Communion: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

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CommunionOliver Twist and scores of other orphan boys toiled in the miserable existence of a workhouse. They labored long hours subsisting on three paltry meals of gruel, a watery food substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value.

On one occasion, the boys drew lots to determine who would represent them to ask for more food. Oliver was selected and timidly moved forward with his bowl in his hands to make the iconic request, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

One of the caretakers shrieked, “What? More?” And Oliver and the other boys were chased around the tables by a band of well-fed caretakers.[1]

Our understanding of symbolism at the Lord’s Table has degenerated into a substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value. We know we have a spiritual mandate to regularly observe it, yet often wonder if this is all there is.

So why couldn’t we ask for more within the parameters of our doctrines and denominations without being chased around the Table by a band of well-fed doctrinal caretakers?

For many congregations, observing Communion has become so routine that it no longer calls forth the reality it symbolizes. So there is a need to discover it again with such freshness that it would be like experiencing it for the first time.[2]

Asking for more might cause us to grieve and weep, but it also might cause us to celebrate and shout.

Asking for more means the remembrance is rarely manifested in the same way twice. And that’s why we return often.

Asking for more means we mourn Jesus’ death and burial, but also celebrate his resurrection and promised return.

Asking for more not only remembers how his sacrifice impacted our past, but also how it will influence our future.

Asking for more means that it’s not just Jesus’ story but also our story as we’re invited to step into his story.

Asking for more means we must actively engage, not passively observe.

Asking for more doesn’t change the physical characteristics of the elements, it changes us.

Once we grasp the magnitude of that symbolism at the Communion Table we’ll never again have to ask if this is all there is. In fact, we may actually receive immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

 

[1] Oliver Twist is the second novel written by author, Charles Dickens and was first published as a serial from 1837-39.

[2] Adapted from Kenneth Chafin, “Discovering and Preaching the Ordinances Again for the First Time,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 129.

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10 Worship Service Disruptors

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disruptors
Nostalgia
Nostalgia can cause a congregation to romanticize, idealize and even embellish past worship practices to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past. The end result is worship that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the emotions that were originally stirred.

Greeting
The worship service Meet and Greet can cause anxiety sweats and heart palpitations for first time guests and congregational introverts. Some see it as shallow, contrived and intimidating. So what is intended to welcome can sometimes alienate.

Novelty
Novelty can cause a congregation to over innovate, over stimulate and over imitate. Each Sunday then becomes an exercise in surpassing the creativity of the previous Sunday. So when excessive worship novelty occurs our focus is often on the creative instead of the creator.

Passivity
Spectators attend or watch an event. They could be fans or foes depending on who is playing and what is being played. And it seems like they are in the game just because they are in the stands. But if worshipers are never more than bystanders while others do it all for them, then how can we expect them to transform from spectators into participators?

Localism
If we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event that occurs only when we gather in our building. Worship is a daily occurrence, not a weekly locale.

Traditionalism
Worship traditionalism begins when we take a good thing (how we worship) and make it the only thing. Traditionalism has forgotten the foundational tenets of why we worship and landed on how we worship. Traditionalism always begins with what we prefer, what we’ve earned, what we like or what our past demands.

Cheerleading
Cheerleaders generate spirit and rally enthusiasm. To motivate their congregations, worship leaders can sometimes display similar traits. But worship leaders are not cheerleaders. They can’t generate the Spirit of God through synchronized actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response but they can’t generate the revelation.

Egocentrism
We are created in God’s image, not He in ours. We should, therefore, step into His story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. Our worship acknowledges a conversation that he started and invites us to join. So if we create worship just to accommodate our needs, then the god we worship looks a lot like us.

Announcements
Little or no preparation is given to announcements that let the church know how to be the church when they leave. The result is a long-winded discourse of verbosity, clichés and detours that have little to do with worship. Maybe we should spend as much time praying over and rehearsing our worship service announcements as we spend praying over and rehearsing our songs.

Experientialism
We can sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of how they make us feel but never move beyond those feelings to worship. And if we don’t experience certain feelings because we don’t know or like the songs, we can leave the service believing worship didn’t occur. We don’t experience worship we experience God.

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Dancing Out of Our Robes of Worship Traditionalism

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David DancingWorship traditionalism begins when we take a good thing (how we worship) and make it the only thing. Tradition embraces and shares the foundational tenets that formed it. Traditionalism bypasses or has forgotten those tenets and lands on the tradition alone. So traditionalism starts with how we worship and tradition starts with why we worship.

Tradition lives in a conversation with the past, while remembering we live in the present. But traditionalism presumes that nothing should ever be done for the first time. So tradition evolves into the living faith of the dead and traditionalism the dead faith of the living.[1]

When King David and his men brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, he was so focused on responding to God’s blessings that he danced right out of his robes. With complete disregard for previous worship practices or what others might think, David danced with all his might in complete humility before the Lord.[2]

David’s wife Michal was not nearly as enthusiastic about his new worship practices. In fact, scripture indicates that Michal “looked down from the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.”[3] Michal’s traditionalism caused her to miss participating in a profound response to God’s revelation. Her primary focus was on how he worshiped.

But David admonished Michal with a reminder that it wasn’t for her or her father that he danced. Instead, he danced with reckless abandon for the Lord.[4] His primary focus was on why he worshiped.

Traditionalism means we’re only dancing to the tune of what we prefer, what we’ve earned, what we like or what our past demands. Tradition, on the other hand, has carried our past into the present and will challenge our future by always considering the why before the how.

 

[1] Pelikan, Jaroslav, “The Vindication of Tradition.” Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, Washington D.C., 1983.

[2] 2 Sam 6:14.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 21.

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Why Are We Praying Less and Singing More?

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prayerPrayer has been demoted to the role of a worship service starter, stuffer, and stopper. Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as a primary act of worship, it has been plugged in as a transitional appendage.

So it serves as the seventh inning stretch before the sermon; it breaks up the song sets when keys aren’t relative; it moves the worship band on the platform; and it allows the pastor to discreetly make his way up the aisle to shake hands after the service.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because our worship service prayers are not that deep. Song texts have been parsed, prayed over, and practiced, while our prayers are often played by ear. The spontaneous prayer may be sincere, but it’s often not very profound. Spontaneity needs to be supported by an intense prayer life. It’s hard to go where you haven’t been.[1]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because prayer is an easy language to fake. We can pretend to pray, use acceptable words of prayer, practice forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer, and never really pray.[2]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because we actually require our soloists, choirs, orchestras, worship teams, and bands to rehearse ahead of time. So if worship service prayer preparations were as stringent as those for our musical offerings, then maybe we’d consider singing a little less in order to pray a little more. Then maybe our worship service prayers would again be considered foundational instead of supplemental.

 

[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 5.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, as quoted in Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xii.

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Worship that Doesn’t Stop and Start

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Harold BestHarold Best wrote, “While it is currently popular to say that all of life is worship, there seems to be little thought given to a theology of worship that makes comprehensive sense out of this statement.”[1]

A theological foundation of continuous worship, therefore, must be found in the understanding that if God continually outpours and we are created in his image, then we too should be continual outpourers. But since our outpouring is fallen it needs redeeming or it will outpour on false gods. So salvation is the only way continuous biblical worship is possible.[2]

So with that theological foundation to frame our understanding of worship that doesn’t stop and start, consider the following Harold Best quotes from Unceasing Worship.

“We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever, for eternity is an infinite extrapolation of one of two conditions: a surrender to the sinfulness of sin unto infinite loss or the commitment of personal righteousness unto infinite gain.”[3]

 

“Once we place emphasis on specific times, places and methods, we misunderstand worship’s biblical meaning. Worship may ebb and flow, may take on various appearances and may be unconscious or conscious, intense and ecstatic or quiet and commonplace, but it is continuous.”[4]

 

“When we sin, worship does not stop. It changes directions and reverts back to what it once was, even if only for an instant. Repentance – the turning from and (re)turning to – is the only solution.”[5]

 

“Outpouring surpasses measuring out or filling quotas, even to the extent that it does not matter if some of it spills over in gracious waste. I think of Mary’s caring carelessness when she anointed Jesus’ feet. The room would not have been filled with such abundant fragrance had she merely tithed it out. It was the waste (both a Judas word and holy word) that was so magnificent and intoxicating.”[6]

 

“Whatever character or attribute God inherently possesses and pours out, we were created finitely to show and to pour out after his manner.”[7]

 

“We worship by faith. Worship is no more started up because we have pushed the faith button than our faith is started because we have pushed the worship button. Saving faith is not a different kind of faith than continuing faith. We do not step into or out of faith, nor do we step into or out of worship. Therefore, continual worship is not a different substance than worship that takes place at a set time and in a certain place.”[8]

 

“We do not go to church to worship. But as continuing worshipers, we gather ourselves together to continue our worship, but now in the company of brothers and sisters.”[9]

 

“When we place the responsibility for worship outside ourselves and not inside, where Christ is, we miss the biblical point of ongoing worship.”[10]

 

“Continuous outpouring demands continuous intaking, as long as it is not the “I wonder if I’ll get fed today” type. This is not intaking but spiritualized laziness.”[11]

 

“Oh, that we would stop creating the menus and let the Lord feed us out of the plentitude of his continuous outpouring till we entered the paradoxical condition of hungering while being filled.”[12]

 

“Lives of continued worship cannot but be lives of continued prayer, since continuing worship is itself a continued and continuously varied conversation with the One who lives within us. It should be an unbroken continuum, a breathing in and out, a full articulation of all that we are in Christ throughout all our days.”[13]

 

“It is erroneous to assume that the arts, especially music, are to be depended on to lead to worship or that they are aids to worship or tools for worship. If we think this way, we fuel two untruths at once. The first is that worship is something that can start and stop, and worse, that music or some other artistic or human device bears the responsibility for doing the starting or the facilitating. The second is related to the first: music and the arts have a kind of power in themselves that can be falsely related to or equated with Spirit power, so much so that the presence of God seems all the more guaranteed and the worshiper sees this union of artistic power and Spirit power as normal, even anticipated.”[14]

 

“Continuous outpouring is above all a personal responsibility and only then a corporate one. It is therefore of fundamental importance that all authentic worshipers be sure that they are so firmly rooted in Christ that their individuality is never lost in the rush of spiritualized sameness. It is further important that every authentically worshiping assembly find its local and unique place in the kingdom, not glancing over its shoulder, looking here and there for an outside stimulus to inspire and steer it.”[15]

 

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

[2] Ibid., 10.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 18-19.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Ibid., 20.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ibid., 61

[11] Ibid., 65.

[12] Ibid., 72.

[13] Ibid., 99.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 209

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Sunday Worship Tailgating

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TailgatingThe Eagles and Patriots will face off this Sunday in the 2018 Super Bowl. Just as it has every Sunday of the NFL season, tailgating will inevitably be a major part of the pregame activities. These intentional events merge family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers in the common objective of preparing for the game that will follow.

Most participants will select their clothes the night before so they can jump into them like firefighters the next morning. They’ll probably awaken before dawn and inhale breakfast in order to depart early enough to get a prime spot. All conversation traveling to the event will certainly focus on what they’ll observe, experience, participate in, be challenged by and remember at the end of the day.

So what if our preparation for Sunday worship resonated with even a hint of that kind of anticipation and excitement? Pre-service preparation is radically different than just abdicating that responsibility to worship leaders to accomplish during the first song.

It’s not enough to sing, “Your praise will ever be on my lips” as we gather on Sunday if we haven’t even thought about it on Saturday. So if we aren’t prepared on Sunday to respond to God’s countless blessings that occurred during the week, how can we expect worship leaders to ever lead enough songs to prepare us?

Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell offer some suggestions to help us prepare for worship. It requires:

1. Internal preparation of heart. Each worshiper carries the responsibility for personal preparation of his/her heart. If God calls us to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must ask questions about the state of our spirit. Yet, how often do we even ask ourselves if our hearts are ready for worship?

2. Pre-arrival preparation. We may want to call it “pre-Sabbath” preparation. We can learn from the Jews who believe Sabbath begins at sundown. Our activities on the evening before worship will have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship on Sunday morning. Also, our personal schedule between rising and the beginning of worship on Sunday morning will have a great deal of influence on our readiness of spirit.

3. Pre-service preparation. The short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also critical. Our interaction with friends reminds us that we are here as part of a body in relationship with others. A few moments to quiet our spirits might also enable us to leave some distractions behind and center ourselves in God. A time of reflective prayer could open our spirit to engage in a conversation with God. Even the visual appearance of the worship space will have an impact on our readiness. So how conscious are we of these critical minutes?[1]

Since worship does not start when we enter the worship service, it should not stop when we leave it. With that understanding I would recommend a fourth suggestion to their previous list:

4. Post-service continuation. Worship continues as we leave the worship service. It continues in our homes, at our schools and through our work. This final step leads the worshiper in a continuous circle back to step one. Harold Best calls it “unceasing worship”[2]

An old proverb states, “We only prepare for what we think is important.”

 

[1] Malefyt, Norma deWaal and Howard Vanderwell, Database online. Available from http://www.calvin.edu/worship/planning/insights/13.php.

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

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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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10 Signs You’re a Worship Leading Pharisee

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PhariseeScripture classifies the Pharisees as the strictest of all the Jewish religious sects. Literally set apart from others, they clung to their laws and traditions even at the expense of God’s law. Jesus rebuked them numerous times for their hypocrisy, pretension and self-righteousness.

It’s easy as worship leaders to fall into that same trap of sanctimonious arrogance. We can lead from the impression that we alone have the ability and even right to be the sole proprietors of worship. When this pretentiousness occurs we care more about elevating ourselves and our own agendas than helping others in spirit and truth worship.

It’s true that worship leaders are usually the most talented in the room, so it’s always a challenge to be both upfront and unassuming. But if in the name of excellence or musical purity we start suggesting that what we lead and the style in which we lead it is the only tenable option, then we too can slide into Phariseeism.

Thomas Merton wrote, “When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for His sake alone.”[1]

10 Signs You’re A Worship Leading Pharisee

 

  • Worship service selections are determined by your favorite style instead of biblical and theological content.

“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9).

 

  • You disappear when it’s time to set up or tear down.

“They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4).

 

  • You lead “Your praise will ever be on my lips” in the service and then berate the tech team after the service.

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt 15:8).

 

  • Your audience is not an audience of One.

“For they loved human praise more than praise from God” (John 12:43).

 

  • You accuse any ministry more successful than yours as being stylistically superficial, musically adulterated or theologically shallow.

“All the crowds were astounded and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ When the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’” (Matt 12:24).

 

  • You canonize or criticize either hymns or modern worship songs.

“When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these children are saying” (Matt 21:15)?

 

  • You measure your level of artistry and spirituality against others.

“See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” (Matt 12:2).

 

  • You’ve made dressing up or dressing down a worship prerequisite.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long” (Matt 23:5).

 

  • You’ve created the false dichotomy that if your style is virtuous, then theirs can’t be.

“God, I thank you that I’m not like other people” (Luke 18:11).

 

  • Your mic must be a little hotter and your spot a little brighter than all others.

“They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues” (Matt 23:6).

 

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Haven: Abbey of Gethsemani, 1961), 58.

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Worship: Holy Expectancy to Holy Obedience

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FosterRichard James Foster wrote, “Just as worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience.” Foster is a Christian theologian, professor and pastor in the Quaker tradition. He is the author of numerous books on Christian disciplines, including Celebration of Discipline, named by Christianity Today as one of the top ten books of the twentieth century. As you evaluate your worship to encourage worship renewal, consider some of his worship quotes.

  • If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship.
  • Holy obedience saves worship from becoming an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern life.
  • Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. Its central reality is found in spirit and truth. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit.
  • If the Lord is to be Lord, worship must have priority in our lives. The divine priority is worship first, service second.
  • If worship does not change us it has not been worship.
  • Adoration is the spontaneous yearning of the heart to worship, honor, magnify, and bless God. We ask nothing but to cherish him. We seek nothing but his exaltation. We focus on nothing but his goodness.
  • Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right techniques and methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit.
  • In worship an increased power steals its way into the heart sanctuary, an increased compassion grows in the soul.
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Let’s Limit Sermons to Once a Quarter

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MoreCould you imagine the outcry from pastors and parishioners if sermons were limited to once a quarter or only on special occasions? We would obviously never hear such a suggestion in response to the Verbal Word of a sermon but often hear it in response to the Visual Word of Communion.

Our argument for the infrequency of Communion is so that it doesn’t become too ritualistic or repetitious and therefore, insignificant. But that is exactly what it has devolved into as we’ve continued to observe it as supplemental instead of foundational.

Communion has become so mundane that it no longer calls forth the reality it symbolizes. So maybe it’s time to discover it again each time with such freshness that it would be like experiencing it for the first time.[1]

We must stop being afraid of making too much of the Table that we keep making too little of it. Because observing it actively instead of passively or foundationally instead of supplementally doesn’t change the physical characteristics of the elements…it changes us.

Repeating Communion frequently doesn’t minimize its value, it enhances it. Repetition allows us to go this time where we might not have had the resolve to go last time. Because this ordinance is sufficiently deep, it allows us to swim more deeply no matter how many times we step into it.[2]

Communion reminds us not only what Jesus did but also what He continues to do. Each observance gives us another chance to recall the story of His life, the sorrow of His death, the joy of His resurrection and the hope of His return. So we can’t possibly go that deep when we limit it to one time a quarter.

 

[1] Adapted from Kenneth Chafin, “Discovering and Preaching the Ordinances Again for the First Time,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 129.

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

 

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Large Church Worship Leader Wannabes? Um, No!

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Big ChurchBrent was recently called to serve as the full-time worship pastor for a large church. He is responsible for multiple worship bands, multiple choral groups and multiple services.

Brandon was recently called to serve as the volunteer worship leader for a small church. He is responsible for a keyboard, cajon and whatever singers he can recruit each week for a single service.

Brent and Brandon have both responded to a divine calling to lead worship. So who’s calling is more significant?

The usual perception is that a bigger church is always better or size determines significance. So smaller church leaders are often viewed as mediocre representations of larger church leaders, as worship leaders in waiting, as juniors to their senior counterparts or as large church wannabes.

But church statistical information doesn’t agree with that perception. Actual figures indicate that 95 percent of American churches average 350 or less in worship and 75-80 percent of those congregations average 150 or less. And according to a recent study from the Hartford Institute, more than half are under 100. So instead of being second-rate, those smaller church worship leaders actually represent the norm or largest majority of churches nationwide.

Small church worship leaders are often like Angus MacGyver, the secret agent in an action-adventure television series in the ‘80s. MacGyver was able to find clever solutions and solve complex problems with whatever he had on hand. If he wanted to survive each week, he created something unbelievable with what was available.

Worship leaders in smaller churches have realized that loving God and their neighbors is never contingent on congregational size, resources or abilities. And they are usually accomplishing successful worship ministry every week while holding down a full-time job outside the church. So instead of large church wannabes, they are worship leading heroes and models for ministry success who daily respond to God’s call to use what they have where they are.

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Signs Your Worship Is Out of Tune

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tuning forkA tuning fork is a u-shaped acoustic resonator made from an elastic metal. Its tines vibrate at a constant pitch by striking them against a hard surface. Once struck, a tuning fork emits a pure musical tone that is used as a standard to tune a variety of instruments.

A standard is defined as a conspicuous object such as a flag, banner or emblem used to mark a rallying point in battle. It is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. And it is something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, value or quality.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.”[1] So what is the standard to which your worship is tuned?

Your worship is out of tune…
  • If what’s in it for me is your standard.
  • If coat and tie or untucked shirt and jeans is your standard.
  • If hymns or modern worship songs is your standard.
  • If the habits, methods, styles and practices of another congregation or artist is your standard.
  • If musical excellence alone is your standard.
  • If worship band, orchestra, choir or worship team is your standard.
  • If when and where you worship is your standard.
  • If fixed or free liturgy is your standard.
  • If the creativity of novelty or the comfort of nostalgia is your standard.

But if your standard is instead who, why and in what power we worship…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then your worship will always be perfectly tuned.[2]

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

 

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Vancouver, BC: Eremitical Press, 2009), 90.

[2] Ibid.

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Sing Them Out

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sendingSING THEM OUT 

 

When we spend all our time leading church services as an act of worship, we can neglect to lead our church in service as an act of worship. In other words, if our entire focus is on singing them in, then we have nothing left to sing them out. So it doesn’t matter how good those worship songs are in here, they’re still incomplete until they also impact who we are out there. Service is the action we take to ensure the songs we sing when we gather are embodied when we scatter.

Most congregations can answer affirmatively when asked if they welcome outsiders to their worship services…all are welcome if or when they come. Singing them out, however, is when a congregation changes its culture in order to be intentionally welcoming to those out there. Welcome focuses primarily on the needs of the congregation, but welcoming includes the needs of the world. So welcoming loves my neighbor even when my neighbor is not very lovely.

Singing them out is when we are so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the service to end so we can actually share it.[1] When this awareness occurs, our singing is no longer focused just on consuming as we gather but also offering as we disperse.[2]

Once we commit to sing them out, we can then enthusiastically say, “The songs we selected for the worship service may not be the most important worship that occurs this week.” And we’ll stop investing all our resources on our weekly gathering to ensure we have enough left for what should be a daily occurrence.

 

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

[2] Ibid., 21-2.

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Worship As A One-Sided Conversation

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monologueHow can we expect meaningful worship responses on Sunday if we aren’t listening for God’s revelations the rest of the week? In other words, a singular focus on worship is a one-sided conversation without discipleship.

Monological worship tends to monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss the voice of God. Discipleship is intentionally becoming more like Jesus through a daily life of faith and obedience. So if we get too absorbed in our singing to God we can miss the discipleship of hearing from Him. And we can’t hear from Him if we aren’t regularly spending time with Him.

A dialogical discipleship and worship conversation, on the other hand, consists of a healthy balance of revelation and response. It is a meaningful interactive exchange built on our familiarity with God.

We often rely on worship words to manage the conversation. But silence that causes us to listen is one of the deepest spiritual disciplines because it frees us from that need to control.[1] That silence allows us then to hear those healing and comforting words such as “I am with you; well done; and you are forgiven.”

Discipleship encourages us to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:8). So since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship is incomplete until we stop trying to dominate that conversation with responsive noise only.

 

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

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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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We Can’t Usher Worshipers into the Presence of God

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usherThe need for an earthly mediator to facilitate our encounters with God or dispense His grace to us was set aside with the advent of the gospel. Now Jesus serves as our intercessor sitting at the right hand of the throne of God.

So worship leaders and the songs they sing can’t usher us into the presence of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus already has. When we ascribe that power to earthly leaders, we begin to see their leadership as something that is meritorious or efficacious, meaning their actions are praised for what they can produce.[1] Those worship actions can indeed prompt, exhort, encourage and remind us of God’s presence but they can’t generate it or lead us into it.

In the old covenant, access to God was limited. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies one time a year with a blood offering (Heb 9). But in the new covenant the earthly priest was no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’ blood was offered; and the way is open to worship Him without an earthly intercessor.

God’s presence isn’t a physical place we attend or an emotional plane we achieve so we don’t go to it, sing it into existence or usher people into it. Instead, we have confidence to enter that holy place only by the blood of Jesus. And as our usher, He then is not only the object of our worship but also the facilitator of it.

 

[1] Adapted from D.A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 50.

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The Relentless Split: Either Hymns Or Modern Songs

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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 thing or another by making the assumption that there are only two opposing positions. So these either/or options are usually 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 hymns and modern worship songs. Those dialogues perpetuate either/or dichotomies by attempting to elevate one 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 are exacerbating 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 personal, 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, they 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 and 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. That 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 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. And 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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If Only Is Holding Worship Hostage

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if onlyWe use if only statements to express a strong desire for things to be different. Those two words are sometimes uttered to nostalgically hold on to the past in order to place stipulations on the present. And they are also used just as often to discount or disparage the traditional in an attempt to elevate the modern.

So when it comes to worship, these two words are often voiced to selfishly hold a congregation hostage until certain demands are met:

If only we would sing more or less hymns.

If only we had a younger worship leader.

If only the songs weren’t so trite and repetitive.

If only we still had a choir.

If only our services were more creative.

If only we had a better worship band.

If only the volume wasn’t so high and lights so low.

If only the attire wasn’t so casual or formal.

If only we were still holding a hymnal.

If only they would let my granddaughter sing a solo.

If only we were like that other church.

If only we still had special music.

If only the song sets and sermons weren’t so long.

If only the people looked and spoke more like us.

If only we talked about money less and politics more.

If only the text and tunes weren’t so archaic.

If only our present leader was more like our previous leader.

If only worshipers can hold a congregation hostage to styles and structures by constantly pointing the conversation back to themselves. What they need, what they like, what they want, what they deserve or what they’ve earned often determines their level of participation. But when if only stipulations beyond the revelation of God must be met before congregants are willing to engage in worship, what they are actually worshiping may be their own selfish desires.

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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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No Wonder Our Worship Seems Shallow

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shallowChildren usually respond to surprise with wide-eyed wonder. Adults seldom do. It seems we’re no longer wowed, amazed or awed anymore, especially in our corporate worship.

God’s revelation should cause us to be fascinated, surprised and captivated. But we contain our responses to a scheduled event that is explainable, rational and controlled. Consequently, our worship services are sometimes shallow.

So how much deeper could those services go if we instead viewed them like we were gathering to encounter God for the very first or last time?

God is transcendent. He is beyond, above, other than and distinct from all. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.[1] So God’s infinite revelation can’t be completely contained in our finite understanding and response.

We’ve lost our astonishment. We say we believe in Jesus but are no longer amazed by Him. When we are no longer surprised we are left with dry and dead religion; when we remove mystery we are left with frozen or petrified dogma; when we script awe we are left with an impotent deity; and when we abandon astonishment we are left with shallow worship.[2]

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways![3]

 

[1] Isaiah 55:9

[2] Adapted from Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 23-28.

[3] Romans 1:33 CSB

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Is Music Killing Your Worship?

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musicMost worship leaders have some level of formal or informal musical training. Consequently, music is usually their default when it comes to worship planning. So even though they know worship and music aren’t exclusively synonymous, they usually begin their worship preparation each week with the songs.

Music is indeed a valued expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only or even primary worship expression. In fact, music is a supplemental not foundational worship element. Worship can’t occur without hearing from God through His Word and communicating with Him in prayer. So until we get those worship foundations covered first, then music is just music.

Scripture

We defend the Bible as foundational to our theology and practice, yet rarely read its text in our public services of worship. Doesn’t its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word from which our music must spring forth? Our songs will have new life when worship begins with the Word.

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion

Some of our church cultures limit the Lord’s Supper as a foundational worship element, believing its frequency can encourage monotony. But maybe in our infrequency we are missing two worship actions and interactions only available at the Table: the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity and relationships at the Table.

As we plan, prepare and lead worship we must freely and strongly say, “There is more, far more.” Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep.[1] And when we do, those foundational elements will alleviate the pressure on music as the primary driver of worship renewal and diminish its blame for worship demise.

 

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

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Sunday Worship: Starting a Fire from Scratch

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CastawayYou’ve probably seen the 2000 movie Cast Away featuring Tom Hanks playing Chuck Noland, a lone plane crash survivor on an uninhabited island. Early in the movie, Noland realized he couldn’t live without fire. So in the following scene he offered us a glimpse of his resolve, despair, anger and even humor as he labored over trying to start a fire from scratch.

Worship leaders can experience similar emotions when they are expected to light a fire each Sunday with the opening song. And even though congregants might not have done anything to help stir those embers during the week, how easily they can blame the music or musicians when the spark is not there.

If we are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.[1] Consequently, every Sunday can end up being a frustrating exercise in trying to start a fire from scratch.

Because of the laborious task of fire starting, ancient nomadic people began to use earthenware vessels called fire pots. They would carry embers or slow-burning fires in these pots with them as they traveled from one location to another. Just by adding small quantities of kindling for fuel they could keep those mini fires alive, enabling them to quickly ignite larger fires when they united as a group for their evening camps.

What if we had that same understanding of worship and saw it not as a fire to start each week, but a flame that can be taken with us? Then it could continue as we leave the service. It could happen in our homes, at our schools and through our work. It couldn’t be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. Consequently, instead of depending on our worship leaders to start the fire from scratch when we gather, they could just help us fan those flames that already exist.

 

“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.

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20 Timeless A.W. Tozer Worship Quotes

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TozerAiden Wilson Tozer was an American pastor, author, editor and mentor. Most of the more than 60 books that are attributed to A.W. Tozer were compiled after his death from sermons he preached and articles he wrote. At least two of Tozer’s works, The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy, are regarded as Christian classics.

Most of Tozer’s words, including these selected quotes on worship, impress on the reader the necessity for a deeper relationship with God.

 

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

 

“Christians don’t tell lies they just go to church and sing them.” 

 

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” 

 

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”

 

“The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.”

 

“I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.” 

 

“Sometimes I go to God and say, “God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth, I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already. God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.” 

 

“Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token homage to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is ABOVE, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choice he makes day after day throughout his life.” 

 

“Did you ever stop to think that God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in Heaven as you are to be there?”

 

“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.”

 

“I remind you that there are churches so completely out of the hands of God that if the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, they wouldn’t find it out for many months” 

 

“The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things.” 

 

“We are saved to worship God. All that Christ has done in the past and all that He is doing now leads to this one end.”

 

“Without doubt the emphasis in Christian teaching today should be on worship. There is little danger that we shall become merely worshipers and neglect the practical implications of the gospel. No one can long worship God in spirit and in truth before the obligation to holy service becomes too strong to resist. Fellowship with God leads straight to obedience and good works. That is the divine order and it can never be reversed.”

 

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”

 

“If you’re not worshiping God on Monday the way you did the day before, perhaps you’re not worshiping him at all.”

 

“Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”

 

“It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”

 

“I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church, the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the public service which now passes for worship among us.”

 

“We must never rest until everything inside us worships God.”

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Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

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hallmarkSome congregations and even entire denominations have not embraced the Christian Calendar as foundational to their worship planning and implementation out of concern that it is too rigid, routine or orthodox. So in their desire to be non-liturgical they have in fact created their own liturgy framed by Hallmark or denominational and civic calendars.

The desire for worship creativity has caused some congregations to look elsewhere, believing annual celebrations promote monotony and conformity. But Timothy Carson wrote, “Exactly the opposite may be true. Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it. Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”[1]

In the Middle Ages the church calendar was filled with such a multitude of saint’s days that the value of festivals like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost were lost. Some of the Reformers such as John Calvin, in response eliminated the entire church year. Other Protestants responded similarly and in the sixteenth century the Puritans rejected even Christmas as a festival day.[2]

As Protestant congregations began again to commemorate special days they focused on cultural and denominational calendars instead of the Christian one. So as the antitheses to what was considered Catholic, these civic days were given as much or more credibility as the days of the Christian calendar. But as some of these congregations avoided the Christian calendar they were at the same time affirming some annual observances whose foundations were not always biblically grounded.[3]

God has placed each one of our congregations in a unique cultural and national context. So worshiping while giving consideration to those contexts is one of the exciting challenges for a modern church. As long as Christian worship is our starting point it will provide us with the opportunity to take up that challenge without compromising our biblical and theological foundations.[4]

So why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day in the same seasons as Ascension Day and Pentecost? Without ignoring one or the other, it is possible to converge holidays significant to our civic and denominational calendars with those Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom.

 

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

[2]Barry Liesch, People in the Presence of God: Models and Directions for Worship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 223.

[3] Carson, Transforming Worship, 56.

[4] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 5, “The Services of the Christian Year” (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 82-83.

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10 Awkward Worship Meet and Greet Handshakes

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Can you imagine a baseball announcer encouraging the fans to greet one-another after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame?” Or can you visualize the orchestra concertmaster asking you to find someone you don’t know to shake hands with after the second movement of a Mahler Symphony? How about asking worshipers to shake hands after the opening song at church?

The worship service Meet and Greet can cause anxiety sweats and heart palpitations for first time guests and congregational introverts. Some see that service element as shallow, contrived and intimidating. So have you ever wondered if it’s actually serving its purpose? What do you think most people are really thinking during this service ritual? These ten awkward handshakes might just give it away.

 

sweatyThe Sweaty Palm

What he might be thinking: We’re getting ready to sing a Tomlin song in its original key.

 

 

 

crusherThe Crusher

What he might be thinking: I should’ve gotten the solo on the opening song.

 

 

 

queenThe Queen

What she might be thinking: I got the solo on the opening song.

 

 

 

dead fishThe Dead Fish

What he might be thinking: I’d rather be golfing so I’m saving my grip for 18 holes after the service.

 

 

 

PoliticianThe Politician

What he might be thinking: Maybe I can get him to serve on the building and grounds committee.

 

 

 

 

stiff armThe Stiff Armer

What she might be thinking: Don’t ask me to serve on anything.

 

 

 

pullerThe Grip and Puller 

What he might be thinking: I haven’t forgotten about your hard slide in the softball game yesterday.

 

 

 

huggerThe Hand Hugger

What she might be thinking: A non-verbal “bless your heart,” meaning I know your sins better than you do.

 

 

 

BroThe Bro

What he might be thinking: I still have Larry Norman and Stryper in my play list.

 

 

 

fist bumpThe Fist Bumper

What he might be thinking: I didn’t see a lot of hand washing at the pre-service restroom meet and greet.

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5 Things Worship Music Isn’t

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Five Things

Worship

Music

Isn’t 

It isn’t music theory

The purpose of our worship isn’t to teach musicianship or make great music. Learning to sing parts, follow a melodic line and internalize rhythms are all skills that can enhance our worship. But those skills are a means to the end, not the end.

The theoretical study of the elements of music including sound, pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, time and notation can enrich our worship. But understanding those elements isn’t necessary for worship to occur. So worship service music that focuses on theory alone without moving to the application may be great music, but not worship.

It isn’t necessary

The sole emphasis on music as our only worship offering may have actually hindered our worship understanding and exacerbated our worship conflicts. Music and worship aren’t exclusively synonymous. One is mandatory, the other isn’t.

Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer it as a gift to God. But it isn’t the expression. So considering additional artistic options could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

It isn’t a substitute

Kairos or God moments might occur in our song selections but they’ve already occurred in Scripture, Prayer and the Table. So why are we reading, petitioning and gathering at the Table less in order to sing more?

Biblical text must be the foundation from which our songs spring forth. Prayer is not just a song connector; it is a divine conversation that gives us a reason to sing in the first place. And two relationships we try to create with our song sets are available at the Table: The vertical communion with Christ and the horizontal communion with each other. So music is an addition to, not a substitute for these Kairos moments.

It isn’t an inviter

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). If God is calling and we are declaring, then the invitation to show up is from Him not us.

Our music can acknowledge His presence but it can’t generate it. It can respond to His presence but it can’t initiate it. It can celebrate His presence but it can’t create it.

It isn’t a starter or stopper

If our worship starts when we sing the first song and stops when we sing the last one, then what are we doing the other 167 hours of the week? Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and also loving our neighbors as we love ourselves means worship must be continuous.

Worship can’t be contained in a song set, single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. So it doesn’t matter how good our worship is when we gather, it is incomplete until it continues when we scatter.

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20 Paradoxologies

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paradox
A Paradox is a statement that contradicts itself or a situation that seems to defy logic. A Doxology is a liturgical action or expression of praise and worship to God. When the two are combined the result is a Paradoxology or liturgical action or expression that contradicts itself or seems to defy logic.

20 Paradoxologies

  1. Opening worship song.
  2. A song’s age determines its worship relevance.
  3. God showed up.
  4. Passive worship.
  5. Attire dictates worship success.
  6. Less Scripture and prayer gives more time for worship.
  7. A sermon follows the worship.
  8. We didn’t like worship today.
  9. Explain worship mystery.
  10. Worship music is always louder when you don’t like it.
  11. Recreating a worship experience.
  12. Worship without sacrifice.
  13. Consider musicology before theology.
  14. Implementing a worship formula.
  15. Changing worship will grow your church.
  16. Pretentious worship.
  17. How to market your worship.
  18. Planning evangelistic worship.
  19. Culture influences worship.
  20. Patriotic worship service.
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Calling Worship Songs Up for A Cup of Coffee

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coffeeMajor League Baseball is preparing again for a new season as spring training is in full swing in Arizona and Florida. And thousands of minor league players are competing for a chance to prove their abilities at the major league level.

Since its inception over 140 years ago, Major League Baseball has had almost 19,000 players who’ve run up the dugout steps to play on a major league field. Approximately 1,000 of those players have been called up from the minor leagues for just a single game.

In baseball jargon, those players called up for a short time are referred to as “cup of coffee” players. The etymology of the idiom is that a player was only in the major leagues long enough to drink a cup of coffee before being sent back down to the minors. So most of the other roster players didn’t even have enough time to get to know them.

Congregations have literally hundreds of thousands of songs and hymns from which to choose for singing in their worship services. And since new songs are being written and added to the list every week, maybe the pressure to sing all of those new additions is actually causing congregational disharmony. Maybe we aren’t giving congregants the necessary time to resonate with and internalize new songs before we’ve already moved onto the next one.

The argument is not if we should sing new songs since we have a biblical mandate to do so. The argument is when we sing new songs; let’s give them enough time to become a part of our shared worship language. Let’s call them up for more than a cup of coffee so we can all easily remember, revisit and reaffirm their worship value for future services. And then maybe those new songs will live in our hearts, not just on our lips.

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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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A Modern Parable for Worship Leaders

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matthewThe Master Worship Leader called three novices with various gifts, passions and capabilities to lead worship in three churches with distinct characteristics and needs.

To the first novice worship leader the Master gave a worship band that included five stellar players on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums and keyboard.

To the second novice worship leader the Master gave an aging rockabilly guitarist and a high school cajon player.

And to the third novice worship leader the Master gave a long-retired kindergarten teacher who played hymns as long as they weren’t in sharps.

So The Master entrusted the three novices to fulfill their unique worship callings in equally unique and sometimes challenging church settings.

The first novice realized his church wouldn’t be able to begin more services or plant additional churches until new players were trained. So he encouraged his original band members to give lessons to younger players so they’d be available for new plants and as substitute players throughout the year. He also began a school of the arts to cultivate younger players so his church could share some of those players with several smaller churches in their community.

The second novice quickly realized rockabilly didn’t fit the worship voice of his congregation so he used some of his worship budget to invest in more nuanced worship guitar lessons for his rockabilly guitarist and one of his rockabilly band associates. And since the high school cajon player would graduate in a year, he was asked to train a younger middle schooler to serve as his replacement upon graduation.

The third novice coasted, surfed ministry placement sites, went to conferences with his resume in hand and waited for the Master to call him to a more favorable position.

The Master checked in with the three novices to see how they were responding to His unique call in their unique settings.

The novice with five players showed the Master how he had doubled the number of players originally entrusted to him. So the Master commended him: “Good work! It’s obvious you are not just a musician but also a leader of worship and worshipers. You are a worthy ministry servant that can be trusted with more.”

The novice with two players showed the Master how he had invested in the skills of existing players and trained younger players for the future. So the Master celebrated with him: “Great job! It’s obvious you aren’t doing this alone and value the calling and gifts of others. You are a model of servant leadership ready for additional responsibilities.”

The novice with one player said, “Master, I know you have high worship standards and are not pleased with poor musicianship. And since no other players here at my church can live up to those expectations, I have been doing it all myself. I’ve been waiting for you to call me to another church with more skilled players who appreciate my musical prowess.”

The Master was angry and disappointed at this response so he asked the third novice two final questions: “If you knew I was after high worship standards, then why haven’t you been trying to achieve them where I called you with what I gave you? And if you haven’t been giving your best to this place where I called you now and have been saving it for where you hope I will call you next, then why would I want to?”

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40 Worship Alternative Facts

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forty

Worship Alternative Facts

  1. Worship bands trivialize it.
  2. Orchestras make it archaic.
  3. If newer it is relevant.
  4. When older it is stale.
  5. Music is a requirement for it to occur.
  6. If it’s louder it’s better.
  7. It requires noise.
  8. Original artist keys are its purest form.
  9. Older guys can no longer lead it effectively.
  10. It’s more relevant with a younger leader.
  11. It can’t occur without a leader.
  12. A woman can’t lead it.
  13. It’s not possible multigenerationally.
  14. It should be segregated by affinity and cultures.
  15. It has to be rational and explainable.
  16. It’s only relevant when mirroring present culture.
  17. Evangelism is its goal.
  18. It’s a Sunday event only.
  19. It starts and stops with opening and closing songs.
  20. A hymnal is necessary for it to occur.
  21. Most modern worship songs are trite.
  22. It can’t happen with a choir.
  23. It is passive with a worship team.
  24. It can be created with song selections.
  25. One style of it is preeminent.
  26. It’s a warm-up for the sermon.
  27. Changing it will grow your church.
  28. Changing it will kill your church.
  29. It’s always happy.
  30. It causes Jesus to show up.
  31. It is something done for us.
  32. Singing or playing is its only participatory option.
  33. It is a noun.
  34. It is based primarily on feelings.
  35. It requires no congregational preparation or participation.
  36. Technology distracts from it.
  37. Technology is a requirement for it.
  38. It can be imitated or mimicked.
  39. Its songs have a short shelf life.
  40. Attire determines its success or failure.
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You’re A Worship Leader, Not A Cheerleader

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cheerleaderIf you’re familiar with cheerleading, then you understand its purpose is to generate spirit. It is scripted, coached, practiced and performed in order to rally enthusiasm, create energy and spawn excitement.

Cheerleading includes a variety of synchronized routines such as songs, dances, chants and stunts. The cheerleaders implement these various actions with 3-4 minute routines to work-up or generate the spirit of the spectators. Some cheerleaders even admit their exuberance isn’t necessarily something they actually feel but instead something they put on, much like their facial makeup.

To motivate their congregation, worship leaders can sometimes display similar cheerleading traits.

But…Worship leaders are not cheerleaders.

Worship leaders can’t generate the Spirit of God through their synchronized actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response to the Spirit but they can’t create it.

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father is seeking the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). We are responders to God’s calling and seeking, not originators of it.

So as good as our various worship routines might be, they will never work-up enough enthusiasm, energy and emotion to create a Spirit that can only be recognized and responded to. We can acknowledge the Spirit but we can’t generate it. We can respond to the Spirit but we can’t initiate it. We can celebrate the Spirit but we can’t create it.

Theologian Richard Foster wrote, “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 worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.”[1]

 

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

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The God We Worship Looks A Lot Like Us

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mirrorWe are created in God’s image, not He in ours. We should, therefore, step into His story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. When we worship we must acknowledge that we aren’t starting the conversation. Instead, He began the dialogue and is inviting us to join Him in it. So if we create worship just to accommodate our needs, then the god we worship looks a lot like us.

Our worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.[1] So if our worship is truly in spirit and truth it must reflect who God is, not what we want. When we focus on what we need, deserve and prefer, the attention is always on us. But when we focus on what He desires, the attention is always on Him.

Fortunately for us, we still occasionally see God even when our worship is focused on our own selfish desires. But how much more profound could our worship be if we moved beyond just seeing Him to actually seeing by Him. In his essay “Meditation in A Tool Shed,” C.S. Lewis illustrates the difference between just seeing something as an outsider and actually seeing by or looking along something as an insider.

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.[2]

When we stand outside of the beam and expect it to move where we are, the god we worship looks like us. We believe it is there for our sake instead of we there for its sake. Then the object of our worship (God and God’s story) is transferred to an object of our own choosing (us and our story). Harold Best wrote, “Idolatry is the difference between walking in the light and creating our own light to walk in.”[3]

But when we step into the beam and look along that beam we don’t just see God, but now see by Him. Then our worship is no longer shaped by what we want or feel like we’ve earned, but instead by who God is and what He has done.

 

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212.

[3] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 165-6.

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Can’t Hear Them Singing? Dial It Back A Notch!

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decibelMost of us can’t imagine operating a lawn mower or power tools without hearing protection. Yet we regularly operate our worship sound reinforcement systems at a comparable decibel level.

We all know volume complaints are more prevalent when the musical style is one the complainant doesn’t particularly like. But before you write this post off as another stylistic rant from an old guy, remember that decibel levels are no respecter of ages or musical styles.

An organ, choir and orchestra, rhythm section or southern gospel quartet all have the same potential to hover around elevated or even damaging volume levels. In fact, some studies have shown that incidents of hearing loss are slightly higher in classical musicians than rock musicians. So even if our volume preferences may be subjective, the potential effects are not.

Worship leaders often use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decibel scale to determine acceptable levels. Although a helpful resource, it is often used reactively rather than proactively. In other words, leaders use this scale to defend existing levels in response to complaints.

Proactive use of the OSHA scale can instead help a congregation consider not only acceptable levels but also appropriate levels. Acceptable levels are subjective…Appropriate levels are objective.

Experts have written that based on the length of time of exposure vs. the intensity of exposure, every 3 dB drop reduces the risk by one-half. In the noisy environment of a worship service with numerous instrumentalists and vocalists playing and singing simultaneously, a 3 dB drop of the band or orchestra would be imperceptible to most people.[1] So slight volume adjustments could foster significant progress toward more appropriate worship music levels.

Most worship leaders lament the fact that their congregations are no longer singing. Elevated volume levels could be contributing to this passivity. So being sensitive to the need for minor sound adjustments could encourage expanded participation in congregational singing. Kenny Lamm wrote, “If our music is too loud for people to hear each other singing, it is too loud.” Check out the following link for his helpful commentary on why congregations are no longer singing: 9 Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship by Kenny Lamm.

As leaders, we can rationalize higher decibel levels because it feels better, because it fits a certain genre or because we personally prefer it at those levels. And yet, we often vilify congregants who make those same claims about their own preferences. So it’s really just a matter of our responsibility and accountability as leaders to fulfill our obligation to steward the platform musicians and congregants we have been entrusted to lead.

[1] Marshall Chasin, Hearing Loss in Musicians: Prevention and Management, (San Diego: Plural Publishing, 2009).

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Planning Worship for Likes

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LikeMarketing 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.

Social media has created a marketing culture where our posting success is determined by the number of likes, shares, retweets or comments we receive. So those of us who are social media aficionados have learned how to market our posts to encourage more favorable responses. Some of us plan worship the same way.

Planning worship for likes means we are intentionally selecting our songs and service elements in response to positive, negative or no feedback. Designing worship for affirmation can even cause us to hedge theologically, biblically and musically.

So if we are catering to worship tastes just for the positive feedback, what will we offer when those tastes change or are too diverse to accommodate? Preferences change, biblical and theological content doesn’t. So the worship we reach them with is the worship we’ll reach them to.

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20 Ways to Pray for Worship Leaders

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twenty

Ways to Pray for

Worship Leaders

 

 

  1. Pray that they never sacrifice their family for ministry since their family is ministry.
  2. Pray for them to prepare for Sunday by focusing on worship as primary and music as secondary.
  3. Pray that they will help us focus more on the creator and less on their creativity.
  4. Pray that Scripture and Prayer instead of song selections frame their worship preparation.
  5. Pray for healthier ministry staff relationships.
  6. Pray that their days off and vacations provide rest that is free from church responsibilities.
  7. Pray for their spiritual, physical and emotional health.
  8. Pray that they’ll be able to sift through the many responsibilities that compete for their attention and focus on the ones God wants them to do.
  9. Pray for them to wake up every morning feeling unqualified in their own power to do what God has called them to do.
  10. Pray Ephesians 4:29 over them, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
  11. Pray for them to daily recommit to their call here instead of dreaming about what it might be like to be there.
  12. Pray they never confuse leading music with leading people.
  13. Pray for them to have enough humility to engage us as participants instead of audiences.
  14. Pray for the protection of their marriages.
  15. Pray for trusted leaders to hold them accountable and protect them.
  16. Pray for their almost insurmountable task of trying to stay current musically, technologically and culturally.
  17. Pray for a great cloud of witnesses to surround them so they can fix their eyes on Jesus and run with endurance.
  18. Pray that they will have the courage to ignore the loudest voices if not God’s.
  19. Pray for their wisdom to select old and new songs that will help us respond to God’s revelation with biblical, theological and doctrinal integrity.
  20. Pray that they will have patience and persistence when it seems like none of us are completely happy with their musical selections.
  21.  

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Worshipers…Watch Your Step!

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cautionIt is recorded at the beginning of chapter five of Ecclesiastes that we should guard our steps as we go to the house of God and listen instead of offering the sacrifice of fools who don’t even know they are being foolish (Eccl 5:1).

Understanding the necessity of individually preparing for gathered worship is radically different than expecting our worship leaders to generate our worship for us when we get there. We sing our songs as an act of worship, not to create it.

It’s not enough to sing “Your praise will ever be on my lips” on Sunday if I’m not living it on Monday. So if we aren’t prepared on Sunday to respond to God’s countless blessings that occurred all week, how could our worship leaders possibly lead enough songs to prepare us?

Richard Foster wrote, “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 worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.”[1]

Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell offer some suggestions to help us prepare for worship. It requires:

  1. Internal preparation of heart: Each worshiper carries the responsibility for personal preparation of his/her heart. If God calls us to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must constantly ask questions about the state of our spirit and readiness of our hearts.
  1. Pre-arrival preparation: We can learn from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before. So our Saturday night and Sunday morning activities before we gather have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship.
  1. Pre-service preparation: That short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also critical. How we interact with others reminds us that we are here as part of a body. Intentionally quieting our spirits before the service begins will also enable us to set distractions aside and again focus our corporate attention on God.[2]

And since worship does not start when we enter the worship service, it should not stop when we leave. So with that understanding I would recommend a fourth suggestion to add to the previous three.

  1. Post-service continuation: Worship should continue as we leave the service. It can happen in our homes, at our schools and through our work. It can’t be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. So it doesn’t matter how good our worship is when we gather, it is incomplete until it continues when we scatter. Post-service worship then leads us in a continuous circle back to step 1.

Worship begins in our hearts, not on our lips.

 

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

[2] Malefyt, Norma deWaal and Howard Vanderwell, Database online. Available from worship.calvin.edu.

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5 Worship Oxymorons

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cemeteryCall to Worship
A call to worship that reminds congregants to set aside their distractions in order to respond again to God’s revelation that occurred during the week is not an oxymoron. But when a call to worship or opening song is used like the Indy 500 announcement, Gentlemen Start Your Engines, it is.

If our worship only starts when we sing the first song and then stops when we sing the last one, what are we doing the other 167 hours of the week? Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and also loving our neighbors as we love ourselves means worship is continuous, not just something called at the beginning of our Sunday song set.

Scriptureless Worship
A limited use of Scripture in our worship services conveys a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to our worship. And by limiting its text to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation we are implying that a higher level of credibility is found in the exhortation than in the Word itself. If Scripture can’t stand on its own, then we can’t possibly prop it up with our own superficial words.

Scripture must be foundational to our worship songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and the Table. When that biblical text organically yields our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived worship language, we will leave in here worship with the text in our hearts and on our lips for continuous worship out there.

Worship Experience
We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service but the experience 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 (worship) is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes prepared reply to that experience.

Passive Worship
If we never involve our congregants 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 worship spectators into active worship participators? Passive worship is worship that is done for us.

Participative worship, on the other hand, taps into the collective talents, resources and responses of the entire congregation. It is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. Encouraging participatory worship leverages and trusts the involvement of all in planning, preparation and implementation. Participative worship is worship that we do.

Worship Announcements
A worship announcement doesn’t have to be an oxymoron, but usually is. 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. The result of ill prepared verbal announcements is often a long-winded circular discourse of verbosity, clichés and topical detours that has little to do with worship.

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.

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12 Ways to Get Rid of Your Worship Leader

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twelve

Ways  to  Get

Rid  of  Your

Worship  Leader

 

  • Target his family because you aren’t happy with him.

  • Insist on worship service musical style quotas.

  • Constantly compare her with your previous worship leader.

  • As an act of civil disobedience stop singing when he introduces new songs.

  • Don’t accept his limitations, vulnerabilities or transparency.

  • Expect the worship music to increase church attendance or reduce church conflict.

  • Depend on her alone to generate or create worship every week.

  • Demand intergenerational worship that doesn’t require you to sacrifice.

  • Expect her to lead multicultural worship without changing anything.

  • Require him to always plan and lead worship with your preferences in mind.

  • Institute ageism and physical appearance guidelines.

  • Never view worship as more than a service starter, stuffer or stopper.

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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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DIY Worship

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Do It YourselfWorship is something we do, not something done for us.

The conviction that a priest must mediate to God for us was set aside through the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer. But even if most evangelical church worshipers theologically embrace that doctrine, they often function practically as if they don’t.

When worship leaders act as priestly worship gatekeepers, they can hold a congregation captive to style, tradition, form and structure. They have a tendency to direct, regulate, contain, moderate and restrain. The result is worship determined hierarchically and disseminated corporately, meaning it can only really occur in a controlled setting that they lead.

Abdicating our individual worship responsibilities continues when only a select few are encouraged or even allowed to read, speak, pray, testify, lead, sing, exhort, offer communion, baptize, lament, confess, bless, praise and thank.

There is no question that worship leaders are called and we often need them to facilitate, prompt, remind, exhort, prod and encourage us to a deeper worship understanding. But they are not called to mediate for us.

Do It Yourself Worship, on the other hand, relies on the collective cooperation from all to plan, prepare and implement the worship systems of a congregation. DIY Worship sets congregants free. The gate is always open. It helps them realize that worship can’t be contained in one location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. Even though it can be messy, DIY Worship is freeing in that it reminds us all that worship is not just something we do on Sunday but also who we are during the week.

The author of the book of Hebrews points out that the old covenant limited access to God. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies one time a year with a blood offering (Hebrews 9:3, 6-7). So the place where God’s presence was most revealed was not available except through the high priest and only at certain times.

But in the new covenant in which we live, Jesus became the mediator serving as the intercessor for the people of God. An earthly priest was no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’ blood was offered; the veil was torn in half; and the way was now open for all to worship Him without an earthly mediator.

We will never completely understand worship as something we can do ourselves, instead of something that must be done for us until we embrace with confidence our individual worship freedom to “enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19).

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Thoughtless Worship

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thoughtlessWe often wait for the song set to stir our emotions before joining in worship. But if we ever hope for deep calling unto deep worship it will also require us to engage our minds. Worship that doesn’t require us to think is superficial.

Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength and also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi and us was that 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).

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 teach it.

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

Our 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.

Worshiping with our mind 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 thoughtless worship.

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Worship Has Left the Building

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exit

If our worship services convey that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; if we expend all resources and energy preparing for and leading a single hour on Sunday and have nothing left for worship the other hours of the week; if we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event that occurs only when we gather in the building.

Worship is a daily conversation, not a weekly event. Harold Best wrote, “If those of us who lead gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.”[1]

Worship can’t be contained in one location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. It doesn’t matter how good it is when we gather in here, it is incomplete until it includes who we are out there. So worship success will never be completely realized until we can say, “Worship has left the building.”

 

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

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Open Letter To Pastors Who Choose Not To Sing

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open letterDear Non-Singing Pastor,

We depend on you as the primary worship leader of our congregation. We agree that your leadership centers more on worship through the Word and Table than through the music. And we understand and affirm that worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music.

But it is evident from Scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19: Col 3:15-17). When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

When the circumstances of life discourage us from verbalizing our songs, the Father surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Ps 32:7). And when we can’t find adequate words to express our love to the Father, Jesus as our worship leader sings with us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). So if the Father is singing over us and Jesus is singing with us, we have to ask how you can keep from singing?

When you choose not to sing it causes us to wonder if you really view the musical worship elements as an optional appetizer before the main course or the warm-up band before the headliner. And when you study sermon notes during the service instead of singing it gives us the impression you are unprepared, reminiscent of a freshman cramming for a final exam.

Pastor, we long for you to teach and model for us what active and fully engaged worship through singing looks like. We desire worship that is a continuous conversation with a variety of worship expressions instead of our stand-alone elements of music and preaching.

So in humility we ask that you join us in full-throated singing so that all of our voices, including yours, might unite in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament and response. And when this occurs our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that it can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12).

Sincerely,

Your Worship Musicians and Congregation

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7 Questions We Must Ask of Our Worship Songs

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questionsInstead of asking what musical styles our church should sing, we must ask if our songs are connecting the Word of God to the people of God. Until we begin to ask worship questions based on biblical and theological tenets rather than preferential ones, we’ll continue trying to create worship renewal through aesthetics and improvisation alone. If we want to discern and discover worship renewal in our church, then we have to begin by asking better questions.

  • Do our songs 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.

  • Do our songs 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.

  • Do our songs 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.

  • Are song texts 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.

  • Are we singing our songs with 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 texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them.

  • Do our songs 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. So our songs must be sung from our entire being.

  • Are our songs encouraging 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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Scriptureless Worship

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Bible

A worship service without the reading of Scripture may not be worship at all.

 

 

Why do churches that so passionately defend the Bible rarely read its text in public worship services? Does its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to our faith, doctrines and practices? And by limiting its text to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation are we implying that a higher level of credibility is found in the exhortation than in the Word itself? If Scripture can’t stand on its own, then we can’t possibly prop it up with our own superficial words.

Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Worship wrote, “We are nourished in worship by Jesus Christ, who is the living Word disclosed to us in the Scriptures, the written Word of God. In spite of all the emphasis we evangelicals have placed on the importance of the Bible, there seems to be a crisis of the Word among us.”[1]

Congregations continue to struggle in their understanding of spirit and truth worship by maximizing music and depending on it alone to encourage worship renewal. At the same time those congregations often minimize the very foundational text from which our songs must spring forth.

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.”[2]

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation causes worshipers to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 2:12-15; I Thess 1:5). The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. This dialogue develops a community that congregations have been desperately trying to create through their songs alone.

John Burgess offers the insight that, “When Scripture is read, when it is explicated in preaching, when it is incorporated into prayers of thanksgiving and lament, when it frames the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Scripture becomes a means by which Christians are gathered into the body of the living Lord.”[3]

Scripture must be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and even announcements. It must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. And when the biblical text organically yields our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language, we will leave in here worship with the text in our hearts and on our lips for continuous worship out there.

 

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 113.

[2] 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.

[3] John Burgess, Why Scripture Matters: Reading the Bible in a Time of Church Conflict (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1998), 41; as quoted in Leanne Van Dyk, ed., A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 66.

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Cheap Worship

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cheapTerry York and David Bolin wrote, “We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas. We should not lift up to God worship or any other offering that costs us nothing. If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[1]

When Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman at the well the conversation moved from the physical…thirst, to the spiritual…living water. She attempted to change the subject back to the physical of the where and how of worship, but Jesus turned the conversation again to her spiritual condition and the who of worship. “God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Once the woman encountered and acknowledged Jesus, she joined his conversation instead of expecting him to join hers. This encounter inspired her to sacrifice the self serving agenda that originally brought her to that place. She left her water pot and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done” (v. 28-29).

She was not only willing to sacrifice her agenda; she was also ready to sacrifice comfort and preference. She knew where to find the men of the city since she’d had an intimate relationship with many of them and “all the things I have done” probably included many of their names. Yet, she was willing to set all fear of embarrassment and maybe even livelihood aside in order to sacrifice because of an encounter with Jesus.

The Samaritan woman continued to offer her body, though now it was as a living sacrifice to God as her spiritual act of worship. The result of her worship response was that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v. 39).

King David responded to God’s command to build an altar to the Lord so that 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, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:21-24).

Cheap worship asks, “what’s in it for me?” Costly worship asks, “what’s in it of me?”

 

[1] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 112.

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Want Multicultural Worship? Speak Their Language!

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multiculturalImagine your church filled with people of all colors, nationalities, economic levels, generations and even political ideologies all worshiping God together! The problem with this scenario is that most of us imagine how great this could be as long as they worship the same way we do.

Early missionaries went to other countries and attempted to teach indigenous tribes and tongues to worship by singing western songs with western notation and western rhythms only to realize that those indigenous people were not connecting with a deeper biblical and theological understanding of worship. It wasn’t until the missionaries encouraged the use of native dance, tonalities, instruments and rhythms that the various tribes and tongues were able to understand worship in spirit and truth.

We often make the same mistake in our own American churches. We try to create homogenous worship without considering the various cultures and generations of those present and those not present yet. And then wonder why they aren’t grasping a deeper understanding of worship renewal.

Why are we so understanding and accepting of cultural diversities around the world but not across the aisle? And why do we call it missions when we embrace cultural influences on worship internationally and call it compromise when we embrace those influences domestically? If we really want to understand and encourage multicultural worship, maybe it’s time for worship leaders to become ethnodoxologists.

Ethnodoxology is the theological and anthropological understanding and application of how various cultural groups might use their unique and diverse artistic expressions appropriately to worship God. It recognizes God is present in and reveals Himself to other cultures.

The term finds its source in 2 Biblical Greek words…Ethno from the Greek word ethne meaning peoples or people groups; and Doxology, from the Greek word doxos meaning glory or praise.

Ethnodoxologist Worship Leaders…

  • Stop trying to fix everything with music. Music is a universal language as long as you live in my cultural universe. So when music is the solitary driver of multicultural worship it will get the solitary blame if it fails.
  • Discover and assimilate the heart languages of those who are here and those who are not here yet. Heart language is the mother tongue in which we first learned to express our joy and sorrow.
  • Help congregants understand worship as a life to be lived together before considering it as an event in which to participate together.
  • Lead and model for their congregations how to live multicultural instead of monocultural lives. How can congregations expect to have multicultural worship when they segregate in everything else during the week? Learning to love, respect, understand and defer to each other outside of the worship service can’t help but positively impact multicultural worship inside the worship service.
  • Look beyond Americanism as having a corner on worship understanding and expression. We must look at what God is doing around the world and agree that no single country or culture offers the only acceptible way to worship.
  • Base multicultural worship on the understanding that earthly worship should reflect heavenly worship. “And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne.’”
  • Promote multicultural platforms. Being a multicultural church means more than just singing international songs. It means that the people who plan and lead worship must also represent a variety of cultural and ethnic groups. Few people will believe we desire multicultural worship until we also have multicultural leadership.
  • Don’t undervalue diversity by assuming worship is homogenous and therefore eliminates all differences. Multicultural congregations understand that the gospel brings unity amidst our diversity, not in uniformity.

If we are not meant to be segregated by our cultures and generations as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so segregated as we worship here on earth?

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The Arrogance of Inviting God to Show Up

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invitationWe’ve all heard or maybe even said…”As we worship this morning we are inviting God to show up and show off.”

We seem to have forgotten that, “The Father is seeking (He is initiating) the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

How arrogant then is it for us to assume that what we sing or don’t sing or how we sing it or don’t sing it determines if God shows up in our worship services.

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). God calls…we declare.

We can acknowledge His presence but we can’t generate it. We can respond to His presence but we can’t initiate it. We can celebrate His presence but we can’t create it.

We often take credit for instigating God’s presence when in reality He started the conversation, was present long before we arrived and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him.

Swiss theologian Karl Barth stated that when people assemble in the house of God they are met with expectancy greater than their own. Worship doesn’t invite God’s presence…it acknowledges it.

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Event Spectators or Worship Participators?

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spectators
If we never involve our congregants 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 event spectators into active worship participators?

Spectator

Someone who attends or watches an event or game; An onlooker or observer; A member of an audience; A spectator could be a fan or foe depending on who is playing and what is being played; and Spectators think they are in the game because they are in the stands.

Participator

Someone who is involved or makes a contribution to; Related to something larger than oneself; One who invests in, takes part in or shares in; A participator is engaged and involved; and Participators are in the game because they are always on the field.

Reasons Churches Have Event Spectators Instead of Worship Participators

  • Leaders are doing everything for them.
  • Worship is a weekly event instead of a daily life.
  • Singing is the only participatory option given to them.
  • Various artistic expressions aren’t encouraged or allowed.
  • Worship space and technology encourages audience observation.
  • Worship is a noun instead of a verb.
  • Worship is regard for religion instead of response to revelation.
  • Worship is man perceived instead of God conceived.
  • Just showing up is the only preparation expected.

William Willimon wrote, “Many of the Sunday orders of worship consist of the pastor speaking, the pastor praying, the pastor reading and the choir singing, with little opportunity for the congregation to do anything but sit and listen . . . When the Sunday service is simply a time to sit quietly, hear some good music and a good sermon, sing a hymn, and then go home to eat dinner, no wonder many of our people get confused into thinking that Christ only wants passive admirers rather than active followers.”[1]

 

[1] William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia PA: Westminster, 1984), 20.

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