Nov 7 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 5 2018

3 Reasons Your Worship Isn’t Good

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What is good

Congregations are constantly trying to discover and create good worship. So they’ve expanded their song catalogs and adjusted their presentation methods in an effort to find a formula that accomplishes that goal. Some just bypass the heavy lifting altogether by imitating the worship practices of other congregations and call it good.

The minor prophet Micah faced similar challenges as he responded to the shallow worship practices evident in the lives of the religious leaders of his day. He vigorously condemned the dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship prevalent in Judah and Israel.

According to Micah, outward appearances indicated they thought their worship was good. But their worship character wasn’t consistent with what God calls good. So Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

3 Reasons Worship Isn’t Good

  • It doesn’t act justly

If someone says, “I love God, (an act worship) and hates his brother, (also an act of worship) he is a liar” (1 John 4:20a). Worship that acts justly realizes loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is incomplete until I also love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

Mark Labberton wrote, “The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.”[1]

  • It doesn’t love mercy

Mercy is the willingness to sacrifice ones own interests for the greater worshiping good of the congregation. Merciful worship begins by surrendering or sacrificing for the sake of something or someone else. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go.

King David understood merciful worship as he responded to God’s command to build an altar so 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, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).

  • It doesn’t walk humbly

We often take credit for instigating God’s presence by what we sing and how we sing it and call that good worship. In reality, God started the conversation, was present long before we arrived and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father seeks the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23).

Humble worship allows us to lay aside the unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”[2]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 22-23.

[2] Ibid., 170.

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Oct 31 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 29 2018

Eugene Peterson on Worship

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Eugene Peterson

 

Eugene Peterson was a pastor, scholar, author and poet. On October 22, he finished his Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He left an indelible mark on various areas of Christian thought, including the following on worship.

 

Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.

 

Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.

 

Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God; it whets our appetite.

 

Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting.

 

Every call to worship is a call into the real world.

 

The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor.

 

I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God.

 

It’s essential for us to develop an imagination that is participatory. Art is the primary way in which this happens. It’s the primary way in which we become what we see or hear.

 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

 

A Christian congregation is a company of praying men and women who gather, usually on Sundays, for worship, who then go into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together. 

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Oct 24 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 22 2018

Feckless Love

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Feckless

Most worship leaders love using their creativity to lead worship. Creativity, however, can be a smoke screen for laziness. Sometimes a love for leading can be feckless, meaning it lacks the strength of character to move beyond creativity to hard work.

Feckless worship leaders love leading worship musically but don’t have the resolve to do the heavy lifting biblically, theologically, relationally and even physically. Consequently, they depend solely on their love for playing and singing on the platform and disregard diligence off the platform.

Thomas Edison said, “People don’t work hard because in their conceit, they imagine they’ll succeed without ever making an effort. Most people believe that they’ll wake up some day and find themselves successful. Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.”

Wilson Mizner said, “Work, work, work…the gent who wakes up and finds himself a success hasn’t been asleep.” So your love for leading may help you get that worship job but hard work is going to help you keep it.

Symptoms of feckless worship leaders

  • They spend more time searching files for previously used worship service orders than it would have taken them to create a new one.

 

  • Their song sets are determined exclusively by scanning CCLI’s Top 100, What’s Hot on Praise Charts or the Hymnal.

 

  • They aren’t willing to communicate in newer and older languages of chord charts and choir scores or hymns and modern songs even when the culture of their congregation calls for it.

 

  • They spend Monday through Thursday pondering their creativity but then have to scramble on Friday morning to actually harness it into a worship service for Sunday.

 

  • They imitate the worship sounds, habits, methods, styles, presentations and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering the unique voice of their own congregation.

 

  • They don’t see the need to attend conferences, read books, take additional lessons or dialogue with other worship leaders.

 

  • They don’t take the time to invest in the lives and ministries of younger leaders or train those who will come behind them.

“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.” Eleanor Roosevelt 

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Oct 17 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 15 2018

4 Signs Your Worship Team Has the Sense of a Goose

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gooseIt’s difficult for the worship of your church to be healthy if the relationships of its platform leaders aren’t. Healthy worship teams embrace a unified goal of helping each other help others to worship.

Unhealthy worship teams function as independent contractors who play and perform dependent on their own talent alone. So even if those team members are producing individually, you’ll never experience extraordinary worship leadership until you agree you’re all in this together.

Every fall thousands of geese fly from Canada to the southern part of the United States to escape the bitter cold of winter. Worship teams could better learn how to work together by observing the V-formation flight of these geese.

4 Signs Your Worship Team Has the Sense of a Goose

  • You share leadership with each other

The goose flying in front of the V-formation expends the most energy since it’s the first to break the flow of air that provides lift for the geese that follow. So when the lead goose tires, it moves to the rear of the formation where the resistance is lightest. This rotation happens perpetually throughout their journey. Consequently, each member of the flock serves as a leader as well as a follower.

  • You draft for each other

According to scientists, when the geese fly in a V-formation they create an uplift draft for the bird immediately following. So the entire flock achieves a 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own. So they arrive at the destination quicker because they are lifted up by their combined energy and enthusiasm.

  • You cheer for each other

Geese frequently honk as they fly in formation. Scientists speculate this honking is a way to communicate and cheer for each other. Those repeated honks announce all is well as an encouragement to those out front to stay at it and keep on keeping on. They are in essence reminding each other that, “we’re all in this together.”

  • You protect each other

Scientists have discovered that when a goose becomes ill or is injured and has to drop out of the formation, two other geese will also fall out of formation to stay with the weakened goose. And they stay with that goose to protect if from predators until it is either able to fly again or dies.

It’s foundational to the senses of geese to work together. Whether they’re rotating, flapping, honking or helping. Their combined efforts enable them to accomplish what they were created to do.

What could your worship team achieve if you too had the sense of a goose?

Renowned evangelist and preacher, Vance Havner used to say, “Snowflakes are frail little things. But if you get enough of them together they can stop traffic.”

The author of Ecclesiastes said it this way, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10).

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Oct 10 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 8 2018

Open Letter To Transient Worship Leaders

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transient

Dear Worship Leader,

I have had hundreds of conversations with worship leaders about wanting, needing, or having to relocate. It’s been my observation that a couple of common threads are contributing to this restless desire and/or mandate to find another ministry position. Ironically, neither of those root causes are musical or stylistic issues.

My first observation is there is often confusion between calling and convenience. The primary question you must ask is, “Am I called to do this…not just here, but anywhere?” A calling is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. It is a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction of divine influence and it’s not always convenient.

So what is compelling you to do what you do? Convenience responds with, “This is what I was trained to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.” If you are leading worship just because you love to play and sing; because you need to supplement your income; because you enjoy being up-front or because you are not trained to do anything else, then your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

If, however, you are divinely called to lead worship and believe God also called you to your present place of ministry, then a secondary question you must ask before considering a move is, “Has God released me from my call here?” Even when another place of ministry seems more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding you must be reminded that God did not promise you’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. So, until God releases you to go…stay.

My second observation is that musical talent and platform presence may help you secure a worship leader position but developing leadership skills will help you keep it. In fact, the root cause of forced termination is often relational and rarely musical. And yet, where are you spending most of your worship leadership preparation time? You’ll never be able to teach enough new songs to make up for relationship and leadership failures.

Leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people. Meaningful relationships develop as you place more focus on the people than the project. Don’t leave relationships in your wake as you move toward the end result since the process with people is just as important as the end result. What will your congregants remember most about your worship leadership…how you led them musically on the platform our how you treated them on the way to and from the platform?

It may indeed be time for you to consider a new place of ministry. But that change of venue alone might not settle your restlessness. Until you consider the previous observations and others, you may again experience the same discontent after a couple of years in that new place of ministry.

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Oct 1 2018

Unified Worship: A Tree of 40 Fruit

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40 FruitBeing unified is the state of being united, linked or joined together as one in spite of diversities and differences. Uniformity, on the other hand, is the state or quality of being the same. A healthy worshiping congregation requires unity but not necessarily uniformity.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.”[1]

According to Paul, being unified is “striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). So we can exercise a variety of different worship gifts, callings and styles and still be unified as long as our root solidarity is not our worship expressions but the gospel.

Art professor Sam Van Aken combined his love for art and farming to develop an incredible Tree of 40 Fruit. In 2008 Van Aken learned that an orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be shut down because of a lack of funding.

To lose this orchard would render many of these rare fruit varieties extinct. So to preserve them, Van Aken bought the orchard and spent several years chip grafting parts of the many varieties of trees onto a single fruit tree.

In the spring, Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit reveals a stunning patchwork of pink, white, red and purple blossoms, which then produce an array of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds. The roots of each of these trees are united even though the fruit or outward expressions are diverse.

Van Aken indicated that each Tree of 40 Fruit provides the perfect amount and variety of fruit. So rather than having a uniform single variety that produces more fruit than you know what to do with, each tree offers just the right amount of each of the 40 varieties.

The Apostle Paul said it this way to the church at Corinth, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body” (I Cor 12:12, 18-20).

 

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Vancouver, BC: Eremitical Press, 2009), 90.

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Sep 26 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 24 2018

Senior Pastor…Why Aren’t You Singing?

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singDear Non-Singing Pastor,

We depend on you as a primary worship leader for our congregation. We agree that your leadership centers more on worship through the Word and Table than through the music. And we understand and affirm that worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music.

But 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). 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).

When the circumstances of life discourage us from verbalizing our songs, the Father surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Ps 32:7). And 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). So if the Father is singing over us and Jesus is singing with us, we have to ask how you can keep from singing?

When you choose not to sing it causes us to wonder if you really view the musical worship elements as an appetizer before the main course or the warm-up band before the headliner. And when you study sermon notes instead of singing it gives the impression you are unprepared, reminiscent of a freshman cramming for a final exam.

Pastor, we desire worship that is a continuous conversation with a variety of worship expressions instead of just stand-alone elements of music and preaching. So we long for you to teach and model active and fully engaged participatory worship instead of passively giving permission to others not to sing too.

So in humility we ask that you join us in full-throated singing so that all of our voices, including yours, might unite in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament and response. And when this occurs our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that it can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12).

Sincerely,

Your Singing Congregation

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Sep 19 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 12 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 10 2018

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

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Twenty things

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

  • Let’s select song keys with a comfortable singing range for the congregation.
  • The band is too loud when we can’t hear the congregation sing.
  • I love studying theology.
  • Let’s sing fewer songs this week to allow more time for Scripture and Prayer.
  • We’ve learned enough new songs for a while.
  • It’s time to learn some new songs.
  • I love my pastor and pray for him daily.
  • We don’t sing songs that aren’t biblically accurate or theologically sound.
  • I can’t do this on my own.
  • Please remain seated if that is more comfortable for you.
  • I am interested in what everyone else thinks.
  • No, that is my family time.
  • That’s too pretentious.
  • Let’s get some feedback from the senior adults.
  • We need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.
  • Instead of making changes, let’s get better at what we are already doing.
  • It’s Monday and the worship service is already planned.
  • I never want what I wear to distract or detract from worship.
  • I love it when the house lights are up so I can see their faces.
  • Not every great worship song is great for congregational singing.
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Sep 5 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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worship word

Worship doesn’t invite

God’s presence,

it acknowledges it.

 

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Aug 27 2018

Robert Webber Ancient-Future Worship Quotes

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ancient futureIn his Ancient-Future book series, Robert E. Webber wrote of his longing to discover the roots of our faith. He affirmed Scripture as foundational and the final authority in matters of faith and practice, including worship. Webber also desired unity in the church so he referenced sources from the entire history of the church. And he argued that our road to the future is not an innovative new start, but a future that runs through the past.

The following quotes are taken from Ancient-Future Worship in that series. In this book, as you will see from these selected quotes, Webber outlines how worship does God’s story.[1]

 

“We experience God in more than songs and segues.”

 

“Worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.”

 

“Worship is not a program. Nor is worship about me. Worship is a narrative – God’s narrative of the world from its beginning to its end. How will the world know its own story unless we do that story in public worship?”

 

“Not only does worship point to the culmination of all history in the new heavens and new earth, but it also shapes the ethical behavior of God’s people to reflect kingdom ethics here on earth.”

 

“In many of our churches today there is a neglect of remembrance in worship. It arises from the loss of attention to the whole Bible. A shift has taken place toward a focus on therapeutic or inspirational preaching and to the rise of entertainment or presentational worship.”

 

“One does not need to become liturgical to become more biblical in worship.”

 

“Worship is not that which I do, but that which is done in me.”

 

“God, through worship, works on me through his story to elicit praise on my lips and obedience in my living. When this happens, worship takes place.”

 

“Because God is the subject who acts upon me in worship, my participation is not reduced to verbal responses or to singing, but it is living in the pattern of the one who is revealed in worship.”

 

“One crisis of Scripture is that we stand over the Bible and read God’s narrative from the outside instead of standing within the narrative and reading Scripture as an insider.”

 

“The mystery of God’s presence has been lost and replaced with an empty symbolism. Many Christians and even pastors and leaders of the church have acted indifferently to God’s presence at the Table, transferring it to music or dropping it completely.”

 

“The whole act of worship says, ‘God, we are here to remember your story and to pray that the whole world, the entire cosmos, will be gathered in your Son and brought to the fulfillment of your purposes in him.’”

 

“Worship instead of being a rehearsal of God’s saving actions in the world, and for the world, is exchanged for making people feel comfortable, happy, and affirmed.”

 

“Worship, no longer the public prayer of God’s people, becomes a private and individual experience. Beneath the privatization of worship is the ever-present individualism of our culture. This focus on the self results in prayers that are concerned with my life, my needs, my desires – prayers that seem indifferent to the needs of the poor and the problem of violence and war that devours nations and societies and ignores the works of God in Christ to bring to an end all evil, death, and sin.”

 

“Nowhere in Scripture or in the history of the church have hymns and songs ever been held as a replacement for Word and Table.”

 

“Word and Table remain the God-ordained way to remember God’s saving deeds in history and anticipate his final triumph over death and all that is evil. So if you want to do ancient-future worship, learn God’s story and do it in Word and Table and use hymns and songs for responses not only from the great treasury of the church through the centuries but also from music that is current.”

 

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

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Aug 22 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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worship word

 

Musically strong tunes

 

never justify

 

theologically weak texts.

 

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Aug 20 2018

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

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memoryNostalgia is sentimental remembrance of previous times or significant events that continue to stir happy or meaningful personal recollections. It can be a healthy time of reflection as long as its primary purpose is to remind how the past laid the foundation for the present and future. If, however, those remembrances result in an excessive yearning and compulsion to return to the “good old days,” then nostalgia may be killing your church.

The word nostalgia is derived from the two Greek words: nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. The medical professionals who coined the word in the late 18th century were describing an emotional and physical condition, not the current meaning of wistful thoughts of earlier times. In its original definition, nostalgia was viewed as a crippling condition that rendered sufferers incapacitated by despair or intense homesickness.[1]

Nostalgia was considered a legitimate reason for voluntary release from military service even until the 1860’s. If a soldier became too overwhelmed by thoughts of home or the life he left behind, his abilities for service could be compromised.

Nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort. But too much can have a negative effect perpetuating the belief that an earlier time is preferable to present day conditions. Getting caught up in feelings about a more ideal past can make the present seem unfulfilling by comparison.[2]

Excessive nostalgia can cause a church to romanticize, idealize and even embellish the past in an effort to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past for future generations. Consequently, extending those previous practices can limit a congregation to its past performance, potentially killing its present and future efforts. The end result is a church that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the idealized emotions that were originally stirred.

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

  • Attempts are made to canonize one particular style or genre of music.
  • Conversations begin with Do you remember instead of Can you imagine.
  • An inordinate amount of time is spent planning and preparing reunions and anniversaries.
  • Much more time is devoted to protecting old practices than praying for and considering new ones.
  • Leadership vision seems to look in the rearview mirror for the way things used to be instead of out the window for the way things could be.
  • Budgets are absorbed on the physical and organizational institution without considering its mission.
  • Leaders are selected or dismissed according to how they can best represent and perpetuate the past.
  • Resurrecting or recreating older actions to reflect former generations always takes priority over newer actions to impact future generations.

Nostalgically designing the vision, practices, procedures and future of your church to replicate the Good Old Days usually succeeds in getting it half right…it is old.

 


[1] Adapted from http://www.wisegeek.org

[2] Ibid.

 

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Aug 13 2018

Why Worship Leaders Should Get A Real Job

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jobNow that I have your attention, leading worship is indeed a worthy calling and vocation that requires preparation, education and skills. And yes, it is a real job. But what if opportunities were no longer available for you to lead worship vocationally?

What if you needed to voluntarily or were forced involuntarily to step aside from vocational worship leadership for an interim or extended period of time? Or if you’re a student preparing for vocational worship ministry, what if you don’t immediately land a position after graduation? What would or could you do in these instances to provide for your family while still responding to God’s call? Some of us have found ourselves in similar situations only to realize we are not trained or are not training to do anything else.

Statistics show that 95% of churches average 350 or less in worship and that 75-80% of those churches average 150 or less. Forced terminations, unhealthy staff relationships and ageism are all unfortunate realities. Church planting movements have amplified the need for additional volunteer and part time worship leaders. And even larger, more established congregations are no longer realizing the need for full-time worship and music staff as they try to stretch their financial resources to accommodate their various generational, cultural, ethnic and multisite needs.

With those statistics in mind, the present and future reality seems to indicate that the need for full-time music and worship leaders is on the decline. In other words, it appears there are and will continue to be more prepared full-time leaders than full time places for them to serve. So reality dictates that while preparing for worship leadership we should also be learning additional marketable skills.

For this to occur, we must first acknowledge that a call to bivocational ministry is not a mediocre calling but is in fact a call to full-time ministry that just happens to occur not only when we gather at church but also when we disperse to the marketplace. We must also encourage our Christian colleges and seminaries to more actively challenge students preparing for worship ministry to also learn other vocational skills. We must agree that it is never too soon or too late to learn something new. And we must affirm that learning an additional skill doesn’t compromise our calling but in fact enhances it by allowing us to communicate in other worship languages beyond choirs and chord charts.

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Aug 6 2018

Worship Leader…You Can’t Do That

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

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

We can’t create worship
We can’t generate an encounter with God through our worship actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response to an encounter but they can’t create it.

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father is seeking the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23).

We are responders to God’s calling and seeking, not originators of it. As good as our various worship songs and actions might be, they will never create what can only be recognized and responded to. So we must never confuse creative and created worship. We should be doing the former and can’t do the latter.

We can’t start and stop worship
If our worship starts when we sing the first song and stops when we sing the last one, then what are we encouraging them to do the other 167 hours of the week? Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and also loving our neighbors as we love ourselves means worship is continuous.

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

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

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

We can’t do it for them
Worship is something they do, not something that is done for them. So if we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators?

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

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Jul 30 2018

Worship Tourists or Travelers?

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touristsAre we worship tourists or travelers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 9 2018

Jumping Off Worship Bandwagons

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 2 2018

10 Things to Say to Your Worship Leader This Week

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encourage

  1. Even if I don’t know or like the songs, I’m still planning to sing them like I do.

  

  1. We’ll take care of your kids so you can go on a date with your spouse.

  

  1. I bought you a Starbucks gift card.

 

  1. I’m praying daily for you and the worship team.

  

  1. I’ve been singing that new song all week.

  

  1. We love using the Sunday song set for family devotions.

  

  1. Thanks for selecting older and newer songs with biblical integrity.

 

  1. You are a great guitar player but an even better pastor.

  

  1. I love that our worship emphasizes theological content instead of musical style.

  

  1. I’d like to volunteer to serve on the tech team.
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Jun 25 2018

Patriotic Worship Idolatry

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

[2] Ibid., 163.

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Jun 18 2018

15 Questions for Every Worship Song Set

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questions  for Every Worship Song Set

 

  • Will it encourage passive spectating or active participating?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  • Will acceptable physical actions be articulated or implied?

 

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

 

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

 

  • Are its melodies singable and ranges accessible?

 

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

 

  • Will it speak and teach the Gospel?

 

  • Will it engage more than just emotions?

 

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

 

  • Will it encourage participants to be doers of the word and not just hearers only?
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Jun 11 2018

Worship at the Duck Church

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

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

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

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

And then waddle back home.[1]

 

[1] Adapted from Soren Kierkeegard’s Duck Church Parable.
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Jun 4 2018

5 Questions Before Considering Another Worship Job

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questionsMost of us don’t begin a new worship ministry position believing we will only stay for a few years. Our intentions are noble to plant our lives for the long haul. But after exhausting our good ideas we often get bored, our worship gets stale, our congregation gets restless and we get busy looking for another ministry opportunity somewhere else.

If the choice to stay in your present ministry position or leave for another one is within your control, then you should be asking some fundamental questions before considering another move.

  • Has God released me from my call here?

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. But until God releases you to go there…stay here.

  • Am I running from something?

God didn’t promise that you’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. So if you are running from relational dysfunction that isn’t resolved here, what makes you think it won’t follow you there?

  • Am I running to something?

If you are interested in another ministry just because it’s bigger, better, more prestigious or prominent, then your motivation might be ego instead of calling. If greener grass or several rungs up the ladder is the new you are running to, then you’ll inevitably be disappointed and so will they.

  • How might it impact my family?

Only considering your own ministry desires, needs and wants without recognizing how it might affect your family is not a calling, it is conceit. If your ministry frequently moves your children away from their friends and foundations, then how can you expect them to even like church when they are no longer required to attend?

  • Am I ready to leave well?

If you go out swinging when you leave here it will follow you when you get there. Leave with Ephesians 4:29 on your lips: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

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May 29 2018

10 Tips to Help Your Congregation Dislike Hymns

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top 10

 

  • Modernize, genericize or blend all hymns in order to reach younger people. Because all young people like singing hymns that sound like Air Supply.
  • Always bookend a hymn between two really popular modern songs. It’s kind of like hiding unappetizing vegetables in your mashed potatoes.
  • Admonish your congregation regularly with how unspiritual they are to focus on personal preferences (This one doesn’t apply to you, of course, since you pick the songs).
  • Lead hymns like you’re recording a hostage video. Blink twice occasionally to indicate you’re leading them to satisfy the deacon imposed quota.
  • Play all hymns with a boom chuck guitar strum; country walking bass line; and train beat drum rhythm. Be sure to add a fish-shaped tambourine on hymns about heaven.
  • Use only hymns with archaic texts such as Ebenezer, hither and shouldst without ever explaining their poetry. It might also help to revive the Charles Wesley text, “To me, to all, Thy bowels move.”
  • Frequently use psalms like “Sing a new song” or “He put a new song in my mouth” to justify limited or no use of hymns.
  • When you have to sing a hymn introduce it with “here’s an oldie but a goodie.” Or only use them as novelties for homecomings, old-fashioned singings or fifth Sunday sings.
  • Convince your congregation that hymns and modern songs aren’t compatible by using “no one can serve two masters” or Pepsi vs. Coke to illustrate their mutual exclusivity.
  • Don’t spend any personal devotional time internalizing the hymn texts and tunes before you lead them. Because if you ever start to love them, you’ll never convince your congregation not to.
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May 14 2018

Worship Service Music Isn’t the Undercard

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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May 8 2018

Using Worship Style As A Hook

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Apr 30 2018

Sunday Worship: Culmination or Commencement?

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

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

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

As a commencement, the Sunday service sings our congregations out. The worship when we gather may be great, but until it impacts those we come into contact when we disperse it’s incomplete. Sunday worship as a commencement is when we are so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the service to end so we can actually share it with others.[1]

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Apr 9 2018

Songs God Doesn’t Like

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

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

Scripture, however, speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t pleasing to God on several occasions. The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

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

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

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

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

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Apr 2 2018

Communion: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Mar 12 2018

10 Worship Service Disruptors

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disruptors
Nostalgia
Nostalgia can cause a congregation to romanticize, idealize and even embellish past worship practices to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past. The end result is worship that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the emotions that were originally stirred.

Greeting
The worship service Meet and Greet can cause anxiety sweats and heart palpitations for first time guests and congregational introverts. Some see it as shallow, contrived and intimidating. So what is intended to welcome can sometimes alienate.

Novelty
Novelty can cause a congregation to over innovate, over stimulate and over imitate. Each Sunday then becomes an exercise in surpassing the creativity of the previous Sunday. So when excessive worship novelty occurs our focus is often on the creative instead of the creator.

Passivity
Spectators attend or watch an event. They could be fans or foes depending on who is playing and what is being played. And it seems like they are in the game just because they are in the stands. But if worshipers are never more than bystanders while others do it all for them, then how can we expect them to transform from spectators into participators?

Localism
If we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event that occurs only when we gather in our building. Worship is a daily occurrence, not a weekly locale.

Traditionalism
Worship traditionalism begins when we take a good thing (how we worship) and make it the only thing. Traditionalism has forgotten the foundational tenets of why we worship and landed on how we worship. Traditionalism always begins with what we prefer, what we’ve earned, what we like or what our past demands.

Cheerleading
Cheerleaders generate spirit and rally enthusiasm. To motivate their congregations, worship leaders can sometimes display similar traits. But worship leaders are not cheerleaders. They can’t generate the Spirit of God through synchronized actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response but they can’t generate the revelation.

Egocentrism
We are created in God’s image, not He in ours. We should, therefore, step into His story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. Our worship acknowledges a conversation that he started and invites us to join. So if we create worship just to accommodate our needs, then the god we worship looks a lot like us.

Announcements
Little or no preparation is given to announcements that let the church know how to be the church when they leave. The result is a long-winded discourse of verbosity, clichés and detours that have little to do with worship. Maybe we should spend as much time praying over and rehearsing our worship service announcements as we spend praying over and rehearsing our songs.

Experientialism
We can sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of how they make us feel but never move beyond those feelings to worship. And if we don’t experience certain feelings because we don’t know or like the songs, we can leave the service believing worship didn’t occur. We don’t experience worship we experience God.

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Mar 5 2018

Dancing Out of Our Robes of Worship Traditionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] 2 Sam 6:14.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 21.

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Feb 19 2018

One Another Churches

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

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

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

One Another Churches call for unity

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

One Another Churches call for love

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

 One Another Churches call for deference

  • Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  • Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  • Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
  • Consider one another more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  • Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Pet 5:5)
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Feb 12 2018

Why Are We Praying Less and Singing More?

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prayerPrayer has been demoted to the role of a worship service starter, stuffer, and stopper. Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as a primary act of worship, it has been plugged in as a transitional appendage.

So it serves as the seventh inning stretch before the sermon; it breaks up the song sets when keys aren’t relative; it moves the worship band on the platform; and it allows the pastor to discreetly make his way up the aisle to shake hands after the service.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because our worship service prayers are not that deep. Song texts have been parsed, prayed over, and practiced, while our prayers are often played by ear. The spontaneous prayer may be sincere, but it’s often not very profound. Spontaneity needs to be supported by an intense prayer life. It’s hard to go where you haven’t been.[1]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because prayer is an easy language to fake. We can pretend to pray, use acceptable words of prayer, practice forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer, and never really pray.[2]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because we actually require our soloists, choirs, orchestras, worship teams, and bands to rehearse ahead of time. So if worship service prayer preparations were as stringent as those for our musical offerings, then maybe we’d consider singing a little less in order to pray a little more. Then maybe our worship service prayers would again be considered foundational instead of supplemental.

 

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

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, as quoted in Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xii.

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Feb 5 2018

Worship that Doesn’t Stop and Start

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 10.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 18-19.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Ibid., 20.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ibid., 61

[11] Ibid., 65.

[12] Ibid., 72.

[13] Ibid., 99.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 209

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Jan 29 2018

Sunday Worship Tailgating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Jan 15 2018

Segregated Worship: Not Our Kind of People?

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Segregation
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Well not much has changed since his original statement over 50 years ago.

Most congregations welcome those who don’t look like them. All are welcome if or when they come. But they are still segregated because they’ve never made adjustments in order to be intentionally welcoming to those who don’t look like them. They might even imagine how great it would be if their church was filled with people of all colors, nationalities, economic levels, generations and even political ideologies. The impasse in this scenario, however, is that they imagine how great this could be as long as they are willing to worship the same way we do.

Why are we so accepting and accommodating of racial and cultural diversities when we do missions around the world but not across the aisle? Welcoming worship means we are willing to adjust culturally, contextually and systematically not only there but also here.

Welcoming worship is not just what we do when we gather on Sunday, it’s also who we are and how we treat others on Monday. Welcoming intentionally considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored. Welcoming worship agrees that, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31).

Welcome worship is passive
Welcoming worship is active

Welcome is occasional
Welcoming is frequent

Welcome is accidental
Welcoming is deliberate

Welcome is comfortable
Welcoming stretches

Welcome controls
Welcoming unleashes

Welcome waits
Welcoming initiates

Welcome tolerates
Welcoming embraces

Welcome hoards
Welcoming gives away

Welcome is preferential
Welcoming is sacrificial

Welcoming agrees that those who don’t look like us didn’t get less of the image of God. So welcoming worship loves, honors and praises the Father by loving all of those He loves. Could worship be any more profound?

If we are not meant to be segregated when we worship in Heaven,
then why are we so segregated when we worship on earth?

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Jan 8 2018

10 Signs You’re a Worship Leading Pharisee

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PhariseeScripture classifies the Pharisees as the strictest of all the Jewish religious sects. Literally set apart from others, they clung to their laws and traditions even at the expense of God’s law. Jesus rebuked them numerous times for their hypocrisy, pretension and self-righteousness.

It’s easy as worship leaders to fall into that same trap of sanctimonious arrogance. We can lead from the impression that we alone have the ability and even right to be the sole proprietors of worship. When this pretentiousness occurs we care more about elevating ourselves and our own agendas than helping others in spirit and truth worship.

It’s true that worship leaders are usually the most talented in the room, so it’s always a challenge to be both upfront and unassuming. But if in the name of excellence or musical purity we start suggesting that what we lead and the style in which we lead it is the only tenable option, then we too can slide into Phariseeism.

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

10 Signs You’re A Worship Leading Pharisee

 

  • Worship service selections are determined by your favorite style instead of biblical and theological content.

“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9).

 

  • You disappear when it’s time to set up or tear down.

“They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4).

 

  • You lead “Your praise will ever be on my lips” in the service and then berate the tech team after the service.

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt 15:8).

 

  • Your audience is not an audience of One.

“For they loved human praise more than praise from God” (John 12:43).

 

  • You accuse any ministry more successful than yours as being stylistically superficial, musically adulterated or theologically shallow.

“All the crowds were astounded and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ When the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’” (Matt 12:24).

 

  • You canonize or criticize either hymns or modern worship songs.

“When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these children are saying” (Matt 21:15)?

 

  • You measure your level of artistry and spirituality against others.

“See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” (Matt 12:2).

 

  • You’ve made dressing up or dressing down a worship prerequisite.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long” (Matt 23:5).

 

  • You’ve created the false dichotomy that if your style is virtuous, then theirs can’t be.

“God, I thank you that I’m not like other people” (Luke 18:11).

 

  • Your mic must be a little hotter and your spot a little brighter than all others.

“They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues” (Matt 23:6).

 

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

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Dec 11 2017

Worship: Holy Expectancy to Holy Obedience

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

  • If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship.
  • Holy obedience saves worship from becoming an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern life.
  • Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. Its central reality is found in spirit and truth. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit.
  • If the Lord is to be Lord, worship must have priority in our lives. The divine priority is worship first, service second.
  • If worship does not change us it has not been worship.
  • Adoration is the spontaneous yearning of the heart to worship, honor, magnify, and bless God. We ask nothing but to cherish him. We seek nothing but his exaltation. We focus on nothing but his goodness.
  • Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right techniques and methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit.
  • In worship an increased power steals its way into the heart sanctuary, an increased compassion grows in the soul.
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Dec 4 2017

Let’s Limit Sermons to Once a Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Nov 13 2017

Large Church Worship Leader Wannabes? Um, No!

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Big ChurchBrent was recently called to serve as the full-time worship pastor for a large church. He is responsible for multiple worship bands, multiple choral groups and multiple services.

Brandon was recently called to serve as the volunteer worship leader for a small church. He is responsible for a keyboard, cajon and whatever singers he can recruit each week for a single service.

Brent and Brandon have both responded to a divine calling to lead worship. So who’s calling is more significant?

The usual perception is that a bigger church is always better or size determines significance. So smaller church leaders are often viewed as mediocre representations of larger church leaders, as worship leaders in waiting, as juniors to their senior counterparts or as large church wannabes.

But church statistical information doesn’t agree with that perception. Actual figures indicate that 95 percent of American churches average 350 or less in worship and 75-80 percent of those congregations average 150 or less. And according to a recent study from the Hartford Institute, more than half are under 100. So instead of being second-rate, those smaller church worship leaders actually represent the norm or largest majority of churches nationwide.

Small church worship leaders are often like Angus MacGyver, the secret agent in an action-adventure television series in the ‘80s. MacGyver was able to find clever solutions and solve complex problems with whatever he had on hand. If he wanted to survive each week, he created something unbelievable with what was available.

Worship leaders in smaller churches have realized that loving God and their neighbors is never contingent on congregational size, resources or abilities. And they are usually accomplishing successful worship ministry every week while holding down a full-time job outside the church. So instead of large church wannabes, they are worship leading heroes and models for ministry success who daily respond to God’s call to use what they have where they are.

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Oct 31 2017

Signs Your Worship Is Out of Tune

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tuning forkA tuning fork is a u-shaped acoustic resonator made from an elastic metal. Its tines vibrate at a constant pitch by striking them against a hard surface. Once struck, a tuning fork emits a pure musical tone that is used as a standard to tune a variety of instruments.

A standard is defined as a conspicuous object such as a flag, banner or emblem used to mark a rallying point in battle. It is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. And it is something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, value or quality.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.”[1] So what is the standard to which your worship is tuned?

Your worship is out of tune…
  • If what’s in it for me is your standard.
  • If coat and tie or untucked shirt and jeans is your standard.
  • If hymns or modern worship songs is your standard.
  • If the habits, methods, styles and practices of another congregation or artist is your standard.
  • If musical excellence alone is your standard.
  • If worship band, orchestra, choir or worship team is your standard.
  • If when and where you worship is your standard.
  • If fixed or free liturgy is your standard.
  • If the creativity of novelty or the comfort of nostalgia is your standard.

But if your standard is instead who, why and in what power we worship…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then your worship will always be perfectly tuned.[2]

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

 

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Vancouver, BC: Eremitical Press, 2009), 90.

[2] Ibid.

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Oct 23 2017

10 Powerful N.T. Wright Worship Quotes

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N.T. Wright

 

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

 

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

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Oct 4 2017

Songs When We Can’t Find the Words

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despairWhen we can’t possibly find the words, we are reminded that a text has been prepared for us. When disaster threatens to consume us, the psalmist has written words to express our deepest despair. When our hymns and songs fall short with clichéd platitudes, those songs framed in biblical text communicate for us.

So when we are 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 words of the Psalms.[1] When we ignore these emotions, we are communicating two messages: you must not feel that way, or you must not feel that way here.[2]

If authenticity is a goal of our worship, then we must honestly and publicly admit we don’t get it. We must honestly and publicly admit our hopelessness. We must honestly and publicly admit events can shake our faith. We must honestly and publicly admit that a façade of superficiality is disingenuous. We must honestly and publicly admit that not honestly and publicly admitting those feelings is dishonest. And we must honestly and publicly admit that God expects this language and is not threatened by it.

Martha Freeman writes, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us. There is comfort in those tears. They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[3]

 

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

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

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

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Oct 2 2017

Worship As A One-Sided Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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