Jul 3 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 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 27 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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Jan 21 2019

Not Our Kind of People

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intercultural

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

  1.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

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

  1.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

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

  1.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

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

  1.  We must have intercultural platforms.

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

  1.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

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

 

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Nov 5 2018

3 Reasons Your Worship Isn’t Good

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What is good

Congregations are constantly trying to discover and create good worship. So they’ve expanded their song catalogs and adjusted their presentation methods in an effort to find a formula that accomplishes that goal. Some just bypass the heavy lifting altogether by imitating the worship practices of other congregations and call it good.

The minor prophet Micah faced similar challenges as he responded to the shallow worship practices evident in the lives of the religious leaders of his day. He vigorously condemned the dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship prevalent in Judah and Israel.

According to Micah, outward appearances indicated they thought their worship was good. But their worship character wasn’t consistent with what God calls good. So Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

3 Reasons Worship Isn’t Good

  • It doesn’t act justly

If someone says, “I love God, (an act worship) and hates his brother, (also an act of worship) he is a liar” (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).

Mark Labberton wrote, “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.”[1]

  • It doesn’t love mercy

Mercy is the willingness to sacrifice ones own interests for the greater worshiping good of the congregation. Merciful worship begins by surrendering or sacrificing for the sake of something or someone else. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go.

King David understood merciful worship as he responded to God’s command to build an altar so the plague on the people of Israel might be stopped (2 Sam 24:21). At no cost to David, Araunah offered his threshing floor, his oxen and even the wood from the oxen yokes for the burnt offering. The king replied, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).

  • It doesn’t walk humbly

We often take credit for instigating God’s presence by what we sing and how we sing it and call that good worship. In reality, God started the conversation, was present long before we arrived and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father seeks the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23).

Humble worship allows us to lay aside the unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”[2]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 22-23.

[2] Ibid., 170.

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Jun 25 2018

Patriotic Worship Idolatry

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patrioticI love, appreciate and revere my family. I am grateful I get to be their husband and dad. I think about them often and can’t imagine life without them. Our story is something I enjoy celebrating and telling others about every chance I get.

As a result of that gratitude, what if I used the worship service this Sunday just to exalt my family? So instead of worshiping the Father that day, what if I planned the entire service to celebrate and sing the praises of my family?

If idolatry is extreme devotion to anyone or anything that isn’t God, then replacing the cross with the American flag as the primary symbol of our worship can cause us to stray into idol territory. Christian worship is stepping into God’s story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. His story and our response to that story transcends Americanism.

So in the context of a patriotic worship service, we must be careful to ask whom or what we are worshiping when we sing, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.”

Harold Best wrote, “There is one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone – an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ.”[1] Best continued with, “All worship outside the worship of God through Christ Jesus is idolatrous.”[2]

We can still pay homage to our country and those who sacrificed so we can live freely without ignoring Christ who sacrificed so we might live eternally.

 


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

[2] Ibid., 163.

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Feb 26 2018

Worship Without Justice Is Dishonest

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justiceJustice has been culturally and religiously politicized as the involuntary redistribution of something we’ve earned or deserve. But its politicization is really just the fear of losing control of something that Scripture says was not ours to begin with. And that attitude is actually just the opposite of worship that offers our bodies as a living sacrifice.

Godly justice diminishes those political overtones by reminding me that loving my neighbor as I love myself is also an act of worship, even if my neighbor is not always lovely.

Amos criticized the shallow and even dishonest worship evident in the worship practices of the Israelites. They were more concerned about what they brought to their worship than where they took their worship. So Amos wrote, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Singing our songs to express our love for Jesus on Sunday without also expressing our love for others on Monday is at least disingenuous, if not dishonest. So it really means we are hungering for worship that isn’t leading us to have a heart for the hungry.[1]

God is looking for something beyond the activity of our worship at church, beyond our corporate expressions alone. God’s word constantly reminds us that we can’t say we love Him (worship) and ignore our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner and ignore the oppressed. Because when we do, our worship becomes a lie.[2]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 38.

[2] Ibid., 71.

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Jan 15 2018

Segregated Worship: Not Our Kind of People?

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Segregation
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Well not much has changed since his original statement over 50 years ago.

Most congregations welcome those who don’t look like them. All are welcome if or when they come. But they are still segregated because they’ve never made adjustments in order to be intentionally welcoming to those who don’t look like them. They might even imagine how great it would be if their church was filled with people of all colors, nationalities, economic levels, generations and even political ideologies. The impasse in this scenario, however, is that they imagine how great this could be as long as they are willing to worship the same way we do.

Why are we so accepting and accommodating of racial and cultural diversities when we do missions around the world but not across the aisle? Welcoming worship means we are willing to adjust culturally, contextually and systematically not only there but also here.

Welcoming worship is not just what we do when we gather on Sunday, it’s also who we are and how we treat others on Monday. Welcoming intentionally considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored. Welcoming worship agrees that, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31).

Welcome worship is passive
Welcoming worship is active

Welcome is occasional
Welcoming is frequent

Welcome is accidental
Welcoming is deliberate

Welcome is comfortable
Welcoming stretches

Welcome controls
Welcoming unleashes

Welcome waits
Welcoming initiates

Welcome tolerates
Welcoming embraces

Welcome hoards
Welcoming gives away

Welcome is preferential
Welcoming is sacrificial

Welcoming agrees that those who don’t look like us didn’t get less of the image of God. So welcoming worship loves, honors and praises the Father by loving all of those He loves. Could worship be any more profound?

If we are not meant to be segregated when we worship in Heaven,
then why are we so segregated when we worship on earth?

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Oct 4 2017

Songs When We Can’t Find the Words

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despairWhen we can’t possibly find the words, we are reminded that a text has been prepared for us. When disaster threatens to consume us, the psalmist has written words to express our deepest despair. When our hymns and songs fall short with clichéd platitudes, those songs framed in biblical text communicate for us.

So when we are faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant words of the Psalms.[1] When we ignore these emotions, we are communicating two messages: you must not feel that way, or you must not feel that way here.[2]

If authenticity is a goal of our worship, then we must honestly and publicly admit we don’t get it. We must honestly and publicly admit our hopelessness. We must honestly and publicly admit events can shake our faith. We must honestly and publicly admit that a façade of superficiality is disingenuous. We must honestly and publicly admit that not honestly and publicly admitting those feelings is dishonest. And we must honestly and publicly admit that God expects this language and is not threatened by it.

Martha Freeman writes, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us. There is comfort in those tears. They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[3]

 

[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1977): 22.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 15.

[3] Martha Freeman, “Has God Forsaken Us?” The Covenant Companion (November 2001): 8.

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Sep 18 2017

Worship with Room for Doubt

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doubtIf doubters are expected to resolve their doubts outside of our worship services, then why would they want to attend those worship services once they do resolve them. And if our public worship is not the place for that intimate soul and spirit transparency…where is?

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

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

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

Many of our congregations have been conditioned to believe it is somehow more spiritual to avoid rather than express doubts. But if some of the disciples could worship the risen Lord face to face and still doubt, then how can we expect not to. If our worship is truly authentic it must embrace and walk with the various seasons of people’s lives. Jesus came near when that occurred and so must we.

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Aug 14 2017

Songs That Teach and Admonish

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teach and admonishBy precept, example and experience, teaching proclaims or makes something known. It exhorts, exposits, affirms, corrects, advocates, instructs, responds and applies. Teaching communicates to us and through us.

Admonition urges us to do our duty. It reproves, advises and counsels. Admonition seeks to correct our thinking and right what is wrong to improve our spiritual attitudes. It instructs in order to re-direct our thoughts or actions.

According to Colossians 3:16, the Word impacts us deeply by implementing these principles through our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Our worship songs should teach and admonish us by quickening the conscience through the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God and devoting the will to the purpose of God.[1]

So if the worship songs we select aren’t complementing, resonating and emulating these same principles, we probably need to select different songs.

Songs That Teach and Admonish…
  • Connect the Word of God to the people of God.

Scripture is foundational, not supplemental to our worship songs. Consequently, we must always ask if our song text is theologically sound and if it affirms Scripture as central. The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed and we respond. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. So songs that do not contribute to this dialogue are songs we shouldn’t use.

 

  • Speak the Gospel.

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

 

  • Are easy to follow and understand.

If congregants can’t follow and understand our songs, then they will have a hard time being taught and admonished through them. We can’t be influenced and moved to respond to something that we can’t decipher. So archaic or colloquial text should be filtered and melodies should be evaluated for singability.

 

  • Are sung with integrity.

Songs that teach and admonish communicate biblically, theologically and doctrinally. So our songs must be sung externally from conviction that begins internally. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. Singing with integrity means our lives replicate the texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them.

 

  • Engage more than emotions.

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

 

  • Encourage action.

Songs that teach and admonish not only inspire us through hearing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Songs that teach and admonish should cause us to ask what we are going to change or do as a result of singing them. So singing our songs in here is not enough until they also impact who we are out there.

 

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

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Mar 13 2017

Not Our Kind of People: 6 Intercultural Worship Musts

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

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

3.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

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

4.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

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

5.  We must have intercultural platforms.

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

6.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

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

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Jan 23 2017

Improving Evangelical Curb Appeal in 2017

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curb appealMost potential homebuyers decide if they will check out the interior of a house or take it seriously as a home prospect based on its curb appeal…how it looks from the street. Statistics show that a positive curb appeal brings more people through the front door and gives them a healthy first impression. Conversely, poor curb appeal excludes certain people from looking further and those who actually do look will automatically discount its value.

We evangelicals lost much of our curb appeal in 2016. Instead of acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly we filled our social media news feeds and public conversations with religious condescensions and theological concessions. Consequently, the view from the street was that we were like the grouchy old man who constantly yelled “get out of my yard!”

There is value in healthy religiopolitical debates as long as those dialogues begin with biblical theology instead of political ideology. If, however, we continue to start with politics, then our curb appeal will depreciate even more and cause culture to drive on by in 2017 and beyond.

10 Ways We Lost Our Curb Appeal in 2016
  1. We united around what we were against rather than what we were for.
  2. Politics determined our theology.
  3. Formerly inclusive guardrails became exclusive litmus tests.
  4. We blurred the lines between commandments and amendments.
  5. We claimed theologically and philosophically to be racially diverse, yet still segregated relationally and practically.
  6. Politicism superseded evangelism.
  7. We no longer encouraged or even allowed critical thinking.
  8. Friendly fire contributed to our net loss.
  9. We hated the practices of culture more than we loved the people in it.
  10. We justified meanness in the name of guarding religious territory.
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Oct 24 2016

Stop It with All of the Happy Worship Songs!

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unhappyWorship Leader, if you really want congregants to be transparent, vulnerable and real in their worship, then stop it with all of the happy worship songs.

It’s not just inconsiderate…it is also dishonest.

A façade of musical superficiality may seem innocent and economical, but it is actually very costly. When we consume a steady diet of happy worship songs it alienates those of us who are suffering, broken, marginalized, angry, depressed or mourning. The appearance that all is well with everyone else in the worship service exacerbates our hopelessness instead of helping it.

One-dimensional singing about how happy we should be can condition us to believe it is more spiritual to avoid expressing our deep-seated emotions of grief and pain. Worship that never addresses those realities often communicates that we must not feel that way, or at least not here.

If you really want our worship to be authentic, then our singing must reflect authentic life. That reality means we need a safe venue to publicly cry out to God in despair as a therapeutic act of worship.

We are asking you to facilitate an atmosphere of acceptability and permission for us to voice our pain corporately. We are encouraging you to add songs to our repertoire that will help us sing our emotions of lost jobs, cancer, miscarriage, broken marriage, death and other dark nights of the soul. We are asking you to help us not just with our thanksgiving and praise but also our confession, contrition, petition, lament and yes, even our anger.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”

So Worship Leader, as our friend who cares…please help us to ask God why in our singing. It is not a language that He is threatened by so we shouldn’t be afraid of it either. In fact, our authenticity actually demands it.

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Nov 22 2015

Falling Up: Depression and Corporate Worship

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DepressionDepression affects 14.8 million American adults in any given year. 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by the age of 18. Based on these statistics, about 7 – 10% of our congregants are depressed on any given Sunday. If it’s not you individually, then it is a family member or friend sharing your pew or platform.

The 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic Priest, Saint John of the Cross referred to this season 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.”

We’ve conditioned our congregations through happy songs, sermons and clichéd platitudes to believe that a positive façade is somehow less threatening to God and our faith. So our public worship actions often convey to those struggling with depression that all must be well with everyone here except me.

Worship that never addresses those dark seasons is dishonest as it publicly communicates two messages: either you must not feel that way or, if you feel that way, you must do something about it somewhere else – but not here.[1]

Authentic worship is the freedom without stigma to publicly admit that we can’t handle the circumstances and struggles of life alone. Admitting to God and others that we can’t do this on our own is in itself a profound act of worship.

So if our Sunday worship is to be truly authentic, it can’t ignore the arid darkness occurring in the lives of those with whom we worship. If congregants are expected to walk through those dark seasons outside of the gathered worshiping body, how can we expect them to walk with that gathered worshiping body once they reach the other side?

Martha Freeman wrote, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us. There is comfort in those tears. They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[2]

 

[1] Walter Brueggeman, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 15.

[2] Martha Freeman, “Has God Forsaken Us?” The Covenant Companion (November 2001): 8

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Sep 28 2015

Worship Understanding from Pope Francis

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justicePope Francis returned to Rome Sunday evening after spending nearly a week in America. He challenged our people, our religious leaders, our political leaders and even world leaders to break out of autogenous cycles of paralysis. His challenge was to use our power to heal the open wounds of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution. In other words, when we do justice that honors God it is an act of worship.

The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship much in the same way 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).

Politicizing justice is really just the fear of losing control of something that Scripture says is not ours to begin with. Godly justice as worship diminishes the political overtones through the realization that loving my neighbor as I love myself is an act of worship.

Justice as worship is not just what we do in here on Sunday, it is who we are out there during the week. It intentionally considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored and affirms that, “He oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).

Mark Labberton wrote extensively about the relationship of justice and worship in his book The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice. The following quotes are taken from that book.

 

“Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it.”[1]

 

“Worship can name a Sunday gathering of God’s people, but it also includes how we treat those around us, how we spend our money, and how we care for the lost and the oppressed.”[2]

 

“What is ironic and especially pertinent is that many debates about worship are just indirect ways of talking about ourselves, not God. Our debates can readily devolve into little more than preference lists for how we like our worship served up each week. It’s worship as consumption rather than offering; it’s an expression of human taste – not a longing to reflect God’s glory.”[3]

 

“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. We are asleep. Nothing is more important than for us to wake up and practice the dangerous act of worship, living God’s call to justice.”[4]

 

“The real crisis over worship, in the history of the church and perhaps especially today, is this: will God’s people wake up to worshiping God in such a way that we demonstrate we are awake by loving our neighbor in God’s name?”[5]

 

“The world is meant to see and know something about God through the lives and actions of faithful worshipers. As we live out, carry forth, and demonstrate in character and action the life of the One we worship, they see God.”[6]

 

“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?”[7]

 

“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.”[8]

 

“The God we seek is the God we want, not the God who is. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be.”[9]

 

“Our central lie is in the discrepancy between the language of worship and the actions of worship. 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.”[10]

 

“The white, middle-class American church especially seems to be asleep to these things, which Scripture says matter most to God. We rancorously engage in worship wars that have more to do with form and our quest for cultural relevance than with our desire to be conformed to the life, character and actions of Jesus Christ.”[11]

 

“In the documentary movie Mother Teresa, a priest who had known Teresa from her early days as a nun says, ‘People say Mother Teresa went to Calcutta and was moved by the plight of all those in need and felt called to respond. That was not it! She knew the love of Jesus, and it was specifically because of that love that she responded as she did.’ Worship changed her, and the consequences changed the world.”[12]

 

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 21-2.

[4] Ibid., 22-3.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Ibid., 37.

[7] Ibid., 38.

[8] Ibid., 51.

[9] Ibid., 66.

[10] Ibid., 71.

[11] Ibid., 188.

[12] Ibid., 77.

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Jun 1 2015

Worship and the Racial Divide

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

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

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

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

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen’” (Revelation 7:9-12)!

If we are not meant to be segregated as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so segregated as we worship here on earth? How can we expect to have multicultural worship on Sunday when live monocultural lives the rest of the week? Monoculture originated as an agricultural term that means the cultivation and growth of a single crop at a time. According to church statisticians, that monocultural definition fits almost 90% of congregations nationwide.

Harold Best wrote, “It is a spiritually connected culture that takes cultural differences, works through the tensions that they may create and comes to the blessed condition of mixing and reconciling them and of stewarding their increase and growth.”[2]

So instead of trying to elicit multicultural worship by adding a few ethnically diverse songs on Sunday, what if we instead tried to intentionally live multicultural lives during the week? Couldn’t first learning to love, respect, understand and defer to each other outside of the worship service impact our worship inside the service as well?

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

 


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

[2] Ibid.

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Jan 5 2015

Open Letter to Modern Worship Music Haters

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hatersDear Modern Worship Music Hater,

The 7-11 modern worship song moniker that might have been humorous two decades ago is no longer funny or accurate. Using all-encompassing labels to denigrate newer songs indicates you haven’t recently read the text of many of those songs.

CCLI now contains over 300,000 worship songs and hymns. If some of those songs are theologically superficial, then don’t use them. After eliminating the shallow ones you’ll still have a couple of hundred thousand songs with profound theological depth that can be used. If you still feel the need to use derogatory labels for songs with repeated phrases, then at least be consistent by including How Great Thou Art since those 4 words are repeated 17 times in that 4-stanza hymn.

Criticism of one in order to elevate another often has the opposite effect. So trying to defend hymns by vilifying modern worship songs is not fair to those beloved hymns that have helped and continue to help us sing our faith. If hymns can’t stand on their own, then we shouldn’t be singing them. If, however, they can stand on their own as many of us believe they can, then they don’t really need our feeble attempts to prop them up. They will endure in spite of our criticisms or defenses.

Is it possible that defending hymns by criticizing modern worship songs is really just an act of self-defense? Labeling modern worship songs as shallow or too easy are the same epithets used to denigrate that new girl in the middle-school classroom. Both disparagements are desperate attempts to guard territory or protect status.

So it’s time to honestly admit that your disdain is primarily musical or emotional, not theological. It’s time to admit that you just don’t really like modern worship songs and are lamenting the loss of a life-long musical and textual encourager. And it’s time to admit you are missing worship service opportunities to sing familiar texts and tunes that allow you to express your joy and grief.

Honestly voicing those emotions as the root of your disdain instead of labels and ad hominem criticisms is really where the conversation should begin. When the discourse begins here, it’s time for those of us from all genres to acknowledge that your emotions are understandable and even defendable.  Maybe those honest and heart-felt conversations could be the starting point to help us all find worship common ground.

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Dec 29 2014

15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

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regrets

15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

1.     Dividing congregations along age and affinity lines.

2.     Eliminating choral expressions in worship.

3.     Worship leader ageism.

4.     Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.

5.     Making worship and music exclusively synonymous.

6.     Trying to recreate worship with each new generation.

7.     Ignoring the Christian Calendar and adopting the Hallmark Calendar.

8.     Worshiping like inspiration stopped with the hymnal. 

9.     Worshiping like inspiration started with modern worship songs.

10.   Not providing a venue for creatives to express their art as worship.

11.   Allowing songs about God to supersede the Word of God.

12.   Elevating gathered worship above dispersed worship.

13.   Setting aside traditionalism around the world but not across the aisle.

14.   Worshiping out of Nostalgia or Novelty.

15.   Worship services at the expense of worship service.

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Aug 3 2014

Worship That Shocks Culture

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culture shockImpacting culture in and through our worship will require the church to take risks. It will require entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation. And it will require leaders and congregants to become artisans instead of assembly line workers.

The Department for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation drafted an extensive statement in a 1996 response to the contemporary challenges of worship and culture. They wrote, Christian worship relates dynamically to culture in at least four ways. First, it is transcultural; second, it is contextual; third, it is counter-cultural; and fourth, it is cross-cultural.[1]

Worship Is Transcultural

We worship the resurrected Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We know the grace of God transcends and indeed is beyond all cultures. In the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus we witness the transcultural nature of Christian worship. There is one Bible translated into many tongues.

Christian worship is universal through acts of worship such as the people of God gathering and proclaiming the Word of God; congregants interceding for the needs of the Church and the world; worshipers participating in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism and then through the sending of those worshipers out into the world. The centrality of these transcultural elements promotes a sense of Christian unity and gives all churches a solid basis for contextualization.

Worship Is Contextual

Jesus whom we worship was born into a specific culture of the world. The mystery of his incarnation is the model and mandate for contextualization of Christian worship. God can be and is encountered in the local cultures of our world. Various cultural values can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship as long as they are consistent with the values of the Gospel. Contextualization is necessary for the Church’s mission in and to the world so that the Gospel can be deeply rooted in diverse cultures.

Contextualization respects the fundamental values and meanings of both Christianity and local cultures as long as the biblical, theological and historical foundations of Christian worship are preserved.

Worship Is Counter-Cultural

Jesus Christ came to transform all people and all cultures and calls us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

Some components of all cultures are sinful, dehumanizing and contrary to the values of the Gospel. Counter-cultural worship challenges oppression and injustices wherever they exist in earthly cultures. It also transforms cultural patterns that idolize self or the local group at the expense of a wider humanity.

Worship Is Cross-Cultural

We worship a Jesus who came to be the Savior of all people. He welcomes the treasures of earthly cultures into the city of God. Worshiping across cultural barriers helps enrich the whole Church and strengthens the community of the Church. This sharing can be ecumenical as well as cross-cultural as a witness to the unity of the Church through the Gospel. Care should be taken that the music, art, architecture, gestures, postures and other elements of different cultures are understood and respected when they are used by churches elsewhere in the world.[2]

Terry York and David Bolin wrote, “Congregations must 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.”[3]

 


[1] Adapted from Statements on Worship and Culture, Lutheran World Federation, accessed online from Lift Up Your Hearts http://www.worship.ca/.

[2] Ibid., The four subheadings and selected texts were adapted from the online resource.

[3] 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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Jul 22 2014

10 Ways the Evangelical Church Has Lost Its Curb Appeal

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curb appealMost potential homebuyers decide whether or not to check out the interior of a house or take it seriously as a home prospect for their family based on its curb appeal…how it looks from the street. Statistics show that a positive curb appeal brings more people through the front door and gives them a healthy first impression. Conversely, poor curb appeal excludes certain people from looking further and those who actually do look will automatically discount its value.

Whether the perception from culture is justified or not, their view from the street is that we in the evangelical church are like the grouchy old man who is constantly yelling, “Get out of my yard!” Religiosity topics we assume as absolutely necessary to the Christian debate such as Calvinism vs. Arminianism; Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism; Republican vs. Democrat; Traditional vs. Contemporary; Conservative vs. Moderate; Mega-Church vs. Micro-Church; Connectional vs. Missional; and even Organ vs. Guitar are all contributing to our poor cultural curb appeal.

The Evangelical Church is losing ground with culture when we spend an inordinate amount of our time publicly debating issues that in the end won’t really matter. There is value and even necessity for healthy biblical, theological, doctrinal and even historical debate. But if those debates continue to depreciate our curb appeal and cause culture to drive on by, then maybe it’s time to consider a home makeover.

10 Ways The Evangelical Church Has Lost Its Curb Appeal

  • We unite around what we are against rather than what we are for.
  • Dogma instead of the church is now at the top of our organizational chart.
  • Those formerly inclusive guardrails are now exclusive litmus tests.
  • We have blurred the lines between commandments and amendments.
  • We claim theologically and philosophically to be racially diverse, yet still segregate practically and relationally.
  • Fundamentalism has become our primary method of evangelism.
  • We no longer encourage or even allow critical thinking.
  • Friendly fire is contributing to our net loss.
  • We appear to hate the practices of culture more than we love the people in it.
  • We are justifying meanness in the name of guarding religious territory.
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Mar 30 2014

Put Worshipers In Their Place

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third place

We are losing ground if we exhaust all worship resources preparing and leading church services as worship while neglecting to prepare and lead the church in service as worship. Our worship leadership success will never be completely realized until we can say, “worship has left the building.”

If those of us who lead gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place Sunday worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.[1]

When writing about building relationships in social environments, Ray Oldenburg outlined various places where we connect with others in society. He calls the first place a person’s home and family. The second place is the workplace or school, where people may actually spend most of their time. And the third place is an informal location that is always welcoming and comforting.[2]

Can you imagine what could occur in that hour on Sunday if worshipers learned how to worship in those other places the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week? Harold Best wrote, “Because God is the Continuous Outpourer, we bear his image as continuous outpourers.”[3]

Worship leaders…we must teach them, lead them, exhort them and model for them how we can worship not only when we meet but also when we disperse. Neither should be minimized, as both are indeed places for worship. The divide, however, is when we expend all resources on our weekly gathering and have nothing left for what should be a daily occurrence.

Worshiping in other places should never require us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but will often require us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically. When worship occurs in those other places it is no longer just what we do in here but also who we are out there. Then what occurs in here on Sunday is an overflow of what has already occurred out there during the week.

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). 

 


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

[2] Ray Oldenburg, The great good place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts At the Heart of A Community (New York: Marlowe,1999).

[3] Best, Unceasing Worship, 23.

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Nov 24 2013

Why The Church Is Losing Ground

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Losing GroundI’ve found in my 35 years of ministry that spiritual conversations with the terminally ill never seem to focus on religiosity. Issues that we often assume are absolutely necessary to the Christian debate no longer appear to matter as those individuals and their families face their last days. They just want to talk about what it will be like to see Jesus.

Those hot topics such as: Calvinism vs. Arminianism; Republican vs. Democrat; Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism; Traditional vs. Contemporary; Conservative vs. Moderate; Mega-Church vs. Micro-Church; Connectional vs. Missional; and even Organ vs. Guitar are no longer relevant conversations. They just want to talk about what it will be like to see Jesus.

I know this is an overly simplistic illustration and solution for such a complex subject, but the Church is losing ground as we spend the majority of our time debating issues that in the end won’t really matter. I understand completely the value and even necessity of healthy biblical, theological and doctrinal debate. But when that debate takes precedence over talking about what it will be like to see Jesus, we will continue losing ground by missing those fleeting opportunities for meaningful conversations with a terminal world.

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Oct 27 2013

10 Worship Core Convictions

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apple coreCore Convictions are foundational standards, principles, values or tenets.

The following list is taken from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website. Check out their site for oustanding worship resources, conferences and links at:  Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

The language, comments and questions of the ten core convictions may not all be consistent with the doctrines and practices of your faith community. You are encouraged, however, to view these foundational principles in light of your culture, while giving consideration to their value for the entire ecumenical faith community.

On their tenth anniversary in 2007, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship identified ten core principles that outline their central convictions about vital Christian worship. Their desire in presenting these core convictions was that their many ecumenical partners and contacts would find them clear, compelling and most of all enriching for their own worship and ministry.

Ten Core Convictions

These ten core convictions are not innovations. They are timeless truths from Scripture and the rich history of Christian worship. Today, each conviction remains theologically crucial, pastorally significant, and culturally threatened. The importance of one or all of these convictions risks being obscured by cultural trends outside the church, and disputes about the mechanics and style of worship within the church. This attempt to reiterate and reinforce the importance of these ten core convictions will lead, we pray, to more fruitful (if not necessarily easier) conversations about the meaning and practice of Christian worship. Christian worship is immeasurably enriched by:

1. A vivid awareness of the beauty, majesty, mystery, and holiness of the triune God

Worship cultivates our knowledge and imagination about who God is and what God has done. Worship gives us a profound awareness of the glory, beauty, and holiness of God. Each element of worship can be understood through a Trinitarian framework. Worship renewal is best sustained by attention to the triune God we worship.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Ps. 63:2)

Related Questions

  • What is the picture of God we are, consciously and unconsciously, cultivating in our worship?
  • In what moments of our worship do we most perceive the glory and beauty of God?
  • In what way does our worship space convey God’s glory?
  • In what way might renewed attention to God’s glory make our worship more contemplative? more exuberant? more vibrant?
  • What barriers does our culture present to worshiping with a sense of God’s transcendence?
  • How does our picture of God help us resist idolatries?

2. The full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers, as a fully intergenerational community

Worship is not just what ministers, musicians, and other leaders do; it is what all worshipers “do”—through the work of the Spirit in worship. In vital worship, all worshipers are involved in the actions, words, and meaning of worship.

God’s covenant promises endure “from generation to generation.” Worship that arises out of an intentionally intergenerational community, in which people of all ages are welcomed as full participants, and whose participation enriches each other, reflects that worship breaks down barriers of age.

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. . .  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. . . the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Neh. 8:1, 6, 7, 8, 12)

Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Ps. 148:12-13)

Related Questions

  • How do worshipers in our community understand the nature of their participation in worship?
  • How do worshipers in our community understand the purpose of their participation in worship?
  • What does participation mean in addition to lay leadership of worship?
  • What could we do as worshipers to prepare to be as involved in the actions and in tune with the meaning of worship as we assume our leaders are?
  • How are we enabling the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers in our worship?
  • How are we failing to enable the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers?
  • How can our worship be more intergenerational in its lay leadership?
  • How can our worship be more intergenerational in its participation?
  • How can we better foster intergenerational community?
  • What generational barriers does our culture set or lead us to expect?
  • What generational barriers does our own tradition or history set or lead us to expect?

3. Deep engagement with scripture

The Bible is the source of our knowledge of God and of the world’s redemption in Christ. Worship should include prominent readings of Scripture, and engage worshipers through intentional reading practices, art, and music. It should present and depict God’s being, character, and actions in ways that are consistent with scriptural teaching. It should follow biblical commands about worship practices, and it should heed scriptural warnings about false and improper worship. In particular, Christian worship should be deeply connected to its ancient roots in psalmody.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

Related Questions

  • How prominent is the reading and teaching of scripture in our worship?
  • How engaging is the reading and teaching of scripture in our worship?
  • What use of art and music could help us better engage worshipers with scripture?
  • How deeply and broadly do we select biblical passages to read, sing, reflect, and preach from?

4. Joyful and solemn celebrations of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

The sacraments are physical signs of God’s nourishing action in creation through the Holy Spirit. In baptism God puts his covenant mark on his children, adopts them into the church, and calls them to a lifetime of dying and rising with Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, God physically and spiritually feeds his people. These celebrations are not just ceremonies, but gifts of grace and signs of God’s ongoing work.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom. 6:3-5)

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

Related Questions

  • How regularly do we celebrate the sacraments?
  • When we do celebrate the sacraments, how prominent are they in our worship services?
  • How could we do more to nourish a sacramental awareness even (or especially) in services in which they are not held—in preaching, prayers, singing, creeds, professions of faith, and other aspects of worship?
  • Do we treat the font and table with any significance during services in which we’re not using them?
  • How much water do we use in our baptismal font or pool? Could we use more?
  • How would worshipers summarize the theological significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
  • How could we make worshipers more aware of their own baptism and its personal significance for them?
  • How could we make our celebration of the Lord’s Supper more communal?
  • What are some of the most meaningful celebrations of the sacraments you have experienced?

5. An open and discerning approach to culture

Worship should strike a healthy balance among four approaches or dimensions to its cultural context: worship is transcultural (some elements of worship are beyond culture), contextual (worship reflects the culture in which it is offered), cross-cultural (worship breaks barriers of culture through worship), and counter-cultural (worship resists the idolatries of its cultural context).

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12)

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matt. 5:13)

They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; (Rev. 5:9)

Related Questions

  • What aspects of our worship are transcultural?
  • What aspects of our worship are inculturated?
  • What aspects of our worship are cross-cultural?
  • What aspects of our worship are countercultural?
  • Which of these four approaches comes most naturally to our worshiping community?
  • Which comes least naturally?

6. Disciplined creativity in the arts

Worship is enriched by artistic creativity in many genres and media, not as ends to themselves or as open-ended individual inspirations, but all disciplined by the nature of worship as a prophetic and priestly activity.

Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of artisan or skilled designer. (Exod. 25:30-35)

Related Questions

  • How are we incorporating the arts into our worship?
  • How are we mediating the danger of not neglecting visual aspects of worship but not idolizing them, either?
  • How can we better incorporate artists into our community, and cultivate the artistic gifts within our worshiping community?

7. Collaboration with all other congregational ministries

Congregational worship is mutually enriching to the full range of congregational ministries, including pastoral care, education, spiritual formation, and witness.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Related Questions

  • What are some of the ways we are integrating our worship with the full scope of our congregational ministry and life together?
  • How can we better integrate worship into our ministries of evangelism, fellowship, education, pastoral care, and others?

8. Warm, Christ-centered hospitality for all people

A central feature of worship is that it breaks down barriers to welcome all worshipers, including persons with disabilities, those from other cultures, both seekers, lifelong Christians, and others.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Rom. 12:13)

Related Questions

  • How does our worship currently express hospitality to all worshipers?
  • How does our worship currently express hospitality to those with special needs?
  • How does our worship currently express hospitality to visitors?
  • How can we better express hospitality in our worship?

9. Intentional integration between worship and all of life

Worship fosters natural and dynamic connections between worship and life, so that the worship life of Christian congregations both reflects and shapes lives of grateful obedience, deeply engages with the needs of the world, including such specific areas as restorative justice, care for the earth, and many other areas.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)

Related Questions

  • How does our worship currently express connections between worship and other areas of life?
  • Does our worship foster a sense that our common faith is primarily relevant only in worship, or foster a sense that worship is one aspect—though a very important one—of our service to God?

10. Collaborative planning and evaluation

Worship involves a collaborative process for planning and evaluating services in the context of an adaptive approach to overall congregational leadership.

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (Acts 20:28)

Related Questions

  • How collaborative is our current process of worship planning?
  • How collaborative is our current process of worship evaluation?
  • How could our worship planning be more collaborative?
  • How could our worship evaluation be more collaborative?
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Jul 14 2013

Want Healthier Worship? Gotta Serve Somebody!

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gotta serveIt doesn’t matter how good our worship is in here, it is still incomplete until it also includes how we live and treat others out there. The great theologian, Bob Dylan got it right when he wrote, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Service is continuous; it just depends on whom or what you are serving…self or others.

Service is the action that we take to ensure that worship will continue when we leave the worship gathering. We spend so much time leading church services as an act of worship that we often neglect to lead the church in service as an act of worship. And even though we call our Sunday gathering a worship service, not a lot of service actually occurs. Service as worship never compromises biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often requires us to make adjustments in order to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.

Mark Labberton wrote, “Worship can name a Sunday gathering of God’s people, but it also includes how we treat those around us, how we spend our money, and how we care for the lost and the oppressed. Worship can encompass every dimension of our lives.”[1]

We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs as an expression of our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us. 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. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.[2]

The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship actions by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires of our worship. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Service as worship acts justly. A congregation that acts justly  is one that is welcoming. Most can answer affirmatively when asked if their worship welcomes those not like them…all are welcome if or when they come. Welcoming, however, actively embraces those who are not and may never be present. Welcome primarily focuses on the needs of the congregation that occur on Sunday. Welcoming, on the other hand, focuses also on the needs of the world that occur every day. Welcoming loves, honors, and praises the Father by loving those He loves.

Service as worship loves mercy. If anyone says, “I love God, (an act worship) yet hates his brother, (also an act of worship) he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). Service is when we as individuals and our congregation as a body realize that loving God by loving my neighbor as I love myself is a profound act of worship. Mercy agrees that no stipulation should be required as to whether that neighbor has earned or deserves the right to be loved. Mercy affirms…These people are also made in God’s image and serving them is worship.

Service as worship walks humbly. This one may be the hardest, especially for leaders. Baseball player and manager, Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “it is not the heat that makes it so difficult, it’s the humility.” Mark Labberton wrote, “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.”[3] Humility allows us to willingly take a secondary and supportive role. It allows us to enthusiastically say, “The music I have selected and the sermon I have prepared may not be the most important act of worship that occurs.”

Healthier worship is encouraged when leaders begin modeling, teaching and leading their church not only in gathered worship services but also dispersed worship as service. Neither should be minimized, as both are indeed acts of worship. The divide, however, is when we expend all our resources on a weekly gathering and have nothing left for what should be a daily occurrence.

 


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

[2] Ibid., 71.

[3] Ibid., 170.

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Feb 3 2013

Leadership Lessons from the Short Life of Chuck

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My sister was four years old and I was two in 1960 when our brother Chuck was born.  As a result of a viral infection at the age of three months, Chuck developed encephalitis resulting in permanent brain damage.  He regularly endured Grand Mal seizures and remained at the developmental level of a one-week old.  Professionals encouraged my parents to institutionalize Chuck and indicated no treatment was available until and unless he lived beyond the age of five.  Not much hope was given that treatment would be necessary.

When Chuck did survive to the age of five a process of securing treatment began.  The most promising procedure was available at The Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential in San Antonio, Texas.  There was, however, a ten-year waiting list for acceptance to the program.  Amazingly, Chuck was accepted after three months.  Part of the treatment required a 750-mile trip every two months for a year.  Since my parents’ automobile was not very reliable a local dealership loaned them a new vehicle to use for each trip and a service station in our community provided free gas.

The suggested treatment for this type of brain damage was a patterning therapy.  The therapy included a series of exercises performed several times each day by several people who manipulated Chuck’s head and limbs in patterns purporting to simulate the movements of a non-impaired child.  The patterning therapy required building a long slide, a patterning table, and a crawling box.  As soon as my parents arrived home from the initial medical consultation a friend from church secured the specifications for building the patterning equipment and completed those items at no cost to my family.

The therapy required five people for the patterning sessions.  Each session began with thirty minutes of patterning followed by a five-minute break and concluded with thirty more minutes of patterning.  This process was completed three times a day, seven days a week for an entire year.  Church and community friends and even complete strangers responded to a local newspaper advertisement for volunteers.  The list grew to 125 committed respondents.

My sister and I were even able to participate by standing on a chair to help move Chuck’s legs.  A fifteen-year-old boy volunteered and since he was not old enough to drive also enlisted his dad to help.  As a functioning alcoholic, one volunteer walked from the other side of town, never missing her volunteer slot and always arriving completely sober.  During that year, a man who worked for the drug company that manufactured the expensive medication required to minimize Chuck’s seizures just happened to move into the vacant home next door.  With his assistance, the drug company for which he worked provided free cases of the medication.

The coordination of the volunteer schedule was a tremendous task.  A woman my parents did not know offered her time as telephone coordinator and served as the contact person for patterning substitutes. My parents never had to worry if enough volunteers would be present to help.  Seven years earlier this gracious lady had contracted polio and because of that disability was abandoned by her husband.  Although confined to a wheel chair and almost completely paralyzed except for her left arm, she valiantly coordinated the 125 volunteers.

The daily patterning therapy continued for a period of a year.  And although Chuck’s developmental level had increased from a one-week old to a six-month old the physicians determined that no further development would be realized and the patterning therapy was discontinued.

The next step for treatment was to see a group of specialists in Philadelphia.  The expense to fly my parents and Chuck to Philadelphia was great so our community began a united effort referred to as Operation Chuck to help raise the necessary funds. Ladies clubs organized teas, girl scouts held bake sales, and a community garage sale was scheduled.  Complete strangers dropped money by our home to contribute to the fund.  And in just a few weeks all of the needed travel funds were raised.  The disappointing result of the trip, however, was that the specialists in Philadelphia encouraged my parents to discontinue medical treatments after determining nothing further could be done.  Chuck lived less than a year after they returned home from Philadelphia and at the age of seven died of complications from pneumonia.

The question might be asked, “How can this be an example of successful leadership when the ultimate goal was never achieved?”  Let me share a few of the leadership and teamwork lessons I learned and continue to learn even though it occurred over forty years ago:

  • Always seek the counsel of professionals but ultimately proceed in response to convictions.
  • Not now does not mean not ever.  Waiting requires patience without wavering in conviction.
  • The success of a team is not just measured by the end result; it is also measured by incremental successes along the way.  Celebrate the in-betweens of the process.
  • Not all teams are created; they often evolve in response to a need.
  • The transformation that occurs in the lives of team members can be as important as achieving the ultimate goal of the team.
  • Great teams consist of those who are willing, though they may seem unlikely.
  • The success of a team is rarely measured by individual accomplishments.
  • When the stakes are high, teams must consider resources and influencers from outside of the organization.
  • Team success may not depend on a single defined leader as much as the collaboration of numerous ad hoc leaders who subordinate individual interests to the concerns of the team.
  • A unified mission can transform individuals, families, churches, and communities to realize success beyond control or comprehension.
  • Successful teams leave legacies.  My sister and I observed the sacrificial giving of an entire community of close friends as well as complete strangers.  And with unwavering faith our parents sacrificed all they had for the sake of our brother without sacrificing the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our entire family.  That legacy has lasted forty-five years.
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Jan 20 2013

The Phobias of Unhealthy Church Leaders

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phobiasPhobias are persistent fears or dislikes of certain objects or situations.  The sufferer often goes to great lengths to avoid particular circumstances.  His/her responses are often considered irrational or disproportional to the actual danger or dislike posed.  In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer might under duress endure the situation or object with marked distress.

Maybe phobia is too strong of a word for the reason why some church leaders continue not doing things that are contributing to the deterioration of their leadership health and the health of their congregation.  Aversion may be a better word but the response to the situation faced is often the same.  How can a leader who is called to associate others with a common vision and purpose accomplish that mission through a wall of relational and connectional distance?

Church leadership is difficult as we attempt to find a balance between serving others and also serving our own needs, fears, aversions, or possibly even phobias.  It doesn’t really matter, however, if the root issue is fear, arrogance, aloofness, or just laziness.  The end result is always the same…

Unhealthy Leaders = Unhealthy Relationships = Unhealthy Churches.

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. —Jim Rohn

 

Phobias or Aversions We Must Overcome for Leadership Health

Epistemophobia–  Fear of knowledge.

Allodoxaphobia– Fear of opinions.

Atelophobia– Fear of imperfection.

Atychiphobia– Fear of failure.

Bibliophobia– Fear of books.

Cardiophobia– Fear of the heart.

Cenophobia or Centophobia– Fear of new things or ideas.

Decidophobia– Fear of making decisions.

Deipnophobia– Fear of meaningful conversations.

Didaskaleinophobia– Fear of going to school.

Dikephobia– Fear of justice.

Doxophobia– Fear of receiving praise.

Ecophobia– Fear of home.

Enochlophobia– Fear of being with people or crowds.

Ephebiphobia– Fear of teenagers.

Eremophobia– Fear of being oneself.

Ergophobia– Fear of work.

Geliophobia– Fear of laughter.

Gerontophobia– Fear of old people.

Hedonophobia– Fear of feeling pleasure.

Heresyphobia– Fear of challenges to official doctrine.

Hypengyophobia or Hypegiaphobia– Fear of responsibility.

Ideophobia– Fear of ideas.

Philosophobia– Fear of philosophy.

Phronemophobia– Fear of thinking.

Ponophobia– Fear of overworking.

Prosophobia– Fear of progress.

Sociophobia– Fear of culture or society.

Sophophobia– Fear of learning.

Soteriophobia – Fear of dependence on others.

Symbolophobia– Fear of symbolism.

Technophobia– Fear of technology.

Theologicophobia– Fear of theology.

Tropophobia– Fear of making changes.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. —Eleanor Roosevelt

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Dec 16 2012

When Lives Are Lost What Do We Sing?

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griefWhen we are at a loss for words we must be reminded that a text has been prepared for us in the Psalms.  When disaster threatens to consume us, the psalmist gives words to express our most profound despair.  When our hymns and songs fall short with clichéd platitudes, the psalms provide hope beyond unexpressed emotions.  John Witvliet reminds us that, “when faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant laments of the Hebrew Scriptures.”[1]  Walter Brueggemann writes that, “By not using these psalms, we have communicated two messages to people:  either you must not feel that way (angry with God, for example) or, if you feel that way, you must do something about it somewhere else – but not here.”[2]

We have been conditioned to believe that it is more spiritual to avoid expressing grief or despair in worship.  Our public questioning of God is often considered irreverent or maybe even blasphemous.  Our song selections and sermon topics have conveyed that church must always be a happy place and that a positive appearance is less threatening.

If authenticity is a goal of our worship we must honestly and publicly admit that circumstances of life can contribute to hopelessness, cause us to cry out to God in despair, and even demand answers.  We must persistently remind one another that God expects our language of lament and is not threatened by it.

In An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters, Brian McLaren offers the following commentary, “Pain should find its way into song, and these songs should find their way into our churches.  The bitter will make the sweet all the sweeter; without the bitter, the sweet can become cloying, and too many of our churches feel, I think, like Candyland.  Is it too much to ask that we be more honest?  Since doubt is part of our lives, since pain and waiting and as-yet unresolved disappointments are part of our lives, can’t these things be reflected in the songs of our communities?  Doesn’t endless singing about celebration lose its vitality (and even its credibility) if we don’t also sing about the struggle?”

Authenticity grants us permission to admit that events can shake our faith.  Catharsis begins when we understand that asking and even singing our difficult questions is acceptable and that God can handle our anger and despair.  Freedom to cry out to God in worship will only be realized when a community becomes more comfortable with the belief that a transparent life is not narcissistic or self-absorbing.  In fact, this honest transparency is a life of humility enabling worshipers to realize they are not struggling on their own in the resolution of this despair.  Martha Freeman reminds us that, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us.  There is comfort in those tears.  They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[3]


[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1977): 22.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 15.

[3] Martha Freeman, “Has God Forsaken Us?” The Covenant Companion (November 2001): 8.

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