Songs God Doesn’t Like

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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)!

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Communion: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Dancing Out of Our Robes of Worship Traditionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] 2 Sam 6:14.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 21.

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Worship that Doesn’t Stop and Start

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 10.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 18-19.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Ibid., 20.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ibid., 61

[11] Ibid., 65.

[12] Ibid., 72.

[13] Ibid., 99.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 209

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Sunday Worship Tailgating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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2 Worship Leading Achilles’ Heels

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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.
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Worship: Holy Expectancy to Holy Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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10 Powerful N.T. Wright Worship Quotes

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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.

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Sing Them Out

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sendingSING THEM OUT 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 21-2.

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Worship As A One-Sided Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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We Can’t Usher Worshipers into the Presence of God

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The Relentless Split: Either Hymns Or Modern Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If Only Is Holding Worship Hostage

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

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

If only we would sing more or less hymns.

If only we had a younger worship leader.

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

If only we still had a choir.

If only our services were more creative.

If only we had a better worship band.

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

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

If only we were still holding a hymnal.

If only they would let my granddaughter sing a solo.

If only we were like that other church.

If only we still had special music.

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

If only the people looked and spoke more like us.

If only we talked about money less and politics more.

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

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

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

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No Wonder Our Worship Seems Shallow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[1] Isaiah 55:9

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

[3] Romans 1:33 CSB

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Is Music Killing Your Worship?

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

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

Scripture

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

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion

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

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

 

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

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20 Timeless A.W. Tozer Worship Quotes

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Carson, Transforming Worship, 56.

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

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5 Things Worship Music Isn’t

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Five Things

Worship

Music

Isn’t 

It isn’t music theory

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

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

It isn’t necessary

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

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

It isn’t a substitute

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

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

It isn’t an inviter

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

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

It isn’t a starter or stopper

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

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

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Not Enough Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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40 Worship Alternative Facts

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forty

Worship Alternative Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DIY Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Questions We Must Ask of Our Worship Songs

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

  • Do our songs reflect and respond to biblical text?

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

  • Do our songs connect the Word of God to the people of God?

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

  • Do our songs speak the Gospel?

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

  • Are song texts easy to follow and sing?

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

  • Are we singing our songs with integrity?

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

  • Do our songs engage more than emotions?

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

  • Are our songs encouraging action?

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

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Scriptureless Worship

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Bible

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

 

 

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

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

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

John Frame offers two truths that highlight the value of God’s Word in our worship: “First, where God’s Word is, God is. We should never take God’s Word for granted. To hear the Word of God is to meet with God himself. Second, where God is, the Word is. We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends His Word.”[2]

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Cheap Worship

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

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

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

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

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

King David responded to God’s command to build an altar to the Lord so that the plague on the people of Israel might be stopped (2 Sam 24:21). At no cost to David, Araunah offered his threshing floor, his oxen and even the wood from the oxen yokes for the burnt offering. The king replied, “No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:21-24).

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

 

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

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Worship That Wastes God’s Time

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KairosOur English language has only one word for time. But the ancient Greeks used two different words to distinguish between chronological time and theological time.

We can’t create theological time or God moments through our song selections, emotions or orders of worship. That holy time doesn’t originate from our own innovations, desire for relevance or by following a recipe for worship success observed in other churches.

Chronos is sequential time that is orderly, rhythmic and predictable. It is time that is externally controlled, can be measured by a clock and is quantitative.

Kairos is the time not measured by the clock, but the moment God has chosen. It is time that could disrupt the normal flow of tradition, habits, methods and ways of thinking. Kairos is qualitative and cannot be humanly manipulated or controlled.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes understood this Kairos time when he wrote, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). When Jesus’ brothers failed to understand who he was, he tells them, “My time (Kairos) has not yet arrived, but your time (Kairos) is always at hand” (John 7:6).

Fr. Ken Kulinski communicates a deeper understanding of Kairos:

Kairos time is the moment of undetermined length in which the eternal (God and His story) breaks into the temporal (me and my story), shattering and transforming it, and prepares the temporal to receive the eternal. It is in this moment in which the conditional cancels itself out and makes itself the instrument of the unconditional.[1]

In a Chronos approach to worship planning and implementation, a congregation asks God to enter its story or the story of its own making. In a Kairos approach, the congregation is asked to enter God’s story. Kairos might occur in the first approach but has already occurred in the second one.

Here is the question as we plan and lead worship this week: Are we missing Kairos moments in our efforts to manufacture creative worship services? God has provided Scripture, prayer and the Lord’s Supper as Kairos opportunities for us to join His story. So in our efforts to be creative and innovative are we minimizing His time (Kairos) in order to give more time (Chronos) to other service elements of our own making?

[1] adapted from Fr. Ken Kulinski, “Kairos-God’s Time.” CowPi Journal, 9 October 2003. Database on-line. Available from http://cowpi.com/journal/2003/10/kairos_gods_time.html.

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Worship Leaders Need To Give It A Rest!

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restIf you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.                  Eugene H. Peterson                      

If you’ve flown on a commercial airline you have undoubtedly heard the flight attendant recite the following pre-flight safety instructions: “In the unlikely event the oxygen level in the main cabin becomes unstable, oxygen masks will drop in front of each passenger.” Passengers are then instructed to secure their own masks before assisting other passengers.

Sunday is the day designated each week by most congregations as the Sabbath or day of rest. As a worship leader, your Sabbath has evolved into a day full of services, rehearsals and meetings. At the end of the day your spiritual, emotional, mental and physical resources are usually completely depleted.

Someone once said that Sunday for those in ministry is like giving birth only to realize on Monday morning that you are pregnant again. So since Sunday is obviously not a Sabbath for you, when are you taking one? Maybe the more telling question is are you taking one? If not, how can you expect to lead people to a place you no longer have the stamina to go yourself?

Observing a day of rest “says to the frantic, exhausted, distracted, fatigued people of God: please, rest. The hectic lives of Christians in our culture and the busyness of many churches show little sign of living out of God’s rest. Our tendencies to imitate our culture are directly related to our unwillingness to stop, cease producing, consuming, moving, accomplishing, buying, planning. We can be as much 24-7 (even in the name of Jesus) as our secular neighbors. Yet we cannot live as light and salt, doing righteousness and showing justice, if we fail to practice living out God’s rest. It’s a boundary that sets us free.”[1]

Worship Ministry has the tendency to sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. We have developed worship leading cultures that value motion as a sign of significance. We lead those cultures as if our efforts are essential to God’s success in His mission to the world.

But Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt 11:28-30, The Message).

Several years ago, David Henderson wrote an article titled Take A Load Off: Are You Doing More than God Intended? Based on the previous Matthew passage, Henderson suggested that we could lighten our load by stripping off our self-made yokes, by laying aside the things God has not called us to and by asking God to lead us into each day.

Observing a Sabbath is saying yes to God and his rhythms and no to the life-draining rhythms of the culture and people around us – it is essential to our call to worship.[2] So if we as leaders aren’t modeling Sabbath rest for our congregations, who is?

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 96.

[2] Ibid.

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Speed Dating Jesus

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

If our church services convey that worship starts and stops with a song set and can be contained in a single hour on Sunday, then we are teaching our congregations to speed date Jesus.

Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten-Thousand Places, “Worship is the primary means for forming us as participants in God’s work, but if the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren’t in touch with the work that God is actually doing.”[1]

Worship doesn’t start and stop depending on the circumstances of life. It isn’t put on hold while we go back to work or school. We don’t take a break from it while on vacation. So we must be careful not to imply that “time and place worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.”[2]

Being made in the image of God means that we were created to act the way God acts. Since He is the continuous outpourer, we bear his image as continuous outpourers. Whatever character or attribute God inherently possesses and pours out, we were created finitely to show and to pour out after his manner.[3]

So we are falling short of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves when we expend all worship resources on a weekly gathering and have nothing left for what should be a daily occurrence.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., 23.

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Healthy Worshipers Bunt

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buntIn his search for the roots of violence, Mahatma Gandhi drafted a list to give to his grandson titled the “Seven Blunders of the World.” Number seven was Worship without Sacrifice.

Paul focused on the divisions that segregate us. In the twelfth chapter of Romans he wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.”

Paul used this image of the body to represent the whole person, including ideologies and preferences. Living sacrifice signifies an ongoing, constant, all-inclusive submission. To sacrifice is to surrender for the sake of something or someone else. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. The antonym of sacrifice is to hold on to.

A bunt in baseball is designated as a sacrifice for the purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt. What a challenging word picture for the church as it gathers together in communal worship.

Worship Bunters…

  • Lay down their preferences because they love those with whom they worship more than they love those preferences.
  • Acknowledge that worship did not begin and will not end with the worship preferences of their generation.
  • Admit it is arrogant to assume their favorite worship and God’s favorite worship are the same.

Charles Thomas Studd, an English missionary who served in China, India, and Africa had this statement as his motto:  “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”

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The Narcissism of Worship My Way

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narcissismConversation is interactive communication involving two or more participants. A healthy conversation includes a balance of articulation and response, listening as well as speaking. God’s revelation and our response to that revelation is a great model of meaningful conversation…we call it worship.

Robert Webber wrote, “Worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.”[1] If we agree with Webber’s assessment, then we should also realize the worship story or conversation doesn’t begin with us. What we do and how we do it is a response to, not the initiation of that conversation. God started the dialogue and graciously allows and encourages us to join Him in it.

Conversational Narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us. Derber wrote, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2] Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting its focus to our own selfish interests.

Conversational Narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing. So instead of worship focused on God and God’s story, it is focused on me and my story.[3] Shifting the topic of our worship can also shift the object of our worship. When those shifts occur, the conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but instead the worshiper.

Narcissistic worship begins when we constantly point the conversation back to us…what we need, what we prefer, what we like, what we want, what we deserve and what we’ve earned. We often call it worship preferences. But God calls this one-sided, selfish and unhealthy conversation sin.

 

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

[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26-27.

[3] Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.

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Idolatrous Worship Music

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idolatryIdolatry is the extreme devotion to or worship of someone or something that is not God. It is when we ignore the commandment to “have no other gods before me.”[1]

In his book, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, Harold Best wrote, “Idolatry is the chief enemy of the most fervently worshiping Christians, even to the extent that some of us may end up worshiping worship.”[2] Worshiping worship is when our primary attention centers on how instead of whom we worship.

Best continued by asking if worship music has become our golden calf. This practice is often manifested when we fight for our musical preferences regardless of the cost or consequences. The entire book, Unceasing Worship is an outstanding read, but for the sake of discussing worship idolatry in your own context, consider the following Harold Best quotes from chapter 11.

“Whenever we assume that art mediates God’s presence or causes him to be tangible, we have begun the trek into idol territory”[3]

“We need to ask ourselves if we, as worship leaders, are giving the impression that we draw near to God through music or that God draws near because of it.”[4]

“Idolatry is the act of shaping something that we then allow to shape us. We craft our own destiny and then act as if it were supernaturally revealed.”[5]

“Idolatry goes beyond the worship of a crafted thing and into the conduct of an inner condition that may call it forth. In this respect idolatry is the difference between walking in the light and creating our own light to walk in.”[6]

“Beauty and quality become idols when they become intermediaries and spiritual screening devices. For us to assume that our versions of beauty, per se, afford quicker access to God is to commit a fatal error.”[7]

“God sees every believer, irrespective of personal taste, exactly the same way: in Christ. It is his cleansing, rather than the quality of our art, that makes us presentable.”[8]

“I am always driven back to this question: is the perfume that I pour over the feet of Jesus the best I can knowingly procure, or is it something less than I am knowingly capable of offering?”[9]

“When I know the artistic difference between excellence and tawdriness and I refuse this difference for one reason or another, the refusal itself is idolatrous, because it, rather than beauty, has come between me and the Savior.”[10]

“Anyone using any kind of art can compromise the gospel by choosing art primarily for the results it produces, rather than to glorify God.”[11]

“The final dilemma with choosing art on the basis of the audiences it draws is that once the audience is drawn they will assume an equation between what draws them and what keeps them. In this condition change of virtually any kind is impossible. Then we find another idol, that of stasis and sleepy continuity, joining up with the idol of immediacy and results. The body of Christ then finds itself incapable of undaunted creativity and faith-driven change.”[12]

“Addiction to style inevitably leads to a fear of variety. Are we afraid to assume that God is the Lord of continuous variety and first-day newness? ‘Not in my style, therefore I cannot worship’ represents this particular idol.”[13]

“The foolishness of style-centered worship is exposed by the nature of God’s creatorhood, namely that he does not confine himself to one vocabulary or one language.”[14]

“If it is true that faithful adventurousness should mark our outpouring, and if it is further true that witness is overheard worship leading to radical decisiveness, why should the Christian be so nervous about style and so obsessed with the idea that it is a crucial door opener and closer?”[15]

“There is a fine but absolutely clarified line between authentic and idolatrous worship. The line is not drawn by the things that we use but by what our mind and heart choose to make of them.”[16]

“When a humanly crafted object is kept in its place as a mysterious and faithful offering (less than the One to whom it is offered, less than the truth it symbolizes and less than the one making, using and offering it), there is nothing ahead but celebration, mystery and the aesthetic imagination. But when the same thing or the same ideal gains preeminence to the point that it mediates, stands in the place of or actualizes the invisible God, then we can speak of, and must prophesy against, idolatry.”[17]

 


[1] Exodus 20:3

[2] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 163.

[3] Ibid., 166

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 163.

[6] Ibid., 165-6.

[7] Ibid., 167.

[8] Ibid., 168.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 168-9.

[13] Ibid., 169.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 171.

[17] Ibid., 172.

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It Ain’t the Heat, It’s the Humility

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HumilityHumility is one of the most difficult qualities for worship leaders to embrace and sustain. It is always a challenge to be both up-front and unassuming.

In the name of artistic excellence we are often unwilling to take a secondary and supportive role to those who are obviously less talented.

Arrogance can even suggest that what we lead and how we lead it holds more value than whom we lead. Former baseball player and manager, Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

Instead of a desire to be recognized, revered or elevated, 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.” Setting our egos aside and placing others first models a level of worship leadership that platform presence will never achieve.

Having enough humility to tap into the creative abilities of others in the planning, preparation and implementation of worship doesn’t diminish our worship leadership influence it actually enhances it. So when humble leaders leverage all available resources it is a sign of leadership strength, not weakness.

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 to receive all the credit when something works, just remember that you alone will also receive all the credit when something doesn’t. Worship leadership is not what you do for or to your congregation it is what you do with them.

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

 


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

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Childish Worshipers

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childishCharacter is qualities or features that make us all distinct; the outward manifestation of our inward nature, personality and moral compass. It is an attitude that indicates to others who we are and what we stand for. Character is not innate; it must be learned and practiced or it is easily forgotten.

Children could help a worshiping congregation relearn some of those character traits that seem to flow so freely and unashamedly from them. So as congregations consider various options for worship renewal, maybe some of the following childish worship characteristics should be on that list.

Wonder Worship should cause us to be curious, be fascinated, be surprised and be captivated. Children radiate these characteristics, we seldom do. Wide-eyed spontaneous worship wonder has been replaced by controlled worship golf-claps. We are no longer wowed, amazed or awed. As adults we have transformed the mystery of God into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational.

CooperationChildren learn early that always expecting to get your way, being a bully, not resolving conflict with kind words, not considering the needs of others and not seeing things from another’s point of view are not an option. Taking turns, playing fair and sharing are often set aside when the worship practices of a congregation begin or don’t begin to move in a new direction.

Tolerance Children seem to have a higher capacity to accept the differences in others. They learn intolerance from us. Churches need to invert that practice. Worship intolerance is manifested musically and stylistically as well as religiously, racially and culturally. Worship tolerance does not mandate us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often asks us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.

Resilience Resilience is that childhood elasticity allowing them to recover quickly from radical change. It is the willingness to give things a try with an attitude of flexibility. Worship resilience averts relational and theological catastrophe through a culture of pliability. Resilient worshipers don’t get bent out of shape when the worship changes or stays the same.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

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10 Timeless Stephen Charnock Worship Quotes

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stephen charnockStephen Charnock (1628–1680) was an English Puritan Presbyterian clergyman. He moved to Ireland in 1656 and became a chaplain to Governor Henry Cromwell. Nearly all of the numerous writings attributed to him were transcribed after his death. The Existence and Attributes of God is the most widely known of Charnock’s writings. The following timeless quotes are taken from Discourse IV of that work.

 

“We may be truly said to worship God though we lack perfection; but we cannot be said to worship Him if we lack sincerity.”

“To pretend to homage to God and intend only the advantage of self, is rather to mock Him than worship Him.”

“A man may be theologically knowing and spiritually ignorant.”

“As a man may have a contentment in sin, so he may have a contentment in worship; not because it is a worship of God, but the worship of his own invention, agreeable to his own humor and design.”

“Novelty engenders complacency; but it must be a worship wherein God will delight; and that must be a worship according to his own rule and infinite wisdom, and not our shallow fancies.”

“And therefore infinite goodness and holiness cannot but hate worship presented to him with deceitful, carnal, and flitting affections; they must be more nauseous to God, than a putrefied carcass can be to man.”

“When we have a fear of God, it will make our worship serious; when we have a joy in God, it will make our worship durable. Our affections will be raised when we represent God in the most reverential, endearing, and obliging circumstances.”

“We may as well say a man may believe with his body, as worship God only with his body.”

“Without the heart it is no worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part without being that person really which is acted by us: a hypocrite, in the notion of the world, is a stage-player.”

“When we find our hearts in a more than ordinary spiritual frame, let us look upon it as a call from God to attend him; such impressions and notions are God’s voice, inviting us into communion with him in some particular act of worship, and promising us some success in it.”

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15 Things Worship Music Can’t Do

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fifteen

15 Things Worship Music Can’t Do

  • It can’t cause or cure church conflict.
  • It can’t grow or kill your church.
  • It can’t begin or end worship.
  • It can’t take the place of Scripture.
  • It can’t serve as our only act of discipleship.
  • It can’t be contained in one genre or style.
  • It can’t prop up bad theology.
  • It can’t take the place of prayer as our primary conversation with God. 
  • It can’t be contained in one emotion.
  • It can’t convict or inspire without the Holy Spirit.
  • It can’t manufacture worship renewal.
  • It can’t cause multigenerational, multicultural or multisensory worship.
  • It can’t create community that is only available at the Communion Table.
  • It can’t cause Jesus to show up.
  • It can’t be our only act of worship.
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Tired of Worship Wars? Come to the Table!

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communionOn the night of His betrayal and arrest Jesus prayed that all of us would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:1-2). And yet, worship conflict and the absence of congregational community continues to move our focus away from Jesus’ desire for all men to be reconciled in “one body to God through the cross” (Eph 2:16).

Congregations attempt to create community through song selections or by trying to develop relationships through activities and affinities. What these congregations are missing is the realization that the foundation of healthy community is already available and waiting for them at the Communion Table.

Paul spoke of Communion as the fellowship of sharing in the body and blood of Christ. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Precisely because the table is the place of intimacy for all the members of the household, it is also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most painfully revealed.”[1]

Two relationships should be evident in the celebration at the Table: a vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and a horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity. Both of these relationships can’t be manufactured just by teaching new songs or protecting old ones.

Communion must not only be a time of personal assessment, but also a time of corporate appraisal. Since the Table is the place of intimacy, it is around the Table that we rediscover our relationship with each other. It’s the place where we pray and ask: “How was your day?” It’s the place where we eat and drink together and say: “Come on, take some more!” It is the place of old and new stories. It is the place of smiles and tears.[2]

In this communal act, as with the disciples, Jesus accepts the invitation to sit at the table with us. Transformation occurs when Jesus, who was the guest, becomes the host and invites the congregation into Communion with Him.[3]  So when we accept His invitation to join Him at the Table we are reminded that, “The Lord’s Supper not only gathers a community, it creates a community.”[4]

Henri Nouwen wrote, “God created in our heart a yearning for communion that no one but God can, and wants to fulfill. God knows this. We seldom do. We keep looking somewhere else for that experience of belonging. We look at the splendor of nature, the excitement of history, and the attractiveness of people, but that simple breaking of the bread, so ordinary and unspectacular, seems such an unlikely place to find the communion for which we yearn.”[5]

Creating community through activities or even musical selections is a shallow attempt to manufacture what is already available at the Communion Table. When we gather at the table on level ground with a common purpose…our eyes will be opened…we will see Christ again…and we will see each other with new eyes through the breaking of the bread. Community begins and worship wars end there!

 


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

[2] Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, 74-75.

[3] Ibid., 77.

[4] Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 157.

[5] Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, 89.

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Worship Service Premortems

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plan aheadSome worship planning teams have developed an evaluative process after their worship services each week. They meet regularly to reflect on what did and didn’t work. This after service evaluation is a postmortem of what has already occurred. By definition, a postmortem occurs only after death or after the damage has already been done. Postmortem evaluators say, “We’ll do it better next time.”

What if, in addition to the worship service postmortems, those planning teams also implemented a process of worship service premortem evaluations? Premortem is the process of applying prospective hindsight before an event or project occurs. Prospective hindsight is considering what might occur by envisioning the future outcome or imagining results based on the information at hand. Premortem evaluators say, “Let’s get it right this time.”

Maybe it’s possible through these collective pre and post evaluative processes to improve, strengthen and renew our worship services as they are being birthed, rather than just having to autopsy them after their passing.

Note: Last minute worship service planning makes premortems virtually impossible and often contributes to painful postmortems

Sample Worship Service Premortem Questions

  • Is the service easy to follow or disjointed?
  • Will the announcements distract from the worship flow?
  • Are transitions and pace going to link the worship elements well?
  • Are leaders doing anything that could be done by the people?
  • Does platform personnel represent the cultural and generational character of our congregation?
  • Are there any elements generally accepted by the congregation that might be unfamiliar to guests?
  • Will the songs we have selected encourage passive or participative worship?
  • Are we using a healthy balance of familiar and new songs?
  • Are those songs singable?
  • Are the songs theologically sound and biblically accurate?
  • Are any of our artistic, visual or verbal expressions distracting?
  • Will it be evident that prayer is an important part of our worship?
  • Is Scripture foundational to every element of this service?
  • Are we reading or highlighting Scripture beyond the text of the sermon?
  • How will the congregation actively participate in the reading of Scripture?
  • What other options are available for responding to the Word if we aren’t celebrating the Lord’s Supper?
  • Is there continuity with the sermon and other worship elements?
  • Is it evident that the sermon is also worship?
  • How are we sending them out?
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Our Worship Is Too Rational

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rationalGod is transcendent, both unknown and unknowable. He is beyond, above, other than and distinct from all.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[1]

Consequently, a faith such as ours rooted in this infinite cannot be contained in our finite understanding.

The paradox, however, is that this transcendent, unknown and unknowable God is constantly revealing Himself to us and seeking our worship. The unknown seeks to be known and acknowledged. There is nothing rational about that.

Isaiah responded to God’s transcendence with “woe is me.”[2]

Moses responded by taking off his sandals and hiding his face.[3]

David responded by dancing right out of his clothes.[4]

The Samaritan woman responded by setting aside her embarrassment and even livelihood in order to tell her community about an encounter with Jesus.[5]

But our church culture has responded by demanding the reduction of God’s mystery to the explicable. We have transformed the awe, mystery and transcendence of God and our response to His otherness into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational. As a result, God’s grace and our response to that grace through our acts of worship have been cheapened.

The main culprit may be worshipers who say they believe in Jesus but are no longer astonished and amazed by him.[6] When we take surprise out of worship we are left with dry and dead religion; when we take away 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 meaningless piety.[7]

So if God’s transcendence can be contained in and explained through our finite understanding, then he is a god who does not deserve our worship.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”[8]


[1] Isaiah 55:8-9.

[2] Isaiah 6:5.

[3] Exodus 3:5-6.

[4] 2 Samuel 6:14-16.

[5] John 4.

[6] Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 23.

[7] Ibid., 28. Adapted to the topic of this article.

[8] Romans 11:33-36.

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Worship Through A Proxy Server

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 proxy

A proxy is a person who is given or takes the power or authority to act or do something on behalf of someone else. In computer networks, a proxy server is a system or application that acts as an intermediary, gateway or filter for clients seeking resources from another network or system. Functioning as a relay between a client and a network, the proxy server sifts and screens information.

Congregations have rejected the old covenant practice of designating priests as a special class of religious hierarchy. The belief that someone else must mediate our relationship with God for us or dispense God’s grace to us has been set aside through our foundational doctrine of the priesthood of every believer.

But even though churches have embraced this understanding theologically and doctrinally, they still continue to function depending on their leaders to serve as earthly high priests. In practice, they have figuratively reattached the veil and reverted back to the functions of the old covenant.

When we view our worship as something that is done for us rather than what we do, we are asking worship leaders to function as a priest or proxy server. This attitude is perpetuated 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.

Regression is also evidenced when pastors guard hierarchical territory by being the only ones that can rightly divide the Word of truth; when worship leaders perpetuate the impression that worship starts when they start it; when congregants abdicate their individual priestly functions to those who lead them; and when we all view Sunday gathered worship as our only worship offering.

As the tabernacle and its elements are described, the author 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.

In the new covenant, however, Jesus became the mediator serving as the intercessor for the people of God. An earthly priest or proxy 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.

The new covenant offers Jesus as our high priest, sitting at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, serving in the sanctuary set up by the Lord, not man (Hebrews 8:1-2). His blood sacrifice gave and continues to give worshipers access to the presence of the living God. An earthly proxy server is no longer needed since Jesus in this place of ministry became our worship leader and serves as our mediator or proxy.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, what could occur in our worship if we truly believed, embraced and practiced the understanding that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19)?

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Worship Leaders Are Ushers, Not the Bride

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UshersThe duty of an usher is to help others find their place in the wedding ceremony. They accomplish this task without coercion or force by offering their arm as an encouragement for participants to accompany them. Ushers always move at an appropriate pace as they guide and exhort friends and family to their proper locations.

It is often necessary for ushers to arrive early and stay late since they have just as much responsibility before and after the ceremony as during it. And the best ushers are those who are able to be friendly, genuine and welcoming without needing to be acknowledged, honored or credited.

But even though ushers play a key role in the wedding ceremony, they must have enough humility to acknowledge they aren’t and won’t ever be the bride.

Leading worship like an usher with an attitude of humility is one of the most difficult qualities for a worship leader to embrace and sustain. In the name of artistic excellence we are often unwilling to take a secondary and supportive role to those who are obviously less talented.

Being willing to set aside our vanity in order to place others first, however, has the potential to model a level of worship leadership that our song selection and platform presence will never achieve. And once we are able to invest in others before our egos and people before presentation it will help us realize the difference between just doing liturgy and actually being a liturgist.

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Why Our Songs Can’t Cause Worship

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

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

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

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

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

He has called us 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). God Causes…We Effect.

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

 


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

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Why Grandparents and Grandchildren Can’t Worship Together

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multigenerationalIn an effort to appease multiple generations and minimize conflict, worship leaders either attempt to seek a watered down stylistic and musical common ground or they divide congregants along age and preference lines. Except in rare cases, it appears from both efforts that the worshiping culture suffers and all generations lose. The impasse is the result of trying to accommodate the musical tastes of congregations that include both 20th and 21st century worshipers.

Gary Parrett and Steven Kang wrote, “Churches must realize that it takes the whole community of faith to raise the children of that community in the faith. But, many American churches have moved with fierce determination to separate the generations from one another to provide more generation specific ministry.

Tragically, such an approach to ministry can easily have the effect of encouraging the segregated ‘generations’ to be unduly absorbed with their own needs and to have little concern for others. This runs both ways – from older to younger and younger to older. But it is the younger who suffer most in such an arrangement. And it is the older who will have to give account for shirking their God-appointed duties toward the young.”[1]

Differences between 20th and 21st century worshipers:

  • 20th century worshipers are linear, written text and physical; 21st century worshipers are multi-sensory, hypertext and virtual.
  • 20th century worshipers are independent and independence is owned; 21st century worshipers are collaborative and collaborative is shared.
  • 20th century worshipers are stationary for a lifetime; 21st century worshipers are mobile for a season.
  • 20th century worshipers are deductive and deductive is top-down; 21st century worshipers are inductive and inductive is bottom-up. Note: The weakness of inductive is its limitations in building doctrine. The weakness of deductive is its susceptibility to being infected with dogma.
  • 20th century worshipers are local; 21st century worshipers are global.
  • 20th century worship is routinized. Since it has worked for generations why change? Routine is predictable and we like predictable; 21st century worship is creative. Since it has been around for generations, why not try something new? Creativity is unpredictable and we like unpredictable.

Obviously, the previous list is a generalization. If, however, even a few of those differences are evident in the cultures of our congregations how can we ever hope to find worship common ground? The answer is…we probably can’t…at least not in those differences.

Intergenerational worship is only possible if our common ground is deference instead of preference. Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction, preference is based on feeling and traditionalism.

Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the traditionalism and embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions. The willingness to defer to others offers a common ground that style and musical preferences never will.

Deference is the agreement that although we may not always love the music of our children and grandchildren…we are willing to sacrifice because we love our children and grandchildren. Deferring is setting aside our preferences for the good of and future of those children and grandchildren.

So it is actually possible for grandparents and grandchildren to worship together as long as the battle lines are drawn over who can offer or give the most instead of who deserves or demands the most.

 


[1] Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity, 2009), 152.

 

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Do Your Songs Preach?

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PreacherPreaching is the act of publicly proclaiming, teaching or making something known. It exhorts, exposits, affirms, corrects, advocates, instructs, responds and applies. The act of preaching communicates to us, for us and through us.

A sermon is preached to address and expound on the biblical, theological, doctrinal and moral issues that impact every generation of every congregation each and every day. And this connectional discourse is intended to challenge those congregants not only to embrace these truths individually but also corporately.

So if the worship songs we select aren’t complementing, resonating and emulating these same characteristics, we probably need to select different songs. In other words, our songs must also preach.

The Preaching Characteristics of Our Songs

  • Our Songs must reflect and respond to biblical text.

Scripture must organically yield our songs instead of just fertilizing our own contrived language. We must constantly ask if our song text is theologically sound and if it affirms Scripture as central. Songs that do not provoke a response to the Word don’t preach.

  • Our Songs must connect the Word of God to the people of God.

The dialogue of worship through our songs is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation causes the people of God to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. Our songs are the communally uttered words of God.

  • Our Songs must 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, Jesus Christ. And they must constantly remind us that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

  • Our Songs must be easy to follow and understand.

If congregants can’t follow our songs, then they have difficulty finding value in those songs and consequently can’t be influenced and moved to respond to them and through them. Archaic or colloquial text should be filtered and melodies should be evaluated for singability. Songs that are difficult to follow contribute to ineffectual song sermons.

  • Our Songs must be sung with integrity.

Songs that preach communicate biblically, theologically and doctrinally. Our songs must be sung with the integrity of adequate external preparation that springs forth from internal conviction. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. Lives must replicate the texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them. Songs sung with integrity engage and express biblical text with inspiration and conviction.

  • Our Songs must engage more than emotions.

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

  • Our Songs must encourage action.

Songs must not only inspire us through our hearing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Singing our songs should cause us to ask what is going to change as a result of singing them. Singing in here is not enough until our songs also impact who we are out there. So the songs we sing in our worship service must lead us to acts of service as worship.

“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.” Colossians 3:16

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Worship That Shocks Culture

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

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

Worship Is Transcultural

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

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

Worship Is Contextual

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

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

Worship Is Counter-Cultural

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

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

Worship Is Cross-Cultural

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

Terry York and David Bolin wrote, “Congregations must speak to and among the surrounding culture in a voice so unique, authentic, and unified that it turns heads: ‘what was that? It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve never heard anything like that around here.’ Even though those responses from the culture will often come as ridicule, they might just as often come as inquiry. Either way…the church will be influencing culture instead of just reflecting it.”[3]

 


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

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

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

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We’re Creating Worship Dependents

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empower

If our worship leadership conveys that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; if we expend all resources and energy preparing for and presenting a single hour (or two) on Sunday and have nothing left to encourage worship the other hours of the week; if we aren’t exhorting congregants and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are creating worship dependents.

Worship Dependency

Worship Dependency is conditional or contingent on something or someone else. 

Worship Dependency saves it until Sunday and waits for someone else to initiate it.

Worship Dependency has to start over every Sunday.

Worship Dependency increases worship conflict since we only get one shot at it each week.

Worship Dependency is passive.

Conversely, when worshipers are no longer dependent but are instead empowered, they are encouraged to engage in a perpetual cycle of continuous worship. What occurs on Sunday is an overflow of what has already been occurring during the week with the added benefit of getting to share it with others. The weekly gathering is then the culmination of our daily occurrences.

Worship Empowerment

Worship Empowerment leads to the full, conscious, active and continuous participation of worshipers.

Worship Empowerment increases the capacity of individuals to recognize God’s revelation and challenges them to transform that revelation into a response…worship.

Worship Empowerment equips others to think, behave or take action autonomously.

Worship Empowerment encourages congregants to respond to God’s revelation in the moment it occurs.

Worship Empowerment focuses on what we can do and who we can be out in the world beyond Sunday and starts every day where we left off the day before.

Worship Empowerment reduces worship conflict since we get multiple shots at it each and every day.

Worship Empowerment is participatory.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15)

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Why God Doesn’t Like Hymns

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HymnsMusic that pleases God is not contingent on what we sing. It is, instead, pleasing to God because of the character and attitude of those who sing it.

The 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).

If the Father takes pleasure in our praise and also sings over us, then are there certain musical genres He takes more pleasure in or likes to sing over us more than others? Can we assume God can’t stand modern worship songs or hymns just because we can’t stand them? Even though we may not actually verbally affirm those assumptions, our worship actions and attitudes often convey that egoism.

Scripture 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).

We will never worship in spirit and truth when we only see worship with linear eyes through the lens of our favorite music; when we claim to know what God likes because he likes what we know; when we assume my favorite worship music is also God’s favorite worship music; or when we believe relevant worship began and will end with the music of my generation.

May the words of Paul be our prayer as we sing our hymns and modern worship 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)!

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Psalms for the Other Side of Worship Change

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change

Initiating worship change can be painful and at times even devastating. It can be just as devastating, however, when a congregation is hesitant to make those needed changes even when it is obvious they are necessary for their future. The fear of pain associated with change is never a good reason not to initiate it.

Churches and their leaders rarely go through worship transitions unscathed. But scripture offers hope in the Psalms that can serve as a balm when you reach the other side of those changes.

 

Psalm 118:17-20

I didn’t die. I lived!

And now I’m telling the world what God did.

God tested me, he pushed me hard,

but he didn’t hand me over to Death.

Swing wide the city gates – the righteous gates!

I’ll walk right through and thank God!

This temple Gate belongs to God,

so the victors can enter and praise.

 

Psalm 33:1-5

Good people, cheer God!

Right-living people sound best when praising.

Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs!

Play his praise on a grand piano!

Invent your own new song to him;

give him a trumpet fanfare.

For God’s Word is solid to the core;

everything he makes is sound inside and out.

He loves it when everything fits,

when his world is in plumb-line true.

Earth is drenched in God’s affectionate satisfaction.

 

Psalm 30:11-12

You did it:

you changed wild lament into whirling dance;

You ripped off my black mourning band

and decked me with wildflowers.

I’m about to burst with song;

I can’t keep quiet about you.

God, my God,

I can’t thank you enough.

 

Psalm 77:11-15

Once again I’ll go over what God has done,

lay out on the table the ancient wonders;

I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,

and give a long, loving look at your acts.

O God! Your way is holy!

No god is great like God!

You’re the God who makes things happen;

you showed everyone what you can do.

 

Psalm 138:1-6

Thank you!

Everything in me says “Thank you!”

Angels listen as I sing my thanks.

I kneel in worship facing your holy temple

and say it again: “Thank you!”

Thank you for your love,

thank you for your faithfulness;

Most holy is your name,

most holy is your Word.

The moment I called out, you stepped in;

you made my life large with strength.

When they hear what you have to say, God,

all earth’s kings will say “Thank you.”

They’ll sing of what you’ve done:

“How great the glory of God!”

And here’s why: God, high above, sees far below;

no matter the distance, he knows everything about us.[1]

 


[1] All of these Psalms are taken from Eugene H. Peterson, THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002).

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Worship’s One Trick Pony

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

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

Music has devolved into worship’s one trick pony. We have dressed it up, dressed it down, changed its direction and adjusted its speed. We’ve even tried a younger pony. But it’s still the same trick.

Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it is not the expression. Maybe considering the additional worship options below could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

Scripture

We defend the Bible as foundational to our theology and practices and 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 necessary to the credibility of our faith?

Worship must begin with the Word. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.

Prayer

Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as an act of worship, prayer is used as a final breath of fresh air before a long service section, to break up a song set when keys or styles are not relative or to discreetly move the worship band to the platform.

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion

Eleanor Kreider challenges congregations to consider the Lord’s Supper as a foundational element of worship by stating, “Churches will be renewed when the Lord’s Supper, graced by God’s presence and Word, oriented to the living Lord and empowered by the Spirit, is fully restored to the place it had in the early centuries-as the central communal Christian act of worship.”[1]

Two worship actions and interactions are 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.

The Arts

Clayton Schmit wrote, “We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith. When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[2]

Consider the following suggestions as your congregation begins to expand its understanding of worship and the arts beyond music: drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, hair and make-up, sound, lighting, staging, props and many others. Traditionalism has constricted our lists even when God’s creativity is limitless.

Leaders must be willing to educate, enlighten and encourage their congregations to move beyond music as their only worship contribution. Harold Best offered a timeless challenge to us all when he wrote; Every artistic leader must become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’ Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep. Engage your whole being.[3]

 


[1] Eleanor Kreider, Communion Shapes Character (Scottdale: Herald, 1997), 15.

[2] Clayton J. Schmit, “Art for Faith’s Sake,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fall 2001.

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

 

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