Archive for June 2014

MULTI-GENERATIONAL WORSHIP

June 24, 2014

Church I have read and re-read posts and book excerpts and other material regarding multi-generational worship. I even meandered off the path a bit (though it is related) to an article attacking youth ministry as “a failed 50-year experiment.”  Authors from diverse backgrounds and theological postures have addressed the issue of age-segregated worship, as well as age-division in other aspects of church life.  While taking care not to impugn motives, strong responses still surface from some of these leaders.  The use of descriptors like “total mess” and “chronological snobbery” makes clear their disposition toward the practice, and gives an indication of their sense of the extent to which that practice has damaged church unity, and contributed to the ongoing decline of young adults who regularly attend church worship.  In spite of declining statistics, some leaders have, nevertheless, seemed to double down on efforts to segregate worshipers by age, or by stylistic preference.

There are certainly plenty of challenges when seeking to bring age groups together in unified public worship, but I am convinced the long-term value is worth the effort, and the ultimate result needs to be Spirit-empowered, anyway, and not just human engineered.  Terry York says, “Cross-generational worship calls the generations to respect each other’s worship treasures as family heirlooms, contributions to the story of which they are a part.”[1]  Likewise, intergenerational worship calls for worshipers of all ages to join in confronting realities that  may give reason for lament as well as causes for celebration.  Rather than propose the world is “happy, happy, happy” all the time, perhaps all generations need to celebrate when appropriate, and then also to respond in lament to honest confrontation of issues that face any of us in contemporary life that scripture says are contrary to God’s design.  Worship speaks of right order, but also addresses fractured relationships, fear, loss, and heartache.  All ages are effected by these. John Witvliet notes:

We are ministering in a broken world.  Even in North America suburbia, all is not well.  And regardless of your generation there is nothing as relevant as showing up at church on a Sunday morning and joining a congregation that is willing to name precisely and intercede passionately for the very problem that drove you there in the first place.[2]

Proposals for multi-generational worship are often opposed on grounds that stylistic choices in music will keep some group upset at all times.  The thought is that if old hymns are used, then young worshipers will be disinterested, and if newer songs are used older worshipers will be left out.  Marginalizing of worshipers’ ability to respond to musical breadth and/or to grow through worship education would seem to be indicative of deeper problems.  Considerations for multi-generational corporate worship must take into account process as well as expectation.  Forming biblical character in churches as well as individual persons does not occur unilaterally; rather it is a community event.  In fact, it is precisely this aspect of ecclesiology (who is the church) that is at issue here.  When we can only worship with others of our same age group, or musical dialect, we are likely forming an unhealthy community.  As Bill Davis says in his doctoral dissertation on this subject, “The cost of satisfaction gained from generation-focused worship is the forfeiture of the richness of intergenerational connections.”[3]

Some considerations regarding intergenerational worship participation:

  • Seniors face physical issues different from what youthful worship participation might require (unable to do as much standing, getting up and down, difficulty kneeling)
  • Vocal ranges for seniors are more limited, especially at the high end
  • Children face challenges of comprehension and attention span
  • Teens face challenges of self-conscious peer relationships
  • Adults face challenge of self-actualization impatience
  • Differences in kinds of thinking, linear for middle to older adults, and mosaic for younger adults and students
  • Music volume is often more at issue than style or selection, older adults and children may be sensitive to loudness

In a subsequent article we will offer suggestions for intergenerational worship components and resources, but the late Robert Webber offered this general thought toward healthy worship including intergenerational worship settings.  He said, “In contemporary society the heart is reached through participation, and all approaches to worship need to relearn how to achieve services characterized by immersed participation.[4]

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

                                                                        -Psalm 145:3-5

 

[1] Terry York, “Cross-Generational Worship”

[2] John Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding (Baker Academic 2003), 62.

[3] Bill Davis, “Creating a Climate for Intergenerational Worship at Thomasville Road Baptist Church,” (Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies, 2007)

[4] Robert Webber, Planning Blended Worship (Abingdon Press), 29.

PASTORS, I HOPE YOU WANT YOUR PEOPLE TO KNOW WHY WE SING IN CHURCH

June 16, 2014

Singing Worship  The following excerpt from a book by Jonathan Leeman was posted by one of my pastor friends, Justin Wainscott, in his church’s weekly newsletter.  I believe it is highly significant that this encouragement is coming from the senior pastor to his people.  Our churches would be well served by more under-shepherds caring about how their flocks participate in corporate worship, and take simple steps like this one to help worshipers engage with head and heart.  It is one thing for the worship music leader to educate, and I certainly advocate that, but for many worshipers more gravity is given when the senior pastor makes such an effort as well. Here is the article as it appeared in the church’s newsletter:

WHY WE SING IN CHURCH

It is a helpful reminder of the significance of singing, and of congregational singing in particular.

Believers sing in churches because Christ has commanded us to sing (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19). Yet let me unpack that truth by articulating three reasons for why I expect God would command his people to speak to one another not just in prose, but in poetry and melody.

We Sing To Own and Affirm the Word

Singing is how the congregation owns and affirms the Word for itself. In the Bible, singing is one God-ordained way for the members of a congregation to respond to God’s revelation. It’s how they raise their hand and say, “Yes, I believe and affirm these truths with my whole person.”

Churches sing because their new hearts can’t help but echo the Word, which has given them life. Whether those songs were written in the sixteenth century or today, they should echo Scripture. If there is any place where God’s Word should literally reverberate, it should reverberate in the church’s songs.

We Sing to Engage Our Emotions with God’s Word

Singing is how the congregation particularly engages its emotions and affections with God’s Word. When we sing, it’s hard to remain emotionally disengaged. Just as the sense of smell can evoke strong associations and memories, so the sound of music both evokes and provokes the heart’s joys, griefs, longings, hopes, and sorrows. Singing, I’d say, is the medium by which God’s people grab hold of his Word and align their emotions and affections to God’s.

We Sing To Demonstrate and Build Unity

Singing is one way of demonstrating and building corporate unity. Singing God’s Word is how a congregation tunes its heart together across the whole range of biblically-driven affections. And churches sing together because it helps us to see that our hearts’ praises, confessions, and resolutions are shared. We’re not alone.

What should be clear in all three reasons for why we sing is that singing in church should be about the church singing—congregational singing. Perhaps choirs and soloists can be carefully used to call the church to respond. And musical performances outside the gathered church are wonderful. But God has given music to the gathered church so that the people together can own, affirm, rejoice in, and unite around God’s Word. Far better than the sweet harmonies of a few trained singers is the rough and hale sound of pardoned criminals, delighting with one voice in their Savior.

The most beautiful instrument in any Christian service is the sound of the congregation singing.

Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Action, and Freedom to His People (Chicago: Moody Publishers), 156-158.

Screens AND Hymnals

June 12, 2014

Screens and Hymnals

My good friend and colleague in worship ministry, Mark Edwards is the former Minister of Music of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee where he served for more than thirty years.  He was subsequently Vice President for Celebrating Grace Publishing.  He recently shared this article with me asking for my review of its content.  When I discovered he had no particular plans for its publishing at the time I asked permission to share it, as I believe it so well states a thoughtful approach to use of screens and hymnals in worship, just as the title suggests.  Mark’s discerning consideration here reflects the kind of thinking needed for any and all inventions we might bring to utilize in the gathered worship setting.

Screens AND Hymnals
By Mark Edwards

Many churches are using screens in worship to good advantage.  During the sermon, a well-chosen picture or graphic is worth a thousand words and judicious use of visual images communicates quickly and meaningfully.  They also provide textural variety to the fabric of the service.

The same is true of using screens for congregational singing.  Many hymns and songs have become part of a congregation’s memory bank, so lyrics on a screen serve a handy reminder of exact wording.  Those who like to sing harmony on these familiar favorites generally have the harmony line memorized.

One of the early and valid reasons church leaders gravitated to using screens was, that with the rapidly growing body of Christian song, hymnals were limiting. How shall we “sing unto the Lord a new song” if the new song was not in the congregation’s hymnal?  Good point.  It can be done, but it is a pretty slow process.

The flip side of that coin is that some are discovering that the exclusive use of screens for congregational singing is also limiting.  They are also becoming aware that it hints of elitism because:

    • it presupposes that everyone in the congregation is familiar with the song and thus need only minimal help;
    • it assumes that everyone in the congregation knows the melody and is able to sing it; enthusiastically like those around them.  (Someone jokingly suggested that, perhaps, the melody could be placed on the screen and let congregations guess what the words are.)

Never putting a hymn page in the hands of the congregation is a little insulting because it delivers a not-so-subtle message that:

    • people must be spoon-fed a line or two a time, that they can’t manage a “plate-full;”
    • people can’t read music well enough to know if a melody goes up or down (which eventually will be the case);
    • people prefer the experience and the sound of unison singing to the richness of harmony.

When, in the course of a sermon, the pastor asks the congregation to find and follow a passage in the Bible, a certain amount of “weight” is added to the passage itself and to what the preacher will say about it.  Many times the preacher will also draw attention to context of a passage – that which precedes and follows the actual passage.  For example, John 3:16 is a wonderful passage and encapsulates the gospel message in a few words., but that single verse takes on greater meaning when read in context of John 3.15 and John 3:17, all of John 3, John 2 and John 4.  Using a hymnal helps the worshiper catch context and greater meaning, because other stanzas are in full view and usually sung.

In congregational singing, some are finding that using both screens and hymnals – though not at the same time – offers the best of each.  If screens and hymnals are used at the same time, the vast majority of the congregation will opt for the easy way out – it is just human nature.  But the “easy way out” is not a particularly good posture for worship. Scripting moments in worship that necessitates hymnal use can offer a “new” texture and possibly deeper experience, especially if the leader is willing to approach worship leading as teacher of Christian song, half of which is its theology.

 

DO WE TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT TO EMPOWER OUR WORSHIP?

June 9, 2014

Pentecost Restout 1732
  Pentecost Sunday – “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos which translates as “fiftieth day.”  For Jews the day comes fifty days after the first Seder, and is associated with the Feast of Weeks, commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  For Christians Pentecost Sunday is observed the 7th Sunday (7-weeks – fifty days) after Easter, celebrating the day the Holy Spirit came to the church.  For comparable thoughts regarding the fifty days of Easter see a post by friend and colleague, David Manner. http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/easter-sunday-was-a-waste-of-time/

Did this Sunday’s (June 8, 2014) worldwide Christian observance go unnoticed at your church?  For many evangelical churches it likely did go unnoticed and unnoted.  I am a lifelong Southern Baptist.  It has been said of we Southern Baptists that ours is an ecclesial tradition with a tradition of doing away with tradition.  Certainly, there are reasons to be given for pushing away from some practices.  I would argue, however, that celebrating major acts of God in the world by observing their anniversaries as high and holy is itself an act of worship. We could say more, but let’s save that for a more direct article for another day.  Rather, my desire here is to call to awareness the desperate need of all churches to rely afresh on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our worship as the sole source of life-giving, life-changing efficacy in our midst.  From the gathering of the church body to the reading and proclamation of the written Word to the response of believers and non-believers to that Word, and to the sending out of God’s people toward ministry and mission, all is dependent upon the unifying, illuminating, reconciling, and commission-empowering work of the Holy Spirit.  God convict us when we overlook our desperate need for Him in all we think, say, and do.  Biblical and historical references to the Spirit as wind, fire, water, air, and that which in fact gives and is to control our life and mind, all point us toward our desperate need of the Comforter, Convictor, Healer, Witness, Truth.

Why am I, a state convention worship music ministry leader, daring to step into this arena of discussion?  First, because surely it is only by the Spirit that we can worship the Triune God in the first place.  As I have noted previously, I fear too often in our day we attempt a unitarian rather than Trinitarian worship.  The sense of uni-directional worship contributes to my conviction of the level to which we in music ministry leadership have capitulated to consumerist-driven whims of church hoppers, church industry marketeers, and CEO-styled senior pastors seeking a corner on the church-going market, as a means of building our churches.  It concerns me that these submissions are often embraced as the means of correction to declining attendance and/or the way to evangelize, when the root of need in the church is a dependency upon the Holy Spirit, and renewed sensitivity to the Spirit’s direction.  I fear that often our tendency is to clever-up our speakers, contemporize our settings, or make our music sound like something we think outsiders want to hear, rather than to turn first to pray prayers of illumination, invocation, and intercession.  Often it seems our invention smacks of mistrust of the unseen Spirit.  Author, former pastor, and speaker, Francis Chan states:

The benchmark of success in church services has become more about attendance than the movement of the Holy Spirit.  The ‘entertainment’ model of church was largely adopted in the 1980’s and ‘90s, and while it alleviated some of our boredom for a couple of hours a week, it filled our churches with self-focused consumers rather than self-sacrificing servants attuned to the Holy Spirit.[1]

The same Francis Chan, who pastored a 4,000+ member church in California, walked away from the congregation and moved to China, expressing concerns that he had become “Christian famous,” noting that he heard his own name in his own church more frequently than he heard the name of the Holy Spirit.

Baptist theologian, Malcolm Yarnell states unequivocally, “The central meaning of Pentecost is that the Spirit has come upon the church, empowering believers for the ministry of proclamation.”  He goes on to note, “Conversion is not limited to the first disciples; conversion is the fruit of the disciples’ worldwide task of evangelism empowered by the Spirit.”[2]

Amidst gloomy reports indicating declines in church attendance in America, and even all-out departure from the faith, especially by young adults raised in evangelical environments, I am encouraged to hear some leaders calling for prayer.

            Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,
            Giving life to all that God has made,
            Show Your power once again on earth;
            Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways.
            Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
            Lead us on the road to sacrifice
            That in unity the face of Christ
            Will be clear for all the world to see.
                        –Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God
                        Words & Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
                        ©2006 Thank You Music

 

[1] Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, 15-16.

[2] Malcolm Yarnell, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit” in Theology for the Church, Daniel Akin, editor, 617.

 

WORSHIP ADJUSTS OUR SIGHT

June 2, 2014

fedex-logo  In a training video I recently viewed I heard Matt Pappa talk about letting our sight adjust in worship, so that we see God’s glory.  When we come into Christian worship we may need to let our eyes adjust such that we can see Jesus.  He noted that actions in which we participate during worship can aid that adjustment, and off-handedly he mentioned the “fake it ‘til you make it” notion.  Those who lead in corporate worship have a wonderful opportunity to call worshipers into activities of participation that offer aural and physical display of response to seeing Jesus.  Regardless of how we might feel on a given Sunday, entering into these participative activities of worship can help our eyes adjust to the vision needed to see the Lord, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6).  We may be helped into a posture by which we can better hear the Lord speak to us, respond to His call, and therefore depart to serve Him in a world that needs our Savior.  I like this metaphor of letting our eyes adjust to where we can see, kinda like when you step in or out of the bright sun.

Have you ever played those visual brain teasers where you are suppose to stare at a picture or drawing long enough to see something not immediately evident?  Some of these puzzles are pretty good pencil drawings, paintings, or other art forms.  Some companies, such as Tennessee’s #1 corporation, FedEx, have even utilized the “negative space” visual gimmick in their logo design.  While the FedEx orange and navy logo affixed on the usual white background is not exactly high art, look for the white arrow strategically located as a result of the way “E” and “X” come together.  If you are like me, once you see it, you will be unable to not see it again.  It has to do with how the brain treats the reversing of the edges of the letters in relation to background, or something.

On one hand I file this kind of thing under the category of “Things that make me go, ‘hmmmm!”  On the other hand, I am amazed at the complexity of the human brain, and quite curious as to how conscious repositioning of stimuli is accomplished.  Ultimately as a believer in a Creator God I am amazed at how He has made us.  As a worshiper, the more I contemplate the wonder of the inner workings of mind and body, and its effect on all of life in the world, I am compelled to praise the Creator who has made us.  Pondering occurrences in the natural world can bring me to worship the Lord.  Let me hasten to state that this sequence of linear reasoning is not the point, lest some misinterpret that worship is just a form of logical awareness.  The point I ask you to consider is the wonder even present in gaps of not-knowing.  Even in the above sequence, there are gaps between the “hmmm!” and the curious pondering, and the contemplative wonder, and the attribution of process to Creator God.  Should we not consider worship as unceasing, even when we may be less than acutely aware of its immediacy?  This may also speak to where we are in our emotional response.  When spiritual eyes are in process of adjusting we may not be especially emotive in response.  At the proverbial end of the day our faith rests in Christ alone.

When I attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky I doubled down on the study of music.  Under the tutelage of professors and other master musicians I pondered the use of theory, form and analysis, and schemes of poetic lyrics in works of musical geniuses, churchmen, and those who subjected the art of music to theological interpretation.  I sought to know how these disciplines would be applied in local church ministry to disseminate the gospel in people’s lives, as I also pondered what my part in the enterprise would be when ministry was fleshed out. There were times that it felt like too much too fast, and with a family to feed, I wanted to just make it through the classes, get my diploma framed, and get out into the “real world.”  But alas, even in those days there were immediate applications that had me staring at the “negative spaces” as it were.  I was not able to see exactly what was happening at the time, but rather lived in the “in-between” of factual stuff, pondering, and conscious knowing.  Looking back on it now, I believe the whole time I was growing.  My ability to see and hear were being adjusted, which caused more pondering, which at times lead to conscious worship.  I would posit that the in-between states are likewise worship.  I further believe this relates to how we might encourage persons in corporate worship, recognizing they may be in differing stages of fact-gathering, pondering, conscious worship awareness.  Part of our responsibility and joy as leaders is to aid in sight adjustment.  Encouraging worshipers to join in the actions of singing, lifting hands, reciting scripture together, bowing heads, kneeling, actively listening, and other forms of response are all part of the responsibility and privilege of those who lead in Christian worship.  Rather than thinking of ourselves as cheerleaders, perhaps we should think more as optometrist.


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