Archive for June 2012

LET THE MUSIC PREACH GOSPEL

June 25, 2012

 The music that we sing in worship is by its usage necessarily theological.  Whether it is good, bad, or seemingly indifferent, it is theological in the sense that it is being used in the context of our worship of God.  The music of worship talks about God and our relationship to Him.  Seems that’s the point, right?

 

The load of the effective worship music leader is heavy indeed.  It would be easy in our entertainment driven culture to get sidetracked on lesser things, but I was recently reminded again of one of the most critical.  One of the weightiest responsibilities in churches where the worship musician selects the songs is the responsibility to play theological filter in the selection process.  There is, of course, the duty to refrain from programming obvious theological error.  Even when the musician is unsure, wisdom dictates checking with the pastor or a Bible scholar for assurance. What’s more, we must realize that as words are placed on the lips of worshipers, engagement with God is being framed through the songs.  In the best worship songs the truth of the Gospel is being heralded with clarity and power.  A well-known pastor recently told me that his test for good worship music is whether or not the music makes Jesus known.  He stated that if he were to drop dead before he preached the sermon in a service, he wanted to know that people would have heard the Gospel.  I must admit his words have given me pause in my own planning to ask that question.  Does the music make clear the Savior and His intention for our lives?

 

Whether we sing about God and His characteristics, or if we sing to Him expressing our gratitude and love, or if we are admonishing one another to love and good deeds, let us be certain that Christ is made known!  I would challenge you to consider this filter in your own planning and evaluation of worship material.  Remember, singing both reflects what we live and believe, and also forms those present.  As Nathan Corbitt says, “it is two sides of the same coin.  On one side the coin reflects what Christians believe.  On the other side it reinforces and teaches the same concepts about God.” (Nathan Corbitt, The Sound of the Harvest) Is what we are singing declaring Who Jesus is and what He desires for us?  If we live by these words will we be shaped to become more like Jesus and reflect His light?

 

Finally, let me remind us to practice what we preach.  In this instance I not only mean that we live out what we say we believe, but also encourage strongly that worship music leaders seek ways to frequently remind the church how critical it is to convey the Gospel in expressive means that display lives that have been transformed by that Gospel.  Give your congregation a better opportunity to mean their worship singing by familiarizing them with any new song, and by reinforcing the melody of those songs that are already in their repertoire.  Our faith is on display as we confess in our singing, as we proclaim through our singing, and as we commit through our singing and testify to life in Christ:

 

No guilt in life, no fear in death;

This is the power of Christ in me.

WORSHIP ON WINGS OF SONG AND PRAYER

June 18, 2012

 In Sunday’s worship at Crievewood Baptist Church Nashville where I have been serving as interim worship & music minister for the past year the choir sang an anthem, On Wings of Song and Prayer.  The piece was commissioned by the music ministry of First Baptist Church Nashville in remembrance of Fes Robertson, longtime music editor and consultant with the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian Resources).  The anthem lyric was penned by Dr. Terry York and the music was composed by Mary McDonald.  It has been recorded by the Tennessee Mens Chorale on their Sing and Be Not Silent CD (pardon the shameless promotion).  I appreciate the anthem’s attempt to address something of the mystery of worship in community.  It would be far too easy for such a rich text, well-set, to be lost on the average Sunday morning search for self-inspiration.  In a real sense, however, it is precisely that movement beyond self that the anthem seeks to take the worshiper.  And that is, after all, the point in worship is it not?  Yesterday’s singing, and my listening once again to the 2005 recording has prompted my thinking and personal worship to revisit the mysterious truth of the work of the Holy Spirit among His people in worship, as “uniting our hearts within a song, the Spirit with us sings!” The anthem repeatedly calls us into trust that our worship rises “on wings of song and prayer,” and reminds us “the Spirit takes us where our words alone cannot go.”  We projected lyrics and called the congregation’s attention to aid their contemplation of the Spirit at work among us.

 

Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz reminds us, “although Christ institutes the church, the Spirit constitutes it.”[1]  Far too often our worship ignores the work among us of the Holy Spirit, upon Whom we are totally dependent lest our gatherings are but sounding gongs and clanging cymbals.  Our divisions over peripheral issues related to the worship environment most likely disclose our ignorance of the very matter and sole power source of primary importance.  Grenz also reminds us that God saves us for community, not out of it.  Granted this dynamic is contrary to our fiercely individualistic bent, but it provides all the more evidence how we are reliant upon the Lord to bring us into fellowship with the Triune God and with His people, the church.

 

Remember, worship moves us toward our eschatological end for the sake of God’s glory!  We participate now in that fundamental purpose.  Ours is a unique part, different from the rest of creation (Ps 19:1; Ps 47:1), such that the rest of creation waits upon us to get it right (Rom 8:18-30; Eph 1) and we take joy to become trophies of His grace (Eph 2:6-7).  Our hearts set toward our eternal trajectory should surely leap for joy when reading of the worship that awaits as seen in Revelation 4 and 5.

 

In our gatherings for remembrance, re-membering, and future-gazing, let us remain in Christ and trust the Spirit to lift our worship “on wings of song and prayer.”

 

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit antruth.

–John 4:24


[1] Stanley Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living, 214.

CONGREGATIONAL SINGING AS WARNING OF TOXIC WORSHIP

June 11, 2012

A friend’s blog recently reminded me of the saying, “canary in a coal mine,” which is an idiom to represent danger.  The saying comes from a practice used by miners in the days before instrumentation that measures poisonous gasses in the mines.  Miners took caged canaries into an area of the mine to test for the venomous fumes.  The birds were particularly sensitive to the toxic gasses and would show signs of distress, or even drop over dead. Life for the poor birds was sometimes described as “short but meaningful.”  If the canary stopped singing the miners often saw this as a first sign of distress, and thus indication that the atmosphere was unsafe.

What does congregational singing in your church say about the level of engagement in worship?  Could worship singing or the lack thereof be a warning sign that worship has become a spectator sport for your congregation?  Worship Leaders, are you even aware of how fully your congregation participates in the singing of songs you select?  Is this a high priority for you and your pastor as you evaluate what takes place in the worship environment?

In the early days of my current role as director of worship & music ministries with Tennessee Baptist Convention I traveled across our state purposefully visiting different worship stylistic environments.  As a result of observing churches in worship an alarm went off for me that said, “We have lost our song.”  The musician in me, of course, wanted to address the problem musically with enhanced accompaniments, more sensitive band playing, etc.  The deep conviction of my spirit, however, was that the problem is a deeply spiritual one and that its manifestation is in no way restricted by style, ethnicity, or theological bent, much less simply poor musical support.  The proverbial canary was silent.  In current practice I am sad to say I do not see much progress.  My continued conviction is that poor congregational participation in worship singing indicates poor heart participation in worship itself.  Furthermore my conviction is that this is a spiritual problem as further indicated by other kinds of studies that indicate, for instance, that evangelical congregants have worldviews more shaped by culture than biblical conviction.  Pursuit of self-gratification has trumped hunger for divine presence.  “Getting something out of worship” has overcome “offering our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord,” and “being transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Rom 12:1-2)  Full-voiced overflow motivated by a spirit that cries, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” has been overwhelmed by an indelible attitude that dominates citizens of our culture that shouts, “Give me what I want.”

Worship Music Leaders, it is crucial that what material we ask our people to sing and how we lead them in worship participation be fully supportive of their engagement as worshipers and as one body.  I believe it is equally important that we find ways to evaluate their level of participation, and challenge them to their responsibility and opportunity before God to be fully engaged in corporate worship.  If we will trim down the decibels other than congregational voices and brighten the lights to see what is happening with mouths on the faces, we may discover the canary has ceased singing, and we need to back out from the mine shaft we have dug.  We must be certain that we are not inviting people into worship geared primarily to satisfy them, but rather to worship that pleases a holy Triune God, Who reveals Himself and seeks our response with our whole selves.

Here are a few books and blogs on this topic:

The Singing Thing:A Case for Congregational Song

John L. Bell (Author)

Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song [Paperback]

Brian Wren (Author)

The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church [Paperback]

Robb Redman (Author)

The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us[Paperback]

Terry W. York (Author)

 

Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing [Paperback]

Paul B. Clark Jr. (Author)

 

Worship Evaluation by Kansas Nebraska Worship & Music Director, David Manner http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/

Congregational Songs by Grace Community Church Nashville worship arts director and songwriter Jeff Bourque http://congregationalsongs.com/

Congregational Singing by John Thornburg Methodist musician and preacher http://www.congregationalsinging.com/

Worship is the Gospel in Motion

June 2, 2012

During vacation days I had the rich opportunity to re-read Robert Webber’s Worship Old & New.  Chapter six of that book is entitled, “Worship Is the Gospel in Motion.”  In typical and powerful Robert Webber fashion the book offers an overview of ways that worship works to engage worshipers with the worshiped Triune God.  His simple though profound outline of how worship works is well worth simply restating here:

 

“Worship is not a mere memory or a matter of looking back to a historic event.  Rather, worship is the action that brings the Christ event into the experience of the community gathered in the name of Jesus.  Three implications:

 

(1)  worship recapitulates the Christ event

(2)  worship actualizes the church

(3)  worship anticipates the kingdom

 

Surely we can see in this outline the magnificent trajectory of worship that looks back to a rehearsal of the Christ event, is present in the church gathered for worship being realized or actualized as the body of Christ, and looks forward to anticipate the Kingdom in worship.  How rich this anamnesis to prolepsis through the richness of being the people of God in Christ’s presence, while at once being reminded that the experience of worship as a recapitulation brings heaven, earth, and the believer together in a single whole.  The church joins in that great chorus of voices to offer praise to the Father through the Son by the Spirit.

 

I pray our worship planning and worship leading of congregational singing is fueled to transmit our worship in this faith journey.  Moving from recapitulation in and to actualization toward anticipation is indeed the “Gospel in Motion.”  Let us unapologetically review and analyze our singing in light of this opportunity for movement.  Let us correct our course where we have failed to centralize the power of the Gospel to transfer worship and worshiper.  Let us once again call our people to “Lift up their hearts” (Sursum Corda)  Let our songs and singing move us away from the tyranny of self to join the worship of the ages, the worship of heaven in singing the song of deliverance, the song of Moses and of the Lamb (Rev 15:2-4)

Paul


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