Nov 18 2019

10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

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10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

  • They can’t cause or cure our church conflicts.
  • They can’t grow or kill our church.
  • They can’t be contained in one genre or style.
  • They can’t begin or end our worship.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service Scripture.
  • They can’t cause us to worship.
  • They can’t prop up our bad theology.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service prayer.
  • They can’t usher us into the presence of God.
  • They can’t be our only act of worship.
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Nov 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 4 2019

Urban Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 28 2019

50 Worship Leader Self-Evaluation Questions

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

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

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

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 16 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 14 2019

Top 10 Worship Word Wednesday Quotes

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

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Oct 9 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 7 2019

Give Music a Rest!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Oct 2 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 25 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 23 2019

Less Scripture to Sing and Preach More

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sep 9 2019

Fake Worship in the Dark Night of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sep 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 21 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 19 2019

Hooked on a Feeling

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 29 2019

7 Questions Before Introducing a New Worship Song

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

  • Does it reflect and respond to biblical text?

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

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

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

  • Does it speak the Gospel?

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

  • Is its text easy to follow and sing?

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

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

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

  • Will it engage more than our emotions?

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

  • Will it encourage action?

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

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Jul 22 2019

Stop Blaming Music for Worship Conflict

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

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

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

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

Scripture

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

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist

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

The Arts

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

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

 

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

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Jul 17 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 8 2019

The False Dichotomy of Choosing Worship Sides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 1 2019

Reclaimed Worship

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It is en vogue to reclaim and repurpose old wood for new building projects. Reclaimed wood has a rich history and character that newer wood products haven’t yet earned. The beauty of its durability and seasoned strength tells a story that only time can replicate. Using reclaimed wood keeps the past alive even when rebuilding is necessary.

As churches consider the future they sometimes realize the need for renewing and reimagining their worship. In doing so, they often assume it will require incorporating something completely new. So instead of reclaiming and repurposing older methods and practices they instead use the finesse of a wrecking ball to swing wildly at existing practices. The result is often the complete destruction of the worship structures and relational foundations that took decades to build.

So instead of just asking, “what’s broken and how do we fix it” congregations should also be asking, “what’s working and how can we do more of it.”[1] Maybe the worship changes most of our churches need should not occur by demolishing and discarding our existing practices, but instead by deconstructing or reclaiming some of them.

Demolition is the most expedient method of tearing down an existing structure in order to ensure that the ensuing structure bears no characteristics of the original structure. It takes what was and completely destroys it.

Deconstruction, conversely, is the systematic and selective process of taking a structure apart while carefully preserving valuable elements for re-use. It saves those materials within an existing structure and repurposes them for a new life. Deconstruction reclaims some of those elements that still have value for the future.

So reclaiming worship means that even when change is necessary we take the time to recognize those foundations and practices that still have value so we can repurpose them as useful building materials for the future.

 

[1] Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 55.

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Jun 19 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 3 2019

Lord’s Supper Myopia

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

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

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

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

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

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May 29 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 15 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2019

20 Worship Service Irrefutables

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Worship Service Irrefutables

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

35 Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

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

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

Questions First Time Worship Guests Are Probably Asking

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

Dangerous Worship

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LabbertonMark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2007)

The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

If we say, we love God, (an act worship) and hate our brothers, (also an act of worship) we are liars (1 John 4:20a). Worship that acts justly realizes loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength is incomplete until I also love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

In his book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton offers the challenge that too often our worship has become a place of safety and complacency. But true biblical worship doesn’t merely point us upward, it should also turn us outward as well. So worship is the dangerous act of waking up to God and his purposes in the world, and then living lives that show it.[1]

“We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor.”

“Many debates about worship are just indirect ways of talking about ourselves, not God.”

“The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.”

“Where is the evidence that we are scandalized before God when we hunger for worship that almost never leads us to have a heart for the hungry?”

“There are a number of ways in our practice of corporate worship that we substitute human management and form for an encounter with the Spirit of God; we end up making worship in our image rather than God’s.”

“The question of many secular people is not, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like us?’ Rather, their perceptive question (and God’s too) is, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like Jesus?’ Safe worship never gets to this point. The risk is too high.”

“Worship that is based on people’s expectations is typically shaped more by culture than by the gospel.”

“We confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9) but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion.”

“We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best.”

“Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. It’s the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”

“We have to practice laying aside our unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure, or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”

 

[1] This quote and all following quotes are taken from Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Books, 2007).

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Apr 23 2019

Not Enough Easter

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EasterIf our churches affirm Easter as the most important celebration of the church year and the foundation of our hope for the future, then why do we limit its observance to a single Sunday? Remembering the resurrection only on Easter is like remembering your marriage only on your anniversary.

Easter in the early church was much more than a one-day event. They not only remembered and celebrated that Christ died and rose again, they also remembered and celebrated that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that Jesus promised to return again.

In their great joy the early Church began celebrating with Easter and continued for fifty days. Seven weeks of remembering would allow our churches to go much deeper into the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost instead of trying to cram it all into one Sunday so we can move on to the next sermon series.

Limiting it to a single day can give the impression that its observance is routine instead of righteous, chronological instead of Christological. It can appear that we are giving lip service to the Christian Calendar so we can move on to the Hallmark calendar of Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day.

Laurence Hull Stookey wrote, “The explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[1] So revisiting the mystery over an extended period of time could encourage a deeper understanding of redemption, sanctification, salvation, renewal and victory.

If we are indeed Easter people, then protracting our celebration could help us remember that the transforming resurrection of the past also transforms our present and future.[2] And we’ll never fully grasp that truth in a single day.

 

[1] Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,  (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 53.

[2] John D. Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 290.

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Apr 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 18 2019

Why Our Worship Service Songs Can’t Cause Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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Mar 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 11 2019

But…We Like It Here

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Mar 4 2019

Worship Service with No Worship Service

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Service

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 21-2.

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

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Feb 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 25 2019

Steeplejacking Worship

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steeplejackingSteeplejacking is a coined term that describes the attempt to infiltrate, influence and take-over an existing congregation. In the corporate world steeplejacking could be compared to a hostile takeover. It is often initiated by marginalizing what a congregation has done or is presently doing in order to coerce it into making radical changes.

It is irrefutable that adjustments to worship practices are often necessary as a church considers the cultures and contexts of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate some of those changes, leaders sometimes push to do anything different than what is being done presently. The consequence is those who have been around for a while feel as if they are losing the church they have known and loved. So even when change motives are pure, it still seems like their church is being steeplejacked.

Many of those congregational veterans are probably not that averse to all worship change but are just feeling sidelined as those changes are being considered without them. It seems to them that their opinions are no longer considered and their convictions are overlooked as antiquated. So their decades of blood, sweat, tears and tithes are facing foreclosure and eviction.

The automatic assumption is that worship change always requires incorporating something completely new. So churches are often good at asking revolutionary questions like, “What’s broken and how do we fix it?” But maybe they should also be asking reevaluation questions like, “What’s working and how can we do more of it?”[1]

A revolution forcibly overthrows an existing system or structure in order to substitute another. It replaces what presently exists without considering what might still hold value. And in a revolution one side always loses.

A reevaluation, however, examines something again. Reevaluation allows a congregation to consider change by rethinking, revisiting and reinvestigating. It systematically and selectively preserves valuable elements for re-use.

Prayerfully adding to existing worship practices instead of arbitrarily taking them away could allow churches to initiate needed changes without the unnecessary pain of steeplejacking. Then it’s possible those changes would be approached by all as an opportunity instead of a threat or a cause for celebration instead of a reason to despair.[2]

 

[1] Heath, Chip and Dan Heath, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 55.

[2] Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through Change (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005),

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Feb 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 18 2019

Sunday Morning Karaoke

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karaoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Feb 11 2019

Worship and Experiential Consumerism

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

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

Some of us plan and lead worship the same way.

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

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

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

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

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

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Feb 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 28 2019

Secret Shopper

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Secret Shopper

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Shopper Questionnaire

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • When were you first greeted, if ever?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?

Observations:

  • Was the restroom clean and odor free?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • How did you figure out where to sit?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Was the worship center seating comfortable?

Observations:

  • Was there enough light?

Observations:

  • Was the temperature at a comfortable level?

Observations:

  • Did anyone dress or look like you?

Observations:

  • How was the volume of the speaking and music?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • How was the service flow and pace?

Observations:

  • Did the service seem too long?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Was it easy to participate musically?

Observations:

  • Was the music presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Was the music culturally relevant for the people present?

Observations:

  • Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did anything in the service distract you?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did anyone speak to you after the service?

Observations:

  • Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders seem approachable?

Observations:

  • Any additional observations?

Observations:

  • Would you come back based on your observations?

Observations:

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Jan 23 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 21 2019

Not Our Kind of People

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intercultural

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

  1.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

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

  1.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

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

  1.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

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

  1.  We must have intercultural platforms.

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

  1.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

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

 

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Jan 16 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 14 2019

Enabling Mindless Worshipers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Jan 7 2019

Jump in the Deep End

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Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression. So why do most worship conversations continue to circle back to a binary discussion of hymns and modern worship songs only?

Just considering those two worship options means we’re satisfied with our congregation swimming in the shallow end of the pool. We must, instead, be willing to educate, enlighten, and coax them into the deep end.

To go deeper we need to add the following to our worship vocabulary:

Worship is vertical, horizontal, meditative, reflective, sacrificial, celebrative, scriptural, prayerful, intergenerational, intercultural, global, local, personal, and corporate.

It’s theological, visual, tactile, iconic, aural, verbal, instrumental, artistic, dramatic, aesthetic, imaginative, spontaneous, painted, danced, quoted, recited, sculpted, read, dressed up, dressed down, scripted, printed, and filmed.

It emotes through confession, invocation, supplication, intercession, meditation, celebration, lament, thanksgiving, anger, sadness, contemplation, joy, grief, despair, hope, pain, amazement, surprise, happiness, sorrow, shame, regret, hurt, peace, relief, satisfaction, fear, and love.

It remembers symbolically and sacramentally as an ordinance or rite through Communion, Lord’s Supper, The Eucharist, and Baptism. Its prayers are fixed and spontaneous.

It remembers the past, impacts the present, and challenges the future. It serves by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly. It includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It gathers, exhorts, preaches, teaches, blesses, dismisses, and sends out. It is continuous. And it also plays and sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

If we are to expand our worship vocabulary it means every worship leader must become the lead mentor and lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, “There is more, far more.” Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep.[1]

 

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

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