Archive for October 2012


October 29, 2012

Worship purposely stirs remembrance.  On a personal level the remembrance can take on a variety of forms and move in a broad array of directions.  For instance, this past Sunday I visited a church on assignment.  I was handed a bulletin that had a picture on the front of a familiar set of doors (yes, there are Baptist churches that still use printed bulletins or worship guides).  As I looked more closely at the depiction, my mind was drawn to a day during a group trip to Germany in which we visited the Castle Church in Wittenburg.  I reminisced a bit about the trip itself.  I remembered my wife and I joining others from our travel group to step inside the famous Lutheran church to sing a hymn tied to that place and its tenants of 1517.  Fast forward to Sunday, October 28, 2012, and here I was, sitting in a sanctuary recently renovated including installation of a new pulpit bearing the inscription, “Preach the Word.”  I was moved to pray for the congregation and its present pastor that the Word might indeed remain central in its gathered worship and practice.

It was a high privilege Sunday to worship in a church that recognized and celebrated the significance of Reformation Sunday.  No doubt the Baptist church owed this recognition to the worship leadership offered by its pastor and worship music leader who planned the service and guided worshipers through its paces.  Having served in this same congregation earlier in my own vocational experience I was pleasantly surprised to hear affirmation from worshipers of the service’s emphasis, and its impact upon personal faith as well as on the community.  I confess the affirmations were directed as much at the trust in pastoral leadership as they were at the substance of the Reformation emphasis, but even this served as reminder to me that leaders who build trust through consistent integrity are able to broaden the scope of worshipers’ appreciation of places, ways, and times that God has worked among His people.  And what, after all, is worship about, if not remembering the acts of Almighty God, celebrating what He has done, considering what He is now doing in and through His people, and looking toward a future that is in Him?  This seems to me to be the life of faith in Christ rooted in the Gospel that is central to Christian worship.

Those in faith traditions that practice a more formal liturgy prescription than do most Baptists and other evangelicals, would perhaps be either unimpressed, or simply surprised at the observance of Reformation Sunday in a church from the Free Church tradition (used here to refer to those who do not follow a set liturgy set by denominational hierarchy).  While there was no liturgical color of red displayed to represent the Holy Spirit or martyrs of the Church, nor prayers read from a common prayer book, there was reminder and recounting of the actions and sentiment of Martin Luther.  There was also singing of the hymn most often associated to this significant event, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and there was a sermon preached that was rich with Gospel focus.  Worshipers were reminded of the sole source of change to transform us from a person or people dead in trespasses and sin to those who are:

 made alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised up with him and raised up in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:5-6

Here in this verse we see the trajectory by which we can, in a very real spiritual sense, remember the future (worship).  This is surely the Gospel in motion that we experience in Christian worship – remembering the acts of God which display His character, remembering His claims upon our present life and our full dependence on Him, and remembering a faith future of “things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (Heb 11:1)

Throughout the worship service my eyes moved around the room with flashes of memories from my own tenure serving as Minister of Music here, and remembrance of ministry moments, some glorious and some challenging.  In worship I was reminded of the Lord’s sole sufficiency to rightly position me, and us, in Christ through the powerful presence and work of His Holy Spirit.  I was renewed.

As His church our need is for ongoing reformation. (semper reformanda)  Lord, let us remember, and to You alone be glory in Your church.  Amen.


October 21, 2012

  In the process of sculpting it is said the artist subtracts all material that is not a part of the final product of the art.  So we can imagine Michelangelo as he sculpts away at his famous statue of  David, or his Pieta`, and continually focuses to remove any part of the material that he thinks distracts from the appearance of his vision of the biblical characters.

Perhaps those who serve in worship leadership roles in the church would do well to consider a similar artistic mindset when planning for a service of Christian worship.  What if a clear vision of Christ were the obvious sole focus of all leaders in worship.  Surely in that scenario all that does not reflect and reveal Christ would be stripped away.  Some current commonly used evaluative measures might indeed become more convicting than useful in designing services of worship if our measure were more purely to make Christ seen and known.  If our grasp of worship as Gospel witness, and church as bride of Christ were more clear perhaps gathered worship would serve to more fully engage worshipers in active participation whereby Christ is lifted up, and less in distracted self-absorption, where self awareness simply leads to distress.

He must increase, but I must decrease.  (John 3:30)

I will leave you to chew on how much of your own worship planning becomes distracted with desire for personal “success,” the push of people, a pastor, other staff members, or some other motivational disruption.  Indeed, most of the areas mentioned below find their very root in the same.  Nevertheless, here are some areas where distractions seem to occur in present-day worship practice, especially in the evangelical church, where worship design and practice are left to staff.  Perhaps you can add to the list for further discussion and consideration.


  • Too much of a “good” thing

A great organist or a kickin’ worship band can misunderstand their role, thinking of themselves as performers rather than as support to aid worship singing, or during times of music ministry or offering.  This usually thwarts the would-be singing worshiper to either become enthralled with the performance or simply to be overwhelmed by the predominant performance or volume.

 A well-meaning spiritualized lead-in to a song can over-dramatize a moment overwhelming worshipers with a sense of ineptness if they are not in a similar state of emotion expression.  Focus in these instances can be misplaced on the emotion itself, the feeling evoked.

 The overuse of technology is another tendency especially when hardware or software is new to the planners or users.

  • Poor execution by musicians, technicians, and/or ministers

Music poorly played distracts would-be participants.  Music that is too slow, too fast, or just simply wrong can distract worshipers from expressing the worship intention of a song.

 Whether microphones that are muted while a leader attempts to speak, or projected lyrics are not changed in time for worshipers to keep up with a song or reading, these distractions last beyond the moment of the faux paux, and can frustrate others on the leadership team as well.

 Ill-prepared ministers who seem caught by surprise, and sometimes even cover mistakes by blaming others are distracting by demeanor as well as by the actual immediate problem itself.

 Mature Christian leaders are well aware that our adversary works hard to bring about distraction in the worship environment for herein His doom is most clearly forecast on a regular basis.  It is therefore crucial that we seek to fervently follow the way of Christ, the way of the cross, in our faith, our attitude, and our relationships as we prepare for the powerful engagement of regular Christian worship.

Note:  Trevin Wax (of Lifeway’s Gospel Project) has made me aware of a book that is written anonymously that seems to address some of our self-obsessions, and thus perhaps may well speak to us in roles of worship leadership.  I have not yet received my copy and therefore have not read anything but the few quotes listed in Trevin’s blog, but I encourage you to research the same for its potential value for you.  The book is Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything.


October 8, 2012

When a sacred space screams “worship,” singers, whose hearts are captured by Christ who is reflected in the art of the room, are compelled to use their art as a means of response. Such was the case when a group of music ministers visited the beautiful St. Helena Cathedral in Helena, Montana.  The acoustics and story of salvation depicted in the stain glass windows inspired the singers to render two songs.  Experiencing God’s presence through the Biblical story rendered in the 59 windows, especially the 37 windows that depict the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve through the cross and resurrection of Christ and formation of the early church, all fostered a hunger to sing.  One most fitting piece was a communion song (Psalm 74:12), Salvation Is Created, written by Pavel Tchesnokov in 1912 – one of his last sacred works composed before the Communist Soviet Union officials forced him to turn his attention solely to secular works. His beautiful musical setting reminds us that salvation was born in the very heart of God.  Though intended for the Orthodox liturgy of the Eastern Church, the music translated powerfully in the Roman Catholic setting of the St. Helena Cathedral. (listen below)  The group also sang,  We Are Not Alone, their worship concert opener that declares the Lord’s presence now and always among His people.

Several of the singers indicated their response of awe and wonder in the beautiful architectural space that was built with intention to communicate to parishoners and guests alike the message of the Bible.  Several commented on the appeal to the artist within, and how they were stirred to sing.  While there is no guarantee that a sanctuary built in a similar Gothic style will elicit similar response from a group, there does seem to be a sense in which the space communicates to those who traipse through its chancel and nave.  There is little doubt that the response of worshipful singing came as result of the heart position and condition of those who traipsed through these hallowed walls on the Fall day of our Montana trip, but it would be neglectful not to also consider how the space itself participated in what took place that day, and one could surmise that there is some degree of communication with all who venture there.

Church gathering places are built from a wide variety of philosophical points of view, and usually reflect a theological position of the pastor and leaders who were in leadership roles at the time of their design and construction.  Some spaces would seem to intend intimate community; and others would appear to foster comfort among those whose lives are characterized by pursuit of the comfortable.  Many contemporary worship contexts lend themselves to mostly what might be said to be “platform-out” communication.  Certainly, this latter structure is most familiar to present day culture.  Even where these seem entertainment-friendly, symbols that once would have been carved or hung as part of the structure may appear either through scenic set designs, or by way of projected technologies.  Still other settings may be a blended convergence of any or all of these architectural characteristics, but in every case the room cannot help but set some sense of the tone for gathered worship, and participate in the worship itself, especially in music-making.

Acoustical environments either enhance or struggle against congregational participation, choral singing, band-driven worship music, or any other compliment of stylistic expression.  For worship music leaders who have opportunity to participate in worship space design, care must be taken to consider the long haul of worship expression.  As a friend of mine often says, “the room always wins.”  That is to say that the room will likely serve the kind of acoustical and artistic purpose for which it was designed.

It is encouraging in our day to see more pastors and worship art directors paying careful attention to worship space design.  I recently read an article by a pastor friend on the design of the pulpit in the newly redecorated sanctuary that included a new pulpit.  The simple inscription on the new pulpit in this Baptist environment?  “Preach the Word.”  Powerful punch in an environment that honors the preached Word as central to Christian worship.  Fostering the singing of praise and hearing of the Word would seem priorities in any worship space where such activities are understood to be the basis for the church’s worship.

While all of us may respond differently to various worship environments – the stone and stain glass of the cathedral hit some as “cold,” and the lighted platform and projection screen hits some as “just entertainment” – those who are called of God to lead congregations in worship must surely assist in thoughtful planning and use of worship space that will foster engagement with God in spirit and truth.

When a Man is Converted He Sings!

October 2, 2012

Listen to what Allister Begg says in this video – scroll forward about 5:08 and listen to just a couple of minutes of straight talk about American men singing – or not singing.  Of course this is “music to my ears” in terms of this message being a pointed declaration that I would so desire for pastors and worship music leaders to hear.  Lord, help us to remove distractions and falsifying prompts out from under our embarrassing non-singing, and find our way back to glorious response of heart and voice in praise of our Savior, our King, our Lord!


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