Archive for June 2013

DO WE HELP PEOPLE TOWARD LARGER TRUTH IN WORSHIP?

June 24, 2013

sunrise earth My life journey is relatively short.  Now grant you, I am unashamedly 60 years old and for some that seems ancient.  I get that.  At one time it seemed to me that anyone sixty was indeed, officially “old.”   But when I say my journey has been short I mean in relation to the complete span of history.  Something about grasping a perspective that my life on earth is finite – limited by time and space – seems healthy, even biblical.  Certainly, as a worshiper, this perspective seems important, since Christian worship invites me to engage my finite being with the eternal God of the universe, which of course is only possible by means of His provision in Christ.  And consideration of fine versus infinite is only one of the many mystery components of Christian worship.  As a worship planner and worship music leader, it seems important to  help worshipers under my pastoral care to interact in general with larger truth.  While there is inherent tension in worship, given that our God is at once transcendent, holy other, and intimate, closer than a brother, yet my experience has been that evangelicals tend to emphasize intimacy often to an extent that a sense of God’s transcendence can be lost.  Both aspects of God’s character must be presented in worship – both are essential to worship that wonders at larger truth.  Music and the arts can play an important role in presenting these characteristics.

Here are just a few questions to aid our consideration.  Let these help you develop a list of questions and/or begin a discussion with your pastor and other church leaders.  Consider your church’s regular worship services, and evaluate how well we are designing worship that addresses these issues?

  • Are we helping people to worship in light of God’s eternity?  We live in a world of “what’s happenin’ now?”  God is an eternal God (Gen 21:33; Romans 16:26), eternal King (Jeremiah 10:10), characterized by eternal love (1 Kings 10:9), who offers to us eternal life (Mark 10:17; John 3:16; 17:3) with eternal power (Romans 1:20), an eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) to whom will be all power, glory, and majesty forever (Jude 1:25).
    • Do the hymns and songs we place on the lips of our people help them grasp the eternal nature of God?  Does our worship space reflect this nature and its accompanying mysteries?  Do we engage in readings that draw the mind to wonder at the long gaze of eternity, and know of God’s presence there?
  • Are we helping people worship as stewards of the whole world?  Ours (all Christians) is a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  Certainly we are to be about making and baptizing disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and winning that which is lost (Matthew 15:24; Luke 15:4).  We also have responsibility to creation (Romans 8:18-21) and as stewards of God’s grace in service to others (1 Peter 4:10)
    • Are we singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that challenge our service as citizens of the Kingdom, the Church (capital “C”) of our communities, and as stewards of all that God has given?  Do we hear messages that help us see creation in its expectant state, recognizing our relation to its waiting in expectancy (Romans 8)?
  • Are we helping people grasp that all things are held together in Christ, Who was and is, and is to come? Col 1:15-17; John 1:1; 8:58; Hebrews 1:3
    • Do we sing of Christ’s sure ultimate triumph?  Do we share an assurance of His victory as well as our predictable sinfulness?  Are we helping people worship in a unified spirit where a right view of God supersedes any personal preference in musical style, or other tentative construct?  *Remember “contemporary” means “with temporary,” and “traditional” indicates “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, or action.”  The Gospel is more powerful to unite and hold together than “he that is in the world” is to divide and set apart.
  • Are we presenting the enormity of the Gospel, its implications for the whole world, and the profound truth that this grace is extended to us as a people, and as individuals, and that we are privileged to announce it to the world?
    • Do we sing the full range of address where we expose and confess our own sinfulness in humility, pronounce Christ’s atonement and declare His sufficient grace for these sins and indeed the sins of the world?  Are we sent to worship through living in service as Christ’s ambassadors, trumpeting His message, unashamedly?

In Christian worship we are repositioned attitudinally in our spirit, reminded again that “This Is My Father’s World,” He is “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” and that there is “No Other Name” by which we might be saved.  While we celebrate “10,000 Reasons” and therefore “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,”  we encourage one another to re-orient where we have lost our outlook.  Christian worship can certainly serve to adjust our perspective if rooted in the larger truth of God’s story as opposed to a strangled vision that looks only at my own life and its present circumstances.  Here we can again be reminded that I come “Just As I Am” to be mended, healed, and to have my heart tuned to sing God’s grace.  We can extend an invitation, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” and be newly sent into the world to “Tell the Old, Old Story,” and to show the world that Jesus is “All to Us” and to display His likeness “By Our Love.”

A coming blog will deal with musical means and limitations of communicating larger truths.

WHAT SHAPE IS YOUR WORSHIP IN?

June 18, 2013

overweight When some of you saw the title of this article you may have assumed it to be a diatribe concerning how well the members of the worship team perform, making it an essay addressing singers, instrumentalists, or tech personnel.  You may have thought it to be about the shape of the building in which weekly worship takes place for your church.  At first glance you may have even thought it might be an appeal for worship leaders to start an exercise program (ok, I added a little trickery with the picture).  While all of those things are considerable issues for any worship ministry, I want to address the form of your church’s worship, especially addressing those of us who worship in settings where weekly worship planning determines the order of what comes when in worship.

As a worshiper who grew up his whole life in a tradition of free church worship where the order of service was left to the discretion of the pastor and musicians who would lead the worship, and who served the church in those ministries, I have found a richness available to worshipers in the form or shape of worship.

Serious students of worship have likely read works of Robert Webber, and know something about his discussion of four-fold worship, based on historic models and patterns consistent across denominational lines.  The form is simply; Gathering, WORD, TABLE (response), and Sending.  There are biblical examples in both Old and New Testament of this pattern in addition to those numerous liturgies through church history, and even contemporary forms we see in present day.  Lest we think of this as a “traditional” vs. “contemporary” question, most every book I have read by current authors on the subject come down to invoking this pattern, or some very close facsimile thereof.  I would like to point out some of the most important reasons I believe that shaping worship after this pattern holds value for any worship planner.

1.  The first advantage of using a four-fold pattern as the shape for Gathered worship is that there actually is a set plan.  Week in and week out, worship has a pattern that is predictable in its shape.  This in no way limits creativity, or gets in the way of “making all things new.”  To the contrary, form gives rise to freedom.  While expressions like “fresh” and “next level” have been used to sound “cutting edge” (another one), rescuing the tired expressions of “dynamic,” “exciting,” and “inspiring,” the truth is that all of these become cliché quite quickly.  Chasing novelty is a cultural temptress that often serves an inclination in worshipers that can easily simply become worshipers worshiping worship, or in essence worshipers worshiping themselves.  God forbid.  Monkeying with the order of worship for the purpose of bringing surprise – unexpected presentation, can easily degrade into little more than an engineered distraction.  Indeed, the surprise we need is the visitation of the Holy Spirit to speak in our present circumstance, and this not just to “meet our need,” but to move us toward Jesus, the ultimate direction of Christian worship.

   Having a set plan for the shape of worship relieves this novelty-driven pressure.  Granted, it is just as        possible to worship the worship when it is the historic and/or set plan that we admire.  In adhering to a form, however, it seems one shaped purposefully on biblical conveyance and historical consistence serves as a better anchor than the most recent variety show on television.  Christian worship seeks to connect God and people based on what God has provided, not what entertains us.  As the adage to preachers asks, “Sir, we would see Christ.

2.  The shape of the plan displays the Gospel.  The simplicity of the four-fold worship plan demonstrates in its form the Gospel (Good News) itself.  Gathering is only possible because God is already present and invites us into His presence to meet with Him and further blesses with the fellowship of fellow worshipers – humans who, like us, are sinners for whom God has made provision to enter into His presence.  The WORD is the very revelation that God makes of Himself to us.  It is the food of knowing Him, and sustenance to the soul.  In its revelation the Spirit speaks and Christ is revealed.  The Table invites our participation in that which has been offered, and we are given glorious opportunity to respond to the sacrifice of our Savior  in whose resurrection we find power and strength to live in covenant with Him and with one another as church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  The sending places us on our mission to be salt and light to the world, no longer living to ourselves, but as a living sacrifice for this is our spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1)  This shape models our initial acceptance of the Gospel, and can serve as ongoing reminder of our life position in Christ.

3.  The shape of the plan invites the Church to unceasing worship.  Thus we come to gathered worship already worshiping, we worship gathered in His presence finding strength in Him and in one another as we “spur one another on to love and good deeds,” hearing from Him through the Word, responding to Him (Table), and departing again to serve Him, still worshiping (serving) as we go.  We are always worshipers.  It is the life-journey of disciples of Jesus, for this follows His pattern of living as well.

4.  The shape of the worship connects the Church – local with universal.  While we Baptists shutter a bit at the notion of connectivity, it seems that if in Christ all things hold together, then being in Christ may well bring us toward a together condition.  Worshiping in the form that has historic roots all the way to the first century as well as extending to churches of many other faith traditions, its Gospel-form can accentuate our oneness in Christ, despite differences and divisions of disagreement.  What’s more, the historic rootedness reminds us that we are worshiping now, but as part of eternal worship which has been before us and continues into eternity.

 As I write this article I am beginning a week leading senior high students in choral music for Georgia Baptist Convention.  In selecting music it was helpful to consider choosing songs that fit well to serve a four-fold worship pattern in the shape of the Gospel.  I am praying the Lord will speak each day as these students gather, sing and consider the Word through music, respond to what God calls them to, and then will be sent back to their churches and communities to live out their worship.  I certainly know this will be a time for me also to “shape up.”

Interaction with Two Writers

June 11, 2013

graham-kendrick-album

Creator Spirit  cover  I love when aspects of my world(s) intertwine, or interact as it were.  As a pretense, I have been reading a book by Belmont professor, Dr. Steven Guthrie.  Last Winter Keith Getty introduced me to Steven, which started me paying attention to his work in the area of worship and the arts.  Steven’s book that I am presently reading is Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human.  Granted, I am not too far along in my reading of Steven’s book, but enough so to stimulate my own thinking about ways the Holy Spirit intervenes in our lives, and more pointedly for this discussion, how the Spirit connects with our human creativity, or perhaps how the Spirit speaks when we are creating.  What’s more, I have been wondering how our creativity might enliven our hunger to know more of the Spirit, and ways we are more sensitized to His message when engaged in artistic expression.  I have always suspicioned that our bent toward creativity was one indication of what it means to have been made in the image of Creator God.  I appreciate Steven Guthrie’s commitment to presenting the personal nature of the Holy Spirit, and doing so in light of biblical truth.

Now let me switch gears, though the previously mentioned emersion in  Steven Guthrie’s book serves as background here.  Last February I was privileged to be part of leadership in the “Text & Tune for Today’s Church” Conference at Carson Newman University in East Tennessee.  One of the primary presenters for that conference was song-writer, Graham Kendrick.  During that conference we had precious little time to spend together, and Graham and I agreed we would connect in future days.  Last Saturday I was privileged to have breakfast with Graham and his lovely wife, Jill.  I was richly enlightened just to engage Graham in conversation about his music, his view of the state of worship in the evangelical church, as well as to hear his insights into the state of the Church in the U.K.  It was an inspiring time, and for me certainly a blessing.

As Graham responded to questions about his creative processes in writing songs, proverbial bells began to ring in my head regarding what I was reading in the early pages of Guthrie’s book.  Let me share just a couple of prominent points where I sensed convergence of these two experiences leading:

  1. Matters of Spirit-work are resplendent with mystery.  A “spirituality” in which we sense the Spirit’s work, and yet struggle to find word constructs to articulate such working, seems to beg for art forms to count upon for its telling.  I personally believe the difficulty in describing how music has its meaning makes it a splendid art form for worship, seeing how this “non-knowing” parallels a “non-knowing” of the Spirit’s mystery.  Of course, all is a matter of grace.
  2. The Spirit intervenes in the midst of our faith journey (living life).  For the artist who is seeking inspiration for art expression, this may have to do more with simply living life by faith than necessarily seeking the inspiration itself, especially for utilitarian purposes.  I have, nonetheless, heard Graham speak of the ongoing work of creativity and practicing his craft.  Still, there is surely surprise in the living of life, and herein we often see the Hand of the Spirit active.
  3. Creative works are often best developed in community.  Graham spoke about songs begun in a more private setting, but developed amidst the community of faith.  He described for me a story song that gained strength as sung in the worshiping community where truth for the story’s protagonist becomes faith-building strength for worshipers.  Of course, this spoke loudly to me, given my interest in the dynamics of congregational worship singing.  If you think about it, this developmental practice has been the case with many, if not most, who have given large bodies of music to the worship life of the Church; Bach, Watts, Wesley, and more.  Ministry through meaning and significance of songs that have been conceived and developed in community seem positioned to stand the test of time.
  4. Creative expressions in worship must serve the Gospel.  Whether talking about the state of the church and its worship, or talking about song-writing, Graham often restated a determination that Gospel be at the core of worship and its music, certainly including his own creations and leading.  This determination harkens back again to Guthrie’s book where incarnation and re-creation hasten mind and heart to rest in God’s triumphant work.  These themes, resonant of Church Fathers like Athanasius, are drawn upon by Guthrie who shares the disciplines of music and theology.
  5. It seems when it comes to worship music, thoughtful study and analysis has followed practice, perhaps more than the other way around.

These musings may serve little more than to entice you toward Graham’s music, or Steve’s book.  If that is the response, it is well worth the effort, as I commend them both for your parousal.  I continue to ruminate on Guthrie’s book for insight and further contemplation regarding the work of the Spirit and connection to artistic expression.  Graham was generous enough to give me two CDs, which have played continuously in my car ever since, and I rarely listen to music while driving, but with these songs I am not just listening.  As has been the case with other friends’ music, I am singing along, worshiping, and envisioning the singing church.

SING IT AGAIN!

June 3, 2013

repeat sign Friend and recently retired Worship Pastor, Dr. Wendell Boertje and I were visiting during some down time at a recent conference we both attended.  The casual conversation turned to our shared joy of time spent with grandchildren.  During our gleeful exchange Wendell noted how kids love to repeat things.  We both agreed that a phrase heard often from the grands is “Do it again!”  Whether a game, an activity, a song, or a story, if children love something they want it repeated.  Grandparents are known to frequently oblige.  Whether in the next moment, or on the next visit, grandparents gladly engage in the games of repetition, and even more so when we believe the activity contributes to the well-being of the grandchild.  Whether a game of “Hide ‘n Seek” where I know there will be lots of laughs, screams, and hugs that further our loving relationship, or whether a silly song where we will enjoy making simple music together, or when we prepare for bedtime and the same Bible Story is called for again, where I know foundation for faith is being laid, I am more than happy to “do it again.”

In our worship singing it is important that we recognize the value of repetition.  I am not speaking of repeating a song, or a line of a song during a worship service, ad nauseam.  I am speaking more about re-scheduling the use of a song with sufficient frequency so as to make it a worship aid through which worshipers can enter into singing with head and heart engaged.  I am also referring similarly to the value of singing familiar worship music including time-honored hymns.  I have often been a part of worship services where unfamiliar songs met with mediocre participation at best, yet where a familiar worship song or hymn enlivened the congregation through increased participation.  Of course, that just makes sense, it’s familiar.  Exactly – that’s the point.

For the participating worshiper, intentional familiarity of newer songs can certainly assist those leading the worship singing.  In our day there is a high proliferation of new worship songs, a disposition toward becoming familiar quickly will aid the singing of others.  For choir and worship team singers this attitude is a must.  Of course, singing of new songs and the whole environment can be aided by a worship planner/leader who will pre-post songs and links via the church’s website when possible.

 We live in an impatient culture.  The cry for new is often, in fact, a disguise for novelty.  An erroneous presumption church leaders often make is that we must deliver ministry in a sparkling new wrapper week after week.  It is important that we recognize that the nature of biblical worship is to recall, to remember.  We need not be afraid of the “old, old story.”  It is the story of redemption and grace, the Gospel.  Sing it again!


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