Archive for January 2014


January 26, 2014

heresthechurch  When I was a kid we use to repeat a little rhyme about the church.  We had hand motions to go with it.  I’ll bet you have done this little rhyme too.  It goes like this:

            Here is the church, and here is the steeple
            Open the door and there’s all the people

The hand motions involved interlocking knuckles of your fisted hands.  When you said, “here is the steeple,” you pointed your two index fingers such that they leaned on one another forming a steeple on your fist church.  When you said “open the door,” you folded the back of your hands back toward each other, exposing fingers that are criss-crossed and sticking up in the air displaying your gathered worshiping finger people.  As a five or six year old getting the knuckles part was hard.  Sometimes we tried to repeat the exercise and could easily repeat the words, but messed up because instead of starting out by folding our fingers under in making our fists and interlocking knuckles, we interlaced them through the other hand’s fingers, leaving the fingers overlapping on the outside.  This was a much more natural and comfortable feeling for our hands, and we could still go as far as “Here’s the steeple” part.  But – when we opened the door there were no people.  Eventually we figured out that the problem was the people (fingers) were now on the outside.  Hmmm….perhaps that is not a problem after all.  Gathered worship in fact leads to “Sent” worship in which the people who have committed to follow Christ indeed are on the outside, living out their worship in mission and ministry to the world.

The fourth “load-bearing wall” in Constance Cherry’s analogy of the architectural structure of worship, or the fourth “fold” of Robert Webber’s description upon which the former is built is what I would like to address in this post.  In the past three posts we have addressed the three load-bearing walls of worship structure in order which preclude this fourth wall I would like to address in this post.   As a reminder, we began with the Gathering of worship in which we come together before, and with the God Who has called us to worship.  We then moved to the Service of the Word in which we hear from God as He speaks through Holy Scripture and through His people.  Then we moved into the Service of the Table or time of Response in which we respond to what God has spoken to our hearts in worship as we come to the Table, offering a commitment of our lives, and covenanting as a community to continue in the way of Jesus.  This structure of worship reflects the historically practiced, biblically sound, and theologically rich liturgy of Christian Worship.  Today we look at this fourth load-bearing wall, which is the Sending.

Cautioning again against the distracting practices of “Program Worship” I would point out that when worship takes on the program or platform performance mentality, then the final acts tend to simply be signals that worship is done.  Just as we started, perhaps with a video countdown to get ready for the show, we are now done since there is no more performance on stage to see now.  Grab your coat and go home, cause we’re done.  Lord, help us break free from this all-too-popular form of programmed worship that may make for better TV, but distracts from faithful participatory worship engaging in Christian community.

Just as I have posited along with Constance Cherry and Robert Webber for a participatory practice in the Gathering, Word, and Table or Response portions of worship, we likewise certainly would argue that the act of Sending is one in which all worshipers are to be involved.  There are numerous fresh, creative means of enacting the sending portion of worship, just as there are many traditional practices.  Before determining specific components of a service’s sending, it is good to be reminded of some reasons why sending is an important aspect of our worship. Here are a few that Dr. Cherry points out in her book:

  • God sends us.  Just as it was God that called us to gather and worship, it is God who sends us to be salt and light in the world.
  • Sending is the oldest tradition of biblical worship, found in both Old and New Testaments.  The term “Mass” comes from the Latin, mitto miss, meaning “you are sent.”
  • Because God is sending us, within the sending act there is blessing pronounced as well as commission
  • Sending serves as lasting reminder that we are worshiping creatures sent to live out our worship as acting “Christians” or little Christs reflecting Him to those around us.
  • Sending presents opportunity for accountability reminder in our shared covenant
  • Sending can serve as a lasting reminder of what God has spoken to worshipers in the service from which dismissal occurs
  • Sending can offer moments of final hospitality to fellow worshipers in commitments of prayer and reminders of our charge

If we are to help worshipers understand Christian worship as a lifestyle (Rom 12:1) that continues 24/7, then the Sending offers just such an opportunity for such a reminder.  Engaging in community strengthening acts seem every bit as appropriate in these final moments of the gathered state as do the ones during the early gathering stages of the worship.  Consider these practical worship elements appropriate for sending;

  • Scriptural benediction
  • Challenge/charge
  • Open sharing of what worshipers heard from God in the worship
  • Passing of the peace
  • Congregational hymn
  • Brief chorus or refrain
  • Silence
  • Announcements of ministry opportunities
  • Recessional
  • Postlude[1]

[1] Constance Cherry The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and biblically Faithful Services, 117.


January 21, 2014
Graham Invitation
Just as I am without one plea,
but that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

This hymn has been sung countless times in churches, mission points, at evangelistic preaching events, and of course in Billy Graham crusades all around the world.  The pattern of revivalist worship that evolved from frontier days on the American plains was solidified in large part by the Graham crusades as they were broadcast through radio and television in the 1960’s to current day.  In my minds eye I can see the black and white broadcast picture of Cliff Barrows leading throngs of people with a choir of hundreds behind him clad in white shirts, singing Just As I Am, while throngs of responders streamed from the stands to take their place in front of the speaker platform.  Perhaps no other hymn has been sung as often in evangelical worship, and its singing is itself a means of response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as presented through God’s Word, the Bible.

In the previous two blog posts I have used the book, The Worship Architect, by Constance Cherry to distinguish between what she calls a “program worship” mindset and “participatory worship” mindset as it relates to the way we go about our corporate worship service, and especially how we function as hospitable worship leaders.  Dr. Cherry uses the building metaphor in her book, referencing four “walls” of worship as load-bearing walls.   The first “load bearing wall” was the Gathering of worship, the second load-bearing wall was the Word, and this week I want to address the third load-bearing wall, which is the Table, or as practiced more frequently in the Free Church tradition, Alternative Response.  Quite simply, this wall or fold of worship provides opportunity for the worshiper to worship in response to what God has spoke in the revealing of Himself through the Word.

Some faith traditions hold to a weekly “coming to the Table of our Lord.”  They recognize that first generation Christians celebrated this meal that Jesus instituted the night before His death.  Scripture indicates they engaged “day by day” as they met in the first Century (Acts 2:46).  Different theologies and scripture interpretations expressed by different faith traditions led to our different understandings and therefore our practices of worship at the Table.  My purpose here is not to once again exhaust these theologies, or even to revisit their implications for corporate worship. I would, however, encourage all worship leaders to study the Table, to embrace the historical understanding of your own faith tradition as it relates to the Lord’s Supper, and to deeply embrace that tradition as an act of Christian worship.  Before we get to the tensions of “program worship” versus “participatory worship” we must first grasp our own tradition’s practice related to this third “load-bearing wall.”  This is precisely because whereas some traditions believe this third wall is the Communion Table itself, most evangelicals, and certainly most Baptists would engage in what Constance Cherry and others refer to as “Alternative Response” as their third “load-bearing wall” in worship.  For those who do not practice weekly Communion the logical progression of worship leads the gathered body from Gathering into hearing of the Word and then forthrightly to a response to that word, which takes different forms as “Alternative Response.”

For Baptists and other evangelicals this response is known as “invitation,” because it is just that, an invitation to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The altar call is a time of open response inviting worshipers to hear the voice of the Master and respond as the Spirit leads.  As a rule the altar is open for those who desire to accept Christ for the first time, who want to join a particular body of believers as part of this local expression of the Body of Christ (the church), or who need to recommit their life in response to what the Spirit leads them to do on this particular day of worship.  These responses are rich opportunities for individuals.  The individual nature of the responses are clearly in keeping with the revivalist tradition which beckons to the individual worshiper.  While we would never negate the individual response in worship, we would, nonetheless, appeal to worship leaders to understand that response to the Word is also corporate in nature.

In her book Constance Cherry calls for worshipers to respond to the Word in corporate fashion, but hastens to remind us that in the earliest days of Christianity believers were encouraged at the same time to live lives worthy of their calling.  Dr Cherry beautifully unpacks the response to Peter’s sermon in the disciples’ worship setting in Acts 2.  She notes that there was an emotional response, “an outward expression of human pathos as a result of hearing the word.”  While certainly not the only means of response, we dare not shy away from the reality that humans are likely to respond in an emotional manner, and when they do this can be a biblical response to the Spirit’s Presence.  There well may be crying, laughter, groaning, clapping, shouting, and more.  In addition there was a spiritual response to the Word in terms of covenantal commitment among believers.  Repentance and formational change were obvious in Acts 2 and can be seen in worship response today.  Another means of response noted is symbolic response in which gestures, postures, and imagery portray our response to God.  Walking down the aisle, raising of hands in reply, kneeling, standing, or other gestures may well serve as means of indicating worshipers’ response to what God has spoken to His church.  Finally, the author notes action response to worship whereby a worshiper carries forth life involvements in response to what he or she has been challenged to in worship.  Signing up to serve in the soup kitchen may not seem very sanctimonious for some, but church leaders have found a way to provide commitment to such actions as a means of worship response.

Worship planners can enhance this important aspect of worship by carefully studying and praying the scriptures upon which the spoken Word will be centered.  Obviously, when a worship song or hymn will be sung as part of response careful selection is paramount as the people of God make their response to God in the Spirit.  Prayerful thinking about ways to underscore the corporate nature of response as well as provision for personal response may well inspire more creative means of the response portion of our worship.  It is opportunity to remind worshipers that we rest in the ultimate Worship Leader, Who is Jesus.  Notice in the response hymn that the heavy lifting belongs to Jesus.  Our part is simply to come to Him.  He is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  This is how we meaningfully can sing,

            Just as I am, Thy love unknown
            Hath broken every barrier down,
            Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
            O Lamb of God, I come! I come!


January 13, 2014

Preacher with Bible  In the last blog post I began a four-part series on the difference in program worship and participatory worship.  Reflecting on writings of Constance Cherry I wanted to draw attention, especially for worship leaders in evangelical churches, to the value of moving from program to participation, and pointing to some serious problems that develop as a result of the former.  The previous post dealt with the first fold of worship, the gathering.  This one deals with the Word in worship, and consideration of ways a program worship mindset dwarfs the worship and the worshiper, whereas a participatory mindset holds more true to historical pattern of biblical affinity.

Remember that the program approach to worship tends to make the “worshiper” the judge, the one to be pleased, the one for whom the program or performance is designed.  This is obviously backwards, since it is a very short jump to the mindset that the “worshiper” is the one being worshiped.  This is nothing less than idolatry.  Given that the “it’s all about me” mindset permeates our cultural context already, would-be worshipers seem to enter church services with the assumption that whatever goes on here “better be good,” and if it is not, I’m out.  And the “better be good” part again implies “good to me.”  The center of this worship is “I.”

Revelation and Response is the rhythm of worship.  God reveals Himself to us and we respond to Him.  In the four folds of healthy worship we find this rhythm maintains a steady beat throughout the worship.  In the gathering we are reminded that God has revealed Himself in time and has invited us to come before Him.  He is revealing Himself through each other as believers who are in Christ come together and join the many members to the one body.  Our opportunity in participatory worship is to respond to Him by thanksgiving, celebration, singing, and praise – Revelation and Response.  And the beat goes on!

In the second fold of worship we anticipate the most direct revelation of God in His Word.  While all folds of fourfold worship are bathed in scripture, the service of the Word is particularly intense with focus of “thus saith the Lord.”  So central is this aspect of our worship that we can well understand how church folk over time began to talk as much about “going to preaching” as they did “going to worship,” and eventually replaced one with the other.  This thinking, however, can develop a serious problem on both sides of the pulpit.  On the pew side, a notion develops returning us to a pre-Reformation mindset, whereby the preacher becomes priest, who alone holds the truth of scripture’s interpretation.  The attendee who already has a tendency to be spectator is further driven toward that mindset.  In worse case scenarios faith is placed in charismatic personalities, rather than the scripture itself.  Prayerful spirits of eager reception are replaced by “let’s see how you do” attitudes.  Over time, sensitivities to the Holy Spirit can be confused with how well we are inspired by a particular speaker.

On the pulpit side the danger of egoism may develop on one hand, or abject fear on the other.  Egoism may be cultivated when a preaching pastor recognizes his charismatic personality holds sway over attenders (or at least some of them).  In worse case scenarios folklore, personal opinion, and misinterpretation of scripture can hold sway, and preachers can remain unchecked on biblical affinity or theological soundness.  The preacher may have the absolute best of intentions, but we are all “prone to wonder.”  But what of the preaching pastor who lives in fear because of the pressure inherent with inspiring the people? And it seems nothing will remedy the lack of confidence.  Attending conferences, watching megachurch pastors’ videos, or studying charismatic leaders only adds to the fear that attenders will find him wanting as a performer.  This can leave the preacher one bad sermon away from demise.  We could go on….

But wait!  The service of the Word is about the WORD!  We want to hear from God – His revelation, which is found in and through His Word as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  The point is well articulated by Dr. Cherry,

The purpose of the service of the Word is so people may be addressed by God through the Holy Scriptures and thereby changed for God’s glory and kingdom.  Notice that it is not a matter of us addressing the Scripture, for that suggests that the primary point is the skill with which we handle the word of God.  Rather, the goal is for the scripture to address us.[1]

Worship music leaders may feel this subject does not apply to us, but the contrary is true.  Through the ministry of music in worship we help to prepare the heart to hear God’s address.  At times we place the very Word itself on the lips of the people, or present it through the musical expression of choirs, soloists, or ensemble singers.  The Worship Musician should never feel that their responsibility is to warm everybody up for the sermon.  Indeed, we often script and enlist participants to read the Word aloud, or even lead the whole gathered body in spoken or sung recitation at points in the service.  We guide worshipers in knowing where we are together in the Revelation – Response rhythm to maintain the beat.  Our sensibilities to God’s voice and reverence for His Word are likely evident in our demeanor, and actually become a point of leadership as we model an ethos in the free church tradition of worship whereby we expect the Lord to speak to our hearts.

Speak, O Lord as we come to You to receive the food of Your Holy Word.

[1] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, pg.70.


January 7, 2014

worship band  In the final chapter of Constance Cherry’s book on worship planning and structure she addresses what it means to be a Hospitable Worship Leader.  She draws a crucial distinction between program worship and participatory worship, and with firm biblical support suggests that we must move from the former to the later.  She strikes a convicting chord as she states:

For decades (even centuries), worship in many traditions has resembled a religious program.  There is a topic (God) and we sing about God or tell about God or discuss God.  We put in order a sequence of events designed to instruct or entertain the public.  We arrange for the performers, hoping that they will add an effective dimension to the program.[1]

The author effectively identifies the passive nature of this worship.  In matter of fact fashion she correctly identifies how program worship invites judgment.  As an observer for whom this worship has been planned, the person in the pew naturally responds to the program by evaluating what was liked, or not liked, what was learned or not, what was inspiring or not, what was of excellent or poor standards.  Responding as a critic is quite natural, “for a performance is done for us and begs for our satisfaction.”[2]

I fear this confronts us with a disturbing reality and seriously begs the question of understanding our role in pastoring – shepherding – guiding in Christian worship.  Worship presented in scripture is participative, not passive.  In worship that is shaped by gathering, the Word, the Table (responding), and sending.  There is active motion in the communion/encounter with God.  Utilizing this simple, though biblically and liturgically sound pattern of four-fold worship structure, let’s consider how a “program worship” mindset can interfere with participative worship where we engage with the Triune Living God.  We will look at each one of the sections (Gathering, WORD, TABLE, Sending) in separate blogposts.  I pray this might spawn your thinking and even open discussion to aid a more engaging worship environment.


GATHERING – When program worship is planned our invitation to worship becomes an invitation to see and hear performers, even though the performance may be about God things.  Consider present-day environments where lighting clearly resembles a theatrical stage, and pre-service dramatic buildup leads to the entrance of platform personnel who will perform.  The community into which this piety may form us seems to imitate the faceless, nameless Rock concert crowd, rather than confessing disciples responding to the Spirit’s call to enter gates with thanksgiving.  Opening words like, “How’s everybody doing this morning?” whether spoken into an over-amplified microphone to continue that Rock concert feel, or delivered in the folksy, “How’r ya’ll doin’?” manner, either way seems to deflect attention from even the possibility of a Present Incarnate Deity.  If our Gathering is the people of God responding to His invitation to come and worship, recognizing that we are the Body that has been scattered, but comes to worship gathered, then surely we leaders must help prepare the way.  Dr. Cherry notes the purpose of the gathering as twofold: “(1) to unite our spirits in God’s presence and (2) to prepare us to hear the word of God.”[3]

This purpose holds great promise, and reason for anticipation in itself.  There is certainly good reason for church leaders to avoid a funeral home-esque pre-service atmosphere that might suggest that Holy Presence = somber sadness, just as they would avoid flippant pre-service gymnastics that seem to imply “Get ready, the big stars are comin’ up next.”  Serious, honest analysis of embedded messages in our methods, means, and materials utilized during Gathering must surely be an ongoing and regular practice for leaders sincere about God-centered, God-encountering, Biblically sound worship.  Precisely because so many of us who lead are performers at some level by training, such honest evaluation can prove difficult, even testing the fabric of our relationships.  If, however, we intend to guide genuine Christian worship, we must humble ourselves and engage in such analysis.  Otherwise, we risk just another program about God, rather than helping set the stage for transformative encounter with Him.

[1] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker), 269.
[2] ibid.
[3] Ibid. pg 55.


January 2, 2014

Simeon_the_Righteous-Yegorov  Christmas has reminded us again of the coming of Christ.  We sang it and declared it in numerous ways, “Our God is with us!” Emmanuel has come.  The miracle of Christian worship is wrapped in this truth that the God we worship meets with us.  We know the scriptures well that remind us of that very truth.  Here are just a few scriptural reminders and assurances; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20) “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

When we are given responsibility to direct Christian worship through music or preaching there is an inherent temptation to work so hard at the parts of a service where we ourselves will sing, lead, or speak that we risk feeling like good worship is up to us.  Without intending such a thing, we can far too easily allow the worship venue to become a platform for our own performance.  Technology and theatrics seem to only add to this temptation in our showbiz culture.  Another theological danger is that worship can become focused only in one direction, whereby we lead people to think worship is only what we proclaim toward God and other people.  If we are not careful we can leave people sensing that God is a passive observer waiting for us to do something in worship that pleases Him.  One of the challenges that we have when worship planning is not guided by prescription is to be certain that components needed in our engagement with God are not missing.  In these settings extra burden is placed on singing and on intermittent prayers and readings to carry the proverbial water of the worship communication.  It should surely be obvious that worship must not only leave room, but in fact actively seek and embrace the ongoing intervention of the Lord.  One problem in this regard is that a preaching pastor may feel that the only “Thus saith the Lord” occurs in his sermon.  Such a view tends to severely limit participation by worshipers, and stifles other scripture readings, songs, and/or prayers that may convey a word from the Lord.

One way that I commend that all worship leadership, whether music or preaching or planning and facilitating through some other means, is to spend time reviewing Christian worship history.  Such study includes the shape as well as the detail of historic liturgy.  Obviously major changes in Church History have significantly changed the trajectory of worship.  I am not suggesting we attempt return to some imaginary point in time when worship was done “right,” as if this will automatically correct our ills.  Our human condition pushes us toward excesses of all kinds, and thus the importance of surrendering our worship to the finished work of our High Priest cannot be overstated.

I was reviewing a traditional protestant worship liturgy for Epiphany and could not help but note how often worshipers are invited to hear God’s voice based on the activities in the liturgy.  Theologian – author – liturgist, John Witvliet is credited with formatting the liturgy, which is used as a sample in Robert Webber’s encyclopedic work, The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol 5.  In his commentary notes he states that the form and headings could well be used in any service of Christian worship, which seems clear given the nature of Epiphany that declares the manifestation of Christ as Savior of the world, and encourages us to allow His work to take root in us.  The liturgy provides for God’s voice as reflected even in its headings, “God’s Word of Greeting,” “God’s Word of Pardon,” “God’s Word of Life,” “God’s Gift of the Sacrament,” and His “Dispersal Into the World.”

Not long ago I consulted with a believer who was dissatisfied in his church and was giving consideration to beginning another church.  In our conversation I asked simply, “What are important components that you believe are missing from your present church that you feel are crucial to Christian worship and witness?”  His answer saddened me deeply.  He said there was no sense of grace in the present situation.  Indeed, it is grace that is the proper basis of worship, and that message must come from God Himself.  Robert Wenz reminds us of the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians in this regard:

            “he chose us….to be holy and blameless” (Eph 1:4)
            “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons” (1:4)
            “in him we have redemption” (1:7)
            “to bring all things…together under one head” (1:10)
            “you also were included in Christ” (1:13)
            “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him” (2:6)
            “you who were once far away have been brought near” (2:13)
            “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens” (2:19)

As we plan and lead out in Christian worship let us be certain that there is plenty of opportunity for God to speak, for such is a true grace gift.  What a profound blessing to hear “The Word of God for the People of God.”  Let us respond, “Thanks be to God!”

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