Archive for May 2012


May 21, 2012

  Here is a hard question for today’s worship leaders.  How much of our worship singing could in truth be idolatrous in spirit?  There are numerous means by which to be led toward such a radical question.  One way such a question could be instigated would be the modeling of worship leaders after the likes of singers viewed on one of America’s favorite television shows, American Idol.  It is not too difficult to make such a connection given that more than one contestant on the show has come from the ranks of church worship leaders.  A less blatant thread, since it does not actually contain the word “idol” in it as does the previous connection, might result from an honest evaluation of motivation behind attraction-driven worship forms and elements.  At what stage of planning worship to attract outsiders does the controlling point of worship move to formation based upon what will “please” the target of attraction?  Is this really the biblical purpose of Christian worship? Finally (though others could be enumerated), in a close scrutiny of what is being sung and how it is being sung, how much of worship singing includes a narcissistic bent?  Whether overtly intentional or not, how much do we succumb to pressures of what people want to feel like in their worship as a primary decision factor as to what we will sing and how we will sing it?


The question, “How much of our worship singing could in truth be idolatrous in spirit?” may sound overstated to some, or misunderstood to be a polemic for a certain musical or lyrical purity to others.  My voicing of the question, however, comes as a prayerful attempt at drawing our attention to the state of worship singing with a charge to the prophetic aspect of our calling as pastoral musicians and liturgists.  In reading Isaiah 6 I have far too often been content to basque in the beautiful liturgy of Isaiah 6:1-8, the call of Isaiah and his willing response, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”  A more difficult step is to move on to grasp even a hint of the message Isaiah was called upon to bring as begun in the remaining verses of Isaiah 6.   A theologically difficult question arises to gain some grasp on the Lord’s command to Isaiah to harden the hearts of His people.  All of the usual theological tensions can be seen here. That is the question of predetermination verses reflection on what is already occurring, or else a prediction of what is to happen as people remain dull and unresponsive.  Wherever you land in theological grasp of the message Isaiah is called upon to deliver, you who serve as pastoral worship musicians and pastors must surely see some common ground in our own calling in today’s idolic culture.


A foundational question in worship continues to be whether we are encouraging people to allow God into their life story, or if we are rehearsing God’s story in which they can see the miraculous invitation of our Triune God to live in His story, humbled before Him, joining the song of saints and angels, singing forevermore, “Alleluia! Amen!”  In one of these worships we ask God to act on our behalf, in the other we live out our worship that He may be glorified in faith that He works all things for good for those called according to HIS purpose. (Rom 8:28) One worship centers on the good pleasure of the worshiper, one centers in the pleasure and master design of Father, Son, and Spirit.

While I have addressed this article to worship singing given that my direct influence tends to be in this aspect of worship activity, the same question of controlling point must surely be applied to all aspects of worship action – preaching, praying, offering, ordinance-sacraments, rites.


May 14, 2012

Is worship something done by inspiration or does it take perspiration?  In my estimation it is like other tensions with which we not only contend, but which we must embrace.  In other words, I believe the answer is “yes” worship is both inspiration and perspiration.  It is also my contention that worship planners and leaders must maintain a healthy balance in the preparation process and in the intended direction of the experience of gathered worship itself.  It is important for worshipers to know that while we wait upon the Lord to speak and yes, inspire, we engage mind and spirit in the praying and singing of worship (1 Cor 14:15).   In fact, remembering as we have been instructed by Christ Himself involves remembrance of His mighty acts.  This is some of the “work” (leitourgia) of worship.  As worship planners we are often thrilled by an insight that comes in a moment when we have been touched through our senses, but that does not automatically mean that whatever “floats my boat” belongs on the lips, or in the eyes of the congregation I lead.  Part of our work (perspiration) is discernment by  theological and even artistic filtering.


I started to write this article in response to the mounting workload that I perceive being carried by most music ministers/worship leaders, and especially the glut of technical demands that have been hoisted on the same.  I have observed over the last decade(s) that worship ministry in most settings demands much more technical prowess (video, computers, presentation software, even clicktrack formulation as well as useage, etc., etc.) and much less time spent on the art of music and its application in worship.  This trend disturbs me, especially in the realms of choral art, and congregational singing.  Either and/or both of these areas appear to be the resource pool most readily robbed when time is needed to learn a new software, shoot slick videos, and learn more new songs.  Most of these activities are done in the name of being “relevant” to culture.  Over and again we are reminded in scripture as well as in the history of the Church that this is a slippery slope.  Cultural relativism does not come without heavy baggage.  Biblical wisdom in our day surely enlightens us and warns of the centrality of self to which our culture has drifted.  As far back as Augustine he recognized that human beings are incurvatus in se which means curved in upon themselves.  Such is the very core value system of our most popular television shows like American Idol, The Voice, and many more.  Just because a contestant or two have served as worship leaders somewhere and have a shot at winning this contest should never baptize the core value system of a show’s process.  Part of our work in worship is likely reflected in Paul’s confessional with which we can and must relate in Romans 7:15, 18-19.  So, in these things the question is not whether or not we will work – at preparing to lead worship as well as work in or at our worship itself – it is more a question of what we will be working at doing.  My concern is that we have worked so hard at making worship “relevant” to culture that what we have in fact done is made culture by way of “relevancy” the object of our worship.  This is surely idolatry.


While worship and worship preparation includes a strong dose of work (perspiration), it is surely fueled through those glimpses of Holy Spirit inspiration.  The light we so need and desire may come via the slow steady burn of the candle seared into our spirit through regular reading (and hearing) of the Word.  This revelation of God (inspiration) may come in a flash of shekinah glory, while worshiping with God’s people, while ministering in His Name, or while simply relishing at the work of His hands in nature, time, human love, or signs He has given to point us to Himself.


It is healthy for us to pray for inspiration and maintain a watchful eye for its entrance, while at the same time applying perspiration to worship planning and to worship itself, and all to the glory of God Himself.  There is a reason they call it “practicing your faith.”  Let us be found faithful.



May 8, 2012

Many evangelicals, beginning with my own denomination, have a tendency to quantify everything including worship.  A question asked early and often of those who might engage in discussion regarding their local church and its worship is, “How many do you have in worship attendance?”  What is to me more disturbing is a long-lived trend of bending the very ethos of a church’s gathered worship to serve as an attraction to those outside.  Let me hasten to ask that you be sure and read the entire article lest you misunderstand my sentiment as being insensitive to those outside the faith, or disinterest in gathering of all believers.  The apostle Paul is clear about keeping the worship environment understandable for unbelievers, and the efficacy of the same. (1 Cor 14)

Regardless of whether our worship gathering includes 30, or 3,000 believers, the enormity of the gathering of genuine spiritual engagement in worship includes a much larger gathering.  The beautiful and inspiring vision is painted for us in Hebrews 12.  Our participation is with a “Kingdom that cannot be shaken” (vs. 28), as contrasted to “things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made” (vs. 27).  In this passage Old Covenant worship is contrasted to New Covenant worship where:

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (22-24)

Talk about a crowd!  Worship Leaders, what would it do to your sense of optimism if, rather than focusing on disappointment in a “low crowd” in Sunday worship, you instead helped those physically present in your worship space to realize the profound spiritual truth that you gather with innumerable angels, with all those enrolled in heaven, and best of all, with Jesus Himself, the mediator of a new covenant, which is our only means of coming into God’s Presence in the firstplace.  The writer of Hebrews contrasts the blood of Abel, which cries out a curse for vengeance (Gen. 4:10-11), with the blood of Jesus which brings forgiveness and atonement.

The orderly worship called for in I Corinthians 14 includes a sensitivity to those unbelievers or outsiders who might enter (vs 24), and Paul suggests the possible result of such entering, even that such a one might “fall on his face and worship God and declare that God is really among you.”  Note, however, that it is not an attractiveness of our worship, much less the attractiveness of the worshipers.  This is a reason so much of church marketing disturbs me as we self-describe “exciting worship,” or invite people to come and join a “loving people.”  Surely those outsiders will be the judge of that for themselves, especially in our culture of choice.  Research is clear that this kind of self-grandizing turns people off to our hypocrisy more than attract them to come to experience our self-proclaimed warmth.  Rather it is God’s presence among worshipers that alone delivers effect.  Oh that this would be what we seek, and even scorn suggestions that we turn worship on its ear to supposedly become attractional for its own sake, bending expressions to appear “lively,” or “exciting,” or “passionate,” rather than trusting our True Worship Leader, Jesus, our liturgist, our High Priest (Heb 8), Who sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us even in our time of worship.

Brothers and sisters, let us more faithfully trust the Gospel as its own self-described benefit for our lives and our witness, and act accordingly as Hebrews 13 goes on to exhort.  I believe there will be attraction in the people we become if we become more like Jesus, not neglecting hospitality to strangers nor those in prison.  Let us pursue “the city that is to come, and “through Him let us continually offer up the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, ‘the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Heb 13:14-15)  Who knows, God may in turn bless us with more people in worship gatherings, who come to also seek His Presence.


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