by the faith community that we are a part of and not simply by one individual pastor or worship leader.  Nevertheless, the others may play a less upfront role because generally only one person can actually physically birth the process into happening.

In an age and culture where consumerism and individualism run rampant, it becomes increasingly harder to care more about the needs of other worshippers rather than one’s own needs.[3]  Yet, it is because of this very resistance, that the church needs to seek to be counter cultural and to push against the general flow of the world in order to become a transcendent reality.  In a world where people thrive on busyness and pride themselves on productivity, the church must beckon individuals to rest and wait on the Lord and to intentionally keep the Sabbath day holy just as the Bible directs from Genesis through Revelation.[4]    1 Timothy 4:13 tells Christians that they are to devote themselves to a life of public Scripture reading, exhortation, teaching, and prayer.  These very words remind us that as important as our secular vocations must be, our spiritual vocation must be of the most importance.

From time to time, an evaluative process becomes paramount to discerning the direction the church is headed in.  In order to understand if one is bringing new life into the congregation, the leader must ask herself if she is empowering the individuals to make their own choices in the birth.  She must not overtake the others with her own preferences and ideas, but rather, must be sure to allow diverse viewpoints particularly when they relate to multi-culturalism and ecumenicity.   Each person must feel that they are a  part of the church and must know that their opinions are valued and appreciated regardless of their age, culture, sexual orientation, theological viewpoints, or socio-economic status.

I leave this class much richer because of the many lessons which have been touched upon in it.  I also leave with a few questions.  Questions which I find important to address as I think about the analogy of birth within a congregation.  What do we do with perinatal loss?  What do we do when an idea has been formulated, but does not make it until labour or dies shortly after the delivery has taken place?  I say this with the utmost respect, as someone who has an interest in midwifery and knows that this is indeed one of the most painful experiences a woman and a couple could ever go through.  I also say this as a worship leader and preacher who tries to be empathetic knowing that not every idea will carry through until completion, but still seeing the pains of labour and delivery which are so evident.  I believe that in this case it is important to help the congregation to grieve the child that they tried to bring into this world, but also to offer a word of hope and comfort.  After all, our role is to walk alongside others in their triumphs and struggles, but also to witness the miracle of both birth and death, for both are holy places.

[1] Yoder, June Alliman, Marlene Kropf, and Rebecca Slough. Preparing Sunday Dinner: A Collaborative Approach to Worship and Preaching. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 2005, 227.

[2] Matthew 10:33

[3]  Yoder, et al, Preparing Sunday Dinner, 27.

[4]  Ibid, 29.


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