Archive for May 2014

ASCENSION OF CHRIST – FAITH IN THE TRUE WORSHIP LEADER

May 28, 2014

the-ascension-of-christ-1636 Rembrandt Sometimes I feel like engaging in expressive worship as meted out by a music leader or preaching pastor, and sometimes I do not.  There, I said it.  That is just flat out honest, folks.  From the looks on worshipers’ faces I see, I tend to think I am not the only one.  Even when I am the one responsible to offer leadership by calling persons to sing this song or that, or by guiding a congregation through moments of prayer, scripture, and singing, still I may struggle to be in the frame of mind or emotion that seems to me, worshipful.  And when that absence is the case, ….ugh!  I can beat myself to a proverbial pulp.  How about you?  Some would tell me it is Satan, but I am not so sure if the blame on Him is suppose to be for my attitude, as in he is not letting me feel the way I “should,” or if the blame on him is for my reaction to how I feel (or don’t feel), as in he is giving the guilt because I react.  Either way, those “go through the motion” worship times can leave us feeling hollow.  Surely worship is supposed to do more for us and to us, isn’t it?  When I am leading in the worship event and I don’t feel like I think I should, I cannot help but think, “What kind of a worship leader am I?”  I stink.  On the other hand when I lead and feel exhilaration, I may question the intrinsic value of the buzz.  By extension, as a worshiper when not leading I still can be bothered by my perceived lack of certain emotions.

Turns out I am the kind of worship leader who needs a worship leader.  In fact, I am dependent upon the One true worship leader, Jesus.  Others have pounded this nail, but the realization of its truth still brings me to my knees (not a bad place to be related to this subject).  More importantly, the eternal truth that Jesus is our mediating Savior, and our only means to come into God’s Presence, and thus our one true Worship Leader, is a richly liberating certainty.  My faith is in Him regardless of how I feel.    No pastor, human worship leader, singer, song, or even worship itself can usher us into God’s Presence.  As we gather for worship in Jesus’ Name, Jesus is with us through the Holy Spirit, empowering and perfecting our worship.  Oh, thank God!  I am totally dependent upon Him.  Regardless of my emotions before, during, or after a time of gathered worship, I am fully reliant on Jesus.

I wanted to address Jesus’ mediation in our worship now because this Thursday is the 40th day of Easter, Ascension Day.  I believe it is a good time to reposition our worship in case we have allowed our feelings or lack thereof to dominate our mindset.  In that repositioning we replace our trust in its proper resting point, upon Jesus.  Study and reflection on effects of the ascension of Jesus into heaven can serve to govern our thinking that so easily drifts to a Unitarian (one direction) approach to our worship.  In Unitarian worship our worship is about how we experience God.  In Trinitarian worship we trust in Jesus, our great high priest and elder brother, to  draw us into communion of love that characterizes the eternal life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is love itself. (for more see James B. Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace)

A host of Baptist scholars join the chorus of theologians who draw attention to the intercessory work of Christ.  Here are primary theological focal points as noted in evangelical giant and ESV Bible general editor, Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology.  Concerning the work of Christ in the ascension these observations are offered:

  1. Christ ascended to a place.  The Ascension of Jesus, like his incarnation, atoning death, and bodily resurrection took place in time and space.  The Bible is careful to give this account identifying the place, Bethany, and tells of physical acts, “lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51)
  1. Christ Received Glory and Honor That Had Not Been His Before As the God-Man.  The glory is a restoration to the pre-incarnation position. (John 17:5)   (Acts 2:33-34), (Phil 2:9-11) (1 Tim 3:16; Heb 1:4) (Rev 5:12)
  1. Christ Was Seated at God’s Right Hand (Christ’s Session).  The Old Testament predicted this (Psalm 110:1)  In the New Testament we see it fulfilled and affirmed as such (Heb 1:3)  the work of redemption is complete.  We humans take a seat after a job done, so the Christ was seated in His rightful place at the completion of redemption’s work.  This placement, at the right hand of the Father, properly puts Christ in the place of authority over the universe.  God “raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.” (Eph 1:20-21).  Peter reiterates that angels, authorities, and powers are subject to him. (1 Peter 3:22)  His enemies are put under his feet (1 Cor 15:25).  Acts 7:56; Rev 2:1.
  1. Christ’s Ascension Has Doctrinal Significance for Our Lives.  Christ’s ascension into heaven foreshadows our future ascension with him.  “We who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess 4:17)
  1. States of Jesus Christ.  Humiliation – incarnation, suffering and death, burial. Exaltation – resurrection, ascension, session at the right hand of the Father, and return in glory and power.

Charles Hodge in his 1874 volume, Systematic Theology, assures us in stating:

All that the Son of God as incarnate is, and all that He did on earth, He is, and did for us; so that God can regard us with all the favour which is due to Him.  His presence, therefore, is a perpetual and prevailing intercession with God in behalf of his people, and secures for them all the benefits of his redemption.

No matter how we feel on any given Sunday or other time of worship, Christ is interceding on our behalf.  Our worship is perfected in Him.  May we be on mission reconciling the world to Him, for He is worthy!  As we are privileged to call others to sing, pray, proclaim, and praise, let us do so with complete confidence in Him.

Some Thoughts On Leading Singing In Church ( via Jamie Brown)

May 24, 2014

Good words from a newly discovered comrade spirit

mgpcpastor's blog

Jamie Brown offers some thoughts as a song leader addressign a situation of concern.
There’s a follow-up post here, as well.

Worship leaders, we must identify and kill performancism while we can.
It’s not rocket science.
Sing songs people know (or can learn easily). Sing them in congregational keys. Sing and celebrate the power, glory, and salvation of God. Serve your congregation. Saturate them with the word of God. Get your face off the big screen. Use your original songs in extreme moderation. Err on the side of including as many people as possible in what’s going on. Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology. Tailor your worship leading, and the songs you pick…

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REFLECTIONS OF A TRAVELING WORSHIPER

May 19, 2014

worshipers  So I have been packing up my office preparing for a move to a new location – same position and denominational entity, just a different locale.  Turns out fourteen years is plenty of time to build up quite a stash of stuff – some valuable and some….well, let’s just say I have made more than one trip to the dumpster.  Cleaning out desk drawers and files has given fresh inspiration to reflect on the many blessings of these fourteen years of serving Tennessee Baptists in the areas of worship and music ministry.  I have a file of worship bulletins from churches where I have attended worship over these years.  Besides having served nine churches as an interim worship music ministry leader, I have been a part of hundreds of worship services, some as the worship music leader, some as a visiting consultant, some as guest preacher, some as worship conference leader, some as a kind of “secret shopper,” helping the staff evaluate the guest experience, and some just as a worshiping traveler, or more to the point of this article, a traveling worshiper.  All this is in addition to the times I get to actually stay home and worship in the church where I am a member. Looking over these worship guides and reflecting on the many places and people with whom I have worshiped has caused me to contemplate my growth as a traveling worshiper.  It has inspired me to consider other observations from these experiences

Some of these observations include:

  • The musical language used in our churches has become increasingly diverse from one church setting to another
  • In my experience, participation in congregational singing seems to be stronger, percentage-wise, in smaller congregations than in larger ones
  • Participation in congregational singing is stronger in African-American and ethnic congregations than in predominantly Anglo ones.
  • Participation as integral within the total worship service is most prevalent in African-American churches, with outbreaks of singing anticipated during sermon and prayer times as well as designated times of singing praise
  • My own participation level as a traveling worshiper grows with each repetition of visits to a particular congregation, and has grown as a traveler/visitor exponentially in the last six years.  I believe the latter is due to an attitude of intentional participation.

I would like to address this last observation as it has impacted my life as a worshiper, and I believe has implications for others.  Note that in the term “traveling worshiper” the traveling part is the present participle that modifies the noun, “worshiper.”  In other words it is incumbent upon me to be an intentional worshiper first, just one who happens to travel, and thus find myself in many venues where I will be engaged in worship with worshiping communities.  I would note that repetitions of visits to a particular congregation allow me to engage more fully with each successive visit.  Even upon the second visit to a particular church I have a stronger sense as a worshiper of what to expect in terms of musical environment and dress code (I could tell some stories of personal awkwardness whether clad in coat and tie or blue jeans).  Upon a second or third visit I know more about worship space seating arrangements – where one does or does not sit in that particular church. Different churches have different piety and expectations related to physical participation in the church’s worship culture.  It is helpful as a worshiper to know before I go in whether a congregation’s culture is hand raising or fist clinching.  Also, I learn by the second or third visit just how likely it is that anyone will speak a personal word.  As a repeat attender my confidence grows as I know a bit more what to expect and how to participate in the church’s culture.  I find that my comfort level, confidence, and understanding of how to worship with the given congregation in their context grow with each visit.  Even when music expression is unfamiliar or is not the kind of music material I might prefer, opportunity to participate seems more accessible the second or third visit and beyond as I become familiar with the kind of material to be used.  In fact, I find it possible that a first visit to a worshiping church can bring joy in the discovery of how that congregation practices worship.  Intentional participation is an attitude I can bring to the worship event.  It includes a readiness to respond at the Lord’s invitation through leaders and through the call of His Spirit.

Six years ago through a combination of personal health crisis and a period of intense worship study as well as an adjustment in private practice of worship, the Lord did a work of renewal in my spirit concerning how I worship with congregations when I am traveling.  The life-threatening health crisis gave rise to a palpable gratitude for every moment of every day as gift from God – Eucharistic living.  When I walk into a church’s worship where I do not know anyone, I am still not a stranger, nor am I alone.  Although social settings can be intimidating, and by the way, gathered worship qualifies as a social setting, still the fact is that these are God’s people.  I am present first to worship with them as such.  Any evaluation and assessment they may request from me will be best voiced when rooted in some sense of having worshiped with them.  They will be best served if I have joined them in mind and spirit in their worship, even if their environment is nothing like what I worship in regularly.  In other words, it is best for me to engage through intentional participation.  Seeing fellow worshipers as brothers and sisters in Christ is up to me – intentional.

Intentional participation I believe to be a laudable objective for worshipers in all congregations, and is the spirit we leaders need to foster among our worshiping congregations.  To encourage such an attitude we need our senior pastors and all leaders to set the example by intentional participation themselves in all aspects of worship.

There are No Worship Wars at Memorial Services

May 12, 2014

RIP My Way  Having had occasion in recent weeks to participate in or attend a number of funeral services in churches, I have made particular note that there seems to be no issue regarding musical style in these services of ministry and worship.  Although churches seem to continue contentions, either openly or behind the scenes, regarding genres of musical expression in weekly worship gatherings, no such contention seems present when time comes for planning memorial services.  I am unaware of a single scenario where a church announces that there will be a “traditional” funeral service at 2:00pm followed by a “contemporary” service at 3:00pm, and a “blended” service at 4:00pm.  Nor have I heard of a deceased church member to be remembered via “Funeral Kids Style” in the Children’s Building, an “All-out Funeral” (labeled with some kitsch moniker trying to describe an anticipated experience that teenagers can anticipate) in the Student Life Center, a band-driven “Young Adult” service in Fellowship Hall that may either be an unplugged acoustic version or a deafening-decibels version depending on band availability, and finally a “Same Ol’ Traditional” service to be held in, where else? the Sanctuary.

Granted, I am being totally tongue-in-cheek concerning some conclusions of my observance, but the observance is true nonetheless.  Some might immediately observe that multiple services would not be needed for a funeral these days as modern trends do not find people attending funerals in great numbers anyway.  Indeed, while statistics bear out declining attendance for wakes and memorial services these days, one reason for this sad and telling fact is likely the way church leaders have split the church in weekly worship into the very kinds of self-obsessed divisions mentioned in the ironic description listed above.  After all, why would a vibrant teen who is living loud want to subject himself or herself to a service that is rooted in remembering a past of some elderly person who was outside their circle anyway?  Most likely you could continue in this satirical tone to fill in other equally erroneous situations that contradict conventional Christian norms and understandings of biblical teaching as to how believers are to treat one another.  St. Paul is not difficult to understand in this Romans 12 passage, just to offer one clear example:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  (Romans 12:10-16)

Just this past Saturday I attended two memorial services, one for a seventy-year-old saint, and one in memory of a twenty-one year old Christ-follower.  Though the congregations gathered for each of these services were multi-generational, I never heard a word of discontent over musical expression.  Some might say the homogenous spirit in this regard was out of respect for the deceased.  Such may be at least a factor, especially in the case of the former where music expression was all of a traditional style, nevertheless argument could be made that this simply amplifies the point.  Is not mutual respect a contributing factor in the very essence of how we are to worship in weekly gatherings?  Would we not then choose to defer to one another for purpose of mutuality in ministry and worship community, rather than demand what we prefer to be the musical repertoire, lest we pick up our instruments of choice and leave one fellowship to find another that “does it our way?”

Worship pastors, senior pastors, and other church leaders, let us pause to consider how our practices of weekly worship are forming the people of our flock.  May we include serious consideration of how we are leading them to consider one another, even as we think about the means of artistic expression with which we engage in Christian worship as a community of faith that professes to be one in Christ.  Perhaps we can learn from the respect we offer for those who we pray will rest in peace, and can intention to serve those with whom God calls us to live in peace.

WORSHIP THAT DIVIDES – AGEISM

May 5, 2014

ageism rock on  Caution: I have many friends I love dearly who practice that against which I preach in this post.  Most do so because they desire to reach outsiders with the Gospel.  Some because they are under authority of those who instruct the practice, and some who do so out of desperation for contextual “relevancy” as perceived by some, and an inability to see another way of its achievement.  The very sad fact is that I could fill a book with stories of servants who have fallen victim to ageism thinking and actions.  One such casualty was quoted as saying, “I refuse any longer to serve someone else’s burnout.”

The evangelical church in America seems to naturally struggle with the same “isms” that are prevalent in the rest of the culture, frequently falling woefully behind in overcoming some of those that are most divisive, and whose resolution seems the most challenging.  A prime example of this is my own SBC faith tradition that took 150 years to pronounce its resolve to eradicate racism in all its forms from SBC life and ministry.  That was in 1995, and now,  Hallelujah! we elected Dr. Fred Luter Jr., an African-American pastor to lead the denomination this year.  Not too surprisingly, though, the adage tends to remain that “Sunday morning at 11:00am (or whenever the church worships) is the most segregated hour in the week.” One hundred-fifty plus years of divided worship practice does not dissolve overnight.  Certainly there are exceptions to this practice, and a desire for racial integration in worship is surely more prevalent now than in days past.  The ongoing reality of divided worship, however, remains, and this is not just an issue of conservative and fundamentalist-leaning communions.  Cultural differences present high walls of separation that can be observed in most protestant churches, even those who have pronounced themselves open.

Other “isms” remain intact as well.  Sexism will likely continue to present overt challenges as pastoral leaders struggle to adequately articulate biblical teachings of complementarian vs. egalitarian views, and negotiate the resultant tensions associated with either.  At times the worship setting becomes the proving ground for the tensions, providing some unexpected resolve in some instances as worship bands feature female vocalists, and as churches struggle to staff leadership positions.

The human predicament continues on display as we have morphed now into an “ism” that would seem to be of our own making, ageism.  Granted, like other misguided exercises, ageism may have been adapted to suit perceived cultural context, but also like other truncations of Christian practice, its implementation has served to severely divide the church at its most needful point of unity, Christian worship.  Recognizing there are multiple justifications for slicing up a church body into separate worshiping venues, and not questioning that many motives of such dividing may be logical, and in fact almost always pragmatic in nature, I must, nevertheless, point to biblical teaching.  Here are but a few examples:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.  1 Timothy 5:1-3

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.  Psalm 145:4

Most convicting, perhaps, of all is the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17 in which He pleas for our unity:

That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.  John 17:21-26

Sending children off to their corner for “Kids Worship” and teens to their room for “Refuge,” or style-specific worship venues that target for similar age-divided effect seems simply contrary to biblical teaching of how we are to be church in passages like these:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  Romans 12:9-13

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.   Ephesians 4:1-4,11-16

Here are a few thoughts for your consideration and response.

Worshiping through all stages of life is best learned through shared observance of those who are living through those stages

Genuine relevance is rooted in the Gospel, not in personal preferences

Worship that engages all ages effectively takes intentional planning

Like racism, ageism is not overcome by segregated practice, but rather yielding our lives to follow the way taught in scripture (see above)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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