Jan 20 2020

Is Your Church in Conflict? Come to the Table!

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Jan 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 13 2020

Not All Those Who Wonder Are Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 6 2020

The Theology of Hymns Versus Modern Worship Songs

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

So we should choose songs that helps us sing that theology by asking if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1]

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Dec 18 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 2 2019

An Argument for Punctuation in Projected Song Lyrics

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

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

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

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh

Come peasant king to own Him

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own Him;

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

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

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

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

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

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

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Nov 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 11 2019

Music May Be Killing Intergenerational Worship

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multigenerational

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 4 2019

Urban Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 23 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 14 2019

Top 10 Worship Word Wednesday Quotes

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

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Oct 9 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 7 2019

Give Music a Rest!

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

We rely on the sound of our music and words of our songs to manage and control others. A frantic stream flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see and even sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn and devour congregants with our notes. Silence as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines puts a stop to that.[1]

Scripture is certainly not silent on silence… “That’s enough! Now know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). “Don’t be quick with your mouth or say anything hastily before God, because God is in heaven, but you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few” (Eccles. 5:2). There’s “a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (Eccles. 3:7).

John Ruskin, a Victorian era English art critic said this of the silence of music and rests:

There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by rests, and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the rests. They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.[2]

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

Making noise as our only offering can create monological worship. One-sided sound can monopolize the conversation. But the foundation of meaningful worship is instead dialogical. Dialogue is an interactive exchange of two or more participants. Healthy conversations include a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.

Since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize that conversation with our responsive noise only. So in order to again hear and listen to God’s side of the conversation, maybe it’s time to concur with Samuel in our services of worship, “Speak, LORD. Your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9).

 

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

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

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Oct 2 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 25 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 23 2019

Less Scripture to Sing and Preach More

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sep 9 2019

Fake Worship in the Dark Night of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sep 3 2019

Worship Leader and Worship Team Relational Contract

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

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

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

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

Worship Leader/Worship Team Relational Contract

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

______________________, Worship Leader

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

We agree that we will…

  • Maintain a collaborative spirit that supports all of our worship gifts as complementary, not competitive.
  • Publicly and privately acknowledge the value of our unique callings, leadership styles, gifts and competencies.
  • Listen as often as we speak.
  • Partner in leading and teaching worship that moves beyond musical style alone to deeper biblical and theological content.
  • Communicate our disagreements in private without fear of retribution.
  • Make every effort to be approachable, available and accountable to each other.
  • Affirm in public; correct, instruct, coach and mentor in private; and pastor each other at all times.
  • Sacrifice individually for the sake of the body corporately.
  • Initiate intentional significant conversations that include our hopes, dreams, goals, expectations, plans, concerns and evaluations.
  • Invest in the personal and spiritual development of each other with no ulterior motive.
  • Preserve loyalty, trust, morality, respect and friendship.
  • Work toward a common philosophy of worship and ministry.
  • Pray consistently for and with each other.
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Aug 21 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 19 2019

Hooked on a Feeling

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

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

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

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

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

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Aug 12 2019

Worship Service Announcements: Information or Influence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aug 5 2019

Worship Leader: Performer, Promoter or Partner?

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Worship is something our congregations do, not something that is done for them. So if we never involve them as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators?

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

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

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

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

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Jul 29 2019

7 Questions Before Introducing a New Worship Song

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

  • Does it reflect and respond to biblical text?

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

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

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation then causes the people of God to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with each other. When this dialogue occurs our songs are communally uttered conversations with God.

  • Does it speak the Gospel?

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

  • Is its text easy to follow and sing?

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

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

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

  • Will it engage more than our emotions?

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

  • Will it encourage action?

Our songs must not only inspire us through hearing and singing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Singing our songs should cause us to ask what we are going to change as a result of singing them. Singing in here is not enough until our songs also impact who we are out there by challenging us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

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Jul 22 2019

Stop Blaming Music for Worship Conflict

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

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

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

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

Scripture

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

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist

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

The Arts

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

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

 

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

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Jul 8 2019

The False Dichotomy of Choosing Worship Sides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 26 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 3 2019

Lord’s Supper Myopia

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

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

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

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

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

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May 15 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2019

20 Worship Service Irrefutables

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Worship Service Irrefutables

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

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 6 2019

35 Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

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

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

Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

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

In Whom Are You Investing?

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

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

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

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

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

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Apr 8 2019

Why Wouldn’t You Also Worship Then?

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

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

So…

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

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

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Mar 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 18 2019

Why Our Worship Service Songs Can’t Cause Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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Mar 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 18 2019

Sunday Morning Karaoke

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karaoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Feb 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 11 2019

Worship and Experiential Consumerism

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Marketers have realized that consumers no longer just want to buy a product; they also want to buy an experience with that product. In fact, sometimes more emphasis is placed on the experience than the product. Think about some of those pizza arcades where you celebrated your children’s birthdays. Fortunately the experience was memorable because the pizza certainly wasn’t. Instead of just purchasing a cup of coffee we also now want the experience of purchasing a cup of coffee. We are even willing to pay extra for the sights, sounds and smells with an added experiential bonus if the barista knows our name.

Marketing is an intentional process of identifying who the consumer is, determining the wants and needs of that consumer and offering a product that satisfies those wants and needs in order to secure their loyalties better than competitors do.

Some of us plan and lead worship the same way.

In an effort to entice more participation, churches offer worship service preferential experiences to get consumers in the door, sometimes even at the expense of quality or honesty. Those marketing headlines attract visitors with hooks such as traditional, contemporary, blended, friendly, family, fellowship, multisensory, relevant, modern, casual, classic or even coffee. But when guests realize worship is something you give, not something you get, how will we encourage them to stay? If we market just by catering to experiential tastes, what will we offer when those tastes change?

We can experience a fine meal. We can experience a baseball game, concert or an amusement park. An experience is an event or occurrence. In fact we even call what we do on Sunday a worship experience. But an experience is something that is done to us or for us. Worship is something we do.

We don’t experience worship…we experience God. Our response to that experience is worship. We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service but the experience or encounter is not worship, our response is. So a worship service built on an experience alone is shortsighted if it never allows us an opportunity to respond.

God’s revelation (experience) is when he offers us a glimpse of his activity, his will, his attributes, his judgment, his discipline, his comfort, his hope and his promises. Our response is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes prepared reply to that experience…worship.

Depending on worship as an experience can cause us to be satisfied with the sensations elicited by that experience. Consequently, we might select and sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of the experience and then never move beyond that experience to worship. The end result of experiential consumerism is that our songs and sermons must create and recreate that same experience each week or worshipers will leave our services believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

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Jan 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 28 2019

Secret Shopper

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Secret Shopper

 

Most of us couldn’t imagine leaving our children at a daycare that has stained carpet, musty odors, garage sale reject toys and old sound equipment stacked in the corner. But that is exactly what some churches offer to young parents and then wonder why they never return. The nursery and children’s areas should be the safest and cleanest rooms in the building. How can we expect parents to engage and understand meaningful worship at the same time they’re worried about the safety and health of their children?

My ministry responsibilities often require me to regularly drive some of the same roads. So I’m pretty familiar with the rest stops along those routes. I know the ones I’ll stop at again and the ones I’ll never return to because they’re always filthy, never have the necessary supplies and have archaic or often broken plumbing fixtures. We don’t like to talk about the cleanliness of our restrooms at church but that is the last place many worshipers visit before we ask them to join us in singing the first worship song.

We are often good at considering how to engage people during the services but don’t always think about worship distractions before and after those services. We assume the theological depth of our worship service will encourage visitors to return and even stay. And that might actually be true if they could ever see past our pre and post service blind spots.

So in addition to evaluating sermons and songs, churches should also evaluate their worship spaces and structures. We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression. Since it’s easy to overlook what we’ve gotten used to, it is helpful to secure an outside evaluator for a greater degree of unbiased and unprejudiced objectivity. Retailers and restaurants often enlist outside patrons or shoppers to collect information about their establishment. They evaluate things like the appearance of displays, friendliness and efficiency of the staff, cleanliness of restrooms, prices and the quality of their products.

Churches could also learn a lot about themselves by enlisting a secret shopper. A friend from another congregation, an acquaintance from the community or even your favorite coffee shop barista could be enlisted as a secret shopper. For the minimal expense of presenting them with a restaurant gift card you could invite one or several guests to visit and complete an evaluation questionnaire like the one below.

Considering the above items and others might seem inconsequential compared to understanding spirit and truth worship. But guests often visit with little or no understanding of theological worship. They do, however, understand excellence, cleanliness, the safety of their children and their own comfort or its absence. So isn’t it worth the effort to remove some of those initial distractions that could be keeping them from going deeper?

Secret Shopper Questionnaire

  • Was it easy to get into the parking lot and convenient to park?

Observations:

  • Was it clear where you were supposed to go once you arrived?

Observations:

  • Was the property in good repair and grounds well kept?

Observations:

  • When were you first greeted, if ever?

Observations:

  • Did the attitude of the greeter make you feel welcome?

Observations:

  • Were you offered coffee and was it excellent, mediocre or bad?

Observations:

  • Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?

Observations:

  • Did it seem like people were happy to be there and glad to be together?

Observations:

  • Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?

Observations:

  • Was the restroom clean and odor free?

Observations:

  • Did you feel safe leaving your child in the children’s ministry area?

Observations:

  • Was the worship space interesting and pleasing to the eye?

Observations:

  • How did you figure out where to sit?

Observations:

  • Did you feel conspicuous when you entered the worship space?

Observations:

  • Was the worship center seating comfortable?

Observations:

  • Was there enough light?

Observations:

  • Was the temperature at a comfortable level?

Observations:

  • Did anyone dress or look like you?

Observations:

  • How was the volume of the speaking and music?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders use language you didn’t understand?

Observations:

  • How was the service flow and pace?

Observations:

  • Did the service seem too long?

Observations:

  • Was the worship service order easy to follow or confusing?

Observations:

  • Was it easy to participate musically?

Observations:

  • Was the music presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Was the music culturally relevant for the people present?

Observations:

  • Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Did you feel welcome to participate in all worship service elements?

Observations:

  • Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?

Observations:

  • Did any of the service elements make you feel uncomfortable?

Observations:

  • Did anything in the service distract you?

Observations:

  • How did you know what to do when the worship service was over?

Observations:

  • Did anyone speak to you after the service?

Observations:

  • Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders seem approachable?

Observations:

  • Any additional observations?

Observations:

  • Would you come back based on your observations?

Observations:

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Jan 16 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 14 2019

Enabling Mindless Worshipers

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MindlessIf our church services give the impression that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; If all worship resources and energies are spent preparing for and presenting a single hour on Sunday; If we aren’t exhorting our congregation and modeling for them how to worship not only when they gather but also when they leave; Then we are enabling mindless worshipers.

In Teaching A Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi was whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy or worth our worship…we should think about such things (Phil 4:8).

Worshiping with our minds allows us to approach worship with knowledge, insight, reason, memory, creativity, inquiry, imagination and even doubt. So if we offer our prayers superficially; if we read and listen to Scripture texts mindlessly; if we gather at the Lord’s Supper Table hastily; and if we only sing our songs emotionally; the end result is often mindless worship.

We could learn a lot from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown. Then the activities and things with which we fill our minds the night before we gather could better frame our worship attitudes on the Sabbath.

My daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at Disney World. After months of planning and days of travel, the final preparations for and anticipation of the first day at Magic Kingdom was almost too much excitement for her to contain.

Like a firefighter, she selected and laid out her clothes the night before so she could jump into them the next morning. Sleep eluded her with the anticipation of what was to come. She awakened early, quickly dressed and inhaled breakfast so she would be ready to depart hours before the park even opened.

All conversation traveling from our resort to the park entrance centered on what she would observe, experience, eat, participate in, enjoy and then take home at the end of the day. She had been thinking about it, dreaming of it, planning, preparing and longing for it. Her mind was so filled with it she couldn’t contain the anticipation.

Empowering instead of enabling worshipers encourages them to think, behave or take action autonomously. It gives them the permission to take ownership in their own worship responses to God’s revelation at the moment in which it occurs. Worship empowerment arises from the shallowness of dependency and leads to the full conscious, active and continuous participation of each worshiper.

Worship that doesn’t require us to think is superficial. Worship or love of God and others must be continuous or it becomes self-serving. And it can’t be continuous unless we think about it, consider it, process it, meditate on it, study it and learn how to get better at it in order to better teach others how to do it. So until we move beyond just waiting for the song set to enable us to worship, we’ll never encourage deep calling unto deep worship that also engages our minds.

 

[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 52.

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