Archive for the ‘Shared Ministry’ category

SHUT UP AND WORSHIP

September 28, 2015

Monk Costume The world is noisy. Just as we are consumed with our incessant busy-ness, we seem likewise to be obsessed with filling every moment with sound. And frankly much of that sound is loud, even to the point of damaging our hearing, physically and spiritually. Rather ironic isn’t it? Some of the sound is just filler that seems aimed at simply avoiding silence. Certainly I have experienced that dynamic in public worship, and have even had pastors caution me about “dead time,” usually referring to what happens between songs, or other components of a worship service. Our fear of silence, however, may be more telling and even indicting than we are ready to admit. But rather than addressing the value, and frankly the need for silence in public worship at this point, I would encourage you to consider the role of silence, quiet, and solitude in our spiritual lives. I would especially want to raise alert to this need for pastors, worship pastors, and other spiritual leaders of the church. We need times of silence and solitude. Some might ask, “who cares?” The answer is we all should care. Those with responsibility to lead out in worship are inviting others into the most core activity of humanity. Worship is the very reason for which we have been created. We need seasons of silence to allow for transformation from our false self to the new self in Jesus Christ.

As we are swept up in the world’s cultic practices of busy-ness and noisiness our values begin to look like everyone else. The obsession is every bit as pronounced in ministry as it is in any other vocation. How often do we ministers feel the need to look busy. It’s not that we are not busy, because we certainly are, and we make certain that we cram every moment with busy-ness, regardless of the value of our activities. More meetings, more rehearsals, more phone calls and emails, more visits, more, more, more=high worth. That is what we tend to think. Likewise, more soundbites, more repetitions, more digital techniques=more emotive result. Since volume gives a sense of power, then in many instances more volume = more spiritual energy.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr says that sin is anything that disrupts shalom. Is it possible that we have cluttered our worship, our churches, and our own individual lives in a sinful way in that we have disrupted God’s shalom by our busyness and noise? We often replace Sabbath with more work. In those instances one has to ask “where is our trust?” Is it not being transferred away from faith in the Holy Spirit over to faith in our own efforts? In talking about the compulsive minister Henri Nouwen says “compulsive is the best adjective for the false self.”[1] Worship leaders and pastors often find ourselves in a revolving door of efforts to please people in order to prove our worth. The Worship Leader works hard and amps up the performance to draw attention to his or her worth in a manner reflective of celebrity personalities or entertainment productions. Pastors speak at every possible opportunity to make their presence (and popularity) known, attend every meeting to demonstrate their managing control, or make every ministry visit to keep their worth before their members. The activity becomes overwhelming.  Burnout is a likely and expected result. Our thinking may be that such burnout is justified because, after all, we were serving in the kingdom. We may have just been serving the image of our false self, the self we think others expect. How do we break the pattern? Time to turn to silence.

Nouwen calls solitude “the furnace of transformation.” Without it we remain victims of our culture as our false selves. It is in silence and solitude that our false self is often revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and through confession and renewal we can discover our new self in Jesus Christ. Here we come to know anew what it is to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Jesus himself pulled away to pray. He spent time with the Father and reminded us in Matthew 6 to go to our closet and close the door. Solitude and silence protect our souls. The fire of genuine spiritual nurture is fueled in the quiet place where the false self is exposed for who and what he/she is. Here even the most righteous-looking minister confesses “prone to wonder, Lord I feel it.” He who knows the journey of solitude and silence returns to the noise of the world holding to the internal silence of peace and confidence in Jesus. Our best worship and ministry is led from this position of inner silence and strength.

[1] Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence (New York: Ballantine Books 1981) 13.

THE JOY OF SERVING IN HARMONY

July 13, 2015

Roberts Family Last Friday I was meeting with a group of worship music ministers and pastors discussing the state of congregational singing in churches and more specifically its relation to revitalizing worship. Like all of us who are slave to the smartphone, at each breaktime through the day I would try to check my phone for messages. One that came through right at the end of the day was word of the passing of Nancy Roberts, wife of Roger Roberts, one of the former senior pastors with whom I served in Kansas. The news was sad and at once relief, as I knew Nancy’s mind and body had been riddled by Alzheimer’s disease. As I drove the 80 miles to my next stop I wept some, prayed some wordless prayers and sang prayers as well, and along the way my mind flooded with memories of the time our families served together in one of the most harmonious ministries of my years of service. Roger and Nancy and their children were like family. We loved spending time together with them. We benefited from watching Roger and Nancy parent, and loved the privilege of being in their home often, a place filled with love, laughter, and music. Nancy Roberts at piano with grand

One of the dynamics that benefited our relationship with the Roberts was their love for music. We shared many common interests (theology, sports, humor, and family), but the appreciation for musical expression was high on the list. It did not hurt that Nancy had a master’s degree in piano performance and was often working on compositions herself. Plus Roger played some trombone and actually enjoyed going to the symphony.  Knowing their appreciation of music and observing their enthusiastic participation in the church’s worship through music gave me all the more inspiration to do my best work, to strive to encourage the best from others, and to find even richer joy in the making of music that I fervently prayed was serving the worship of our Lord and brought Him appropriate praise and thanksgiving. It was as though the love of the art, the love of all persons involved, from my pastor to the choirs and instrumentalists to congregation, all worked together to bring about a harmonious music that served the Kingdom. We did some good music, and were not afraid to attempt great things. The longer term benefit, however, was not in the music itself, except perhaps inasmuch as it lent meaningful expression to our moments of joining eternal praise, or as it attached melodious significance to ministering Gospel during times of proclamation or lament. I would also have to say, however, that a lasting value of our harmonious shared ministry in this church as in others is the depth of love which is brilliantly reflected and symbolized in the music itself. Lives lived together in common purpose, demonstrating deference to one another in order to serve the Kingdom above self, lending our part to the larger symphony of praise that Christian life is surely intended to be, can be richly symbolized in the rhythms, melodies, dynamics, and harmonies of music and music-making. I believe it is in these settings when we have allowed the Spirit to set aside the tyranny of our preferences, and have embraced fully the larger joy to “join in a song with sweet accord and thus surround the throne” that we will begin to hear the voice of Jesus singing “in the great congregation.” (Hebrews 2:12)

Our brother and mentor, Reggie Kidd ends his inspiring book quoting the text of Edmund P. Clowney, and credits Clowney “for the way he pointed many of us to Christ who sings his love to his bride.”[1] Here are the last stanzas of Clowney’s lyric:

Then sing, ascending King of kings; lift up your heads, you gates;

The King of Glory triumph sings, the Lord that heav’n awaits.

O sing, you Son of God’s right hand, our Prophet, Priest, and King;

The saints that on Mount Zion stand, with tongues once dumb, now sing

 

O sing, Lord Christ, among the choir in robes with blood made white,

And satisfy your heart’s desire to lead the sons of light.

O Chief Musician, Lord of praise, from you our song is found;

O Ancient of eternal days, to you the trumpets sound.

 

Rejoicing Savior, sing today within our upper room;

Among your brothers lift the lay of triumph from the tomb.

Sing now, O Lamb, that we may sing the glory of your shame,

The anthem of your suffering, to sanctify your Name![2]

[1] Reggie Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Baker Books 2005) 182.

[2] Edmund P Clowney, The Singing Servant in With One Voice pg.183.

WORSHIP NOW AND THEN

July 28, 2014

Flip Wilson Rev Leroy You may recall the 1980’s TV comedy series, What’s Happening Now. Baby Boomers will remember even further back to the old Flip Wilson TV show, and one of his whimsical characters, Reverend Leroy, pastor of the Church of What’s Happenin’ Now. Many pastors and worship music leaders of our day seem convinced that their primary objective when planning worship is to present an image as the Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.  And that is a truly babyboomers’ idea.  Please hear me. I’m not calling to question sincere desire to connect to today’s culture with the gospel, but care must be exercised never to imply a shortsightedness whereby the eternal God is confined to a tyrannous practice of the presumed latest and greatest. To the contrary, worship stretches across the expanse of time.

WORSHIP NOW AND THEN needs to have a completely different meaning than implying that we drop by for corporate worship every “now and then.” Rather, Christian worship should situate us as individual believers, and as church in clear connection of now and then. In fact, maybe a stronger understanding of how now and then are connected in worship would help to get us past the lackadaisical attitudes that foster occasional church attendance as so commonly practiced by so many Christians in contemporary society. In order for substantial changes to be made we need to elevate our understanding of the significance of time in its relationship to worship.

What does worship have to do with time anyway? Genuine Christian worship bursts through the bonds of the present moment to connect us with eternity. I don’t just mean eternity forward, but eternity both directions. Any student of basic Christian theology is familiar with Christian teachings regarding the difference in Chronos and Kairos, the two Greek words referring to time. Chronos being quantitative as in days of the calendar, and Kairos referring to an indeterminate time or season in which something in particular takes place at “the appointed time.” In a particular (appointed) season, whether a moment, a day, months, or years, spiritually significant events take place with long term ramifications. Spiritually significant events happen in the life of a person, a church, or even the whole world. These qualitative periods of whatever length in history present kairos.

Worship, as an engagement with God in Christ by mediation of the Holy Spirit, occurs in real time. It happens in the “now” moments of gathered worship. In healthy Christian worship, worshipers gathered together in the present reality engage in connection to the “then” of past realities, and the “then” future of coming realities. We worship Him Who was and is and is to come! (Rev 1:4) In worship we remember, anamnesis, and we project forward, prolepsis. These are much more than just fancy words, as if a secret code, like a fraternity handshake, for believers. They are also our means of proclamation, as we declare remembrance and hope. Proclamation that belongs not to the professional clergy, but to the gathered body in every word, note, and motion of the liturgy, the worship itself. It is the story of God in Christ, reenacted week after week among His people. The God story. Certainly, the preached Word is central in this engagement for evangelicals, but grasping and pronouncing our place in time, the relation to the present moment (Now) and the past (then) as well as the coming future (then), is the joyful reality of what it is to worship, and that belongs to the entire gathered body!

In evangelical circles I fear we have abdicated witness and proclamation to the professional clergy. Along with such abdication comes unintended consequences of ever-less-connected congregation members, and sad personality cults that center around charismatic pulpit or tv dynamos. We find ourselves touting names of “Christian artists” and dyamic speaker-preachers who attain to substantive airtime on “Christian radio.” Certainly, these leaders may have effective ministry, but the problem occurs in our expectational immaturity. If our church leaders are less than entertaining to us, we become dissatisfied, and risk harm to the message of the gospel when we blame them for our own displeasure. With eyes toward our own satisfaction, or lack of it, we can lose sight of the part we play in proclamation and praise, helping to retell God’s story.

In Eastern Orthodox churches before they begin participation in the Divine Liturgy, the Deacon proclaims, “It is time for the Lord to act.” It is the understanding of the orthodox church that the time of the liturgy is an intersection with eternity. In evangelical revivalist churches the movement of a worship service toward a time of invitation is rooted in prayer that the Holy Spirit will move among worshipers to draw men and women to Himself, and that decisions for Christ will be made. In either instance, the sense is that God moves upon His people in worship.

One clear characteristic of culture in our day is that we are busy! We have lots to do. Do we really need to drive to some church building somewhere to worship God at a particular time on a particular day of the week? Is it a big deal that we get together with other believers to worship all at the same time? Well, the Bible surely appears to teach so. See Hebrews 10:25. For further word on “Prioritizing Church Attendance” read the linked blog from Gospel-Centered Discipleship.  Might be a good investment of a few moments of your time.

FLAG-WAVING WORSHIP?

July 6, 2014

united-states-flag  The nation’s capitol on 4th of July – yes, it has been on my bucket list for awhile, and this year in which The Star Spangled Banner, written in September of 1814, celebrates its 200th birthday, Ebbie and I decided to spend our getaway in D.C. the week of the 4th.  We went to the parade, watched the fireworks over the nation’s capitol, visited museums all week, and added to the Americana by attending a Nationals’ baseball game, and by listening to music on the National Mall.  We waited in a long line to do it, but we saw the founding documents actually on the 4th.  It was stirring to lay eyes on the Declaration of Independence in the handwriting of the framers themselves.  I joked as we passed by the Constitution that I wanted to double check to be sure no politicians had whited out portions.  Looking on the Bill of Rights served as a reminder of how freedoms come to be applied directly in our daily lives.  All was very inspiring.  I appreciated so much friends who live in the area who suggested sites, museums, restaurants, and events to aid our visit.

Alas, however, I was reminded in this setting that the allegiance to my homeland for me, and for the Church whose head is Jesus Christ, is never primary.  This challenge of allegiance confronts us in worship.

Not long ago I attended a monthly gathering of worship ministers in which the chosen topic of discussion was the question of mixing patriotism and Christian worship.  I think some of those present may have been surprised that not everyone’s conviction about the issue was the same.  Appropriateness of the American flag in the worship space was discussed, accompanied by some rather humorous illustrations of how conflicting views have been played out.  Of course discussions about appropriate music in seasons of nationalistic emphasis was also discussed.  Emotions on this subject can heighten rather quickly as very strong views are held on either side of the issue.  For most who have a strong conviction, the choice is easy, the answer is whatever their position happens to be.  I was proud to observe that these leaders maintained a respectful atmosphere throughout the time of discussion, even when it became obvious that strong convictions gripped the practices of the churches in which these leaders serve, and that those convictions and subsequent practices were antithetical.

It has long been a maxim for the dinner table that friends should avoid discussing religion or politics.  Well, Christian worship planners in our day hardly have the luxury to avoid talking about such things.  What is needed is wisdom in the discussion and in leading in worship in a day and age when our nation is so polarized on so many issues.  What’s more, backgrounds, including nationality, of those attending public worship are diverse.  Most importantly, Christians can unwittingly confuse unbelievers (and believers alike for that matter), by too closely connecting allegiances, alliances, and discussing sacrifices, such as those made by fellow countrymen alongside the sacrifice that has been made by the very Son of God.  If we are honest, we may need to confess that we have equated sacrifice of life, even implying that we are equating the lives sacrificed, and give a wrong impression of the cost of our eternal salvation.

My friend and colleague, Rob Hewell explains something of the way our loyalties get conflated in his book, Worship Beyond Nationalism, stating

Our deepest loyalties lie side by side in the depths of our soul.  Our deepest loyalties constitute the ‘hills we would die on.”  For many Americans these hills are God, country, and family.  Perhaps there was a time when they could be listed by priority: 1. God, 2. Country, 3. Family, with the claim that in that order none would suffer.  Times have changed and the three deepest loyalties seem to have been rearranged, resting side by side on the same plane, any of the three available at any time to come to the fore of thought and action as “loyalty number one.”

Others wrestle with the issue in their writing and help us consider the issues raised.  For example, check out these and others:

Trevin Wax

Russell Moore

Kevin DeYoung

My appeal is for worship planners to continue to open ourselves to prayerful, careful discussions, reading, and studying scripture and theological implications of those songs, readings, and prayers we will place upon the lips of worshipers. We must remain committed to using discretion, and invite our pastors and other leaders into the discussion on biblical foundation.  It seems important for us to recognize the severe challenges in our day of remaining true in our citizenship of the Kingdom of God as our primary citizenship, even as we are citizens of our country.  We must surely ask ourselves how our gathered worship is serving to shape the affections and attention of worshipers. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

There are wonderful songs that assist me in expressing feelings of national patriotism that say nothing of God or Jesus.  I sing these salutes to our country in full-throated, full-hearted allegiance.  In Christian worship, however, I am convicted our responsibility is to fix our eyes on Jesus.  After a wonderful week in Washington, D.C. celebrating our freedoms given by the state, I am still given to pray the ancient prayer of worship, Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy, knowing true freedom comes by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It seems to me our nation does not so much need us to be American patriots who happen to be Christian, but rather faithful Christians who therefore make good citizens of the United States of America.  Are we more poised to prod worshipers to defend God in our land, or do we call worshipers to intercede on behalf of our nation for God to heal our land, and give glory to Him Who was, and is, and is to come?

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.

 

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARKING TIME

December 10, 2013

Coen Christmas Pic  This past week I had another birthday.  Turns out I am piling up a bunch of them, as I was so aptly reminded by some of the cards and well-wishes from “friends.  As part of my celebration we went to church with one of our children’s families and I sat next to my oldest grandson in worship.  He is at an age where more faith questions abound, and needless to say, I love that.  Being with grandchildren gives special opportunities to observe childhood development close-up – including faith development.  Thanks to parents, behavior in church has moved from constant wiggling to learning to sit still and observe.  Drawing on bulletins has gone from scribble to drawing, from shapes to actual writing of words.  It is happening right before my eyes.  It causes me to reflect on the lives of my children and my own as well.

As birthday wishes began to trickle in on my Facebook Timeline.  I was not only overwhelmed by volume, but much more overwhelmed by the realization of how rich have been all the relationships over the years and phases of life.  I have reflected on God’s incredible gift of people all along the way in my life who have loved, supported, and patiently encouraged me.

The life reflections in this Advent season of the year coupled with recent discussions with friends have brought me to some inconclusive conclusions.  That is, the realization that life and ministry happen in times of deeply purposeful/intentional efforts, but that life and ministry also take place in times that, on review, would appear to have been simply going through motions, so to speak.  I think I am trying to say there have been periods of unintentional consequences of ministry as well as intended.  Over-emphasis to the contrary seems to so easily lapse into making effective ministry up to me.  My efforts and intention lack omnipotence.  Do not go too far with that.  Intentions do matter, but then again, the phrase is not “the road to heaven is paved with good intentions,” either.   My point is more focused toward the realization that the tension between my will and God’s will is no less for those of us in ministry than for those we serve in and through our ministries.  In fact, precisely because of the availability to us of special words and biblical knowledge that we think gives us forensic advantage over those we serve, enough for us to use it to prove our points when there is contention, we live in danger of missing the very numinous blessing for which we hunger.  Those of us in worship music ministry are additionally armed with emotive weaponry.  The arsenal available for our own destruction is far too full.

Now what does all this have to do with the aforementioned timeline and birthday blessings, much less Advent season?  Well, having heard from and thought about people from all seasons of life and contemplated those relationships has brought me once again to Eucharistic (thankful) truth.  Life is a gift.  In my days there have been those who were part of my childhood; family, friends, church leaders and school teachers, who spoke into my life journey in ways that may have seemed mundane at the time, but have served love, growth, joy, courage, lament and laughter.  There were school buds with whom I pondered the depths of the universe, and then went fishing.  There have been those with whom I have served as fellow ministers in good times and hard.  There have been people who have asked me to minister to them, and who have ministered to my family and me through acceptance and love.  To be taught to sing and play music in order to share and teach music that helps us all to worship and praise the God we serve is beyond words to acclaim.  To stand before choirs, instrumentalists, and congregations of worshiping singers for the purpose of making music together that seeks to declare Gospel Truth, and join creation’s song of eternal praise is indescribable.

As I reflect, it seems to me that there have been spiritually hot seasons and spiritually cold seasons for me.  There have been times I thought the Spirit was nowhere to be found, and other times I believed His presence was tangible.  Perhaps you have sensed these kinds of extremes as well, personally and in community experience.  Where is the constant?  What is the ongoing truth unchanged?  Too often our inclination is to consider the human dynamics of settings and consider a powerful speaker, clever writer, talented musician, dramatic song as the key to spiritual potency.  There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these components.  As we work toward being at our best at whatever we are gifted to do, however, the reality is that in spiritual enterprise God remains Sovereign.  He gives the increase.  The wind blows where it will, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Our opportunity and responsibility is to be humble, obedient, and faithful, to trust and obey.  Marking time is not a bad thing, especially if we help mark whose it is.  Advent proclaims His coming and awaits His coming.  Worship rehearses the story that we might rehearse our head and heart posture in response to the Eternal God, Who has given us these lives to live.  Thanks be to God!

DEFERENCE OVER PREFERENCE

September 9, 2013

Justin Wainscott preaching  Pastor Justin Wainscott of First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee is a serious student of Christian worship, a fine pastoral leader for the historic Jackson congregation, and a close personal friend.  Justin is an example among, and for young evangelical pastors.  I know him to be a hymn writer, a liturgist, a deep theological thinker, whose approach in ministry strikes a harmonious balance between historical sensitivity and appreciation for contextual application.

At a congregational gathering and teaching time last weekend Pastor Justin prayed these words in his prayer that began the evening, asking that the Spirit would speak into the worship life of this faith community.  “Lord, may we practice deference above preference as we worship You together.”  That may not be word for word, but the phrase, “deference over preference” stuck with me like glue.  In multiple private conversations regarding worship issues I had heard Justin make this statement previously.  We had been talking about the need for that spirit to take hold in worshiping congregations.  In this setting where he called upon the Lord to grant this spirit among the people that he pastors I found it to be profoundly appropriate.  In prayer form I was reminded that such a spirit would only be possible through a movement of the Holy Spirit among His people.  Lord, may it be so.

Romans 12 is a rich revelation of God’s intention for our worship.  From the Apostle Paul’s opening plea that indicates the core act of spiritual worship, which is to offer our bodies (whole selves) as living sacrifices, to the many verses dealing with how we treat one another, the chapter instructs in actions so needed in today’s context.  I highly recommend music ministry leaders and pastors to find moments to preach, teach, and devote upon this passage.  Genuine application in our gathered worship of the activities instructed in this chapter of scripture could be transforming.  I think it appropriate to join Pastor Wainscott in praying the prayer for deference over preference as a direct means of combating obsessive stylistic issues that so often dominate the attention of today’s church goers.  My experience has been that even when these stylistic considerations seem to have been “settled” they often lurk just under the surface, ready to erupt yet again at any opportune moment.

Imagine if worshipers consistently practiced just this one verse of Romans 12:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (vs. 10)

Many times changes made in church worship practices are done with thoughts of attracting those outside the congregation.  In areas of the country where churches abound, in some cases with one on nearly every street corner, sadly these kinds of changes are often made with thoughts of building “our kingdom” more than “the Kingdom.”  A competitive spirit can set in and congregations and their leaders may begin to strategize to win or just survive.  Little else could be so counterproductive to the Kingdom, capital “K.”  Imagine with me what it might look like if evangelical congregations engaged in consistent activity of trying to “outdo one another in showing honor.”  Within a congregation comprised of persons of various ages, there would be high concern to be certain that worship practices served the need of others.  Within the congregation, age groups would strive to serve others; teens serving senior saints, seniors serving children, boomers busters, millenials
gen Xers,” and so forth.  All would be exercising a concern for those outside the immediate congregation.  We would not only be practicing benevolence to the poor, but we would be seeking to show them honor.  Imagine a prevalent spirit within your faith community where worshipers do not think of themselves individually or collectively more highly than they ought, but instead think with sober judgement, each according to the faith that God has assigned. (vs. 3)

In such a setting I see a truly attractional church!  Not because of the “cool factor,” or the capital “T” Traditional factor, but because of the Jesus factor.  This kind of a congregation, where worshipers exercise deference over preference, is one that I sure want to be a part of, and best of all, one that displays Christlikeness, recalling that Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  (Matthew 20:28)

SIGNATURE VOICES

April 22, 2013

 

George Beverly Shea How can we begin to measure the lasting effect of the life and work of George Beverly Shea, upon the worship of evangelical churches?  Like Buryl Red, though in very different ways these two giants of church music have left indelible marks on our worship language and means of expression as we proclaim witness in song and as we consider what it means to engage in spiritual worship “in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

At 104 years of age, George Beverly Shea was known as “America’s Gospel Singer,” even though he was born in Canada, and sang in innumerable foreign countries as part of the Billy Graham team, in addition, of course, to singing in every state in the union.  At his memorial service Shea was referred to as the “Gentle Giant,” a fitting moniker given his humble demeanor and self-defacing humor.  Shea, along with Cliff Barrows, made up the principles of the Billy Graham evangelistic team.  His rich baritone stylings were a hallmark of every evangelistic service.  Even in latter years as new artists were included in the crusade programs, crowds waited with anticipation to hear the signature songs, The Love of God, The Wonder of It All, How Great Thou Art, or perhaps his best known musical offering that he scored at age 23, music for the poem by Mrs. Rhea Miller, I’d Rather Have Jesus.

Author, teacher, Reggie Kidd reminds us, “For two millennia, Christians have sung their theology – from catacombs to dorm rooms, and from cathedrals to football stadiums.  Every distinctive shape the faith takes finds its own musical voice.” (With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship)  No doubt the faith has been shaped through the years of the American church of the frontier, and the subsequent revivalist movement of which the Graham team provides the apex.  I would go as far as to say that most churches in my own Baptist faith tradition have patterned worship liturgy, at least as much, and many of them more, after the Graham crusades’ programs than by historic patterns of church practice.  Given this influence, we must pause to consider more resolutely not only the form of the crusade team, but as we say, “farewell” to this dear saint, George Beverly Shea, we must consider the consistent message and substance of the song(s) he sang.  It was GOSPEL – not in style, but in content.  It presented life-change, either by testimony, I’d Rather Have Jesus, or by biblical story, Ninety and Nine, or by a kind of spirit of abandonment to worship and wonder, The Love of God, The Wonder of It All, and How Great Thou Art. 

For many years, and some to this day, pastors – preachers – evangelists, looked for a Gospel-singer/soloist to serve as their own George Beverly Shea (combined with Cliff Barrows) as their right hand to flank them in weekly worship in attempts to re-create the crusade atmosphere in their own church.  Though there are multiple issues to be addressed in this ethos that deserve prayerful reflection, still this worship has served to shape much of where we find ourselves today.  For many in my own denomination when you say “Traditional worship,” it is this ambiance that comes to mind.  George Beverly Shea’s influence in this arena is paramount.  His signature voice, literally and figuratively, will remain with us in many ways even as he joins the mighty chorus of Heaven.  One cannot help but wonder if he will compare notes with other preacher – songster teams like John Calvin and Louis Bourgeois, John and Charles Wesley, Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, or Billy Sunday and Homer Rhodeheaver.

The passing of Buryl Red and now George Beverly Shea is fresh reminder for all who share in ministry through music that we have opportunity to give voice to faith, witness, and worship through song.  While it is extremely rare for individuals to propagate the volume and depth of influence that has grown from the lives of these two men through their profound giftedness, talent, skills, and opportunity, it is, nevertheless, critical that each of us recommit ourselves to see the Christlike characteristics that they demonstrated, and to imitate those.  I will likely never write a Celebrate Life musical, or even an In Remembrance of Me song.  I can, however, seek to serve with the kind of humble spirit and treat persons with the kind of gentle caring that characterized Buryl Red.  My voice will no longer croon the baritone strains with the kind of richness and attractive potency that defined the solo voice of George Beverly Shea.  I can, however, offer my body including every utterred sound as a “living sacrifice as spiritual worship,” prayerful that God will be glorified, and trusting His Spirit to turn little into much for His Kingdom.

You and I are also leaving our signature upon the worship life and language of those with whom we live and serve.  Let us be faithful in making melody with thankful hearts for His glory.

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH KEITH GETTY

February 28, 2013

Keith & KristynAs follow-up to a recent conference in which Keith Getty and I participated, I wanted to ask Keith questions related to his work and life.

Paul:  Now that you have moved your American home to “Music City,” do you sense an increase in pressure to commercialize your music more?

Keith:  Not really, no. I haven’t a strong interest in country, CCM, or pop music anyway. It has been a refreshing experience getting to know some of Nashville’s folk musicians; americana, bluegrass, and other ethnic folk players. Just this morning Stuart Townend said to me on Skype that my music seemed to have gone more American in it’s folk influences than Irish. So every artist is constantly learning and the influences I have had in Nashville have been very positive, but not in any way commercial.

Paul:  You have indicated in your speaking and through your concert practices a clear commitment to choirs in helping to lead worship. Talk about why you have this commitment, and how you have seen choirs serve the churches’ worship in your experiences.

Keith:  My love for choirs is on several levels. The first one is very personal – I have sung in choirs all my life and I love the sound – I love the harmony, I love the contribution they make to a room, and most especially how they can set a congregation up confidently to sing well. When the choir is used as a tool for leading congregations, I think it’s actually at it’s strongest in terms of local church usage. When it becomes a choir more interested in pure performance, I still think the sound is great but it is of less kingdom value.

Paul:  (a follow up question) What would you say to Church Worship Music Leaders who face the struggle of enlisting and maintaining choir singers, especially from among the younger adults in their churches?

Keith:  Its tough in these times for many reasons – many churches are small and at best not growing. Choral music is less preeminent in our society, from education to church to it’s place on the wider concert platform. Additionally people are much busier than they ever were. In the 50s, singing in choirs was a popular hobby in a relatively uncrowded marketplace. Today people probably have twenty times the option of what to do. I think above all of these things though, choirs have lost their sense of confidence and role in church life and so most people see it as less of a priority. There is an educational process at that level to be done, but I do think at the every day level striving for excellence and a fun sense of community is always huge. My most memorable choir moments were either getting to sing in great halls with great musicians or else just being with groups of people who enjoyed each other’s company, laughed and socialized together – singing became a means of friendship and fellowship.

Paul:  Given that you co-write a lot with Stuart Townend, others, and of course, with Kristyn, are there specific theological and/or personal themes that you feel you tend to bring to the mix and those that each of your co-writers tend to bring?  (and a follow-up – if so, what are those themes and do you have a sense of perhaps why?)

Keith:  In terms of individual contributions, my only real lyrical contribution is at the broad level of concepts and ideas. Stuart and Kristyn have all the gifting when it comes to poetry. I think at a general level as a team, the contributions we’ve made have been more of breadth and depth than of specific soapboxes or subjects. We’ve tried to write widely about the character of God, about the human experience, and to cover as many concepts from the Christian calendar as possible. We’ve tried to write more deeply about the subjects knowing how important it is to how believers think.

Paul:  What advice would you have for those Worship Music Leaders who have difficulties with philosophical, practical, stylistic, or even personal relationship issues with their Senior Pastor?

Keith:  Gosh, that’s not an easy one. I think we all have to begin from a position of acknowledging that relationships are difficult. Even a simple relationship between two people is actually two sinful people trying to co-exist in a functional way with each other’s sins and failures. That’s why grace and grace expressed in healthy communication is so important.  I do think weekly accountability and periodic goals help at a functional level to see above the immediate concerns, but ultimately if we don’t share common faith and pray together, it’s going to be an awful lot more difficult.

Paul:  In your experience what are some factors that contribute to churches where congregational worship singing is robust, and what are contributing factors where congregational worship singing seem lethargic?

Keith:  When I think of robust congregational singing, the first four or five churches that come to mind represent the whole spectrum of the scale; from churches that are acapella, to black gospel music, and from the smallest to the largest of fellowships. In other words, and this is important – congregational singing does not need megachurches nor does it need professional musicians. The most professional productions I have seen both in the contemporary American megachurch world as well as the British choral world have in fact had the most lethargic and almost uncomfortably bad congregational singing. What the robust churches all have in common is that between pastor and all musicians involved in leading the service, there is an excitement about singing top to bottom. It is modeled, it is preached, it is prayed for, it is prepared, and it is well set up – whatever the style of the church. When you think about it, 8 people in a room singing Amazing Grace with all their heart is as an exhilarating experience as I can imagine. That’s the great thing about congregational music – it’s for the people, God’s people, it’s our holy privilege.

Keith’s responses above reflect something of the thinking, reflection, and character of this modern hymnwriter who has something crucial to share with the Church and church leadership.

Those who live in proximity of Nashville , Tennessee will not want to miss the St. Patrick’s Day hymns concert and singalong with the Gettys at the famed Ryman Auditorium, March 17, at 7:00pm.


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