Aug 25 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 23 2021

Congregational Lament

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The language of lament is found in more than half of the psalms but is largely absent in much of the Protestant culture. Lament is that healthy, open expression of pain, complaint, sorrow, anger, frustration, and grief directed to a God who understands. If congregations are to experience renewal of the biblical understanding of lament and its appropriateness in their worship culture, they must consider how to implement this communal response as a regular part of their liturgy. The following list is not an exhaustive one but is a place to begin the conversation.

  • Leaders must model lament.

Modeling will require leaders not just to preach, teach, and sing about the psalms of lament, but also to live them with their congregation. In response, congregants must allow their leaders the freedom to express their own vulnerabilities without fear of reprisal. When leaders introduce lament to a worshiping community through the articulation of common experience, the sorrow worshipers and leaders share validates those expressions.

  • Read all of the Psalms.

It is ironic that our worship culture so rabidly defends the Word as foundational to our faith and practice, yet limits its use only to palatable text that does not offend. John Witvliet reminds us that “when faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant laments of the Hebrew Scriptures.”[1]

  • Pray the Psalms.

A meaningful approach is to pray a lament psalm corporately in response to a specific lamentable situation. Psalm praying gives voice to the timid and unity to the lamenting body. Praying psalms of lament can take us deeper much quicker than we are often able or comfortable going on our own. Eugene Peterson in Answering God reminds us that, “left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us . . . the Psalms train us in that conversation.”[2]

  • Incorporate lament beyond contrition.

If we have participated at all in lament in our public and private worship practices, it has been as a response to sorrow and despair over our sinful nature. We are often more comfortable with contrition, since we can admit that our struggle is something we caused and there is no one to blame but ourselves. This alleviates our discomfort and fear of the appearance of faithlessness by questioning God in our lament language. Contrition in response to our sinful nature is indeed a necessity. But we must also admit that lament in response to circumstances beyond our control is also necessary.

  • Sing songs of lament.

Until recently, the writers and composers of hymns and modern worship songs were not publishing many songs to help a congregation express the language of lament. Even those texts that leaned toward lament were often set to catchy tunes in major keys. Since the ongoing tragedies of life cannot be ignored, however, more composers and lyricists are offering song selections to help congregations express words of pain, grief, sorrow, and even anger.

  • If not here, then where?

If our churches are not a safe place to express despair, pain, grief, and anger, then where is a safe place? Since this language is so prevalent in the lives of our congregants, we must offer them a venue to express those emotions or they will look for another place more excepting of that kind of language. Walter Brueggemann suggests that “in a society that is increasingly shut down in terms of public speech, the church in all of its pastoral practices may be the community where the silenced are authorized to voice.”[3]

 

[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1997): 22.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper, 1989), 3.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, “Voice as Counter to Violence,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 25.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Jul 12 2021

Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

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Some congregations and even entire denominations have not embraced the Christian calendar as foundational to their worship planning and implementation out of concern that it is too rigid, routine, or orthodox. In their desire to be non-liturgical, however, some have in fact created their own liturgy framed by Hallmark or denominational and civic calendars.

The desire for worship creativity has caused some congregations to look elsewhere, believing annual celebrations promote monotony and conformity. But Timothy Carson wrote, “Exactly the opposite may be true. Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it. Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”[1]

In the Middle Ages the church calendar was filled with such a multitude of saints’ days that the value of festivals such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost was lost. In response, some of the Reformers eliminated the entire church year. Other Protestants responded similarly, and in the sixteenth century the Puritans rejected even Christmas as a festival day.[2]

As Protestant congregations started again to commemorate special days, they focused on cultural and denominational calendars instead of on the Christian calendar. As the antitheses to what was considered Catholic, these civic days were given as much or more credibility as the days of the Christian calendar. But some congregations who avoided the Christian calendar were affirming annual observances whose foundations were not biblically grounded.[3]

I love, appreciate, and revere my family. I am grateful I get to be their husband and dad. I think about them often and can’t imagine life without them. Our story is something I enjoy celebrating and telling others about every chance I get. As a result of that gratitude, what if I used the worship service this Sunday just to exalt my family? Instead of worshipping God that day, what if I planned the entire service to celebrate and sing the praises of my family?

If idolatry is extreme devotion to anyone or anything that isn’t God, then replacing the cross with our mothers, fathers, graduates, or the flag as the primary symbol of our worship on any given Sunday could cause us to stray into idol territory. God’s story and our response to that story transcend cultural and denominational calendars.

Harold Best wrote, “There is one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone—an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ.”[4] Best continued with, “All worship outside the worship of God through Christ Jesus is idolatrous.”[5]

God has placed each one of our congregations in a unique cultural and national context. Worshipping while giving consideration to those contexts is one of the exciting challenges for a modern church. As long as Christian worship is our starting point it will provide us with the opportunity to take up that challenge without compromising our biblical and theological foundations.[6]  Why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday, and Memorial Day in the same seasons as Ascension Day and Pentecost? Without ignoring one or the other, it is possible to converge holidays significant to our civic and denominational calendars with those Christian holidays significant to the kingdom.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What days or seasons in the Christian calendar haven’t we been observing that we could add to our worship calendar?
  • How can we incorporate cultural, denominational, and Christian calendar observances within our worship service?
  • How can we move away from observing holidays that are causing us to take our focus from the worship of God, while still being sensitive to the emotional connection those days have for our congregation?

 

[1] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 57.

[2] Barry Liesch, People in the Presence of God: Models and Directions for Worship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 223.

[3] Carson, Transforming Worship, 56.

[4] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 17.

[5] Best, Unceasing Worship, 163.

[6] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship, vol. 5, The Services of the Christian Year (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 82–83.

 

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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May 17 2021

The Narcissism of Worship My Way

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We are created in God’s image, not God in ours. When we worship we must acknowledge that we aren’t starting the conversation. Instead, God began the dialogue and is inviting us to join it.

Our worship proclaims, enacts, and sings God’s story.[1] If our worship is truly in spirit and truth, then it must reflect who God is, not necessarily just what we want. When we focus on what we need, deserve, and prefer, the attention of our worship is always on us. But when we focus on what God desires, the attention of our worship is on him.

Conversational narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us. Derber wrote, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2] Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting its focus to our own selfish interests. We’ve all been involved in those conversations that have been hijacked by someone who makes their own story seem more dramatic, humorous, or emotional than all others. A conversation that originally began with others ends up being focused on them.

Conversational narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing. Instead of worship focused on God and God’s story, it is focused on me and my story.[3] Shifting the topic of our worship can also shift the object of our worship. When those shifts occur, the conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshipped but instead on the worshipper. In his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed,” C. S. Lewis illustrated the difference between just seeing something as an outsider and actually seeing or looking along something as an insider:

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.[4]

When we stand outside of the beam and expect it to move where we are, the god we worship looks like us. We believe that the beam is there for our sake instead of our being there for its sake. Then the object of our worship (God and God’s story) is transferred to an object of our own choosing (us and our story). Harold Best wrote, “Idolatry is the difference between walking in the light and creating our own light to walk in.”[5] But when we step into the beam and look along that beam, we don’t just see God, we also see what God wants us to see. Then our worship is no longer shaped by what we want or feel like we’ve earned, but instead is shaped by who God is and what he has done.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we help our congregation step into God’s story instead of expecting God to step into ours?
  • Since we get to select what occurs in worship each week, how can we make sure we aren’t selecting worship elements just to accommodate our own needs?
  • Are there any recent examples where it seems like we asked God to move the beam where we are?
  • What worship elements could we introduce to help our congregants transform from selfish to selfless worshippers?

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.

[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26–27.

[3] Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.

[4] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212.

[5] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 165–66.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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May 12 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 10 2021

Worship Leader…When Is Your Sabbath?

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The following is an excerpt from my upcoming article in the June 2021 edition of Reformed Worship. David W. Manner, “Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath; We Aren’t: Helping Worship Leaders Find Rest,” Reformed Worship, June 2021, 46-48. Reprint by permission from Reformed Worship © 2021 Worship Ministries.

Congregations should put guardrails in place to invest more deeply and meaningfully in the lives and future ministry of their worship leaders. One way to encourage and refresh leaders is by offering an extended period of rest through sabbaticals. Sustained time away every few years beyond their vacation weeks allows worship leaders to step aside completely from their daily responsibilities to renew their bodies, refresh their souls, and reaffirm their calling to God and their church.

Those ministry sabbaticals can give worship leaders permission to rest, heal, and recharge without carrying the weight of the preparation and accountability for those weekly rehearsals, meetings, and services. Offering worship ministry sabbaticals can give a congregation the unique opportunity to practice stewardship of those leaders God has entrusted to them. Sabbaticals are a great investment in the health and future of worship leaders. But churches will also be the beneficiaries of new ideas, challenges, and vision from worship leaders recharged and refreshed for the next season of ministry.

Even if a congregation doesn’t provide an extended time away for rest, worship leaders are called individually to observe a sabbath. The rest Jesus refers to in Matthew 11 can be translated as “refreshment.” To refresh means to renew, revive, or reinvigorate. Refreshment is not idleness. It isn’t an escape from responsibilities, or laziness, or a free pass. It is instead an intentional, deeply calming physical and spiritual peace or time of respite in the midst of one’s responsibilities.[1]

But how can worship leaders begin to observe a sabbath when it hasn’t previously been part of their weekly rhythm of life? As with any new exercise, it might require adding elements incrementally before committing completely. Sabbath is acquired. It must be learned or developed over time in order for it to become a practice. Just a few sabbath moments throughout the day can remind leaders that worship is a response to God’s revelation, not a generator of it. Expanding those moments to a sabbath hour or a portion of a day each week will require more intentionality. Setting aside an hour at the beginning of the day could preempt some of those worship-leading stressors that threaten to derail ministry during the day. Scheduling an hour of rest at the end of the work day could protect worship leaders from taking some of those ministry frustrations home.

Taking a sabbath from social media sites and worship technology platforms by occasionally turning off devices can say to leaders and those they lead: please, rest. A constant social media presence shows little sign of practicing God’s rest.[2] Worship leaders could also learn from observant Jewish people, who believe Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before gathering for worship. The activities and things with which worship leaders fill their time the night before worship could better refresh and prepare their physical, emotional, and spiritual dispositions during worship.

Worship ministry is never complete. So, it tends to sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. We often value motion and noise as a sign of significance, believing our efforts indicate our level of worship relevance. And even if worship leaders have a scheduled day off each week, they often hold that day in reserve to complete the list of things that didn’t get done during the week. Consequently, worship leaders’ tanks are constantly drained with no opportunities to refill them, especially during busy seasons of the church year. Expanding to a full day of sabbath rest won’t occur until it is not only scheduled, but also protected.

Jesus says in Matthew 12 that he is Lord of the Sabbath. We aren’t. So, observing sabbath rest and taking sabbaticals every few years can offer worship leaders intentional margins for recovery that will encourage them to take up Jesus’ yoke instead of constantly bearing those stressful burdens of leadership, sometimes even of their own making.[3]

 

[1] David W. Manner, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2020), 130. ©2020 Abingdon Press Used by Permissions. All rights reserved.

[2] Adapted from Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 11-12.

[3] Manner, Better Sundays Begin on Monday, 130.

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May 3 2021

Creating Worship Tourists

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tourist photo

In Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen and noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition, and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators? Aren’t we really creating worship tourists who select their destination based solely on their impression of the platform tour guide and excursion offered rather than worship travelers on a continuous journey?

Tourists, on the one hand, sample other cultures as long as they aren’t too different from their own. They expect others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a tourist is always inconvenient because it discourages pleasure and preference. Tourists only scratch the surface and ask what, when, and how much. They only go where the map takes them, are there to experience the sites, aren’t willing to stray away from their native language, and always ask, “What’s in it for me.” Worship tourists are onlookers or observers, much like they would watch an event or game. They are audience members or spectators who might be a fan or foe depending on who is playing and what is being played. And they think they are in the game because they are in the stands.

Travelers, on the other hand, willingly immerse themselves in cultures even when they might be radically different from their own. They adjust instead of expecting others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a traveler is never inconvenient because it encourages discovery. Travelers always dig deep and ask who and why. They go where the road takes them, are there to understand the sites, attempt to learn new languages, and always ask, “What’s in it of me.” Travelers are involved in the game because they are contributing to it. They relate to what is going on because it is larger than them. As participants they are engaged and involved in the game because they are actually on the field and not in the stands.

Leaders facilitate participative worship not by just depending on their own strengths and abilities but also by investing in the strengths and abilities of other congregants who are willing to subordinate their individual interests to the corporate concerns of the entire congregation. The leader who promotes participative worship taps into the collective resources and talents of others by affirming their value to worship health.

Participative worship is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, or defensive. It trusts the creative abilities and resources of the whole in the planning, preparation, and implementation. Consequently, participatory leaders are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit. Participatory worship is a culture, not a one-time event.

Will Willimon wrote, “Many of the Sunday orders of worship consist of the pastor speaking, the pastor praying, the pastor reading, and the choir singing, with little opportunity for the congregation to do anything but sit and listen. When the Sunday service is simply a time to sit quietly, hear some good music and a good sermon, sing a hymn and then go home to eat dinner, no wonder many of our people get confused into thinking that Christ only wants passive admirers rather than active followers.”[2]

The ultimate destination for worship tourists and travelers may be exactly the same. But the connection for the tourist is usually shallow and fleeting. The connection for the traveler, however, is always deep and continuous. The worship tourist endures the journey in order to reach the destination, while the traveler values the journey as part of the destination.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we move our congregants from passive spectators to active participators?
  • What are we presently doing that may be discouraging or encouraging participative worship?
  • What are some of those worship-leadership elements we should be asking congregants to do so our leaders aren’t doing everything for them?
  • How will we know if we are accomplishing our goal of more congregational worship participation?

[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 52.

[2] William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia: West- minster, 1984), 20.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Apr 26 2021

20 Blessings for Continuous Worship

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Worship isn’t just our response to God’s revelation through the songs we sing on Sunday, it’s also our response through the rhythms and harmonies of life on Monday. Worshiping as we gather here and scatter there are both biblical and necessary if we are to faithfully love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. One can’t survive without the other. So, as good as our worship actions might have been as we gathered in here, they are incomplete until they also include how we continue to worship out there. Blessings like the ones below can send your congregation out with scriptural texts in their hearts and on their lips for continuing worship out there.

Romans 15:13
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Numbers 6:24-26
May the Lord bless you and protect you; may the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you; may the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.

1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 121:1-2
I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

2 Peter 1:2-3
May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Romans 16:25-27
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to him be the glory forever! Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21
Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—through the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.

Jude 24-25
Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.

2 Corinthians 13:11; 13
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Ephesians 3:16-19
I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Philippians 4:5-7
Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:12-17
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you. May he make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Amen.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.

2 Peter 3:17-18
Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stable position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.

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Apr 19 2021

10 Worship Leading Fails

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failureWorship-leading novices and aging veterans have all looked back at certain Sundays with a deep longing for another chance to do or handle things differently. It would be impossible to go back and make corrections to many of those leadership and relationship failures. We do, however, have the opportunity for another chance to get it right this Sunday. One way to learn from the past in order to influence the future is to anticipate and head-off some of the following mistakes before they are made.

 

  1. Trying to fix relationships with music

Leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people. We’ll never be able to teach enough new songs to make up for leadership and relationship failures. What will our congregations remember most about our worship leadership…how we led them musically while on the platform or how we ministered to them off the platform? Musical talent and platform presence may help us secure a worship leading position but developing relationship skills will help us keep it.

  1. Flying Solo

Most of us have enough musical talent to succeed alone for a while. The time will come, however, when the inherent risks of trying to do it alone will cause us to fail, also alone. So if we try to receive all the credit when something works, we’ll also receive all the credit when something doesn’t. If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators?

  1. Singing too much

Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it is not the only expression or even the primary expression. Considering Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper as foundational instead of supplemental worship elements could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

  1. Trying to be the bride

Ushers play a key role in the wedding ceremony but they must have enough humility to acknowledge they aren’t and won’t ever be the bride. Like ushers, worship leaders must be willing to take a secondary role in order to help others find their place in the service without coercion or force but instead by humbly encouraging participants to accompany them.

  1. Inviting God to show up

Worship isn’t our attempt to be with the Father, it is our response to having been with the Father. We often take credit for instigating God’s presence by what we sing or how we sing it. But He started the conversation, was present long before we arrived, and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. So, worship doesn’t invite God’s presence, it acknowledges it.

  1. Leading by comparison

The potential for worship leading envy is high since we don’t have to look very far to find other leaders who are younger, play guitar better, sing with more passion or have a better platform presence. Contentment is leading the ministry God has given you. Comparison is envying the ministry you wish He had given you. It is tempting to look to the left or right to see how we measure up. Instead, we must run this race by keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

  1. Talking too much

Worship service elements and song sets often require meaningful verbal transitions and yet, we rarely prepare for or even think about those transitions until it is time to make them. The result is often a long-winded holding pattern of circular discourse including clichés, detours, and verbosity. Successful worship verbal communicators know the flight plan and how to land the plane before leaving the runway.

  1. Confusing calling and convenience

If we are leading worship every Sunday just because we love to play and sing, because we need to supplement our income, because we enjoy being up-front, or because we are not trained to do anything else, then our worship leading compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling. A calling is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. And it is not always convenient. Convenience says, “This is what I was trained to do.”  Calling says, “This is what I was created to do.”

  1. Segregating grandparents and grandchildren

We often divide our congregations along age and affinity lines in an effort to appease multiple generations and minimize conflict. Except in rare cases, it appears that the worshiping community suffers and all generations lose. It is beneficial for all generations when grandparents and grandchildren get to worship together. But it’s only possible when battle lines are drawn over who can offer or give the most instead of who deserves or demands the most.

  1. Leading worship as an event

If our worship leadership conveys that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; if we expend all resources and energy preparing for and leading a single hour on Sunday and have nothing left to encourage worship the other hours of the week; if we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event. Worship is a daily process, not a weekly event. What occurs on Sunday should be an overflow of what has already occurred during the week.

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Apr 12 2021

Worship Leader Ageism: Stick the Landing!

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Ageism has impacted most of us serving in worship leadership. Churches seem to be on the lookout for a younger platform presence or fresher image from those who lead. Forced termination or demotion as a result of the ageism epidemic reminds us that where we serve is not always ours to control. What we can control, however, is that we are prepared to continue to serve somewhere. What we once learned is not enough to sustain us through our entire ministry. So, what can we do that will allow us to continue?

A gymnastic competition can be won or lost in the landing. Even if you flip, vault, tuck, and twist well during the routine, it isn’t a success unless you also stick the landing. Halftime is over and some of us are well into the last quarter of our worship-leading career. We’ve accumulated decades of knowledge, experience, and practical application so we know how to work smarter. But just working smarter isn’t helping some of us finish well. How can we stay viable, battle ageism, and keep from coasting in order to stick the landing?

  • Learn a new language.

Even though we might be fluent in previous worship languages, we also need to learn the musical and technological vernacular of newer worship languages and what might follow them. When we lose the resolve to learn, we lose the resolve to lead. It’s never too soon or too late to learn something new. The end of learning new is the beginning of leading old.

  • Force quit.

Computer programs sometimes become unresponsive. Selecting Force Quit reboots and reinstates the original well-functioning settings. Quitting doesn’t mean we stop doing worship ministry or have to leave our present position. It just means rebooting for a fresh start where we are now.

  • Extend your shelf-life.

Shelf life is the length of time items are given before they are unsuitable for use. It is the time in which the defined quality remains fresh, acceptable, viable, usable, and effective under normal circumstances. Increasing our shelf life encourages us to recalibrate or fine-tune for the potential of a new reality.

  • Get another job.

Agreeing that worship leader ageism is unjust or theologically suspect doesn’t change its reality. We can choose to live in a constant state of fear in the last quarter, or we can proactively prepare in case ageism does occur. Learning additional marketable skills doesn’t compromise our calling; it actually enhances that calling beyond choirs and chord charts. Retooling could help us stick the landing where we are now or maybe where God will call us next.

Some of us enjoy running, cycling, or other exercises to help us extend our shelf life physically and to relieve stress as we age. A few years ago, I ran the Kansas City Marathon with my daughter. Leg cramps at mile twenty-one seemed to seize up every muscle in my legs. Marathon runners call this “hitting the wall” or “bonking.” If I hadn’t trained and fueled properly before the race, I would not have been able to complete it. After massaging those muscles and walking some I was able to continue the race with the help of my daughter’s encouragement. Even though my time was not as good as I had hoped it would be, I was still able to cross the finish line.

Distance runners have to push themselves beyond their level of comfort to log the miles necessary to compete. If they haven’t done the roadwork ahead of time, the minute the pace quickens, the incline increases, or the terrain gets treacherous, they will be tempted to quit.

Many of the stressors of ministry have little to do with our lack of skill, but instead result from a lack of preparation. Scripture challenges us to stick the landing this way, “No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. So, strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees! Make straight paths for your feet so that if any part is lame, it will be healed rather than injured more seriously” (Heb 12:11-13).

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Apr 5 2021

Is Your Worship Out of Tune?

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Being unified is the state of being united, linked, or joined together as one in spite of diversities and differences. Uniformity, however, is the state or quality of being the same. A healthy worshipping congregation and the worship team that leads it require unity but not necessarily uniformity.

A tuning fork is a u-shaped acoustic resonator made from an elastic metal. Its tines vibrate at a constant pitch by striking them against a hard surface. Once struck, a tuning fork emits a pure musical tone that is used as a standard to tune a variety of instruments.

A standard is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. It is determined by those in authority as a rule for measuring the quality or value of something.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.[1] What is the standard to which your worship is tuned?

Your worship is out of tune . . .

  • If what’s in it for me is your standard.
  • If coat and tie or untucked shirt and jeans is your standard.
  • If hymns or modern worship songs are your standard.
  • If the styles of another congregation or artist are your standard.
  • If musical excellence alone is your standard.
  • If worship band, orchestra, choir, or worship team is your standard.
  • If when and where you worship is your standard.
  • If fixed or free liturgy is your standard.
  • If the creativity of novelty or the comfort of nostalgia is your standard.

But if your standard is instead who, why, and in what power we worship—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then your worship will always be perfectly tuned.[2] According to Paul, being unified is living together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel (Phil 1:27). We can exercise a variety of different worship gifts, callings, and styles and still be unified as long as our root solidarity is not our worship expressions but the gospel.

Art professor Sam Van Aken combined art and farming to develop an incredible Tree of 40 Fruit. He bought an orchard that was about to be shut down and spent several years chip grafting a variety of trees onto a single fruit tree. In the spring, Van Aken’s tree is a stunning patchwork of multicolored blossoms, producing fruit such as plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds. The roots of each of these trees are united even though the fruit or outward expressions are diverse. Each tree offers just the right amount of each of forty varieties.[3]

The Apostle Paul said it this way to the church at Corinth, “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many” (1 Cor 12:12). “Certainly, the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,’ does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,’ does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like God wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body” (1 Cor 12:14-20).

 

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Vancouver, BC: Eremitical Press, 2009), 90.

[2] Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 90.

[3] Science Alert Staff, “This Magical Tree Produces 40 Different Types of Fruit,” ScienceAlert, June 22, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/40-types-of-fruit-tree-artwork-van-aken-2018.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Mar 24 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 10 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 8 2021

Stop Singing

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Our worship actions can drown out the distinct voice of God that is often only discernible in the silence. In the midst of our self-generated noise, we can miss healing, comforting, and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you,” “Well done,” “You are forgiven,” and “I am weeping with you.” Scripture is certainly not silent on silence: “That’s enough! Now know that I am God!” (Ps 46:10). “Don’t be quick with your mouth or say anything hastily before God, because God is in heaven, but you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few” (Eccl 5:2). There’s “a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (Eccl 3:7).

Gary Furr and Milburn Price wrote, “In the drama of the Christian life, worship may be thought of as the script through which the Author of us all calls forth and responds to the deepest and most important longings in us.”[1] Until we stop to listen, how will we hear that call?

A rest is a musical notation that indicates the absence of sound but not the end of music. John Ruskin, a Victorian-era English art critic, said this of the silence of music and rests:

There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by rests, and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the rests. They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.[2]

Musical rests add depth and emotion to a musical score through the use of silence. They both create and relieve tension. They allow the players and singers to take a breath before the next difficult musical passage. Rests create a deliberate pause or temporary break in the action and keep the notes from being strung together in breathless chaos. Playing music without rests is like driving a car without brakes.

Worship is a conversation that requires not only speaking and singing but also hearing and listening. The noise of our sermons and songs as our only act of worship can create monological worship. Our offering of one-sided worship sound can monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss the voice of God. The foundation of a meaningful worship is instead dialogical. It is an interactive exchange of two or more participants. Healthy conversations include a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking. Since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize the conversation with our responsive noise only.

We rely on the words of our sermons and songs to manage and control others. A frantic stream flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see and sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn, and devour congregants with our words. Silence—as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines—puts a stop to that.[3] To again hear and listen to God’s side of the conversation, maybe it’s time to concur with Samuel in our services of worship, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we incorporate silence as a part of our services when it hasn’t been part of our worship culture?
  • What are we presently doing that is contributing to worship noise?
  • How is our worship encouraging our congregation to not only hear but also listen?
  • What can we do differently to give time for the various worship elements to breathe without interrupting our worship flow?

[1] Gary A. Furr and Milburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1998), 90.

[2] E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., The Works of John Ruskin (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903), 247.

[3] Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 68.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Mar 1 2021

Measure Twice, Cut Once

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Baseball utility players are prized for their versatility even though they don’t have enough talent to crack the starting lineup. They are usually excellent players but not quite good enough to help carry the team from a starting position. A utility player is more supplemental than foundational to the success of each game. He waits on the bench until the manager needs him to fill any of a variety of positions in the lineup.

Prayer has been relegated to the role of a worship service utility player. It is often plugged into worship service holes when the starters (songs and sermons) need a break. Instead of a foundational conversation with God as an act of worship, prayer is often a supplemental extra used to fill in, transition, or connect. Prayer has been demoted to the role of a worship-service starter, stuffer, and stopper, or jack-of-all-trades service element. It serves as the seventh inning stretch before the sermon; it breaks up the song sets when keys aren’t relative; it moves the worship band on the platform; and it allows the pastor to discreetly make his way up the aisle to shake hands after the service.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because our prayers during the worship service are not that deep. Song texts have been parsed, prayed over, and practiced, while our prayers are often played by ear. Our spontaneous prayers may be sincere, but they’re often not very profound. Spontaneity needs to be balanced by careful preparation and forethought. Public praying needs to be supported by private praying. Those who publicly lead in prayer must be well experienced in prayer. It is difficult to lead others where you haven’t been yourself. Spontaneity has to arise from a profound experience of prayer.[1]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because prayer is such an easy language to fake. We can, in fact, pretend to pray, use the words of prayer, practice forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer and never pray.[2] “Measure twice, cut once” is a woodworking idiom that encourages us to plan and prepare for something of value in a careful and thorough manner be- fore acting. In other words, think before you speak; don’t shoot from the hip; set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door that is our lips (Ps 141:3).

The result of ill-prepared praying is often a long-winded circular discourse. Those with prayer responsibilities could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter whose success is based on succinct but also persuasive information. Character limitations force users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how it needs to be said. They measure twice before cutting once.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because we actually require our soloists, choirs, orchestras, worship teams, and bands to rehearse ahead of time, but most of the offerings from our prayers are casual, impromptu, spontaneous, and sometimes even shallow. Hughes Oliphant Old wrote, “For many generations American Protestants have prized spontaneity in public prayer. One has to admit, however, that the spontaneous prayer one often hears in public worship is an embarrassment to the tradition. It all too often lacks content. It may be sincere, but sometimes it is not very profound.”[3] If worship-service prayer preparations were as stringent as those for our musical offerings, then maybe we would consider singing less in order to pray more. Then maybe our worship service prayers would again be considered foundational instead of supplemental.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we transform our worship service prayers from starters, stuffers, and stoppers to a divine conversation with God?
  • What training could we initiate to better prepare those who lead our worship service prayers?
  • If we are asking the same few people to lead our prayers, then how can we expand that list to include multiple generations, genders, and cultures?
  • How do we ensure prayer is foundational instead of supplemental to our worship services?
  • What can we do to expand a healthier culture of prayer outside our services so it might impact the worship inside our services?

[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 5.

[2] Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xii.

[3] Old, Leading in Prayer, 5.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Feb 17 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 15 2021

A Letter to the Younger Worship Leading Me

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Dear Younger Worship Leading Me,

In a few decades you are going to look back at your years of worship ministry with a desire for a second chance to handle some things differently. You will think about certain services, special events, entire seasons of ministry, or strained relationships and long for another opportunity to make some adjustments.

The reality is that it will be impossible for you to go back and make corrections to most of those situations. But with a little humility, resilience, and resolve now, you have an opportunity to get some of them right the first time. So here are a few things you are going to learn.

Surround yourself with those people who will stretch your thinking and actions but also hold you accountable. Taking necessary risks might cause you to make some mistakes, but the discernment of others will help protect you from your own stupidity. It might be exhilarating when you succeed alone, but it won’t be when you fail alone. And you will sometimes fail.

People will always remember how you treat them when you’re off the platform more than how you lead them on the platform, so learn more people’s names than new songs. Consider interruptions as divine appointments instead of distractions. Drink more coffee with senior adults and ask their opinions before initiating change. Be more patient with needy people and chronic takers. And remember to thank those who make sacrifices to invest in you, your family, and your ministry.

Be on the front end of learning new musical and technological languages. But don’t assume it’s always appropriate to be an early adopter of them. Being conversant in a language doesn’t mean it should be used when it doesn’t fit the voice of your congregation. Learn more theology than musicology, and practice leadership development more than you practice your guitar.

Always ask how something might impact your family before asking how it might impact your worship leading. Leave more things at the office when you go home, and be home when you are home. Taking a Sabbath each week will not only help your spiritual and physical health but also help the relational health of your family.

Stay longer instead of bailing for a new place of ministry every couple of years. If your ministry frequently moves your children away from their friends and foundations, then how can you expect them to like church when they are no longer required to attend?

What you know about worship leading now won’t be enough to sustain you through your entire ministry. Read more, study more, and ask more questions. Be a lifelong learner who understands it is never too soon or too late to learn something new.

Finally, I know it is sometimes overwhelming to balance the stresses of ministry and family. When leading worship is discouraging, when it seems like no generation is ever completely happy, when you can’t sing too many or too few hymns or modern worship songs, and when you wake up on Monday morning and wonder if this is really worth it, you can rest assured that you’ll also be able to look back at those decades of ministry and acknowledge with certainty that it was.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What worship-leading situation or relationship failure that occurred in the past would we handle differently if we had the chance?
  • What safeguards could we put in place to make sure the same situation doesn’t occur again?
  • How successful are we at stretching one another’s thinking and holding one another accountable?
  • With our limited time together to get ready for Sunday, how can we continue to learn new worship principles and practices in addition to new songs?

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Feb 10 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 27 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 25 2021

Sing Me Into Heaven

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The purpose of our worship-service music isn’t to prepare our hearts for something else. It doesn’t just set the table for the sermon. Paul exhorted the saints at Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit by speaking to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19). It doesn’t sound like Paul thought worship music was only a supporting role.

Teaching proclaims or makes something known by precept, example, and experience. It exhorts, instructs, exposits, and applies. And it communicates to us and through us.

Admonition urges us not just to hear but to do. It reproves, advises, and counsels in order to correct our thinking. It encourages us to right what is wrong in order to redirect our attitudes and motives.

Our worship songs won’t be seen as just service starters if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1] The theology we sing is not just an appetizer before the main course when it teaches and admonishes us to be doers and not just hearers.

Several years ago I attended a memorial service for a godly friend and former volunteer music minister. “Sing me into heaven” was his final request as his musical family gathered around his hospital bed in his last hours of life. That grieving family honored his wishes by recalling and singing every sacred song they could remember. What a comforting way to enter into eternity.

Hope can be found when we realize we are never singing those sacred songs alone. The prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). And Scripture tells us that Jesus as our high priest is seated at the right side of the throne of majesty and is interceding for us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). So, even when our songs are choked with emotion God is singing over us and Jesus is interceding for us.

Darryl Tippen wrote, “Without music we are left with talk. The trouble with talk is that it tends to position the speaker in a place of power. It puts one in charge, which can border on a dangerous conceit when it comes to reporting on the Almighty. A different, humbler posture of spirit emerges in worship and song. When we are singing, there is a sense that we are not in charge.”[2]

Singing is a language that allows us to embody our love for our creator. It is a means God has given us to communicate our deepest affections, to have our thoughts exquisitely shaped, and to have our spirits braced for the boldest of obedience.[3]

Our bodies, emotions, and intellect are mysteriously connected when we sing. Christian songs are effective because they implant the truths of the faith in our hearts, not just in our heads. They rehearse the stories of Scripture. In word and sound we experience Gethsemane, the cross, and the resurrection. We remember our sinfulness, our need for redemption, our duty to our neighbor, and the promise of eternal life.[4]

With that understanding, “sing me into heaven” becomes not only a final request but also an ongoing challenge for worship leaders and congregants each time they align their spirits and voices in congregational song.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What can we do differently in our worship services to help our congregation understand music as more than an appetizer before the sermon?
  • According to Scripture, who is actually our worship leader?
  • How do we evaluate our songs to ensure they are faithfully rehearsing the stories of Scripture?
  • How can we move our song sets from just communicating to us to also communicating through us?

[1] William Temple, “Temple on the Definition of Worship,” The Institute for Biblical Worship, December 28, 2016, http://biblicalworship.com/wqotw/2016/12/28/ temple-on-the-definition-of-worship.
[2] Darryl Tippen, Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life (Abilene: Leaf- wood, 2006), 148.
[3] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 14.
[4] Tippen, Pilgrim Heart, 150.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Jan 11 2021

Sunday Worship: Starting a Fire From Scratch

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In the 2000 movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks played Chuck Noland, the lone survivor of a plane crash on an uninhabited island. Early in the movie, Noland realized he couldn’t survive without fire and offered us a glimpse of his resolve, despair, anger, and even humor as he labored over trying to start a fire from scratch.

Worship leaders can experience similar emotions when they are expected to light a fire each Sunday with the opening song. And even though congregants might not have done anything to help stir those embers during the week themselves, how easily they can blame the music or musicians when the spark is not there.

Worship leaders and the songs they lead alone can’t light a fire in us or usher us into the presence of God; the death and resurrection of Jesus already has. When we ascribe that power to earthly leaders, we begin to see their leadership as something that is meritorious or efficacious, meaning their actions are praised for what they can produce.[1] Those worship actions can indeed prompt, exhort, encourage, and remind us of God’s presence, but they can’t create or lead us into it.

God’s presence isn’t a physical place we attend or an emotional plane we achieve; we don’t go to it, sing it into existence, light it, or usher people into it. Instead, we have confidence to enter that holy place only by the blood of Jesus. And as our mediator, Jesus is not only the object of our worship but also the facilitator of it.

If we are not careful, our actions can imply that time-and-place worship is the primary if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.[2] Every Sunday can then end up being a frustrating exercise in trying to start a fire from scratch or usher congregants into the presence of God.

Because of the laborious task of fire-starting, ancient nomadic people began to use earthenware vessels called fire pots. They would carry embers or slow-burning fires in these pots with them as they traveled from one location to another. Just by adding small amounts of kindling for fuel, they could keep those mini fires alive, enabling them to quickly ignite larger fires when they united as a group for their evening camps.

John the Evangelist wrote, “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: ‘God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.’ If we claim, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

So, instead of seeing worship as a new fire to start each week, what if we saw it as a flame or light that can be taken with us? Then it could continue as we leave the service. It could happen in our homes, at our schools, through our work, and in our culture. It couldn’t be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression, or vehicle of communication. Consequently, instead of depending on our worship leaders to start the fire from scratch when we gather each week, they could just help us fan those flames that already exist.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What changes must we make in how we lead if our congregation expects us to light a worship fire from scratch each week?
  • If continuous worship is our goal, then how do we train our congregation to take that worship spark with them when they leave?
  • What might our worship look like when we gather on Sunday if our congregants have been continuous worshippers during the week?
  • What language could we use to send worshippers out for continuous worship?

[1] D. A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 50.
[2] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the
Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 9.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Jan 4 2021

Leading Worship in 2021: More Questions than Answers

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Those who lead and plan corporate worship each week are entering 2021 with mixed emotions of both hope and apprehension. Most of their churches are offering a hybrid approach of both gathered and virtual services that will continue well into the new year and beyond.

When those churches had to meet completely virtually for a season it required some radical adjustments to how they planned and led worship each week. As a result, most have realized that how they will lead worship in the future will never again be exactly how they led it in the past.

Having to learn new and shelve old worship concepts and delivery platforms surfaced numerous questions that will need to be answered as churches consider their corporate worship in the future. Many of those questions don’t yet have answers. So, if those churches are going to continue leading worship well in 2021 and beyond, they have to be ready to ask and answer hard questions while still considering the uniqueness of their individual church contexts and cultures.

Questions to Consider

  • If worship should be participative instead of passive, then how can we encourage and measure virtual worship participation?
  • Intergenerational worship occurred spontaneously when we worshiped from home. How do we leverage what happened at home to continue intergenerational worship at church?
  • Since prayer is foundational to worship, how do we keep people from checking out during service prayer times when worshiping virtually.
  • Worship actions that seem natural in person often feel contrived or conspicuous from home. How do we help those worshiping from home to feel more comfortable participating in those worship actions?
  • How can we incorporate worship arts beyond music that will communicate in both physical and virtual locations?
  • Virtual worship caused us to revert back to a few leading while the rest of us watched. So, how can we involve virtual worshipers as more than bystanders?
  • Is there a biblical and practical way to observe Communion both physically and virtually?
  • Should congregations wait until they are able to meet without distancing to baptize? How do we better engage online worshipers in that ordinance?
  • How can we emphasize the offering as a sacred action of worship if all gifts are given electronically?
  • Is it possible to employ all five senses in virtual worship?
  • How can we encourage our congregation to connect with each other during worship when they aren’t in the same room?
  • Worship distractions can be managed easier in the worship center than from home. So, how can we help virtual participants manage those distractions?
  • Worship space elements such as icons, art, colors, and lights can contribute symbolically to our physical worship. Is there also a way they can contribute symbolically virtually?
  • Is it possible for guests to feel welcomed as a part of this community when they have no physical connection to it?
  • Most churches realized that it was necessary for online worship to be simpler and less contrived, so how do we keep from falling back into our previous practices of over-innovating and over-stimulating in the future?
  • Some of those previous worship service elements we thought we couldn’t live without, we did. So, how do we determine what we should or shouldn’t reintegrate again in the future?
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Dec 14 2020

Awful Worship

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Awful [aw – fuh’l] – 1. solemnly impressive; exceedingly
great; inspiring awe. 2. full of awe; reverential.[1]

Awe is the act of worship in response to the mystery of God. It causes us to respond with, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces” (Isa 6:5). Moses understood awful worship when he was instructed to take off his sandals as he was on holy ground, causing him to hide his face because he was afraid to look at God (Exod 3:5-6).

God is transcendent, both unknown and unknowable. He is beyond, above, other than, and distinct from all. Isaiah prophesied, “My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans” (Isa 55:8-9). Consequently, a faith such as ours rooted in the infinite cannot be contained in our finite understanding. The paradox, however, is that this transcendent, unknown, and unknowable God is constantly revealing himself to us and seeking our worship. The unknown seeks to be known and acknowledged. There is certainly something awful about that.

Our culture, however, has responded by demanding the reduction of God’s mystery to something we can explain. We have transformed our response to the awe, mystery, and transcendence of God into a scheduled event. When we take surprise out of worship, we are left with dry and dead religion; when we take away mystery, we are left with frozen or petrified dogma; when we script awe, we are left with an impotent deity; and when we abandon astonishment, we are left with meaningless piety.[2]

A.W. Tozer wrote, “We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper ‘mystery.’”[3] But then Scripture again reminds us of his mystery, “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths! Who has known the Lord’s mind? Or who has been his mentor? Or who has given him a gift and has been paid back by him? All things are from him and through him and for him. May the glory be to him forever. Amen” (Rom 11:33-36).

My doctoral thesis advisor wrote, “The teacups of our thinking and language have not yet approached the capacity of holding the ocean of divine truth.”[4]

So, mystery is not just our limited capacity to understand and explain the entirety of God’s story; it is also the incomprehensible awe and wonder at being included in that story. That can’t always be scripted. If the awe and wonder of God can be contained in and explained in our limited understanding and expressions of worship, then he is a god who does not deserve that worship.

Michael Yaconelli wrote, “The critical issues today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment.”[5] He continued by stating, “The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls.”[6]

Contemplating the depth of God must include the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim lordship over creation.[7] If the gravity of that mystery doesn’t continually inspire us with awful wide-eyed wonder, then no songs we select ever will.

Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place
till we cast our crowns before Thee
lost in wonder, love and praise.[8]

 TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How is it evident in our sermons and songs that we aren’t comfortable with mystery?
  • How do we keep from scripting awe out of our worship?
  • When was the last time our congregation was lost in wonder, love, and praise?
  • What should we be doing differently to make sure our worship services are well planned while still leaving room to be surprised by God?

 

[1] “Awful,” Dictionary.com, accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/awful?s=t

[2] Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 28.

[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper Collins, 1961), 18.

[4] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21, The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 104.

[5] Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder, 23.

[6] Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder, 24.

[7] Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 87.

[8] Charles Wesley, “Love Divine All Loves Excelling,” Hymns for those that Seek, and those that Have Redemption in the Blood of Jesus Christ (London, 1747).

The above post is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Dec 9 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 30 2020

Scriptureless Worship

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A worship service without Scripture reading may not be worship at all.

By limiting Scripture to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation, we may be unwittingly implying that we are placing a higher level of credibility in the exhortation than in the Word itself. It may then convey a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to our faith, doctrines, and practices. If Scripture can’t stand on its own, then we can’t possibly prop it up with our own words.

Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Worship wrote, “We are nourished in worship by Jesus Christ, who is the living Word disclosed to us in the Scriptures, the written Word of God. In spite of all the emphasis we evangelicals have placed on the importance of the Bible, there seems to be a crisis of the Word among us.”[1]

Congregations continue to struggle in their understanding of spirit and truth worship by maximizing music and depending on it alone to encourage worship renewal. At the same time those congregations often minimize the very root from which our songs must spring. John Frame offers two truths that highlight the value of God’s word in our worship: “First, where God’s Word is, God is. We should never take God’s Word for granted. To hear the Word of God is to meet with God himself. Second, where God is, the Word is. We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends his Word.”[2]

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s word is revealed. This revelation causes worshippers to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:12-15; 1 Thess 1:5). The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. This dialogue develops a community that congregations have been desperately trying to create and recreate through their songs alone.

Some of the crisis of the Word is a result of our standing over the Bible and reading God’s narrative from outside instead of standing within the narrative and reading Scripture from the inside.[3] Reading Scripture as insiders helps us realize the text is not just describing someone else’s story in history but also describing the story of my life, my hope, my joy, my sin, and my journey away from and to God.[4]

As an elementary school teacher, my wife often reads or tells stories to her students to enhance auditory learning, encourage creativity, promote informational development, and advance knowledge. With imagination beyond my comprehension she is able to create stories and insert the names of her classroom children into the narrative, considering the personality and nature of each child. This narrative approach to reading and telling moves the children beyond just hearing the words to actually living inside those words.

When Scripture is read, when it is illuminated in our preaching, when it is incorporated into our prayers of thanksgiving and lament, when it frames the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and when we sing its text in a unified voice, Scripture becomes a means by which we are gathered into the body of the living Lord.[5]

Scripture must be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions, and even ministry announcements. It must be frequently, variously, generationally, and culturally read and allowed to stand on its own. When that occurs, our congregations will leave in-here worship, with the text in their hearts and on their lips, for nonstop worship out there.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How often are we reading Scripture in our worship services beyond the text for pastoral exhortation?
  • How might we encourage our congregation to not only hear the words of Scripture but also live inside those words?
  • Who usually reads Scripture in our services? Are we enlisting multiple generations, genders, and cultures as readers?
  • What filters should we put in place to help us determine if Scripture is primary instead of secondary in our worship services?

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 113.

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996), 90.

[3] Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 113–14.

[4] Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 130.

[5] John Burgess, “Why Scripture Matters: Reading the Bible in a Time of Church Conflict,” in A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony, ed. Leanne Van Dyk (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 66.

The above post is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Nov 23 2020

Worship Leader: Throw Your Cap Over the Wall

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Our calling to lead others in worship during this strange season of ministry hasn’t changed even though how it had to be manifested has. Now that some of those worship leading strengths or sweet-spots we so depended on and were revered for may no longer be available in the near future, how are we going to continue to lead? Maybe it’s time for us to throw our cap over the wall.

In his 1961 autobiography, Irish author, Frank O’Connor gives an account of his childhood when he and his friends were out in the Irish countryside. They would come to an orchard wall that seemed too high and difficult to climb, especially if it was one they hadn’t attempted to climb before. So, to continue on their journey, they would take off their caps and throw them over the wall. Since their caps were valuable they had no choice but to follow them.

In an address in San Antonio on the day before he was assassinated, John F. Kennedy referred to this same story before declaring, “This nation has thrown its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.”

Throwing our cap over the wall during this season meant that some of us had to learn new skills to help us fulfill our calling. It meant that what we once learned in college or seminary was no longer enough to sustain our ministries. Throwing our cap over the wall meant we couldn’t be ones who shrink back and are destroyed…but those who are sure of what we hope for and certain of what we can’t see (Heb. 10:39-11:1).

Throwing our cap over the wall as uncertainty continues in the future may require us to take risks, not biblically or theologically but certainly systematically. It will require us to be entrepreneurs and innovators instead imitators. And it will mean we have to become artisans instead of assembly line workers.

We don’t know how or when this difficult season of leading worship might end. We would all love for God to allow us again to lead from those sweet-spots of ministry. But if he doesn’t, we need to continue throwing our cap over the wall even when what’s on the other side is uncertain. Uncertainty doesn’t change our call to worship and lead others in worship. How it occurs may continue to change…that it occurs shouldn’t.

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Nov 18 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 16 2020

Restarting Ministries? Don’t Overdrive Your Headlights.

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Overdriving your headlights is when you are driving so fast that the stopping distance is farther than you can see down the road with your headlights. Moving faster than you can see can also cause you to miss or misread important road signs.

Some churches are moving quickly to determine when they might fire up all of those pre-pandemic ministries again without slowing down long enough to ask if they should. They’ve realized during this season that those ministry programs they previously thought they couldn’t live without, they actually could. So, before restarting all of those ministries, maybe they should first reevaluate to potentially repurpose them.

Reevaluate
Reevaluating is the contemplation or examination of something again in order to adjust or form new opinions about it. Reevaluating helps us audit what we did in the past while considering the circumstances of our present for potential adjustments in the future. Reevaluation reinvestigates and revisits.

So, before moving too quickly ahead with a ministry, we should first ask if it is going to help us fulfill our new mission. If the answer is yes, then we should proceed at a safe speed. If the answer is no, then we should ask if it could help us fulfill our new mission if we were able reevaluate and repurpose it. If the answer to that second question is no, then why would we consider starting it again.

Repurpose
It is popular to reclaim and repurpose old wood for new building projects. Reclaimed wood has a rich history and character that newer wood products haven’t yet earned. The beauty of its durability and seasoned strength tells a story that only time can replicate. Using reclaimed wood keeps the past alive even when rebuilding in the present is necessary.

As churches are considering the future in light of our strange present, they will inevitably need to renew and reimagine the past. In doing so, the assumption is that it will require incorporating something completely new. But it is possible by reclaiming and repurposing what we were already doing that the only new necessary will be to do what we were already doing better.

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Nov 9 2020

Worship: An Easy Language to Fake

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The Star Wars movie franchise created and constructed several languages for the various alien races introduced in the movie series. Ewokese, the language first heard in Return of the Jedi was spoken by the small furry Ewok residents of the forested moon of Endor. It is a simple language to imitate since its vocabulary is limited. So, just by watching the movie several times it would also be an easy language to fake.

Our worship language can be just as shallow. We can attend its services, imitate its songs and actions, have the appearance of a worshiper, and never really worship. So, it too can be an easy language to imitate and, consequently, fake.

Richard Foster wrote, Worship is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.[1]

There is a profound difference between learning and using a language by observing or imitating it and actually acquiring or living in the spirit of that language. Infants and toddlers imitate or mimic sounds and actions in order to learn a language. But as those children mature, they actually transform from imitating to acquiring that language. Language acquisition is when we are able to perceive, comprehend, and internalize that language.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us how foolish or maybe fake it is when we come to worship just to imitate. It is recorded at the beginning of chapter five that we should, guard our steps as we go to the house of God and listen instead of offering the sacrifice of fools who don’t even know they are being foolish (Eccl 5:1).

Authentic worship language begins from the inside out, not the outside in. It doesn’t begin by imitating songs and actions, it begins in the depth of our soul and is then manifested through those songs and actions. Our soul reflects and responds to our relationship with the Father through the Son. It is not just something we do, it is who we are in response to who God is and what he has already done. It is with the heart first that we believe and are justified, and it is then with the mouth we profess (Rom 10:10). That is certainly a language that can’t be faked.

 

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978).

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Nov 4 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 28 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 26 2020

But Even if He Doesn’t

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Because of the pandemic we have been in an unusual and unpredictable season of trying to figure out how to continue leading music and worship well. We’ve had to make some difficult and not always popular decisions. And for the foreseeable future we’ve had to cancel or at least suspend some of those music and worship ministries that may have taken decades to build.

For months we have been praying for, hoping for, and believing that God will deliver us soon from these circumstances that have handcuffed so many of our ministries. We’ve implored God to return things to normal or at least some kind of normal in which our ministries can thrive again. But even if he doesn’t, what must we do?

In the third chapter of Daniel, it is recorded that King Nebuchadnezzar commanded the people of every nation and language to bow down and worship a golden statue. The penalty for not worshiping this created idol and continuing to worship God was certain death in a furnace of blazing fire.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to choose between bowing down to a false god and living or bowing down to the one true God and dying. They responded to the king, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to and we believe will deliver us from your majesty’s hand. But even if he doesn’t, we will continue worshiping the creator and not the idol you have created.

We don’t know when or how this difficult season will end. We would all love for God to again allow us to lead from our sweet-spots of worship and music ministry. He is able and we believe he will at some point. But even if he doesn’t, we are still called to worship and lead others to worship. How it occurs may continue to change…that it occurs shouldn’t.

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Oct 21 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 19 2020

A Modern Parable for Worship Leaders

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matthewThe Master Worship Leader called three novices with various gifts, passions, and capabilities to lead worship in three churches with distinct characteristics and needs.

To the first novice worship leader the Master gave a worship band that included five stellar players on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard.

To the second novice worship leader the Master gave an aging rockabilly guitarist and a high school cajon player.

And to the third novice worship leader the Master gave a long-retired kindergarten teacher to play hymns as long as they weren’t in sharps.

So the Master entrusted the three novices to fulfill their unique worship callings in equally unique and sometimes challenging church settings.

The first novice realized his church wouldn’t be able to begin more services or plant additional churches until new players were trained. He encouraged his original band members to give lessons to younger players so they’d be available for new plants and as substitute players throughout the year. He also began a school of the arts to cultivate younger players so his church could share some of those players with several smaller churches in their community.

The second novice quickly realized rockabilly didn’t fit the worship voice of his congregation so he used some of his worship budget to invest in more nuanced worship guitar lessons for his rockabilly guitarist and one of his rockabilly band associates. And since the high school cajon player would graduate in a year, he was asked to train a younger middle schooler to serve as his replacement upon graduation.

The third novice coasted, surfed ministry placement sites, went to conferences with his resume in hand, and waited for the Master to call him to a more favorable position.

The Master checked in with the three novices to see how they were responding to his unique call in their unique settings.

The novice with five players showed the Master how he had doubled the number of players originally entrusted to him. So the Master commended him: “Good work! It’s obvious you are not just a musician but also a leader of worship and worshipers. You are a worthy ministry servant that can be trusted with more.”

The novice with two players showed the Master how he had invested in the skills of existing players and trained younger players for the future. So the Master celebrated with him: “Great job! It’s obvious you aren’t doing this alone and value the calling and gifts of others. You are a model of servant leadership ready for additional responsibilities.”

The novice with one player said, “Master, I know you have high worship standards and are not pleased with poor musicianship. And since no other players here at my church can live up to those expectations, I have been doing it all myself. I’ve been waiting for you to call me to another church with more skilled players who appreciate my musical prowess.”

The Master was angry and disappointed at this response so he asked the third novice two final questions: “If you knew I was after high worship standards, then why haven’t you been trying to achieve them where I called you with what I gave you? And if you haven’t been giving your best to this place where I called you now and have been saving it for where you hope I will call you next, then why would I want to?”

The above post is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Oct 12 2020

Worship Spectators or Participators

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When the Navy starting quarterback was injured in the first half of a 2016 game with Fordham, the coaches called freshman Malcolm Perry out of the stands and into the game. He was listed as the team’s number four quarterback. The number three quarterback had been suspended that week so, consequently, the number two quarterback was the only one left with no back-up if needed. Perry was actually dressed in his Navy uniform whites in the stands with the brigade of other student midshipmen.

The young quarterback didn’t even have his football uniform at the stadium so the coaches had to send someone to pick it up from the team locker room back at the Naval Academy. By the fourth quarter, he was on the field playing in the game. Perry certainly realized that day the difference between watching the game from the stands as a spectator and actually engaging in the game on the field as a participator.

A spectator is someone who attends or watches an event or game as an onlooker, observer, or member of an audience. A spectator could be a fan or foe depending on who is playing and what is being played. And spectators sometimes assume they are in the game just because they are in the stands.

A participator is someone who is engaged in, involved in, or contributing to an event or game. A participator is one who invests in, takes part in, or shares in. And participators are really in the game because they are actually on the field.

If those of us who lead worship want congregants to be participators rather than spectators, then we must facilitate worship not just depending on our own strengths and abilities. We must also invest in the strengths and abilities of those with whom we worship and engage them on the field rather than being satisfied with them observing from the stands.

When we always read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition, and exhort for them, how can we expect congregants to ever transform from passive worship spectators into active worship participators?

Participatory worship is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, defensive, or competitive. It leverages and trusts the creative abilities and resources of the whole in planning, preparing, and implementing worship.

So, the leader that promotes participative worship taps into the collective resources and talents of others by affirming publicly and privately their value to worship health. Those leaders who encourage participatory worship are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit. And participatory worship is a culture, not a one-time event.

Participators actually engage in and influence the worship of a church, but spectators only stand by and watch.

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Sep 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 21 2020

Cheap Worship

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

When Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman at the well, the conversation moved from the physical (thirst) to the spiritual (living water). She attempted to change the subject back to the physical of the where and how of worship, but Jesus turned the conversation again to her spiritual condition and the who of worship: “God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Once the woman encountered and acknowledged Jesus, she joined his conversation instead of expecting him to join hers. This divine encounter inspired her to sacrifice the self-serving agenda that originally brought her to that place. She left her water pot and went into the city and said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ” (John 4:29)?

The result of the Samaritan woman’s worship response was, “Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done’” (John 4:39).

In the book of Romans, Paul focused on the divisions by which we segregate ourselves. In the twelfth chapter he wrote, “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service” (Rom. 12:1). Sacrifice is surrendering for the sake of something or someone. It is the act of giving up, offering up, or letting go. A baseball bunt is a sacrifice for the sole purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt.

We go to great lengths and personal expense to make sure our children and grandchildren have the best clothes, schools, lessons, and coaches. We begin economizing and genericizing the moment they are born in order to save money and set it aside for the best of college educations. We surrender our own personal wants, preferences, and even needs so that they will have everything necessary for a successful future. In fact, most of us would literally give our own lives for our children and grandchildren because no sacrifice is too great—except maybe when we’re asked to sacrifice our worship music preferences.

Sacrificing our preferences often requires us to adjust generationally and relationally. Terry York and David Bolin wrote, “We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas. If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[1]

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What are we as worship leaders willing to sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship?
  • How might the way we select and lead songs be contributing to an attitude of worship comfort instead of cost?
  • How can we make sure we are not asking the same generations or cultures always to be the ones who sacrifice the most?
  • How do we keep the cultural attitude of entitlement out of our worship services?

 

[1] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 112.

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Sep 16 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 14 2020

Worship Experience…An Oxymoron

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released tomorrow, September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Marketing is an intentional process of identifying who the consumer is, determining the wants and needs of that consumer, and offering a product that satisfies those wants and needs in order to secure their loyalty.

Marketers have realized that consumers no longer just want to buy a product; they also want to buy an experience with that product. In fact, sometimes the experience is much better than the product. Think about some of those pizza arcades where you celebrated your children’s birthday. Fortunately the experience was memorable; the pizza certainly wasn’t. Instead of just purchasing a cup of coffee, many of us also now want the experience of purchasing a cup of coffee. We are even willing to pay extra for the sights, sounds, and smells of that experience. It’s an added bonus to that experience when the barista knows your name.

Social media has contributed to an experiential consumerism marketing culture in which our posting experience is enhanced by the number of likes, shares, retweets, or comments. Those of us who are social media aficionados have learned how to market our posts to encourage a more favorable experience. Some of us plan and lead worship the same way.

In an effort to entice more participation, churches offer worship service preferential experiences to get consumers in the door, sometimes even at the expense of quality or honesty. These marketing headlines attract visitors with words such as traditional, contemporary, blended, friendly, family, fellowship, multisensory, relevant, modern, casual, classic, or even coffee. But when guests realize worship is something you give, not something you get, how will we encourage them to stay? If we market just by catering to experiential tastes, what will we offer when their tastes change?

We can experience a fine meal. We can experience a baseball game, concert, or amusement park. An experience is an event or occurrence. We even call what we do on Sunday a worship experience. But an experience is something that is done to us or for us. Worship is something we do.

We don’t experience worship . . . we experience God. Our response to that experience is worship. We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service, but the experience or encounter is not worship, our response is. A worship service built on an experience alone is incomplete if it never allows us an opportunity to respond.

Depending on worship as an experience can cause us to be satisfied with the sensations elicited by that experience. Consequently, we might select and sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of the experience and then never move beyond that experience to worship. Again, as with social media posts, there is a danger that we might select our songs and sermons in response to positive, negative, or no feedback. And if those songs and sermons don’t create and re-create that same experience each week, we can leave a worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we offer creative worship opportunities without our services deteriorating into experiential consumerism?
  • What is the difference between experiencing worship and experiencing God?
  • How can we demonstrate to our congregation the difference between God’s revelation and our response?
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Sep 7 2020

Songs That Preach

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released next week on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Preaching is the act of publicly proclaiming, teaching, or making something known. It exhorts, exposits, affirms, corrects, advocates, instructs, responds, and applies. The act of preaching communicates to us, for us, and through us.

A sermon is preached to address and expound on the biblical, theological, doctrinal, and moral issues that impact every generation of every congregation each and every day. And this connectional discourse is intended to challenge those congregants not only to embrace these truths individually but also corporately.

So if the worship songs we select aren’t complementing, resonating, and emulating these same characteristics, we probably need to select different songs. In other words, our songs must also preach.

The Preaching Characteristics of Our Songs

  • Our Songs must reflect and respond to biblical text.

Scripture must organically yield our songs instead of just fertilizing our own contrived language. We must constantly ask if our song text is theologically sound and if it affirms Scripture as central. Songs that do not provoke a response to the Word don’t preach.

  • Our Songs must connect the Word of God to the people of God.

The dialogue of worship through our songs is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation causes the people of God to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. Our songs are the communally uttered words of God.

  • Our Songs must speak the Gospel.

Every song we sing must invite the congregation and guests to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ. Our songs should help us understand what God is up to in and through our lives in the name of Jesus. Those songs must sing of the ongoing and enduring work of God through his son, Jesus Christ. And they must constantly remind us that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

  • Our Songs must be easy to follow and understand.

If congregants can’t follow our songs, then they have difficulty finding value in those songs and consequently can’t be influenced and moved to respond to them and through them. Archaic or colloquial text should be filtered and melodies should be evaluated for singability. Songs that are difficult to follow contribute to ineffectual song sermons.

  • Our Songs must be sung with integrity.

Songs that preach communicate biblically, theologically, and doctrinally. Our songs must be sung with the integrity of adequate external preparation that springs forth from internal conviction. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. Lives must replicate the texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them. Songs sung with integrity engage and express biblical text with inspiration and conviction.

  • Our Songs must engage more than emotions.

Scripture encourages us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Songs that just stir the emotions are incomplete; Songs that do not begin from the depth of our soul are often trite; Songs that don’t require us to think are shallow; and Songs that don’t ask us to use our bodies as a living sacrifice in acts of service are selfish. So our songs must be sung from our entire being.

  • Our Songs must encourage action.

Songs must not only inspire us through our hearing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Singing our songs should cause us to ask what is going to change as a result of singing them. Singing in here is not enough until our songs also impact who we are out there. So the songs we sing in our worship service must lead us to acts of service as worship.

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16

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Sep 2 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 31 2020

Bandwagon Effect

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released in a couple of weeks on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available now for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

During the nineteenth century, an entertainer named Dan Rice traveled the country campaigning for President Zachary Taylor. Rice’s bandwagon was the centerpiece of his campaign events, and he encouraged those in the crowd to “jump on the bandwagon” and support Taylor. The campaign was so successful that Taylor was elected president, prompting future politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaigns in hopes of similar results.[1]

The idiom “jumping on the bandwagon” suggests following the crowd for the excitement of the event rather than any firm conviction in its direction or truthfulness. In other words, jumping on without considering all of the contexts, circumstances, or consequences. The bandwagon effect occurs when the application of beliefs, ideas, fads, or trends increases the more others have already adopted them. Churches even have the tendency to espouse certain behaviors, styles, or attitudes just because it seems like everyone else has. The implication being that since it is right for so many others, it must also be right for us.

Jumping on the bandwagon explains why there are fashion trends. During sports championships it is evident in the increase of fans. In health it shows up in the latest diet or fitness craze. In social media it is obvious in the number of app or platform downloads. In music it is measured by online rankings. And in worship it is usually apparent in the song set. The theological implication of a church that jumps on the latest worship bandwagon is that it sometimes ignores or overrides its own beliefs, cultures, or contexts just because others are doing it.

It is true that congregations often need to make and should be making regular worship adjustments, including the latest songs, styles, or technological tools. But instead of always being early adopters and jumping without considering circumstances and the potential consequences, those congregations should instead be discerning and determining their worship practices by praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together, and then finally singing their song sets together.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How do we determine when and how often to try new things in our worship context?
  • What filters can we put in place to ensure we aren’t just jumping on the latest worship trend?
  • How can we determine if what is popular in other churches is appropriate for our church?
  • Is there a way for our team to consider all the circumstances or potential consequences before we actually jump into something new?

 

[1] Adapted from Michael Gearon, “Cognitive Biases—The Bandwagon Effect,” Medium, September 9, 2018, https://medium.com/@michaelgearon/cognitive-biases- social-proof-the-bandwagon-effect-42aa07781fcc.

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Aug 24 2020

Decentralized Worship

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Worship isn’t just our response to God’s revelation through the songs we sing on Sunday, it’s also our response through the rhythms and harmonies of life on Monday. So, if we learned anything through this season of scattered and regathered worship it was the necessity of focusing more on decentralizing our worship.

In business, decentralization is when the activities or actions of an organization are distributed and delegated away from a single administrative center to other locations. Decentralization grants some degree of autonomy and even authority but it also requires a high level of trust since those activities and actions are more difficult to control.

Centralized worship often relies on one or a select few to plan, prepare, and implement the worship systems of a congregation. So, decisions and processes are determined hierarchically and disseminated corporately. Most churches members and leaders found this type of worship planning and implementation much more difficult while worshiping online.

Centralization can hold a congregation captive to style, tradition, form, and structure. It has the tendency to direct, regulate, contain, moderate, and restrain. Centralized worship is indeed cleaner since it retains the power to hold things in check. But that also means it requires a gatekeeper(s).

Decentralizing worship can’t and shouldn’t take the place of a congregation gathering together to respond to God’s revelation in one voice. But if our only voice is that one hour on Sunday, then what are we doing the other 167 hours of the week?

Some church families have those moving stories of multiple generations singing and even dancing together while watching their recorded and/or streamed services throughout the week. Family worship conversations that rarely seemed to occur previously in response to centralized worship often surfaced in response to the spontaneity of decentralized worship.

When it was necessary to decentralize many congregants realized, perhaps for the first time, that the worship gate is always open. It helped them discover their worship didn’t have to be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression, or vehicle of communication. Many of those congregants also realized during this season that decentralized worship can be messy so most had to learn how to live with the mess.

Hopefully, what we learned through this season won’t be lost when things get back to normal, whatever normal will be. And hopefully, even though decentralization was not a choice during this season, we have realized worship is not just something we do on Sunday but also who we are during the week.

Centralized and decentralized worship are both biblical and necessary if we are to faithfully love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. One can’t survive without the other. So as good as our worship might have gotten in here before the shutdown, we were forced to acknowledge during the shutdown that it was incomplete until it also included how we worshiped out there.

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Aug 17 2020

Worship Cause and Effect

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released in less than a month on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available now for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Worship doesn’t invite God’s presence; it acknowledges it. God has called us out of darkness into his amazing light that we may speak of his wonderful acts (1 Pet 2:9). The Father is looking for those who worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God initiates, and we respond.

Cause and effect is a relationship in which a person, action, or thing makes another event, action, or thing occur. A cause must always precede an effect in order for that effect to occur. So the effect is then a consequence of the cause. A model for this cause-and-effect worship understanding is found in Isaiah 6:1-8. The holiness of God is revealed to the prophet Isaiah (cause), and his natural worship response is contrition (effect), “Mourn for me; I’m ruined!” (Isa 6:5). God revealed his mercy (cause), and Isaiah’s worship response is service (effect), “I’m here; send me” (Isa 6:8). So if our worship responses are the effect, then it is not possible for those worship actions to also be the cause.

What we sing or how we sing it can’t cause a response because it is the response. God’s revelation can’t be generated by the effect since the effect is a response to the cause. As good as our various worship actions are, they still can’t cause worship to occur, because those worship actions are the effect. Our worship actions may prompt, remind, exhort, prod, or encourage more effect, but they can’t cause cause. We can celebrate the cause, but we can’t create it. God causes, and we effect.

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Aug 5 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 22 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 21 2020

Better Sundays Begin on Monday: Book Excerpt

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Breaking down game film is a discipline sports teams often incorporate after each game. They review and discuss game videos in order to identify mistakes, make adjustments, consider radical changes, and highlight successes. The ultimate goal of this type of analysis is to facilitate individual and team improvements that will positively affect subsequent games.

The fundamental reason why a team needs adjustments is not always evident in the middle of the game. Breaking down or evaluating all of the important elements after a game gives coaches and players the opportunity to isolate and assess individual plays and players in a more relaxed setting, away from the time constraints and pressures of the game.

So why aren’t individual pastors, worship leaders, and even worship leading teams regularly incorporating similar evaluative practices? One of the primary reasons is that implementing an individual or collaborative process of analyzing worship services or planning for upcoming services requires a deep level of humility, trust, and shared accountability. It also requires selfless leaders who are willing to sacrifice their own ideas, preferences, and interests for the greater worshipping good of the congregation.

Initiating a similar approach to worship evaluation can be summative in that a congregation can learn from its previous worship failures and successes. But it can also be formative since it occurs during the development and conceptual worship service stages. Both outcomes will help you or your team first determine why you worship before ever considering how you worship.

Worship renewal must be determined first by standardizing worship principles before ever considering worship practices. The reality is that worship service evaluation is already occurring in the hallways, parking lots, and at lunch tables after our services. So why wouldn’t we want to preempt those conversations with an intentional evaluative process?

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Jul 20 2020

Economize: Worship Service Verbal Transitions

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If churches have learned anything during these last few months of online worship services it is that words and music had to be synthesized. A succinct, refined, and consolidated economy of sermons and songs was necessary since the service time online was abbreviated and attention spans were diminished. Those lessons shouldn’t be lost as worship leaders plan and lead regathered worship services.

Worship leader verbal transitions that connect songs and other service elements are vital to achieving worship flow. And yet, some worship leaders prior to moving completely online rarely prepared or even thought about the words of those transitions until it was time to make them. The result was often a long-winded circular discourse of clichés and verbosity. Hopefully, the distillation of words they refined online can be transferred to those in-person verbal transitions too.

Scripture often reminds us how important our words are:

The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 21:23

Do you see someone who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20

The one who guards his mouth protects his life; the one who opens his lips invites his own ruin. Proverbs 13:3

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom; his tongue speaks what is just. Psalm 37:30

Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2

Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

Worship leaders could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter. Its success is based on sharing succinct but also persuasive information posted by users who get in, get out, and get on with it. Character limitations on Twitter forces users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how they want to say it before they actually say it. The most successful accounts synthesize information based on what the audience needs to know most.

Meaningful worship service verbal transitions are marked by a clear, succinct economy of words. Concise verbal eloquence requires preparation and practice. So maybe if we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing our verbal transitions as we presently spend praying over and rehearsing our songs, those transitions could contribute to rather than detract from our worship.

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Jul 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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