Aug 6 2018

Worship Leader…You Can’t Do That

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

can't do thatAs worship leaders we often need to be reminded that worship can occur without us and even in spite of us. But we’re sometimes guilty of leading like we alone have the ability and even right to be the sole instigators of worship in our setting.

It is true that we’re usually the most talented in the room, so it’s always a challenge to be both upfront and unassuming. But even though God has called us to lead, aren’t there some things we’re constantly trying to do that we really can’t?

We can’t create worship
We can’t generate an encounter with God through our worship actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response to an encounter 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. As good as our various worship songs and actions might be, they will never create what can only be recognized and responded to. So we must never confuse creative and created worship. We should be doing the former and can’t do the latter.

We can’t start and stop worship
If our worship starts when we sing the first song and stops when we sing the last one, then what are we encouraging them to do 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.

Worship doesn’t start with our song set. It’s a daily conversation, not a weekly musical event. Those of us who lead must be constantly scrutinizing our actions so they never imply that worship starts and stops with us.

We can’t control worship
Trying to control worship holds our congregation captive to style, tradition, form and structure. None of us have enough creativity or endurance to plan, prepare, rehearse and lead multigenerational, multisensory and multicultural worship services in multiple styles week after week, year after year, with the same level of spiritual depth and creative tenacity each and every time.

Trying to control it all will eventually kill us and the worship of our congregation. Both may be slow deaths, but still terminal. So if we alone are holding on as gatekeepers to receive all the credit when something works, just remember we’ll also receive all the credit when something doesn’t.

We can’t do it for them
Worship is something they do, not something that is done for them. So 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 spectators to active participators?

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

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jul 30 2018

Worship Tourists or Travelers?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

touristsAre we worship tourists or travelers?

Travelers willingly immerse themselves in cultures even when they are radically different from their own. They adjust instead of expecting others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a traveler is never inconvenient because it encourages discovery. Travelers always dig deep and ask who and why.

Tourists sample other cultures as long as they aren’t too different from their own. They expect others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a tourist is always inconvenient because it discourages pleasure and preference. Tourists only scratch the surface and ask what, when and how much.

Tourists go where the map takes them, are there to experience the sites, aren’t willing to stray from their native language and always ask “what’s in it for me.”

Travelers go where the road takes them, are there to understand the sites, attempt to learn new languages and always ask “what’s in it of me.”

The ultimate destination for tourists and travelers may be exactly the same. But the connection for the tourist is usually shallow and fleeting. And the connection for the traveler is always deep and continuous. The tourist endures the journey in order to reach the destination while the traveler values the journey as part of the destination.

So what if we approached worship as travelers on a continuous journey instead of tourists visiting a site for pleasure?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jul 9 2018

Jumping Off Worship Bandwagons

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

bandwagonThe bandwagon effect occurs when the application of beliefs, ideas, fads or trends increases the more others have already adopted them. Churches even have the tendency to espouse certain behaviors, styles or attitudes just because it seems like everyone else has. The implication being that since it is right for so many others, it must also be right for us.

During the 19th century, an entertainer named Dan Rice traveled the country campaigning for President Zachary Taylor. Rice’s bandwagon was the centerpiece of his campaign events, and he encouraged those in the crowd to “jump on the bandwagon” and support Taylor. The campaign was so successful that Taylor was elected president, prompting future politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaigns in hopes of similar results.

Jumping on the bandwagon explains why there are fashion trends. During sports championships it is evident in the increase of fans. In health it shows up in the latest diet or fitness craze. In social media it is obvious in the number of app or platform downloads. In music it is measured by iTunes rankings. And in worship it is usually apparent in the song set.

The theological implication of a church that jumps on the latest worship bandwagon is that it sometimes ignores or overrides its own beliefs, cultures or contexts just because others are doing it. So instead of encouraging spirit and truth worshipers it creates liturgical lemmings.

Congregations often need to and should be making regular worship adjustments. And some of those changes might actually include the latest songs, styles or technological tools. But instead of immediately jumping on the newest worship bandwagon because it seems like everyone else is, congregations should instead discern and determine their worship adjustments through praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together and then singing their song sets together.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jun 25 2018

Patriotic Worship Idolatry

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

[2] Ibid., 163.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jun 18 2018

15 Questions for Every Worship Song Set

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

questions  for Every Worship Song Set

 

  • Will it encourage passive spectating or active participating?

 

  • Does it include a healthy balance of familiar and new?

 

  • Does it include expressions that are both celebrative and contemplative?

 

  • Are its texts theologically sound and do they affirm scripture as foundational?

 

  • Is it culturally and generationally appropriate for those who will be present?

 

  • Does it include not only our words to God but also God’s words to us?

 

  • Will acceptable physical actions be articulated or implied?

 

  • Will it give participants an opportunity to connect with each other?

 

  • Will its musical or technological elements direct our attention away from God?

 

  • Are its melodies singable and ranges accessible?

 

  • Will guests be able to participate in it without confusion?

 

  • Will it speak and teach the Gospel?

 

  • Will it engage more than just emotions?

 

  • Are we giving it too much responsibility for the entirety of our worship?

 

  • Will it encourage participants to be doers of the word and not just hearers only?
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jun 11 2018

Worship at the Duck Church

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

duck churchOnce upon a time there was a town of ducks.

Every Sunday the ducks would waddle out of their houses, waddle along main street, waddle into their church, waddle down the aisle and squat in their favorite pews.

The duck church always sang their favorite songs. The duck choir always offered a special number. And then the duck pastor always read from the duck bible.

He passionately exhorted them, “Ducks, God has given you wings! With these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you!” And all of the ducks would shout together, “Amen!”

And then waddle back home.[1]

 

[1] Adapted from Soren Kierkeegard’s Duck Church Parable.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

May 29 2018

10 Tips to Help Your Congregation Dislike Hymns

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

top 10

 

  • Modernize, genericize or blend all hymns in order to reach younger people. Because all young people like singing hymns that sound like Air Supply.
  • Always bookend a hymn between two really popular modern songs. It’s kind of like hiding unappetizing vegetables in your mashed potatoes.
  • Admonish your congregation regularly with how unspiritual they are to focus on personal preferences (This one doesn’t apply to you, of course, since you pick the songs).
  • Lead hymns like you’re recording a hostage video. Blink twice occasionally to indicate you’re leading them to satisfy the deacon imposed quota.
  • Play all hymns with a boom chuck guitar strum; country walking bass line; and train beat drum rhythm. Be sure to add a fish-shaped tambourine on hymns about heaven.
  • Use only hymns with archaic texts such as Ebenezer, hither and shouldst without ever explaining their poetry. It might also help to revive the Charles Wesley text, “To me, to all, Thy bowels move.”
  • Frequently use psalms like “Sing a new song” or “He put a new song in my mouth” to justify limited or no use of hymns.
  • When you have to sing a hymn introduce it with “here’s an oldie but a goodie.” Or only use them as novelties for homecomings, old-fashioned singings or fifth Sunday sings.
  • Convince your congregation that hymns and modern songs aren’t compatible by using “no one can serve two masters” or Pepsi vs. Coke to illustrate their mutual exclusivity.
  • Don’t spend any personal devotional time internalizing the hymn texts and tunes before you lead them. Because if you ever start to love them, you’ll never convince your congregation not to.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

May 14 2018

Worship Service Music Isn’t the Undercard

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

setting the tableThe purpose of our worship service music isn’t to prepare our hearts for something else. It’s not the undercard before the main event. It isn’t the warm-up band before the headliner. So it doesn’t just set the table for the sermon.

Paul exhorted the saints at Colossae to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly by teaching and admonishing each other through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It doesn’t sound like Paul thought it’s only purpose was as the supporting cast.

Teaching proclaims or makes something known by precept, example and experience. It exhorts, instructs, exposits and applies. And it communicates to us and through us.

Admonition urges us not just to hear but do. It reproves, advises and counsels in order to correct our thinking. It encourages us to right what is wrong in order to redirect our attitudes and motives.

Our worship songs won’t be seen as just service starters if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1]

So the theology we sing is not just an appetizer before the main course when it teaches and admonishes us to be doers and not just hearers.

 

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

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

May 8 2018

Using Worship Style As A Hook

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

loss leaderloss leader is when a retail chain or business offers goods or services discounted at or below cost in order to draw consumers in. The strategy is that drawing them in will hopefully then lead them to buy additional items at a higher cost.

Some congregations employ this same practice of depreciating or changing their worship style as a hook to get new consumers in the door. This marketing ploy often discounts their existing worship foundations. And their unique worship DNA’s are thrown out in order to secure the loyalties of new customers.

Consequently, instead of planning worship to respond to God’s revelation they start planning it to respond to cultural affirmation. And just trying anything to get them in the door will sometimes cause a congregation to hedge theologically, biblically or musically.

So what will those congregations offer when consumer tastes change again and they’re too diverse or costly to accommodate? And when those new consumers are no longer new and realize that worship is going to actually require something from them, what methods will congregations initiate to keep them? How will they express deep calling unto deep worship when loss leader worship is all they’ve known (Ps 42:7)?

What worship costs is more important than how it comforts us or serves our agendas. If worship is just fashioned to meet our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.[1]  So if you’re still trying to get them in the door with loss leader hooks such as traditional, contemporary, classic, modern, casual, or even coffee, then those hooks you are attempting to reach them with is probably all you’ll ever reach them to.

 

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

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Apr 30 2018

Sunday Worship: Culmination or Commencement?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

dichotomyA dichotomy is a contrast or clear distinction between two things. It is a classification divided into two mutually exclusive and sometimes even contradictory groups like war and peace or love and hate.

The basic understanding of the words commencement and culmination when taken at face value is also a dichotomy. Commencement means a beginning or start and culmination means to end or arrive at a final stage.

But when these two words are considered with regard to the Sunday worship service, what seems mutually exclusive is actually collectively exhaustive. Is the Sunday worship service the commencement of the worship week? Yes! Is the Sunday worship service the culmination of the worship week? Yes!

As a commencement, the Sunday service sings our congregations out. The worship when we gather may be great, but until it impacts those we come into contact when we disperse it’s incomplete. Sunday worship as a commencement 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 with others.[1]

As a culmination, the Sunday service sings our congregations in. Gathered worship is then an overflow, continuation and celebration of the worship that has already been occurring during the week. Sunday worship as a culmination is when we have been so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the service to begin so we can actually share it with others.[2]

So Sunday is the day we both gather them for worship and disperse them to worship.

 

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

[2] Ibid.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Apr 9 2018

Songs God Doesn’t Like

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

AmosThe psalmist points out that God takes pleasure in the praise of his people through music… “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:3-4). Zephaniah wrote, “the Lord our God is with us and rejoices over us with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

So if the Father takes pleasure in our praise and sings over us, are there certain musical genres in which he takes more pleasure or conversely, doesn’t like? Many of us assume the styles we like and don’t like answers that question.

Scripture, however, speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t pleasing to God on several occasions. 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).

Amos criticized music that is ego driven when he wrote, “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want” (Amos 5:21-23 The Message).

The book of Isaiah indicates which songs God doesn’t prefer when the author writes, “The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).

So claiming to know what music God likes because he surely likes what we know isn’t what pleases God. Scripture reminds us that his pleasure is not contingent on what we sing at all, but instead the condition of the heart from which it is sung.

May the words of Paul be our prayer then as we sing our various styles of songs together, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God” (Colossians 3:15-16 The Message)!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Apr 2 2018

Communion: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Mar 19 2018

Scratching the Ministry Move Itch

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

dream jobMost of us don’t begin a new ministry position believing we’ll only stay for a couple of years. We have noble intentions to plant our lives for the long haul. But after we’ve exhausted our two-year recipe of ideas we often get bored, our leadership gets stale, our congregation gets restless and we get busy looking for another ministry somewhere else.

If you are itching for another position just because it’s bigger or better, more prestigious or prominent, then your motivation might be ego instead of calling. If greener grass or rungs up the ladder is the new you are running to, you’ll inevitably be disappointed again after a couple of years and so will they.

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. But until God releases you to go there, he expects you to stay here. His calling is a personal invitation to carry out a unique and sometimes difficult task. And it’s a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction, not convenience.

God never promised we’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. He did, however, promise he wouldn’t leave or forsake us. So instead of focusing on ministry job placement sites, we should keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s a discipline that is not always easy but it produces a harvest of righteousness when we are trained by it (Heb 12:2,11).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Mar 12 2018

10 Worship Service Disruptors

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Mar 5 2018

Dancing Out of Our Robes of Worship Traditionalism

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Feb 26 2018

Worship Without Justice Is Dishonest

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 71.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Feb 19 2018

One Another Churches

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

one anotherA reciprocal pronoun is used to indicate two or more people carrying out an action of giving and receiving mutually. We have only two reciprocal pronouns in the English language, “one another” and “each other.”

According to those who have counted, one another appears in the New Testament 59 times. So if it’s that important scripturally, shouldn’t it be that important relationally as we plan, implement and sometimes need to change our church policies and practices?

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world…but the church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set for one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is what it means to be the body of Christ.” N.T. Wright

One Another Churches call for unity

  • Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
  • Stop complaining among one another (Jn 6:43)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16, 15:5)
  • Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  • Don’t provoke or envy one another (Gal 5:26)
  • Forgive one another (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)
  • Don’t criticize one another (Jas 4:11)

One Another Churches call for love

  • Love one another (Jn 13:34, 15:12, 17)
  • Love one another as brothers and sisters (Rom 12:10)
  • Serve one another through love (Gal 5:13)
  • Bear with one another in love (Eph 4:2)
  • Overflow with love for one another (1 Thes 3:12)
  • From a pure heart love one another constantly (1 Pet 1:22)

 One Another Churches call for deference

  • Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  • Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  • Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
  • Consider one another more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  • Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Pet 5:5)
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Feb 12 2018

Why Are We Praying Less and Singing More?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Feb 5 2018

Worship that Doesn’t Stop and Start

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jan 15 2018

Segregated Worship: Not Our Kind of People?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Dec 18 2017

2 Worship Leading Achilles’ Heels

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

AchillesThe legend is told that when Achilles was an infant, his mother dipped him into the river Styx to make him immortal. But since she held him by one heel, that spot didn’t touch the water so it remained mortal or vulnerable.

An Achilles’ heel is now idiomatic for a point of weakness or deficiency in spite of an overall strength. So if ignored or disregarded, that weak spot could potentially lead to failure.

As worship leaders, we’re not immune from our own Achilles’ heels. Relational instead of musical deficiencies seem to be at the root of most of those vulnerable places. And yet, we often invest the majority of our time and attention trying to improve musically only.

Arrogance and Aloofness are two of those Achilles’ heels that if ignored could lead to conflict or even failure.

Arrogance
Instead of a desire to be exalted, maybe our worship leading prayer should be instead, “Lord deliver us from ourselves.” Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Arrogance is when the image of the Lord has been replaced by a mirror.”

The worship leader who leads from the impression that he/she alone has the ability and even right to be the sole proprietor of the worship service often cares more about elevating him/herself than helping the congregation participate in spirit and truth worship.

So if you alone are holding onto the worship process as an arrogant gatekeeper that receives all the credit when something works, just remember that you’ll also receive all the credit when something doesn’t.

Aloofness
Aloofness is a state of being distant, remote, withdrawn and even unapproachable. The word probably originated from the Dutch word loef, meaning “the weather side of a ship.” It was originally a nautical order to keep the ship’s head to the wind to stay clear of the shore or some other object. So the term has evolved to mean someone who is set-apart, cool, uninvolved, disinterested or indifferent.

Worship leader aloofness can give the impression we are more concerned with how we lead than whom we lead. So it’s difficult to convey a deeper worship understanding to our congregations if we are trying to lead them from that set-apart artistic zone. Taking time to invest in the lives of others, however, can model a level of worship leadership that song selection and platform presence may never achieve.

Worship leaders should spend more time thinking about how they lead off the platform than how they look on it.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Dec 11 2017

Worship: Holy Expectancy to Holy Obedience

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Dec 4 2017

Let’s Limit Sermons to Once a Quarter

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

 

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Nov 13 2017

Large Church Worship Leader Wannabes? Um, No!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Oct 31 2017

Signs Your Worship Is Out of Tune

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Oct 23 2017

10 Powerful N.T. Wright Worship Quotes

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

N.T. Wright

 

  • The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you. That’s why theology and worship belong together.
  • When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.
  • You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.
  • True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew is doing.
  • Worship is love on its knees before the beloved; just as mission is love on its feet to serve the beloved.
  • Worship is the glad shout of praise that arises to God the creator and God the rescuer from the creation that recognizes its maker, the creation that acknowledges the triumph of Jesus the Lamb. That is the worship that is going on in heaven, in God’s dimension, all the time. The question we ought to be asking is how best we might join in.
  • The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world…The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.
  • We cannot worship the suffering God today and ignore him tomorrow. If we say or sing, as we often do, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,” we thereby commit ourselves, in love, to the work of making his love known to the world that still stands so sorely in need of it. This is not the god the world wants. This is the God the world needs.
  • Worship is humble and glad, worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own.
  • True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.[1]

 

[1] All quotes are taken from the writings of Nicholas Thomas Wright. Wright is a leading British New Testament scholar, Pauline theologian and retired Anglican bishop. He has written extensively about the relationship of theology and the Christian life and is the author of over 70 books.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Oct 9 2017

Sing Them Out

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Sep 11 2017

Why Your Worship Doesn’t Measure Up

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

successThe worship in some of our churches will never measure up because of what we are trying every Sunday to measure up to. To measure up means to be as good as, to have the same qualifications as, to reach a certain standard as, to be of high enough quality for or to compare with something or someone else.

Instead of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, we often focus on how we compare to other worship ministries we consider successful. So we imitate their worship habits, methods, styles, song selections and even attire in an effort to measure up to a perceived standard of success.

Most of our attempts to replicate, however, forget that every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are and with what they have.

Trying to measure up to the worship of another congregation every week can be like running on a treadmill. As long as we keep our eyes focused ahead we can log miles safely. But when we look to the left or right, our feet usually follow our eyes and cause us to fall.

Comparing ourselves to others means we are trying to measure up to a standard God has called them to, not the one He has called us to. And He obviously sees the value of our calling even when we don’t. So keeping our eyes on Jesus instead of others means we lead worship with contentment, not comparison. It’s a discipline that is not always easy but it produces a harvest of righteousness when we are trained by it (Heb 12:11).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Sep 5 2017

We Can’t Usher Worshipers into the Presence of God

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Aug 28 2017

The Relentless Split: Either Hymns Or Modern Songs

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Aug 14 2017

Songs That Teach and Admonish

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jul 31 2017

No Wonder Our Worship Seems Shallow

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jul 24 2017

Is Music Killing Your Worship?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jul 10 2017

20 Timeless A.W. Tozer Worship Quotes

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.”

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jun 12 2017

10 Skills Worship Leaders Should Rehearse More

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

skills
Musical ability may help you get a worship-leading job but relationship skills will help you keep it. So since most derailments have more to do with leadership, relationship and communication failures than musical ones, maybe it’s time to rehearse some of the following skills as much or more than you rehearse your music.

  1. Learning more new names than new songs.
  2. Welcoming interruptions.
  3. Appreciating what could be without depreciating what was.
  4. Putting your guitar down long enough to communicate.
  5. Offering grace even when it’s undeserved.
  6. Filtering responses theologically before musically.
  7. Changing your attitude before changing the music.
  8. Making more deposits than withdrawals.
  9. Collaborating, uniting, communicating and then repeating.
  10. Spending more time scripturally before leading musically.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

May 30 2017

Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

May 15 2017

5 Things Worship Music Isn’t

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Apr 24 2017

An Open Letter to the Potential Pulpit Bully

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

bullyingDear Potential Pulpit Bully,

When Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit,” he observed that his position of influence as president gave him a unique platform from which to persuade, exhort, instruct and inspire. Roosevelt famously used the word bully as an adjective meaning great, superb, excellent or wonderful.

As a pastor, you have been given a similar position of influence from which to speak out, advocate and encourage. Your unique bully pulpit gives you a platform for persuasion, exhortation, instruction and inspiration. It is dangerous, however, if you choose to invert that bully pulpit from a place of influence to a position of control. Transposing from advocacy to autocracy will degrade your platform from a bully pulpit to the platform of a pulpit bully.

There is no virtue in bullying disguised as righteous indignation. So pastor, if you give in to that temptation you’ll believe all problems originate in someone else’s office. You’ll reject cooperation, compromise and kindness in order to guard territory and filter information. You’ll outgrow the need to learn anything new. You won’t share ministry because accountability will threaten your position of authority. And collaboration will always be suspect because you’ll view those with different perspectives as insubordinate.

Once you adopt an attitude of entitlement and invulnerability you may achieve compliance from others but rarely buy-in. So even those within your so-called inner circle will submit to your leadership out of fear not friendship, out of caution not loyalty, out of submission not conviction. As a result, your position will also be one of profound loneliness.

So pastor, is being a pulpit bully really what God intended when he called some to be apostles, some to be prophets and some to be evangelists? Maybe giving in to that temptation is just the fear of losing control of something that was not yours to begin with. So it’s still not too late to realize that the final word doesn’t always have to be yours. There’s time to pray and plan together with others as partners instead of pawns. It’s never too late to pastor with an attitude of mutuality with no ulterior motive. And when you do, your church and staff relationships will never be the same.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Apr 17 2017

Not Enough Easter

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Mar 28 2017

20 Paradoxologies

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Mar 13 2017

Not Our Kind of People: 6 Intercultural Worship Musts

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Feb 20 2017

40 Worship Alternative Facts

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Feb 6 2017

You’re A Worship Leader, Not A Cheerleader

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Jan 23 2017

Improving Evangelical Curb Appeal in 2017

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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

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

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

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

Jan 17 2017

The God We Worship Looks A Lot Like Us

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Dec 5 2016

20 Ways to Pray for Worship Leaders

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.  

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Nov 28 2016

Worshipers…Watch Your Step!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Nov 14 2016

5 Worship Oxymorons

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Oct 24 2016

Stop It with All of the Happy Worship Songs!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Sep 26 2016

DIY Worship

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

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).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share