Jun 22 2020

Worship and the Racial Divide

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Imagine your church filled with people of multiple colors, nationalities, economic levels, and political beliefs all worshiping God together. The problem with that scenario is that most of us imagined how great it could be as long as they made the needed changes to worship the same way we do.

Not in my style may really and truly mean not my kind of people, except when it comes time for the yearly youth group trip to Mexico. Why are we willing to go outside the church to diversify when we are failing to do so within?[1] 

The multitude of God’s people are standing before the throne of God sheltered by His presence in chapter 7 of John’s Revelation. His vision of every tribe and tongue together as one is a heavenly model of intercultural worship.

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen’” (Revelation 7:9-12)! So if we are not meant to be segregated as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so segregated as we worship here on earth? 

Harold Best wrote, “It is a spiritually connected culture that takes cultural differences, works through the tensions that they may create and comes to the blessed condition of mixing and reconciling them and of stewarding their increase and growth.”[2] Maybe if we could first learn to love, respect, understand, and defer to each other outside of the worship service it could impact our worship inside the service as well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Not much has changed since his original statement 50 years ago so maybe it’s time for us to try something new.

Worship and the Racial Divide is the title of a breakout I will be teaching for the Resourcing Worship Virtual Conference, August 1. The main sessions speakers and worship leaders include: Keith Getty, Matt Redman, Shelly Johnson, Mike Harland, Matt Boswell, and Veritas. Over 60 breakouts are scheduled for all areas of music and worship ministry. Registration cost is only $15 per person and if you register 5 or more the cost is $10 per person. Registration cost also includes a 90 days all-access pass for you to continue viewing the virtual breakouts and main sessions. Click the link in this paragraph to register.

 


[1] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 181.

[2] Ibid.

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Jun 17 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 10 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 8 2020

Singing in Regathered Worship: Want or Need?

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Want is something we desire, hope for, or wish for. Need is something essential to survive. We want to sing both congregationally and chorally in our worship services as we regather but we don’t need to sing for worship to occur. So even if we want to sing and can’t or can’t as much, we still need to find other ways to worship. 

Singing is an expression given to us so that we might offer it as a gift to God in worship but it certainly isn’t the only expression. So considering additional worship responses could alleviate the pressure on singing to serve as the primary driver of regathered worship.

Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds the central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’ Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship. But, many others are involved. We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith. When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[1]

Because of limited space and congregational demographics, however, some churches will determine it is best not to sing chorally or maybe even congregationally for a while. Worship leaders in those churches will, consequently, have to educate, reeducate, enlighten, and exhort their congregations that worship without singing doesn’t have to be inferior, it just has to be different. 

Robin M. Jensen said, too often other worship expressions are perceived as a kind of extra offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate them or want to be involved in them, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.[2] So when introducing those new worship expressions beyond singing, leaders will need to take risks through Holy Spirit inspired entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation. They’ll need to become worship artisans instead of assembly line workers.

If your church can’t sing or can’t sing as much for a season, then consider expanding some of these responses: Scripture, prayer, drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, sound, lighting, staging and props, and many others.

Harold Best offers this challenge that can serve as a reminder of our responsibilities as leaders in this new season of regathering, “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’ Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep. Engage your whole being. Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance. Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart. Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory: spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory. Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]

 

[1] Schmit, Clayton J., “Art for Faith’s Sake,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fall 2001.

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

[3] Best, Harold M., “Authentic Worship and Artistic Action,” an address to the Calvin Institute of Worship, 2005.

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Jun 1 2020

How Can Social Distanced Worship Be Good?

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Even before the COVID-19 physical shutdown of gathered worship services, congregations were constantly trying to discover and create good worship. So, they expanded their song catalogs and adjusted their presentation methods in an effort to find a formula to help them accomplish that goal. Some just bypassed the heavy lifting altogether by imitating the worship practices of other congregations and called it good.

But as congregations are starting to regather with new limitation guidelines, those conversation of “what is good worship” in this new reality have radically changed. Social distancing, masks while singing, a smaller critical mass of gathered congregants, and the potential absence of choral and instrumental music has moved the conversation way beyond song catalogs and presentation methods.

If we begin with Scripture, however, to figure out what good worship is we are always returned to those worship principles that should be framing our worship practices. The principles haven’t changed even when our practices have. So as long as we begin with those principles, then our distanced, masked, and choirless worship practices can still be considered good.

Scripture speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t good on several occasions. The book of Isaiah outlined worship God doesn’t like when the author wrote, “The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service, yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me” (Isa. 29:13).

Amos criticized worship that is ego driven when he wrote, “I hate, I despise, your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

The minor prophet Micah faced similar challenges as he responded to the shallow worship practices evident in the lives of the religious leaders of his day. He vigorously condemned the dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship prevalent in Judah and Israel. According to Micah, outward appearances indicated they thought their worship was good. But their worship character wasn’t consistent with what God calls good. So, Micah wrote, “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).

Discovering good worship in this new reality means we will have to lay aside the unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure, or routine in order to pursue God and ask him to reorder our priorities and passions. It’s going to be a new and different process than we have been used to and it will require us all to be stimulated by God’s grace and imagination.[1]

So what we once considered good worship may no longer be feasible for a season as our congregations gather again. But just because it is no longer the same doesn’t necessarily mean it can no longer be good.

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Books, 2007), 170-71.

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May 27 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 18 2020

Regathered Worship: Laying Down Self

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Most churches are trying to figure out how to safely gather in person again after a couple of months of online services. Leaders and congregants are realizing how they gather, how many they gather with and what they offer as they gather won’t look the same as it did before. What they will also soon realize is that everyone will be asked to sacrifice something if this new normal is to succeed.

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. We should not lift up to God worship or any other offering that costs us nothing. If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[1]

Worship that costs us something will require sacrifice or the willingness to surrender for the sake of something or someone else. Sacrifice is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. A bunt in baseball is designated as a sacrifice for the purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt. What an interesting word picture for the church as it regathers in this season of uncertainty.

Laying down our selfishness and sacrificially offering our bodies as a spiritual act of worship may cost us wearing a mask during gathered worship even though we think it is unnecessary. Sacrificial worship means we are willing to do so because we love those with whom we worship more than we love our own convenience.

The cost of laying down our selfishness may also mean that because of our age or compromised health we will continue to watch the services from home so that the gathering guidelines for others won’t need to be quite as stringent. Sacrificial worship means we are willing to do so because we love those with whom we worship more than we love our own convenience. How we worship may have to change as our churches regather, but whom we worship never will.

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 his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

This divine encounter with Jesus 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 men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done” (v. 28-29). Gathering together again will also require the same of us. Mitch Albom wrote, “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”[2]

 

[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.

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

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May 13 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 8 2020

If We Can’t Sing

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Most of us have seen the articles, blog posts and videos this last week indicating the potential for a higher level of asymptomatic spread and aerosolization of COVID-19 through choral and congregational singing. The emotional responses from music and worship leaders run the gamut of fear and grief to outright denial.

It is obviously still too early to be certain how these theories will play out and influence our musical worship in the future. What is certain, however, is that even if our congregations and choirs can’t sing together for a season, worship can and will still occur. It may look different but it most certainly won’t disappear.

An older member of one of my previous congregations was a fine vocalist and instrumentalist when he was younger. But because of laryngeal cancer surgery, he could no longer sing and even had to learn a new way to talk. One Sunday while leading congregational singing I observed this gentleman whistling the songs as other congregants sang. Just because he was physically unable to sing didn’t keep him from actively participating in worship. He just had to figure out a new way to do it.

Worship leaders, if our congregants and choirs aren’t able to worship through singing, then it will be our responsibility and calling, by the way, to help them figure out a new way to do it. Our methods might have to change but our calling to lead and their calling to respond certainly hasn’t changed.

This conversation is not that different than the conversations we had a couple of decades ago when worship styles and methods changed. As leaders, we often encouraged and even admonished our congregations that even though “we’ve never done it like this before” it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t or couldn’t. Some of us as worship leaders need to have that same conversation with ourselves as we lead through this uncertain future.

Oh, if we can’t worship through congregational and choral singing for a season we will definitely need to spend some time lamenting what we no longer have. But once we’ve had that opportunity to ask God why we have to walk through this desert, we’ll need to move pretty quickly from those complaints to “but I trust in You, O Lord.” Then we’ll need to figure out a new way to do it because our congregations will need it and our God will expect it.

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May 4 2020

5 Unintended Consequences of Worshiping from Home

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Unintended consequences can be positive or negative outcomes in response to unforeseen or unplanned events or experiences. We certainly didn’t choose this season of worshiping from home. But most of us have unintentionally learned some valuable lessons that should influence how we do gathered worship on the other side of this crisis. Here are five unintended consequences of worship from home:

  • Sermons are shorter, yet more profound

Most pastors have realized that attention spans online are much shorter so they have intentionally left more of their sermon notes on the cutting room floor. What they have discovered is that a succinct, refined, and consolidated message offers their congregations less information to synthesize but more spiritual truths that can actually be internalized. Preparing and presenting messages with an economy of words is a practice that should continue since attention spans are probably not that much longer in person.

  • Worship is simpler and less contrived

Most worship leaders have realized when trying to program a remote worship service that less is always more. Before this season of dispersed worship, it seemed like many of us had fallen into the unhealthy habit of trying to surpass the creativity of the previous week. So, we over innovated, over stimulated, and over imitated. Hopefully we’ve learned how unnecessary and unhealthy that practice can be and we’ll spend more of our time in the future focusing on the creator rather than on our own creativity.

  • Intergenerational worship is foundational instead of optional

Many of us have looked for ways but have often found it difficult to encourage our congregations to move away from worship services separated by generations. And even though intergenerational togetherness was forced during this season, we figured out how to do it because everyone cared more about protecting their families than protecting their preferences. We certainly shouldn’t waste what we learned in this time as everyone was willing to sacrifice some for the good of all. So how can we leverage that deference for continuing intergenerational worship when we again have the opportunity to gather?

  • Off-limits music programs are now on the table

Some of those music ministry programs we thought we couldn’t possibly live without, we could. So instead of thinking about when we might start them back up, we should be asking if we should. This season has forced us to initiate music and worship ministry audits that we should have already been implementing regularly anyway. So maybe before firing up all those music ministry programs again, we should first ask if they are going to help us fulfill our mission. If they aren’t, then why would we do them?

  • Church size isn’t determining worship quality

The quality of worship should never be determined by the quantity of worship leaders and worshipers. But that hasn’t stopped those previous comparisons of bigger being better because larger churches have more resources, personnel, and talent. During this season, however, the perceptual playing field has been leveled as all churches were limited to the same number of worship leaders, the same resources for technology, and the same platforms for streaming. Hopefully this online leveling will continue to remind us when we gather again that a comparison according to size is always unhealthy. Every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are with what they have. The commitment to that calling instead of comparison is what sets the bar for worship quality.

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Apr 29 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 20 2020

Worship in the Meantime

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The meantime we now find ourselves in can certainly be a season of doubt, fear and instability. But it can also be a time of hope, expectation and unity. Most of us have realized that gathered worship on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis probably won’t look the same as it did before the crisis. But what comes next could be a time of worship renewal if we embrace this meantime season as developmental rather than wasted time. This time will have been squandered, however, if we reject it solely because it isn’t taking us in the same direction we were going before.

Meantime is the interim period between two events. It is an intermediate time while waiting for something else to happen. Victor Turner referred to the meantime as a separation from what was known to a transitional, in-between or liminal stage.[1] Liminal originated from the Latin word, limins, meaning threshold.[2]

In his book on worship transformation, Timothy Carson wrote, liminal reality is the time that has broken with a previous structure, whatever that structure may have been. And precisely because it is positioned between the previous structure and the unknown structure that is coming, it holds power for future transformation.[3]

Turner referred to a special camaraderie of communitas that can develop among those sharing a meantime season.[4] The spirit expressed in this Latin noun is the harmony within a community based on its common purpose and even shared uncertainty. Encouraging this spirit of communitas in the meantime of dispersed worship allows us to share in a community of the in-between. So even though we are worshiping in the uncertainty, we are worshiping in the uncertainty together.

Paul wrote the church at Philippi from the meantime of house arrest. He fondly remembered the partnership previously experienced with that church. But even though their circumstances were no longer and never would be the same, he was confident that the God who started their previous ministry together would also complete it in the new reality in which they found themselves.

Trying to figure out how to worship corporately while separated physically has required biblical understanding, prayer, sensitivity, discernment and even sacrifice. And we obviously don’t want to miss preparing for what healthy worship might look like when we reach the other side. But it is also essential that we don’t spend so much time lamenting what we no longer have or dreaming about what we could have that we miss transformational worship opportunities in the meantime. The journey is no less worshipful than the destination.

 

[1] Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between,” quoted in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 100.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 60.

[4] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (New York: Aldine, 1969); as referenced in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 101.

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Apr 13 2020

Was Easter Sunday a Waste of Time?

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The Easter Acclamation, “He is risen,” “He is risen indeed” was not only true as we celebrated Easter yesterday, it is also true as we work online from home today. The celebration of Easter is not just a one-day event, it is a daily remembrance of who we are in the risen Christ. As Christ followers we are Easter people so instead of immediately pivoting to the next sermon series or Sunday service calendar emphasis, shouldn’t our celebration of the resurrection continue?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day annual event. Celebrating the Paschal mystery was not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but also to remember that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that our Savior promised to return again.

Because of their great joy, early Christians began the celebration and remembrance with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost. Revisiting the mystery and expanding the understanding of the resurrection could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this celebration of redemption, sanctification, salvation and victory can’t be limited to a single day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the sacred time of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and other dates of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern for rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy or a fear of appearing too “Catholic.”

Some worship leaders and worshipers believe that spending too much time in those extended seasonal celebrations of the Church can promote sameness. 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]

Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they are at the same time affirming annual observances of cultural and denominational days whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2] And isn’t it ironic that in the development of those denominational and cultural calendars we have in fact created our own liturgies in our efforts to be non-liturgical?

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church. So isn’t it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?

Why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost? For this shift to occur, however, we must understand the significance of expanding our Easter remembrances. 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.”[3]

Extending our Easter recognition is based on a deeper understanding of the calendar as an ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship. The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past Church and unifies Christians of the present Church in a continuous ecumenical relationship.

Observing Easter for fifty days could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4] Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]

Expanding your observance of Easter and celebrating other aspects of the Christian year might be a stretch for your congregation. But please make those decisions about this sacred time from a deeper biblical, theological and historical foundation instead of solely on the traditionalism of what your individual congregation or denomination has done in the past.

 


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

[2] Ibid., 56.

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

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

[5] Ibid.

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Apr 6 2020

Worship Leaders… HOLD FAST!

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Eighteenth and Nineteenth century sailors superstitiously believed that certain tattoos brought good luck and somehow averted disaster. The H-O-L-D F-A-S-T tattoo with one letter tattooed on each finger was originally derived from the Dutch phrase “Houd” (hold) “Vast” (fast). The tattoo was believed to protect a sailor whose life depended on holding fast to a rope on the ships deck or while working aloft in the ships rigging.

The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote the same words not as superstition but with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:22-23).

So worship leaders, as you try to figure out how to lead worship in the new reality of online services, focus on this exhortation instead of agonizing over what you can’t do remotely. Hold Fast…the God who called you to lead worship will sustain you. Hold Fast…in full assurance that He knows where you are and what you are going through.

Hold Fast…confident that you are presentable inside and out. Keep a firm grip on His promises that keep you going. See how inventive you can be by encouraging love and spurring others on to worshiping together even though separated (Heb. 10:19-25). Hold Fast…your worshiping congregation is depending on it.

Hold Fast – Mercy Me

VERSE 1
To everyone who’s hurting
To those who’ve had enough
To all the undeserving
That should cover all of us
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope

CHORUS
Hold fast help is on the way
Hold fast He’s come to save the day
What I’ve learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp so hold fast

VERSE 2
Will this season ever pass
Can we stop this ride
Will we see the sun at last
Or could this be our lot in life
Please do not let go
I promise you there’s hope

CHORUS
Hold fast help is on the way
Hold fast He’s come to save the day
What I’ve learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp so hold fast

©2006 Simpleville Music, Wet As A Fish Music, Barry Graul, Bart Millard, Jim Bryson, Mike Scheuchzer, Nathan Cochran, Robby Shaffer.

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Apr 1 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 16 2020

Worship Has Left the Building

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As churches made the difficult decision to meet online instead of in person this weekend we were all reminded that worship couldn’t be contained in a building, location, context or vehicle of communication.

Our worship leadership has sometimes given the impression that we alone have the ability and even right to be the sole instigators of worship in our context. So we’ve often led like worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it. Consequently, we have often expended all of our resources and energy preparing for and leading a single gathered hour on Sunday.

But the unprecedented circumstances of the last couple of weeks have forced us to remember again that worship can occur without us and even in spite of us. As many of us observed thousands of services streaming or pre-recorded on social media it again challenged us that worship happens not only when our congregations gather in our buildings but also when they scatter to their homes.

Harold Best wrote, “If those of us who lead gathered worship 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.”[1]

So as we continue to move forward through the uncertain future of corporate worship, we as worship leaders must lead, model and empower our congregants to not only worship when we are again able to gather but also continue to worship as we have to disperse. Helping them understand how to worship at home continues to fulfill our worship leadership calling and responsibilities just as profoundly as leading a song set does. 

 

[1] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 9.

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Feb 5 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 27 2020

Drink More Coffee with Senior Adults

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Charlie was one of those senior adults who loved to drink coffee and talk about life. He always seemed to show up on Wednesday afternoon when I still had four hours of rehearsal preparation left and only two hours to complete it. As a young worship leader I sometimes saw those visits as a distraction, now I realize how much they were a divine appointment.

Charlie loved the Lord but he also loved me. So even if he didn’t always resonate with the new initiatives I was suggesting or songs I was leading, he was often willing to endorse them publicly and finance them privately because he cared more about our relationship and the health of our church than his own preferences.

When churches consider worship or programming changes without consulting senior adults like Charlie it can often cause unnecessary transitional pain. Taking the time to collaborate with them helps us recognize and remember those existing elements that could still hold value as foundational building materials in new structures.

Drinking coffee with senior adults can help us discover that most of them are not as averse to changes as much as they are to feeling marginalized through those changes. It often seems to them that their opinions are no longer considered and their convictions are antiquated. So the sacrifice of their blood, sweat, tears and tithes is now being used to build a wall that sidelines or keeps them out completely.

Change is inevitable as a church considers the culture and context of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate those changes, some of us are willing to do anything different than what was done in the past without first considering the wisdom of those still present from that past. Sharing a few cups of coffee with those senior adults may indeed help to bring some of them on board with our proposed changes, but just as often it can thankfully protect us from our own stupidity.

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Jan 22 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 18 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 9 2019

Ministry Move: Calling or Itchy Feet?

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Most of us don’t begin a ministry position believing we will only stay for a couple of years. Our intentions are noble to plant our lives for the long haul. But sometimes after exhausting all our good ideas we get bored, our leadership gets stale, our congregation gets restless and we get busy looking for another opportunity somewhere else.

But if the choice to stay in your present ministry position or look for another one is within your control (it sometimes isn’t), then you should be asking some fundamental questions before considering another move.

  • Has God released me from my call here?

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. But until God releases you to go there…stay here.

  • Am I running from something?

God didn’t promise you’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. So if you are running from relational dysfunction that isn’t resolved here, what makes you think it won’t follow you there?

  • Am I running to something?

If you are interested in another ministry just because it’s bigger, better, more prestigious or prominent, then your motivation might be ego instead of calling. If greener grass or several rungs up the ladder is the new you are running to, then you’ll inevitably be disappointed and so will they.

  • How might it impact my family?

Only considering your own ministry desires, needs and wants without recognizing how it might affect your family is not service, it is selfishness. If your ministry frequently moves your children away from their friends and foundations, then how can you expect them to even like church when they are no longer required to attend?

  • Am I ready to leave well?

It doesn’t matter if you are leaving by choice or force…leave well. If you go out swinging when you leave here it will always follow you when you go there. So leave with Ephesians 4:29 on your lips: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

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Dec 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 26 2019

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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golfWhen the British colonized India in the 1820’s they also introduced the game of golf. A unique problem was quickly discovered, however, after building the first golf course in Calcutta. Monkeys in the trees surrounding the course would drop down, snag the golf balls from the fairways and then carry and drop them in other locations.

In response, officials tried building tall fences around the fairways and greens but the monkeys climbed right over them. Attempts to frighten them just seemed to amuse and entertain them. Workers even tried to capture and relocate the monkeys only to have others appear.

A stellar drive down the middle of the fairway might be picked up and dropped in the rough. A hook or slice producing a terrible lie might be tossed back into the fairway. So golfers quickly learned that if they wanted to play on this course they couldn’t always control the outcome of the game. Resilience finally helped the officials and golfers come up with a solution. They added a new rule to their golf games at this course in Calcutta…Play the ball where the monkey drops it.[1]

Resilience is also a great characteristic for worship leaders to learn and develop. It encourages recovery with grace instead of overreaction in anger when the service doesn’t go as intended. Resilience averts relational catastrophe when people don’t do or plans don’t go as well as we prayed and practiced for them to. Even though worship leaders have the responsibility to prepare with excellence they must also learn how to present with pliability since the outcome of the service is not really theirs to control.

So the next time the organist and pianist begin a song introduction in different keys; the next time the rhythm guitarist forgets to move his capo; the next time the tech team doesn’t turn on your microphone or forward the text to the next slide; the next time the soprano section comes in too soon; the next time your bass player misses the first service because he forgot to set his alarm; or the next time your pastor cuts a well-rehearsed song right before the service to provide more sermon time…Play the ball where the monkey drops it.

 

[1] Adapted from Tara Branch, “It’s Not What’s Happening, It’s How You Respond,” Life, HuffPost Plus. May 3, 2013. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/acceptance_b_3211053. (accessed Monday, August 27, 2019).

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Aug 7 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 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 10 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 26 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 17 2019

Childish Responses to Worship Change

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When the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest is in the kingdom of heaven, he responded by calling a little child and asking him to stand among them. Then he said, “Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest” (Matt 18:1-4).

When churches start discussing worship change the humble character of the congregants is often one of the first things to go. Character is the outward manifestation of our inward nature or qualities. It isn’t innate so it must be learned and practiced or it’s easily forgotten or ignored, especially when we don’t get our way. Character indicates who we really are even when conflict arises.

The character of children could help the rest of us remember and relearn some of those forgotten traits when we’re facing worship change that is not always our preference.

Wonder – Worship should cause us to be curious, fascinated, surprised and captivated. Children radiate these characteristics, we seldom do. Wide-eyed worship wonder has been replaced by the controlled and scripted. We are rarely wowed, amazed or awed. As adults we have transformed the wonder of God into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational.

Cooperation – Children learn early that always expecting to get your way, being a bully, not resolving conflict with kind words, not considering the needs of others and not seeing things from another’s point of view are not an option. When our worship practices move too quickly or not quick enough toward change we’ve forgotten how to share and play fair.

Tolerance – Children seem to have a higher capacity to accept differences than we do. They learn intolerance from us. Churches need to invert that practice. Worship intolerance is often manifested musically and stylistically. Tolerance doesn’t cause us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often asks us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.

Resilience – Resilience is that childhood elasticity that allows them to recover quickly from radical change. It’s the willingness to give things a try with an attitude of flexibility. Worship resilience averts relational and theological catastrophe through a culture of pliability. Pliability allows worshipers to weather change without getting bent out of shape.

When considering how we’ll respond the next time our worship changes we just need to be reminded what we once learned as a child. And when we do, it will certainly give us new meaning to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).

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Jun 5 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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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 1 2019

Take Courage Worship Leader…He Is Able!

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he is ableWhen worship ministry feels like being caught in the force of a riptide that pulls you away from the safety of shore; When the swift current regularly drags you under, rolls you on the sandy bottom, scratches up your elbows and knees and fills your swim trunks with sand; When it seems to take longer each time for the current to lose its strength, release you and allow you to swim to shore;

Remember to take courage in the assurance that He Is Able to do above and beyond all that you ask or think according to the power that works in you (Eph. 3:20).

Take Courage…

  • When no generation is ever really happy musically…He is able.
  • When your ministry shelf life is moving toward the expiration date because you are no longer young enough or trim enough…He is able.
  • When you are always a step behind musically, technologically and culturally…He is able.
  • When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning…He is able.
  • When you wish you served someplace, anyplace else…He is able.
  • When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave…He is able.
  • When no amount of rehearsal can make your group presentable…He is able.
  • When staff collaboration actually means silent obedience…He is able.
  • When needed change is never well received…He is able.
  • When you feel like no one is holding your rope as you start to slip…He is able.
  • When date night with your spouse is the worship team potluck…He is able.
  • When you feel like you are missing out on your children’s lives…He is able.
  • When you have been terminated for any or no reason…He is able.
  • When your creativity has been exhausted and burnout is causing you to coast…He is able.
  • When you don’t have the resolve to take care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally…He is able.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).

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Mar 25 2019

Is Serving as a Worship Leader Really Worth It?

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Several years ago, the website CNN Money posted a story titled:  Stressful Jobs that Pay Badly. The article listed fifteen of the most overworked and underpaid professions. Number 5 on the list…Music Ministry Director. The stress level of this position was only surpassed by jobs such as social worker and probation/parole officer.

Worship leaders live under a tremendous pressure to perform. The demands and stress of the position can lead to relational conflict, burnout, family crisis and even forced termination. At one time or another (or perhaps every Monday morning) all of us have asked the question…Is worship leading really worth it or should I consider doing something or anything else?

Is it really worth it…

  • When you’ll always sing too many or too few hymns or modern worship songs for someone?
  • When the only time available for family vacation is after the student choir mission trip, VBS and camps but before the fall ministry kick-off?
  • When you worry if your children will even like church when they are no longer required to attend?
  • When the Christmas season can’t begin for your family until after multiple programs and the Christmas Eve service?
  • When congregants upset with you take it out on your spouse and children?
  • When worship conversations circle around what people want, deserve, prefer or have earned?

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Yes, it is really worth it…

  • When one generation discovers that loving another generation more than they love their own musical preferences is an act of worship.
  • When the troubled teen that got involved in your student choir now serves as a worship leader.
  • When your grown children are faithfully serving in ministries and missions.
  • When Christmas programs break through those spiritual barriers like no previous services have.
  • When congregants realize that how they treat their leaders is also an act of worship.
  • When worship conversations circle around what God wants, deserves, prefers and has earned.

Let us lay aside every weight…and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross…for consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

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Feb 25 2019

Steeplejacking Worship

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steeplejackingSteeplejacking is a coined term that describes the attempt to infiltrate, influence and take-over an existing congregation. In the corporate world steeplejacking could be compared to a hostile takeover. It is often initiated by marginalizing what a congregation has done or is presently doing in order to coerce it into making radical changes.

It is irrefutable that adjustments to worship practices are often necessary as a church considers the cultures and contexts of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate some of those changes, leaders sometimes push to do anything different than what is being done presently. The consequence is those who have been around for a while feel as if they are losing the church they have known and loved. So even when change motives are pure, it still seems like their church is being steeplejacked.

Many of those congregational veterans are probably not that averse to all worship change but are just feeling sidelined as those changes are being considered without them. It seems to them that their opinions are no longer considered and their convictions are overlooked as antiquated. So their decades of blood, sweat, tears and tithes are facing foreclosure and eviction.

The automatic assumption is that worship change always requires incorporating something completely new. So churches are often good at asking revolutionary questions like, “What’s broken and how do we fix it?” But maybe they should also be asking reevaluation questions like, “What’s working and how can we do more of it?”[1]

A revolution forcibly overthrows an existing system or structure in order to substitute another. It replaces what presently exists without considering what might still hold value. And in a revolution one side always loses.

A reevaluation, however, examines something again. Reevaluation allows a congregation to consider change by rethinking, revisiting and reinvestigating. It systematically and selectively preserves valuable elements for re-use.

Prayerfully adding to existing worship practices instead of arbitrarily taking them away could allow churches to initiate needed changes without the unnecessary pain of steeplejacking. Then it’s possible those changes would be approached by all as an opportunity instead of a threat or a cause for celebration instead of a reason to despair.[2]

 

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

[2] Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through Change (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005),

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Feb 18 2019

Sunday Morning Karaoke

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karaoke

Karaoke singers are provided with a microphone, sound system and projected text for the purpose of imitating a familiar song originally recorded by a popular artist. They are even judged on how well (or poorly) they imitate the original artist and his or her songs.

Karaoke happens in our worship services too when we imitate the worship habits, methods, styles and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering our own gifts and calling or the calling and abilities of our players, singers and congregants.

Obviously, not all congregations are gifted with musicians who can create original songs and therefore must use the songs created by other artists and composers. The difference between using and imitating, however, is taking the time to interpret those songs through the lens of your own congregation.

Instead of imitating the worship style of other congregations, we should be trying to discover our own unique worship voice.[1] Finding the voice of a congregation is not just following a recipe for the success of other artists and congregations.

The voice of your congregation “is found by listening to its overtones. It is the voice heard and shared when the congregation prays together, eats together, cries and rejoices together. It is the voice heard and shared when a congregation works out its differences, blesses its children, buries its saints, and sings its carols of love and hope.”[2]

Sharing those events impacts the formation of the unique worship DNA of each congregation. So just imitating the worship voice of another congregation marginalizes those shared experiences for both the congregation who imitates and the one being imitated.

If God has entrusted us with the worship position and people to which He has called us, then imitating or mimicking other worship contexts marginalizes that calling. So is that really what God intended for us and the best we have to offer Him and His church?

 

[1] Constance Cherry, in Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 9.

[2] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation, 9.

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Jan 21 2019

Not Our Kind of People

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intercultural

Some of us can imagine our worship services filled with people of multiple colors, nationalities, economic levels and political beliefs all worshiping God together. The problem with that scenario is that most of us imagine how great that vision would be as long as those various cultures, tribes and tongues are willing to make adjustments to worship like we do.

Not in my style may really and truly mean not my kind of people, except when it comes time for the yearly youth group trip to Mexico. We are willing to go outside the church to diversify but failing miserably to do so within.[1] So why are we so ready to defer when we travel around the world but not across town or even across the aisle?

In chapter 7 of Revelation, the multitude of God’s people are standing before the throne of God sheltered by His presence. John’s vision of every tribe and tongue worshiping together as one is a heavenly prophecy of intercultural worship.

So if we aren’t meant to segregate as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so divided as we worship here on earth? Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Not much has changed since his original statement 50 years ago so maybe it’s time to try something beyond just adding a few ethnically diverse songs.

 

  1.  We must stop trying to fix it with music.

We believe music is a universal language just as long as everyone else lives in our universe. It’s impossible for intercultural worship to begin with a common musical style, so it must instead begin with a common biblical content. And when it does, music won’t get the blame for what only theology can fix.

  1.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

Ethnodoxologists encourage unity in the heart languages of those who are here and those who are not here…yet. Ethnodoxology looks beyond Americanism as having a corner on worship understanding and considers the vast work God is doing around the globe and across town.

  1.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

Mitch Albom wrote, “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” Our worship success will not be judged solely on how well we did it ourselves but also what conveniences we were willing to sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship so other tribes and tongues could do it too.

  1.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

Monoculture originated as an agricultural term that means the cultivation and growth of a single crop at a time. How can we expect to have intercultural worship on Sunday when we segregate monoculturally in everything else during the week?

  1.  We must have intercultural platforms.

Inserting the occasional international song is disingenuous when the people who lead those songs are homogenous. Harold Best wrote, “It is a spiritually connected culture that takes cultural differences, works through the tensions that they may create and comes to the blessed condition of mixing and reconciling them and of stewarding their increase and growth.”[2]

  1.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

Politicizing justice is the fear of losing control of something that was not ours to begin with, including the cultural preferences of our church. It is theologically incongruent to embrace cultural worship differences internationally while ignoring them domestically. American exceptionalism may be welcomed politically but it can’t be justified biblically. So worship that doesn’t act justly, love mercy and walk humbly by considering the voices of the marginalized is a worship God rejects.

 

 

[1] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 181.

[2] Ibid.

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Jan 7 2019

Jump in the Deep End

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Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression. So why do most worship conversations continue to circle back to a binary discussion of hymns and modern worship songs only?

Just considering those two worship options means we’re satisfied with our congregation swimming in the shallow end of the pool. We must, instead, be willing to educate, enlighten, and coax them into the deep end.

To go deeper we need to add the following to our worship vocabulary:

Worship is vertical, horizontal, meditative, reflective, sacrificial, celebrative, scriptural, prayerful, intergenerational, intercultural, global, local, personal, and corporate.

It’s theological, visual, tactile, iconic, aural, verbal, instrumental, artistic, dramatic, aesthetic, imaginative, spontaneous, painted, danced, quoted, recited, sculpted, read, dressed up, dressed down, scripted, printed, and filmed.

It emotes through confession, invocation, supplication, intercession, meditation, celebration, lament, thanksgiving, anger, sadness, contemplation, joy, grief, despair, hope, pain, amazement, surprise, happiness, sorrow, shame, regret, hurt, peace, relief, satisfaction, fear, and love.

It remembers symbolically and sacramentally as an ordinance or rite through Communion, Lord’s Supper, The Eucharist, and Baptism. Its prayers are fixed and spontaneous.

It remembers the past, impacts the present, and challenges the future. It serves by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly. It includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It gathers, exhorts, preaches, teaches, blesses, dismisses, and sends out. It is continuous. And it also plays and sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

If we are to expand our worship vocabulary it means every worship leader must become the lead mentor and lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, “There is more, far more.” Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep.[1]

 

[1] Harold M. Best, “Authentic Worship and Artistic Action,” an address to the Calvin Institute of Worship, 2005.

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Dec 3 2018

Homegrown Worship Leaders

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baseballCongregations tend to plan and implement in the moment since Sunday comes every. single. week. So thinking about finding future players, singers, or even a primary worship leader is rarely a consideration…until a vacancy occurs.

Player development is what Major League Baseball calls the grooming of younger, less advanced players in their minor league system. The so-called farm teams provide mentoring, training, coaching, and practical experience for younger players with the expectation that as a player matures he will advance to a higher level of play and responsibility.

The genius of the farm system is that players get better by playing regularly in smaller venues instead of just waiting for an opening to play in the major leagues. So they are intentionally investing in younger players for the future of the team. A major league team with a weak farm system may have success for a time but will rarely carry that success into the future.

The value of worship player development is realized when a congregation attempts to fill a vacancy. What most find is that the pool of potential replacements out there is often very shallow. Those who are available are often unknown and don’t always resonate with the culture of the searching congregation.

Implementing a farm team model of developing younger, less advanced players from in here can offer a trusted and familiar resource pool for future players, singers, or primary leaders. And investing in those who already understand the culture, personality, worship language, and mission of your church has a greater potential for future success.

If churches want great worship leaders in the future, they must invest in not yet great worship leaders in the present. Imagine then, one of those congregations so effectively implementing this player development model that they are able to groom more worship leaders than they have places for them to serve. Then, imagine the Kingdom value of that congregation getting to farm-out those trained leaders to other congregations who were not as prepared to fill their own vacancies.

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Nov 21 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 22 2018

Feckless Love

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Feckless

Most worship leaders love using their creativity to lead worship. Creativity, however, can be a smoke screen for laziness. Sometimes a love for leading can be feckless, meaning it lacks the strength of character to move beyond creativity to hard work.

Feckless worship leaders love leading worship musically but don’t have the resolve to do the heavy lifting biblically, theologically, relationally and even physically. Consequently, they depend solely on their love for playing and singing on the platform and disregard diligence off the platform.

Thomas Edison said, “People don’t work hard because in their conceit, they imagine they’ll succeed without ever making an effort. Most people believe that they’ll wake up some day and find themselves successful. Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.”

Wilson Mizner said, “Work, work, work…the gent who wakes up and finds himself a success hasn’t been asleep.” So your love for leading may help you get that worship job but hard work is going to help you keep it.

Symptoms of feckless worship leaders

  • They spend more time searching files for previously used worship service orders than it would have taken them to create a new one.

 

  • Their song sets are determined exclusively by scanning CCLI’s Top 100, What’s Hot on Praise Charts or the Hymnal.

 

  • They aren’t willing to communicate in newer and older languages of chord charts and choir scores or hymns and modern songs even when the culture of their congregation calls for it.

 

  • They spend Monday through Thursday pondering their creativity but then have to scramble on Friday morning to actually harness it into a worship service for Sunday.

 

  • They imitate the worship sounds, habits, methods, styles, presentations and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering the unique voice of their own congregation.

 

  • They don’t see the need to attend conferences, read books, take additional lessons or dialogue with other worship leaders.

 

  • They don’t take the time to invest in the lives and ministries of younger leaders or train those who will come behind them.

“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.” Eleanor Roosevelt 

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Sep 19 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 10 2018

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

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Twenty things

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

  • Let’s select song keys with a comfortable singing range for the congregation.
  • The band is too loud when we can’t hear the congregation sing.
  • I love studying theology.
  • Let’s sing fewer songs this week to allow more time for Scripture and Prayer.
  • We’ve learned enough new songs for a while.
  • It’s time to learn some new songs.
  • I love my pastor and pray for him daily.
  • We don’t sing songs that aren’t biblically accurate or theologically sound.
  • I can’t do this on my own.
  • Please remain seated if that is more comfortable for you.
  • I am interested in what everyone else thinks.
  • No, that is my family time.
  • That’s too pretentious.
  • Let’s get some feedback from the senior adults.
  • We need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.
  • Instead of making changes, let’s get better at what we are already doing.
  • It’s Monday and the worship service is already planned.
  • I never want what I wear to distract or detract from worship.
  • I love it when the house lights are up so I can see their faces.
  • Not every great worship song is great for congregational singing.
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Aug 20 2018

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

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memoryNostalgia is sentimental remembrance of previous times or significant events that continue to stir happy or meaningful personal recollections. It can be a healthy time of reflection as long as its primary purpose is to remind how the past laid the foundation for the present and future. If, however, those remembrances result in an excessive yearning and compulsion to return to the “good old days,” then nostalgia may be killing your church.

The word nostalgia is derived from the two Greek words: nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. The medical professionals who coined the word in the late 18th century were describing an emotional and physical condition, not the current meaning of wistful thoughts of earlier times. In its original definition, nostalgia was viewed as a crippling condition that rendered sufferers incapacitated by despair or intense homesickness.[1]

Nostalgia was considered a legitimate reason for voluntary release from military service even until the 1860’s. If a soldier became too overwhelmed by thoughts of home or the life he left behind, his abilities for service could be compromised.

Nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort. But too much can have a negative effect perpetuating the belief that an earlier time is preferable to present day conditions. Getting caught up in feelings about a more ideal past can make the present seem unfulfilling by comparison.[2]

Excessive nostalgia can cause a church to romanticize, idealize and even embellish the past in an effort to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past for future generations. Consequently, extending those previous practices can limit a congregation to its past performance, potentially killing its present and future efforts. The end result is a church that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the idealized emotions that were originally stirred.

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

  • Attempts are made to canonize one particular style or genre of music.
  • Conversations begin with Do you remember instead of Can you imagine.
  • An inordinate amount of time is spent planning and preparing reunions and anniversaries.
  • Much more time is devoted to protecting old practices than praying for and considering new ones.
  • Leadership vision seems to look in the rearview mirror for the way things used to be instead of out the window for the way things could be.
  • Budgets are absorbed on the physical and organizational institution without considering its mission.
  • Leaders are selected or dismissed according to how they can best represent and perpetuate the past.
  • Resurrecting or recreating older actions to reflect former generations always takes priority over newer actions to impact future generations.

Nostalgically designing the vision, practices, procedures and future of your church to replicate the Good Old Days usually succeeds in getting it half right…it is old.

 


[1] Adapted from http://www.wisegeek.org

[2] Ibid.

 

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Aug 13 2018

Why Worship Leaders Should Get A Real Job

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jobNow that I have your attention, leading worship is indeed a worthy calling and vocation that requires preparation, education and skills. And yes, it is a real job. But what if opportunities were no longer available for you to lead worship vocationally?

What if you needed to voluntarily or were forced involuntarily to step aside from vocational worship leadership for an interim or extended period of time? Or if you’re a student preparing for vocational worship ministry, what if you don’t immediately land a position after graduation? What would or could you do in these instances to provide for your family while still responding to God’s call? Some of us have found ourselves in similar situations only to realize we are not trained or are not training to do anything else.

Statistics show that 95% of churches average 350 or less in worship and that 75-80% of those churches average 150 or less. Forced terminations, unhealthy staff relationships and ageism are all unfortunate realities. Church planting movements have amplified the need for additional volunteer and part time worship leaders. And even larger, more established congregations are no longer realizing the need for full-time worship and music staff as they try to stretch their financial resources to accommodate their various generational, cultural, ethnic and multisite needs.

With those statistics in mind, the present and future reality seems to indicate that the need for full-time music and worship leaders is on the decline. In other words, it appears there are and will continue to be more prepared full-time leaders than full time places for them to serve. So reality dictates that while preparing for worship leadership we should also be learning additional marketable skills.

For this to occur, we must first acknowledge that a call to bivocational ministry is not a mediocre calling but is in fact a call to full-time ministry that just happens to occur not only when we gather at church but also when we disperse to the marketplace. We must also encourage our Christian colleges and seminaries to more actively challenge students preparing for worship ministry to also learn other vocational skills. We must agree that it is never too soon or too late to learn something new. And we must affirm that learning an additional skill doesn’t compromise our calling but in fact enhances it by allowing us to communicate in other worship languages beyond choirs and chord charts.

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Jul 30 2018

Worship Tourists or Travelers?

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touristsAre we worship tourists or travelers?

Travelers willingly immerse themselves in cultures even when they are 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.

Tourists 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.

Tourists go where the map takes them, are there to experience the sites, aren’t willing to stray from their native language and always ask “what’s in it for me.”

Travelers 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.”

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

So what if we approached worship as travelers on a continuous journey instead of tourists visiting a site for pleasure?

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Jul 9 2018

Jumping Off Worship Bandwagons

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bandwagonThe 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.

During the 19th 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.

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 iTunes 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. So instead of encouraging spirit and truth worshipers it creates liturgical lemmings.

Congregations often need to and should be making regular worship adjustments. And some of those changes might actually include the latest songs, styles or technological tools. But instead of immediately jumping on the newest worship bandwagon because it seems like everyone else is, congregations should instead discern and determine their worship adjustments through praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together and then singing their song sets together.

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