Archive for June 2015

WHAT WE CALL WORSHIP LEADERS IS NEVER AS IMPORTANT AS BY WHOM AND TO WHAT THE LEADER IS CALLED

June 15, 2015

Here am I Send Me After leading music for a Sunday morning church service in a neighboring county a young man came up to me to tell me he was a worship leader. He then boldly asked, “can you get me a church?” He knew that in my position I helped churches in worship and music ministry. One of his friends was serving in a church and it was helping pay his way through school. I didn’t want to discourage his enthusiasm or confidence, but obviously needed a bit more information before I could begin to think about how to help this young man. I gave my contact information and encouraged him to email me so I could get to know more about him. He continued to tell me about leading at a youth event, and let me know he was now thinking about writing his own songs. I never heard from him again, and a few weeks later heard from his church’s pastor that the young man had moved on to other things and had lost interest in “getting a church.”

Terminology is sure not everything, but neither is it nothing. Words definitely matter. Titles are never as important as attitude, spirit, and root motivation, but what we call the ones who guide in gathered worship does say something, and communicates a message about what we are doing in worship. A title may well say something as well about how the person leading views himself or herself, and contributes to the overall environment in which we worship. So what do we call the one who is leading us to sing songs of worship and praise, and who participates in the planning of worship? Worship Leader? Lead Worshiper? Minister of Music? Worship Pastor? Associate Pastor for Worship? Assistant Pastor for Music? Music Pastor? Pastoral Musician? Minister of Magnification? Music Director? Song Leader? I have heard every one of these titles used at some point for the one leading music for worship. Some of the monikers seem more healthy than others, but I imagine anyone attending gathered worship would have a sense of what to expect from whoever is called by one of these names.

As important as what we call those guiding the gathered worship experience might be, it could never be as important as Who calls them to plan and to lead. Being called a worship leader is never as important as a clear sense that fulfilling the role is a response to a calling by God deeply rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself. Being known as a lead-worshiper is never as important as grasping the fact that genuine worship can only occur by the work of the Holy Spirit among worshipers, and that the role of the leader is one of servanthood. I have noticed that, to a large extent, talk about calling has disappeared from contemporary church speak. In some circles it is non-existent. Perhaps calling is a term not used for music leaders because the New Testament does not identify that role as a church office as such. In fact, there are no specific examples of a music leader at all in the New Testament church. Perhaps it is not used due to the weightiness of such an inference – that I am called by God.

So what is the big deal about calling in relation to worship leadership? Not to play word police, but I see written, and hear spoken often about somebody who is “looking for a worship leader gig,” or who will be at such-and-such event to “lead some worship.” I think I know what is intended by these expressions, but can we admit that the spirit expressed hardly indicates a sense that we are handling the holy? I was having coffee with a young man recently who was considering a path toward worship leadership, and I asked him if he had any sense of calling toward ministry. That gave him pause and together we determined this was something for both of us to pray about. As we unpacked the notion of God’s unique call to Gospel ministry we both shed some tears in light of the awe-some nature of saying, “yes” to such a call. Likewise, looking into holy scripture casts light on the severity of seeking to guide the Bride of Christ in expressions of love and devotion, worship and praise, whether in word or in song. At once we were reminded of the joy of fostering the sounds of praise from many generations, and the peace of knowing and doing God’s will.

The call to Gospel ministry fleshed out in using gifts in music leadership and engaged in pastoral direction of congregational worship and developmental discipleship using the arts is humbling as it is inspiring. Prayerful response to the call should lead us toward what Jamie Brown identifies as “Three C’s of Worship Leading: Christ-centeredness, Congregational accessibility, and Consistency.” Jamie is Director of Worship and Arts (there’s a title I missed before) for an Anglican church in Virginia. Read his insightful and encouraging blogpost at www.churchleaders.com

SOMETIMES WORSHIP LEAVES ME SPEECHLESS – GIVE ME MUSIC

June 9, 2015
Amazedly young woman with open mout. Close up of surprised gril isolated on white

Amazedly young woman with open mout. Close up of surprised gril isolated on white

Do you ever try to explain the impossible? Have you ever started to describe something only to run completely adrift of any words that would appropriately reflect what it is you want to verbalize? As a writer of sorts I sometimes find that I have painted myself into a proverbial corner trying to articulate something that seems to defy written or verbal depiction. As passionate as I may or may not be at times, I have notions for which I cannot find verbiage. I find this to often be the case when attempting to describe the numinous encounter of Christian worship. That very word, “numinous,” in fact is for me a result of trying to find words to describe the indescribable. So very often there is just a gap there between spiritual encounter and descriptive words. I well may sense an encounter with God is real and the biblical record affirms that we can know the presence of the living God. But an encounter with the Almighty by the presence of His Holy Spirit made possible because of the work of His Son Jesus is as nothing else in the human experience. It is as a miracle. You might say it is other worldly. How can we help fellow believers toward such an encounter? How do we gather in liturgical community to share the Lord’s presence and goodness?

Leaders in the church’s practice of worship give themselves to bridging this gap, helping worshipers with words, melodies, and prayers that will aid communion with Holy God. Even though words for its description seem to continually escape us we still purpose to link worshipers with the Worshiped. Great care must be taken that our terminology points toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We dare not give in to the temptation of manipulating an emotive experience to mimic worship. The subject and object of Christian worship is God in Three Persons. Focusing on the experience itself makes a mockery of the real thing and robs genuine worship of what words we do have for its description. I would caution that we pay close attention to how we publicize our worship gatherings. Certainly there are times when our worship may well be exciting, lively, dynamic, and celebratory, but focusing on these aspects may well imply we are engaged in something that is self-serving. Does not worship call us to die to self, and bring us in to then send us out?

The mystery of spiritual encounter in worship is one of the reasons we turn to the arts to aid our expression. Musicologists and music therapists know something of the intrinsic value of music in human processes such as healing, learning, grieving, and jubilation. In Christian worship we encounter each of these at one time or another, and in light of biblical truth we encounter them as formation into kingdom people. Ultimately this is our worship, to know and do the will of our God. To become like Christ, and live Eucharistic (grateful) lives in response to Him fleshes out our worship. Hymns of the faith, ancient and modern, give opportunity for making community by participation in the answer to Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, “that they would be one.” Transformation does not only come in relation to one life of one worshiping singer, but formation takes place in molding together many members into one body.

In her book, Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, Marva Dawn talks about the need for a catechumenal process in contemporary culture. The process is needed to train our sensibilities and thinking. This is one reason care must be taken when our leaders imitate the popular culture with art forms. With those forms come implied value systems. The world we live in practices a different liturgy, one of self indulgence. But there is a longing within the human heart placed there by the God Who created us, and Who is Himself the only satisfaction to the very same yearning. C.S. Lewis uses the German term, Sehnsucht, a restless longing for fulfillment, a yearning, to describe that longing. St. Augustine prayed, “Oh Lord, thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” May our worship serve to build the Church into a unified reflection of Christ. May our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs serve as means of spiritual encounter, and give voice to expressions words seem unable to speak.

SEPARATING CHILDREN OUT FOR WORSHIP – NO MILLSTONE FOR ME PLEASE

June 1, 2015
People sitting on pews in church, smiling

People sitting on pews in church, smiling

Jesus was rather pointed when it came to the importance of our treatment of children.

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6)

So when it comes to the means by which humans relate to God for eternity, namely corporate worship, we say to our children, “Go away!” Really? Oh, I know we would never present it like that, and we legitimize separating children off as being for the “good” (aka convenience) of any and all involved, trying to convince ourselves it is best for the children, best for the parents, best for everyone for children not to be in the corporate worship gathering with everyone else. Really? How is that working out?

Our Thinking: If we give children their own worship they will love church and want to come more! We can give them treats, songs just for them, and put only the fun people in the room with them so they will love it, love it, love it. As an “added” bonus, children will not be disrupting “our” worship service.

What Happens: Children get the message that church is supposed to give them what they want the way they want it (not exactly the Gospel). Children become bored when it’s time to transfer to “big church” and continue to want what they want. They grow into teenagers wanting what they want, and so in many instances we split them off too in order to make worship fit an image we think will be appealing to them. In similar fashion utilitarian formula for church worship morphs into what leaders think people will like and want, all the while watering down the value of heritage, biblical liturgy, and the truth and power of the Gospel itself. How is that going?

All indications are that in the U.S. church worship attendance in our day continues to decline. Those who have grown up with this “Burger King theology,” meaning worship based on the idea of “Have it your way,” are the very ones who leave the church, leaving the treats, the songs, and the fun behind. Meanwhile, people are less and less familiar with the hymns of the ages, less patient to prayerfully hear scripture, engage less in active worship participation like singing, and demonstrate little grasp of the power rooted in the ordinances and rites of worship. Is it any wonder fundamental biblical understandings of such bedrock institutions as marriage are up for grabs, or that so many question basic Christian doctrinal truths?

One author, blogger, and former pastor notes three key things we have forgotten as we have segregated out children from the gathered corporate worship environment:

  1. A promise. When Peter first preached the gospel at Pentecost, he argued that ‘the promise is for you and your children….” (Acts 2:38-39). There is a tightly woven connection in God’s eyes between preaching, parents, and their children. The very first gospel appeal given after Christ’s ascension at the start of the church culminated in a call to action for parents AND their children.

  2. A Warning. ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19;13-15). Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, he would be present in a special way. (Matthew 18:20) If a worship service is a place we gather expecting to experience the presence of our Lord, don’t we come dangerously close to imitating the short-sighted disciples when we discourage children from coming to experience His presence with us?

  3. A Process. Scripture tells us that our children will be moved to question us as part of their learning process. When they see the things we do in worshipping God, they will ask us about it. And they will learn. ‘When your children say to you, What do you mean by this service? You shall say…’ (Exodus 12:21-28). If they’re not present to experience the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament Passover, how will they ever be moved to ask about it? How will they learn? How will they know?[1]

I have three grown children who have families of their own. We are blessed with seven grandchildren and more on the way. I know the challenge of sitting with a child in church worship. On the occasions I get that privilege I do not get to sing every note of every song or hear every word of the sermon. I have struggled plenty with the internal debate of “Do I continue attempting to point to words in the Bible to keep up with the pastor’s sermon points and show the child this is how we do it?,” or “Do I cave and hand them my cellphone, on which I have loaded so many child games I had to up my plan to accommodate?” Although I confess to having done both, I have also found myself immersed later in conversation about the meaning of baptism and Lord’s Supper with a five-year-old. I have prayed with a toddler for the family of friends whose grandparent died. I have sung songs of Zion with a three-year-old who could not match pitch much less know what it might mean to be “marching through Immanuel’s ground.” There is no better place for my grandchildren to feel the calming touch of a grandparent’s hand on the shoulder, or to observe as Dad sings a hymn of praise or lament with meaning and passion, than in the place of gathered worship with Christian family all around. This thing we call Christian worship or church worship is a powerful force in a child’s development toward Christian discipleship. I am a proponent of letting them experience it next to parents, grandparents, and church family of multiple ages when at all possible. How about you?

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16)

Other reading on children and worship:  Value of Children’s Music Training by Mike Harland

Children in Worship by Jason Hulopoulus

Thoughts from John Piper on Families Worshiping Together

Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Fox Castleman

[1] Bill Blankschaen Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church: Answers to Questions You’ve Been Afraid to Ask about Church Issues © 2014.


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