Archive for September 2009

Worship Renewal … the work of the Spirit

September 21, 2009

“Worship renewal is something that can only come through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is something for which we pray, not something we can achieve, or toward which we strive on our own.”

 If I spoke those words once I must have said them forty times over the course of the last few days during the Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend at Unity Baptist Church in Allardt.  What a precious people.  Names on church signs do not always aptly describe the people who meet in the building that the sign identifies.  I did not have to spend ten minutes inside the church house on Wednesday evening to recognize that the church sign at Unity was a sure revelation of the spirit of the congregation that met within these walls.  I could not help but think of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn 17:21)  Through the course of the following hours of the event which concluded Sunday night my heart was blessed as these loving people allowed me to participate in that sweet spirit of oneness that was Unity Baptist Church.

 Motivated by my firm conviction that worship renewal could only occur through the work of the Holy Spirit, I prayed earnestly for the Lord’s work and His timing in our experiences together during my time at the church which was not large in number, but unbounded in heart.  During the rainy drive back to middle Tennessee late last night I was faced with the faith steps that follow such ministry activity.  I had told the people of Unity that the “success” or value of these hours together would not be known until next Sunday when they re-gathered on a new Lord’s Day to sing their psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Though there were many of these sweet people who spoke words of affirmation, and invited me to “come back when you are in this part of the state,” the fact is that my immediate ministry in Allardt has been completed.  The Lord worked through our time together, and I am now trusting that He will continue to help these people to sing with head and heart in a renewed passion and understanding. 

 I have to admit that there is a strange tension that develops in me when I know I will not be present with those among whom I have ministered to observe what may be the result of that  ministry.  At least a part of the reason for such tension I believe to be the musician in me that is trained to prepare people to sing or play (through rehearsals), and then gets to guide them through the resultant musical presentation.  The work of the Spirit is obviously not like that.  A core principal of these Worship Renewal events is that they are ultimately not about music, but rather about singing our worship in a manner that is pleasing to God, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and biblically sound.  It is not like at the closing of the last service I can say, “Ok, and now let’s all sing a worship song in the Spirit.  Ready? A one, and a two, and a.”

Your work in music as ministry most likely stretches you at this same point.  Music in whatever application is an artform that is performative, and as such capable of some evaluation as to its “goodness,” whether judged by entertainment value, musicality, emotional effectiveness, or sheer volume.  It is always tempting to rely on our musical ears to determine our ministry effect.  Using such measure we might determine, “They are all singing correctly with smiles on their faces, and toes tapping, therefore it must be good.”  On the negative side we may conclude, “People do not appear to be enthusiastic or even glad in their singing, therefore the singing is of no effect.”  Noting the work of the Holy Spirit of God in and through the singing of the church is a very different assessment.  It calls upon that most difficult exercise of our spiritual selves, faith.  We may not see or hear change in musical expression in the short term.  Thank God he is longsuffering.  Singing in the Spirit, however, is precisely the need of our worship through music.

Henry Blackaby states, “How desperate is the need in our world for churches that hear and follow what the Spirit is telling them!  The world in our day wants to see God at work through His people, but unless we hear and obey in the things He assigns us (things that only God can accomplish), the world will not experience Him; they will see only ‘religion’ and be turned away.” (What the Spirit is Saying to the Churches, Multinomah Press, 2003).

            We’ll join the everylasting song

            And crown Him Lord of all!


September 16, 2009

Paul Clark FBC choir2“What is going on here?” Perhaps no question is more potent or in some ways as unanswerable in regard to the regular weekly worship of our churches. William Willimon poses this question and says of the diagnosis of worship, “If we, as pastors, could learn to diagnose and analyze people’s worship, here would be a rich resource of insight and revelation.” For the person charged with pastoral music leadership in planning and leading worship music we would posit that Willimon’s statement is to be prayerfully considered, and the initial question is to ever be a haunting friend. In relation to congregational song it would be easy to assume that if the music fills the room, then we must be engaged in vibrant worship, and that is what is “going on here.” So lost are we at times that we may have fooled ourselves as pastoral musicians into confusing decibel level, assumed mood, and/or excellence in performance precision with genuine ministry in worship through this mysterious act of faith we call congregational song. But what about the needs and pastoral concerns of individuals, the church body, the community, Church, and the world? Should not the body of Christ expressing itself in communal song in worship provide effectual ministry toward these concerns?

Are we so busy singing about our own personal supposed closeness to God that we completely ignore the world we have been called to reconcile unto God?

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood.”


September 1, 2009

I had the rich privilege Sunday of preaching at my own church.  Our pastor was on a mission trip to Kenya.  The Associate Pastor for Worship did his usual great job of planning music that undergirded the message and offered opportunity for response through singing our worship.

While preparing for this assignment I found myself praying over and again that the Lord would speak through His Word and minister to those present.  The closer I got to the hour of gathered worship the more inadequate I felt.  I became less and less confident in my grasp of the subject matter, and more and more aware of my reliance on the Holy Spirit for anything of significance to come out of this experience.  By the time the prelude for the service began I sat in the front pew praying that God would speak to someone, anyone in some way.

As the Worship Pastor led us in singing our worship my spirit was settled and I was edified through the congregation’s proclamation and praise, which underscored rich truth for the hour:

            “Jesus! What a strength in weakness!

            Let me hide myself in Him

           Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing

            He, my strength, my vict’ry wins.”

                                    (J. Wilbur Chapman – Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners)


I was singing along and recognizing God’s answer to my prayer.  He was speaking clearly TO ME.  I had prepared a sermon that deals with ways God ministers to us through congregational singing, and low and behold, here I was being ministered to as we was an answer to my prayer.  There was at least one person being ministered to in today’s worship.  Amazing! The Lord was speaking through the congregational singing to me, reminding me that I just needed to “hide myself in Him” and trust Him to be my “strength in weakness.”  


The revelation of God’s presence and work just kept coming.  Following the message, which sought to encourage congregational singing of worship, we sang the Robert Robinson hymn text to the NETTLETON tune, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and there seemed to be a marked sense of engagement in the singing.  I recognized that my view was one of external evidences, but I took heart in smiles, tears, and eye contact that I interpreted to be connection to the truth in the singing.  Amazing!  The Lord be praised!


Following the services person after person spoke and affirmed me regarding my message, but much more importantly revealed how the Lord had spoken to them by encouraging the power in their song as they participated in corporate worship singing.  I was humbled by these words and gestures of affirmation.  I was preparing to leave the sanctuary, which was empty except for two ladies who were walking my direction.  I noted that one walked a bit more feebly than the other, and a bit behind the one that approached me first, offering a firm handshake and broad smile.  She told me that the two of them were in town from Houston, TX.  They had come to Nashville for a recording project that her daughter was involved in, and drove by the church and decided they would attend Forest Hills because of its traditional structure and attractive grounds.  When they came in at 11am, they were surprised to find out a musician was preaching today (me).  She said that she brought her friend, Donna with her who had been a church pianist for 20 years.  She gestured her head toward the friend standing with her, who I then greeted with a handshake, and words of welcome.  The first lady quickly interrupted to explain to me that Donna had a stroke one year ago as did I.  In my sermon I had referenced my stroke, and gratitude for the Lord’s deliverance.  The three of us continued to chat and as Donna and I exchanged experiences big tears ran from their eyes at the same time I fought back those about to explode from mine.  We all three recognized that God had brought them there on this Lord’s Day so that Donna would be encouraged to continue her therapy, be strengthened in the patience needed to endure, and depart to continue her regimen with new vigor, which she said would now include playing piano more, even if it was only with her left hand, which still worked just fine (the right was still paralyzed).  Amazing!


God never ceases to amaze me at the ways He works in multiple directions all at once, and with such power.  Interestingly, all of these means of the Lord’s work were mentioned in the sermon material as ways He can and will work, especially through our singing.  I was the one presenting that message, and pointing out these things.  Even so, it still catches me by surprise, amazes me, and causes my spirit to soar when I realize that He has indeed been about His business in our midst.  Amazing!


 “The love of God, how rich and sure, how measureless, and strong!”  Truly Amazing!

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