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 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 28 2019

50 Worship Leader Self-Evaluation Questions

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As worship leaders we sometimes don’t consider evaluating our own leadership until we receive complaints about something we are or aren’t doing or singing. Consequently, when those criticisms occur our responses are usually defensive rather than corrective.

Self-evaluation is preventive and proactive rather than defensive and reactive. So in order to avert or deter an unfavorable assessment from others, we should first ask some hard questions of ourselves. The following list of self-evaluation questions is not an exhaustive one but hopefully a place to begin.

  1. Are the services I plan and lead usually easy to follow or are they more often disorganized and disjointed?
  1. Am I planning worship each week for the congregation I’ve been called to lead or one I wish I had been called to lead?
  1. Are my verbal instructions and transitions ad-libbed and verbose or prepared and succinct?
  1. Am I encouraging passive worshipers by leading worship for them instead of with them?
  1. Do the people I put on the platform adequately represent the cultural, generational and spiritual characteristics of our congregation?
  1. Is my primary consideration for selecting worship team members musical or spiritual?
  1. Are the songs I lead on the platform evident in the life I lead off the platform?
  1. Am I selecting or not selecting songs and styles just because I personally like or don’t like them?
  1. Do I select song keys to intentionally encourage congregational participation or just to complement my own vocal range?
  1. Are the songs I select theologically sound and biblically accurate?
  1. Are any of my artistic, visual, verbal or musical expressions contrived or distracting? 
  1. Do I convey that worship starts and stops with our opening and closing songs?
  1. Do I begin worship planning each week with song titles or Scripture and prayer?
  1. Besides the latest songs, am I learning anything new?
  1. Since Sunday isn’t usually a Sabbath for me, when am I taking one?
  1. Do I ask how something might impact my family before asking how it might impact my worship leading?
  1. Have I surrounded myself with those who can protect me from my own stupidity?
  1. Am I spending a lot of time worshiping privately before leading worship publicly?
  1. Does always highlighting my playing and singing sometimes imply I don’t really care whether the congregation is singing or not?
  1. Do I wake up every morning feeling unqualified in my own power to do what God has called me to do?
  1. Am I taking care of myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and relationally?
  1. Have I gotten in the habit of using worship service prayer as a segue for musical elements instead of a divine conversation?
  1. Do I ever welcome divine interruptions in my service planning and leading?
  1. Am I casting vision for the future without denigrating the past?
  1. Do I determine the worship language of my congregations based on how I might appear to my worship leading friends?
  1. Am I able to worship when I’m not the primary leader?
  1. Is worship leading a calling for me or just convenient?
  1. Am I leading worship just because I don’t know how to do anything else?
  1. Am I making a conscious effort to pour into younger leaders or am I just trying to protect my territory?
  1. Am I threatened when someone on the team plays or sings better than I do?
  1. Am I depending on my musical skills alone to do what it’s only possible for God to do?
  1. Do I act like a gatekeeper by holding my congregation captive to my favorite worship styles and musical preferences?
  1. Does it seem like the services I plan tend to place more focus on the creative or the Creator?
  1. Am I spending more of my time developing my musical skills or my relationship skills?
  1. Do I find myself coasting or faking it more and more often?
  1. Am I approachable, available and accountable?
  1. Am I more concerned with playing right notes than having right relationships?
  1. Does it seem like I’m more of a cheerleader than a worship leader?
  1. Is it evident from my worship responses that I’m no longer amazed by God’s revelation?
  1. Does my leading lean toward manipulation instead of exhortation?
  1. Do I always seem to disappear when it’s time to set up or tear down?
  1. Am I showing up to rehearsals unprepared?
  1. Do I treat the worship team like backup musicians?
  1. Do I ever use my artistry and busyness as an excuse for laziness and lateness?
  1. Am I coasting at the first of the week causing me to scramble at the end of the week?
  1. Is the worship I’m leading challenging our congregation to be doers or just hearers?
  1. Am I regularly praying for and with those I lead?
  1. Are the songs I’m selecting giving our congregation an opportunity for celebration and contemplation?
  1. Do I offer a healthy balance of both familiar and new songs?
  1. Is it evident to others that I’m as much of a worship leader on Monday as I was on Sunday?
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Oct 23 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 16 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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8.

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10.

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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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Oct 2 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 25 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 23 2019

Less Scripture to Sing and Preach More

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Minimizing the public reading of Scripture in our services of worship may be unwittingly conveying a lack of trust in the very Word we claim as foundational to that worship. When we read less so we can sing and preach more we may actually be implying that a higher level of credibility is found in our exhortation or musical expression of the Word than the very Word itself.

John Frame offers two truths that highlight the value of God’s Word in our worship: “First, where God’s Word is, God is. We should never take God’s Word for granted. To hear the Word of God is to meet with God himself. Second, where God is, the Word is. We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends His Word.”[1]

In earlier centuries wooden warships carried cannons as a primary weapon of offense. These massive weapons were mounted on rollers and secured with rope to avoid damage from their tremendous recoil. A loose cannon was one that broke from its safety restraints, potentially causing serious damage to the ship and its crew.

Reading biblical text less just so we’ll have time to sing or preach more may be compromising the theological moorings protecting us from loose canonical drifts that can compromise our worship services.

Scripture must indeed be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and the Table. But it must also be read publicly by men, women and children of various generations and cultures and allowed to stand on its own without us trying to prop it up with our own contrived words.

When biblical text is foundational instead of supplemental it will organically yield our sermons and songs instead of just serving as fertilizer for our own language. Then our congregants will be better equipped to leave in here worship with that text in their hearts and on their lips for continuous worship out there.

 

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

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Sep 16 2019

Worship Manager or Worship Leader?

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None of us alone have enough creativity or endurance to manage intergenerational and intercultural worship services week after week, year after year, with the same level of spiritual depth and creative tenacity each and every time.

So if you alone are trying to manage worshipers instead of lead them, you alone might receive all of the credit when something works. But you alone will also receive all of the credit when something doesn’t work. Trying to manage worship will eventually kill you and the worship of your congregation. Both may be slow deaths, but still terminal. Check out these comparisons to see where you’re landing.

 

A Manager acts as a gatekeeper by holding a congregation captive to style, traditionalism, form and structure.

A Leader understands that worship can’t be contained in one artistic expression, vehicle of communication, style, culture or context.

 

A Manager holds worship in check by retaining the power to make all decisions in order to influence results.

A Leader leverages available resources by tapping into the creative abilities of all in the planning, preparation and implementation of worship.

 

A Manager starts and stops worship.

A Leader continues worship.

 

A Manager does to.

A Leader does with.

 

A Manager prepares worshipers for Sunday events.

A Leader prepares worshipers for daily responses.

 

A Manager focuses on the institution.

A Leader focuses on the mission.

 

A Manager weighs the value of each team member.

A Leader creates value in each team member.

 

A Manager informs.

A Leader influences.

 

A Manager is autonomous.

A Leader is collaborative.

 

A Manager builds systems.

A Leader builds relationships.

 

A Manager imitates.

A Leader innovates.

 

A Manager instructs.

A Leader coaches.

 

A Manager creates goals.

A Leader casts vision.

 

A Manager sticks with how worship has worked.

A Leader works with how worship is stuck.

 

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Sep 9 2019

Fake Worship in the Dark Night of the Soul

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Congregations are to be commended for their quick response when catastrophic events occur around the world. Where many of those congregations have fallen short, however, is in the realization that individuals in their gathered worshiping congregation are also suffering every Sunday through events that are impacting them just as catastrophically.

My wife and I had been married about five years when we began trying to start a family. We knew it wasn’t unusual that we were unable to conceive in those first few months. But as those months stretched to years we began to ask God why we too couldn’t be parents. Most of our friends already had a couple of children so why couldn’t we? So we went through all of the invasive and often clinical processes of an infertility workup.

Finally after four years of testing and prodding we were able to conceive. We were elated but also cautiously optimistic since it had taken so long for us to get to this place. And since church people didn’t talk publicly about things like this we decided to only tell our parents until we got beyond the first trimester. But in our physician visits prior to that marker our doctor wasn’t able to detect a heartbeat indicating we would miscarry shortly after that.

We were devastated and couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t allow us to be parents. Since not many people knew, we felt like we were walking through those dark days alone. Were we unworthy? Did he not trust us? Wouldn’t we make good parents? Hadn’t we been faithful in our service to him? Is there something we had or hadn’t done to deserve this?

The Sunday following our miscarriage I still had to suck it up and lead worship even though I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t really believe those songs I was leading even though I had to lead them as if I did. That day I agreed with Jesus as he quoted the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:2)?

The 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic Priest, Saint John of the Cross referred to seasons such as this as The Dark Night of the Soul. Even Mother Teresa wrote, “I am told God lives in me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”[1]

When our congregants are hurting we have actually conditioned them to fake their worship responses through happy songs, up-beat sermons and clichéd platitudes. So we are implying to them that a positive façade is somehow more worshipful and less threatening to God and their faith.

But authentic worship is the freedom without stigma to publicly admit that we can’t handle the circumstances and struggles of life alone. And what better place should there be to surface anger and hurt than with a gathered worshiping congregation you can trust? Admitting to God and others that we can’t do this on our own is in itself a profound act of worship.

Public worship actions that convey to those struggling with sorrow, anger or grief that all is well with everyone here except them is fake. Honest worship can’t ignore the darkness occurring in their lives. For if those people are expected to walk through those dark seasons alone and outside of the gathered worshiping congregation, how can we expect them to walk with that gathered worshiping congregation once they reach the other side?

 

[1] David Scott, The Love That Made Mother Teresa (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 107-113.

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Sep 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 3 2019

Worship Leader and Worship Team Relational Contract

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A relational contract is a voluntary agreement between two or more parties that clarifies the expectations of their association in order to diminish conflict, encourage unity, inspire trust and foster mutual accountability.

What if worship leaders and worship teams planned, prepared and presented worship with a relational contractual agreement as one of the foundational components of their leadership? Can you imagine the worship health potential this could offer your congregation?

Unfortunately, this type of worship leading relationship sometimes doesn’t occur because leaders often function as independent contractors reliant on their own strength, ability, methods, processes and talent.

Implementing a relational contract will require a level of sacrifice and trust that is not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. It could serve as a useful guide to hold each other accountable to the unified goal of fulfilling and helping each other fulfill the mission of your church. But it will obviously never occur unless and until all parties are willing to embrace it.

Worship Leader/Worship Team Relational Contract

In an effort to more effectively lead, exhort, teach and model healthy worship, we as the primary worship leaders agree to adhere to the following relational guiding principles. We understand that the worship of our congregation will never be completely healthy until our relationship as its leaders is also healthy.

______________________, Worship Leader

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

We agree that we will…

  • Maintain a collaborative spirit that supports all of our worship gifts as complementary, not competitive.
  • Publicly and privately acknowledge the value of our unique callings, leadership styles, gifts and competencies.
  • Listen as often as we speak.
  • Partner in leading and teaching worship that moves beyond musical style alone to deeper biblical and theological content.
  • Communicate our disagreements in private without fear of retribution.
  • Make every effort to be approachable, available and accountable to each other.
  • Affirm in public; correct, instruct, coach and mentor in private; and pastor each other at all times.
  • Sacrifice individually for the sake of the body corporately.
  • Initiate intentional significant conversations that include our hopes, dreams, goals, expectations, plans, concerns and evaluations.
  • Invest in the personal and spiritual development of each other with no ulterior motive.
  • Preserve loyalty, trust, morality, respect and friendship.
  • Work toward a common philosophy of worship and ministry.
  • Pray consistently for and with each other.
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Aug 28 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 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 12 2019

Worship Service Announcements: Information or Influence?

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Worship that occurs outside of the service is just as vital as worship that occurs inside. And yet, during our worship services we often announce those outside worship opportunities of ministry, service and justice on the fly. Little or no prayer or preparation is given to announcements that let the church know how they can be the church when they leave.

Most worship service announcements are necessary but not very profound. Maybe they’ve become the bane of our service flow because their focus is on information instead of influence.

Information is the sharing facts or data about something or someone. It may be timely and can lead to an increase in understanding or decrease in uncertainty but it doesn’t encourage commitment. Information is what we want people to know.

Influence, on the other hand, is the capacity to have an effect on the behavior or character of someone or something. It compels others to action, changes their opinions and instills passion. Influence is what we want people to do.

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

So if we want our worship service announcements to encourage our congregations to be doers and not just hearers, we must not just distill information but instill influence.

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Aug 7 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 31 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 24 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 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 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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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 22 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 15 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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May 6 2019

35 Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

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We are often good at considering worship details during the services but don’t always consider worship distractions before and after those services. We assume the theological depth of our worship will encourage first time visitors to return and even stay. And that might actually be true if they could ever see past our spatial and structural blind spots.

We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression. So in addition to evaluating sermons and songs, we should also evaluate our worship spaces and structures. Those first time guests are inevitably asking themselves questions about their worship service visits. If we ask those same questions preemptively before they visit, then maybe their answers will be positive ones when they actually do visit.

Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

  1. Was it easy for us to park?
  2. Was it clear where we were supposed to go once we parked?
  3. Was the building in good repair and were the grounds well kept?
  4. When were we first greeted, if ever?
  5. Did the attitude of the greeter make us feel welcome?
  6. Were we offered coffee and was it excellent, mediocre or bad?
  7. Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?
  8. Did it seem like people were happy to be there?
  9. Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?
  10. Was the restroom clean and odor free?
  11. Did we feel safe leaving our child in the children’s area?
  12. How did we figure out where to sit in the worship center?
  13. Did we feel conspicuous?
  14. Was the worship center seating comfortable?
  15. Was there enough light?
  16. Was the temperature at a comfortable level?
  17. Did anyone dress or look like us?
  18. How was the volume of the speaking and music?
  19. Did the leaders use language we didn’t understand?
  20. How was the service flow and pace?
  21. Did the service seem too long?
  22. Was the worship service order easy to follow or confusing?
  23. Was it easy to participate musically?
  24. Was the music presented with excellence?
  25. Was the music culturally relevant for us?
  26. Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?
  27. Did we feel welcome to participate in all worship elements?
  28. Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?
  29. Did any of the service elements make us feel uncomfortable?
  30. Did anything in the service distract us?
  31. Did we know what to do when the worship service was over?
  32. Did anyone speak to us after the service?
  33. Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?
  34. Did the leaders seem approachable?
  35. Will we come back based on our observations?
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May 1 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 24 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 15 2019

In Whom Are You Investing?

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I was challenged a couple of decades ago while attending a worship leadership conference to make a list of individuals who had intentionally taken the time to encourage me in my early ministry years. The clinician gave us time to complete our list and then asked, “Have you told those individuals how much you value that investment?” After returning home from the conference I drafted half a dozen thank you notes to send to those mentors I had listed. Paul Williams was on that list.

Nearly four decades ago I began my first full-time ministry position. Paul Williams served as a music and worship pastor in another church in our city. In my first week or two of ministry he stopped by my office and didn’t ask, but told me he was going to pick me up the following Saturday to attend a music workshop with him. This wizened sage of music and worship ministry (he was probably 40) invested in a 24-year-old worship beginner not for what he could get from me, but what he could offer to me.

My first ministry position was one of those learning experiences that many of us have endured in ministry. Paul knew the history of our congregation and the challenges I would face way before I figured it out. He never offered a lot of useless advice or platitudes when I was struggling to stay or questioning whether I missed God’s calling. He just became a friend who graciously listened, encouraged and was available every time I needed his wisdom.

Before Paul died in 2010 from complications of Acute Myelocytic Leukemia, he had served as Music and Worship Pastor for 35 years and then in 1992 began serving full-time as a lyricist, clinician and composer. Even though I moved to a different state, Paul continued to send me packets of his new music every few months with a humorous personal note of encouragement and a loving note to my family. I’m sure others received similar packets and notes from Paul since my relationship with him was not unique. He just had the ability to make each person feel that way. I’m not certain I’d still be in ministry today if Paul Williams hadn’t taken the time to help shape me then.

Investing in others means we make deposits of our time and talents so the return will be compounded for future withdrawals. Our success in worship ministry will not be judged just on how well we did it ourselves, but on how well we helped others do it too. So if we want great worship leaders to replace us in the future, then like my friend Paul we must invest in those not yet great worship leaders in the present.

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Apr 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 8 2019

Why Wouldn’t You Also Worship Then?

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Continuous worship is always easier when things are going our way. So it’s easy to worship when you have a job, a healthy family, a lovely home and financial security. But what about when the daily events of life threaten to consume you? If worship is continuous, why wouldn’t you also worship then?

Worship is our response to whom God is, what he has done and what he continues to do. His revelation is perpetual, meaning it doesn’t start and stop according to the various circumstances of life; therefore, our responses shouldn’t either.

So…

  • Even when the Sunday hymns, songs and sermons fall short with clichéd platitudes, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when it seems like everyone else is better off than you are, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when complaint or anger is the only response you can come up with, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when “why?” and “how long?” are the only things you can ask, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when your family is incomplete because of infertility and miscarriage, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when job loss, a broken marriage or health stress causes you to doubt God’s provision, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when depression or anxiety overwhelms you, why wouldn’t you worship?

Admitting to God that you can’t do these things on your own is in itself a profound act of worship. And worship that never addresses these issues is dishonest. If God expects that kind of worship and is not threatened by it, then neither should we be. So even when offering your worst is all you have left, why wouldn’t you worship?

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Apr 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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