Archive for April 2012

What Is Happening in the Pews?

April 30, 2012

Throughout history corporate worship has been one of the places where spiritual victory has been claimed and celebrated.  In the revivalist eras when preaching by the likes of Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Graham set the tone for not only mass evangelism ministry, but for the worship of local church bodies, public worship was at the center of spiritual transformation in people’s lives and by extension in communities.   Reviewing the dynamic transitions in Christian faith traditions across the breadth of history, it seems impossible to miss ways that worship was a centerpiece of spiritual renewal.  In the case of most all of Protestant reformation and renewal, preaching and singing alike in small parishes and towns sought to emulate the atmosphere of the settings in which great men such as those previously mentioned preached the Word and were accompanied by notable congregational singing.  A review of their personal lives or bibliographic memoirs demonstrate times of spiritual struggle on personal levels and in some of their public ministry situations.  The same can be said for the musicians that assisted them, though I find musicians to be less inclined to share openly about such struggles for reasons I can only surmise.


In his book, Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition, author and historian James F. White notes that “people are the primary liturgical document.”  That is to say, you can tell something about the worship by observing the people who engage in the same.  I find this to be a profound truth and a cause of pastors and worship leaders along with all church leaders to take pause.  Recent research demonstrates a dramatic disconnect between pulpit and pew in many if not most churches.  If professional survey results are to be believed, convictions of the preacher are not being translated to become convictions of those to whom the sermons are being addressed.  Certainly, there are likely a myriad of reasons for such a disconnect, but as a close observer of practices in Christian worship I cannot help but wonder if worship music has not been instrumental in ushering in the cultural bent toward self-actualization that often flies in the face of biblical admonition to follow Christ.  Some essayists opine that many preachers have misrepresented gray areas of faith-practice as fundamental truth, when in reality biblical evidence is either unclear or even simply non-existent regarding those issues.  In American context such teaching certainly opens the door for parishioners to then wonder how much of any of the message is bonafide truth.  Given our cultural bent toward “have it your way,” “it’s all about you” anyway, further trouble in presenting clear, “Thus saith the Lord” seems obvious.  Confusion of that nature coupled with songs and singing that reflects self-absorptive practices are problematic at least.  One can readily observe such practices in many worship settings: lyrics that always seem to end up coming around to my worship or my experience as opposed to reflecting the person and character of the Triune God, and musical “accompaniment” that is so loud that participation by worshipers if it is taking place is covered up so as not to reveal those periods where few if any are actually engaged in worship singing.  Perhaps it is time to take stock of what is taking place among the worshipers in our pews.


As some current trends might even indicate, I wonder if our next reformation will display in the form of dramatically simplified worship in which raw talent replaces technological production, where the sound of humbled worshipers’ voices will become the predominant sonority of worship music, and preaching will place full faith in the clarity of the Word.  I cannot help but believe such a return may close the gap between pulpit and pew, and strengthen spiritual transformation in worship that relies afresh upon the Holy Spirit to be its only power source.


April 23, 2012

The most recent edition of Leadership magazine is focused on spiritual warfare.  The mix of testimonies by individuals struggling with spiritual darkness or demons and reflections by church leaders who have experienced adversarial spirits in their churches or in lives of parishioners are all reminders of the Apostle Paul’s warning,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

For those who plan and lead worship there is fresh reminder in this focus to relentlessly hold to centering worship in Jesus Christ, relying upon the Holy Spirit’s power to convey the truth of the Gospel.  I am convinced that worship, as an aspect of full-orbed discipleship and Christian formation, is central in Paul’s prescription for winning in the spiritual struggle;

 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  (Ephesians 6:13)

 Ineffective worship is too often worship that has been hijacked by selves.  Could it be that the gate of temptation has been left wide open by a well-meaning worship leader who has allowed the “I” of “Here I am to worship” to become the controlling point and interpreter of what worship even is in the first place?  Is this not the very way we may have ushered in the disparity between what God’s Word teaches and what studies say our people actually believe?  Where the Word teaches clearly, there is “…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” (Eph 4:4-6) and where Jesus announces, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) researchers tell us that those in the pews believe there are many ways to eternal life, and nearly half are given to an individually defined pluralism or universalism.  This “have it your way” theology that is rampant among church goers is especially troubling among teens at a crucial age of maturation.

The “have it your way” mentality is far too often fostered through misplaced worship focus that confuses meeting people where they are with sending messages that encourage self-absorption more than the character of God and clarity of Gospel.  I believe it is Bonhoeffer who notes Satan’s work on Adam and Eve in the garden is not to introduce atheism, but rather idolatrous religion.

I pray those of us who have opportunity to plan corporate worship including the selection of music and other materials that will guide the corporate weekly worship, will be granted the courage to faithfully make choices that return trust for the efficacy in worship to be the work of the Holy Spirit as God is revealed through His Word, His people, and testimony of His actions in the world.  The war rages on.  Let’s take care to be armed and dangerous to the enemy.

Whose Story Is This?

April 9, 2012


   Easter Sunday morning I set the alarm clock earlier than my usual Sunday, not only because I needed to get to church a little early, but also because it was Easter Sunday and I wanted to spend additional time for personal spiritual preparation in ways I will mention later.  My alarm is set to the “radio” setting so that I am awakened by a station rather than one of those obnoxious buzzers.  I currently have it set to a popular Christian station.  As often happens when I am excited I awoke ten minutes before the alarm sounded, but laid there for a moment to doze when the first voices from the radio station blurted out.  I was anticipating resurrection songs and scripture on this Easter Sunday, but instead I heard talking, first by a host, then by a cohort somewhat akin to a color commentator.  They were discussing certain spiritual disciplines they practice and were discussing the benefits to their lives, daily and longer term.  Though wide awake I hit the snooze button to see if the scripture and songs would come a little later.  I got up and started the routine of pulling out clothes for the day, etc.  Nine minutes later the alarm sounded again, and again it was voices talking, this time about family relationships.  Now curious about programming on the station, I hit the snooze two more times.  Each time the station was broadcasting talking heads and/or interviews.  No music, no scripture, and only an occasional mention of Easter.  All of the programming had moralistic value and positive direction, but I was disappointed on several levels.

One thing that came to mind through my repeated visits to the snooze button Sunday was a question related not only to Easter Sunday, but to every Sunday, and more broadly to all of life; “Whose story is this, anyway?”  I believe it to be a central question of our worship, gathered and sent.  As such the question will at every point give direction to the worship planner-leader.  Whose story are we telling in worship?  Where worship design has no prescription per se, as in many evangelical traditions, my own included, a continuous reassessment is necessary to avoid drifting along with patterns more determined by “top 40” Christian playlists, or CCLI downloads, than by biblical patterns with theological integrity.  How often do we hear a song, or a topical discussion from within the walled-off Christian industry subculture, and begin to try and find a way to work it in to worship?

In the afterglow of Easter 2012, as we march toward a Sunday referenced by a regrettably few evanglicals, Pentecost, let us give renewed consideration to a central tenet of Christian worship, Worship is God’s story, centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit that the triune God will be glorified in all the earth, including in and through our lives as worshipers.  I pray we will make a new or renewed commitment to careful biblical evaluation to the content of material and means of presentation and participation in gathered worship, and will find fuel from deep devotion to personal worship, and time spent with mentors and others to whom we can make ourselves spiritually accountable.

Sunday’s radio experience was balanced by additional morning time before going to church spent in the Word, re-reading the story of the crucifixion and resurrection and the ascension.  I certainly reflected on personal attitudes and confessed those to the Lord, but find miraculous joy in the mere idea that He would invite me to be part of the grand narrative of what He is doing in the world.  Help me, Lord, to always come back “to the heart of worship.”

Holy Week – The Power of the Cross

April 5, 2012

The Passion of our Lord compels the deepest emotions of Christians, as the cry of our spirit embedded with such sorrow strangely mixes with unbridled joy birthed in the freedom that is ours because of what Christ has done.  I know of no other song penned in recent years that has more richly captured this collision of spiritual forces that stir contrasting emotional forces within as does this jewel by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, and especially as expressed through the tender yet uniquely powerful voice of Kristyn Getty.  The scene painted by the text is almost unbearable. The perfect man, Jesus, “tried by sinful men, torn and beaten, then Nailed to a cross of wood.”  Beyond our comprehension is the dark notion of “every bitter tho’t, every evil deed Crowning His blood-stained brow.”  Though darkness chases the light away and the ground quakes, we rejoice in what follows, “Curtain torn in two, dead are raised to life; ‘Finished! the victory cry!”   “This the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us; took the blame, bore the wrath; We stand forgiven at hte cross!”

Thanks be to God


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