Archive for January 2015

WORSHIP MEMORIES LINGER

January 26, 2015

Singing Hymns in Church I walked in to the hotel lobby and stepped up to the check-in desk. It had been a pretty long day after a long week, so I was ready to check-in, hit the room to freshen up, go grab a bite to eat, and call it a day. The clerk at the counter was a manager- type, neatly dressed and groomed. His demeanor was inviting and warm. As he looked up my reservation the clerk was asking me about my trip and about my Tennessee Titans hat. After finding my reservation and activating my key, he asked how I would like to pay. I started to pull out my credit card and then he recognized my room was being taken care of by the church with whom I was serving. That began a conversation, where he first asked what I would be doing with the church. I told him I was a musician, and I would be leading the choir in a workshop and talking some about the place of music in worship. He said he was not a Christian, but he use to be, and that his wife was one.

Since I was raised a “once saved – always saved” Baptist, part of his statement did not compute. I asked what he felt like had robbed him of his faith confidence. He described bits and pieces of a life disrupted by losses, moving from place to place, and divorce. He said he felt like so many Christians seemed to be only interested in judging others. I told him I understood that feeling, and that it made me sad. There was a look in his eye, however, that seemed to reveal need. He asked what I thought of the old hymns. I told him I had grown up on hymns, and that I still loved to sing and lead them. He said that he knew hymns from younger years, and that he would love to hear a congregation just sing them. He went on to say, “I would leave money in the plate if I could just hear Holy, Holy, Holy, or His Eye Is on the Sparrow. I told him I could certainly identify with his feeling about these great expressions of worship, and that I felt certain he could find a church who worshiped in this manner. We talked on. There was a look on his face and tone in his voice during our continued discussion that suggested a lingering memory of sights and sounds of Christians at worship.

By this time a line of customers had formed at the counter waiting to check in. We exchanged blessings and moved on. He has been on my mind and in my prayer ever since. Later tonight I will be sending an email to that hotel clerk to place in writing a witness of good news available to him. I am praying that God will bring him peace in his soul about his spiritual standing, and that he will connect with a local church body. I gave his name to the friend who invited me to come for the weekend.

Through the encounter described above I have gleaned two things to pass along that I ponder. The first is that I never know who may need to engage in spiritually centered conversation, and so it is important that I remain sensitive, although this particular exchange was nearly impossible to miss. I would consider myself regularly open to sharing witness to Christian faith, but those opportunities are much less regular than my openness. What’s more, I almost never make use of spiritual one-liners as conversation starters to gain entrance toward a presentation of eternal truth, so I am more reliant on the dialog sort of coming to me, if you know what I mean.

The second ponder-worthy element of this encounter is the lingering nature of early life worship exposure, and lasting value of congregational worship itself. As described by the hotel clerk, sights and sounds of worship may well nest in memories of the young, ready to be activated at points along life’s journey in seasons of need and even doubt. This may well speak to caution churches in our present-day proclivity toward separating age groups to give everyone “worship their way.” The clerk’s description also speaks to the need for healthy worship to be deeply rooted in Who God is, and not just our perception of our experience with Him. Certainly the song of deliverance that resounds in singing the Gospel truth resonates and gains testimony through human experience, but the ultimate need is to know God Himself.

Pray for fellow believers everywhere that we may be sensitive and ready to bear witness to our Savior. Pray for wisdom for those who plan and lead in weekly worship that the song we lead others to sing includes the unmistakable tone of a Victorious Christ, Who was, and is, and is to come, Who reigns forever! Pray that the truth said and sung in worship will always leave a lingering sense of the greatness of the Triune God, and that leaders will be able to distinguish forgettable cliché from the everlasting song.

Why Are We Not Singing? Graham Kendrick

January 22, 2015

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Kenny Lamm of North Carolina Baptist Convention, for posting this.  Graham Kendrick is spot on!

 

DO I REALLY HAVE TO GO TO CHURCH?

January 20, 2015

church service platform  Last Sunday I had to miss church. We had grandchildren at our house through the weekend and on Saturday my oldest grandson got sick in the night (I’ll spare you the details). I had planned to take this 7-year-old with me to worship, and the three-year-old and seven-month-old would stay at home with their grandmother. With the illness we ended up all staying home, and I was disappointed. Missing out on church worship participation is quite rare for me. Even though my ministry position has me traveling and attending different churches, mostly leading worship music, preaching, or serving in some way, I still make it a point to worship with a body of believers every Sunday, including of course my own church, every time it is possible. I could say it is a habit, and it is that, but I would also say it is a disciplined pattern born in spiritual commitment.

The habit of worship attendance was established for me when I was just a child. Dad was pastor of the church and Mom was church organist. As a “P.K.,” a Preacher’s Kid, I was in church every Sunday since nine months before I was born. We went to church. It was just what we did. I have wonderful memories of those early childhood years. I surely did not understand all that was going on, but had a sense of belonging and nurture among the people that gathered weekly to sing songs, hear a sermon (at that time from my dad), pray, baptize, and take the Lord’s Supper. As I grew older I had questions, and found that the constant exposure to these habitual actions fostered my inquisitive attitude. I was blessed with a dad who was encouraged by my questions, not threatened. I do recall a time in late teen years that I challenged my parents and tried to invoked the right to stay home if I wanted.   At the close of a “discussion” about my being out late on Saturday night, I ventured to ask, “Do I really have to go to church tomorrow?” In an assured voice Dad answered, “No, you don’t have to go.” The next morning I slept a little later. No one came to roust me out of bed, or get me to breakfast. Doors opened and shut and the house got quiet. The family was gone for church, and I was still there contemplating this newfound “freedom.” We lived next door to the church in the parsonage at the time, and I was dressed and in my spot by the time worship service started. It was just in me to go and be a part.

In time the habit became commitment, and this commitment to be a part of weekly worship has grown immensely over the years. As I read Webster’s definition of “habit” I am comfortable saying that weekly worship continues to be a habit. In the sense, however, that some think of habit as a mindless function, it is not. As a spiritual discipline and integral part of being grafted into the body of Christ, joining with that body, the Church, in regular praise, prayer, confession, proclamation, celebration, and sending, is a profound joy. In many ways modern culture looks down upon regular worship attendance, especially Christian worship. This presents us with all the more reason to devotedly shield Sunday as the Lord’s Day, to guard against interruptions that would take us away from physical presence with other believers joining in the everlasting song. Parking our car in front of the church building carries a degree of witness to our faith. Kneeling to pray, standing to sing, bowing in reverence, and listening to hear “Thus saith the Lord,” are routines that are aimed at helping us practice the postures and attitudes of worship that we might live them out in daily representation of the Christ we proclaim.

I have been reading Rob Moll’s book, What Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve, and Thrive. I am finding a unique blend of spiritual truth coupled with anatomical interests. My own continued interest in ways congregational singing in corporate worship helps shape us is well served in this tome. Moll includes enough neuroscience to offer some logical explanation for ways persons respond to spiritual engagement, but does not attempt to “demystify” what remains a miraculous, grace-induced reality of communion with a Triune God and His community of faith. Moll reinforces for me a conviction that worship, as all spiritual disciplines, is just as much about forming us as it is about us populating it. The heart of these issues really lie outside of the whole cheapening of Christian worship through attempts at hijacking it for alternate purposes like so called “church growth.” Rather, they are rooted in the very theological foundations of Jesus’ prayer that His followers would be unified, and His institution of acts in which we might engage “in remembrance of Him.” The core discussion centers in consideration of things like what happens to us when we are lowered into a watery grave and raised into the fresh air of a family of like faith, caring little about how our hair looks when drenched, but rather caring to let fellow believers and the rest of the world know that we are One with others who bear His Name.

In God’s providence He has made us to be worshiping beings. “We are accepted by God’s love, not our efforts. But growth in love, joy, peace, patience, hope, goodness, faithfulness, and all traits of spiritual unity with Christ involves the disciplined actions of our bodies.”[1]

And all of this has to do with why I hate that I had to miss worship attendance last Sunday. By the way, my grandson is fine and is well on his way to being set toward the same pattern of Sunday worship.

I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go to the House of the Lord.” –Psalm 122:1


 

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, “The Sanctified Body: Why Perfection Does Not Require a ‘Self,” in Embodied Holiness: Toward a Corporate Theology of Spiritual Growth, ed. Samuel Powell and Michael Lodahl (IVP 1999), p.22

 

GREAT MUSICIANS TEACH US GRATITUDE

January 13, 2015

Lari Goss  Two uniquely influential Gospel musicians passed from this life in the past week. I am sorry to say I never had the privilege of meeting either one of them personally. Gospel singer, Jason Crabb, wrote about a time when he sang My Tribute with Andre’ Crouch himself accompanying at the piano bench, and it made me wonder what that could have possibly felt like. Writer/arranger/publisher, Craig Adams’ reflections in a blogpost (WorshipLife) about his interactions with Lari Goss stirred vicarious responses as well. Undoubtedly, the names Andre’ Crouch and Lari Goss will be remembered for a long, long time for the legacy that each one left. Each influenced the shaping of music expression in the church. Indeed, not only African American churches of the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) denomination of which Crouch was a part, but churches of many faith traditions have been known to sing with soul the rich Gospel expressions of Crouch’s songs like Soon and Very Soon, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Bless His Holy Name, Through It All, Jesus Is the Answer, Let the Church Say Amen, and I’m Gonna Keep on Singing, just to name a few. And what choir has never done Goss’s Cornerstone, or sung or played any of the hundreds (or more) arrangements, orchestrations, or musical treatments with Lari Goss’s mark on it?

Though I did not know these men they left part of themselves with me. I never sang with Andre Crouch at the piano, but certainly joined that Gospel spirit listening to recordings of his group, the Disciples. As a director I tried to help choirs full of Anglo singers to inject some of that Black Gospel feel when singing an arrangement of The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power. I never sat in a studio while Lari Goss did one of his masterful orchestrations, but I have stood before instrumentalists and helped them discover some of those soaring, or sometimes subtle, countermelody lines that help to paint a particular lyric, or that highlight a nice musical progression. My not knowing these men personally has not prevented me from experiencing their lives through the gifts they offered, the craft they honed, the art they shared. The same could be said about all those who have contributed to the master catalogue of music of the church, the music of Christian worship. In fact, I find that the greatest Christian musicians have a sense of humility born in the recognition that what they are involved in is in every sense a gift from God. Music itself is a gift. Their own talent is a gift. The health and well-being it takes to be able to make music is a gift. Their upbringing and composite influences on their lives are all gift.

I listened to an NPR interview with Andre’ Crouch in which he talks about the influence of Gospel organist, Billy Preston, and about the Winans, and others. The same kind of spirit is exemplified in reflections offered by Lari Goss. The spirit of genuine gratitude is a hallmark of those who are confident in who God made them to be, and in the gifts He has imparted to them. I also have found them to exude an appreciation for the volunteer church musicians who sing and play their music and use it to express worship ministry. These attitudes endear the greats to us all the more, and enhance the authenticity of their giftedness, and their witness. A thankful spirit is clearly called for in the Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 passages that are foundational to any good theology of music as ministry. I find that a genuinely thankful spirit sweetens the song itself. When we sing with gratitude in our hearts, the thankfulness is exuded in our singing. The attitude is first and foremost directed to the Master Giver Himself, the One we worship and praise, but it also spills over to those who are making music with us, those who are playing while we sing, or singing while we play, or writing to give us songs to sing, or editing so that what we sing will make sense lyrically and musically. The spirit of gratitude extends to those who listen and join the spirit of thanksgiving. Whatever place we hold at the music-making table it will be made sweeter through the faithful practice of a thankful heart. As we age the gratitude just deepens. Life experiences and emotions deepen the creases in our faces, and remind us again and again that every minute of life is a precious gift. With a prayer for ministering grace we often reach for music in our times of depression or exuberance, and often find solace there, especially when the song carries with it a sense of thankfulness.

 

 

THE HYMNAL – A VALUABLE WORSHIP RESOURCE

January 4, 2015

Baptist Hymnals 56 on shelf  Worship Leader, where is your hymnal? Don’t worry, this is not a throwback argument for pulling down your screens, or finding where the custodian stored the ’75 Baptist Hymnals that were falling apart when they yanked them from the pews. I do, however, want to point out some values served by hymnals that strengthen the worship life of the church. Worship leaders need to steadily engage in critical thinking about ways our planning and direction for worship affects the church. Hopefully this will help serve as food for thought.

Some Considerations on the Value of Hymnals

  1. Hymnals serve as a Worship Landmark

A hymnal codifies what the church is singing at a particular time in its history. John Witvliet says it is like “a cultural memory bank.” Inside the covers of the songbook are words and melodies that stamp our collective footprint of what we sing during a decade or two of our worship life as a church. It does not mean that we are not singing other things, adding to the repertoire newer songs that will vie for inclusion in the next hymnal, even as we continue to hold on to those songs that serve as foundational faith expression and continue to serve our community. (Lifeway Worship has compiled a comparison of hymns included and/or new to each of the Baptist hymnal publications beginning with the 1956 edition.)

  1. Hymnals encapsulate Words for our worship – public and private.

A hymnal helps worshipers to sing together, both when we are gathered in corporate worship, and when we are scattered to our daily routines. The printed page remains in our view as we sing corporately, allowing for reflection by revisiting thoughts we have along the way in worship. Owning a home hymnal promotes regular private and family devotions. Publishers and distributors will love to hear me say I believe congregations need to purchase hymnals not only for their pews in the worship center, but also sufficient numbers for each home to have at least one on their shelf in their home. Imagine your church family meditating on a worship song through the week after they have scattered to their separate homes. Imagine them returning for corporate worship prepared to join hearts and voices in singing that particular song. This just might help us follow the psalmist’s admonition to “sing praises with wisdom.” (Psalm 47:7), and follow Paul’s testimony to “sing with the spirit, but also sing with understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:15)

  1. Hymnals help Connect us to our legacy

My grandfather’s favorite hymn was Take Time to Be Holy. It was one of only a couple of tunes he would occasionally sit down and plunk out on the piano in his home. I hardly ever hear it sung in corporate worship anymore. It appeared in the 1940 Broadman and the 1956 Baptist Hymnal, was omitted in the 1975 edition, and reappeared in 1991 and 2008. I can still hear Grandpa wailing the tenor line in church so loudly that it turned the heads of those in the pew in front of us. The song stirs fond memories that remind me of a history laced with devoted Christ followers. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name exhorts the angels, all who have been saved, all peoples of the earth, and the “sacred throng” around his throne to join in the everlasting song of praise. My dad loved that hymn. The congregation sang it to the CORONATION tune as the family entered the sanctuary for his memorial service. My dad and granddad were two giants in my own faith journey. Every time I come across these tunes or texts of these hymns, I think of them and my heritage of Christian faith. These songs, like so many others I have sung, link me to brothers and sisters in Christ that I have known, and many more that I never knew. Having a hymnal in a rack in the worship center, or perhaps laying next to a Bible at home, may someday help to join a grandchild, or great grandchild to a legacy of singing faith.

  1. Hymnals reveal Direction of the present and offer Trajectory toward the future

A hymnal indicates something of where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed theologically, spiritually, and liturgically. A review of topical and biblical indexes that categorize hymns in a given hymnal help us grasp where we are theologically, and can provide leaders with means of singing our way toward a preferred emphasis in disciple-building, unity of fellowship, strengthened commitment, and missional living. The hymnal can serve as a sort of spiritual canon of our shared journey.

  1. Hymnals can serve the Flow of worship (liturgy)

Whether our liturgy is formal or relaxed, a hymnal can serve to advance our communion with God. Having words and music in front of the worshipers can aid our ability to know where we are in our shared conversation and move along together. In-hand responsive readings remain accessible to worshipers. The Baptist Hymnal includes “service music” located in one section (towards the back) of the hymnal, consisting of shorter statements that help move us along the worship journey from entrance songs to offertory statements to songs that send us on our mission.

  1. Hymnals provide songs that have been filtered through a Doctrinal lens

Songs selected for inclusion in hymnals pass through editorial boards who view prospective material with doctrinal affinity that agrees with the theological teachings of the denomination or group that will use it. This is no small issue as worship shapes and forms us into worshiping disciples. The hymnal helps seekers to know what this particular worshiping congregation believes and sings.

  1. Hymnals serve churches in the Biblical exhortation to sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 the Apostle Paul instructs the early church to sing. He gives insight to the kind of singing intended for followers of Jesus in the New Testament church. Singing is part of our following since we know Jesus worshiped through singing, even as a last act of community with His disciples before departing to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). The hymnal places a collection of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in the very hands of worshipers, and sets a pattern for worship singing.

Top Posts of 2014

January 2, 2015

Realism: Worship Divorced from Itself

Worship that Divides – Ageism

Pastors I Hope You Want Your People to Know Why We Sing in Church

Screens AND Hymnals

There are No Wars at Memorial Services

Ascension of Christ – Faith in the True Worship Leader

Worshipping People Take Your  Song Back

Do We Trust the Holy Spirit to Empower Our Worship?

Singing Good News at Christmas

Perfect Worship

Thanks for reading and for your interest.  Familiar themes as well as renewed areas of exploration in store for 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Rob Moll, Author

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