An Example of How to Exegete Image in Worship

Len WilsonChurch, Strategic Thinking5 Comments

The word “religion” has a negative connotation in the culture, but what if we in the church could redeem it? What if we could talk about the practice of religion as the beautiful, fragile connective tissue that binds believers together?

The root word for religion is the same root word found in ligament. A ligament is connective tissue that holds two body parts together. In the church, we are the body of Christ. Our religion, which is the community-centered practice of our faith, is the connective tissue that holds us together. (Thanks to Talbot Davis for this image.)

What if you were to build a worship service around this image? Here’s a quick brainstorm about how that might look:

  • Start with a video of a runner dealing with a torn ligament in his ankle. It’s a devastating loss to his career ambitions to run. He hopefully can heal, but he’s not sure if he’ll ever return to the way he was.
  • Then you could hear a short interview with a worship host and a doctor, where the doctor talks about how a ligament is a powerful part of our body’s ability to perform.
  • Then you could hear a scripture reading of 1 Corinthians 12, about the body of Christ.
  • Then you might sing a song about the power of God.
  • Then you could hear a short, 3-5 segment from a preacher / speaker, talking about how religion is the ligaments in Christ’s body.
  • Then you could go back to video for a second short segment, this one about the runner going through rehab, and working to heal his damaged ankle, and how he’d give up if on his own but how doing it in the clubhouse and being with the team kept his morale up.
  • Then you could hear a testimony from someone in the church who left church for many years because of bad experiences. They didn’t believe that church was the best rehab plan for their brokenness.
  • Then you could go back to the speaker for a 5-8 minute message from a speaker / preacher, talking about what how bad religion has damaged people, and maybe the speaker quotes Gandhi talking about how he would’ve followed Christ except for Christians, and then talk about the lie of individualism, and what it means to be connected to the body of Christ.
  • Then you pray a prayer of confession for believing the lie that it’s better to be alone.
  • Then you sing another song, this one about Christ as the head.
  • Then you see a final short video of the runner, this time winning a race – but it’s a relay race.
  • Then you could pray a group prayer for people to experience healing from the damage that has kept them separated from the healing nature of good religion.
  • Then you close and have a group gathering with food afterward.
  • You title the service something like “Religion Rehab”, which hints at the power of the metaphor, the felt need feelings about organized religion, and provides a little intrigue to learn more.
  • Maybe it’s part of a series of worship themes about the body of Christ, each with an image that exegetes a truth in Scripture.

Looking over this above first draft list, which I typed without stopping, I would want to do a few things:

  1. talk about the concept in a team, which is always better than doing it alone;
  2. consider the worship elements above and their order according to story structure (character – problem – guru – journey – joy) and by liturgical worship sequences (e.g., gathering – adoration – confession – pardon – offering – proclamation – response).

For planning purposes, here is a breakdown of this concept using my longtime, preferred worship planning template:

  • The Text – 1 Corinthians 12
  • The Main Idea – Religion is the connective tissue that holds the body of Christ together
  • The Human Condition (aka the cultural starting point, or “felt need”) – distrust for organized religion
  • The Title – “Religion Rehab”
  • The Metaphor – ligaments in the body. If this were a service, I’d use the image I found at the top of this post as the basis for an image in worship.
  • The Featured Story – someone who’s been hurt by church in the past but has come back
  • The Goal – challenge people to engage with the community of believers in spite of the fact that they’re all imperfect.

One of my principles for effective communication is to build your message on common images, not Christian codes. The image of the ligament capture the beauty and fragility of the connection we feel as the body of Christ in a way that much of our theological language cannot. (As I watch my home denomination the United Methodist Church fracture, and some voices call for unity, perhaps this image would work better than many leaders’ heady, desperate pleas.)

I love being delighted and inspired by fresh connections to known ideas through the insight of an metaphorical image such as this. In fact, delight is my first test for the power of an image.

In Design Matters: Creating Powerful Imagery for Worship, my co-author Jason Moore and I write about the power of visual metaphors such as this to help us understand the mysteries of God. We write:

Few beings or things seem more abstract than a God somewhere “up there”. Perhaps that’s why God repeatedly shows up in the Bible through metaphor, from a burning bush to a pillar of cloud and, ultimately, as a Body. Even after God comes Incarnate in Jesus, God’s Spirit appears as a dove, or tongues of fire, or a rushing wind. The stories of faith in God told with and through metaphor.

Click here for a deeper dive on the power of visual metaphors and click here for more on how to use this model in worship planning.

In the coming weeks, if it’s helpful to you, I will post more images that may help you communicate the gospel.


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Len Wilson

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