Sep 23 2012

Is Worship A Drug?


Worship DrugThe Religion News Service posted an interesting article last month on the phenomenon of the megachurch and why churches of 2,000 congregants or more continue to grow in size and popularity.  According to this article and accompanying articles, more than half of all American churchgoers now attend the largest 10 percent of churches.  The article was in response to a presentation at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association on August 19 in Denver.  (A link to the Religion News Service article is available below)

The presentation was from the paper, “God Is Like A Drug: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches.”  The author, James Wellman, associate professor of American Religion at the University of Washington; and co-authors, Katie E. Corcoran and Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk, University of Washington graduate students in sociology and comparative religion based their research and paper on a 2008 study by the Leadership Network on 12 nationally representative American megachurches.

“Membership in megachurches is one of the leading ways American Christians worship these days, so, therefore, these churches should be understood,” said Wellman.  He continued by stating, “Our study shows that – contrary to public opinion that tends to pass off the megachurch movement as consumerist religion – megachurches are doing a pretty effective job for their members.  In fact, megachurch members speak eloquently of their spiritual growth.”

In a parallel article, Daniel Fowler from the American Sociological Association wrote, “Megachurch services feature a come-as-you-are atmosphere, rock music, and what Wellman calls a ‘multisensory mélange’ of visuals and other elements to stimulate the senses, as well as small-group participation and a shared focus on the message from a charismatic pastor.  The researchers hypothesized that such rituals are successful in imparting emotional energy in the megachurch setting, ‘creating membership feelings and symbols charged with emotional significance, and a heightened sense of spirituality,’ they wrote.”

Wellman said, “That’s what you see when you go into megachurches — you see smiling people; people who are dancing in the aisles, and, in one San Diego megachurch, an interracial mix I’ve never seen anywhere in my time doing research on American churches. We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug.”

I would value reading your response to the entire article linked below.  Please respond by clicking the comments tab under the post title above.

Click to read the Religion News Service Article: Does Megachurch “High” Explain Their Success


Sep 11 2012

Leading Worship Change…What Are You Reading?


changeWorship change is sometimes necessary as congregations consider the culture and context of who is present and who is not present…yet.  Available resources such as books, websites, and trusted leaders from outside the organization could offer assistance in facilitating healthier change.

In an effort to initiate worship change, leaders often push to do something…anything different than what is not working now.  The lack of planning and reflection often causes unnecessary transitional pain.

It can be just as painful, however, when a congregation is hesitant to change even when it is obvious that change is necessary.  Failing to initiate change when change is inevitable can cause a congregation to get stuck and force them to drift out of control for an undetermined season.  Craig Satterlee wrote, “Any change can be approached as either a threat or an opportunity, either a cause for celebration or a reason to despair.”[1]

Since change is often necessary for organizations to progress, the automatic assumption is that change will always require incorporating something completely new.  It is possible that the only new necessary is for the organization to do what they are already doing…better.  Chip and Dan Heath remind us that, “We rarely ask the question:  What’s working and how can we do more of it? What we ask instead is more problem-focused:  What’s broken and how do we fix it?[2] Leaders must also consider that the only new really essential to organizational success may reside in the revitalization of the attitude and resolve of the leader… not with the structure or practices of the organization.

Leaders often plunge into the stream of change without reflecting on the past and present circumstances that frame the structure and practices of their organization.  In their rush to do something fresh they rarely consider the consequences that could occur as a result of ignoring those circumstances.  Andy Stanley challenges leaders with the understanding that, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality.  If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be.  What you don’t know can kill you.”[3]


The following book suggestions offer valuable insights into leading worship change with benevolence.  Please add your favorites to the list by clicking on the comments link under my article title above.

carsonCarson, Timothy L., Transforming Worship (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003).

“What we understand correctly is that the immediate past century may indeed take the gold cup for being the historical period of the greatest rapidity, volume, and complexity of change.  People of great longevity who lived for a hundred years between 1900 and 2000 witnessed an almost unbelievable breadth of change.  Many of them sat in our pews.  They were the ones who finally stopped saying, ‘Now I’ve seen it all.’”

“What we misunderstand, however, is that earlier centuries of Christians faced equally shocking and shaking developments.  We forget the innovative and sometimes heroic ways in which they adapted and often flourished.  By remembering, we can avoid the inclination toward either excessive self-congratulation or undue self-pity.”

SatterleeSatterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks Through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005).

“As living organisms, congregations are by definition in a constant state of change.  Whether the changes are in membership, pastoral leadership, lay leadership, the needs of the community, or the broader culture, a crucial mark of healthy congregations is their ability to deal creatively and positively with change.  The fast pace of change in contemporary culture, with its bias toward, not against change only makes the challenge of negotiating change all the more pressing for congregations.”

“During a congregational transition, faithful preaching ensures that the gospel – and not a program or agenda – is proclaimed and heard.  Effective preaching leads the congregation to experience God’s presence, grace, power, and direction amidst the transition.  Faithful and effective preaching illuminates the mystery inherent in the transition, rather than seeking to eliminate it, so that God provides orientation and direction as the congregation moves into what is still unknown.  Faithful and effective preaching models and declares that God speaks through change.”

Trouble at the tableDoran, Carol and Thomas H. Troeger, Trouble At the Table: Gathering the Tribes for Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992).

“Sometimes in the effort to avoid the pitfalls of acting autocratically and in hope that the conflict will disappear, leaders abdicate their role.  Their denomination has supplied them with hymnals and liturgical resources that are rich with materials for revitalizing their worship, but the threat of conflict and resistance is enough to paralyze them.  It is easier to keep choosing from the same limited selections of congregational songs and to keep the same ritual form than to invest the time and energy required to introduce and lead new material effectively.”

“A great deal of tribal warfare results from people using the power of liturgical leadership to impose forms and methods of worship that have at best a tenuous relationship to the depths and demands of faith. The internal pluralism of the congregation and the quickly changing values and fashions of popular culture make it harder to be ‘cohesive’ and to maintain a clear sense of ‘religious identification.’”

ByarsByars, Ronald P., The Future of Protestant Worship: Beyond the Worship Wars (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).

“What, other than a pioneering spirit, drives these changes?  In some cases, it seems to be a passion for evangelism, and particularly for reaching out to generations largely missing from traditional churches.  In other cases, it seems to be an attempt to hold on to church members who are bored and reluctant worshipers.  Sometimes, it may be an attempt to duplicate the fabulous numerical successes of single-generation congregations.  But behind those various motivating factors, there is the inescapable fact of dramatic cultural change.  What used to work just fine (or seemed to) doesn’t work anymore.”

“Is anything really essential to Christian worship?  Or is worship simply a blank page, an empty hour or so to be filled with whatever seems religious?  Is it possible to worship in the idiom of popular culture without oversimplifying and even distorting the gospel?  Or, by turning its back on contemporary cultural forms, does the church become elitist, inaccessible to large numbers of people?  Should these questions even be addressed without at least some minimal consultation with Scripture, theology, and history, as well as sociology?  Interested parties have answered all these questions differently.  Since a great deal is at stake, it’s no surprise that passions rise when dealing with them.”

[1] Satterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005), 6.

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

[3] Stanley, Andy, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 75.


Aug 19 2012

Worship Beyond the Shadow of A Doubt


doubtIf worship is authentic it must then embrace the various seasons of life that can result in an arid period of doubt and hopelessness.  Congregations have been conditioned to believe that it is somehow more spiritual to avoid expressing those doubts in public worship.  Publicly questioning God is often considered irreverent, inappropriate, or openly sinful even though at one time or another we all ask those same questions in private.  Songs and sermon texts tend to steer clear of the topic of doubt believing that a positive façade is somehow less threatening.

Hopelessness is exacerbated by the appearance that all is well with everyone except me.  The reality, however, is that most of us have gone through or are presently going through a dark season.  Honest and authentic worship during a period of doubt actually allows us to express a “deep calling unto deep” faith that is easily disregarded when we sense we are in complete control (Psalm 42:7).  Is faith a necessary worship element if certainty is a pre-requisite for worship to occur?  The Lebanese-American artist and poet, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”

In a letter to the Rev. Michael van der Peet in September 1979, Mother Teresa wrote, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. “The 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic Priest, Saint John of the Cross referred to a season of spiritual dryness as The Dark Night of the Soul. Even as the eleven disciples went to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go…when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).

Congregations are to be commended for their quick response to an entire nation asking hard questions as a reaction to catastrophic events such as terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and injustice.  Where we continue to fall short, however, is in the realization that individuals gathering with us each Sunday are suffering from personal seasons of uncertainty that are impacting them just as catastrophically.  If doubters are left to figure it out without the church…why would they then need the church when they do figure it out?  And if our worship is not a place for that intimate soul and spirit transparency…where is?

Authentic worship grants us permission to publicly admit that catastrophic events and even the everyday struggles of life can often shake our faith.  Catharsis begins when we give each other permission to surface and even sing those doubts together instead of hiding in public behind a veil of contentment.

But you are not alone in this

And you are not alone in this

As brothers we will stand

And we’ll hold your hand

Hold your hand

                       Mumford & Sons, Timshel


Jun 7 2012

What If…?


what if

What If…

  • Our fights were over what we can offer/give instead of what we demand/deserve?
  • We focused on deference instead of preference?
  • The church impacted culture instead of just imitating it?
  • Those of us in ministry took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm?”
  • Who we lead held as much value as how and what we lead?
  • “What’s in it for me” never surfaced in our worship conversations?
  • We spent as much time leading the church in service as an act of worship as we spend leading the church service as an act of worship?
  • We challenged each other to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse?
  • Predictable, scripted, explainable, and rational weren’t always worship prerequisites?
  • All who lead considered themselves ushers instead of the bride?
  • We spent as much service time in prayer and scripture as we spend promoting new songs and protecting old ones?
  • Our goal in initiating change was how we can add to rather than take away?
  • We constantly looked for ways to set congregants free rather than constantly looking for ways to control them?
  • We viewed ourselves as worship travelers on a constant journey toward a destination rather than worship tourists occasionally visiting a location for pleasure?
  • We planned worship for the people we have instead of the people we wish we had?
  • Those of us in ministry spent as much time healing relationships as we spend searching ministry job placement sites?
  • We all agreed that worship did not begin and will not end with the music of my generation?
  • We viewed our ministry role as a utility infielder that is always prepared and willing to play any position for the good of the team?

May 20 2012

Are Christian Colleges and Seminaries Preparing Worship Leaders For A Church That No Longer Exists?


futureWorship change is inevitable as congregations consider the fluidity of their surrounding cultures and contexts.  It would stand to reason, then, that the leaders who facilitate worship in those ever changing congregations must also learn how to develop, cultivate, and lead change by listening to the voice of their community and congregation.

How will those leaders be prepared to recognize and respond to cultural shifts if the educational institutions that train them for ministry aren’t also embracing a comparable attitude of acceptance and adaptation?

Several colleges and seminaries have already modified their educational and methodological systems in response to the changing churches and cultures while still respecting the foundations of the past.  Their commitment to considering the pulse of the present and flexibility for the future has resulted in renewed enthusiasm and substantial enrollment growth.

Other institutions have been hesitant to embrace those needed changes and as a result have experienced waning interest and enrollment decline.  Their curriculum seems to be preparing the students they have left for a church that no longer exists.  If this is your educational institution, maybe some of the following suggestions could serve as a starting point to begin some new conversations:

  • Help students discover that music and worship are not exclusively synonymous.  If music is the only driver during their educational preparation it will inevitably surface as the primary point of contention during their congregational implementation.
  • Don’t compromise preparation for congregational acclimation in the name of institutional accreditation.
  • Open their eyes to the foundational tenets of worship based on history, theology, Scripture, prayer, and communion before immersing them in the music.
  • In addition to traditional musical analysis, teach them to be conversant in the language and praxis of chord charts, capos, and kick drums.
  • Educate them in the various and fluid dynamics of worship teams and praise bands as well as choirs and orchestras.
  • Keep them abreast of the current trends in audio and video media and technology.
  • Expand their awareness of the arts to include other genres and media expressions beyond music.   Help them understand that embracing the arts as both verbal and visual relieves the pressure of music as the primary driver and culprit.
  • Help them to understand that leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people.
  • Spend multiple semesters preparing them for staff and congregational relationships.  Most worship ministry failures and forced terminations are as a result of leadership and relational conflict and rarely occur as a result of musical deficiencies.
  • Help them to better understand and appreciate the relational dynamics of multigenerations before ever considering the musical dynamics of those generations.
  • Train them to be curious and open but also judicious students of the culture.
  • Provide resources and principles to help them weather the changes that will inevitably occur in the future.  Model healthy change that values conviction, collaboration, and patience.
  • Encourage the students to read ecumenically and study worship through the eyes of various denominations, faiths, cultures, and generations.
  • Remind them constantly that their college or seminary training is not the end but the beginning of their worship education.  A terminal degree should not signify the death of learning.
  • Require institutional administrators and faculty to attend worship conferences, concerts, classes, and workshops outside of their areas of expertise, stylistic preferences, contexts, cultures, and even comfort.  How can they teach new worship and media languages if they don’t speak them?

May 14 2012

How Much Worship Is Enough?


pitcherDoes worship start and stop depending on the circumstances of life?  Is it put on hold while we go to work or school?  Is it suspended when we take our family to a baseball game or meet friends at the golf course or go on vacation?

If those of us who facilitate gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that “time and place worship is the primary, if not only, venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.”[1]  In fact our focus, preparation, and implementation can even imply that the official time and place is a 30-minute segment (song set) during our weekend gathering and that the other 6 days and 23.5 hours of the week is something else.

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).  (OK, maybe golf wasn’t the best illustration)

My daughter was a very good student in high school but is an even better student in college.  When asked why she determined to take her studies to a new level she responded with:  “God has called me to ministry and to this university to prepare for that ministry, therefore, I believe that making good grades in what He has called me to do is an act of worship.”  Don’t you love learning from your kids?

Harold Best wrote, “Because God is the Continuous Outpourer, we bear his image as continuous outpourers.  Being made in the image of God means that we were created to act the way God acts, having been given a nature within which such behavior is natural.”[2]  Best also writes that outpouring implies lavishness and generosity; it requires giving up and letting go; it is seamless; and it surpasses measuring out or filling quotas, even to the extent that it doesn’t matter if some spills over in gracious waste.[3]

If this is true then a Call to Worship at the beginning of a worship service is redundant.  In fact, calling a congregation to worship might even be more appropriate at the end of the service just to remind them as they disperse that the entire life of a Christ follower is a call to worship…even on the golf course.

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

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 19-20.


May 6 2012

Does Your Worship Leader Wear Skinny Jeans?


skinny jeansWho is your worship leader?  Most of us immediately picture the platform personality who leads the music portion of our service in skinny jeans with guitar, business casual with worship team, or coat and tie with choir.

Scripture tells us, however, that Jesus as our high priest sits at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and serves as a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man (Heb. 8:1-2).  Earlier in the book of Hebrews, the author writes that Jesus sings God’s praises and declares His name to His brothers (Heb. 2:12, Ps. 22:22).

So who is your worship leader?  Jesus Is! He is our minister, our leitourgos (Gr.)…our liturgist.  He is the high priest, the worship leader who is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens (Heb. 7:26).  He sits at the right hand of the throne of Majesty and mediates worship from us to the Father and to us from the Father.

If our understanding of worship leadership could begin here…maybe we could stop drawing lines in the sand over style and preference.  Maybe we could end the expectation that platform attire and song selections determine if God shows up since Jesus, as our mediator has already settled that for us.  Maybe congregants would no longer need to fight for their perceived musical rights since Jesus lives to intercede for them with a plan superior to their own…a covenant founded on better promises (Heb. 8:6).

Jesus as our liturgist gives us worship confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by His blood, by a new and living way that allows us to draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:19-21).  Embracing Jesus as our worship leader is a lofty goal. It is, however, a biblical one and also could be a healing one.


Apr 23 2012

Selected Worship Quotes of Edmund P. Clowney


ClowneyDr. Edmund Clowney was an influential pastor, theologian, and educator, serving many churches and seminaries. He served as president of Westminster Theological Seminary from 1966-1982.  Clowney authored ten books including Called to the Ministry, Christian Meditation, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, and The Church.  Dr. Clowney completed How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments shortly before his death in 2005.

Following are selected worship quotes from his writing and teaching:

“Praise his name, we are called to doxological evangelism: Salvation is of the Lord! Let that song die and we have nothing to sing to the nations. They don’t want to hear those old patronizing songs of missionary colonialism and they don’t need our help in learning the chants of revolutionary violence. But when the people of God sing his praises, then the nations listen.”[1]

“Growth in true holiness is always growth together; it takes place through the nurture, the work and worship of the church.”[2]

“Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God. It is not a form of group behavior to be accepted just because of its long tradition or its acceptability in many cultures. Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly. The glory of God is that to which and for which the church is called.”[3]

“When Protestants speak of going to church… they are not thinking of a building but of a congregation. The congregation, not the building is holy… The church is holy because the congregation is the house of God.  They are not merely an audience; they are a congregation assembled by the call of the Holy One.”[4]

“Our preaching is an act of worship but often lacks the punctuation of the exclamation point of praise. Unlike the Scriptures, our sermons are so centered on men that they neglect to bless God.”[5]

“Worship is always an echo, reflecting the word of grace with the cry of praise.”[6]

“The pulpit is not a psychiatrist’s couch or a seminar room. The preacher is a herald, an announcer, not a pollster.”[7]

The following quotes are taken from an Edmund Clowney sermon titled John 4: The Worship God Seeks, preached at Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas.  Transcript available online:

Jesus does not start with the worshipers’ quest for God, but with God’s quest for worshipers. Our media culture disdains arguments about religion. Well it may. If worship is man’s invention to fill his needs, then let everyone make his own idol. There is no point in arguing about taste in idols. But if worship bows before the living God, then it cannot be shaped by what we want. It must be shaped by what God wants, yes, by what he is. God’s Word, not our traditions, must decide all questions of worship.

True worship is not temple-less worship. It is worship in the true temple: Jesus Christ. All worship of the true God must be brought to the feet of Jesus. Only Christ is the true worshiper, with clean hands and a pure heart; only by being united to Christ may we ascend God’s holy hill (Psalm 24). Only he is the true Priest, who can minister in the heavenly sanctuary, the only Mediator between God and man. Only he is the final sacrifice, God’s own “Isaac” offered on Mount Moriah. Only he is the Way of approach to God, the true Temple where God meets with man.

Our worship is heavenly because it is real. When we gather with God’s people here, we join the festival assembly there. By faith, not by sight, we see Jesus. But because we do see him by faith, we must cast aside not only the idols of the heathen, but every prop that would substitute the imaginations of men for the realized glory of God. Jesus is our only Mediator and therefore we must come to him directly.

Most Americans are not that philosophical about worship. They rather suspect that God can’t afford to be so choosey. Given the competition of business, sports, and television, God should be grateful for any worship he can get. That attitude is plainly the exact opposite of worship. It assumes that God is there for man’s sake, not man for God’s sake.


[1] Edmund P. Clowney, Declare His Glory Among the Nations, Article: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1976.

[2] Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1995), 89.

[3] Clowney, The Biblical Theology of the Church, from Beginning with Moses: The Biblical Theology Briefings,

[4] Clowney, One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, from Ligonier Ministries and R. C. Sproul, Tabletalk Magazine,

[5] Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2002), 73.

[6] Clowney, Called to Ministry (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1964), 58.

[7] Ibid., 59.


Apr 3 2012

Is Spontaneous Prayer More Spiritual than Scripted Prayer?


prayerHughes Oliphant Old wrote, “For many generations American Protestants have prized spontaneity in public prayer.  One has to admit, however, that the spontaneous prayer one often hears in public worship is an embarrassment to the tradition.  It all too often lacks content.  It may be sincere, but sometimes it is not very profound.”[1]

In his latest book Dumbfounded Praying, Harold Best wrote, “I believe more than ever that the age-old craft of writing prayers should be re-visited by all of us, for it accomplishes three things. First, the writer is literally forced into levels of thought, scriptural usage, and architectural cogency that are not possible in the kind of spontaneous praying that one usually does in private, and sad to say, is often found in the typical pastoral prayers in corporate worship.  Second, even though writing prayers takes time, time is the very thing we need and must take to bring prayer into a greater sweep and cogency.  But third, what goes around comes around:  the more we tackle and work through the really tough issues and the more we force these into thought-out and written form, the more skilled we can become in extemporaneous prayer.”[2]

My friend and ministry colleague, Dr. Georges Boujakly is particularly adept at scripted praying.  Georges writes a prayer each week that is widely distributed through a Cyber prayer site.  He has set a goal to write a morning and evening prayer for every day of the month and is convinced that this rhythm of prayer is wholesome and needed.  He wrote, “To go to bed with the language of God on our minds, and to awake with the language of God on our lips are excellent ways to end and start our days.”

Below is Georges’ profound prayer offering for this week:

James 1:2-8; Matthew 7:7-8

Wisdom, mercy and holiness belong to our Maker. Our image is Yours and Yours is ours. In Your wisdom You numbered our days. Make us true sons and daughters of the Wise, Holy, and Merciful One. Blessed be Your Name.

How of little wisdom, how short of mercy, how unholy am I? Yet how blessed that Jesus is mine and the foretaste of glory divine is mine! In Your mercy You see how little of Your wisdom I know, in Your wisdom You see how unholy I am. Yet unwilling for me to remain in my state, You delivered me, and daily are remaking me after Your will. Bless You Father Most Holy, Most Wise, and Most Merciful for the faint throb of my heart to partake of Your divine nature.

My sin has not stopped You from desiring my fellowship today. Have mercy, I pray.
My willful distance is no hindrance to Your pursuit of me. Draw near me, I pray.
The hound of heaven dogs my steps on the path of peace. I rest in Your peace.

I resign my will yet again and submit it to Yours.

How may I come before such a Holy and Merciful God? With humble heart and chastened will. I may come as a redeemed son by the blood of the Lamb.

My Jesus, dispel my anxious thoughts, tonight! Purify my desires. Take away my jealousy and envy with which the world lures me. Give me health and long life so to praise You all the days of my life. Heal my sin-broken heart and give me the hope of the eternal cleansing that awaits all the faithful. Make my heart ache for godly beauty. In Your beauty I delight and from Your gracious hand I will receive the desires of my heart.

Where shall I find my peace except in my Father’s will?
Where shall I find my rest except in my Father’s love?
Where shall I find my joy lest I find it in serving my Father?

I remember tonight friends and foes. For _________ and ___________ and _________ I pray for blessings from above.

For those lamenting the tragedies of life, I pray your constant presence.
For those with heavy burdens, I pray for the easy yoke of Christ to keep them close.
For those who are reaching unreached people groups in the uttermost parts of the world, I pray for the arrival of the kingdom of God in their midst in repentance and trust.

Father, be near me tonight. Watch me and delight in me as your beloved son/daughter. Be pleased Abba. Hear my prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Personal Reflection:

1. As you ponder the wisdom, mercy and holiness of God, what have these truths meant to you thus far in your journey with Christ?
2. What friend of yours may benefit from hearing of the mercy of God in your life? How will you go about sharing such mercy? Ask the Teacher to show you and to whom.
3. What will you hide in your heart from this prayer?

Corporate Reflection

1. The mercy, wisdom and holiness of God belong not only to individuals but also to the church as a whole. Before God, confess any absence of these truths from your church’s life.
2. Confession is humbling but refreshing and comes with the desire for change. Ask God to change you and your church to be more of his image to your community.
3. Name some of your friends and foes upon whom you wish to pray God’s blessing. Collectively, join with others in praying the blessings of wisdom, holiness, and mercy of God into their lives.

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

[2] Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xix.


Mar 5 2012

Is Your Worship Service for Me if Trading My Sorrows Seems Impossible?


Are those who gather for worship in your church ever given the freedom to openly admit that they do not have the strength to trade sorrow, shame, sickness, and pain for the joy of the Lord?[1]  In light of our suffering culture, is an offering of happy songs only enough at the expense of confession, mourning, contrition, penitence, and petition?

We are conditioning worshipers through our worship atmosphere and actions that it is more spiritual to avoid expressing deep-seated feelings of grief, pain, anger, and sorrow.  Worship that never addresses these issues publicly communicates two messages:  either you must not feel that way or, if you feel that way, you must do something about it somewhere else – but not here.[2]

griefIf our worship is authentic it must mirror and reflect authentic life.[3]  Authenticity is the willingness to admit in public worship that events and circumstances often cause us to cry out to God in despair and even demand vengeance.  Healing, hope, and even trading our sorrows can begin when we admit as a community that those circumstances can shake our faith.  Ignoring them will indicate to those who are experiencing a season of darkness that worship in your church is not the place to express those feelings and therefore, not the place for them.

Worship Leader, if you have never experienced the darkness associated with pain and despair and find it difficult to empathetically lead those who are in that season…you are encouraged to enlist congregants who can help you plan and prepare worship which conveys empathetic understanding.  The pool of those who understand is usually deep and empathy cannot be faked.


[1] Text adapted from Darrell Evans, Trading My Sorrows, 1998, Integrity’s Hosanna! Music.

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

[3] Felicia Y. Thomas, “Lament and Praise in Worship,” Living Pulpit 11 (October/December 2002): 22.


Feb 26 2012

Worship Old and New…What Were We Thinking?



Worship practices evolve. What may have initially seemed like a good idea didn’t always turn out that way when it was actually implemented or time tested. Consider the following practices and feel free to add to them since this is not an exhaustive list.

Special Music: The person who originated the moniker Special Music probably lifted the idea from 1950’s movie theatres that used subliminal suggestions of popcorn and coke in previews to encourage moviegoers to buy more concessions. It was obvious in many of our churches that just continuing to suggest the choir song or instrumental/vocal solo right before the sermon was special did not automatically make it so. Maybe if we had referred to all other music in the service as ordinary or common or defined special as different or peculiar we could have lengthened its shelf life.

Baptism: Whoever determined white baptismal attire inspired thoughts of purity should have market tested them for transparency in water first.

Offering: Passing the offering plate as a communal act of worship has devolved into the church version of the 7th inning stretch. Although many are faithful stewards, they have exercised the option of giving by monthly check, direct deposit, pre-pay, or on-line credit card. Creative giving options have proven to be successful but even so have contributed to the passivity of this element as a corporate worship act. Consequently, children and youth no longer get to observe or even know if their parents are faithful in financially sacrificing as a spiritual act of worship unless those parents somehow involve them during the week. Is it time to stop passing the plate or has your congregation developed a strategy for participatory worship during the designated offering time that would benefit us all?

Call to Worship: This service element is the spiritual version of the Indy 500 announcement, Gentlemen Start Your Engines! If Christian worship actually starts at the beginning of the service when we call it to start and stops at the end of the service when we call it to stop…is that an indication no worship occurs the other 167 hours of the week?

Hymns: In what setting was the Charles Wesley hymn text, To me, to all, Thy Bowels Move ever appropriate? Now that was Special Music.

Announcements: Have we added up the number of minutes spent in the worship service promoting the women’s Zumba class and the men’s Shoot to Grill Wild Game Dinner; and then compared that with the number of minutes spent in Scripture and prayer in the same service? Maybe announcements could contribute to rather than detract from worship if we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing them as we spend praying over and rehearsing songs.

Ordinances: The two ordinances prescribed by Jesus and practiced by the church are often forgotten in-between observances because the icons symbolizing those ordinances (baptismal font and communion table) have been completely removed or at least hidden with curtains/screens or cornucopias/memorial flower sprays. It is obvious we are not averse to all symbolism since we use props and stage sets to symbolize and remind the congregation of our current sermon series. Could it be that removing those two symbols which visually remind believers not only of what God has done in their lives but what He promised to continue to do has contributed to the monotony of those ordinances when they are actually observed?

We would all benefit from your responses to these comments and additions from your own experiences and cultures. To respond, left click the COMMENTS link at the end of the Posted by section under the post title.


Feb 20 2012

Is Easter A Waste of Time?


EasterThe celebration of Easter 2012 is less than two months away.  Churches are formulating plans for a meaningful day of worship and ministry knowing they will potentially reach more attendees than any other Sunday of the year.  If those congregations and yours affirm Easter as the most important celebration of the church year and the basis for our hope, why limit its observance to one Sunday a year?  Has our concern with appearing too liturgical caused us to miss an entire season of remembrance, celebration, and worship?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day historical remembrance.  The celebration of the Paschal mystery was set aside not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but also to celebrate His appearance following His resurrection, His ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and His ultimate return.  Because of their great joy, early Christians began this celebration with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost.  Revisiting the mystery of the resurrection through an expanded celebration could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this commemoration of redemption, sanctification, salvation, renewal, and victory must not be limited to one day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the Great Fifty Days and other elements of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern of rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy, or fear of appearing too “Catholic.”  Additional desire for worship creativity has caused congregations to look elsewhere out of concern that annual celebrations promote monotony.  Timothy Carson states that, “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]  Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they affirm the annual observance of cultural and denominational days of celebration whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2]   The irony is found in the realization that in the development of these denominational and cultural calendars we have created denominational liturgies in response to our desire to be non-liturgical.

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational, and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church.  Is it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?  Is there any reason why Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday, and Memorial Day could not be celebrated in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost? For this to occur, congregations must understand the significance of Easter beyond a one-day of celebration.  “For the explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[3]

A renewed interest in the Christian year by some congregations is based on a deeper understanding of this calendar as the ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship.  The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past church and unifies Christians of the present church in a continuous ecumenical approach.  Observing this celebration could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4]  Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]  Although observing elements of the Christian year such as the Great Fifty Days may be a stretch for your congregation, consider making that decision based on a deeper biblical, theological, and historical understanding, not solely on traditionalism.


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

[2] Idid., 56.

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

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

[5] Ibid.


Feb 13 2012

Want Participatory Worship?


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

If we never involve our congregation (beyond an occasional song) in anything more than casual bystanding while we read, speak, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition, and exhort for them…how can we ever expect a shift from passive to participative worship to occur? It may never occur until we learn to…

fa·cil·i·tate/fəˈsiliˌtāt/: To assist the progress of; Help forward an action or process; Catalyze or serve as an agent of change; Precipitate, modify, bring about, or initiate fundamental transformation.

A facilitator relies not only on his/her own strength and ability but also the strength and ability of others who are willing to subordinate individual interests to the concerns of the entire congregation. A facilitator learns to collaborate. A facilitator is always an usher…never the Bride.

prom·ul·gate/ˈpräməlˌgāt/: Promote or make widely or publicly known; Publish, declare, announce, notify; Proclaim formally or put into operation.

A promulgator encourages participatory worship by tapping into the collective resources and talents of others and by publicly affirming and championing the value of those resources for worship health.

dis·sem·i·nate/diˈseməˌnāt/: To disperse widely; To spread as though sowing seed; Circulate, distribute, or pass around.

A disseminator leads, models, and teaches a congregation to worship not only when it meets but also when it disperses.

re·it·er·ate/rēˈitəˌrāt/: Repeat a number of times, typically for emphasis or clarity; To state or do over again.

A reiterator continually emphasizes for the purpose of clarity and proficiency. Reiteration is learning through repetition, which then becomes habit. Reiteration continues to remind that participatory worship is not a one-time event.

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


Jan 30 2012

When Do You Know Your Worship Is Multigenerational?



When do you know your worship is multigenerational?


• The worship center coffee bar serves hot chocolate; decaf, half-caf, and regular coffee; and Red Bull.

• The attire for ushers is a double knit sport coat, Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops with black socks.

• Your worship song set includes Gaither, Gungor, Bach, and Baloche.

• Instrumentation includes a Chet Atkins f-hole guitar, Taylor acoustic electric, Dobro, Wurlitzer organ, iPads with bass guitar and drum machine apps, accordion, mouth harp, and djembe.

• The liturgical dance troupe costume closet includes leotards, flowing white tunics, square dance petticoats, and gingham dresses.

• The projection scenic background slide images include Chuck E. Cheese, the Mall, and Branson.

• Congregational singing text/tune format includes projected text with or without a follow the bouncing ball option, hymnals with standard and/or shaped notation, or smart phone/iPad apps.

• Platform furniture includes wing-backed chairs surrounded by greenery; and chrome stools surrounded by props.

• Choir members can choose to wear a robe and stole, just a robe, business casual, casual, or just the stole (with business casual or casual of course).

• Your choir sings Toby Mac’s The Slam as a choral arrangement with a fourfold amen; and There Is A Balm in Gilead with a “Lincoln Brewster-esque” lead guitar bridge.

• A variety of descriptors such as amped, blessed, freakin’, joyful, stoked, wonderful, relevant, anointed, and authentic are used interchangeably to introduce songs.

• Earplugs are distributed to older generations to take the edge off the lead guitar riffs; and to younger generations to take the edge off the southern gospel quartet first tenor riffs.


Jan 16 2012

Is Your Worship Awful? It Should Be!


aweawful [awfuh’l]–
1. solemnly impressive; 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).

Awe is evidenced in scriptural words such as “O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth” as a spontaneous response to the wonder of how God could be mindful of us…or care for us (Psalm 8).

Our need to control, predict and therefore script, however, has transformed the awe of 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) “Take surprise out of faith and all that is left is dry and dead religion. Take away mystery from the gospel and all that is left is frozen and petrified dogma. Lose your awe of God and you are left with an impotent deity. Abandon astonishment and you are left with 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: HarperCollins, 1961), 18.
2. Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 23.
3. Ibid., 24.
4. Ibid., 28.


Jan 9 2012

Does Your Worship Music Resemble Cruise Ship Karaoke?


KaraokeA cruise ship karaoke singer is provided with a microphone, sound system and projected text for the purpose of imitating a familiar song originally recorded by a popular artist. Karaoke singers are even judged on how well (or poorly) they impersonate the original artist and mimic his or her song.

If the only version of worship songs you ever lead or your congregation ever expects must be exactly like the original artist’s rendition (including: genre, key, tempo, instrumentation, vocal timbre, volume, attitude and even attire) doesn’t your worship music also resemble cruise ship karaoke?

Note: impersonation can appear in the form of a choir, french cuffs, sequined dresses and coiffed hair; as well as a band, jeans, shirttails and unkempt hair.

Worship impersonation is borrowing credibility from another congregation or artist without even considering the culture and context of your own congregants, leaders, players, singers and their stories.

Obviously, not all congregations are gifted with musicians who create original songs and therefore must borrow the songs of others. The difference between borrowing songs and borrowing credibility, however, is taking the time to interpret those songs while giving consideration to the uniqueness of your own congregation instead of just attempting to make those songs sound as close as possible to the original rendition.

Impersonation is about style. Interpretation is about content. Impersonation is based on observation and replication. Interpretation is based on observation and explication. Impersonation minimizes God’s limitless creativity in multiple contexts. Interpretation embraces God’s limitless creativity in your context.


Nov 27 2011

Have You Read A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future?


A CallI was challenged again this week in the re-reading of A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. If you have never had the opportunity to read this meaningful document you are encouraged to enter into the dialogue to experience it for the first time.

In 2006, collaborating with numerous theologians and scholars, Robert Webber and Philip Kenyon organized and edited A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. The intent of the document was to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. Even though the document was written five years ago its text continues to offer the Church bound by conflict and division a place of commonality and unity grounded in the biblical narrative. (see and the Prologue of A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future)

Webber was an American theologian known for his work on worship and the early church. He wrote more than 40 books on the topic of worship and how the practices of the ancient church have value for the church of the 21st century. Before his death in 2007 of pancreatic cancer, Webber spent most of his last year communicating with more than 300 leaders representing various ethnicities and faith cultures to craft this document.

The language of The Call may not all be consistent with the doctrines and practices of your faith community. You are encouraged however, to view the document in light of your culture while also considering its value for the unity of the entire ecumenical faith community. Read A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future with a heart sensitive to what you can affirm as unifying instead of a critical spirit which filters the document for elements that cause concern.

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the Church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, authoritatively recorded in Scripture and handed down through the Church. Thus, while we affirm the global strength and vitality of worldwide Evangelicalism in our day, we believe the North American expression of Evangelicalism needs to be especially sensitive to the new external and internal challenges facing God’s people.

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include Evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism and pragmatism. In light of these challenges, we call Evangelicals to strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation and the Evangelical awakenings. Ancient Christians faced a world of paganism, Gnosticism and political domination. In the face of heresy and persecution, they understood history through Israel’s story, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world? The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. The narrative of God’s Kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the Church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the Church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.

We call for a return to the priority of the divinely authorized canonical story of the Triune God. This story-Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation-was effected by Christ’s recapitulation of human history and summarized by the early Church in its Rules of Faith. The gospel-formed content of these Rules served as the key to the interpretation of Scripture and its critique of contemporary culture, and thus shaped the church’s pastoral ministry. Today, we call Evangelicals to turn away from modern theological methods that reduce the gospel to mere propositions, and from contemporary pastoral ministries so compatible with culture that they camouflage God’s story or empty it of its cosmic and redemptive meaning. In a world of competing stories, we call Evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of Evangelical life.

We call Evangelicals to take seriously the visible character of the Church. We call for a commitment to its mission in the world in fidelity to God’s mission (Missio Dei), and for an exploration of the ecumenical implications this has for the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from an individualism that makes the Church a mere addendum to God’s redemptive plan. Individualistic Evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity, redefinitions of the Church according to business models, separatist ecclesiologies and judgmental attitudes toward the Church. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover their place in the community of the Church catholic.

We call for the Church’s reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church. These modern methods compartmentalize God’s story by analyzing its separate parts, while ignoring God’s entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ. Anti-historical attitudes also disregard the common biblical and theological legacy of the ancient Church. Such disregard ignores the hermeneutical value of the Church’s ecumenical creeds. This reduces God’s story of the world to one of many competing theologies and impairs the unified witness of the Church to God’s plan for the history of the world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to unity in “the tradition that has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” as well as to humility and charity in their various Protestant traditions.

We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisma of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to God’s saving acts.

We call for a catechetical spiritual formation of the people of God that is based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative. We are concerned when spirituality is separated from the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his Body. Spirituality, made independent from God’s story, is often characterized by legalism, mere intellectual knowledge, an overly therapeutic culture, New Age Gnosticism, a dualistic rejection of this world and a narcissistic preoccupation with one’s own experience. These false spiritualities are inadequate for the challenges we face in today’s world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to return to a historic spirituality like that taught and practiced in the ancient catechumenate.

We call for a cruciform holiness and commitment to God’s mission in the world. This embodied holiness affirms life, biblical morality and appropriate self-denial. It calls us to be faithful stewards of the created order and bold prophets to our contemporary culture. Thus, we call Evangelicals to intensify their prophetic voice against forms of indifference to God’s gift of life, economic and political injustice, ecological insensitivity and the failure to champion the poor and marginalized. Too often we have failed to stand prophetically against the culture’s captivity to racism, consumerism, political correctness, civil religion, sexism, ethical relativism, violence and the culture of death. These failures have muted the voice of Christ to the world through his Church and detract from God’s story of the world, which the Church is collectively to embody. Therefore, we call the Church to recover its counter-cultural mission to the world.

In sum, we call Evangelicals to recover the conviction that God’s story shapes the mission of the Church to bear witness to God’s Kingdom and to inform the spiritual foundations of civilization. We set forth this Call as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. We are aware that we have our blind spots and weaknesses. Therefore, we encourage Evangelicals to engage this Call within educational centers, denominations and local churches through publications and conferences.
We pray that we can move with intention to proclaim a loving, transcendent, triune God who has become involved in our history. In line with Scripture, creed and tradition, it is our deepest desire to embody God’s purposes in the mission of the Church through our theological reflection, our worship, our spirituality and our life in the world, all the while proclaiming that Jesus is Lord over all creation.

© Northern Seminary 2006 Robert Webber and Phil Kenyon

Conveners: Robert E. Webber, Myers professor of ministry, Northern Seminary; Philip C. Kenyon, director, Grow Center for Biblical Leadership, Northern Seminary.
Theological Editors: Hans Boersma, Packer professor of theology, Regent College; Howard Snyder, professor of world mission, Asbury Theological Seminary, and university professor of world Christianity, Spring Arbor University; Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; D. H. Williams, professor of patristics and historical theology, Baylor University.


Oct 4 2011

Is Connectional Worship Impeding Our Mission?


MissionalDo we really take seriously Jesus’ final commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20)? If we do, how can we possibly limit worship to what occurs in that one hour on Sunday?

Mark Labberton in The Dangerous Act of Worship wrote, “Worship can name a Sunday gathering of God’s people, but it also includes how we treat those around us, how we spend our money, and how we care for the lost and the oppressed. Worship can encompass every dimension of our lives.”

We spend the majority of our worship preparation and implementation orchestrating worship for those already connected to what we are doing here. Missional worship is an intentional shift from what we do here to who we are there. If we spend most of our time preparing for that one hour on Sunday at the expense of the other 167 hours of the week we will continue to lose ground in fulfulling that commission.

Missional worship is intentionally connecting those who are already in with those who are not in yet…and probably never will be until those who are in realize that worship is not just what we do at church but who we are in the world.

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.” Liturgy literally means the work of the people. If we want to make progress we must not only do liturgy at church but also be liturgy in the world.


Sep 12 2011

When Shift Happens What Will You Sacrifice?


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

Her focus began to move toward the spiritual when the woman said, “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he” (v. 26). Shift happened when the woman encountered and acknowledged Jesus, joined his conversation instead of expecting him to join hers, and then sacrificed the agenda that originally brought her to that place…she left her water pot and went into the city (v. 28).

Shift is a change in place, position, direction, or tendency resulting in a transformation of emphasis or focus.

Evidence that shift produced transformation occurred when she went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done” (v. 29). She was not only willing to sacrifice her agenda; she was also willing to sacrifice comfort and preference. She obviously knew where to find the men…she had been in a relationship with half of them. And “all the things I have done” probably included many of their names. Yet, she was willing to set all fear of embarrassment and maybe even livelihood aside because shift happened.

Ultimately, as a result of shift and transformation “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v. 39).

That style of worship may not have been the woman’s preference but when shift happened her preference no longer became that important. What a great example of offering your body as a living sacrifice as your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).


Sep 5 2011

Is Your Worship Welcoming to Those Not Like You?


welcomingMost congregations can answer affirmatively when asked if their worship welcomes those not like them…all are welcome if or when they come.

Where the conflict arises is when a congregation changes its culture in order to be intentionally welcoming to those not like them.

Welcoming worship never compromises biblically, theologically, or doctrinally but often accommodates culturally, contextually, and systematically.  Welcoming worship loves my neighbor as I love myself even if my neighbor is not always lovely.

Welcoming worship is not just what we do at church on Sunday, it is who we are and how we treat people out in the world every day.  Welcoming worship purposefully considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored. Welcoming worship affirms that, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31).

• Welcome is passive. Welcoming is active.
• Welcome is safe. Welcoming is usually risky.
• Welcome is occasional. Welcoming is frequent.
• Welcome may be accidental. Welcoming is always deliberate.
• Welcome is comfortable. Welcoming can stretch.
• Welcome satisfies givers. Welcoming won’t pay the bills.
• Welcome waits. Welcoming initiates.
• Welcome controls. Welcoming unleashes.
• Welcome tolerates. Welcoming embraces.
• Welcome hoards. Welcoming gives away.
• Welcome is preferential. Welcoming is sacrificial.
• Welcome focuses just on those who are present. Welcoming includes those who are not and may never be present.

Welcoming worship loves, honors, and praises the Father by loving those He loves. Could worship be any more profound?


Aug 29 2011

Can We Expect Worship to Occur on Sunday When We Don’t Practice It During the Week?


Brother LawrenceIn an often-replayed press conference, 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 practice during the week may not be as overtly profane as that of Allen Iverson, our actions often convey the same disdain. A 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 an added benefit of getting to share it with others.

Additional Quotes from the Writings of Brother Lawrence
In continuing the practice of conversing with God throughout each day, and quickly seeking His forgiveness when I fell or strayed, His presence has become as easy and natural to me now as it once was difficult to attain.

We should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with Him. It is a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries.

I am doing what I shall do through all eternity – blessing God, praising God, adoring God, giving Him the love of my whole heart. It is our one business, my brethren, to worship Him and love Him, without thought of anything else.

Believe me; count as lost each day you have not used in loving God.

People seek methods of learning to know God. Is it not much shorter and more direct to simply do everything for the love of Him? There is no finesse about it. One only has to do it generously and simply.

We are made for God alone, who can only be pleased when we turn away from ourselves to devote ourselves to Him.

The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.

We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.

How can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him without thinking of Him often? And how can we think of Him but by a holy habit we should form of it?

The more one knows God, the greater one desires to know Him. Knowledge is commonly the measure of love. The deeper and more extensive our knowledge, the greater is our love.

We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.

God does not ask much of us. But remembering Him, praising Him, asking for His grace, offering Him your troubles, or thanking Him for what He has given you will console you all the time … lift up your heart … little remembrances please Him.

We should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with Him. It is a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries.

It is a great delusion to think our times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to cleave to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.


Aug 14 2011

Is Multigenerational Worship Even Possible?



In an effort to appease multi-generations and minimize conflict, leaders either attempt to seek stylistic and musical common ground or they divide themselves along age and preference lines.  Except in rare instances, it appears from both efforts that the worshiping community suffers and all generations lose.  The impasse is a result of trying to accommodate the musical tastes of a congregation made up of both 20th and 21st century leaders, learners, and 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…independent is owned; 21st century worshipers are collaborative…collaborative is shared.
  • 20th century worshipers are stationary…for a lifetime; 21st century worshipers are mobile…for a season.
  • 20th century worshipers are deductive…deductive is top-down; 21st century worshipers are inductive…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…it has worked for generations…why change? 21st century worship is creative…it has been around for generations…why not try something new?  Routinized is predictable; Creative is often unpredictable.

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

Multi-generational 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 tradition.  Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the circumstances of the tradition and embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions.  Deference 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 love our children and grandchildren.  Deference is the willingness to set aside our preferences for the good of and future of those children and grandchildren.  Multi-generational worship will occur when the only battle is over who can offer/give the most instead of who deserves/demands the most.

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


Aug 2 2011

Is Worship Conditional?


A conditional statement is one that is put in the form of if A, then B where A is called the premise, hypothesis, or antecedent and B is called the conclusion or consequent.  If…then statements are used extensively in the form of logic referred to as deductive reasoning.

Is worship conditional?  The short answer is yes but our premises and conclusions to achieve that answer are often flawed.  The universal hypothesis and the place where worship conflict originates is in our reasoning that if we sing it and play it in a certain way…then worship will occur.  The conflict arises in the realization that the certain way varies from person to person and congregation to congregation.  Deductive reasoning would then cause us to conclude that if it is not sung or played in a certain waythen worship will not occur.

If ThenIf how we sing and play our music is necessary for worship to occur…then music has devolved into worship foreplay.  Instead of offering us a way to express our worship it serves as preparation for our worship.  Based on this reasoning, 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.  In reality, the 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, not as a result of what we sing and play.


Jul 24 2011

Worship Conflict…for Whom or What Are You Dancing in Your Boxers?


King David danced in his boxers at least twice.

The first account is recorded in 2 Samuel 6 when David and his men brought the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s presence) back to Jerusalem.  David was so overcome that he danced before the Lord with all his might in reckless worship.  His complete abandon caused David to dance right out of his clothes, completely disregarding how he was dressed or what others might think.

The second account is found in 2 Samuel 11 when David observed a beautiful woman, Bathsheba bathing on her roof and summoned her to his house.  David was so overcome that he danced before Bathsheba with all his might in reckless worship.  His complete abandon caused David to dance right out of his clothes, completely disregarding how he was dressed or what others might think.

Both dances were profound acts of worship.  In both instances David was so focused on the object of his affection that his clothes inadvertently fell to the ground.  The only difference in the two dances was who or what was being worshiped.

Worship conflict occurs when the object (for whom or what we are willing to dance) is anyone or anything other than God the Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The subject (how we dance) can be varied as long as the subject never becomes the object of our affection.  Dancing to the tune of what I want, what I deserve, what I prefer, what I like, and what my tradition calls for is one of the dances David danced…and one we continue to dance thousands of years later.

Dance, dance, wherever you may be

I am the lord of the dance, said he

And I lead you all, wherever you may be

And I lead you all in the dance, said he

“Lord of the Dance” Sydney Carter


Jun 27 2011

Patriotic Worship Services…What Is Being Worshiped?


What is the focus of our worship when in a worship service we sing, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing?”  Shortly after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Dallas Morning News wrote, “The American flag has replaced the cross as the most visible symbol in many churches across the country.”[1]

Congregations who choose not to sing and play patriotic songs in the context of their services of worship are often viewed as unpatriotic.  And yet, those congregations who choose to set God’s story completely aside to devote their entire worship service to patriotic songs and actions are rarely viewed as idolatrous.

In his book Unceasing Worship, Harold Best writes, “There is one fundamental fact about worship:  at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone – an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ.”[2] Best continues by writing, “All worship outside the worship of God through Christ Jesus is idolatrous.”[3]

Is there a way for American congregations to pay homage to our country and honor those who have died so that we can live freely without dishonoring Christ who died so that we might live eternally?  Certainly…as long as we never forget that Christian worship is stepping into God’s story…not asking God to step into our story…even when our story has such deep history and affections.  It is no longer Christian worship when God is the addendum.  How is your congregation doing?

[1]Christianity Today,  Nov. 12, 2001, vol. 45, no. 14, p. 36.

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

[3] Ibid., 163.


May 9 2011

What Is the Relationship of Worship and Mission in Our Post-Christendom Culture?


Worship and MissionIn Worship and Mission After Christendom (Scottdale: Herald, 2011), Alan and Eleanor Kreider offer a deeper understanding into how worship and mission are interweaved within the culture of a people who take seriously God’s call to be the church in a world where institutional religion is no longer taken for granted.  This book is a valuable resource for worship leaders and missiologists alike who value the relationship of these two disciplines.

Worship and Mission After Christendom is part of the After Christendom series written to explore the implications of the demise of Christendom and the challenges facing a church now living on the margins of western society.  The authors in this series see the current challenges facing the church not as the loss of a golden age but as opportunities to recover a more biblical and more Christian way of being God’s people in God’s world.

The first book in the After Christendom series offered a definition of post-Christendom:  The culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.[1]

The author continues by identifying seven transitions that mark the shift from Christendom to post-Christendom, each of which has implications for how Christians understand their role within society:

  • From the center to margins: in Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.
  • From majority to minority: in Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.
  • From settlers to sojourners: in Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.
  • From privilege to plurality: in Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.
  • From control to witness: in Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.
  • From maintenance to mission: in Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.
  • From institution to movement: in Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.[2]

The term post-Christendom, “Contrary to the claims of some critics, does not imply the withdrawal of Christians or the church from the public realm.”[3] Rather, it suggests that the nature of our involvement in politics, culture and society needs to be renegotiated in light of changing circumstances and changing theological convictions. The ‘post’ aspect of the term invites us to leave behind the compromises of the past; the ‘Christendom’ aspect is a reminder of the legacy with which we must grapple and from which we must learn as we explore uncharted territory.[4]

In worship, Christians “tell and celebrate the story of God and give thanks and praise to the One who is continuing that story.”[5] The Kreider’s continue by writing, “Our worship services have integrity when they attune us to God’s project and when they align us with God’s mission, so that our lives as individual Christians and as Christian communities are invested in who God is and what God is doing.  Further, our acts of worship ascribe worth to God when we allow the God we worship to transform our allegiances, behavior, and priorities in light of God’s character and mission.”[6] The writing of Alan and Eleanor Kreider in Worship and Mission After Christendom will serve as a great resource to help your congregation weather the storms resulting from our changing and changed culture and as a reminder that the foundation of mission and worship has not changed even though culture has.

[1] Stuart Murray, Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004), 19.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Craig Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006).

[4] See

[5] Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission After Christendom (Scottdale: Herald, 2011), 58.

[6] Ibid., 59.


May 4 2011

If God Is Hosting the Party Why Do We Keep Asking Him to Show Up?


invitationWorship does not 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 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 with the anticipation and excitement that grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were expecting us.  As my grandparent’s house came into sight 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 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).


Apr 28 2011

When Tornadoes Destroy and Life Is Lost What Do We Sing?


When 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.


Apr 24 2011

Is Your Worship Based on Core Convictions?


Core Convictions are foundational standards, principles, values, and tenets.

The following post is taken from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website.  Check out their website for additional worship resources and links at:

The language, comments, and questions 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.

On their tenth anniversary in 2007, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship identified ten core principles and practices to present as their central convictions about vital Christian worship.  They indicated that 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?

Apr 17 2011

Please Sir, I Want Some More…Is Symbolism in the Ordinances Enough?


Oliver TwistCharles Dickens told the story of an orphaned nine-year-old boy Oliver Twist.  Oliver and scores of other orphans toiled in the miserable existence of a workhouse.  The boys worked long hours subsisting on three paltry meals of gruel, a watery food substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value.  On one occasion, the boys drew lots to determine who would represent them to ask for more food.  Oliver was selected and timidly moved forward with his bowl in his hands to make the famous request, “Please sir, I want some more.”  One of his caretakers shrieked, “What?…More?”  And Oliver was chased around the dining hall tables by a band of well-fed caretakers.

Our understanding of symbolism and how it relates to the ordinances has degenerated into a substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value.  We know we have a spiritual mandate to participate in these ordinances, yet we often wonder, “Is this all there is?”  Can we ask for more within the parameters of our doctrine, denomination, embedded theological understanding, and history without fear of being chased around the table and font by a band of well-fed doctrinal caretakers?

Kenneth Chafin wrote, “For many, observing the ordinances has become so routine that they no longer call forth the reality they symbolize.”[1] Chafin continued by reminding congregations that, “There is a need to discover them again with such freshness that it would be like experiencing them for the first time.”[2] Symbolism is the use of text, images, procedures, or actual physical objects to represent an idea or belief.  We observe the ordinances as an act of obedience and symbolic remembrance.  Observance is both an act performed for religious or ceremonial reasons; and the act of regarding attentively or watching.  Both definitions and our actions in response to those definitions can often leave us feeling like outsiders looking in.

To illustrate on a personal level, as a result of my daughter leaving for her freshman year of college I am in the midst of a new season of remembrance.  I miss the opportunities to spend time with her while she is away from home.  In an effort to remember, I often observe her photograph on my desk or in my wallet.  I also occasionally step into her bedroom just for a few moments to remember.  Her photograph symbolizes her likeness…her room symbolizes her life. Spending a few moments in the midst of the nineteen years of mementos scattered around her room allows me to enter in and live again in the remembrance and symbolism of her life.  Sometimes living in the symbolism causes me to remember, grieve, and weep…at other times I remember and laugh out loud.  When I live in that symbolism I discover that the remembrance is rarely manifested in the same way twice.  That is why I return for more.

Wanting more will require worshipers to transform from the casual practice of just observing the ordinances to actually entering in and living in the symbolism and remembrance of those ordinances.  Living in the symbolism does not change the physical characteristics of the elements…it changes us.  Living in the symbolism allows us not only to remember Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but also remember how those events impacted and continually impact our lives.  When we live in the symbolism of the ordinances we remember that the story is not just Jesus’ story but also our story as we are invited to step into Jesus’ story.  Living in the symbolism reminds us that the final chapter is yet to come and we get to be a part of the unfolding of that story as insiders, not just casual observers.

Once we grasp the magnitude of living in the symbolism and remembrance we will never again have to ask “Is this all there is?” In fact, we may actually receive immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  That is why we must return and ask for more.

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

[2] Ibid.


Mar 28 2011

Why Are We Afraid of the Eucharist?


EucharistExperiencing the Lord’s Supper beyond its traditional expression as a memorial will not minimize the understanding of this ordinance as an act of remembrance, it will enhance it.  Expanding beyond the memorial understanding allows us not only to remember what Christ did for us on the cross and in the resurrection, but also to remember the promise of His return.  The purpose of remembering is not just to live in the past through our sorrow, but also to remember in order to influence our present and future.

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).  A profound blessing has been missed by ignoring the thanksgiving celebration found at the Table.  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]

Understanding the Lord’s Supper as a meal of thanksgiving encourages congregants to experience this ordinance beyond a memorial.  It allows worshipers to move from symbolically wallowing in the sorrow that our 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 when it actually reminds that even in the midst of misery, a profound hope is available.  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]

A recent shift has occurred as congregations have become disenchanted with various attempts to create formulas for worship renewal.  The desire for a deeper understanding of what worship renewal truly is has bridged the previous ecumenical gap.  A renewed connection with the larger Christian community has allowed congregations to consider worship elements not traditionally associated with their denominational tribe.

Here is the challenge:  Do not disregard the Eucharistic understanding of the Lord’s Supper because of traditionalism or of fear that an expanded understanding will take your congregation to a place it has never been before.  Instead, 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.

[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.


Mar 22 2011

Isn’t Worship Conflict Really Just the Result of Conversational Narcissism?


NarcissismConversation 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 meaningful conversation…we call it worship.  Robert Webber’s assessment is that, “Worship proclaims, enacts, and sings God’s story.”[1]  If you agree with Webber’s understanding then you 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.

Conversational Narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us and our personal interests.  Derber writes, “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 topic to focus on our selfish interests. 

Conversational Narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic (God’s story) and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing (our story).  When the worship conversation continues to point to self instead of the story of God, we become narcissistic.  Instead of focusing on God and God’s story, our worship conversation focuses on me and my story.[3]  Shifting the topic of our worship also shifts the object of our worship.  The conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but on the worshiper.

Worship conflict begins when I constantly point the conversation back to me…what I need, what I prefer, what I like, what I want, what I deserve.  This worship conflict which occurs as a result of my narcissism is a great example of a one-sided, selfish, and unhealthy conversation.  I call it worship preferences…God calls it sin. 

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

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

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


Mar 15 2011

Want Community? Meet At the Table!


On 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, relational 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 by developing relationships, planning activities, and encouraging 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.  Yet, this ordinance often holds little significance.  Infrequent and even passive observance has caused worshipers to view Communion as “an optional extra often treated casually, as a pleasant and cozy ceremony.”[1]

Paul spoke of Communion as the fellowship of sharing in the body and blood of Christ…and it is never a solitary act.  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.”[2]  Eleanor Kreider challenged congregations to consider Communion as foundational to worship renewal by stating that, “Churches will be renewed when the Lord’s Supper, graced by God’s presence and Word, oriented to the living Lord and empowered by the Spirit, is fully restored to the place it had in the early centuries-as the central communal Christian act of worship.”[3]

Two relationships are evident in the celebration at the Table:  a vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity and relationship at the table.  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.[4]  In this communal act, as with the disciples, Jesus accepts the invitation to sit at the table.  Transformation occurs when Jesus, who was the guest, becomes the host and invites the congregation into Communion with Him.[5]  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.”[6]  Individual and congregational Communion available at the table encourages unity and as a result of that unity an intimacy that cannot be manufactured.

“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.”[7]

Following the resurrection, two of Jesus’ disciples walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus without recognizing who He was.  It wasn’t until Jesus stayed with them, took the bread, gave thanks, and broke the bread that their eyes were opened and they recognized the risen Christ.  Nouwen wrote that, Christ living in them brought them together in a new way.  The breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup not only allowed them to recognize Christ, but also each other as members of the new community of faith.[8]  “Communion makes us look at each other and speak to each other, not about the latest news, but about him who walked with us.”[9]  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 here!


[1] Robert Letham, The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread  (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 1.

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 77.

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

[7] Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, 89.

[8] Ibid., 95-96.

[9] Ibid., 96.


Feb 28 2011

Is Your Easter Celebration A Waste of Time?


The celebration of Easter 2011 is less than two months away.  Churches are formulating plans for a meaningful day of worship and ministry knowing they will potentially reach more attendees than on any other Sunday of the year.  If those congregations and yours affirm Easter as the most important celebration of the church year and the basis for our hope, why limit its observance to one Sunday a year?  Has our concern with appearing too liturgical caused us to miss an entire season of remembrance, celebration, and worship?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day historical remembrance.  The celebration of the Paschal mystery was set aside not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but to celebrate His appearance following His resurrection, His ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and His ultimate return.  Because of their great joy, early Christians began this celebration with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost.  Revisiting the mystery of the resurrection through an expanded celebration could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this celebration of redemption, sanctification, salvation, renewal, and victory must not be limited to one day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the Great Fifty Days and other elements of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern of rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy, or fear of appearing too “Catholic.”  Additional desire for worship creativity has caused congregations to look elsewhere out of concern that annual celebrations promote monotony.  Timothy Carson states that, “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]  Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they affirm the annual observance of cultural and denominational days of celebration whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2]   The irony is found in the realization that in the development of these denominational and cultural calendars we have created denominational liturgies as a response to our desire to be non-liturgical.

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational, and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church.  Is it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?  Is there any reason why Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday, and Memorial Day cannot be celebrated in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost?   For this shift to occur, congregations must understand the significance of Easter beyond a one-day celebration.  “For the explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[3]

A renewed interest in the Christian year by some congregations is based on a deeper understanding of this calendar as the ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship.  The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past church and unifies Christians of the present church in a continuous ecumenical approach.  Observing this celebration could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4]  Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]  Although observing elements of the Christian year such as the Great Fifty Days may be a stretch for your congregation, consider making that decision based on a deeper biblical, theological, and historical understanding…not a decision based solely on traditionalism.    


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

[2] Idid., 56.

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

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

[5] Ibid.


Feb 14 2011

Why We Go to Church and Why We Worship…Is It the Same Answer?


In the conclusion of her book The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, Dr. Constance M. Cherry quotes author James Magaw and Annie Dillard on the difference between Why We Go to Church and Why We Worship.

“If you ask me why I go to church, I could start with these reasons:

  • To feel better;
  • To be with people whose company I enjoy;
  • To learn about Jesus;
  • To show which side I’m on;
  • To keep people from asking why I missed;
  • To sing my favorite old hymns;
  • To be inspired, taught, and challenged by the sermon.

But if you ask me why I worship, you raise the discussion to another plane…It calls to memory the words of Annie Dillard, as she writes about worship, ‘Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?…The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.  For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offence, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.’”[1]

“When I worship I expose myself to the power of God without any personal control over the outcome.  Sometimes it brings healing, peace, forgiveness, confrontation, or hope.  Always it calls me to move beyond the farthest point I have yet reached, and pushes me into uncharted territories.  Going to church is easy most days.  Worship is another matter.  It is an awesome thing to know oneself fallen into the hands of the living God.”[2]


[1] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 270, as quoted in James Magaw, “The Power We Invoke,” Alive Now (May-June 1988): 60, quoting Annie Dillard, Teaching Stones to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper Collins, 1982), 40-41.

[2] Cherry, The Worship Architect, 271, as quoted in Magaw, “The Power We Invoke,” 60-61.


Feb 7 2011

Is Your Worship A Loss Leader? Count the Cost!


Loss leaderIn retail, a loss leader is 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.  Congregations employ this same practice by discounting worship as a hook to get consumers in the door.  When those consumers become true worshipers and realize that worship requires them to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, what methods will congregations need to employ to keep them (Rom 12:1)?  How will those congregations help worshipers express deep calling unto deep worship…when discounted loss leader worship is all the congregation knows or has to offer (Ps 42:7)?  In this context, you get what you pay for actually means…whatever you reach people with is what you will reach people 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.  The king replied, “No, I insist on paying for it.  I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24). 

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.


Feb 2 2011

How Can We Keep from Singing?


Although worship cannot be contained in one expression such as music, it is evident from scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19; Col 3:15-17).  One seminary professor joked, “Congregants who don’t sing…should be sent to Sing-Sing until they do sing.”  When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17).  If the Father is singing over us…How can we keep from singing?

Reggie Kidd wrote, “Think of singing as a language that allows us to embody our love for our Creator.  Song is a means he has given us to communicate our deepest affections, to have our thoughts exquisitely shaped, and to have our spirits braced for the boldest of obediences.  Through music, our God draws us deeper into a love affair with himself.”[1]

Singing as an act of worship is not just an expression of our words and melodies to or about the Father.  When the circumstances of life discourage us from verbalizing those songs, the Father sings over us (Ps 32:7).  When we can’t find adequate words to express our love to the Father, Jesus as our worship leader sings with us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12).  Such songs have the power to quiet the restless pulse of care, And come like the benediction that follows after prayer (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).  If the Father is singing over us and Jesus is singing with us…How can we keep from singing?


My life flows on in endless song; Amid earth’s lamentation,

I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn That hails a new creation;

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing;

It finds an echo in my soul, How can I keep from singing?


What tho’ my joys and comforts die, The Lord my Helper liveth!

What tho’ the darkness gather round; songs in the night he giveth!

No storm can shake my inmost calm While to that refuge clinging;

Since God is Lord of heav’n and earth, How can I keep from singing?


I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it;

And day by day this pathway smooths Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of God makes fresh my heart, A fountain ever springing;

All things are mine, since I am His – How can I keep from Singing?[2]

[1] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 14.

[2] Some manuscripts attribute the authorship of this text to Anne Warner, others list the author as anonymous.


Jan 19 2011

Contemplative Worship: Don’t You Love A Good Mystery?


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).  Our culture demands the reduction of mystery to the explainable.  And yet, a faith such as ours founded on the infinite cannot be contained in the finite understanding of our relationship with God and our response to that relationship in worship.  In his exposition of the gospel of John in the New American Commentary, Gerald Borchert wrote, “The teacups of our thinking and language have not yet approached the capacity of holding the ocean of divine truth.”[1]

Worship 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.  Rational worship can deteriorate into controlled worship.  Mystery causes us to respond with, “Woe is me…I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5).  Rational worship is our actions in order to remember the stories of Jesus; mystery is living in the remembrance of the incarnational Jesus.  Mystery is the experience of the union of God dwelling in us and we in him.  “The way to experience this mystery is to live in it, to embody it through the spiritual life of contemplation and the way of participation.”[2]

In the Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life, Robert Webber wrote, “In the end an intellectual spirituality is situated, not in God’s story, but in my knowledge about God’s story, which is inherently limited.”[3]  He continued by writing, “The contemplation of God, of his person, creation, incarnation, and re-creation of the world, is a different kind of knowledge.  It is a contemplation on the mysteries, namely, the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim his lordship over creation.  The contemplation of these mysteries moves us to live into these mysteries, participating in God’s life for the world.”[4]  

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.  Fortunately, Paul clarifies our understanding by sharing the following doxology:

“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” (Rom 11:33-36).


[1] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 104.

[2] Robert E. Webber, the Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 20.

[3] Ibid., 87.

[4] Ibid.


Jan 3 2011

What Is Wikiworship?


Wikipedia 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.  The reason…Wikipedia consists of user-generated content that is not always verified as accurate, not always appropriate, and is often accused of being systemically biased.     

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.  Depending on worship actions to connect with Jesus is user-generated, not always accurate, and not always appropriate Wikiworship

Wikiworship is…

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

Worship which 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.  Worship which begins with Jesus is the understanding that God has already shown up and is initiating a relationship with us.  Our response to that relationship which cannot be contained in a single expression is…Worship. 

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.


Dec 14 2010

Worship Leader…When Is Your Sabbath?


If you have 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 by most congregations as the Sabbath or day of rest.  As a worship leader, this day has evolved into a day full of service, leadership responsibilities, rehearsals, and meetings.  Congregants, teams, staff, and even family members vie for your time and full attention.  At the end of the day your spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical resources are depleted.  Since this designated day is obviously not a Sabbath for you…when is your Sabbath?  Are you even taking one?  If not, how can you regularly lead people to a place where you no longer have the stamina to go yourself?

Observing a Sabbath “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] 

Christian life and ministry can sanctify busyness rather than free us from it.  Our church culture often values motion as a sign of significance, believing our efforts are essential to God’s success in His mission to the world.  When we attempt to elevate our relevance through our activity it becomes more about us than about God.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). 

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 stripping off your self-made yokes, laying aside the things God has not called you to do, and asking God to lead you into each day could lighten the load.  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]  Worship Leader…if you aren’t modeling this understanding of a Sabbath for your congregation, who will?

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

[2] Ibid.


Nov 22 2010

Is Our Worship Noise Creating A One-Sided Conversation?


Our worship actions often mute the distinct voice of God heard in the silence, hoping our deficiencies and weaknesses will not surface.  In doing so, we also miss His profound words of hope such as “I am with you; well done; you are forgiven; and I am weeping with you.”  Andrew Hill wrote, “Silence takes the worshiper out of time and into God’s eternity – “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).  Silence is valuable in Christian worship because it is disturbing, arresting.  We feel uncomfortable, helpless; we are no longer in control.”[1]

Richard Foster wrote, “Silence frees us from the need to control others.  One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless.  We are accustomed to relying on words to manage and control others.  A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out.  We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way.  We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people.  We devour people with our words.  Silence is one of the deepest Spiritual Disciplines simply because it puts the stopper on that.”[2]

Worship renewal may not occur until congregations realize that worship is a conversation that requires listening as well as speaking.  The noise of our worship actions (in the form of an organ introit as well as a guitar riff) has created a one-sided conversation.  Gaius Glenn Atkins wrote, “Silence is the true sacrifice, more acceptable to the Most High than any patterned form worn smooth by repetition.”[3]  The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds the reader to “let your words be few” (Eccl 5:2b) and “draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (Eccl 5:1).


[1] Andrew E. Hill, Enter His Courts with Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 106.

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

[3] Gaius Glenn Atkins, Ecclesiastes in The Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 56.


Nov 8 2010

Worship Leader: Are You An Artistic Gatekeeper Or A Liberator?


Gatekeeper – A person in charge of a gate to identify, count, supervise the traffic flow through it.  A guardian or monitor who controls ingress to or egress from.

Liberator – Someone who sets people free from the restrictions of a system, situation, or set of ideas.

Worship leader…are you an artistic gatekeeper who continues to hold your congregation captive to style, tradition, form, and structure.  Or, are you a liberator who sets them free by helping them understand that worship is cumulative in that it cannot be contained in one artistic expression, vehicle of communication, style, culture, or context?  Since liturgy literally means the work of the people.  Set them free to do their work.  If you don’t…they will go where they can…usually outside the church.

Check out this Craig Detweiler video… 



Oct 20 2010

Are We Marketing Worship?


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

The American Marketing Association Board of Directors defines marketing as:  The activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

If we are marketing worship…who is the consumer?  Check out the following video:  The Worship Industry.



Oct 7 2010

What Style of Music Does God Prefer?


The psalmist points out that God takes pleasure or enjoys 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).  Are there certain musical styles he takes more delight in than others?  Are we arrogant to assume that he can’t stand certain styles because we can’t stand them?

As long as we see our worship music with the linear eyes of “we know what he likes and he likes what we know” our worship conflict will continue.  It is obviously more convenient when my favorite is also God’s favorite and therefore a more appropriate and spiritual expression of worship.  “Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear” (Ezekiel 12:2).  God sees our worship music from a multi-dimensional God’s-eye view.  Reggie Kidd wrote, “It is amazing to me what odd sorts of people Jesus loves and how oddly many of them sing.  Yet he seems to be fond of all this strangeness.”[1]  May the apostle Paul’s prayer be our prayer as we consider viewing worship from God’s perspective:  “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). 

Does God enjoy our belief that relevant worship music began with and will probably end with my generation?  Or…have we so focused on our own delight that we aren’t really even considering what God prefers.  Will the preferential divide ever allow us to realize that God doesn’t really care how our music is offered to him…just that it is offered to him?  The scripture never tells us what style of music God prefers.  However, the book of Isaiah does tell us what style he 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).  Reggie Kidd also wrote, “It has to matter to me that Jesus hears harmonies that sound cacophonous to me.  It has to matter to me that he dances to rhythms that do not move me.”[2] 

[1] Reggie Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 120.

[2] Ibid., 129-130.


Oct 1 2010

What Is the Relationship of Mission and Worship?


Congregations considering worship renewal (which might also include radical change) usually look first at what they do and how they are doing it.  The prevailing thought is “if we sing new songs/bring back the old hymns; incorporate visual stimulants/actually hold the hymnal; dress down/dress up; or simply mimic those congregations we view as successful then worship renewal will occur.”  All of these worship elements may be culturally appropriate for individual congregations.  However, those congregations will continue to struggle with worship renewal and worship conflict until they focus on worship not just as what they do in the church but also who they are in the world.

In his book Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal wrote, “The missional church is not a what but a who.  When we think of church in what mode, we focus on something that exists apart from people, some ‘out there’ that people join and attend and support.  We try, then, to build great churches, believing that this is God’s primary strategy to engage the world.  Inevitably, this pre-occupation leads to discussions of how we can ‘do church’ better.  Thinking about the church in who mode focuses on what it means to be the people of God.  The central task is developing great followers of Jesus, believing that God has created people to demonstrate his redemptive intentions to the world in and through them.  This perspective frames an agenda so that the community of faith may encourage all its members to be faithful to God and to his mission as they live out being the church in the world.[1]

If worship is not just what we do but who we are can it ever occur outside of mission?  Check out the following video featuring Fuzz Kitto:


[1] Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 20.



Sep 22 2010

Has the Inversion of Revelation and Response Hindered Worship?


God’s revelation occurs when He offers us a glimpse of His activity, His will, or His attributes.  Our response is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes premeditated reply to that revelation…worship.  A model for this worship conversation is found in Isaiah 6:1-8.  The holiness of God is revealed to the prophet Isaiah and his natural worship response is contrition, “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” (Isaiah 6:5).  God reveals His mercy and Isaiah’s worship response is service, “Here am I.  Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8). 

When we instigate the worship conversation by encouraging God to reveal Himself as a result of our worship actions aren’t we actually inverting the biblical model of revelation and response?  Is it possible our worship has been hindered through our efforts to generate worship instead of worship occurring as an outflow of God revealing Himself to us?  Instead of offering our worship actions while hoping that God will show up shouldn’t we offer our worship actions because God has shown up?

Richard Foster states it well, “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]           


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


Sep 14 2010

How Do We Know If Worship Change Is Appropriate? Testing the spirits of worship – 1 John 4:1-6


At the conclusion of chapter three of 1 John, the author makes the statement, “Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them” (1 John 3:24).  As congregations consider worship change, verses 1-6 of the fourth chapter of 1 John provides biblical assurance that we are offered wisdom to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  To test is to observe, examine, or evaluate to determine validity.  This process of testing or evaluating moves beyond considerations based on human feelings or preferences to a divine test rooted in “the spirit of truth” (1 John 4:6).

Just as culture impacts modern congregations, it also affected the communities documented in the epistles.  Marianne Meye Thompson offers valuable insight to help the contemporary reader understand the culture represented in these epistles:  “To understand the Johannine community we should envision a network of smaller congregations or house churches, sharing theological heritage and historical roots.  Within one (or perhaps several) of these smaller churches there are theological conflicts (1 Jn 4:1-6; 5:5-8; 2 Jn 7-10) and social rifts (1 Jn 2:18-26; 4:1; 2 Jn 7).”[1]  That tendency to allow the culture to shape the structure of the congregation (and not always positively) is also evident today.  Sensitivity to the prevailing culture is an appropriate response.  Allowing the prevailing culture which does not know what it needs or what it is looking for to dictate liturgy is where the line is often crossed. 

Colin G. Kruse points out that, “Believing every spirit would connote a certain gullibility.  Not everyone claiming to speak in the name of God actually does so.”[2]  Testing the spirits of worship is a process of evaluation to determine if those spirits are from God (1 John 4:1).  In an effort to create worship relevance, congregations often sample various worship practices while rarely testing them to discern the spirit of that practice and its appropriateness for their congregation.  Discerning the spirits is not an easy undertaking.  Thompson affirms the difficulty by maintaining that, “Truth and error are not always easily distinguished.  They do not exist disembodied, but come to us in the shape of real persons with whom we share a variety of relationships.”[3]  The criteria outlined in these six verses can serve as a benchmark to assist congregations as they consider worship change.  Testing the spirits moves a congregation from considering worship change based solely on its observed success in other congregations to worship change only as a result of the direction of “the Spirit He gave us” (1 John 3:24b).


[1] Marianne Meye Thompson, 1-3 John in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 113.

[2] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 144.

[3] Thompson, 1-3 John, 14-15.


Sep 1 2010

How Do We Prepare for Worship?


The author of the book of Ecclesiastes stresses appropriate and sincere worship with a challenge in chapter five to, “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God” (Eccl 5:1).  Wayne Peterson refers to this verse as “the necessity for man to be cautious and sincere in worshiping God.”[1]  He offers additional understanding by pointing out that, guarding your steps “expresses the need for discretion and care, both in general conduct and in performing the acts of worship.”[2]  Understanding the necessity for worship preparation is radically different than the practice of abdicating that responsibility to worship leaders to create worship through song selection and worship actions.  Verse one continues with the encouragement to “draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil” (Eccl 5:1b).  Worshipers must prepare for and gather for worship with a listening ear in addition to an abundance of words.  A meaningful conversation requires listening and speaking.

Consider the following 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 responsibility for personal preparation of 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 heart to 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 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?[3]

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

4. Post-service continuation.  Worship continues with our community of worshipers as we leave the worship service and as our lives reflect worship at home, school, and in our work.  This final step leads the worshiper in a continuous circle back to step one.  Harold Best calls this “unceasing worship.”[4]  An old proverb states, “We only prepare for what we think is important.”


[1]Wayne H. Peterson, Ecclesiastes in The Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1971), 115.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Malefyt, Norma deWaal and Howard Vanderwell, Database online. Available from

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


Aug 25 2010

Is Worship Change Ever Painless?


A community of faith passes through developmental transitions as a natural progression of the life of that congregation.  Worship transition is sometimes necessary as a congregation considers its prevailing culture and context, but it rarely occurs without conflict and the pain associated with that conflict.

Congregations contemplating worship change must consider that healthy change involves continuation as well as modification.  Chip and Dan Heath remind us that, “We rarely ask the question:  What’s working and how can we do more of it?  What we ask instead is more problem-focused:  What’s broken and how do we fix it?[1]  When worship change is inevitable, a healthier transition can occur when congregants choose to embrace transformation as developmental rather than rejecting it just because they are hesitant to change.  Craig Satterlee wrote, “Any change can be approached as either a threat or an opportunity, either a cause for celebration or a reason to despair.”[2]  Consider the following suggestions to encourage less painful worship change:

Select the Appropriate Score

Score:  A tool used by a composer, conductor, or analyst that shows all the parts of an ensemble, enabling the experienced reader to “hear” what the composition will sound like.

Selecting the appropriate worship change score requires preparation, prayer, discernment, study, observation, and buy-in before actually initiating change.  Andy Stanley challenges leaders with the understanding that, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality.  If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be.  What you don’t know can kill you.”[3]        

The score is the focus, outline, containment, and limitations of the considered change.  Even though a score has framework limitations it is still open to the interpretation of the conductor and players.

Rehearse Before You Perform

Rehearsal:  The practicing of something which is to be performed, usually to test or improve the interaction between participating people, or to allow technical adjustments.

Rehearsal for worship change is actively soliciting buy-in from congregants with unique gifts, perspectives, and abilities.  The pain of transition is amplified when leaders discount congregational members as uninformed, as incapable of grasping the theological significance of change, or by assuming that they are so entrenched in their old identity and behavior that they are unwilling to think in new ways.  Rehearsal for worship change creates an environment where individuals realize their wisdom is an essential part of what is being created.  This shared vision allows a congregation to consider the various perspectives; mold them within the framework of the score; and creates a unified ensemble ready for the final presentation.  Peter Senge describes this shared vision as, “creating a relational child, a unique future that will only emerge with shared dialogue and cooperative implementation.”[4]

Tempo:  Tempo is the relative speed at which a composition is to be played.  Rehearsal gives a congregation time to set the proper tempo for change.  The tempo established during rehearsal will kill it or encourage its success.

Modulation Is Essential in Key Changes

Modulation:  The process of moving from one key to another.

The key word in the previous definition is process.  Worship change is a process, not a one-time event.[5]  Modulation offers a congregation a less painful transition allowing time for them to come to terms with their identity change.  Jumping from one key to another without the process of modulation is abrupt and jarring, leaving the listener stunned and frustrated.  Ironically, one of the key components of a successful modulation is dissonance.  Dissonance will occur in the worship change process and cannot be ignored or it will surface again.  Resolving dissonance in the modulation process releases the tension of modulating from the previous to the new before moving to the next key.  Transformation takes time and the process is just as important as the end result.

Perform – Initiate the Worship Change

Performance:  The act of performing; of doing something successfully; using knowledge as distinguished from merely possessing it.

In the early days of the Civil War, northern generals were so focused on avoiding casualties and embarrassing losses that they would miss strategic opportunities.  They spent more time exercising the troops than they did engaging the enemy.  Andy Stanley wrote, “Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership.  The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees.”[6]  Leadership is not about making worship change decisions on your own but it is about owning those decisions once they are made.  Stanley also said, “While the average man or woman fears stepping out into a new opportunity, the leader fears missing out on a new opportunity.”[7]

In an effort to initiate worship change, leaders often push to do something…anything different than what is not working now.  This lack of planning, absent of serious reflection often causes unnecessary transitional pain.  Those faithful leaders and congregations who have successfully opened themselves to new worship concepts with minimal pain have accomplished this by accenting what they do best, reclaiming lost worship focus, and involving greater participation of the congregants in the process. 

Longtime Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn spoke of change by saying, “Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”

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

[2] Satterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005), 6.

[3] Stanley, Andy, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 20030, 75.

[4] Senge, Peter in Brad Berglund, Reinventing Sunday: Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship (Valley Forge: Judson, 2001), 11.

[5] Heath, Switch, 290.

[6] Stanley, The Next Generation Leader, 50.

[7] Ibid., 51.


Aug 16 2010

Asking the Right Questions: Worship Evaluation Questionnaire


Unless an organized plan of evaluating worship based on the deeper biblical and theological issues is implemented, the tendency for congregations to focus on style and service mechanics will continue to consume the energy of worship planners and leaders.  An intentional evaluation process would provide “a constructive way to articulate what a congregation has learned about itself and its worship practices, as well as to prioritize which goals are most important to address in the future.”[1]  Since most congregations do not have an instrument to regularly evaluate their worship, the following questionnaire was developed to encourage those congregations to consider worship renewal grounded in Scripture and modeled throughout the history of the church.  Worship evaluation will occur.  Leaders must determine if they would rather initiate the evaluation or constantly respond to congregational critics who have initiated the evaluation for them.  A pre-emptive approach could reduce the conflict which will inevitably occur from the latter.



Service Date:_________________Service Time:_________________

Specific Worship Elements


  • When were worshipers first greeted after leaving their car?


  • Was an attitude of community evident as the congregation gathered?


  • Were worshipers embraced as a part of this community during the gathering?


  • Was the congregation publicly invited to participate in this worship service?  Examples:  invocation, hymn/song, call to worship, processional.


Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Was the congregational singing passive or participative?


  • Did the music selected for congregational singing include a balance of familiar and new?


  • Did congregational song selections include both vertical and horizontal expressions?  celebrative and reflective? 


  • Did presentational music encourage congregational participation or passivity of performer and audience?


  • Was the text theologically sound and did it affirm the scripture as central?


  • Was the music multi-generational and culturally appropriate for this congregation?


  • Did music get too much attention in this service?


Visual and Fine Arts

  • Were visual and/or fine arts incorporated into this service?  Examples: mime, drama, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, video, film.   


  • Did the use of the arts in this service contribute to or distract from the worship expressions?


  • Was it evident through these arts that worship is visual as well as verbal?


  • Were artistic expressions used inappropriately in this worship service?  Examples:  glory of man instead of God, manipulation, entertainment.



  • Was it evident that prayer was an important part of this worship service?


  • Who led in prayer?  What types of prayer were led?  Examples:  invocation, confession, supplication, intercession, communion, lament, thanksgiving, repentance.


  • Were prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?


  • Were various prayer postures encouraged?



  • In this worship service was it evident that Scripture is foundational?


  • What Scripture passages were read in this service?


  • Who read Scripture?  How was it read?


  • Was Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?


  • Was there a sense that the sermon came after the “preliminaries” or was it evident that the sermon was a part of the worship?


  • Did the congregation actively participate in the reading of Scripture?


Ordinances – Lord’s Supper/Baptism

  • Was the Lord’s Supper celebrated in this service?  If so, what was the attitude of the observance?  Examples:  communion, thanksgiving, remembrance, celebration, eschatology.


  • Did the Lord’s Supper provide an opportunity for symbolism and mystery?


  • Was the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of this service?


  • If the Lord’s Supper was not celebrated, what other options were available for responding to the Word?  Examples:  offering, congregational singing, baptism, testimonies, prayers of confession, invitation, Scripture, presentational music.


  • Was baptism celebrated in this service?  Did the baptism contribute to the communal relationship of the congregation? 


  • Was the symbolism of baptism evident and understood by members and guests?



  • How was the congregation dismissed at the end of the service?


  • Was the dismissal a sacred expression?  Examples:  blessing, challenge, communal action, recessional.


  • Was there a communal and unified attitude evident as the congregation left?


Additional Elements

  • Where were the announcements presented?  Did they distract from the flow of worship?


  • Was the offering a time of sacrificial response that encouraged an attitude of worship?


  • What additional elements were present in this service? 


General Worship Elements

  • Did the service feature a balance of worship actions?  Examples:  praise, confession, dedication, commitment, response, lament. 


  • Was the service conversational involving God’s words to us and our words to God?


  • Did the worship space encourage my participation in worship?  Examples:  icons, art, symbols, colors, lights.


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


  • Did the service flow well?  Did transitions link the worship elements?  Was the pace satisfactory?


  • Did the worship leaders convey a genuine pastoral concern?


  • Which of the five senses were employed?


  • Was there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?


  • Were there elements of the service presented by leaders that could have been presented by the people?  Examples: prayer, Scripture reading, testimonies.


  • Were physical actions encouraged?  Examples:  raising hands, kneeling, bowing head, clapping, standing, sitting.


  • Did the service give participants an opportunity to connect with one another?


  • What symbols were used in this worship service?


  • Did anything in the service distract my attention from a conversation with God?


  • Were guests able to meaningfully follow the service without confusion?  Were elements presented that were generally accepted by the congregation that might be unfamiliar to a guest?  Were these elements explained?


  • Did the service offer a time of silence for reflection, repentance, or confession?


  • Besides congregational singing, what elements offered an opportunity for active participation?


  • Did the worship service invite the congregation to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ?



[1]The Worship Sourcebook, (The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker, 2004), 763.