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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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 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 17 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 19 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 12 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 29 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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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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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Mar 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 18 2019

Why Our Worship Service Songs Can’t Cause Worship

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Cause and Effect is a relationship in which a person, action or thing makes another thing, action or event occur. A cause must always precede an effect in order for that effect to occur. So the effect is then a consequence of the cause.

God’s revelation (cause) is when He offers us a glimpse of His activity, His will, His attributes, His judgment, His discipline, His comfort, His hope and His promises. Our response (effect) is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes premeditated reply to that revelation…worship.

A model for this cause and effect worship understanding is found in Isaiah 6:1-8. The holiness of God is revealed (cause) to the prophet Isaiah and his natural worship response is contrition (effect), “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5). God revealed his mercy (cause) and Isaiah’s worship response is service (effect), “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

If our worship responses are the effect, then it is not possible for those worship actions to also be the cause. What we sing or how we sing it can’t cause a response because it is the response. The cause…God’s revelation can’t be generated by the effect since the effect is a response to the cause. So as good as our various worship actions are, they still can’t cause worship to occur because those worship actions are the effect.

Our worship actions may prompt, remind, exhort, prod or encourage more effect but they can’t cause cause. We can acknowledge the cause but we can’t generate it. We can respond to the cause but we can’t initiate it. We can celebrate the cause but we can’t create it.

He has called us (cause) out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare (effect) His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father is seeking (cause) the kind of worshipers who worship (effect) in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God Causes…We Effect.

Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce (cause) worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods (effect), we can have the best possible liturgy (effect), but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit (cause) touches our spirit.[1]

 


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

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Mar 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 11 2019

But…We Like It Here

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Break Camp
Some churches are trying to reach the culture by offering a mediocre imitation of what that culture already has…usually a few notches below in quality or a few steps after culture has moved onto something else. But is impersonating the practices of a culture that doesn’t know what it needs to reach a culture that doesn’t know what it needs the best we have to offer? Maybe it’s time for some of our churches to break camp and Cross the Rubicon.

In 49 BC, Julius Caesar led a single legion of troops across the Rubicon River in order to make their way to Rome. This bold move was considered an act of insurrection since Roman generals were prohibited from bringing troops into the home territory of the Republic. If Caesar and his men failed to triumph, they would all be executed. The edge of the Rubicon is said to be the place where Caesar uttered the famous phrase, alea iacta est – the die is cast.

Caesar and his men determined that this point of no return was worth the risk. Their boldness ultimately protected Rome from civil war and also ensured the punishment for their actions would never be necessary. The idiom Crossing the Rubicon now refers to an individual or group willing to radically commit to a revolutionary and risky course of action when playing it safe won’t get the job done.

If churches want to fulfill the Great Commission they can no longer stay here when God has called them to go there, even when some still like it here. So as painful as it may be, they can’t let those who refuse to break camp here keep their church from going there even if it means leaving some here. Going there requires the entrepreneurial innovation of an artisan even when the routinized imitation of an assembly line worker is more certain and comfortable.

When churches commit together to break camp, go all in, refuse to retreat and cross their Rubicon they will then “speak to and among the surrounding culture in a voice so unique, authentic, and unified that it turns heads: ‘what was that? It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve never heard anything like that around here.’ Even though those responses from the culture will often come as ridicule, they might just as often come as inquiry. Either way…the church will be influencing culture instead of just reflecting it.”[1]

 

[1] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 39.

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Mar 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 4 2019

Worship Service with No Worship Service

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Service

Spending all our time and resources leading church services as an act of worship means we often neglect to lead our church in service as an act of worship. If our entire focus is on getting them to worship here, then we have nothing left to send them out to worship there. Serving others is the action we take to ensure the songs we sing when we gather are embodied when we scatter.

Serving as an act of worship means we are so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the worship service to end so we can actually get out there to share it.[1] This awareness means our singing is no longer focused just on consuming as we gather but offering as we disperse.[2]

Worship as service is often messy and not always comfortable since it can’t be contained in one location, context, culture, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. But worship comfort is not a biblical concept.

Worshiping here and worshiping there are both biblical and necessary if we are to faithfully respond to Jesus’ command to love God and love others. One can’t survive without the other. It doesn’t matter how good our worship songs and actions are in here, they are incomplete until they also impact how we serve out there. So we can’t just draw the blinds during the week and wait for the next Sunday if we want to respond to the work God is actually doing.[3]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 13.

[2] Ibid., 21-2.

[3] Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 71.

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Feb 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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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Feb 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 4 2019

Give Me A Break!

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Yoke
In 2005, a store called MinneNAPolis opened in Minnesota’s Mall of America. It rented comfy spots where weary shoppers could take naps for only 70 cents a minute. The new store included themed rooms such as Asian Mist, Tropical Isle and Deep Space. The walls were thick enough to drown out the sounds of the mall outside. The company’s website said, “Escape the pressures of the real world into the pleasures of an ideal one.” “It’s not just napping,” read the press release. “Some guests will want to listen to music, put their feet up, watch the water trickling in the beautiful stone waterfall, breathe in the positive-ionization-filtered air, enjoy the full-body massager and just take an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle.”

Sunday isn’t a day of rest for those of us with worship leading responsibilities. Some of us are probably wondering if we have enough in the tank to do it all again next week. So if Sunday isn’t our Sabbath, when is? Most worship team players and singers are volunteers with full-time jobs outside of their worship leading responsibilities. So they don’t have the freedom to take off the Monday after or Friday before Sunday like some of those in full-time ministry do. So if we don’t establish a regular rhythm of rotating players and singers in to allow them to catch their breath, then how can we expect them to lead others to a place they no longer have the spiritual, emotional or physical resolve to go themselves?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Offering permission for regular rhythms of rest means we are helping each other remove our self-made yokes.

The word rest in this passage is better translated as refreshment. As a college student I worked a couple of summers installing aluminum siding, screen rooms and even an aluminum swimming pool enclosure. The pool enclosure was installed around and over a pre-existing pool that was full of water. Screws driven into the structure with powered screw guns held the aluminum joists and panels together. Inevitably some of the screws fell into the pool. So it was my job to dive into the pool several times each day to retrieve those screws so they wouldn’t clog up the pool filter and drain system. I certainly understood that word rest for a few minutes in the July Oklahoma heat.

Refresh means to renew, revive or reinvigorate. Refreshment is not idleness, it isn’t exemption from responsibilities and it’s not laziness or a free pass. It is instead an intentional deep calming physical and spiritual peace. Isaiah also spoke of this kind of rest, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

Jesus wasn’t challenging us to do something he didn’t practice himself. He said, “Learn from me” (Matt 11:29). After feeding the five thousand he perceived that the crowd would try to come and take him by force to make Him King. The text says Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself to be alone (John 6:15). Indicating he had been there before. After John the Baptist was beheaded Jesus encouraged the disciples who had been working very hard and were grieving to “Come away by yourselves and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31).

It is evident in chapter 12 of Matthew that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, we aren’t. Chapter 11 ends with him reminding us take his yoke because it is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:29-30). A good yoke is formed to the shape of the neck of the oxen. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It is smooth, rounded and polished with no sharp edges so that no point will endure too much stress. When the yoke fits perfectly, the oxen can haul heavy loads for years and their skin will remain healthy, with no pressures sores. This text is a great reminder for us to lead worship with margins of recovery by bearing his yoke instead of those stressful burdens of our own making.

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Jan 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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