Apr 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 23 2020

Gathered Worship: A Hard Habit to Break

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For many of us gathered worship has always been a pretty comfortable habit. And even though that habit has sometimes stretched us stylistically through the years, it has rarely stretched us physically…until now.

A habit is a recurrent, often unconscious behavioral pattern acquired through repetition. It is something we do or have done so often that we are able to perform it without having to think about it.

We all have those daily activities or behaviors that we no longer have to think about in order to participate in or accomplish such as brushing our teeth, tying our shoes or even driving to work. Habits such as these have become so routine that they no longer require our emotions to accomplish them.

For some, gathering for Sunday worship had become one of those habits. But the safeguards put in place this last week to protect us from COVID-19 obviously derailed that habit.

Gathering for Sunday worship seemed like a good habit to develop since we are called to worship continuously in spirit and truth. The sticking point, however, is the second part of the definition that a habit is often an unconscious behavioral pattern.

Going to worship, being a worshiper or participating in worship are all good habits to develop. But since the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies are new every morning, our responses to that love and mercy must also be new every morning.

So maybe one of the many lessons we’ll need to learn during this season of dispersed worship is how to break that pattern of unconsciously gathering for worship. Then when we are actually able to gather again physically we’ll better engage with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

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Mar 18 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 4 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 26 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 24 2020

How Can I Keep from Singing?

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Although worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music, it is evident from scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19; Col 3:15-17). One of my former seminary professors once joked, “People who don’t sing should be sent to Sing-Sing until they do sing.”

Reggie Kidd wrote, “Think of singing as a language that allows us to embody our love for our Creator. Song is a means he has given us to communicate our deepest affections, to have our thoughts exquisitely shaped, and to have our spirits braced for the boldest of obediences. Through music, our God draws us deeper into a love affair with himself.”[1]

When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). So if the Father is singing over me, then how can I keep from singing?

When I can’t find adequate words to express my responses to God’s revelation, Jesus as my worship liturgist sings with me (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on my behalf. So if Jesus is singing with me, then how can I keep from singing?

John Wesley was a theologian, evangelist and leader of the revivalist movement known as Methodism. He said this about singing, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he comes in the clouds of heaven.”

With biblical and practical instructions such as these, I should be joining in full-throated singing no matter how well or poorly I’m able to sing. Then my voice will be united with the voices of others in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament and response. When that corporate singing occurs our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that they can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12). So how can I keep from Singing?

 

How Can I Keep from Singing

My life flows on in endless song; Amid earth’s lamentation,

I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn that hails a new creation;

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing;

It finds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing?

 

What tho’ my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Helper liveth!

What tho’ the darkness gather round; songs in the night he giveth!

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging;

Since God is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it;

And day by day this pathway smooths since first I learned to love it,

The peace of God makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing;

All things are mine, since I am His – How can I keep from Singing?[2]

 

[1] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 14.

[2] This hymn is Public Domain and was written by American Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry.

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Feb 19 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 12 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 10 2020

Leave Worship Better than You Found It

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Most of us can still recall some of those not so gentle reminders from our parents as they prepared us for an unsupervised visit to the home of a friend. Exhortations such as “remember who you are” or “don’t act like you were raised in a barn” were a couple of their standard lines. But the one that continues to resonate with me was the challenge to “leave their home better than you found it.”

What if we had the same attitude as we gathered together for worship? To leave a worship service better than we found it means we have to be willing to shift the topic away from me and my story to God and his story. Leaving it better means we’ll have to concentrate more on what we can offer or give instead of what we demand and deserve. So instead of asking, “what’s in it for me” we must instead start asking, “what’s in it of me.”

Leaving it better will certainly require some sacrifices. Paul wrote in the twelfth chapter of Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.” Charles Thomas Studd was an English missionary who served in several countries including China, India, and Africa. He exemplified this living sacrifice through his motto: “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”

Sacrificing in order to leave it better means we’ll have to be more focused on how we can selflessly add to gathered worship rather than selfishly subtracting from it. That willingness to surrender or let go means we won’t really lose anything. We’ll just pass it on to something or someone else.[1] Once we grasp the depth of that living sacrifice, then we’ll certainly leave gathered worship better than we found it.

 

[1] Adapted from Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (New York: Hyperion, 2003).

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Feb 5 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 3 2020

Worship That Jumps the Shark

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The idiom Jump the Shark originated from a 1977 episode of the sitcom Happy Days when a water skiing, leather jacket wearing Fonzie actually jumped over a shark. In its fifth season, the show adulterated its story line in an attempt to boost its ratings.

The idiom is now used as a pejorative reference to anything that arbitrarily implements processes, programs, or even the use of novelty just to stay fresh or relevant.

Worship can also jump the shark if we over innovate, over stimulate, or over imitate just to reach or keep congregants. So instead of worship renewal based on biblical, theological, and historical foundations, each Sunday then becomes an exercise in trying to surpass the creativity and sometimes novelty of the previous Sunday.

Our worship may have Jumped the Shark if…

• We’ve terminated a worship leader based on age or appearance.

• We’re depending on a musical style alone to save or grow our church.

• We select songs in response to complaints or compliments.

• We shelve songs composed before or after the previous decade.

• Scripture and prayer have been minimized to make room for more music.

• Worship is used just to set the table for the sermon.

• Leaders are doing worship for congregants instead of helping them do it.

• We convey worship starts and stops with our opening and closing songs.

• We imitate other churches without considering the culture of our own.

• Our leaders seem to be more like cheerleaders than worship leaders.

• We believe dressing up or dressing down ensures its success.

• We think what we sing and how we sing it determines if God shows up.

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Jan 29 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 20 2020

Is Your Church in Conflict? Come to the Table!

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communion

We often look for Chronos (man’s time) resources to resolve church conflicts. So we bring in mediators, read books together, plan conferences, schedule sermon series, and implement lists of best conflict resolution practices. What we often forget, however, is that Kairos (God’s time) resolution of conflict is already available at the Communion Table.

Paul spoke of Communion as the fellowship of sharing in the body and blood of Christ so it is something we do together (1 Cor. 10:16). And since the Table is the place for that kind of intimacy, it’s also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most painfully revealed.[1]

On the night of His betrayal and arrest Jesus prayed that all of us would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:1-2). The unity that Jesus spoke of is not only in our vertical relationship with him but also our horizontal relationship with each other.

The Corinthian Church was challenged to take a good, long look at what was going on in their hearts before participating in Communion. Paul wrote, “Let a person examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). So if we are preparing for and observing this ordinance regularly in a worthy manner based on those stipulations, then how could we possibly remain at odds with each other (1Cor. 11:27)?

Communion can remind us not only of what relational healing God offered in the past but what He promises to continue to offer in the future. Coming back to the Table more can encourage us to heal relationships this time when we might not have had the resolve to heal them last time. So if our church is in conflict, then why wouldn’t we want to come back there more often?

 

 

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Burning Hearts (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994), 74-75.

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Jan 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 13 2020

Not All Those Who Wonder Are Lost

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Wonder: To question with a sense of doubt or uncertainty.

If doubters are expected to resolve their doubts outside of our worship services, then why would they want to connect with those worship services once those doubts are resolved. And if our public worship is not the place for that intimate soul transparency, then where is?

Three days after Jesus had been killed and buried, friends of the eleven disciples went to the tomb and found it empty. They encountered an angel who told them Jesus had been raised from the dead. The angel instructed them to meet Jesus in Galilee. So the disciples traveled to the mountain and when they saw Jesus, they worshiped, but some doubted (Matt 28:16-20).

The text doesn’t say, “some of them worshiped and others doubted.” They doubted even as they worshiped. And it was obvious that those doubts were not held in secret since Matthew recorded them. So their doubts didn’t preclude or exclude them from the public worship of Jesus.

So how did Jesus respond to their worship and doubts? The text says, “Jesus came near.” He didn’t just come near to those who had it figured out. He didn’t set aside the others until they got it figured out. He just came near. Then he commissioned them…all of them including the doubters to go and make disciples. And he ended his commission by reminding them that he would be with them, obviously with or without their doubts.

So if some of the disciples who physically walked with Jesus could worship the risen Lord face to face and still doubt, then why can’t we? Authentic worship must embrace and walk with those various seasons of people’s lives, including doubt. Jesus came near then and continues to now. And so must we.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” Kahlil Gibran

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Jan 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 6 2020

The Theology of Hymns Versus Modern Worship Songs

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Theology is those truths that are taught by God, truths that teach us of God, and truths that lead us to God. Our congregations sing that theology every week in a variety of languages, contexts, cultures, and styles.

So we should choose songs that helps us sing that theology by asking 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]

Those deeper foundational questions, though,  often take a back seat to our first asking how those songs make us feel. When we base our selections on feelings alone, then our emotional connection to a favorite genre arbitrarily sets the standard for the theological value of all genres. Consequently, we then automatically label all those other genres beyond our favorite as theologically sub-standard.

Hymns or modern worship songs are not innately more theological just because we have an emotional attachment to one or the other. Modern worship songs are not more theological because they sound better with a band and multitracks. And hymns are not more theological because we can recall their texts and tunes or sing them in four-part harmony. Both hymns and modern songs can be and are theological as long as they reflect and respond to biblical text; connect the word of God to the people of God; help us sing the gospel; can be sung with doctrinal integrity; and encourage us to be doers and not just hearers.

It is indeed true that our hearts can often be stirred or softened individually through one favorite genre of worship songs over another. Those favorites can cause us to remember significant events or spiritual seasons. And those connections seem to help us better form and frame a deeper understanding of who God is.

But we must be careful never to assume that the musical and emotional connection that solidifies a deeper theological understanding for us is the only tenable musical and emotional option that can possibly solidify a deeper theological understanding for all.

The theology in our hymns or modern worship songs isn’t mutually exclusive. So instead of propping up one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune as worship allies instead of adversaries. 

 

[1] Adapted from a quote by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-44.

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Dec 16 2019

Hymn Lines: 75 Devotional Thoughts by R.G. Huff

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If you are still looking for a unique Christmas gift for your family, small group or worship and music leaders let me recommend a new book written by my friend, R.G. Huff. As a prolific hymn writer and lyricist, R.G. has created a devotional book using hymn lines from some of the great hymns of various denominations.

Hymn Lines: 75 Devotional Thoughts Based on Lines and Phrases from Great Hymns and Songs of the Christian Faith is a compilation of thoughts, personal stories and musings from R.G.’s blog: hymnlines.blogspot.com. After five years of posting over 500 hymn line devotionals, R.G. has selected 75 of those unique postings for his book that is now available on amazon by clicking the following link: Hymn Lines: 75 Devotional Thoughts. You can also order Hymn Lines on R.G.’s website: worshiprx.com where he will even sign personal copies for you.

The featured hymn selections range from the very familiar to the more obscure. The foundation for each devotional is a line or phrase that when lifted from the larger poem seems to speak for itself. Each of these texts provides a devotional thought especially appropriate for those who love the theological depth of those great hymns of our Christian faith.

I have my copy and would encourage each of you to get yours too. And as we recall some old hymn lines and learn some new ones let’s remember the exhortation of Paul that the words of Christ would dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish each other through those psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).

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Dec 2 2019

An Argument for Punctuation in Projected Song Lyrics

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Adding punctuation to our projected text offers road signs and symbols that help frame the rhythm, flow, and phrasing of the story or poem we are singing. Most of us learned and have followed these non-verbal cues since elementary school.

A comma can tell singers where to pause for emphasis, but also indicates when a statement or question is not yet complete. A period shows singers when a verse, chorus, or phrase has ended. Additional punctuation helps singers emphasize or deemphasize certain words that might elevate or minimize theological implications. Singers might miss some of those spiritual emphases without those markers. Consequently, how would they know if what they are singing is asking a theological question or answering a doctrinal statement?

Since many of us will be singing Advent and Christmas Carols in the coming weeks you’ll see below a couple of examples of how adding or deleting punctuation can change the theological understanding of familiar carols:

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh

Come peasant king to own Him

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own Him;

Without punctuation we are left confused with the peasant king oxymoron. With punctuation we understand that Christ is available to all, including peasants and kings.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Rest you merry was a Shakespearean idiom that expressed good cheer or peace. Without punctuation it appears that the gentlemen are already merry. But with the appropriate punctuation the plea is actually for God to bring the gentlemen peace so that nothing will dismay them.

The argument that many of our songs are poetry, and consequently shouldn’t be expected to follow the same strict punctuation guidelines as prose is a valid one. But poetry doesn’t usually eliminate punctuation altogether, it instead uses it artistically to highlight the text.

Some worship leaders might be able to direct us vocally and instrumentally when those road signs are missing, but not all possess those abilities. And if we are truly trying to lead our congregations into participative instead of passive worship, then wouldn’t it make sense for leaders not to do for congregants what they already learned to do for themselves at a young age?

It is certainly easier not to add punctuation when we are preparing song slides for our worship services. But is ease what we are called to when we’re trying to encourage our congregants to leave with those texts and tunes in their hearts and on their lips for continuous worship. Punctuation can help them take those formative lyrics home with biblical and theological accuracy.

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Nov 25 2019

Are You Called to Lead Worship?

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What is compelling you to be a worship leader? Are you leading because you love to play and sing; because it is a great way to supplement your income or provide for your family; because of the notoriety of being on the platform; because you have a music degree but don’t want to teach school; or because you don’t really know how to do anything else? If these are reasons why you are leading worship, then it’s possible your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

God’s call gives us a task that is more than a role. It involves our entire being, not just our musical talent in service to the Lord. So it is a call to being as well as doing.[1] None of us alone in our own talent can claim to possess such commitment to God and compassion to men; such knowledge of faith and the ability to impart it through our worship leading; such maturity in godliness and wisdom in guiding others. Only Jesus gives that Spirit in full measure to those who are called.[2]

We don’t even have a call to worship leadership that was not first a call to Christ.[3] Worship leadership is not given to us for our talent to be elevated. Our talent is given to us for our worship to be elevated.

Convenience may fit well with a person’s plans or abilities. It is comfortable and readily accessible. And it is suitable and favorable to one’s own needs so it can often be accomplished without divine assistance. Convenience is a vocation or occupation in the mean time.

Calling, on the other hand, is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. It is a strong inner impulse prompted by a divine conviction that often requires sacrifice. Calling is a ministry or mission for a lifetime. Consequently, it’s not always convenient.

So again, what is compelling you to be a worship leader? Convenience responds to that question with, “This is what I was trained to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.”

 

[1] Edmund P. Clowney, Called to the Ministry (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1976), 10.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid., 5.

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Nov 18 2019

10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

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10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

  • They can’t cause or cure our church conflicts.
  • They can’t grow or kill our church.
  • They can’t be contained in one genre or style.
  • They can’t begin or end our worship.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service Scripture.
  • They can’t cause us to worship.
  • They can’t prop up our bad theology.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service prayer.
  • They can’t usher us into the presence of God.
  • They can’t be our only act of worship.
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Nov 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 11 2019

Music May Be Killing Intergenerational Worship

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multigenerational

How can congregations expect to have healthy intergenerational worship on Sunday when they segregate by age in all of their other ministries throughout the week? Then the only time various generations connect is during an hour on Sunday around songs one generation or the other doesn’t particularly like. So if they are depending on the music of that one-hour as the solitary driver of intergenerational worship, then it can’t help but get the solitary blame when conflict arises.

What if, instead, all generations made an attempt to connect first by learning to love, respect and defer to each other outside of the worship service? Couldn’t those relationships that develop outside of our services then positively impact the relationships inside those services as well?

A healthy integration of the generations may not occur in worship until leaders are willing to lead dispersed intergenerational worship before attempting to lead gathered intergenerational worship. Here are some suggestions:

  • Lead them to pray for and with each other. Praying for and with each other is not just praying for another generation to change its mind. Praying for and with each other requires communication, vulnerability, honesty, trust, brokenness and selflessness.
  • Lead them to read Scripture to and with each other. Scripture must be the foundation of intergenerational worship. Nothing softens the heart of a grandparent more than to hear his/her grandchild read the word of God.
  • Lead them to share ministry together. Shared ministry requires sacrifice, humility and an investment of time and trust. Serving others together encourages and generates unity that our music sometimes can’t.
  • Lead them to play together. Those relationships exemplified by the Acts 2 church of spending time together, having everything in common, breaking bread in their homes and eating together with glad and sincere hearts is often a foreign relationship beyond our own generation.
  • Lead them to the Table together. We keep trying to manufacture unity that is already available at the Lord’s Supper Table. Communion is waiting for all generations there.
  • Lead them to sing together. If unity is the basis of intergenerational worship during the week, then unity will yield intergenerational worship on Sunday. When that occurs, how can we keep from singing our various songs together?

Maybe before we try to unify our worship musically…
we should first try to unify our generations relationally.

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Nov 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 4 2019

Urban Myth

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There is sometimes a perception that the worship of a larger urban church is better because its size and metro location allows for a deeper pool of musicians and a higher quality of musicianship. So smaller rural church worship is often seen as a mediocre representation or a couple of steps behind and a few notches below its urban counterparts.

Urban and rural worship comparisons such as these might actually be true if the only standard by which our worship is measured is the level of our musicianship and availability of capable players and singers.

A standard is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. It is something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, value or quality.

Scripture speaks to standards by which our worship should be measured on several occasions. The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out that God’s standard is doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly (Micah 6:8).

Jesus outlined the standard by commanding us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). And Paul wrote that the standard is offering our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).

Meeting these and other biblical standards for good worship doesn’t mean we are willing to settle for musical mediocrity or a lack of preparation. All churches, in fact, urban or rural must constantly strive to create something unbelievable with the music and musicians they have available to them.

But according to Scripture the standard by which our worship is measured as good or better is not the quality of our music or availability of musicians. It is instead the condition of our hearts. So the quality of worship that is based on that standard can be met just as readily in smaller rural churches as it can in larger urban churches.

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Oct 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 14 2019

Top 10 Worship Word Wednesday Quotes

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I have been posting a weekly Worship Word Wednesday for a year. These are stand-alone quotes taken from my weekly Worship Evaluation Blog or my teaching notes and other writing projects. The following are the top 10 quotes from this last year according to analytics, shares, comments, likes or reposts.

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Oct 9 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 7 2019

Give Music a Rest!

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Musical rests indicate the absence of sound but not the end of the music. Rests add depth and emotion to a musical score through the use of silence. They create and relieve tension. They allow the players and singers to pause and take a breath before the next difficult musical passage. The silence of a rest creates a temporary break in the action and keeps the notes from being strung together in breathless chaos. So playing music without rests is like driving a car without brakes.

We rely on the sound of our music and words of our 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 even sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn and devour congregants with our notes. Silence as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines puts a stop to that.[1]

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” (Eccles. 5:2). There’s “a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (Eccles. 3:7).

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]

Worship is a divine conversation that requires not only the sound of our voices and instruments but also the silence of our hearing and listening. Our worship music noise can mute the distinct voice of God that is often only discernible in the silence. In the midst of our self-generated noise, we can miss his healing, comforting and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you, well done, you are forgiven and I am weeping with you.”

Making noise as our only offering can create monological worship. One-sided sound can monopolize the conversation. But the foundation of meaningful worship is instead dialogical. Dialogue 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 Him in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize that conversation with our responsive noise only. So in order 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).

 

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

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

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Sep 25 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 19 2019

Hooked on a Feeling

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When some congregants gather for worship they are waiting for a feeling to occur externally instead of responding to a relationship that already exists internally. So if that feeling is not stirred because they don’t know or particularly like the songs, they can even leave the worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

Consequently, worship leaders in those churches are sometimes admonished to re-create divine moments, events or even complete seasons based almost completely on the feelings originally stirred so those congregants can feel them again…and call it worship.

The heart is often a symbol of our emotions…how we feel. When we have a relational breakup we often say our heart is broken; when we are grieving we often say we are heavy hearted; and when we are happy we often say our heart is full.

Our hearts can indeed be stirred emotionally in worship. Not because of what our songs do to us, but instead because of what Christ has already done in us. So loving God with all our heart means worship occurs from the inside out, not the outside in.

Worship contingent on a musical experience that just stirs our feelings may not be worship at all. Thomas a Kempis said it this way, “A good devout person first arranges inwardly the things to be done outwardly.”

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Aug 14 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 5 2019

Worship Leader: Performer, Promoter or Partner?

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Worship is something our congregations do, not something that is done for them. So if we never involve them 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?

Can you imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so they can watch you eat? Even though they are sitting at the table while you intimately experience and even skillfully explain each course with mouthwatering poetic language, they are still hungry passive observers. As good as the food might be, they aren’t eating it. A performer presents for or to an audience. Worship leading performers eat while others watch.

Or can you imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so you can watch them eat? You have planned and prepared a feast all week long so their hunger might be satisfied. Even though you aren’t eating, you are content in knowing you are feeding them. A promoter is a facilitator who helps others achieve their objectives while remaining neutral. Worship leading promoters facilitate while others eat.

Now imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so you can all eat together. You have planned and prepared a feast because you are all hungry. You encourage them to eat and they encourage you to eat. Your hunger isn’t satisfied until theirs is and vice versa. Partners are united or associated with others in the same actions, activities or purposes. Worship leading partners eat together.

As worship leaders we are not proxies, surrogates or intermediaries. We do indeed facilitate, prompt, prod, remind and encourage congregants to worship more, but we can’t do it on their behalf. So worship leadership is not what we do to or for our congregation; it’s what we do with them.

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Jul 29 2019

7 Questions Before Introducing a New Worship Song

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questionsInstead of asking if a new song fits the musical style of our church, we must first ask if it will connect the Word of God to the people of God. Until we begin to ask biblical and theological questions of our new songs before we introduce them, we’ll continue trying to create worship renewal through musical tastes alone. If we want to truly discern and discover new songs to help our congregation worship, we have to begin by asking better questions.

  • Does it reflect and respond to biblical text?

We must constantly ask if our song texts are theologically sound and if they affirm Scripture as foundational. Songs that do not provoke us to respond to and reflect on the Word must always be suspect.

  • Will it connect the Word of God to the people of God?

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation then 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 each other. When this dialogue occurs our songs are communally uttered conversations with God.

  • Does it 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 doing in and through our lives in the name of Jesus. Those songs must sing of the ongoing and enduring work of Jesus. And they must constantly remind us of the great mystery of our faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

  • Is its text easy to follow and sing?

If congregants can’t follow and sing our songs, then how can we expect them to respond through them? Archaic or colloquial text should be filtered. And biblical texts should be evaluated for their healthy marriage with melodies that are accessible and singable to various generations, tribes and tongues.

  • Will we be able to sing it with doctrinal integrity?

Songs must communicate biblically, theologically and doctrinally. Those songs must be sung with the integrity of adequate external preparation and presentation that springs forth from internal conviction. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. So our lives must replicate the songs we sing even when we aren’t singing them.

  • Will it engage more than our 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.

  • Will it encourage action?

Our songs must not only inspire us through hearing and singing 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 we are 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 by challenging us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

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Jul 22 2019

Stop Blaming Music for Worship Conflict

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One Trick PonyWe often blame music for what only a healthier biblical theology of worship can fix. The sole emphasis on music as the primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship understanding and exacerbated worship conflicts.

The origin of the idiom “One Trick Pony” goes back to the days of the traveling circus. A trained pony or small horse was used as a main circus attraction. Without any other acts or animals, these small circuses were often criticized as only offering a one-trick pony.

The idiom is now used to identify a person or organization that only does one thing. And it often suggests an inflexibility or inability to learn or consider anything else.

Music has devolved into worship’s one trick pony. We’ve dressed it up, dressed it down, changed its direction and adjusted its speed. We’ve even tried a younger rider for the pony. But it’s still the same trick. Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression.

Scripture

Worship begins with the Word, not our song set. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.

Prayer

Worship service prayer has been relegated to the role of a service utility infielder. It is often plugged into worship service holes as a musical connector rather than a divine conversation that actually gives us a reason to sing in the first place.

Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist

Congregations try to create community in their song sets that already exists and is waiting for them at the Table. Observing this ordinance as supplemental instead of foundational might cause us to miss the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion with each other unified in our identity and relationships only present there.

The Arts

Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will. Art beyond music is often seen as an extra offering meant for those who can resonate with it, rather than something essential to the shaping of our faith and worship expressions.[1]

As worship leaders we must be willing to educate, enlighten and exhort our congregations to move beyond music as our only worship contribution. And when we do, maybe it will alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the solitary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

 

[1] Adapted from Robin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 2.

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Jul 17 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 8 2019

The False Dichotomy of Choosing Worship Sides

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dividedA false dichotomy is the belief that if one thing is true, then another one can’t be. This comparison is typically used to force a selection between one side or another by making the assumption they are two opposing positions. So either/or options are initiated in order to elevate one side over the other or to coerce participants to choose.

Even after a couple of decades, opposing or contrasting views are still being openly expressed and written about when it comes to worship styles, especially hymns or modern worship songs. Those dialogues perpetuate either/or dichotomies by attempting to elevate one side at the expense of the other. The use of all encompassing statements such as “modern worship songs are trite” or “hymns are archaic” continue to perpetuate the conflict. And those 7-11 monikers and old time religion epithets that are neither funny nor accurate exacerbate the right/wrong and good/bad worship comparisons that are still dividing churches.

Defending one by criticizing the other is actually an act of self-defense so it’s usually preferential, not theological. Attempting to protect our favorite hymns or modern worship songs by vilifying the other can actually have the opposite effect of marginalizing the one we are trying to protect. If they really need our feeble attempts to prop them up, then are they actually viable options? If, however, both can stand on their own merit as many of us believe they can, then they will endure in spite of our criticisms and defenses.

We have a tendency to compare and contrast God’s artistry based on our own musical history, practical experiences and preferences. So limiting art to only what we know and like assumes He only likes what we know. False worship dichotomies discount God’s calling for us to create and offer new art in response to His diverse revelations. And since those callings are so unique to our contexts and cultures, how can our new art responses be contained in one generation or genre?

Modern worship songs or hymns and what follows them are here to stay. So instead of defending one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune with each other. And we should pray that our unity instead of theological and stylistic aspersions could lead us to places way beyond our previous identities and imaginations.

Hymns and modern worship songs aren’t mutually exclusive, so it is not necessary to choose one over the other. And as long as we are filtering them according to theology instead of partiality they can both live in harmony and compatibility as worship allies instead of adversaries. When they do we’ll discover what it means to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one mind and one voice (Rom 15:6).

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Jul 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 1 2019

Reclaimed Worship

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It is en vogue 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 is necessary.

As churches consider the future they sometimes realize the need for renewing and reimagining their worship. In doing so, they often assume it will require incorporating something completely new. So instead of reclaiming and repurposing older methods and practices they instead use the finesse of a wrecking ball to swing wildly at existing practices. The result is often the complete destruction of the worship structures and relational foundations that took decades to build.

So instead of just asking, “what’s broken and how do we fix it” congregations should also be asking, “what’s working and how can we do more of it.”[1] Maybe the worship changes most of our churches need should not occur by demolishing and discarding our existing practices, but instead by deconstructing or reclaiming some of them.

Demolition is the most expedient method of tearing down an existing structure in order to ensure that the ensuing structure bears no characteristics of the original structure. It takes what was and completely destroys it.

Deconstruction, conversely, is the systematic and selective process of taking a structure apart while carefully preserving valuable elements for re-use. It saves those materials within an existing structure and repurposes them for a new life. Deconstruction reclaims some of those elements that still have value for the future.

So reclaiming worship means that even when change is necessary we take the time to recognize those foundations and practices that still have value so we can repurpose them as useful building materials for the future.

 

[1] Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 55.

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Jun 19 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 12 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 3 2019

Lord’s Supper Myopia

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Limiting our observance of the Lord’s Supper just to a penitential replay of the Last Supper may be diminishing its significance. A myopic observance of the Table as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice is not inaccurate, it’s just incomplete.

The early church frequently observed the Lord’s Supper not just to remember the cross but also the joy of the resurrection and hope of Jesus’ promised return.

Considering the Lord’s Supper as more than a memorial doesn’t minimize its remembrance, it actually enhances it. It allows us to not only remember what Christ did for us, but what he continues to do for us. So we don’t just live in the past through our sorrow, but also remember how it continues to impact our present and future.

If we are to consider the Lord’s Supper beyond a memorial, then it must be reflected in the text we read and preach. It must influence the songs we choose to sing, impact how we approach the Table, and frame our words of instruction. Songs and Scripture focused on the cross are indeed valuable for expressing our worship at the Table. But songs and texts focusing on thanksgiving, community, and hope can be equally valuable.

The challenge is for each congregation not to ignore expanded observances out of fear it will take them to a doctrinal place they’ve never been before. Instead, they should prayerfully consider the discerning attention this ordinance deserves each and every time it’s observed. So the Lord’s Supper must never be a worship service add-on and our default as we plan and observe it must not always be sameness.

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May 29 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 22 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2019

20 Worship Service Irrefutables

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Worship Service Irrefutables

  1. It isn’t trivial just because you use a worship band.
  2. It isn’t archaic just because you use an orchestra.
  3. The opening song doesn’t start it.
  4. The closing song doesn’t stop it.
  5. An older expression doesn’t imply it’s stale.
  6. A newer expression doesn’t imply it’s fresh.
  7. It’s not theologically profound because you use hymns.
  8. It’s not theologically trite because you use modern songs.
  9. A younger leader doesn’t cause it to be relevant.
  10. An older leader doesn’t cause it to be passé.
  11. Changing it won’t automatically make your church grow.
  12. Keeping it the same won’t inevitably make your church decline.
  13. Using technology can complement it.
  14. Using technology can distract from it.
  15. It’s not participative just because you’re leading it with a choir.
  16. It’s not passive just because you’re leading it with a worship team.
  17. Dressing up for it doesn’t make it sacred.
  18. Dressing down for it doesn’t make it irreverent.
  19. Music isn’t a necessity for it.
  20. Music can certainly enhance it.
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May 8 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 29 2019

Dangerous Worship

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LabbertonMark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2007)

The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

If we say, we love God, (an act worship) and hate our brothers, (also an act of worship) we are liars (1 John 4:20a). Worship that acts justly realizes loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength is incomplete until I also love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

In his book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton offers the challenge that too often our worship has become a place of safety and complacency. But true biblical worship doesn’t merely point us upward, it should also turn us outward as well. So worship is the dangerous act of waking up to God and his purposes in the world, and then living lives that show it.[1]

“We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor.”

“Many debates about worship are just indirect ways of talking about ourselves, not God.”

“The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.”

“Where is the evidence that we are scandalized before God when we hunger for worship that almost never leads us to have a heart for the hungry?”

“There are a number of ways in our practice of corporate worship that we substitute human management and form for an encounter with the Spirit of God; we end up making worship in our image rather than God’s.”

“The question of many secular people is not, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like us?’ Rather, their perceptive question (and God’s too) is, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like Jesus?’ Safe worship never gets to this point. The risk is too high.”

“Worship that is based on people’s expectations is typically shaped more by culture than by the gospel.”

“We confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9) but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion.”

“We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best.”

“Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. It’s the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”

“We have to practice laying aside our unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure, or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”

 

[1] This quote and all following quotes are taken from Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Books, 2007).

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Apr 23 2019

Not Enough Easter

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EasterIf our churches affirm Easter as the most important celebration of the church year and the foundation of our hope for the future, then why do we limit its observance to a single Sunday? Remembering the resurrection only on Easter is like remembering your marriage only on your anniversary.

Easter in the early church was much more than a one-day event. They not only remembered and celebrated that Christ died and rose again, they also remembered and celebrated that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that Jesus promised to return again.

In their great joy the early Church began celebrating with Easter and continued for fifty days. Seven weeks of remembering would allow our churches to go much deeper into the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost instead of trying to cram it all into one Sunday so we can move on to the next sermon series.

Limiting it to a single day can give the impression that its observance is routine instead of righteous, chronological instead of Christological. It can appear that we are giving lip service to the Christian Calendar so we can move on to the Hallmark calendar of Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day.

Laurence Hull Stookey wrote, “The explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[1] So revisiting the mystery over an extended period of time could encourage a deeper understanding of redemption, sanctification, salvation, renewal and victory.

If we are indeed Easter people, then protracting our celebration could help us remember that the transforming resurrection of the past also transforms our present and future.[2] And we’ll never fully grasp that truth in a single day.

 

[1] Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,  (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 53.

[2] John D. Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 290.

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Apr 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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