Archive for October 2014


October 27, 2014

child singing in pewOver the course of a year I have the privilege of joining many different congregations for Sunday worship. I have to say that I often wonder if people know why they are in a worship service in the first place. I should quickly say that this is of course not the case in every situation, but more often than not there seems at best to be a vague comprehension of why we have gathered. The blame for confused behavior should not lie completely with attendees, as I am pretty sure that pastors, worship leaders, and other church leadership over time have unintentionally contributed to, if not engineered this problem. The problem is one of non-participation, especially in the singing of worship songs. On an optimistic note, it seems some leaders are now recognizing and addressing the issue. I cannot help but think those who have previously contributed to the problem, but have had a change of heart, might best serve the body by admitting such, even drawing attention to specific ways previous actions may have contributed to weak theological understanding and practice of our worship in Christ. Our purpose in this article is not to belabor those issues, but I did want to at least call attention to the opportunity biblical introspection might provide for leadership by example. Confession is not only good for the soul, it serves the larger body, and reminds us our hope is in Christ, the one true worship leader.

Some indicators that people do not grasp the purpose of worship:

  • Expectations are self-focused “What will I get out of this?” “Do I like the music/sermon/atmosphere, etc.?”
  • Priority desire that music be performed for me to enjoy, or to inspire me, rather than provide opportunity for me to participate in praise and worship made holy in Christ, and serving His Kingdom.
  • More interest in techniques that will hold our interest than giving our attention and energy to fulfilling acts that help gather up the worship of all creation (see below).
  • Half-hearted attendance patterns for gathered worship events.
  • Inattention to leaders and/or fellow worshipers throughout a worship event.
  • Lack of hospitable atmosphere for regular worship attendees and/or guests

As mentioned previously, misunderstandings of the purpose of worship may have been engineered where these symptoms exist. However, I often hear these leaders express concern over the very issue of non-participation, which seems for some a starting point from which other routes of motivation are implored. Thinking may go like this:

  • People seem disinterested, so let’s engage them with videos and lights and things that they see and like in other contexts
  • Worshipers are not singing, let’s play louder to make it feel like more are involved, and use microphones for lead singers to get the sound out front
  • Visitors do not know older songs, let’s create simple hooks and dress them with instrumentation for interest.
  • Worship theology goes over their heads, just stick to a theme for the day and make everything about that one theme
  • At best people will give an hour or two to attend church per week, we better keep it moving and exciting for them or we’ll lose them

In these scenarios my initial tendency is to lean on the leaders to foster transformation of the attitudes that are most problematic. Most often change begins in and with leadership. I must wonder as well, however, what might happen if mature and maturing worshipers in the pew began to take their song back. As a worshiper in modern worship I admit to being confused at times as to whether I am suppose to sing along, or listen to a performer present a song. This is especially the case when words are projected for an entire song anyway. In a spectator culture our tendency is to sit and listen, but what if we in the pew changed that by presuming the opposite? What if our default setting was to join the singing? Give me the words, and an idea of how the song goes, and I am in! This might help our leaders to know we are locked and loaded and ready to sing. Good leaders need good followers who are in the ready position. If singing, rather than spectator silence, were our default setting it might also build the confidence of our music leaders to expand our repertoire of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to include more robust expressions of theological truth, doxological breadth, and evangelical proclamation.

So, if I am not coming to worship so I will feel better, or get a spiritual fix, then why should I invest the time? Theologian, James Torrance helps us better understand:

God made men and women in his own image to be the priests of creation and to express on behalf of all creatures the praises of God, so that through human lips the heavens might declare the glory of God.[1]

There is a liturgical dilemma, however, in that men and women have fallen short of the glory of God. We are incapable of worshiping in the pureness of life required by the purity of God.[2] Whereas in the Old Testament the High Priest was himself a sinner entering into an earthly Jerusalem sanctuary that was only a pale copy of heaven itself. Jesus is our High Priest, sinless without spot and enters the eternal heaven, sits now at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Hebrews shows our worship is in Christ, the eternal Savior and Lord. He calls us brothers and sings in our midst in our worship (Hebrews 2:11-12).

Worshipers, do you have a song? YES!! It is Jesus! Let us shake off the notions of temporarily feeling good or better, and embrace the eternal worship in Christ. Let us join the everlasting song and crown Him Lord of all!!!

[1] James Torrance Worship, Community, and the Triune Grace of God, 1.

[2] Christopher Cocksworth, Holy, Holy, Holy: Worshipping the Trinitarian God, 151.

Singing Worship and Mission – A Personal Testimony

October 20, 2014

World  I grew up on the second pew of Baptist churches where my dear dad was pastor. He was preacher, too, of course, but I choose the term pastor to reference Dad as a term of endearment because he was first and foremost a shepherding pastor of the people he served. His preaching was clearly an aspect of pastoring, shepherding God’s people through the Word of God. It was a normal and regular occurrence to hear prayers for specific church members by name voiced in our home before meals or bedtime. It was not unusual to sense Dad’s desire for spiritual renewal to take hold in the congregation, or for the church to have courage in their witness. We prayed for missionaries by name, and purposefully learned about them, including hosting them in our church and home at times. I am sure that kind of home environment fueled my grasp of missions giving, missions praying, and missions worship. As good Southern Baptists our churches sang the militant hymns associated with “doing missions,” Send the Light, We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations, O Zion Haste, and We Have Heard the Joyful Sound. Stacked atop the Southern Baptist Convention’s unrelenting emphasis of missions giving and missions education through Girls’ Auxiliary (G.A.’s) and Royal Ambassadors (R.A.’s), I never doubted but what missions were integral to life as church, life as a Christian.

I know that the sentences above testify only to my own experiences as child, Baptist, believer, and novice worshiper. Fellow Baptists, however, will recognize the terminology, the hymns, and the ethos and piety associated with my lame descriptions. Even in the midst of those years of growing up a P.K. (preacher’s kid) I knew that not everyone lived and breathed these passions of church life the same as we did as pastor’s family. Likewise, I was pretty sure that not all my fellow church members felt the same conviction related to what was taking place on the mission fields. I trusted, however, that the preaching and singing that kept calling us to hear the Macedonian call would convict and draw them as it often did me. Even the high seasons of Christmas and Easter included bold emphasis on giving to special missions offerings to spread Gospel around the world. This was all part and parcel of worship in my childhood and teen years. As I grew I came to better understand that mission and evangelism had to do with much more than a compartmentalized notion of something that happens overseas, or in places foreign to my routines. Growing as a Christian disciple and worshiper meant embracing my own place in sharing Christ in the world.

Fast forward to a more specific study and interest in worship liturgy. Growing past a strictly thematic approach to worship planning, whereby the service revolves around a sermon topic, I have found my missional roots grew even deeper through an understanding of fourfold liturgy’s form. The fourfold structure fully embraces and fosters missional living. Worship is both event and lifestyle, and the worship event ,whereby we rehearse the Gospel pattern and message in song, Word, and actions, effectually draws the faithful into the pattern and affections that include sending us into worshiping lifestyle. I am convinced through experience, learning, and observation that effective gathered worship can transform the way we treat the clerk at the market, the waitress at the restaurant, and even other drivers in traffic, as well as ways we treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  When our worship helps us to gaze upon Jesus, how can we but see Him in the world around us, and reflect His image through our own living. Of course, this Christo-centric focus is what we pray and sing often when worship includes healthy substance rooted in biblical truth. It is also why worship leadership must caution against self-focus in worship that seeks personal experience above Christlikeness. This does not mean in any way that worship will not be emotive, or that it is not experiential at its core. Seems to me at constant issue is the question of controlling point – surrender.  

It sounds counterintuitive to be overwhelmed by the singing of songs of sending, songs of surrender and humility. It can certainly be, however, a powerful worship moment to offer self with hopefulness that the Lord might work through us that His will would be done on earth “as it is in heaven.” I sometimes struggle to sing Daniel Schutte’s reflection of Isiah 6:8 in his song, Here I Am, Lord. Likewise, it can be particularly powerful as we sing the effectual work of the Victorious Christ in songs like the modern hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, Across the Lands. When sung with head and heart, such hymns serve as a a kind of battle anthem that strengthens our resolve as we faith the work of Jesus in the world through what He has done and is doing in bringing the nations and peoples to Himself.

What are songs of sending and mission that help you express worship?


October 6, 2014

guitar-290x255 The title I gave to this post could hardly be more satirical. So, as a disclaimer, let me just apologize up front if any of it hits you as cynical. I want to write in a way that helps us (you and me) to think carefully. The irony really comes in the truth that words really do mean things, so using terminology like “good enough” and “worship leader” ends up saying something about how one views the sum and substance of worship. Those terms convey more of a sort of 2014 Christian culture bubble than a biblical view and practice of Christian worship.

The problem has largely been created as we practitioners have conflated the meaning of the word “worship” with the meaning and practice of engaging in music-making in the corporate act of worship, and have extended that out then to most any experience where such music is used. Market terminology is engaged as vendors realize there is consumable material to be produced and sold in the marketplace of experiential worshipers. In this environment the term “music” nearly disappears from use, and along with it the “outdated verbiage” of titles such as “Minister of Music,” or “Music Director.” Even the term “musician” is supplanted by another word, “artist.” Websites, recording products, conferences, and training tends to capitalize on the worshipology that is rooted in a certain kind of musical practice that reflects pop culture, and promotes the use of voluminous and expensive technology. Little do we realize that over-stimulation eventually numbs sensitivity in the very sensory organs that are being targeted.

The root of the problem in this verbiage is likely deeper than the origination and trajectory of of its etymological path that has brought us to this point where we may not only be confusing people as to what is truly worship, but to where we ourselves may be blinded by the obsessions of personal achievements and/or grandizement, or in rare cases financial gain.

Being “good” as a musician honing your craft seems a laudable objective. We know that the psalmist called upon us to “play skillfully” in Psalm 33. The same could certainly be said regarding the painter, the sculptor, or other artisan. Bezalel and Aholiab were called and empowered in connection with their skills in their respective crafts. The Bible says a good bit about art of different kinds, including cautions against those who use their skills to erect idols, false gods that detract from true worship of the living God. My point is that it is one thing to speak of striving to be a “good musician,” but when worship terminology is employed we meander down theological and doctrinal roads that may well be contrary to the very heart of our stated beliefs. We can easily, even though unintentionally, guide people toward a works salvation, whereby worship is acceptable because we are doing it so good. The adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” becomes a convenient axiom of our consumeristic tendencies, whereby the center of control and assessment is in me.  Not to get too far off topic, but this same thinking is how we construct or foster the spirit of ageism so prevalent nowadays pertaining to music leaders for corporate worship. If a musician gets too old to look or act a certain way so as to appeal to a certain section of the population, then they may be marginalized until a younger, cooler version becomes available.

“Worship Leader” is a term that has morphed into popular use to describe the one who has responsibility of shaping and leading the musical experience of corporate worship, whether in church settings, youth camps and meetings, or nearly any other group gathering where music is employed to express praise. It is, in fact, used with such frequency that it has become difficult not to refer to the music leader of corporate worship gatherings as the “worship leader.” As we have voiced along with others previously, however, the term is seriously problematic. None of us would dare say, “I will be taking the place of Jesus, or the Holy Spirit in tonight’s worship.” Surely we would understand such to be blasphemous. Yet, are we not at that very threshold when we act as if we have within ourselves the means to provide a way to the very throne of God? Biblically, only God can provide the way (one way) and that is not by means of a song from a “WL” but rather by the atoning blood of Christ. The preponderance of scriptures in the New Testament that underscore this grace as our only way to commune with God are astounding. Indeed, we recognize that in our astonishment we hunger to make a response of expression, and often that expression is in song and singing. Thanks be to God for that grace to do so, and to engage in it with His children. Thankful are we, as well, for those who have the raw talent and skills to design and lead helpful expressions, serving as liturgists, musicians, music leaders, pastoral guides, worship ministry pastors/leaders, songwriters, arrangers, instrumentalists, and more.

Are you still good enough to be a worship leader? No! Never were, never will be. Thanks be to God, He has called us to rest our worship in the High Priest, our Mediator, Lord and Savior, Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus.

Two wonderful articles to further understanding of Jesus, the Worship Leader, and another on cautions against discouraging artists in the church.

Nurturing the Creative Spirit Within

Inspiration, Resources & Bible studies from Jody Thomae

TN Mens Chorale Mission Italy 2014

Sharing the love of Jesus with our friends in Italy

Worship Life

Heart - Soul - Mind

Holy Soup

with Thom Schultz

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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