Memorable or Forgettable?

A central theme in worship is remembering.  Though Baptists do not typically observe the Lord’s Supper weekly, still the spirit of the table is a part of our worship, an act that Jesus taught us to do “In remembrance of me (Him).” (1 Cor 11:24 and following)  In worship we rehearse, or remember God’s story in creation, His selection and covenant with His people, His provision of salvation in Jesus.  By the very act of gathering on the first day of the week (Sunday) we engage in remembering His resurrection.  We remember the teachings in the New Testament for the Church and remember His promise to return for His own. Our remembering in worship should never become a sterile recitation of fact, but rather provide room to respond to the revelation God has given in His Word.

A very dear friend and fine young pastor has recently accepted the call to serve as senior pastor for First Baptist Church in Jackson.  He wrote a letter to the church as his first article in the church’s newsletter in which he announced to his new church flock “The Pastoral Priority of Reminding.”  The letter is an outstanding declaration rooted in 2 Peter.  My friend, Justin, references the Apostle Peter’s words as he (Justin) lets his new church family know that he, too, will be seeking to keep them from becoming “ineffective and unfruitful.”  Justin, like Peter, informs his people that he intends to “stir them up by way of reminder.”  It is clear that his intentions are to break the Word of Life through his preaching and ministry in worship.  There is clearly a covenantal relationship implied in which Justin will “remind” the church in order that they might “remember” the truth of God’s Word, and then “recall” that truth as they live their lives in order to flesh out the Gospel in daily living.  The reminding is not just a long series of sermons where the pastor tells (reminds) the people how they should live.  The reminding includes proclamation of the Gospel itself, reminding them of “so great a salvation!” (Heb 2:3)  The promises made by this young pastor as he begins his ministry with a new flock are powerful promises made by the one who will fulfill his own calling through preaching and pastoring this people.

Brothers and sisters who plan worship orders, select and prepare music, and lead your congregations in worship through music and singing, you bear a similar calling.  The music of worship is to remind those gathered for public worship of the work of Christ, the qualities and characteristics of His followers, which are to mirror His own.  Our music, presentational and congregational, must be memorable in order to remain in the mind and heart of the believers long enough to have effect.  Much of our spiritual formation takes place through gathered worship.  In Baptist life, much of that formation happens as we sing.  We must ask ourselves whether our music and singing helps us remember, clearly and effectively lifts up Christ, and will continue to aid us to recall truth as we live our lives as Christians (Christ-like).  This really begs the question, “Is what I am selecting memorable?”  We dare not confuse that question with being gimmicky, such as would be the case with a music jingle aimed at selling cars or soap. 

One of the reasons that I default to time-tested hymns for worship is that they are just that, “time-tested.” They have survived through usage in public worship and have been reviewed time and again by those selecting music for services of worship.  In most cases songs have been filtered through a hymnal editing process that likely included a theological review, and evaluation of musical quality.  That does not mean that every hymn that is “x” number of years old is good and useful for worship, but neither does a song fresh out of the studio deserve immediate entrance to the temple simply because it is “fresh” and/or from the hottest recording artist.  I tend to wait awhile after a new song is released before I infuse it in public worship.  I need time to thoroughly evaluate a piece’s effect and consider how it might best serve the church’s worship.  If a hymn or song is something I sense the church needs as part of its memorable repertoire, then I must give them time to ingest it through a systematic approach to its introduction.

Too many churches (at the insistent of church leaders) have been dooped into adopting the culture’s value system of aesthetic relativism and comtemporaneity.  I have heard pastors and others indicate that their chief concern in finding a new worship leader was “to give us a fresh look.”  The same leaders have assumed that the trend of their churches to plateau or decline over the last thirty years have been due to their inability to change fast enough.  It is quite possible that the decline may have come due to the lack of application of theological rigor and spiritual filtering of the constant changes that have been taking place through that time period; one in which the very culture we keep imitating has become less and less influenced by the Church’s message.  I believe our artistic sensibilities have drifted right along with the rest of it, such that we have indeed “changed the scorecard” in how we assess artistic material.  We are more interested in something being “fresh” than memorable.

I was in a worship service very recently which included three songs I did not know.  Halfway through the second song I had the questioning thought come to mind, “What was the first song about?”  After the service I asked three friends if they knew the first song, which only one did.  None of us could recall anything more than a two word phrase that was repeated in the chorus; no one knew melody, word phrases, nothing.  Forgettable worship?

I admonish us all to practice our craft, including the hard work of careful evaluation of music selection, such that we might help the congregation remember.  Are we complicit in the process of impoverishing the human spirit even in our services of worship, or do we spend the time and effort needed to assure presentation of Gospel Truth in forms appropriate to the message?  Do our songs remind us how others have lived and worshiped before us who have kept the faith?  Does our music celebrate Christ as Victor over time? 

Help your congregation “join the everlasting song!”

Intended as reminder,

Paul

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Hymnals, Leading Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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