Archive for August 2012


August 27, 2012

  January of 2006 I attended my first session at IWS (Institute for Worship Studies) in Jacksonville, Florida.  During worship in the sanctuary of Grace Episcopal Church I was a little nervous, sitting on a pew with Robert Webber and being a little uncertain as to whether I would know when to do what.  Kneeling benches? Chanting psalms? Prayers of the People? And of course the big question searing on my mind, “Is that real wine up there?”  This cradle roll Baptist boy was not very comfortable, but was very intrigued.  As the worship moved on I harkened back to a worship service when I was a a school-age boy sitting on the front pew of Northwest Baptist Church in Miami, Oklahoma.  As a new Christian I sat on the front row with others who had recently made their professions of faith in Christ.  It was our first Lord’s Supper observance.  We were ushered into the sanctuary following our New Christians class in the pastor’s study.  My dad was the pastor, so as I recall his study was a lot more familiar place for me than that front pew was.  Though memory of any details of an event nearly fifty years previous may have been shakey at best, as I worshiped in Jacksonville, Florida that day in 2006, I felt strangely connected to another time and another place.  Added inspiration for such reflection may have been that the reality of my father’s passing just over a month earlier was still sinking into my mind and spirit.


Observances of the Lord’s Supper rightly bring together past, present, and future.  Obviously, this holding together is not rooted in personal sentimental memories, though I am often surprised by the stirrings of just that sort that are strangely raised up in me during the taking of the elements of bread and cup in worship.  Rather, the remembrance and related thankfulness that takes place at the Table embraces the full gospel story, a story which in fact covers all eternity; past, present, and future. While the crucifixion atonement is the focal point of the memorial meal, worship leaders do well to broaden the tone of this worship fold to rehearse not only Christ Who died, but Christ Who is risen, and certainly Christ Who is coming again! Singing during the Table observance can be some of the most resonant with triumph and praise if approached with this larger view of the full gospel.  While stirring of emotions such as I previously described are by no means the point of the Table, it is most fitting for us to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually place our own lives in Christ and recognize His eternal presence in us during this time of remembrance and reflection as we commune with Him and His bride.


Though Baptist churches generally practice the actual observance of the Lord’s Supper (Table) less frequently than sister churches who worship with more formal liturgical patterns, the third fold of worship remains a crucial part of the worship engagement. By conviction I personally resound by with Baptist leaders who recognize a need for, and subsequently call for a more frequent participation in worship at the Table.  While that is not the point of this article, I would call upon pastors and worship music leaders to prayerfully consider the high value of all that surrounds Table worship, from self-examination to church koinonia (Communion) to gospel proclamation and thankfulness (Eucharist).  In his foreword to the book, The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), David Dockery states “The highest form of Christian worship is the Lord’s Supper.”


For those of us who do not practice actual Table observance weekly, Constance Cherry among others, has offered a way of identifying the third fold in fourfold worship as “Alternative Response.”  She rightfully argues that in the worship rhythm of revelation and response there must be an intentional response to the revealed Word, such as is given in the preaching of the Holy Scriptures.  When God speaks we must reply.  The response can be, and often is, voiced in song and singing.  Especially in revivalist worship environments the call for response known as the “invitation” is most usually accompanied by the singing of an appropriate song of invitation and/or response.  Most Baptist environments by tradition would understand this time of invitation to be an invitation to profess one’s faith in Christ, conversion, to renew faith journey of discipleship, or to place one’s church membership within the body gathered for worship.   It would seem logical that the freedom offered in less formal worship would allow for a wide variety of responses to be displayed, perhaps most meaningfully done in direct response to the sermon’s application.  In fact, we see this often as worshipers are invited to commit themselves anew to service or stewardship, or to respond to other calls for mission and ministry endeavors.


Fourfold worship seeks to involve worshipers in a simple, though profound understanding of engagement with God – Gathering, Hearing the Word (God speaks to us), Responding with thankful hearts at His Table, and Sending worshipers out to serve God and neighbor in the world.  Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs through these folds of worship serves the worship of individuals and the collective body by helping voice our worship and praise.  At the same time the singing helps worshipers to express their worship, it forms them through the affections expressed, theological pronouncements made, and relationships encouraged with God, other members of the body, and the world in which we live and serve.


Songs for the Table are too numerous to list, so let me note a couple and invite worship planners to reply with those you find particularly rich:


This Is the Threefold Truth – Fred Pratt Green/Jack Shrader

The Communion Hymn – Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend

Here at Your Table, Lord – Mary Hoyt/William Sherwin

In Remembrance of Me – Ragan Courtney, Buryl Red


August 20, 2012

 Fourfold Worship – Gathering, WORD, Table, and Sending: in its simplest form it is descriptive of the liturgical form that the Church has practiced in worship gatherings for many centuries.  Undoubtedly, the intent of worship music ministers and pastors is to give God’s Word its rightful place as the centerpiece of Christian worship.  Serving, as I do, with Baptist worship music ministers and pastors, I know that many of these worship planners tend to focus a given Sunday’s worship in a thematic fashion, pointing everything toward the emphasis of the day’s sermon.

As we think again about worship singing in fourfold worship, and today specifically about singing and the Word, I want to broaden the picture just a bit to consider singing that underscores not only the portion of the Bible that will be preached in the day’s sermon, but to consider as well singing that celebrates and helps worshipers to engage with the spiritual dynamic of what is happening in this fold of worship as we seek to hear from God.  Perhaps it will be best to think of this approach as two separate aspects within the fold of worship that we call, THE WORD.

First, there is the approach to songs and singing that we would plan that relates carefully and closely to the specific chapter and verse or verses that will be emphasized by the pastor in his sermon.  If we are aware of specific direction and emphasis, hymn and worship song selections can be made that align and support the text to be read.  Prayerfully reading and re-reading the biblical text helps the worship planner to prepare by getting a sense of the timbre of the scriptural emphasis as well as the message itself.  It would seem that selection decisions should include the spirit of the music as well as the song lyric.  In best case scenarios the worship musician might know how the sermon will begin and/or end, so that music material selected closest to either of those points will be appropriate to the desired atmosphere and/or reasoned thinking.  This kind of planning may well assist worshipers in grasping the meaning within the sermon and its message.  Sung biblical truths, even actual words of scripture, can help to plant thoughts and actions in head and heart of worshipers.

A second approach within this Word fold of worship includes consideration of such things as the movement toward readiness to receive, covenant to hear and act upon what we will hear or have heard, reverence in the hearing, and thanksgiving and celebration for what we have heard.  Though most evangelicals do not follow a prescribed liturgical order, attention to such order may assist our thinking in this manner.  More formal worship liturgies include prescribed scripture readings following which the reader proclaims, “The Word of the Lord.”  The congregation replies, “Thanks be to God.”  These repeated expressions serve as a sort of grateful punctuation to hearing from the read Word.

It seems we would do well as worship planners to consider how singing might assist us to prepare our hearts to receive the Word, to respond with gratitude in faith to the hearing of the Word.

While the sermon text for the day may well be the centerpiece of the Word fold during a given Sunday’s worship, there is a larger opportunity to help develop disciples to revere the Word, head its meaning, affirm its Authorship, and reply with thankful hearts.

Consider songs for the WORD fold in worship and how they might be used to move worshipers toward the hearing, heeding, and responding to the WORD.  These could serve in a song set that includes songs more directly pointed toward a text that will be preached.  These songs come to my mind as songs that help prepare or respond to the read or preached Word of Holy Scripture.  Do you think of others that are particularly meaningful for your congregation?

Speak, O Lord – Getty & Townend

Ancient Words – DeShazo

Wonderful Words of Life – Bliss

Break Thou the Bread of Life – Lathbury/Groves

Thy Word (refrain) – Grant

Word of God Across the Ages – Blanchard

How Firm a Foundation – John Rippons’ Selection of Hymns

            Word of God, Speak – Kipley & Billard

Help worshipers through singing to receive the “Word of God for the people of God.”


August 12, 2012

My most recent post began a series on Singing and Four Fold Worship as described by Robert Webber, and as practiced historically through many faith traditions. The posts are intended to address singing as part of GATHERING, WORD, TABLE, and SENDING.  This post could well be considered applicable to all the folds, because the song referenced here is a song that could lend powerful dynamics to any of the worship folds, and/or could well bridge from one fold to another.  More importantly, the Person of the Trinity of and to Whom this prayer song sings is essential to the Lord’s presence in all of Christian worship, corporate or personal.  The song has been a staple of my own personal worship for more than a year.  I think as you review its lyric and its easily singable and memorable melody you will find similar effect.

While communicating with a member of Keith’s staff I was forwarded Keith’s blog post regarding the writing of the hymn, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God.  I asked for permission to copy Keith’s own words for those reading  Following his words below are some thoughts about the hymn’s use in worship.  Here is Keith’s post:

Holy Spirit is the final hymn I wrote with Stuart Townend as part of the Apostle’s Creed album we created in 2005. This collection of songs focuses on the basic tenants of the Christian faith outlined in the ancient creed.

 As in much of our songwriting, we wanted to connect the radical truths of what we believe with everyday life. In this particular song, we desired the hymn to function as a sung prayer about the Holy Spirit’s renewing power. In church services, it works well used just prior to the sermon or at its conclusion, as well as before the service or during a prayer time.

 We divided the hymn into three verses. The first expresses a prayer for inward change, asking the Holy Spirit to transform us from the core of our being. Without such change, all religious attempts are futile. We must daily ask for renewal and the desire to love and treasure God’s word and his ways.

 Verse two petitions the Spirit to abide in us so we’re able to bountifully bear its fruit, such as the kindness and gentleness described so beautifully in Galatians 5:22-23. Closing this verse is a prayer to show Christ is all I do.

Verse three is a more expansive prayer for the church. During the songwriting process, we kept revisiting this verse as we examined the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the New Testament. In passage after passage, evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power in someone’s life was marked by two characteristics–Christ is magnified, and the individual is led on a path of sacrifice.

 We thus combined the lyric and arrangement of the last verse to build through the first five lines as we convey the power of the Spirit and our desire to see the church hunger for its ways. Then in line six, we suddenly stop with the prayer,

 Lead us on the road to sacrifice

That in unity the face of Christ

Will be clear for all the world to see.

Artistically, this works as a bit of a surprise as we underscore the paradox and wonder of Christ’s power in us. Only through experiencing sacrifice are we unified as the body of Christ. Only through reaching the end of ourselves can we achieve a vibrant Christian witness that everyone on the outside can see as different.

Watch the video and download free sheet music at

As is characteristic of so many Getty-Townend hymns, this hymn relentlessly positions the worshiper in a posture of humility before a powerful God who is Spirit.  Our fundamental position for worship must reflect this very spirit of humility.  The posturing dynamic bodes well for the hymn to be used in the GATHERING fold of worship.  Coming before the Lord praying for new life, and declaring a desire and willingness of my soul to receive His likeness, seems a powerful worship application. The song reflects phrases from historic prayers of the people and accompanying biblical attitudes of kindness, justice, and peace.

In the GATHERING of worship the prayer places worshipers on the plane of common need and desire to know His joy.  It unifies us in a thirst for unity through which Christ is seen.  In the WORD portion of worship the song prays a prayer for illumination, and that this WORD would “come alive in me.”  In TABLE or response this prayer song reiterates our covenant and prays our shared journey of sacrifice while also praying presence of the risen Lord.  In SENDING the prayer song, Holy Spirit, places us on mission empowered by the only One who can energize that mission.

One means of helping your congregation to embrace the song to the point of embedding it in mind and spirit would be to repeat its use over four or more weeks, moving its placement in the service into each of the four folds.  This kind of repetition not only can endear the congregation to the song, but can impart its usage to their own private worship times and can aid worship education by reminding us of our need for Holy Spirit presence in every part of worship and life.  Through your own church’s newsletter and website publications linking worshipers to the site can allow them to sing and learn as part of their daily worship routine.

Worship renewal can only happen by means of the Holy Spirit.


August 6, 2012

  As I have often confessed since reading and studying with Dr. Robert E. Webber, I believe order in worship is practiced in the historic form of four-fold worship, whether delineated as such, or simply practiced or realized that way.  I understand this form to be the way the church engages with God together.  As such it helps to form us as one body, even the Bride, at worship.  In the next four weeks I want to consider the application of our singing to each fold and to encourage prayerful thinking by worship planners as to the spiritual, liturgical, and human dynamics at work in this fold of worship, and invite renewed consideration of how singing plays a part in worship acts during each part of a service.  WORD and TABLE (response or sacrament depending on doctrinal position), are sometimes referenced as the twin towers of worship, and bear the primary content load of worship that “does God’s story.”[1]  Gathering and sending, nevertheless, are necessary aspects of coming into His presence and moving out into the world to enact His deeds empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve, even as Christ served in the world He made.


Gathering, by common sense as well as by Divine action in the case of worship, is an obvious necessity for engagement or communion.  In a social context we come together for fellowship, shared meals, conversation, often remembering and re-telling previous encounters.  Today, in fact, I have scheduled gatherings of this nature, in some cases with old friends, and in other cases with new acquaintances.  Simply stated, I will go to meet them, we will greet one another, recognizing our presence, and begin our shared encounter, over lunch and/or coffee.  The social dynamics will be different based on familiarity in each case, and where we are in relationship.  While I do not plan on singing with my guest at the coffee shop, we may share some songs.


GATHERING in Christian worship certainly has similar social dynamics whereby people come together.  In Christian worship, however, there is the incredible (to us) dynamic of the very Presence of God in our midst, and all that that reality suggests:

  • the gathering brings us into a stream of ongoing encounter and praise that has eternal roots and eternal significance
  • we are in position to receive divine blessing, hear instruction, become convicted or comforted
  • in this gathering we are endeared to others, even  to an extent that we become as one body


Our singing in the gathering phase of worship can assist and underscore the GATHERING itself.  No matter the style of our worship context, formal or informal, this gathering seeks to recognize the Lord’s invitation and Presence, as well as His provision.  This is much more than a sort of warmup to worship, or wakeup song.  The dynamics of group singing assist us in becoming one symbolically, practically, and spiritually.  It is fully appropriate to sing songs of praise, recognizing Who God is, and who we are in position or relation to Him.  It is equally appropriate to sing songs that recognize a unified spirit as family of God, children of light, or as fellow sinners in need of common confession, open to the Spirit’s work of conviction.   In the best cases there is a sense of journey in our GATHERING phase of worship.  We are moving toward a time of hearing the WORD.  It seems important, however, that we seek full engagement in the GATHERING phase of worship, lest we overlook its importance, or unintentionally foster a spirit of “hurry up and get to the instruction.” If we are not careful we can overlook the togetherness that stems from admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, from following biblical models of ascension, or straightforward biblical instruction to “sing to the Lord.”


I say the handshaking, fellowship time in evangelical’s worship is the Baptist kiss of peace, although I do not hear many passing the peace during that portion of a typical service.  I hope that worship planners – worship music leaders and senior pastors – will spend time prayerfully considering this GATHERING portion of worship and its dynamics so as to not clutter the GATHERING either with distracting actions or words that can unintentionally call attention away from the Lord’s Presence, from one another, and from the direction our worship is headed.  Likewise, I would encourage thoughtful planning of music that allows the sound of gathered voices to be heard, perhaps unaccompanied at moments, as well as the gathered instruments of praise.  If we let it, our singing can assist in announcing the Lord’s presence, in confessing our sinfulness and need, in offering our praise and positioning ourselves as humble worshipers in relation to our Creator Redeemer.


Some personal default GATHERING HYMNS AND SONGS – What are some of yours?


Come, People of the Risen King – Keith & Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend

Come, Thou Almighty King – ITALIAN HYMN words: anonymous

Worthy of Worship – JUDSON – Terry York & Mark Blankenship

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – CORONATION – Edward Perronet, John

Rippon & Oliver Holden

How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves & Ed Cash

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – LOBE DEN HERREN – Joachim Neander,

Stralsund Gesangbuch

            Glorify Thy Name – Donna Adkins




[1] Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008)

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