Archive for October 2009

Reminders in Worship

October 27, 2009

Stained GlassReminders are a necessity of life.  Throughout my adult life I have become gradually more sophisticated with my system of reminders.  At one time (long ago and far away) I thought I could keep everything in my head.  I suppose I could, just not for very long.  I began to use lists and written notes to remind myself of items that needed attention and even appointments I needed to keep.  I distinctly remember my first sophisticated system of reminders, which for me was the famed “Daytimer” system.  I recall getting my first box from Daytimers, Inc. in the mail, which contained packages of little booklets, one for each month of the year.  It was exciting in a way.  I used that system for many years, actually until I finally converted to an electronic system called a “PDA,” a personal digital assistant.  In recent years I have converted to the so called, “smartphone.”  Truth is the phone may be smart, but I do not feel very smart trying to operate it, though it does help to keep me reminded of appointments, tasks, and contact information that I need – when I can remember how to operate it, that is.  To stay “in the game” of my life I still have to add other helps like my computers (work & home), post-it notes, voicemail I leave for myself, and requests from Charlotte, my ministry assistant, and Ebbie, my life partner.  In other words, I need lots of reminders just to keep living my life and fulfilling responsibilities.  Sometimes all I need is to see one of these helpers, and I am reminded by their presence of something I need to do.

As worship leaders and as worshipers we need reminders.  Some of the best sermons I have heard, some of the best books and articles I have read, some of the best conferences I have attended were not really new information for me.  They were reminders.  We need reminders to help keep us busy about the right things.  We need reminders to help maintain our focus on what is important.  I had a discussion with one of our worship leaders yesterday about the sad fact of having to remind people over and again of their responsibility in church.  We talked about the way we can find ourselves actually begging for participation.  He quickly noted, “you (meaning me, Paul) experience this kind of pleading with us (meaning music ministers) trying to get participation in state music activities.  Often true, but I won’t go there right now.  We both agreed that it feels very wrong to have a sense that you are begging people to fulfill their commitment.  It feels wrong to be begging someone to exercise their God-given gift that they do not deserve to offer God, the loving gift-giver, the praise He completely deserves.

Corporate worship includes this reminding component as an important part of its exercise.  We are rehearsing God’s story.  All elements of worship help to remind us.  Our hymns even remind us of our joy in re-telling and re-hearing the story.

            “I love to tell the story;

            For those who know it best

            Seem hungering and thirsting

            To hear it like the rest:”

                                    (Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911)

As worship prompters you and I need to be certain that we are reminding worshipers of our position in relation to the Triune God.  As basic as it is to our faith, we need to be reminded that God is Creator, Sustainer, Comforter, Friend; that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not out thoughts, yet God in Christ is closer than a brother.  We need to be reminded of His wrath, His mercy, His grace, and our life of worship offered as “living sacrifices” in response to all He is.  Worship works these reminders. 

Many of us talk a lot about how worship is “not about us, but all about God.”  Saying such things, and even attempting to conjure up romantic kinds of expressions toward Jesus is one thing, but laying our lives on the altar in a way that brings glory to Him through the people we become is quite another.  It may inspire me to feel close to Christ when I look on Him, but it seems more important that I display Him.  Graham Kendrick’s modern hymn says it well, paraphrasing 2 Cor 3:18:

            “As we gaze on your kingly brightness

            So our faces display Your likeness,

            Ever changing from glory to glory

            Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story;”

                                    (Graham Kendrick 1950-  )

Have we spent our time and energy reminding people of what is happening in our organization that we call the church, (a focus that is on us) that we have sacrificed the greater reminders on the acts of God in our world and lives?  Are we spending much time getting the media presentation ready to entice people to come to something else (the not yet) that we are missing the celebration of joining God’s presence and our fellowship of faith in the present (right now)?  Do our symbols in our worship space speak of our own comfort (soft chairs, convenient song lyric presentations, theatrical lighting, chic color designs) more than of God’s acts (creation, atonement, provision, return)?

Perhaps rather than begging our people to do what we all know they should, we need to be more faithful to remind them of God’s story, His terms of worship, His provisions for meaningful relationship with Him, and the demands of remaining in good standing with one another as members of His body.  Our emotions will respond differently to reminders at different times.  There are times when a reminder may irritate us.  Our response may be, “oh, I know that already.”  We may even be irritated at the time it takes to hear a reminder that has been oft-repeated.  On the other hand, there may be a reminder that stokes our proverbial fire.  We may find our soul crying out in agreement with the most basic of creedal statements that make us one in Christ.  Is this not the essence of a heartfelt “Amen!”  The Sunday after September 11, 2001, there seemed to be much affirmation for the most basic of Christian truth as we stared Satan’s lies in the face and reaffirmed our battle cry to be one in the Spirit.  Our God was God!  Creator of heaven and earth!  One in three persons!  Lord of all nations!  Jesus was the Name at which every knee would bow and every tongue confess!  Hmmm.hadn’t we said those things thousands of times before?  The reminders were full of fire that day.  So, what of the day in which we live now?  Is Satan’s lie any less untrue or destructive?  Need there be less passion in your song?  Is your song made new by the freshness of your connection to the old, old story, or are your people bored because you have no new ear candy with which to fatten their emotionally starved lives this Sunday?  Perhaps our “Great Commission Resurgence” efforts would be enlivened by vibrant reminders that when our Lord gave us the instruction to “go and make disciples” He promised to be with us always, even to the end of the earth.  Perhaps we need reminders that our Lord instructed the disciples to wait on the promised one who would “clothe them in power from on high.”  What’s more, He then ascended into heaven, to the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:50-51). As Dr. Phyllis Tickle reminded my graduating class, “we are people of the Resurrection, yes, but let us not forget we are also people of the Ascension!”

Early days of Baptist worship included readings of confessions and what would probably be termed by us to be creeds as a part of weekly worship in many cases.  Most congregations participated in such readings at the time of monthly communion at the very least.  Such readings were reminders of the foundational beliefs that bound these people together.  They also served as reminders of a way of looking at the world, their own communities, their families, and their individual lives in relation to Christ and His Church.  Doesn’t sound like a great church growth strategy, but it did serve as a reminder of who they were, upon Whom they depended and placed their faith, and how they were mutually accountable to “walk worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus.”  Perhaps such reminders helped them to pass on their faith to such an extent that it has come to us today.

Oops.my phone just reminded me I gotta go.

Paul

Key Ministry

October 20, 2009

piano

Saturday my daughter dropped by the house (and left my grandson for me to watch) on her way to rehearse with Kim Hester, pianist at First Baptist Nashville, who was accompanying her on a solo Sunday (yesterday).  I was excited to have my “kid” going to spend a little time with Kim, who is a saint in my eyes after having worked with her for nearly two years at First Baptist Nashville.  I knew that not only would Kim help Liz musically, but that her spirit of affirmation would help build confidence for this responsibility of ministering through song in morning worship at FBC.  That spirit is expressed both in affirming words, but also through impeccable keyboard skills that support singing and help the singer to unleash their best gifts.

 

I could easily write an entire article on this one pianist, and could probably write a novel about the upbringing of a child who is gifted musically being raised in the home of a minister musician.  Instead I want to pull the lens back to a wider angle and invite you to consider with me the powerful ministry of those who accomplish the yeoman’s work of accompanying in our worship and music ministries.  I recognize that stylistic transitions may have changed the workload and/or the placement of the church pianist or organist in the mix of things musically in many situations.  This transition factor alone often speaks volumes about the servant heart of these players, some of whom have been all but forgotten after years of unselfish service.  I have certainly known many organists, for instance, who have been relegated to playing string reductions on a keyboard, after having served as the primary instrument player in their previously “traditional” church setting.  Many of these folks have made such a transition maintaining a servant spirit that allows them to discover ways of supporting the musical direction and needs of their leader and the church in which they serve.  I have known pianists who sit idly by while accompaniment is rendered by DVDs, CDs, or a worship leader who depends primarily on his own guitar playing.

 

Pianists and organists play many roles in the work of music ministry, each of which calls for its own unique flavor of supportive ministry action and attitude.  Accompanying choral rehearsals with the sensitivity to know what to play when is a special art.  A sensitive accompanist can provide invaluable aid to the music leader when certain parts need additional support finding their pitch, catching a challenging rhythm, or needing a clear entrance cue.  Of course, an insensitive accompanist can overstep boundaries and make a leader appear inadequate, or can introduce tension by not knowing when to give additional support.  Accompanists often work with soloists and ensemble singers in preparation for worship leadership and ministry, encouraging higher levels of confidence as indicated in the opening example of this article.  I cannot count all of the teen soloists who I knew had the ear and voice to solo, but remained insecure until the accompanist assured them through their playing and verbal support helped them over the hump to present effective ministry through song.  I have seen students go on to become regular soloists and music leaders themselves thanks in some degree to the support shown by an accompanist.  These behind the scene activities are crucial to developing musicians, strengthening program, and building the sense of security for the music leader in his or her own capacity.  All of this is in addition to the obvious work and ministry of the keyboard players who supply music that so often serves as the thread that keeps the flow and movement of worship connected.  I have found my own worship expression deepened often by the keyboard artistry of those with whom the Lord has blessed me to serve.  Sometimes it is the creative expression by a gifted pianist, or organist in bringing back a musical theme from a hymn sung, an anthem proclaimed, or another music message delivered that helps an entire service of worship make sense as the pieces of liturgy come together.

 

I always stand amazed at the gifts of keyboard players as I personally passed my piano proficiency exam by the proverbial skin of my teeth.  I know now that I should have practiced the piano more during teenage years when I thought I could be a football star, even though I weighed 135 pounds soaking wet and was slow (yes, I really did only weigh 135 at one time).  My amazement at the gifts of keyboard players does not end there, though, not at all.  In fact, I thank God for the rich blessing of each of those people with whom I have been privileged to work.  They have demonstrated the love of God to me over and again.  They have made me a better musician often.  They have challenged me to serve more diligently.  They have been and continue to be some of my dearest friends.  They are persons for whom I have deep respect and admiration, not only for their gifts, but for their commitment to ministering through the work of their fingers and the sensitivity of their heart offered to their God in the service of His children, and the proclamation of His love.

Disconnected Prayers in Public Worship

October 13, 2009

“Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

“And now, let us pray.”
What? What do you mean “now let us pray?” We just finished praying. Who were we singing to in that song? Was that song not a prayer of gratitude and thankfulness for the Lord’s faithful meeting of our every need?

Far too often prayers prayed in public worship are either obligatory components of longstanding tradition, or are coagulators to move from one song to another. I once worked with a pastor who asked to “put a prayer right there, we’ll need a mood change by then.” Ouch! “Hey God, we are coming to you right now in order to change the mood to set up this next cool song.” Surely this is not a motivation pleasing to our Lord.

No wonder our people disconnect from what is happening in public worship when we sing our songs and pray our prayers. To some of you this may seem picky, but if we are to help our people worship through every aspect of our public gathering, it seems that they need to understand the engagement of those aspects. We have all had endless discussions about what songs people do and do not “like” (a meaningless plumbline for Christian worship). We need more discussion on what we are to mean in those songs, to whom they are directed, and to what purpose we sing them.

The same is true of public praying. In fact, the Apostle Paul addresses praying and singing in the same manner when he states, “I will pray with my mind, but I will also pray with my spirit. I will sing with my mind, but I will also sing with my spirit.” (1 Cor 14:15) As worship planners we need a comprehensive sense of what is happening as we make our way through the corporate expressions of worship and praise. This certainly includes the words and attitudes expressed by those who lead in prayer. Notice the term is “lead” in prayer. The person praying in corporate expression is in the lead role in that moment. Leading prayer means guiding the prayer for all present, who are to pray in concert with the leader.

How well do you prepare those who are called upon to lead prayer in your corporate services? Whether the prayer is being led by your pastor, a deacon or other church leader, or you, there is a need to be informed of the placement of the prayer one is called upon to lead within the total shape of the worship. Very often a public prayer that is disconnected from the flow of worship serves to unplug worshipers from any sense of ongoing correlation of worship elements. Such issues are non-issues in prescribed liturgies where prayers are written and read, and shape is given in printed form such that worshipers can see both the form and the actual verbiage to use. The issues in those churches that use prescribed liturgies more likely have to do with engagement beyond the printed page, and contextualizing the set forms such that worship addresses present day life and circumstance. Such worship is often accused of serving the form or prescription itself. Most of us Baptists resist such written prescriptions. Advanced notice and intent information, however, could aid all public prayer leaders in our churches to gain confidence and display depth in their worship leading responsibility.

I highly recommend that you, worship leader, test this premise by deepening your own preparation for prayer leading during the worship music time. The best place to start is with the Bible. The Psalms are prayers of public worship. Even psalms of private lament have been used through Judeo-Christian history as public expression. Read the prayers of Jesus, prayers of disciples, and biblical worship instruction. There are good resources to help with meaningful worship prayers that far too often are completely absent from our worship expression in the “free church”; prayers of confession and supplication, prayers of illumination, prayers of doxology and benediction, in addition to prayer of intercession. We sometimes sing these prayer, which can be an effective means of praying them, especially if everyone knows what they are doing when that takes place. For instance, a strong prayer of illumination is voiced in the song, Speak, O Lord, as well as the classic hymn, Lord, Speak to Me that I May Speak.

One of the many resources for developing public pray-ers is a book by Hughes Oliphant Old entitled Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Eerdmans, 1995).


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