Jul 10 2017

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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May 30 2017

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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May 15 2017

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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Feb 20 2017

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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Jan 17 2017

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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Jan 9 2017

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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Sep 26 2016

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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Sep 14 2015

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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Jul 13 2015

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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May 17 2015

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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Apr 26 2015

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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Mar 9 2015

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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Mar 2 2015

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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Jan 19 2015

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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Dec 15 2014

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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Oct 20 2014

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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Oct 6 2014

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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Aug 24 2014

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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Aug 3 2014

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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Jul 7 2014

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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Jun 22 2014

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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Jun 1 2014

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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May 11 2014

Worship Leader…Cook or Chef?

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Chefs and Cooks perform the same basic functions of preparing and presenting food for others to eat. But their methods, motives, purposes and end results are often radically different.

 

cookA Cook has perfected a specific set of food preparation skills and can reproduce meals from previous experiences of following a recipe. Cooks have a repertoire of repeatable, reliable and consistent mechanical aptitudes in the kitchen that enables them to follow someone else’s menu.

A Cook, however, often becomes an assembly line worker who reproduces a monotonous product that although mechanically efficient is not very profound. A Cook cooks to live.

 

 

ChefA Chef is not only a fine cook, but also intimately familiar with the historical, cultural and emotional dimensions of the dishes and ingredients necessary to create those dishes. With the heart of an artist, a Chef is never afraid to tastefully fuse new ingredients, evolve existing dishes, discontinue obsolete dishes or experiment with new aesthetic creations.

A Chef has the desire to make a contribution to culinary depth. Chef’s define serving sizes, discern appropriate spices and determine the unique presentation appropriate for each culture and context. A Chef is an artisan. With great care, skill and precision, the Chef handcrafts a high quality, distinctive and unique creation each and every time. A Chef lives to cook.

 

 

Worship Leader…Cook or Chef?

 

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Apr 21 2014

Worship In-Between Two Worlds

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Considering how we do worship in a culture of generational differences requires biblical understanding, prayer, sensitivity, discernment and even sacrifice. Attempting to fuse congregants immersed and even born into a post-modern world with those still longing for the comforts and familiarity of a modern world usually increases the divide.

The transition to post-modernity was a comfortable progression for some, while others are still trying to hold on to the recognizable tenets of modernity. So conflict often arises as both worlds attempt to find common ground.

Since the membership of most congregations includes a cross-section of individuals from both worlds, which world do we choose when planning and implementing worship?

The longing for what was of one generation and the hope for what could be of another generation may be causing both to miss worship in the in-between.

Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep identified and examined patterns of transition and renewal within communal systems. In his study, van Gennep referred to this season of social transition as the Rites of Passage.[1] As a living organism, a community of faith passes through developmental transitions as a natural progression of the life of that congregation and as a reflection of the surrounding culture.

Victor Turner continued van Genneps’ study by refining an understanding of the rites of passage as a time of separation from what was known to a transitional or liminal stage that would ultimately lead to a reaggregation or reincorporation.[2] The word liminal originated from the Latin word, limins, meaning threshold.[3]

In his book on worship transformation, Timothy Carson wrote, “Liminal reality is that space and time that has broken with prevailing structure, whatever that may be. Precisely because it is positioned between the structures of life, it holds latent power for future transformation.”[4]

Liminality is the place where we find ourselves in our present culture of worship in the in-between. One of the struggles of this stage is determining how to balance the desire for complete abandonment of the past with the desire for holding on to those foundational touchstones.

Worship balance will be realized when a congregation understands how to embrace transformation as developmental rather than rejecting it because of hesitancy to change, while at the same time welcoming its rich worship history as formative to present and future practices rather than viewing them as archaic.

Although the liminal stage can be a time of uncertainty, it can also be a time of hope, expectation and even unity. While we are trying to figure it out…we are trying to figure it out together.

Turner referred to a special camaraderie that can often develop among those sharing a liminal stage as communitas.[5] The spirit expressed in this Latin noun is the harmony within a community based on its common purpose, not necessarily on its common practices.

Encouraging a spirit of communitas enables those who are sharing a liminal stage to develop a community of the in-between. This relationship “creates a community of anti-structure whose bond continues even after the liminal period is concluded.”[6]

The reaggregation necessary for worship balance may never occur until both worlds figure out how to get along in that in-between. If we aren’t getting along on the journey, then how can we expect to get along once we arrive?

 


[1] Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960); referenced in Timothy L Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power: Pastoral Interpretation and Method,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 7 (Summer 1997): 99.

[2] Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between,” quoted in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 100.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 60.

[5] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (New York: Aldine, 1969); as referenced in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 101.

[6] Ibid.

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Apr 13 2014

Loose Canon Worship

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cannonThe willingness to take liberties with the text or tenor of your worship canon can compromise the entire worship voice of your congregation.

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

Beginning our worship with biblical, historical and theological moorings will protect us from loose canonical drifts. Those foundations must organically yield our worship practices rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived creations. Securing safety restraints by asking the right questions can curb the temptation to randomly sample various practices based solely on their style or success elsewhere.

 

Entrance/Gathering

  • Is an attitude of community evident as our congregation gathers?
  • Are guests embraced as a part of that community?
  • Is the congregation publicly invited to participate? Examples: invocation, hymn/song, call to worship, processional.

Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Is our congregational singing passive or participative?
  • Does congregational singing include a balance of familiar and new?
  • Do song selections include both vertical and horizontal expressions? celebrative and reflective?
  • Does presentational music encourage congregational participation or passivity?
  • Is the text theologically sound and does it affirm Scripture as central?
  • Is the music multi-generational and culturally appropriate for our congregation?
  • Does music get too much attention in our services?

Visual and Fine Arts

  • Are visual and fine arts incorporated? Examples: mime, drama, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, video, film.
  • Does use of the arts contribute to or distract from the worship conversation?
  • Is it evident through our use of arts that worship is visual as well as verbal?
  • Are artistic expressions used inappropriately? Examples: glory of man, manipulation, kitsch.

Prayer

  • Is it evident that prayer is an important part of our worship services?
  • Who leads in prayer?
  • What types of prayer are led? Examples: invocation, confession, supplication, intercession, lament, thanksgiving, repentance.
  • Are prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?
  • Are various prayer postures encouraged?

Scripture/Sermon

  • Is it evident that Scripture is foundational to our services?
  • Who reads Scripture? How do they read it?
  • Is Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?
  • Is it evident that the sermon is part of our worship?
  • Does the entire congregation actively participate in the reading of Scripture?

Ordinances – Lord’s Supper/Baptism

  • Is the Lord’s Supper celebrated regularly in our services?
  • What is the attitude of the Lord’s Supper? Examples: communion, thanksgiving, remembrance, celebration, eschatology.
  • Does the Lord’s Supper provide an opportunity for symbolism and mystery?
  • Is the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of our services?
  • What other options are available for responding to the Word? Examples: offering, congregational singing, baptism, testimonies, prayers of confession, invitation, Scripture, presentational music.
  • Is baptism celebrated regularly in our services?
  • Do baptisms contribute to the communal relationship of our congregation?
  • Is the symbolism of baptism evident and understood by members and guests?

Dismissal

  • How is the congregation dismissed at the end of our services?
  • Is the dismissal a sacred expression? Examples: blessing, challenge, recessional.
  • Is there a communal and unified attitude evident as the congregation leaves?

General Worship Elements

  • When are the announcements presented? Do they distract from the flow of worship?
  • Is the offering a time of sacrificial response encouraging an attitude of worship?
  • Do services feature a balance of worship actions? Examples: praise, confession, dedication, commitment, response, lament.
  • Are services conversational involving God’s words to us and our words to God?
  • Does the worship space encourage participation? Examples: architecture, icons, art, symbols, colors, lights.
  • Is the order of service easy to follow or confusing?
  • Do services flow well? Do transitions link the worship elements? Is the pace satisfactory?
  • Are worship leaders conveying a genuine pastoral care?
  • Which of the five senses are used?
  • Is there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?
  • Are there elements presented by leaders that could be presented by the people?
  • Are physical actions encouraged? Examples: raising hands, kneeling, bowing head, clapping, standing.
  • Do services give participants an opportunity to connect with each other?
  • What symbols are used in the services?
  • Does anything distract our attention from a conversation with God?
  • Are guests able to meaningfully follow the services without confusion?
  • Are service elements explained regularly?
  • Are there service elements that might be unfamiliar to a guest?
  • Are times offered for silence, reflection, repentance, or confession?
  • Besides congregational singing, what elements offer an opportunity for active participation?
  • Do our worship services invite the congregation to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ?
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Mar 30 2014

Put Worshipers In Their Place

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third place

We are losing ground if we exhaust all worship resources preparing and leading church services as worship while neglecting to prepare and lead the church in service as worship. Our worship leadership success will never be completely realized until we can say, “worship has left the building.”

If those of us who lead gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place Sunday worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.[1]

When writing about building relationships in social environments, Ray Oldenburg outlined various places where we connect with others in society. He calls the first place a person’s home and family. The second place is the workplace or school, where people may actually spend most of their time. And the third place is an informal location that is always welcoming and comforting.[2]

Can you imagine what could occur in that hour on Sunday if worshipers learned how to worship in those other places the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week? Harold Best wrote, “Because God is the Continuous Outpourer, we bear his image as continuous outpourers.”[3]

Worship leaders…we must teach them, lead them, exhort them and model for them how we can worship not only when we meet but also when we disperse. Neither should be minimized, as both are indeed places for worship. The divide, however, is when we expend all resources on our weekly gathering and have nothing left for what should be a daily occurrence.

Worshiping in other places should never require us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but will often require us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically. When worship occurs in those other places it is no longer just what we do in here but also who we are out there. Then what occurs in here on Sunday is an overflow of what has already occurred out there during the week.

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

 


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

[2] Ray Oldenburg, The great good place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts At the Heart of A Community (New York: Marlowe,1999).

[3] Best, Unceasing Worship, 23.

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Mar 23 2014

WikiWorship

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contentWikipedia is a collaborative online resource of quickly editable encyclopedic information. The name originated from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki, which means quick, hurry or fast. The founder of this informational resource, Jimmy Wales stated that Wikipedia exists to bring knowledge to everyone who seeks it.

And yet, in most high school and university academic circles its entries are not accepted as reputable references because Wikipedia is user-generated content that is not always verified as accurate, not always appropriate and is often accused of being systemically biased.

 

So what does this have to do with worship?

Worship is not our attempt to be with Jesus, it is our response to having been with Jesus. User-generated worship depends on our actions to connect with Jesus instead of our reactions to a relationship with Jesus. Consequently, user-generated worship is not always accurate, not always appropriate and is often systemically biased.

WikiWorship is…

  • The belief that what we do or how we do it will determine if God shows up.
  • Reducing worship to music alone…and not just any music, but the music I like.
  • Believing that if we sing or play it in a certain style…worship will automatically occur.
  • Assuming true worship began with and will probably end with the music of my generation.
  • Thinking my favorite must also be God’s favorite.
  • Asking God to enter our user-generated story.

Worship that begins with Jesus is entering and doing God’s story.[1]  It is speaking, praying, singing, dancing, playing, telling, preaching, teaching, listening, reading and living God’s story.

Worship in Spirit and Truth is the realization that worship begins with a relationship with Jesus and the response to that relationship is manifested in our worship actions.

Beginning worship with God’s story is the understanding that He has already shown up and is initiating a relationship with us. Our response to His relationship is worship that cannot be contained in a single expression or limited to our contrived actions

Robert Webber wrote, “Reflection on the incarnation and its connection to every aspect of God’s story is the missing link in today’s theological reflection and worship. The link is found in these words: God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.[2]   

 


[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 29.

[2] Ibid., 35.

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Jan 13 2014

Blended Worship Is Often Mixed-Up

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blenderBLENDTo combine or associate so that the separate constituents or line of demarcation cannot be recognized; to mix so that the parts are indistinguishable from one another.

Some churches decide to embrace blended worship in an attempt to engage multi-generations or minimize the exodus of younger church members to congregations with more lively music. The end result is often a watered down musical expression reminiscent of the ‘80’s pop style of Air Supply. An attempt to accommodate everyone tends to soften the edges of all genres resulting in a generic worship offering that rarely engages anyone.

If your desire for worship relevance has created worship that is a bland mixture of elements no longer resembling what they started out as…Just stop it! If, however, you plan and lead worship that respects history and tradition while considering worship styles formed by present and future cultures, then you are leading what Robert Webber called Convergence Worship.

Convergence begins with a willingness to reopen all discussions related to worship. Multiple worship genres, styles, historical perspectives, traditions and liturgies are all considered as a part of the conversation. Webber explained it this way, “Convergence worship is an alternative worship that is concerned for order and freedom, the historical and the contemporary, the verbal and the symbolic.[1]

He outlined the following characteristics of Convergence Worship:

  • Worship is constantly in the process of reform.
  • The entire worshiping community has much to teach us.
  • The past has much to contribute to the present.
  • Convergence is committed to a broad range of musical content and styles.
  • It is committed to a recovery of the arts in worship.
  • It affirms the verbal and symbolic Word.
  • Convergence is comfortable with both rational and mystical worship.
  • It is personal and corporate. God meets the church but he also meets me.
  • It is both giving and receiving.
  • Convergence worship is also both comforting and disturbing.
  • It discourages passive and encourages participative worship.[2]

Instead of believing true worship began and will end with my generation we must be reminded that worship is portrayed in the scripture as being cumulative. We seem to have forgotten that “earlier centuries of Christians faced equally shocking and shaking developments. We forget the innovative and sometimes heroic ways they adapted and often flourished.”[3] Ultimately, considering worship convergence helps us understand worship is not created, but instead discovered and recreated.[4]

Worship renewal that converges rather than blends relies on the biblical, theological and historical content of worship rather than its style and service mechanics alone. It moves from a simple formula of genericizing musical genres to unifying them while keeping the purity of their original intent. And it deliberately and methodically intersects worship of the past with worship of the present, leading us to worship together in the future.


[1] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 3, “The Renewal of Sunday Worship”  (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 122.

[2] Ibid., 124.

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

[4] Brad Berglund, Reinventing Sunday:  Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship (Valley Forge: Judson, 2001), xvii.

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Nov 10 2013

Storming the Castle – Preparing for Worship

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

She selected and laid out her clothes the night before for a quick change the next morning. Sleep eluded her with the anticipation of what was to come. She awakened early, quickly dressed and inhaled breakfast so she would be ready to depart hours before the park even opened. All conversation traveling from our resort to the park entrance centered on what she would observe, experience, eat, participate in, enjoy and then take home at the end of the day.

As we pushed through the turnstiles of the park entrance…she saw it…the icon of Magic Kingdom…Cinderella’s Castle. She, along with thousands of other children dragged their parents by the hands and screamed, “C’mon mommy, C’mon daddy” as we all stormed the castle like medieval knights.

What if our preparation for and anticipation of our worship gatherings exuded a similar excitement that could not be contained? Understanding the necessity for personal worship preparation is radically different than abdicating that responsibility to our worship leaders to create worship through song selections and worship actions.

Consider the following three suggestions for worship preparation from Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell, Resource Development Specialists for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship:

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 ask ourselves questions about our readiness of our hearts 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 a critical period of time. Our interaction with friends reminds us that we are here as part of a body in relationship with others. A short while to quiet our spirits will enable us to leave some distractions behind and center ourselves in God. A time of reflective prayer can open our spirit to engage in conversation with God. Even the visual appearance of the worship space will have an impact on our readiness. 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. 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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Nov 3 2013

The Eucharist For Dummies

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Lord's SupperFor many of our church cultures the Eucharist is a liturgical term or observance we either have never heard of, won’t consider because we don’t understand it, view as something mystical or won’t consider because it seems too “Catholic.” The purpose of this post is to help us better understand the Eucharist and maybe even consider some Eucharistic elements as we gather at the Lord’s Supper Table.

A recent shift has occurred as congregations have become disillusioned with shallow attempts to create formulas for worship renewal, especially around the Lord’s Supper Table. The desire for a deeper understanding of what worship renewal truly is has bridged some of the previous ecumenical gaps. The longing for something more has challenged some congregations to consider worship elements not traditionally associated with their denominational tribe.

It is possible within the parameters of our doctrine, embedded theological understanding and history to observe the Lord’s Supper beyond our traditional approach as a memorial only. Expanding our understanding allows us not only to remember what Christ did for us, but also celebrate what He continues to do for us. Understanding and experiencing the Lord’s Table beyond a memorial does not minimize the remembrance, it enhances it. According to Robert Webber, “The idea is very simple: when we remember the death (Lord’s Supper), celebrate the resurrection (break bread), and eat a meal expressing covenantal relationship with God (communion), we need to give thanks (Eucharist).”[1]

The word Eucharist originated from the Greek word for thanksgiving or blessing. The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper not just as a memorial of the crucifixion, but also as a celebration of the resurrection. It is recorded in the book of Acts, “And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

The Eucharist helps us understand that remembering is not just to live in the past through our sorrow, but also to remember in order to influence our present and future. It allows worshipers to move from symbolically wallowing in the sorrow that their sin caused Christ to die, to the realization that thanksgiving is found in the resurrection and His ultimate return. Experiencing joy at the Table does not diminish the sorrow of the cross and sinful nature of the world. In fact, just the opposite occurs as it reminds us that even in the midst of misery, a profound hope is available. With that understanding, how can we keep from offering our thanks?

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Jesus gave us the Eucharist to enable us to choose gratitude. It is a choice we, ourselves have to make. Nobody can make it for us. But the Eucharist prompts us to cry out to God for mercy, to listen to the words of Jesus, to invite him into our home, to enter into communion with him and proclaim good news to the world; it opens the possibility of gradually letting go of our many resentments and choosing to be grateful.”[2]

The challenge for those of us from church cultures that do not observe the Lord’s Table in this way is to not disregard this Eucharistic understanding because of traditionalism or out of fear that an expanded understanding will take our congregation to a doctrinal place it has never been before. Instead, we should prayerfully consider the attention that must be given to this ordinance each time it is observed so that worship renewal found at the Table is never a one-time event. It will encourage us not only to remember Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but also remember how those events impacted and continually impact our lives. Expanding our understanding of the Eucharist does not change the physical characteristics of the elements…it changes us.

To offer an application of what The Eucharist looks like practically, I have included below a full Episcopal Eucharistic Liturgy taken from the Book of Common Prayer. The service elements change according to the seasons of the Church Year. This service is one I used in teaching intensives for graduate students at the Liberty University Center for Music and Worship. I have included a brief explanation of terminologies and service elements highlighted in red to offer additional understanding.

The Holy Eucharist

THE WORD OF THE LORD

There are 2 parts of the Eucharist – Service or Liturgy of the Word and Service or Liturgy of the Table. Service of the Table is also called Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper.

Service of the Word is sometimes called “Ante-Communion”  “ante” means before.

The Celebrant is the Clergy or leader that officiates the service.

The service of the Word originated even before the birth of Jesus. The Jewish people came together to hear God’s word, to sing songs and then to pray together.

The People standing, the Celebrant says

Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins;

People       His mercy endures forever.

The Celebrant and People pray together

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Collect of the Day

The Collect – This short prayer is called a Collect because it collects our thoughts for this time or also for a particular time or season of the year.

Celebrant   The Lord be with you.

People       And also with you.

Celebrant   Let us pray.

O God; who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of Him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son, Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

First Lesson – The People seated

A lesson from Isaiah 43:16-21

The Lessons or Scriptures for this particular Eucharist are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary for March 17th, or the 5th Sunday of Lent.

The liturgy gives suggestions for Standing, Sitting or Kneeling. The purpose of these postures are:

Standing to praise God

Sitting to listen or for instruction

Kneeling to express penitence or devotion or prayer.

A lay minister called a Lector sometimes reads lessons.

Between the Lessons most congregations sing hymns, praise and worship songs or anthems. These musical selections can vary widely according to the worship culture of each congregation.

Celebrant   The Word of the Lord.

People       Thanks be to God.       

 

Psalm 126 – The People standing – People and Celebrant read together

1      When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.

2      Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3      The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

4      Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev.

5      Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

6      He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Bowing)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Bowing at the waist shows reverence for the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(Rising)

As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

The Psalm is sometimes sung in plainsong chant. Chant is a combination of singing and speaking. Most of the psalm is sung in a monotone and then at the end of a phrase the pitch changes giving it a musical quality. 

In a plainsong psalter, the text is marked (pointed) to give the participants direction for pitch or rhythmic change.  

Some also use plainsong chant for personal reading of the Psalms. You can set your own vocal range. If you normally sing in a monotone anyway, then plainsong chant is a great opportunity for you to sing right notes.

 

Second Lesson – The People seated

A lesson from Philippians 3:4b-14

Celebrant   The Word of the Lord.

People       Thanks be to God.

 

The People stand, the Celebrant reads the Gospel

Celebrant   The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

People       Glory to you, Lord Christ.

The Gospel – John 12:1-8

Celebrant   The Gospel of the Lord.

People       Praise to You, Lord Christ.

Making the sign of the cross symbolically asks God’s blessing on minds, hearts and words.

 

THE SERMON

 

The People Stand – following the sermon for the reading of the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed

Council of Nicaea – 325 AD. It is one of the oldest texts of Christian Worship.

Considered the words of faith that most affirm the power and love of God as revealed to us in His mighty acts. The Nicene Creed is considered to most clearly state the Church’s teaching of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Creed – Beliefs

Notice the text: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”

This does not mean Catholic with an upper case C as in Catholic Church but catholic with a lower case c, which means the whole church or the church universal.

Apostolic – because the church teaches what the apostles taught.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:  by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

 

The Prayers of the People

After each petition a period of silence is kept.

The entire church prays together with the universal church. Symbolically the whole church, the church universal is united together in prayer. At the end of the directed prayer time the congregants are sometimes given an opportunity to speak out loud the names of those for whom they especially want to pray.

Celebrant   Lord in your mercy

People       Hear our prayer.

Celebrant   In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.  Silence

Celebrant   Let us pray for the church and for the world. Grant, Almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world.  Silence

Celebrant   Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.  Silence

Celebrant   Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.  Silence

Celebrant   Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.  Silence

Celebrant   Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them joy of your salvation.  Silence

Celebrant   We commend to your mercy all who have died, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal kingdom.  Silence

Celebrant   We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.  Silence

Celebrant and People

Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; in your compassion forgive our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone; and so uphold us by your Spirit that we may live and serve you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Peace

The passing of the peace is an ancient way for people to greet one another. Jesus taught that we should love one another as brothers and sisters, especially before the celebration of communion. After the text below the congregants pass the peace with each other. This is like some of our Sunday morning greetings but instead of talking about the football game or commenting on the weather, they pass the peace of Christ.

Celebrant   The peace of the Lord be always with you.

People       And also with you.

 

THE TABLE OF THE LORD – THE HOLY COMMUNION

Sometimes the table will hold 2 candles – symbolically signifying that Christ is the light of the world. The two candles signify Jesus as both God and man, human and divine.

 

The Offertory

 

The Great Thanksgiving

Sursum Corda – Is the opening part of the Great Thanksgiving.  It means “Lifted Hearts” as you will see from the text below.

Celebrant   The Lord be with you.

People       And also with you.

Celebrant   Lift up your hearts.

People       We lift them to the Lord.

Celebrant   Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People       It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Celebrant   It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever proclaim the glory of your Name:

Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy can be sung or spoken. It is followed by the Benedictus “Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.”

Celebrant and People

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

 

The Great Thanksgiving or Prayer of Consecration

The People stand or kneel

Celebrant   We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:

 

The Acclamation

Acclamation means a loud and enthusiastic show of approval. This attitude should be reflected as the Celebrant and People speak the text below.

Celebrant and People

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

Celebrant   And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all; presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and this cup.

Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.

By him, and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever.  Amen.

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say,

 

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father in Heaven (The Lord’s Prayer) – Eric Wyse

In this particular service we used an arrangement of “The Lord’s Prayer” by Eric Wyse. The Lord’s prayer can be sung or spoken at this time.

 

The Breaking of the Bread

The Celebrant breaks the bread

Celebrant   “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;

People       Therefore let us keep the feast.”

 

Fraction Anthem

Fraction is the action of breaking the bread in half. Taken from the word Confractorium. The Fraction Anthem is the song sung after the Fraction of the bread. Fraction means a small part.

Celebrant   The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance and thanksgiving that Christ died for you.

I added the bidding to the table below because of its beauty and appropriateness for this liturgy. It is taken from the Iona Community. The Iona Community is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship. It is based in the United Kingdom.

Celebrant   The feast of the bread and cup is now made ready. It is the table of the company of Jesus, and all who love him. It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world with whom Jesus identified. It is the table of communion with the entire earth, in which Christ became incarnate. So come to this table, You who have much faith and you who would like to have more; You who have been here often, and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed. Come, it is Christ who invites us to meet Him here. Iona Community Bidding to the Table

 

The Communion of the People

Communion Music

Several congregational hymns or songs are selected as the Communion music. These musical selections can vary widely according to the worship culture of each congregation.

After Communion, the Celebrant says

Let us pray.

 

The Prayer of Discipleship

Celebrant and People

Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with the spiritual food in remembrance of his Body and Blood.

Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The People are dismissed with this charge

Celebrant   Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

People       Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

 


[1] Robert E. Webber, Encountering the Healing Power of God: A Study in the Sacred Actions of Worship (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 27.

[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994), 124-125.

 

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Oct 27 2013

10 Worship Core Convictions

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apple coreCore Convictions are foundational standards, principles, values or tenets.

The following list is taken from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website. Check out their site for oustanding worship resources, conferences and links at:  Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

The language, comments and questions of the ten core convictions may not all be consistent with the doctrines and practices of your faith community. You are encouraged, however, to view these foundational principles in light of your culture, while giving consideration to their value for the entire ecumenical faith community.

On their tenth anniversary in 2007, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship identified ten core principles that outline their central convictions about vital Christian worship. Their desire in presenting these core convictions was that their many ecumenical partners and contacts would find them clear, compelling and most of all enriching for their own worship and ministry.

Ten Core Convictions

These ten core convictions are not innovations. They are timeless truths from Scripture and the rich history of Christian worship. Today, each conviction remains theologically crucial, pastorally significant, and culturally threatened. The importance of one or all of these convictions risks being obscured by cultural trends outside the church, and disputes about the mechanics and style of worship within the church. This attempt to reiterate and reinforce the importance of these ten core convictions will lead, we pray, to more fruitful (if not necessarily easier) conversations about the meaning and practice of Christian worship. Christian worship is immeasurably enriched by:

1. A vivid awareness of the beauty, majesty, mystery, and holiness of the triune God

Worship cultivates our knowledge and imagination about who God is and what God has done. Worship gives us a profound awareness of the glory, beauty, and holiness of God. Each element of worship can be understood through a Trinitarian framework. Worship renewal is best sustained by attention to the triune God we worship.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Ps. 63:2)

Related Questions

  • What is the picture of God we are, consciously and unconsciously, cultivating in our worship?
  • In what moments of our worship do we most perceive the glory and beauty of God?
  • In what way does our worship space convey God’s glory?
  • In what way might renewed attention to God’s glory make our worship more contemplative? more exuberant? more vibrant?
  • What barriers does our culture present to worshiping with a sense of God’s transcendence?
  • How does our picture of God help us resist idolatries?

2. The full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers, as a fully intergenerational community

Worship is not just what ministers, musicians, and other leaders do; it is what all worshipers “do”—through the work of the Spirit in worship. In vital worship, all worshipers are involved in the actions, words, and meaning of worship.

God’s covenant promises endure “from generation to generation.” Worship that arises out of an intentionally intergenerational community, in which people of all ages are welcomed as full participants, and whose participation enriches each other, reflects that worship breaks down barriers of age.

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. . .  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. . . the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Neh. 8:1, 6, 7, 8, 12)

Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Ps. 148:12-13)

Related Questions

  • How do worshipers in our community understand the nature of their participation in worship?
  • How do worshipers in our community understand the purpose of their participation in worship?
  • What does participation mean in addition to lay leadership of worship?
  • What could we do as worshipers to prepare to be as involved in the actions and in tune with the meaning of worship as we assume our leaders are?
  • How are we enabling the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers in our worship?
  • How are we failing to enable the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers?
  • How can our worship be more intergenerational in its lay leadership?
  • How can our worship be more intergenerational in its participation?
  • How can we better foster intergenerational community?
  • What generational barriers does our culture set or lead us to expect?
  • What generational barriers does our own tradition or history set or lead us to expect?

3. Deep engagement with scripture

The Bible is the source of our knowledge of God and of the world’s redemption in Christ. Worship should include prominent readings of Scripture, and engage worshipers through intentional reading practices, art, and music. It should present and depict God’s being, character, and actions in ways that are consistent with scriptural teaching. It should follow biblical commands about worship practices, and it should heed scriptural warnings about false and improper worship. In particular, Christian worship should be deeply connected to its ancient roots in psalmody.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

Related Questions

  • How prominent is the reading and teaching of scripture in our worship?
  • How engaging is the reading and teaching of scripture in our worship?
  • What use of art and music could help us better engage worshipers with scripture?
  • How deeply and broadly do we select biblical passages to read, sing, reflect, and preach from?

4. Joyful and solemn celebrations of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

The sacraments are physical signs of God’s nourishing action in creation through the Holy Spirit. In baptism God puts his covenant mark on his children, adopts them into the church, and calls them to a lifetime of dying and rising with Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, God physically and spiritually feeds his people. These celebrations are not just ceremonies, but gifts of grace and signs of God’s ongoing work.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom. 6:3-5)

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

Related Questions

  • How regularly do we celebrate the sacraments?
  • When we do celebrate the sacraments, how prominent are they in our worship services?
  • How could we do more to nourish a sacramental awareness even (or especially) in services in which they are not held—in preaching, prayers, singing, creeds, professions of faith, and other aspects of worship?
  • Do we treat the font and table with any significance during services in which we’re not using them?
  • How much water do we use in our baptismal font or pool? Could we use more?
  • How would worshipers summarize the theological significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
  • How could we make worshipers more aware of their own baptism and its personal significance for them?
  • How could we make our celebration of the Lord’s Supper more communal?
  • What are some of the most meaningful celebrations of the sacraments you have experienced?

5. An open and discerning approach to culture

Worship should strike a healthy balance among four approaches or dimensions to its cultural context: worship is transcultural (some elements of worship are beyond culture), contextual (worship reflects the culture in which it is offered), cross-cultural (worship breaks barriers of culture through worship), and counter-cultural (worship resists the idolatries of its cultural context).

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12)

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matt. 5:13)

They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; (Rev. 5:9)

Related Questions

  • What aspects of our worship are transcultural?
  • What aspects of our worship are inculturated?
  • What aspects of our worship are cross-cultural?
  • What aspects of our worship are countercultural?
  • Which of these four approaches comes most naturally to our worshiping community?
  • Which comes least naturally?

6. Disciplined creativity in the arts

Worship is enriched by artistic creativity in many genres and media, not as ends to themselves or as open-ended individual inspirations, but all disciplined by the nature of worship as a prophetic and priestly activity.

Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of artisan or skilled designer. (Exod. 25:30-35)

Related Questions

  • How are we incorporating the arts into our worship?
  • How are we mediating the danger of not neglecting visual aspects of worship but not idolizing them, either?
  • How can we better incorporate artists into our community, and cultivate the artistic gifts within our worshiping community?

7. Collaboration with all other congregational ministries

Congregational worship is mutually enriching to the full range of congregational ministries, including pastoral care, education, spiritual formation, and witness.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Related Questions

  • What are some of the ways we are integrating our worship with the full scope of our congregational ministry and life together?
  • How can we better integrate worship into our ministries of evangelism, fellowship, education, pastoral care, and others?

8. Warm, Christ-centered hospitality for all people

A central feature of worship is that it breaks down barriers to welcome all worshipers, including persons with disabilities, those from other cultures, both seekers, lifelong Christians, and others.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Rom. 12:13)

Related Questions

  • How does our worship currently express hospitality to all worshipers?
  • How does our worship currently express hospitality to those with special needs?
  • How does our worship currently express hospitality to visitors?
  • How can we better express hospitality in our worship?

9. Intentional integration between worship and all of life

Worship fosters natural and dynamic connections between worship and life, so that the worship life of Christian congregations both reflects and shapes lives of grateful obedience, deeply engages with the needs of the world, including such specific areas as restorative justice, care for the earth, and many other areas.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)

Related Questions

  • How does our worship currently express connections between worship and other areas of life?
  • Does our worship foster a sense that our common faith is primarily relevant only in worship, or foster a sense that worship is one aspect—though a very important one—of our service to God?

10. Collaborative planning and evaluation

Worship involves a collaborative process for planning and evaluating services in the context of an adaptive approach to overall congregational leadership.

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (Acts 20:28)

Related Questions

  • How collaborative is our current process of worship planning?
  • How collaborative is our current process of worship evaluation?
  • How could our worship planning be more collaborative?
  • How could our worship evaluation be more collaborative?
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Sep 22 2013

We’re Talking About Practice Man!

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practiceIn an often-replayed press conference from a decade ago, basketball superstar Allen Iverson responded to questions from reporters about the losing season his team experienced. When asked if the focus of a closed-door discussion with his coach occurred in response to his habit of missing practice, Iverson responded with: “Hey I hear you, it’s funny to me too, hey it’s strange to me too but we’re talking about practice man, we’re not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we’re talking about practice.” A reporter followed up with the question, “Is it possible that if you practiced you could help make your teammates better?” Iverson responded with, “How in the (expletive) could I make my teammates better by practicing?”

In the seventeenth century at the age of 24, Lawrence of the Resurrection, born Nicolas Herman, joined the Discalced Carmelite order of the Catholic Church in Paris. As an uneducated monk who served as a cook in a French monastery, Brother Lawrence found himself practicing the presence of God while pealing potatoes as well as when he was kneeling in prayer. His recorded words reflect that dedication when he wrote, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

Practice is repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. It is learning through repetition, which then becomes habit. Brother Lawrence wrote, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”

If worshipers habitually practiced the presence of God throughout the week…what could occur when they got to practice God’s presence together on Sunday? Although our verbal response to practicing the presence of God during the week may not be as overtly profane as that of Allen Iverson, our actions often convey the same disdain. Our singular focus on Sunday worship communicates that worship begins and ends with our opening and closing songs. To loosely quote one of the reporters “Is it possible that if we practiced during the week we could get better and also help make our teammates better?”

Worship leaders…we must lead them, exhort them, model for them and teach them to worship not only when they meet but also when they disperse. What occurs on Sunday should be an overflow of what has already occurred during the week with the added benefit of getting to share it with others.

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Aug 26 2013

Paradoxology

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paradox

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

Paradoxologies

  • Worshipers are more comfortable when mystery is explainable.
  • The 60 year old senior pastor asked the personnel team, “How can we continue to have worship relevance with a 50 year old worship leader?”
  • The omnipresent God will show up depending on what we sing or how we sing it.
  • If the hymnal was good enough for Jesus and the Disciples after the Last Supper it is good enough for us.
  • Worship songs should be disregarded if they are more than a decade old or newer than 1970.
  • Worship is continuous once the first song begins.
  • Dressing up or dressing down will ensure worship occurs.
  • Let’s shorten the scripture readings and prayers to give more time for songs and sermons.
  • We know what God likes since He likes what we know.
  • Relevant worship began with the music of my generation.
  • Worship won’t happen unless we sing our songs just like the original artist did.
  • Our worship will impact the culture of our community once we learn how to imitate the worship of a church from another community.
  • The only way to cast worship vision for the future is by denigrating the past.
  • If some of your worship music is special then the rest must be ordinary.
  • The music is always louder when it is a song I don’t particularly like.
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Aug 19 2013

What Must We Sacrifice for Our Children?

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living sacrificeWe go to great lengths and personal expense to make sure our children and grandchildren have the best clothes, schools, lessons and coaches. We begin economizing and genericizing the moment they are born in order to save money and set it aside for the best of college educations. We surrender our own personal wants, preferences and even needs so that they will have everything necessary for a successful future. In fact, most of us would literally give our own lives for our children and grandchildren because no sacrifice is too great…except maybe when it comes to our worship music preferences. Mitch Albom wrote, “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”[1]

Sacrifice is surrendering for the sake of something or someone. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. A baseball bunt is a sacrifice for the sole purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt. What if parents and grandparents had that same disposition when it came to their musical preferences?

Sacrificing our preferences should never compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often requires us to make adjustments in order to accommodate generationally and systematically. 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.”[2]

Sacrificing our worship preferences is only possible when our common ground is deference instead of preference. Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction…preference is based on feeling and tradition. Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the traditions and embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions. Deference is the agreement that although we may not always like the music of our children and grandchildren…we are willing to sacrifice our own preferences because of our love for those children and grandchildren.

In the book of Romans, Paul focused on the divisions by which we segregate ourselves. In the twelfth chapter 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.” Terry 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. If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[3]


[1] Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (New York: Hyperion, 2003).

[2] 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.

[3] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 108.

 

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Aug 11 2013

Breaking Down Game Film – Analyzing Worship

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breaking down game filmThe beginning of another football season reminds us of a practice that could also be beneficial to worship leading teams. Breaking down game film is the discipline of reviewing game videos in order to identify mistakes, make adjustments, consider radical changes and highlight successes. The ultimate goal of this type of analysis is to facilitate individual and team improvements that will positively affect subsequent games.

It is often difficult to recall after the game what did or didn’t work during the game. The fundamental reasons why a team is unable to stop or move the ball is not always evident in the middle of the action. Breaking down the film after a game gives coaches the opportunity to isolate individual players and plays in a more relaxed setting away from the time constraints and pressures of the game.

Why aren’t worship leading teams regularly incorporating similar practices? Implementing a post service process of analyzing worship service videos would definitely require a level of humility, trust and shared accountability. It would also require selfless leadership that understands sacrificing ones own interests for the greater worshiping good of the congregation. And those sacrifices would positively affect subsequent worship services.

Breaking down worship service film is always more comprehensive, meticulous, precise and ecumenical when you enlist others to participate with you in the analysis. Communal observations and the wisdom with which to respond to those observations will always be strengthened through the involvement of a collective group.

Armchair quarterbacking is already occurring in the halls and parking lots after the services. Breaking down worship service film intentionally initiates an analysis process that pre-empts those congregational critics who love to coach from the stands. The primary reason for breaking down worship service film, however, is that it will encourage your worship leading team to consider worship renewal based on prayerful evaluation, not just as a knee-jerk response to worship conflict.

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Jul 21 2013

Stop Attending Worship Conferences!

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don't jumpMy childhood home was located next door to a small strip mall consisting of a radio and television shop, various business offices and a pharmacy at the far end of the mall. The view from my upstairs bedroom window was the roofline of those small shops and stores.

My parents were awakened one night by the pharmacy burglar alarm. After contacting the police, my dad also woke me up to let me know what was occurring. We watched in the darkness of my bedroom as a thief attempted to access the pharmacy through its roof with a pickaxe.

When the police arrived the burglar tried to elude them by running across the rooftops toward our house. It was obvious that he intended to jump between the stores and our home to escape capture. My always-prepared dad temporarily blinded the intruder by pointing the beam of a huge flashlight in his eyes the moment he jumped.

From the street it appeared that our house and the strip mall were only one-story structures. Because of the slope of the side yard, however, where the thief intended to jump was actually three-stories high. The hapless criminal landed in a heap on our metal garbage cans and was easily apprehended and arrested. He jumped blindly before considering all of the circumstances or potential consequences. 

If your post-worship-conference-pattern is to imitate and implement everything you see without considering how or if it might fit in the culture or context of your own congregation…stop attending worship conferences. If your congregants dread your return from the conference since this pattern occurs after every event…stop attending worship conferences. And if you are disappointed in and critical of your people when they can’t imitate what you observed and experienced…stop attending worship conferences.

If, however, you can attend worship conferences and filter the valuable insights through the worship language of your uniquely positioned and distinctly designed congregation, then by all means attend as many of those conferences as your budget and calendar will allow.

Suggested Filters

  • Listen and observe while giving consideration to where and whom God has called you to serve, not where or whom you wish He had called you to serve.
  • Determine if what you observe out there complements the gifts of those you already have in here.
  • If imitation is the highest form of flattery, ask yourself whom it is you are trying to flatter.
  • Attend conference sessions based on how you might improve the worship language of your congregation, not based on how you might appear to your friends.
  • Consider that future ministry success may reside primarily in the revitalization of your attitude as the leader.
  • Take into consideration the past and present circumstances that frame your existing worship language.
  • Determine if it is possible that the only new necessary is for your group to do what they are already doing…better.
  • Don’t tune out the learning that is also available in the conversations during breaks and meals.
  • Remember the old idiom look before you leap before blindly implementing what you observe and learn.
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Jun 2 2013

Conditional Worship

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conditionalA conditional statement is one that is put in the form of if A, then B where A is designated as the premise, hypothesis, or antecedent and B the conclusion or consequent.

If…then statements are used extensively in the form of logic referred to as deductive reasoning.

Can we determine if spirit and truth worship is actually conditional using this form of logic?  And if it is conditional, couldn’t we then develop a universal recipe for worship success?  The short answer is yes but our premises and conclusions are often flawed.

The universal hypothesis and the place where worship conflict often originates is in our reasoning that if we sing it and play it in a certain way…then worship will occur.  If hymns, then worship; if praise songs, then worship; if organ…if guitar…if casual…if formal…if scripted…if spontaneous…the antecedents are endless.

If the certain way can vary from person to person and congregation to congregation, then that same reasoning would also cause us to conclude, conversely, that if it is not sung or played in a certain way, then worship will not occur.

If how we sing and play our music is necessary for worship to occur…then music has devolved into a tool for worship preparation only.  Instead of offering us a way to express our worship it serves as foreplay for our worship.  If we are leading worship with this premise, then at what point does our music evolve from worship preparation to actual worship?

Worship is indeed conditional but the conditions are not of our own making.  Those conditions have already been met…Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. If we affirm this mystery of our faith…then how can we keep from worshiping?  If worship is our response to how these truths have been and continue to be manifested in our lives, then worship will occur in spite of what we sing and play or how we sing and play, not as a result of it.

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Apr 24 2013

Awful Worship

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awfulawful [awfuh’l]–
1. solemnly impressive; exceedingly great; inspiring awe. 2. full of awe; reverential.

Awe and wonder is the act of worship in response to the mystery of God. It causes us to respond with, “Woe is me…I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5); It causes us to take off our sandals and hide our faces (Exodus 3:5-6); And it causes us to leap and dance before the Lord with all our might (2 Samuel 6:14-16).

Our need to control, predict and therefore script, however, has transformed awe and mystery into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational.  And yet, we continue to lament the fact that our worship seems lifeless.  A. W. Tozer wrote, “We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper ‘mystery.’”[1]

Mystery is not just our limited capacity to fully understand and explain the entirety of God’s story; it is also the incomprehensible awe and wonder that He included me in that story. Can that ever be scripted? If the awe and wonder of God can be completely contained in and explained through our limited understanding, then he is a god who does not deserve our worship.

Michael Yaconelli wrote, “The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment.”[2] He continues by stating, “The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls.”[3]

Taking the surprise out of faith leaves us with dead religion.  Removing the mystery from the gospel leaves us with frozen and petrified dogma.  Losing the awe of God leaves us with an impotent deity and meaningless piety.[4]

The proclamation of the mystery of our faith is this…Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again (I Tim 3:16; Rom 16:25-26; Eph 3:4-6). If that doesn’t continually inspire awe and wonder then no songs we select ever will.

 


[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper Collins, 1961), 18.

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

[3] Ibid., 24.

[4] Ibid., 28.

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Apr 14 2013

If God Is Hosting the Party…Why Are We Inviting Him to Show Up?

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Worship doesn’t invite God’s presence…it acknowledges 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 initiates…we respond.

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

Theologian Richard Foster wrote, “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.  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.”[1]

Occasionally we actually bump into God in our worship efforts.[2]  When this occurs we often arrogantly assume the encounter was based on what we sang, said, or did and how we sang, said, or did it.  When what we do or observe others doing seems to have worked, our usual response is to institutionalize and market it as a template in order to achieve the same result each time we gather.

Have we considered that God might be grieved by our arrogance or angered at our insolence when we implore Him each week to show up and show off?  We take credit for instigating God’s presence when in reality He started the conversation, was present long before we arrived, and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him.

When I was a child my family traveled each summer from Oklahoma to Tennessee for a couple of weeks of vacation with grandparents.  The 1200-mile round-trip in the 1960 station wagon seemed to take forever.  The length of the trip was minimized through the anticipation and excitement that grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were expecting us.  As my grandparent’s house came into view we could always count on seeing my grandmother sitting in the porch swing expectantly waiting for us to arrive.  She had been there for hours.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth stated that when people assemble in the house of God they are met with an expectancy greater than their own.

 


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

[2] See Fr. Dominic Grassi, Bumping Into God: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1999).

 

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Apr 7 2013

Is Music All We Have?

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Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will.  The sole emphasis on music as our primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship and perpetuated worship conflict in our congregations.

Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer that gift to God in worship.  But is it the expression?  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.

Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds the central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’  Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship.  But, many others are involved.  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.”[1]

Just considering what is presently appropriate and acceptable is not enough.  Leaders must also be willing to educate, enlighten and encourage in order to expand that acceptability.  Robin M. Jensen reminds us that, “too often art is perceived as a kind of ‘extra’ offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate it or want to be involved, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.”[2]

Consider the following suggestions as places for your congregation to begin multiplying their understanding: 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 and props and many others.  Even though God’s creativity is limitless, we often constrict our list because of our culture and tradition…or perhaps our caution and laziness.

Harold Best stated it well; “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to 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.  Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance.  Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart.  Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory:  spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory.  Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]

 


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

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

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

 

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Mar 24 2013

Loss Leader Easter Sunday

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loss leaderIn retail, a loss leader is the practice of offering goods or services discounted at or below cost in order to draw consumers in.  The strategy is that drawing them in will hopefully lead them to buy additional items at a higher price.

Churches are formulating final plans for meaningful Easter worship services at the end of this week knowing they will potentially impact more attendees than on any other Sunday of the year.  In an effort to entice more participation some of those congregations are planning gimmicks or hooks to get consumers in for one of the most meaningful days of the church year.

When those consumers realize that worship actually requires offering their bodies as a living sacrifice, what methods then will those same congregations need to employ to entice those consumers to count the cost (Rom 12:1)?  How will those congregations help them express deep calling unto deep worship…when discounted loss leader worship is all that they are offering (Ps 42:7)?  In this context, you get what you pay for actually means…whatever you reach people with is what you will reach them to.

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.  King David 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 24:24).

Terry 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]

 


[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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Mar 17 2013

If the Bible Is Foundational to Worship…Why Aren’t We Using It?

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scriptureWhy are churches that so zealously defend the Bible rarely reading its text in public services of worship?  Does its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to faith, doctrines and practices?  And by limiting its text to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation are leaders implying that a higher level of credibility is found in the exhortation than in the Word itself?  Can’t it stand on its own or must we always attempt to prop it up with our own words and actions?

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 negotiate the worship impasse.  At the same time those congregations minimize the very foundational text from which those 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 worship actions.

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.

 

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Jan 27 2013

What’s In It For Me? Worship Conversation Killer

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conversational narcissismA Conversation Killer is a line or phrase that is either purposely used to end a conversation as soon as possible, or a comment that unwittingly ends a conversation.  The urban dictionary sarcastically refers to it as a deadversation.

Conversation is interactive communication involving two or more participants.  Even though conversation is not often scripted it may revolve around a central theme or subject.  A healthy conversation includes a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.  Meaningful conversations usually occur as a result of relationships built on familiarity achieved through repetition.  God’s revelation and our response to that revelation is a great model of a 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 will also realize that the conversation does not begin with us.  What we do and how we do it is a response to, not the initiation of the conversation.  God started the dialogue and graciously allows and encourages us to join Him in it.

Sociologist, Charles Derber coined the term Conversational Narcissism to classify the personality trait of one who constantly shifts the topic of conversation away from others and back to himself/herself.  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 the focus of that topic back to our own selfish interests.

Wondering what’s in it for us takes the topic (God’s story) and shifts its focus to a topic of our own choosing (our story).  What I need, prefer, deserve, or have earned not only shifts the topic of our worship, it also shifts the object of our worship.  When this occurs, the conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but instead on the worshiper…effectively killing the conversation.

[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.

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Jan 13 2013

We Are Shallow Worship Enablers

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EmpowermentIf our 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 on Sunday and have nothing left to encourage worship the other 167 hours of the week…If we aren’t exhorting them and modeling for them how to worship not only when they gather but also when they disperse…Then we are indeed shallow worship enablers.

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.”

Congregations will never evolve from shallow worship to “deep calling unto deep” worship until we as leaders resolve to offer them opportunities to move from enabled dependency to intentional empowerment (Ps. 42:7).  And if we don’t help them catch that vision, who will?

Dependency is conditional or contingent on something or someone else.  It is relying on or requiring the aid of another.  Worship dependency is saving it until Sunday and waiting for someone else to initiate it.  Worship dependency focuses only on what is done for us here and has to start over every week.  Dependency can also increase worship conflict since we only get one chance at it.

Empowerment is increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes.  Empowerment equips and offers encouragement to think, behave, or take action autonomously.  Worship empowerment encourages congregants to take ownership in their own worship responses to God’s revelation at the moment it occurs.  Worship empowerment focuses on what we can do and who we can be out there and starts every day where we left off the day before.  Empowerment can reduce worship conflict since we get multiple chances at it.

Worship empowerment arises from the shallowness of dependency and leads to the full, conscious, active, and continuous participation of worshipers.  When worshipers are empowered and no longer enabled, what occurs on Sunday is then an overflow of what has already occurred during the week with an added benefit of getting to share it with others.  The weekly gathering is then expanded to a daily occurrence allowing a congregation in full assurance and with complete confidence to proclaim that Worship has left the building and will continue until we meet again.

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Dec 16 2012

When Lives Are Lost What Do We Sing?

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griefWhen we are at a loss for words we must be reminded that a text has been prepared for us in the Psalms.  When disaster threatens to consume us, the psalmist gives words to express our most profound despair.  When our hymns and songs fall short with clichéd platitudes, the psalms provide hope beyond unexpressed emotions.  John Witvliet reminds us that, “when faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant laments of the Hebrew Scriptures.”[1]  Walter Brueggemann writes that, “By not using these psalms, we have communicated two messages to people:  either you must not feel that way (angry with God, for example) or, if you feel that way, you must do something about it somewhere else – but not here.”[2]

We have been conditioned to believe that it is more spiritual to avoid expressing grief or despair in worship.  Our public questioning of God is often considered irreverent or maybe even blasphemous.  Our song selections and sermon topics have conveyed that church must always be a happy place and that a positive appearance is less threatening.

If authenticity is a goal of our worship we must honestly and publicly admit that circumstances of life can contribute to hopelessness, cause us to cry out to God in despair, and even demand answers.  We must persistently remind one another that God expects our language of lament and is not threatened by it.

In An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters, Brian McLaren offers the following commentary, “Pain should find its way into song, and these songs should find their way into our churches.  The bitter will make the sweet all the sweeter; without the bitter, the sweet can become cloying, and too many of our churches feel, I think, like Candyland.  Is it too much to ask that we be more honest?  Since doubt is part of our lives, since pain and waiting and as-yet unresolved disappointments are part of our lives, can’t these things be reflected in the songs of our communities?  Doesn’t endless singing about celebration lose its vitality (and even its credibility) if we don’t also sing about the struggle?”

Authenticity grants us permission to admit that events can shake our faith.  Catharsis begins when we understand that asking and even singing our difficult questions is acceptable and that God can handle our anger and despair.  Freedom to cry out to God in worship will only be realized when a community becomes more comfortable with the belief that a transparent life is not narcissistic or self-absorbing.  In fact, this honest transparency is a life of humility enabling worshipers to realize they are not struggling on their own in the resolution of this despair.  Martha Freeman reminds us that, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us.  There is comfort in those tears.  They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[3]


[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1977): 22.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 15.

[3] Martha Freeman, “Has God Forsaken Us?” The Covenant Companion (November 2001): 8.

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Nov 26 2012

You Say You Want A Revolution: Blowing Up Worship

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revolution

 

“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know, we all want to change the world
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out.”
                                     Revolution, Lennon-McCartney

 

Change is often necessary as a congregation considers meaningful worship in response to shifts in cultures and contexts. In the rush to do something fresh, leaders often plunge into the stream of radical worship change without reflecting on the past and present circumstances that framed existing structures and practices. And since most guys like to blow stuff up, the initial reaction when things don’t seem to be working is to completely destroy those existing practices for the prospect of future aspirations.

A revolution is the forcible overthrow or renunciation of an existing system or structure in order to substitute another. It is the repudiation and thorough replacement of what presently exists without considering that it still holds value for some. This radical and pervasive change most often occurs suddenly without giving consideration to the potential fall-out. And in a revolution…one side always loses.

In an effort to initiate worship change, well-intentioned leaders often push to do something…anything different than what they perceive as not working now. This absence of wisdom and leadership acumen often causes unnecessary transitional pain and relational conflict. The automatic assumption is that worship change always requires incorporating something new. But maybe the adjustment most congregations actually need is not a revolution but instead a reevaluation of present structures and practices and the realization that the only new necessary is to do what they are already doing…better.

A reevaluation is the consideration or examination of something again in order to make adjustments or form new opinions about it. It is to determine and assess significance, worth, and value with renewed resolve and vision. This reexamination allows a congregation to consider change through a unified process of rethinking, revisiting, and reinvestigating. And in reevaluation…all sides are considered.

Reevaluation may also help a congregation realize that the only new really essential to worship health may reside in the revitalization of the attitude and resolve of the leader…which wouldn’t require blowing up the existing structure or practices of the congregation. Assisting a congregation through worship transition with minimal pain is accomplished by continuing to accent what a congregation does best and by reclaiming lost worship focus with a deeper congregational involvement.

Reevaluating worship offers a congregation the opportunity to consider again how they can add to rather than take away from where they have been, ultimately impacting what they hope to be.

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Nov 18 2012

Is the Lord’s Supper A Waste of Service Time?

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communionRelegating the Lord’s Supper to the end of the service as an inconvenient add-on or observing it only when it fits into the congregations’ cultural calendar is sacrilegious.  You would probably gain more spiritual value by preaching a little longer or singing another song if these are limitations your congregation places on this sacred ordinance.

The tradition of observing the Lord’s Supper quarterly, when it will fit into the sermon schedule, in response to the local church calendar, or just because a congregation hasn’t observed it recently has contributed to the minimization of this meaningful ordinance.  Additionally, a limited understanding of the Lord’s Supper only as a penitential replay of the Last Supper has diminished its meaning and value for worshipers.  This traditional approach to the Lord’s Supper is not inaccurate, just incomplete.

Expanding our consideration to the Eucharistic understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a meal of thanksgiving can encourage us to experience this ordinance beyond a memorial meal.  An attitude of thanksgiving allows us to move beyond wallowing in our sorrow to the realization that hope is found in the resurrection.

Additionally, congregations have attempted to create community by developing relationships, planning activities, or encouraging fellowship by affinity.  What these congregations are missing is the realization that the foundation of healthy community is already available and waiting at the Communion Table in their vertical relationship with Christ and horizontal relationship with each other.

Understanding that the Lord’s Supper is much more than a memorial does not minimize its observance at times as a memorial as well.  This visual, tactile, and symbolic Word should cause us to grieve that His body was broken for us.  The purpose, however, of remembering is not just to live in the past through our sorrow, but to remember in order to influence our present and future.

If we are going to get better we must continually reassess what we are now doing and why we are doing it.  An intentional Lord’s Supper evaluation process could offer a constructive way for a congregation to identify, prioritize, and address some of their embedded misunderstandings.

Since most congregations do not have an instrument to regularly evaluate their Lord’s Supper services, I have developed the following questionnaire to encourage your congregation to consider worship renewal that is available at the Table.  You are welcome to freely adapt and use this questionnaire to meet the evaluative needs of your congregation.

 

CONGREGATIONAL LORD’S SUPPER QUESTIONNAIRE

To assist in understanding the value of the Lord’s Supper to worship in our congregation, please answer the following questions based on your perspective as a worship planner/leader/or congregational participant.  Please answer the questions thoroughly with regard to current understanding and practice, not future aspirations.

Name (optional):

  1. How healthy is our congregation in the area of worship?  What factors contribute to or detract from its health?
  1. Are the members of our congregation active participants in our worship services?  In what ways do they participate?
  1. Are there any worship practices you have observed or are aware of that would not be acceptable for our congregation?
  1. Are there any events in the life and/or history of our congregation that have significantly impacted its worship?
  1. How important is the Lord’s Supper to our congregation?
  1. How often is the Lord’s Supper included as a part of our worship services?  How is this determined or scheduled?
  1. What is the attitude of our congregation during the Lord’s Supper and what determines that attitude?
  1. What does the Lord’s Supper signify to you personally?  What factors contribute to this significance?
  1. Do you believe the Lord’s Supper has worship value for you individually?  If yes, in what ways?  If no, why?
  1. Do you believe the Lord’s Supper has worship value for our entire congregation?  If yes, in what ways?  If no, why?
  1. Have you observed or participated in a Lord’s Supper service in a congregation or denomination outside of ours?  If yes, give a brief explanation.
  1. Were any of those experiences particularly meaningful for you?  If yes, please list examples and reasons why.
  1. Were any of those experiences uncomfortable for you or confusing to you?  If yes, please list examples and reasons why.
  1. Are there any Lord’s Supper observances listed in question 11 that could enhance the worship of our congregation?  If yes, please give examples of how.
  1. Is the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of our services?  If yes, how?  If no, why?
  1. Does our Lord’s Supper theme vary from observance to observance?  Examples:  remembrance, communion, thanksgiving.
  1. If no, why?  If yes, what elements contribute to those various observances?
  1. Does the observance of the Lord’s Supper in our church strengthen your relationship with God?  If yes, what elements contribute to that?  If no, what elements distract from that?
  1. What could/should be done differently that would enhance the Lord’s Supper services in our church?
  1. Any additional comments?
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Oct 14 2012

What Does Worship Renewal Look Like?

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new growthWorship renewal will begin when congregations move toward a deeper awareness of the biblical precedents, historical practices, and theological tenets foundational to worship understanding. Much of the conflict that occurs as congregations consider worship renewal is the result of too much focus on the style of our worship instead of the content of our worship.

If worship leaders agree that these foundational elements are necessary why do they continue to depend on song selection and stylistic change alone to negotiate the worship impasse?  The need for worship renewal must be determined first by considering worship principles before then trying new worship practices.

The Worship Renewal Grants Program of The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship fosters well-grounded worship renewal in congregations and worshiping communities throughout North America.  This grant program provides funding assistance to those organizations developing projects that encourage worship renewal.

Betty Grit, Worship Renewal Grants Program Manager posted an article in November, 2010 titled “Worship Renewal: What We Have Learned.”  Betty has given permission for me to repost her article below.

The article is based on responses from congregations that developed projects for worship renewal funded through the Worship Renewal Grants Program.  It is interesting to note that some basic principles of worship renewal were common to all projects in this broadly ecumenical, multicultural, and multigenerational search for worship renewal.  The bulleted items in the article are taken directly from the Worship Renewal Grants Year-End Reports.

The findings recorded in this article by Betty Grit can offer great insight as your congregation considers what worship renewal might look like.  The information provided is extensive but rich in foundational worship principles.  It is lengthy but will be well worth your time to read and digest.

The language, comments, and responses may not all be consistent with the doctrines and practices of your faith community.  You are encouraged, however, to view the foundational principles in light of your culture, giving consideration to their value for your congregation and the entire ecumenical faith community.

For more information about the Worship Renewal Grants Program follow this link: http://worship.calvin.edu/grants/ or email Betty Grit – Worship Renewal Grants Program Manager: worshipgrants@calvin.edu.

 

WORSHIP RENEWAL: WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED – by Betty Grit

PROVERB 1: Worship renewal cannot be produced or engineered by human ingenuity but is a gift of God’s Spirit.   Renewal is a gift for which we pray, rather than an accomplishment we achieve.

  • Worship renewal is achieved only through the Holy Spirit-the divine favor from above.  The common theme was the need to pray diligently, be patient and expect the unexpected.
  • We learned that the most important element of worship and worship renewal is the exponential element that the Holy Spirit brings; His work supersedes any human effort.
  • Comment from a pastor: “God is shaping us at this Church in His own way and on His own schedule.   Any renewal that happens here is not based on human genius.  The Holy Spirit is at work.”
  • Everyone comes to the table with a wealth of ideas and opinions and while that makes coming to a consensus difficult, we felt the Holy Spirit was there in the process.
  • We have learned that God is faithful and that we can be led by Him to places and opportunities beyond our own imagination.
  • Any new approaches to scripture presentations in worship includes risk and requires a certain amount of courage to step out in faith.   We are constantly needing to be reminded to prayerfully discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in all of our actions related to worship.
  • Communication among worship leaders has gone from adequate to excellent.  As a worship committee, we have learned to prayerfully explore new ideas and to carefully review the more traditional worship methods. The congregation has been very cooperative in the process.

PROVERB 2: Worship renewal mines the riches of scripture and leads worshipers to deeper encounters with Christ and the gospel message.

  • Participants have spoken of a greater spirituality and growth of personal faith life and the connection between and need for both personal prayer and communal worship.
  • Congregants are more knowledgeable, more involved, more connected with each other.  Many members who were faithful but not as active are now more actively engaged.  Members, especially the children are praying some powerful prayers.  There are visible evidences of spiritual growth.
  • Group members sense a heightened energy in worship and an appreciation of the ways we have incorporated some of what we have learned into the services.  We have involved more laity in discussions of worship.  People are reporting a deepening prayer time in worship as well as more attention to the Word.
  • I am very certain that this process has little to do with the money, and so much more about commitment, connections and conversation with God and each other!
  • As we grow closer to God, we grow closer to each other.  And close community leads us back to God.  It is a circle of intimacy that lies at the heart of corporate worship.
  • Confession and Assurance of Pardon are not optional areas of worship – they are necessary.  Confession and receiving forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ is a regular part of following Christ.  Confession is not driven by guilt as much as a desire to experience God’s grace and freedom.
  • We learned that common ground in worship is much more abundant and available than our differences.  As we examined each element in our order of worship we were able to share our understanding of the meaning and purpose of each element and relate our experiences with each element.  We learned that renewal happens when people begin to have serious discussions about the nature and purpose of worship.  This process began with the discussions about applying for the grant and continues even today as we have completed the project and are moving on.
  • The grant helped us to understand a fuller meaning of the word “worship.”  We now look at worship as something that goes from an inward state to an outward state. We also now understand that there are many variations in how a congregation can express worship. Our discussion left us feeling that we have more work to do in educating our people and ourselves.

PROVERB 3: Worship renewal arises from, and leads to, the full, conscious and active participation of all worshipers – young and old, the powerless and powerful, newcomers and lifelong worshipers.

  • Worship is more spontaneous and provides more avenues for participation by the congregation than before.  We have made changes and added variety.  It has made worship more authentic.  Format changes and other intangibles have occurred.  One partnering congregation is a recent creation in our community.  Three congregations merged just a few years ago and moved into a newly built structure.  Changes that were a result of this project helped the congregation make a significant move from being “three combined churches” to becoming ONE church.
  • We created opportunities to experience a “full, conscious participation” in worship.  Those words now mean something to the group and to individuals in the group.  Worship has a new feeling to it.  Experiencing it in many ways is new and brings a new level of understanding.  Worship is not a spectator sport!  We need to find ways to gradually bring the worshippers into even more involvement.
  • It has convinced us that we don’t have to change our style, because style is not the issue. We can and must focus on passion and participation.  Our other findings have convinced us that our worship must take place in the midst of a church culture that is filled with a sense of belonging.
  • Our children who participated in the project are excited to be involved in worship planning and practice. This eagerness is matched by helpful and guiding leadership as these young people grow in grace and confidence. The participatory nature of worship has been elevated: getting more people involved as actors, both in pulpit and pew, and not simply spectators. Worship can be creative, not limited to the segmented approach that seeks to appeal to the various generational tastes.
  • Overall, our discussions have shifted from a survey or our “preferences” in worship to a focus on the presence of God in worship and worship as our response to God’s gift to us.  Though worshippers might not be able to name it, they are describing an increased impact of the service in their lives.
  • Our project discovered that worship is experiential, and needs to be the very basic elements of Christianity when shared with children with special needs.  We learned that training the congregation to be more welcoming of special needs children and their families takes time and a longer time frame than we anticipated.
  • Our grant has given both the participants and directors the incentive to be more proactive in thinking about worship practices. We also have become more intentional about finding ways to continue nurturing family worship at home during the week.
  • We enter worship shaped in part by our culture.  Transforming worship challenges the culture’s pattern we bring with us and presents the Divine patterns against which we should live our lives.
  • How do we move people of faith from being spectators to participating in worship?
  • An unplanned yet delightful surprise was that children are by far some of the best teachers of how to worship.  We discovered that the best pathway to teach adults about the dialogical nature of worship on a congregation-wide level was through the children.  Through messages, songs and postures tailored to their age and formation level, the children proved to be the best practitioners of dialogical worship in a multi-sensory/multi- experiential way.
  • Persons of all ages want to share their faith with others and need to do so to grow in their own faith.
  • Listening to persons with disabilities share their stories is a great source of instruction; disabilities and mental illnesses impact the entire family and congregational “system”; inclusion is not our project but God’s gift through Christ.
  • Our Generations Banner and Family Poster projects have enabled children, youth and adults to work cooperatively to improve the visual impact of our corporate worship and has resulted in meaningful conversations between generations and the sharing of talents and expertise of which we were previously unaware.
  • Children and youth are often leaders in worship renewal, both in their own homes and in the church.  We should never underestimate the spiritual awareness and understanding of children.
  • Intergenerational worship is counter-cultural.  When children are regularly separated from adults and families separated from singles or adults, forming a community that values the contributions of all its members requires constant explanation and vigilance.  Intergenerational worship requires planning and persistence.  We seek to build a community, which enhances the spiritual growth of all its members by including all.
  • We kept the children’s participation very diverse so the adults would get to see far ranging ways in which the children could be involved in congregational worship and so the children’s participation would not be put into a ‘liturgical’ box.
  • Young adults stay connected to a community in which they feel involved.
  • Worship renewal occurs at every age and stage of life.
  • Different cultures face different challenges in worship renewal.
  • We learned that focusing energy to foster the participation of those who are more on the edges of our assembly requires ongoing challenges.  We learned that including different elements in worship (the artistic talents of children or the cultural gifts of Hispanic members) is a celebration of God’s gifts among us that leads us to long for more.
  • We learned that a family’s home worship practices help prepare both children and parents to become more active worshipers during corporate worship.  We learned that lasting renewal comes as a result of study over time; being patient in prayer, open to ideas, changing one heart at a time.  Collaboration and communication are vital.

PROVERB 4: Relationships (Christian fellowship, trust, forgiveness and grace) are essential for worshiping together.

  • We have come to understand that there are indeed a variety of gifts but the same Spirit.  Before the grant process we would speak of two separate cultures of worship.  We have developed a new culture with shared core values and this culture and these core values we have found to be in tune with our tradition.  We worship now as a true expression of who we are as a multi-cultural, bilingual community of believers.  We have found our common ground by spending time together to talk and share our experiences.
  • Working as a group in a worship project can build bonds that withstand the mundane frictions that inevitably occur in an organization.  After the Advent season, one member said that the congregation felt more energized than it had for a long time.  As a worship committee, we are continually aware of the need to focus our worship planning, remembering what we learned from the various opportunities provided as a result of the grant.  We find ourselves energized and hopeful as we seek to enhance the worship life of our community.
  • Because we care about each other, we do not allow our different assumptions and opinions to form rifts and barriers.  On the contrary, those differences have helped us broaden and deepen our understandings of the nature of worship.  Worship renewal may require programs and meetings but its basis is in a relationship of care and trust.
  • We have learned that technology is a tool for communicating, but nothing replaces relationships in effectiveness at communicating the Good News.
  • Team work is essential – and takes intentional work (& work & work & work…)
  • We have experienced worship renewal to be a dynamic, engaging and mysterious process.  We have gained a more comprehensive understanding of worship, of styles/modes/languages of worship and of the power of increased planning and training on the flow and impact of the worship service.  We have learned that worship renewal needs concentrated time and effort and that it is on going.  We have also become more aware that the planning of worship in this large church can be challenging and needs deeper involvement by laity.
  • We discovered the importance of the linkage between the activity of worship and the sense of community throughout the church.  Worship style isn’t nearly as important as a widespread sense of belonging.  Participation in worship is a key to passion for God in worship.  Mere onlookers are more likely to be distracted by style.  We learned how difficult worship renewal can be.  Congregational buy-in is essential if renewal is to work.  Otherwise, you’ll simply have revolution and reaction.

PROVERB 5: Worship involves all the senses.

  • We have learned that worship can involve all the senses including handling clay, the movement of dance, observing a story in stained glass, and singing an ancient hymn.
  • To lead a reading in worship involves more than to make audible what is printed.  Whether we’re intentional about it or not, we supply an interpretation to that reading.
  • Besides simply allowing individuals to just see or experience different forms of artistic expression within worship, it has opened doors to new conversations among members about worship itself.  These conversations were not very prevalent prior to this grant project.
  • People are more comfortable with new visual elements when the theological reasoning is presented to them.
  • Our liturgies tend to be so full of words that we sometimes neglect other, non-verbal or non-rational aspects of our humanity.
  • Physical actions are a powerful gateway for spiritual growth and renewal.  God uses our senses to communicate His loving presence to us as we share bread and wine.
  • Sometimes it’s not easy to talk about worship because it’s difficult to put our thoughts about God into words.  Pictures, symbols, or movement often convey what words cannot.
  • Artwork that is integrated into the goals and meaning of worship amplifies the emotion of the experience, making it more vital, more personal.  It can help direct our focus and help us pray.
  • The place in which we worship influences how we worship and what our worship experience is like.
  • No matter the type, style or source of congregational song, there must be strong leadership.  In every congregation and community God gives people the capacity for musical expression in worship.  The gathering and use of these gifts may require creative choices and reframed expectations.
  • Our view of worship has certainly been expanded and enriched throughout this grant process.  Through working with leaders from various church denominations we have learned to embrace the variety of worship expressions (dance styles, music, costumes, etc.) that flow from the Body of Christ.

PROVERB 6: Learning about worship is essential for renewal

  • Conscious, active and fruitful participation only happens when meaningful education about worship has first taken place.
  • We have learned how much we as a congregation did not know about the history, theology and practice of Christian worship through the centuries and in various settings.  “We’ve always done it this way” may not be a statement of resistance to change as much as an admission of our limited knowledge and experience.
  • Worship renewal cannot come arbitrarily – for the sake of change alone, or even for the sake of keeping worshipers interested.  It must come as a result of a congregations’ understanding between the connection of its worship practices and the way in which that body lives out God’s purposes for this world.
  • Whether teaching children, seekers, new or mature Christians, clearly explaining in a life-giving way why we are doing what we are doing -whether it be praying a lament, lifting our hands, giving our offering, bowing in repentance or receiving a blessing – has a direct affect on people’s increased passion for and awareness of worship.  Simply going through the motions of worship – stand-up, sit-down, sing now, not talking – without letting people know why they are engaged in these practices rob worshipers of a deep and meaningful experience of God.
  • We have asked ourselves, “How can we foster more vibrant, intergenerational and participatory worship while still maintaining a high standard of theological integrity?”  We have a genuine need to educate our congregation in the richness, beauty and intentionality of worship.
  • I learned different ways to pray, like the Lord’s Prayer (age 5).  I’ve seen the power of praying together and opening yourself before God and others (age 68).  I liked studying the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer every week and seeing them on the banner up front; now, when we pray at the table, it means a lot (age 16).  Prayer: so vital to worship, so accessible to people of all ages, such an integral part of a Christian’s life.

PROVERB 7: Worship renewal often takes place around the sacraments

  • There is renewed emphasis and study of the sacraments of baptism and communion.
  • The project brought many people to a greater awareness of Communion and how it can be received/served in different ways.  Younger adults and young people seem to be drawn to the mystery of the sacrament and thus it engages them in worship on a regular basis.
  • The more we studied the sacraments, the more we discovered how deep and complex their meaning and recognized a need to make continuing education on the sacraments part of our church culture.
  • “Communion” comes from the Greek word of Christian fellowship (“koinonia”), life shared with God and with each other.  Communion binds us together as the body of Christ.
  • We have asked, “How can we increase our understanding and appreciation of confession/assurance of pardon in light of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?”

PROVERB 8: There is a hunger for worship renewal.

  • Those who are seeking God appreciate worship that is inviting and experiential, imaginative and inclusive.
  • We did not anticipate fully the eagerness of the congregation to explore worship renewal.  Everybody had varying ideas of what this meant.  We learned that the pastor was instrumental in keeping the idea of renewal before the congregation.  We also learned that much of what we had been doing was simply from habit and did not increase our communication with God.  One thing that surprised some team members was a small segment of the congregation that was very resistant to the idea of making any changes.  They saw the whole idea of renewal as unnecessary.  However, the increased vitality in the worship service served to quiet most of their fears and doubts.
  • We learned that there is much eagerness for worship renewal in the life of our congregations.  Our focus on educating and involving children in worship has been received as a welcome effort.  Most people think of worship as a personal experience to be rated for “how much they get out of it.”  Our task as educators, as well as pastors, is to promote worship as what we do in response to God’s love and grace.  We continue to learn and develop worship habits throughout our lives.

Practical Tips:

  • It only takes a few thoughtful, deliberate and discrete changes to create far-reaching effects.  Numerous or sweeping changes can easily be counter-productive.
  • Worship renewal is a much longer process than we thought – actual, tangible change is incremental.  Perhaps worship renewal is mustard seed speed.
  • Worship renewal is a marathon and not a 40-yard dash, and as a result, we must remain focused, fervent and faithful in continuing this journey of worship renewal.
  • We have learned that planning a worship service is hard work and being creative at it is time-consuming.  But, offering creative worship to God is exhilarating and renewing, calling forth unrecognized gifts.
  • Those who minister are sometimes starving for an opportunity to be ministered to.  Those in leadership sometimes are hurting and need others.
  • How does a congregation regain its call to active ministry and not just say: “That’s the Pastor’s job”?
  • Small Group Dynamics – How developing small group ministries can enhance worship and how worship can enhance small group ministries.
  • Leadership awareness to the culture and place where their congregation is.  How to introduce new ideas without appearing to be dictator or destroyer of tradition.
  • Thinking beyond self – Moving congregations to a new vision of worship and life that extends past its doors.
  • Overcoming the “if it’s not happening in my church, it is not happening” mentality of small member congregations.  Helping move people to experience worship in different settings than in “their church.”
  • Pastor identity – Role of the Pastor in the life of the congregation, i.e. avoiding the over-functioning Pastor/under functioning Church that happens in many small member congregations.  The role of Pastor in teaching and worship – developing an understanding of what a Pastor is and does and whom the congregation is as ministers (priesthood of all believers).
  • Do everything by team.  If you can’t get a team of people together, reevaluate!
  • We have learned the importance of planning ahead.  This grant gave us a manageable way to incorporate more people in planning an overarching theme for a set of services.  Our worship has been more experiential, more creative and more unified than ever before.
  • The participants at the final seminar learned that change is not a bad word.  They also learned some ways of helping people be more open to change in their worship life and empowering them to have a sense of participation in moving towards change.
  • Giving up individual ownership of a vision or project allows others to embrace it.  Allow a vision to be shaped and room to grow through the joyful dialogue of interested believers.
  • You cannot have too much promotion for a project.  Promotion is too big a job to do by yourself.  The best promotion is done from the ground up by those who share your vision.
  • Because we are a young church, we had assumed that habits of worship for our congregation were not really developed.  We found out that every church has habits.  As worship became more interactive, people became more involved.  As our worship involved all ages, we felt more like a family and learned ways God interacts with us in our different life stages.
  • We are all aware of a new energized attitude about worship in our community.  There is a renewed attentiveness toward the elements within our worship service.  Fortunately, the congregation has learned over the year how to provide feedback in a useful and positive manner!
  • We have learned to plan ahead and meet often for vision, strategic planning, prayer and fun!  Worship planning and leading is an exceeding joy!

 

 

 

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Oct 8 2012

Do You Have A Worship Elevator Speech?

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Could you define worship in 30 seconds or less?

ElevatorAn Elevator Speech is an extremely concise presentation of an idea, model, solution, or strategy that can be presented in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds.  Research indicates that the term originated in the early days of the dot.com explosion when web developers were trying to pitch their ideas to venture capitalists in order to secure funding.  Since firms were swamped with requests, the most successful presenters were those who could formulate, consolidate, and describe their proposal in thirty seconds or less.

In a recent article in The Christian Century, the editors invited several noted authors to summarize the Christian message in as few words as possible.  They were instructed to proclaim the gospel in a maximum of seven words and then expound their statements in a few follow-up sentences.[1]

Could you summarize your understanding of worship in the same way?  Defining worship succinctly but also comprehensively is a difficult but necessary proposition.  With mixed results, worship conversations often circle around the formulation of various statements in an attempt to capture the essential meaning, significance, and nature of worship.

So, here is a similar challenge…If you had thirty seconds to define or summarize worship using a maximum of 7 words in an initial statement with a couple of follow-up sentences of explanation, what would your worship elevator speech look like?  In his recent book, Viral, Leonard Sweet wrote, “It takes more work to distill thoughts into two sentences than it does into two pages.”[2]

Share your worship elevator speech with the rest of us on the comment link under the title of this post.  We can all benefit from collective wisdom.  You will see my sample below to jump-start your thinking.

Worship Is…

Planned and Spontaneous Response to God’s Revelation

Worship is not our attempt to initiate God’s presence; it is our response to having been in God’s presence.  God begins the conversation and our reaction with a balance of listening as well as speaking is worship.


[1] See  “The Gospel in Seven Words,” The Christian Century, September 5, 2012, 20.

[2] Leonard Sweet, Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2012), 66.

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Sep 26 2012

Worship In-Between Theology and Practice

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In BetweenThe fusion of congregants steeped in post-modernity with those longing for the comfort of modernity is reflected in the uncertainty of worship theology and its relationship to worship practice.  It is logical to assume that the desire for culturally relevant worship will parallel the nature of the prevailing culture.  When, however, most congregations consist of individuals from both worlds, which do we choose?

The transition to post-modernity was a comfortable progression for some, while others strain to hold on to the familiar tenets of modernity.  Conflicts arise as congregations attempt to find common ground between the two worlds in corporate worship practices.  This impasse has precipitated the initiation of multiple worship styled congregations in an attempt to meet the needs of all.  The longing of one generation for what worship was and the hope of another generation for what worship could be may be causing us all to miss worship in the in-between.

In his City to City Blog, Timothy Keller wrote, “To be faithful and fruitful, more Christian leaders should pay attention to this “middle space” between believing doctrine and choosing methods. The vast majority of resources on “how to do church” discuss either the Biblical basics of church belief and practice or specific ways to adopt certain ministry programs.”[1] (Follow the link at the end of this article to read Keller’s entire article titled: Ministry in the Middle Space)

Worship theologian, Robert Webber recognized that there are three predominant group responses to our uncertain relationship of worship cultures.  The first wants worship to be as it was.  Their response is to resist change and the incorporation of new.  The second response is that traditional is irrelevant and new is significant.  Webber offers a third option that respects tradition, while implementing worship styles formed by contemporary culture.  This convergence worship begins with a willingness to reopen all discussions related to worship.[2]  Webber continued with the explanation, “convergence worship is an alternative worship that is concerned for order and freedom, the historical and the contemporary, the verbal and the symbolic.[3]

Keller also wrote in Ministry in the Middle Space, “It has become clear to me that while most Christian leaders do very deliberate, conscious study and thinking to arrive at their doctrinal beliefs, they are almost blind to the process of developing a theological vision. They often just ‘catch’ their convictions about culture, reason, and tradition without really thinking them out. They come upon a ministry that they admire or that helps them personally and then they adopt it wholesale without recognizing the presuppositions, convictions and decisions that went into it.”[4]

Read Ministry in the Middle Space from “City to City Blog” by Timothy Keller

 


[1] Timothy Keller, Ministry in the Middle Space, “City to City Blog” Database on-line. Available from http://redeemercitytocity.com/blog/view.jsp?Blog_param=448.

[2] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 3, “The Renewal of Sunday Worship”  (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 122.

[3] Ibid., 124.

[4] Keller, Ministry in the Middle Space.

 

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