Sep 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 16 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 14 2020

Worship Experience…An Oxymoron

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released tomorrow, September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Marketing is an intentional process of identifying who the consumer is, determining the wants and needs of that consumer, and offering a product that satisfies those wants and needs in order to secure their loyalty.

Marketers have realized that consumers no longer just want to buy a product; they also want to buy an experience with that product. In fact, sometimes the experience is much better than the product. Think about some of those pizza arcades where you celebrated your children’s birthday. Fortunately the experience was memorable; the pizza certainly wasn’t. Instead of just purchasing a cup of coffee, many of us also now want the experience of purchasing a cup of coffee. We are even willing to pay extra for the sights, sounds, and smells of that experience. It’s an added bonus to that experience when the barista knows your name.

Social media has contributed to an experiential consumerism marketing culture in which our posting experience is enhanced by the number of likes, shares, retweets, or comments. Those of us who are social media aficionados have learned how to market our posts to encourage a more favorable experience. Some of us plan and lead worship the same way.

In an effort to entice more participation, churches offer worship service preferential experiences to get consumers in the door, sometimes even at the expense of quality or honesty. These marketing headlines attract visitors with words such as traditional, contemporary, blended, friendly, family, fellowship, multisensory, relevant, modern, casual, classic, or even coffee. But when guests realize worship is something you give, not something you get, how will we encourage them to stay? If we market just by catering to experiential tastes, what will we offer when their tastes change?

We can experience a fine meal. We can experience a baseball game, concert, or amusement park. An experience is an event or occurrence. We even call what we do on Sunday a worship experience. But an experience is something that is done to us or for us. Worship is something we do.

We don’t experience worship . . . we experience God. Our response to that experience is worship. We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service, but the experience or encounter is not worship, our response is. A worship service built on an experience alone is incomplete if it never allows us an opportunity to respond.

Depending on worship as an experience can cause us to be satisfied with the sensations elicited by that experience. Consequently, we might select and sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of the experience and then never move beyond that experience to worship. Again, as with social media posts, there is a danger that we might select our songs and sermons in response to positive, negative, or no feedback. And if those songs and sermons don’t create and re-create that same experience each week, we can leave a worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we offer creative worship opportunities without our services deteriorating into experiential consumerism?
  • What is the difference between experiencing worship and experiencing God?
  • How can we demonstrate to our congregation the difference between God’s revelation and our response?
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Sep 9 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 2 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 31 2020

Bandwagon Effect

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released in a couple of weeks on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available now for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

During the nineteenth 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.[1]

The idiom “jumping on the bandwagon” suggests following the crowd for the excitement of the event rather than any firm conviction in its direction or truthfulness. In other words, jumping on without considering all of the contexts, circumstances, or consequences. The 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.

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 online 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.

It is true that congregations often need to make and should be making regular worship adjustments, including the latest songs, styles, or technological tools. But instead of always being early adopters and jumping without considering circumstances and the potential consequences, those congregations should instead be discerning and determining their worship practices by praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together, and then finally singing their song sets together.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How do we determine when and how often to try new things in our worship context?
  • What filters can we put in place to ensure we aren’t just jumping on the latest worship trend?
  • How can we determine if what is popular in other churches is appropriate for our church?
  • Is there a way for our team to consider all the circumstances or potential consequences before we actually jump into something new?

 

[1] Adapted from Michael Gearon, “Cognitive Biases—The Bandwagon Effect,” Medium, September 9, 2018, https://medium.com/@michaelgearon/cognitive-biases- social-proof-the-bandwagon-effect-42aa07781fcc.

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Aug 24 2020

Decentralized Worship

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Worship isn’t just our response to God’s revelation through the songs we sing on Sunday, it’s also our response through the rhythms and harmonies of life on Monday. So, if we learned anything through this season of scattered and regathered worship it was the necessity of focusing more on decentralizing our worship.

In business, decentralization is when the activities or actions of an organization are distributed and delegated away from a single administrative center to other locations. Decentralization grants some degree of autonomy and even authority but it also requires a high level of trust since those activities and actions are more difficult to control.

Centralized worship often relies on one or a select few to plan, prepare, and implement the worship systems of a congregation. So, decisions and processes are determined hierarchically and disseminated corporately. Most churches members and leaders found this type of worship planning and implementation much more difficult while worshiping online.

Centralization can hold a congregation captive to style, tradition, form, and structure. It has the tendency to direct, regulate, contain, moderate, and restrain. Centralized worship is indeed cleaner since it retains the power to hold things in check. But that also means it requires a gatekeeper(s).

Decentralizing worship can’t and shouldn’t take the place of a congregation gathering together to respond to God’s revelation in one voice. But if our only voice is that one hour on Sunday, then what are we doing the other 167 hours of the week?

Some church families have those moving stories of multiple generations singing and even dancing together while watching their recorded and/or streamed services throughout the week. Family worship conversations that rarely seemed to occur previously in response to centralized worship often surfaced in response to the spontaneity of decentralized worship.

When it was necessary to decentralize many congregants realized, perhaps for the first time, that the worship gate is always open. It helped them discover their worship didn’t have to be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression, or vehicle of communication. Many of those congregants also realized during this season that decentralized worship can be messy so most had to learn how to live with the mess.

Hopefully, what we learned through this season won’t be lost when things get back to normal, whatever normal will be. And hopefully, even though decentralization was not a choice during this season, we have realized worship is not just something we do on Sunday but also who we are during the week.

Centralized and decentralized worship are both biblical and necessary if we are to faithfully love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. One can’t survive without the other. So as good as our worship might have gotten in here before the shutdown, we were forced to acknowledge during the shutdown that it was incomplete until it also included how we worshiped out there.

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Aug 17 2020

Worship Cause and Effect

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released in less than a month on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available now for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Worship doesn’t invite God’s presence; it acknowledges it. God has called us out of darkness into his amazing light that we may speak of his wonderful acts (1 Pet 2:9). The Father is looking for those who worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God initiates, and we respond.

Cause and effect is a relationship in which a person, action, or thing makes another event, action, or thing occur. A cause must always precede an effect in order for that effect to occur. So the effect is then a consequence of the cause. A model for this cause-and-effect worship understanding is found in Isaiah 6:1-8. The holiness of God is revealed to the prophet Isaiah (cause), and his natural worship response is contrition (effect), “Mourn for me; I’m ruined!” (Isa 6:5). God revealed his mercy (cause), and Isaiah’s worship response is service (effect), “I’m here; send me” (Isa 6:8). So if our worship responses are the effect, then it is not possible for those worship actions to also be the cause.

What we sing or how we sing it can’t cause a response because it is the response. God’s revelation can’t be generated by the effect since the effect is a response to the cause. As good as our various worship actions are, they still can’t cause worship to occur, because those worship actions are the effect. Our worship actions may prompt, remind, exhort, prod, or encourage more effect, but they can’t cause cause. We can celebrate the cause, but we can’t create it. God causes, and we effect.

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Aug 5 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 22 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 21 2020

Better Sundays Begin on Monday: Book Excerpt

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Breaking down game film is a discipline sports teams often incorporate after each game. They review and discuss game videos in order to identify mistakes, make adjustments, consider radical changes, and highlight successes. The ultimate goal of this type of analysis is to facilitate individual and team improvements that will positively affect subsequent games.

The fundamental reason why a team needs adjustments is not always evident in the middle of the game. Breaking down or evaluating all of the important elements after a game gives coaches and players the opportunity to isolate and assess individual plays and players in a more relaxed setting, away from the time constraints and pressures of the game.

So why aren’t individual pastors, worship leaders, and even worship leading teams regularly incorporating similar evaluative practices? One of the primary reasons is that implementing an individual or collaborative process of analyzing worship services or planning for upcoming services requires a deep level of humility, trust, and shared accountability. It also requires selfless leaders who are willing to sacrifice their own ideas, preferences, and interests for the greater worshipping good of the congregation.

Initiating a similar approach to worship evaluation can be summative in that a congregation can learn from its previous worship failures and successes. But it can also be formative since it occurs during the development and conceptual worship service stages. Both outcomes will help you or your team first determine why you worship before ever considering how you worship.

Worship renewal must be determined first by standardizing worship principles before ever considering worship practices. The reality is that worship service evaluation is already occurring in the hallways, parking lots, and at lunch tables after our services. So why wouldn’t we want to preempt those conversations with an intentional evaluative process?

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Jul 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 24 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 17 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 10 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 8 2020

Singing in Regathered Worship: Want or Need?

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Want is something we desire, hope for, or wish for. Need is something essential to survive. We want to sing both congregationally and chorally in our worship services as we regather but we don’t need to sing for worship to occur. So even if we want to sing and can’t or can’t as much, we still need to find other ways to worship. 

Singing is an expression given to us so that we might offer it as a gift to God in worship but it certainly isn’t the only expression. So considering additional worship responses could alleviate the pressure on singing to serve as the primary driver of regathered worship.

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

Because of limited space and congregational demographics, however, some churches will determine it is best not to sing chorally or maybe even congregationally for a while. Worship leaders in those churches will, consequently, have to educate, reeducate, enlighten, and exhort their congregations that worship without singing doesn’t have to be inferior, it just has to be different. 

Robin M. Jensen said, too often other worship expressions are perceived as a kind of extra offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate them or want to be involved in them, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.[2] So when introducing those new worship expressions beyond singing, leaders will need to take risks through Holy Spirit inspired entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation. They’ll need to become worship artisans instead of assembly line workers.

If your church can’t sing or can’t sing as much for a season, then consider expanding some of these responses: Scripture, prayer, drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, sound, lighting, staging and props, and many others.

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

 

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

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

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

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Jun 3 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 1 2020

How Can Social Distanced Worship Be Good?

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Even before the COVID-19 physical shutdown of gathered worship services, congregations were constantly trying to discover and create good worship. So, they expanded their song catalogs and adjusted their presentation methods in an effort to find a formula to help them accomplish that goal. Some just bypassed the heavy lifting altogether by imitating the worship practices of other congregations and called it good.

But as congregations are starting to regather with new limitation guidelines, those conversation of “what is good worship” in this new reality have radically changed. Social distancing, masks while singing, a smaller critical mass of gathered congregants, and the potential absence of choral and instrumental music has moved the conversation way beyond song catalogs and presentation methods.

If we begin with Scripture, however, to figure out what good worship is we are always returned to those worship principles that should be framing our worship practices. The principles haven’t changed even when our practices have. So as long as we begin with those principles, then our distanced, masked, and choirless worship practices can still be considered good.

Scripture speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t good on several occasions. The book of Isaiah outlined worship God doesn’t like when the author wrote, “The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service, yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me” (Isa. 29:13).

Amos criticized worship that is ego driven when he wrote, “I hate, I despise, your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

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, “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).

Discovering good worship in this new reality means we will have 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. It’s going to be a new and different process than we have been used to and it will require us all to be stimulated by God’s grace and imagination.[1]

So what we once considered good worship may no longer be feasible for a season as our congregations gather again. But just because it is no longer the same doesn’t necessarily mean it can no longer be good.

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Books, 2007), 170-71.

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May 27 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 20 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 18 2020

Regathered Worship: Laying Down Self

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Most churches are trying to figure out how to safely gather in person again after a couple of months of online services. Leaders and congregants are realizing how they gather, how many they gather with and what they offer as they gather won’t look the same as it did before. What they will also soon realize is that everyone will be asked to sacrifice something if this new normal is to succeed.

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

Worship that costs us something will require sacrifice or the willingness to surrender for the sake of something or someone else. Sacrifice is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. A bunt in baseball is designated as a sacrifice for the purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt. What an interesting word picture for the church as it regathers in this season of uncertainty.

Laying down our selfishness and sacrificially offering our bodies as a spiritual act of worship may cost us wearing a mask during gathered worship even though we think it is unnecessary. Sacrificial worship means we are willing to do so because we love those with whom we worship more than we love our own convenience.

The cost of laying down our selfishness may also mean that because of our age or compromised health we will continue to watch the services from home so that the gathering guidelines for others won’t need to be quite as stringent. Sacrificial worship means we are willing to do so because we love those with whom we worship more than we love our own convenience. How we worship may have to change as our churches regather, but whom we worship never will.

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

This divine encounter with Jesus inspired her to sacrifice the self-serving agenda that originally brought her to that place. She left her water pot and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done” (v. 28-29). Gathering together again will also require the same of us. Mitch Albom wrote, “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”[2]

 

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

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

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May 6 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 4 2020

5 Unintended Consequences of Worshiping from Home

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Unintended consequences can be positive or negative outcomes in response to unforeseen or unplanned events or experiences. We certainly didn’t choose this season of worshiping from home. But most of us have unintentionally learned some valuable lessons that should influence how we do gathered worship on the other side of this crisis. Here are five unintended consequences of worship from home:

  • Sermons are shorter, yet more profound

Most pastors have realized that attention spans online are much shorter so they have intentionally left more of their sermon notes on the cutting room floor. What they have discovered is that a succinct, refined, and consolidated message offers their congregations less information to synthesize but more spiritual truths that can actually be internalized. Preparing and presenting messages with an economy of words is a practice that should continue since attention spans are probably not that much longer in person.

  • Worship is simpler and less contrived

Most worship leaders have realized when trying to program a remote worship service that less is always more. Before this season of dispersed worship, it seemed like many of us had fallen into the unhealthy habit of trying to surpass the creativity of the previous week. So, we over innovated, over stimulated, and over imitated. Hopefully we’ve learned how unnecessary and unhealthy that practice can be and we’ll spend more of our time in the future focusing on the creator rather than on our own creativity.

  • Intergenerational worship is foundational instead of optional

Many of us have looked for ways but have often found it difficult to encourage our congregations to move away from worship services separated by generations. And even though intergenerational togetherness was forced during this season, we figured out how to do it because everyone cared more about protecting their families than protecting their preferences. We certainly shouldn’t waste what we learned in this time as everyone was willing to sacrifice some for the good of all. So how can we leverage that deference for continuing intergenerational worship when we again have the opportunity to gather?

  • Off-limits music programs are now on the table

Some of those music ministry programs we thought we couldn’t possibly live without, we could. So instead of thinking about when we might start them back up, we should be asking if we should. This season has forced us to initiate music and worship ministry audits that we should have already been implementing regularly anyway. So maybe before firing up all those music ministry programs again, we should first ask if they are going to help us fulfill our mission. If they aren’t, then why would we do them?

  • Church size isn’t determining worship quality

The quality of worship should never be determined by the quantity of worship leaders and worshipers. But that hasn’t stopped those previous comparisons of bigger being better because larger churches have more resources, personnel, and talent. During this season, however, the perceptual playing field has been leveled as all churches were limited to the same number of worship leaders, the same resources for technology, and the same platforms for streaming. Hopefully this online leveling will continue to remind us when we gather again that a comparison according to size is always unhealthy. Every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are with what they have. The commitment to that calling instead of comparison is what sets the bar for worship quality.

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Apr 22 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 20 2020

Worship in the Meantime

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The meantime we now find ourselves in can certainly be a season of doubt, fear and instability. But it can also be a time of hope, expectation and unity. Most of us have realized that gathered worship on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis probably won’t look the same as it did before the crisis. But what comes next could be a time of worship renewal if we embrace this meantime season as developmental rather than wasted time. This time will have been squandered, however, if we reject it solely because it isn’t taking us in the same direction we were going before.

Meantime is the interim period between two events. It is an intermediate time while waiting for something else to happen. Victor Turner referred to the meantime as a separation from what was known to a transitional, in-between or liminal stage.[1] Liminal originated from the Latin word, limins, meaning threshold.[2]

In his book on worship transformation, Timothy Carson wrote, liminal reality is the time that has broken with a previous structure, whatever that structure may have been. And precisely because it is positioned between the previous structure and the unknown structure that is coming, it holds power for future transformation.[3]

Turner referred to a special camaraderie of communitas that can develop among those sharing a meantime season.[4] The spirit expressed in this Latin noun is the harmony within a community based on its common purpose and even shared uncertainty. Encouraging this spirit of communitas in the meantime of dispersed worship allows us to share in a community of the in-between. So even though we are worshiping in the uncertainty, we are worshiping in the uncertainty together.

Paul wrote the church at Philippi from the meantime of house arrest. He fondly remembered the partnership previously experienced with that church. But even though their circumstances were no longer and never would be the same, he was confident that the God who started their previous ministry together would also complete it in the new reality in which they found themselves.

Trying to figure out how to worship corporately while separated physically has required biblical understanding, prayer, sensitivity, discernment and even sacrifice. And we obviously don’t want to miss preparing for what healthy worship might look like when we reach the other side. But it is also essential that we don’t spend so much time lamenting what we no longer have or dreaming about what we could have that we miss transformational worship opportunities in the meantime. The journey is no less worshipful than the destination.

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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

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

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Apr 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 13 2020

Was Easter Sunday a Waste of Time?

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The Easter Acclamation, “He is risen,” “He is risen indeed” was not only true as we celebrated Easter yesterday, it is also true as we work online from home today. The celebration of Easter is not just a one-day event, it is a daily remembrance of who we are in the risen Christ. As Christ followers we are Easter people so instead of immediately pivoting to the next sermon series or Sunday service calendar emphasis, shouldn’t our celebration of the resurrection continue?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day annual event. Celebrating the Paschal mystery was not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but also to remember that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that our Savior promised to return again.

Because of their great joy, early Christians began the celebration and remembrance with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost. Revisiting the mystery and expanding the understanding of the resurrection could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this celebration of redemption, sanctification, salvation and victory can’t be limited to a single day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the sacred time of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and other dates of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern for rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy or a fear of appearing too “Catholic.”

Some worship leaders and worshipers believe that spending too much time in those extended seasonal celebrations of the Church can promote sameness. But Timothy Carson wrote, “Exactly the opposite may be true. Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it. Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”[1]

Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they are at the same time affirming annual observances of cultural and denominational days whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2] And isn’t it ironic that in the development of those denominational and cultural calendars we have in fact created our own liturgies in our efforts to be non-liturgical?

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church. So isn’t it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?

Why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost? For this shift to occur, however, we must understand the significance of expanding our Easter remembrances. Laurence Hull Stookey wrote, “The explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[3]

Extending our Easter recognition is based on a deeper understanding of the calendar as an ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship. The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past Church and unifies Christians of the present Church in a continuous ecumenical relationship.

Observing Easter for fifty days could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4] Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]

Expanding your observance of Easter and celebrating other aspects of the Christian year might be a stretch for your congregation. But please make those decisions about this sacred time from a deeper biblical, theological and historical foundation instead of solely on the traditionalism of what your individual congregation or denomination has done in the past.

 


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

[2] Ibid., 56.

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

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

[5] Ibid.

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Apr 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 1 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 25 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 23 2020

Gathered Worship: A Hard Habit to Break

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For many of us gathered worship has always been a pretty comfortable habit. And even though that habit has sometimes stretched us stylistically through the years, it has rarely stretched us physically…until now.

A habit is a recurrent, often unconscious behavioral pattern acquired through repetition. It is something we do or have done so often that we are able to perform it without having to think about it.

We all have those daily activities or behaviors that we no longer have to think about in order to participate in or accomplish such as brushing our teeth, tying our shoes or even driving to work. Habits such as these have become so routine that they no longer require our emotions to accomplish them.

For some, gathering for Sunday worship had become one of those habits. But the safeguards put in place this last week to protect us from COVID-19 obviously derailed that habit.

Gathering for Sunday worship seemed like a good habit to develop since we are called to worship continuously in spirit and truth. The sticking point, however, is the second part of the definition that a habit is often an unconscious behavioral pattern.

Going to worship, being a worshiper or participating in worship are all good habits to develop. But since the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies are new every morning, our responses to that love and mercy must also be new every morning.

So maybe one of the many lessons we’ll need to learn during this season of dispersed worship is how to break that pattern of unconsciously gathering for worship. Then when we are actually able to gather again physically we’ll better engage with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

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Mar 4 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 26 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 24 2020

How Can I Keep from Singing?

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Although worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music, it is evident from scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19; Col 3:15-17). One of my former seminary professors once joked, “People who don’t sing should be sent to Sing-Sing until they do sing.”

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

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). So if the Father is singing over me, then how can I keep from singing?

When I can’t find adequate words to express my responses to God’s revelation, Jesus as my worship liturgist sings with me (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on my behalf. So if Jesus is singing with me, then how can I keep from singing?

John Wesley was a theologian, evangelist and leader of the revivalist movement known as Methodism. He said this about singing, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he comes in the clouds of heaven.”

With biblical and practical instructions such as these, I should be joining in full-throated singing no matter how well or poorly I’m able to sing. Then my voice will be united with the voices of others in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament and response. When that corporate singing occurs our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that they can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12). So how can I keep from Singing?

 

How Can I Keep from Singing

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] This hymn is Public Domain and was written by American Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry.

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Feb 19 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 17 2020

Things Our Worship Pastors Wish We Knew

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Most of us are aware of the investment our worship pastor makes in our own life. What we don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy it takes to invest in the same way with the entire population of our congregation.

So here are a few things we might not know about worship pastors that they probably wish we did. The list is not an exhaustive one but hopefully gives us a glimpse into the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual demands required to serve as a worship pastor.

They have a hard time getting out of town

Most churches generously offer their worship pastors time away for vacation, sick leave and conferences. But what we don’t realize is the amount of preparation required for them to actually leave town.

Worship pastors not only have to secure substitutes for all rehearsals and services, they also have to prepare all choral music, band charts, orchestra parts, sound instructions, lighting cues, projection needs, orders of service and printed worship guides before they can be absent. Then they have to communicate and rehearse all of those details with the various proxies they’ve enlisted so worship doesn’t miss a beat while they are gone. In reality, they have to do all of the work they would do if they were still in town before they can ever leave town. So it’s almost easier not to go.

They are sometimes out of gas

We depend on our worship pastors to teach and admonish us with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They are often our counselors, mentors, leaders, friends and spiritual advisors. When our families are in crisis we look to them to referee, repair and reclaim. And yet at the same time we also expect them to challenge and encourage us with stellar worship every Sunday.

Sometimes they are just flat worn out. So how can we expect them to continue to lead us where they may no longer have the fuel in the tank to go themselves? Phillip Yancey wrote, “I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastors spiritual health, not the pastors efficiency our number one priority?”

They face the same struggles we do

Serving as a worship pastor doesn’t automatically mean immunity from the personal struggles of life such as depression, anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, rebellious children and financial strain. So with all of those personal and professional stressors, how can we not expect that pain to eventually take the same toll on them as it has on many of us?

Worship pastors know that a culture of expendability is often just as prevalent in church life as it is in the business world. So, to keep from losing their ministry positions, save face with their congregation or protect the financial security of their family, worship pastors often bear a heavy burden to fake it and perform even when they don’t feel like it.

Our worship leaders are called to our churches to serve God and us. So does it seem right and healthy that the functional reality is that no one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than our spiritual leaders do?[1] If we as a church aren’t stewarding those leaders God has entrusted to us, then who will?

 

[1] Adapted from Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 11-12.

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Feb 5 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 29 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 6 2020

The Theology of Hymns Versus Modern Worship Songs

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Theology is those truths that are taught by God, truths that teach us of God, and truths that lead us to God. Our congregations sing that theology every week in a variety of languages, contexts, cultures, and styles.

So we should choose songs that helps us sing that theology by asking 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]

Those deeper foundational questions, though,  often take a back seat to our first asking how those songs make us feel. When we base our selections on feelings alone, then our emotional connection to a favorite genre arbitrarily sets the standard for the theological value of all genres. Consequently, we then automatically label all those other genres beyond our favorite as theologically sub-standard.

Hymns or modern worship songs are not innately more theological just because we have an emotional attachment to one or the other. Modern worship songs are not more theological because they sound better with a band and multitracks. And hymns are not more theological because we can recall their texts and tunes or sing them in four-part harmony. Both hymns and modern songs can be and are theological as long as they reflect and respond to biblical text; connect the word of God to the people of God; help us sing the gospel; can be sung with doctrinal integrity; and encourage us to be doers and not just hearers.

It is indeed true that our hearts can often be stirred or softened individually through one favorite genre of worship songs over another. Those favorites can cause us to remember significant events or spiritual seasons. And those connections seem to help us better form and frame a deeper understanding of who God is.

But we must be careful never to assume that the musical and emotional connection that solidifies a deeper theological understanding for us is the only tenable musical and emotional option that can possibly solidify a deeper theological understanding for all.

The theology in our hymns or modern worship songs isn’t mutually exclusive. So instead of propping up one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune as worship allies instead of adversaries. 

 

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

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Dec 16 2019

Hymn Lines: 75 Devotional Thoughts by R.G. Huff

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If you are still looking for a unique Christmas gift for your family, small group or worship and music leaders let me recommend a new book written by my friend, R.G. Huff. As a prolific hymn writer and lyricist, R.G. has created a devotional book using hymn lines from some of the great hymns of various denominations.

Hymn Lines: 75 Devotional Thoughts Based on Lines and Phrases from Great Hymns and Songs of the Christian Faith is a compilation of thoughts, personal stories and musings from R.G.’s blog: hymnlines.blogspot.com. After five years of posting over 500 hymn line devotionals, R.G. has selected 75 of those unique postings for his book that is now available on amazon by clicking the following link: Hymn Lines: 75 Devotional Thoughts. You can also order Hymn Lines on R.G.’s website: worshiprx.com where he will even sign personal copies for you.

The featured hymn selections range from the very familiar to the more obscure. The foundation for each devotional is a line or phrase that when lifted from the larger poem seems to speak for itself. Each of these texts provides a devotional thought especially appropriate for those who love the theological depth of those great hymns of our Christian faith.

I have my copy and would encourage each of you to get yours too. And as we recall some old hymn lines and learn some new ones let’s remember the exhortation of Paul that the words of Christ would dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish each other through those psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).

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Dec 11 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 2 2019

An Argument for Punctuation in Projected Song Lyrics

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Adding punctuation to our projected text offers road signs and symbols that help frame the rhythm, flow, and phrasing of the story or poem we are singing. Most of us learned and have followed these non-verbal cues since elementary school.

A comma can tell singers where to pause for emphasis, but also indicates when a statement or question is not yet complete. A period shows singers when a verse, chorus, or phrase has ended. Additional punctuation helps singers emphasize or deemphasize certain words that might elevate or minimize theological implications. Singers might miss some of those spiritual emphases without those markers. Consequently, how would they know if what they are singing is asking a theological question or answering a doctrinal statement?

Since many of us will be singing Advent and Christmas Carols in the coming weeks you’ll see below a couple of examples of how adding or deleting punctuation can change the theological understanding of familiar carols:

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh

Come peasant king to own Him

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own Him;

Without punctuation we are left confused with the peasant king oxymoron. With punctuation we understand that Christ is available to all, including peasants and kings.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Rest you merry was a Shakespearean idiom that expressed good cheer or peace. Without punctuation it appears that the gentlemen are already merry. But with the appropriate punctuation the plea is actually for God to bring the gentlemen peace so that nothing will dismay them.

The argument that many of our songs are poetry, and consequently shouldn’t be expected to follow the same strict punctuation guidelines as prose is a valid one. But poetry doesn’t usually eliminate punctuation altogether, it instead uses it artistically to highlight the text.

Some worship leaders might be able to direct us vocally and instrumentally when those road signs are missing, but not all possess those abilities. And if we are truly trying to lead our congregations into participative instead of passive worship, then wouldn’t it make sense for leaders not to do for congregants what they already learned to do for themselves at a young age?

It is certainly easier not to add punctuation when we are preparing song slides for our worship services. But is ease what we are called to when we’re trying to encourage our congregants to leave with those texts and tunes in their hearts and on their lips for continuous worship. Punctuation can help them take those formative lyrics home with biblical and theological accuracy.

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Nov 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 25 2019

Are You Called to Lead Worship?

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What is compelling you to be a worship leader? Are you leading because you love to play and sing; because it is a great way to supplement your income or provide for your family; because of the notoriety of being on the platform; because you have a music degree but don’t want to teach school; or because you don’t really know how to do anything else? If these are reasons why you are leading worship, then it’s possible your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

God’s call gives us a task that is more than a role. It involves our entire being, not just our musical talent in service to the Lord. So it is a call to being as well as doing.[1] None of us alone in our own talent can claim to possess such commitment to God and compassion to men; such knowledge of faith and the ability to impart it through our worship leading; such maturity in godliness and wisdom in guiding others. Only Jesus gives that Spirit in full measure to those who are called.[2]

We don’t even have a call to worship leadership that was not first a call to Christ.[3] Worship leadership is not given to us for our talent to be elevated. Our talent is given to us for our worship to be elevated.

Convenience may fit well with a person’s plans or abilities. It is comfortable and readily accessible. And it is suitable and favorable to one’s own needs so it can often be accomplished without divine assistance. Convenience is a vocation or occupation in the mean time.

Calling, on the other hand, is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. It is a strong inner impulse prompted by a divine conviction that often requires sacrifice. Calling is a ministry or mission for a lifetime. Consequently, it’s not always convenient.

So again, what is compelling you to be a worship leader? Convenience responds to that question with, “This is what I was trained to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.”

 

[1] Edmund P. Clowney, Called to the Ministry (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1976), 10.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid., 5.

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Nov 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 18 2019

10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

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10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

  • They can’t cause or cure our church conflicts.
  • They can’t grow or kill our church.
  • They can’t be contained in one genre or style.
  • They can’t begin or end our worship.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service Scripture.
  • They can’t cause us to worship.
  • They can’t prop up our bad theology.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service prayer.
  • They can’t usher us into the presence of God.
  • They can’t be our only act of worship.
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Nov 11 2019

Music May Be Killing Intergenerational Worship

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multigenerational

How can congregations expect to have healthy intergenerational worship on Sunday when they segregate by age in all of their other ministries throughout the week? Then the only time various generations connect is during an hour on Sunday around songs one generation or the other doesn’t particularly like. So if they are depending on the music of that one-hour as the solitary driver of intergenerational worship, then it can’t help but get the solitary blame when conflict arises.

What if, instead, all generations made an attempt to connect first by learning to love, respect and defer to each other outside of the worship service? Couldn’t those relationships that develop outside of our services then positively impact the relationships inside those services as well?

A healthy integration of the generations may not occur in worship until leaders are willing to lead dispersed intergenerational worship before attempting to lead gathered intergenerational worship. Here are some suggestions:

  • Lead them to pray for and with each other. Praying for and with each other is not just praying for another generation to change its mind. Praying for and with each other requires communication, vulnerability, honesty, trust, brokenness and selflessness.
  • Lead them to read Scripture to and with each other. Scripture must be the foundation of intergenerational worship. Nothing softens the heart of a grandparent more than to hear his/her grandchild read the word of God.
  • Lead them to share ministry together. Shared ministry requires sacrifice, humility and an investment of time and trust. Serving others together encourages and generates unity that our music sometimes can’t.
  • Lead them to play together. Those relationships exemplified by the Acts 2 church of spending time together, having everything in common, breaking bread in their homes and eating together with glad and sincere hearts is often a foreign relationship beyond our own generation.
  • Lead them to the Table together. We keep trying to manufacture unity that is already available at the Lord’s Supper Table. Communion is waiting for all generations there.
  • Lead them to sing together. If unity is the basis of intergenerational worship during the week, then unity will yield intergenerational worship on Sunday. When that occurs, how can we keep from singing our various songs together?

Maybe before we try to unify our worship musically…
we should first try to unify our generations relationally.

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Nov 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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