Aug 21 2017

If Only Is Holding Worship Hostage

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

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

If only we would sing more or less hymns.

If only we had a younger worship leader.

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

If only we still had a choir.

If only our services were more creative.

If only we had a better worship band.

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

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

If only we were still holding a hymnal.

If only they would let my granddaughter sing a solo.

If only we were like that other church.

If only we still had special music.

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

If only the people looked and spoke more like us.

If only we talked about money less and politics more.

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

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

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

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Jul 27 2014

So…You Wanna Be A Modern Worship Leader

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If You Wanna Be A Modern Worship Leader

 

You have to name your firstborn child, Taylor…doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or girl.

Taylor

 

You have to pray rhythmically while doing this…(1)

Playing

Or this…

keyboard

But not this

accordian

 

You can’t snicker when someone says,“Our worship band needs to get some cajons.”

cajons

 

You have to be able to organize this…

guitar

But not this

messy desk

 

You must be able to read this…

Chord Charts

But not this

music

 

You should wear this…

shirt

But never this

shirts

 

And you have to wear this…

jeans

So you can sing this

g note

 

You’ll have to drive this…

wagon

So you can afford this…

guitars

And haul this

guitar gear

 

Finally, your hair can look like this…

hairstyle

Or this…

haircut

Or even this…

bald

But never, ever like this

hair

(1) The second image above is Used By Permission from the Zach Hardison Band.                                                            Check out their links:     www.zachhardisonband.com or www.facebook.com/zachjhardison

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May 6 2014

Easter Sunday Was A Waste of Time

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easterThe observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day annual event. That celebration of the Paschal mystery was set aside not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but also to remember that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that Jesus would return again.

Because of their great joy, early Christians began their celebration and remembrance with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost. Revisiting the mystery and expanding the understanding of the resurrection 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 sacred time of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and other dates of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern of rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy or fear of appearing too “Catholic.”

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

Even as many congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they are at the same time affirming the annual observance of cultural and denominational days whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2]

Isn’t it ironic that in the development of our denominational and cultural calendars we have in fact created 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. Isn’t it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?

Why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day 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. Laurence Hull Stookey wrote, “The explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[3]

A renewed interest in extending the Easter celebration is based on a deeper understanding of the calendar as an 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 relationship.

Observing Easter for fifty days 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]

Observing elements of the Christian year might be a stretch for your congregation. Make that decision, however, not based solely on the traditionalism of your denomination but instead grounded in a deeper biblical, theological and historical foundation.

 


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

[2] Ibid., 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.

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Apr 7 2013

Is Music All We Have?

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

Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer that gift to God in worship.  But is it the expression?  Considering additional artistic options could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds the central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’  Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship.  But, many others are involved.  We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith.  When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[1]

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

Consider the following suggestions as places for your congregation to begin multiplying their understanding: drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, hair and make-up, sound, lighting, staging and props and many others.  Even though God’s creativity is limitless, we often constrict our list because of our culture and tradition…or perhaps our caution and laziness.

Harold Best stated it well; “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action.  The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself.  It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’  Be hungry.  Be thirsty.  Be curious.  Be unsatisfied.  Go deep.  Engage your whole being.  Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance.  Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart.  Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory:  spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory.  Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]

 


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

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

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

 

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Nov 18 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONGREGATIONAL LORD’S SUPPER QUESTIONNAIRE

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

Name (optional):

  1. How healthy is our congregation in the area of worship?  What factors contribute to or detract from its health?
  1. Are the members of our congregation active participants in our worship services?  In what ways do they participate?
  1. Are there any worship practices you have observed or are aware of that would not be acceptable for our congregation?
  1. Are there any events in the life and/or history of our congregation that have significantly impacted its worship?
  1. How important is the Lord’s Supper to our congregation?
  1. How often is the Lord’s Supper included as a part of our worship services?  How is this determined or scheduled?
  1. What is the attitude of our congregation during the Lord’s Supper and what determines that attitude?
  1. What does the Lord’s Supper signify to you personally?  What factors contribute to this significance?
  1. Do you believe the Lord’s Supper has worship value for you individually?  If yes, in what ways?  If no, why?
  1. Do you believe the Lord’s Supper has worship value for our entire congregation?  If yes, in what ways?  If no, why?
  1. Have you observed or participated in a Lord’s Supper service in a congregation or denomination outside of ours?  If yes, give a brief explanation.
  1. Were any of those experiences particularly meaningful for you?  If yes, please list examples and reasons why.
  1. Were any of those experiences uncomfortable for you or confusing to you?  If yes, please list examples and reasons why.
  1. Are there any Lord’s Supper observances listed in question 11 that could enhance the worship of our congregation?  If yes, please give examples of how.
  1. Is the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of our services?  If yes, how?  If no, why?
  1. Does our Lord’s Supper theme vary from observance to observance?  Examples:  remembrance, communion, thanksgiving.
  1. If no, why?  If yes, what elements contribute to those various observances?
  1. Does the observance of the Lord’s Supper in our church strengthen your relationship with God?  If yes, what elements contribute to that?  If no, what elements distract from that?
  1. What could/should be done differently that would enhance the Lord’s Supper services in our church?
  1. Any additional comments?
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Jul 23 2012

Evaluating Your Worship…Are You Asking the Right Questions?

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questionsIt has been a couple of years since I posted my Worship Service Evaluation Questionnaire below.  You have my permission to use all or part of the questionnaire to meet the needs of your congregation.  It can be initiated internally by asking select members of your congregation to respond to the questions or externally by enlisting an outside evaluator to ask questions from the perspective of a first-time guest.

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. 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 themselves or constantly respond to congregational critics who have initiated an evaluation for them.  A pre-emptive approach could reduce the conflict that will inevitably occur from the latter.

WORSHIP SERVICE EVALUATION

Service Date:_________________________

Service Time:_______________________

 Specific Worship Elements

Entrance/Gathering

  • When were worshipers first greeted after leaving their car?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Was the congregational singing passive or participative?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did music get too much attention in this service?

Observations:

Visual and Fine Arts

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Prayer

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Were prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?

Observations:

  • Were various prayer postures encouraged?

Observations:

Scripture/Sermon

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

Observations:

  • What Scripture passages were read in this service?

Observations:

  • Who read Scripture?  How was it read?

Observations:

  • Was Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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.

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • 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.

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Dismissal

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Additional Elements

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • What additional elements were present in this service?

Observations:

General Worship Elements

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did the worship leaders convey a genuine pastoral concern?

Observations:

  • Which of the five senses were used?

Observations:

  • Was there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • What symbols were used in this worship service?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • 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?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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Jul 9 2012

Worship Leader…Can You Land That Plane?

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verboseWorship service elements and song sets often require verbal transitions and yet, worship leaders rarely prepare for or even think about those transitions until it is time to make them.  The result is often a long-winded holding pattern of circular discourse including clichés, detours, and verbosity.  Successful worship verbal communicators know the flight plan and how to land the plane before leaving the runway.

Leaders could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter.  Its success is based on sharing succinct but also persuasive information posted by users who get in, get out, and get on with it.

The limitations of 140 characters forces users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how they want to say it.  Successful tweeting synthesizes information based on what the audience needs to know most.  In his recent book, Viral, Leonard Sweet wrote, “It takes more work to distill thoughts into two sentences than it does into two pages.  In the best of Twitter, the language is distilled, restrained, made to be sipped rather than quaffed.”[1]

Successful communication is marked by clear, precise expression without wasting words.  Concise eloquence requires preparation and practice.  If we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing our verbal transitions as we spend praying over and rehearsing the songs we are trying to connect, maybe those transitions could contribute to rather than detract from worship.

 


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

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May 6 2012

Does Your Worship Leader Wear Skinny Jeans?

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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.

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May 1 2012

Artisan Or Assembly Line Worker?

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Assembly LineIs your plug and play worship preparation and leadership really just the modern version of sliding the hymn numbers into the hymn board?  If so…why does your church need you?  Deep calling unto deep worship that reminds congregants that the Lord’s song is with us in the night may never occur until you lead as an artisan instead of an assembly line worker (Psalm 42).

Assembly Line:  A repetitive, monotonous, inflexible process in which a succession of identical products are turned out in a mechanically efficient, though impersonal manner.

Artisan:  A craftsperson or technician in an applied art who with great care, skill, and precision handcrafts a high quality, distinctive, and unique product.

The society based on production is only productive, not creative.  Albert Camus

Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.  W. Somerset Maugham

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Apr 10 2012

How Do You Know Your Congregation Is Singing? Take A Canary into the Mine.

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Taking a canary into a coal mine previously served as an early warning system for mines with inadequate ventilation systems.  Canaries are especially sensitive to methane gas and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting a dangerous build-up of gas in the coal seam.  The canary showed signs of distress in response to small concentrations of gas before it became detrimental to the miners.  The first sign of imminent danger was when the canary stopped singing.

canaryIf certain generations, cultures, or even the majority of your congregation has stopped singing, it is probably an early warning sign of danger ahead.  And it is often difficult if not impossible for worship leaders to detect those warning signs from the platform.

The idiom canary in a coal mine has continued as a reference to a person or thing that serves as a warning of a looming crisis.  Enlisting trusted individuals from your congregation to regularly ask questions not only about the worship singing of your congregation, but also about the way you lead the singing could alert you and your congregation to imminent conflict while there is still time for curative care.  The key is to intentionally implement a pre-emptive process since the asking of similar questions will inevitably occur in the halls and parking lots anyway.

Note:  It is vital to enlist individuals to ask evaluative questions who love God, love the church, and love you enough to honestly evaluate your leadership and assess the level of congregational participation.  The humility necessary to initiate a process such as this can only occur if you also love God, love the church, and love the people enough to sacrifice your own interests for the greater good of the church.

Sample Congregational Singing Questions:

  • Are characteristic traits, character flaws, or idiosyncrasies of the leaders encouraging/discouraging congregational participation?  Examples:  genuineness, preparedness, platform presence, vocal clarity, empathy, grammar, arrogance, aloofness, chattiness, selflessness, service, selfishness, and deep spirituality.
  • Is congregational singing passive or participative?  What are leaders doing to encourage/discourage passivity or participation?  Are the leaders depending on song selection only to accomplish this goal?
  • Do song selections include a balance of familiar and new?
  • Do songs include expressions that are:  vertical and horizontal, celebrative and contemplative, comforting and disturbing?
  • Is the song text theologically sound and does it affirm scripture as central?  Is it trite or archaic, repetitive or diverse?
  • Are song selections culturally appropriate for our congregation?  Are leaders selecting worship songs giving primary consideration to the culture they hope to reach, the culture of our existing congregation, a mixture of both, or neither?
  • Do our songs encourage conversational worship… including God’s words to us as well as our words to God?  Are leaders incorporating musical elements that distract our attention from that conversation?
  • Does our worship space encourage participation in congregational singing?  Examples:  inclusion of icons, art, symbols, colors, lights.  Does our worship space discourage participation in congregational singing?  Examples: poor acoustics, sound/volume issues, poor lighting.
  • Do the service songs flow well?  Do transitions link other worship elements?  Is the pace satisfactory?  Is the volume appropriate?  Are the keys routinely pitched too high or low for the average singer?
  • Are physical actions actively encouraged?  Examples:  raising hands, kneeling, bowing head, palms upturned, or clapping?  How do leaders convey to the congregants and guests what is appropriate and/or acceptable?
  • Do the songs give participants an opportunity to connect with one another?  Is this intentional or assumed?
  • Are guests able to participate in the congregational singing without confusion?  Are elements presented that are generally accepted by the congregation that might be unfamiliar to a guest?  How do you know?  Are musical elements explained or assumed?
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Feb 20 2012

Is Easter A Waste of Time?

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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.

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Jan 9 2012

Does Your Worship Music Resemble Cruise Ship Karaoke?

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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.

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Aug 16 2010

Asking the Right Questions: Worship Evaluation Questionnaire

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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.

 

WORSHIP SERVICE EVALUATION

Service Date:_________________Service Time:_________________

Specific Worship Elements

Entrance/Gathering

  • When were worshipers first greeted after leaving their car?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Was the congregational singing passive or participative?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did music get too much attention in this service?

Observations:

Visual and Fine Arts

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Prayer

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Were prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?

Observations:

  • Were various prayer postures encouraged?

Observations:

Scripture/Sermon

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

Observations:

  • What Scripture passages were read in this service?

Observations:

  • Who read Scripture?  How was it read?

Observations:

  • Was Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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.

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • 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.

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Dismissal

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Additional Elements

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • What additional elements were present in this service? 

Observations:

General Worship Elements

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did the worship leaders convey a genuine pastoral concern?

Observations:

  • Which of the five senses were employed?

Observations:

  • Was there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • What symbols were used in this worship service?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • 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?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

 


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

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Aug 9 2010

Is Music All We Have to Offer?

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Has the emphasis on music as our primary worship offering actually hindered worship and perpetuated worship conflict in our congregations?  Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer that gift to God in worship.  But is it the expression?  Considering worship art beyond music will not negatively impact its influence as an expression of worship.  In fact, music as an act of worship could be enhanced as congregations realize that music and worship are not exclusively synonymous.  Considering additional artistic expressions could alleviate the pressure for music to serve as the primary driver of worship change and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

Until recently, visual arts have been largely absent in the evangelical worship culture.  Vocal and instrumental musical expressions have been the primary representation of the arts.  Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’  Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship.  But, many others are involved.  We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith.  When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[1]     

The arts can play an active role in worship renewal if we allow them to move beyond a shallow representation to an understanding of art as worship and not just as a tool to help us worship.  Robin M. Jensen reminds us that, “too often art is perceived as a kind of ‘extra’ offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate it or want to be involved, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.”[2]  Evaluating these expressions will help a congregation understand that worship is not only verbal but visual as well. 

What artistic expressions beyond music are appropriate and acceptable in the culture of your congregation?  Consider the following suggestions as a place to begin: drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, sound, lighting, and staging.  God’s creativity is limitless.  Our list is constricted only by our culture and tradition…or possibly our caution and laziness.  Harold Best stated, “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action.  The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself.  It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’  Be hungry.  Be thirsty.  Be curious.  Be unsatisfied.  Go deep.  Engage your whole being.  Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance.  Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart.  Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory:  spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory.  Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]

 


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

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

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

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Mar 29 2010

If We Are Easter People…Why Is Our Celebration Limited to One Day?

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If we are Easter people who affirm this holiday as the most important celebration of the church and the basis for our hope, why do we 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 eschew the recognition of 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 history with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?  Is there any reason why Mother’s Day, Graduate 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 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.  This theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration also 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 considering elements of the Christian year such as the Great Fifty Days may be a stretch for your congregation, you are encouraged to make that decision based on a deeper biblical, theological, and historical understanding not just on tradition.    

 


[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.

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