Archive for the ‘Worship Leader Relationships’ category


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.

Two Words You Likely Never Use to Describe Your Worship

August 25, 2014

Southern Fried Faith cover  I am happy today to publish a Guest – Post by my friend, Rob Tims, who serves as Discipleship Strategist, Lifeway Church Resources Division, and is also the author of a new book I have just read and highly recommend, especially to anyone who grew up in the South.

Rob Tims is the author of Southern Fried Faith. Learn more about Rob and his ministry at


With only two words, how would you describe your personal attitude or state of mind when you arrive to worship on Sunday?

Here’s my list.

Anxious and angry.

Burdensome and bleary.

Calloused and cranky.

Detached and distracted.

Frazzled and frustrated.

I could use most of the alphabet, but you get the point. For far too many Sundays, I walk into corporate worship hassled and hurried as a result of any number of excuses, most of which have my own sin at the center.

Sure: my wife and three kids are just as guilty as I am for our inability to be in worship on time and in a proper frame of mind, but their sin is no excuse for my own.

The scary thing is how easily I become OK with these attitudes on Sundays. After a few weeks of:

  • Pulling into the parking lot arguing with my wife
  • Licking my thumbs and wiping breakfast off the cheeks of my third grader who did not brush his teeth or hair
  • Changing a dirty diaper on the floorboard of our minivan in the church parking lot

… I essentially accept corporate worship will be disappointing most of the time.

My frustration at both these circumstances and my resignation to them reveals that I know such words should not describe my attitude in worship. Surely there are better words that should describe our state of mind as we enter into worship.

There are, but they might not be what you think.

We might be tempted to think they are the opposite of words I’ve already thrown out. Instead of “anxious,” you might choose “calm.” Or instead of “frazzled,” you might say “focused.” Certainly, “calm” and “focused” can be great frames of mind in worship, but are these the kinds of feelings God wants me to have when I enter in?

Maybe, but there are definitely two that all too rarely describe my attitude toward worship, yet are all too essential for it to be a genuine experience that honors the Lord.

These words are reverence and awe, and they come from Hebrews 12:29—”… let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe …”

Acceptable worship … worship that is right for me and acceptable to God … is that which is characterized by “reverence and awe.” By “reverence and awe,” the writer of Hebrews means a state of mind that acknowledges God’s holiness. It’s a throwback reference to the days when God’s presence consumed Mt. Sinai with fire. Though in Christ we have access to this God, this access does not permit apathetic indifference towards Him. He is and always will be “a consuming fire.”

There are two things that I love about these words. First, no style of worship has the patent on worshipping with “reverence and awe.” God’s holiness is bigger than our battles over electric guitars, printed music, or choir robes. Different church cultures can experience worship with reverence and awe in a myriad of ways, and any church culture can become a slave to its methods in a way that distracts from God’s holiness.

Second, these characteristics remind me that worship is not about me, but about Him. Too often, I have come to worship wondering, “What’s in it for me?” In other words, I have approached worship with a consumer’s mentality. But if God is a consuming fire, then I’m not the consumer: He is. Worship is not primarily about what I get, but what about He gets. I’m not to approach worship or leave worship primarily wondering how good it was for me, but about whether or it not it was acceptable to my God who is “a consuming fire.”

That God is a consuming fire requires that I worship with reverence and awe. What’s amazing about this is that reminding myself of this reality as I walk into church on Sunday morning has a way of helping me work through those distractions that constantly pull at me prior to and in worship. My squirmy kid, that person’s mobile phone, the sound guy’s forgetfulness, and that preacher’s long sermon simply don’t matter nearly as much when my attitude is “reverence and awe.” A growing understanding of who God is far outweighs any of those things that might distract me from Him.

I’m teaching a Sunday school class this Sunday. I’m sure to be rushed and nervous prior to the class, and I’m sure to be late to worship as a result of conversations and cleaning up after class. But by speaking the truth of God’s holiness to myself as I walk to the chapel, I can nurture and grow with this belief about God: “He is a consuming fire who must be worshipped with reverence and awe.”

And in so doing, I can honor Him in my worship.

And so can you.



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?


June 16, 2014

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


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

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

We Sing To Own and Affirm the Word

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

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

We Sing to Engage Our Emotions with God’s Word

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

We Sing To Demonstrate and Build Unity

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

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

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

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

Screens AND Hymnals

June 12, 2014

Screens and Hymnals

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

Screens AND Hymnals
By Mark Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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)








January 7, 2014

worship band  In the final chapter of Constance Cherry’s book on worship planning and structure she addresses what it means to be a Hospitable Worship Leader.  She draws a crucial distinction between program worship and participatory worship, and with firm biblical support suggests that we must move from the former to the later.  She strikes a convicting chord as she states:

For decades (even centuries), worship in many traditions has resembled a religious program.  There is a topic (God) and we sing about God or tell about God or discuss God.  We put in order a sequence of events designed to instruct or entertain the public.  We arrange for the performers, hoping that they will add an effective dimension to the program.[1]

The author effectively identifies the passive nature of this worship.  In matter of fact fashion she correctly identifies how program worship invites judgment.  As an observer for whom this worship has been planned, the person in the pew naturally responds to the program by evaluating what was liked, or not liked, what was learned or not, what was inspiring or not, what was of excellent or poor standards.  Responding as a critic is quite natural, “for a performance is done for us and begs for our satisfaction.”[2]

I fear this confronts us with a disturbing reality and seriously begs the question of understanding our role in pastoring – shepherding – guiding in Christian worship.  Worship presented in scripture is participative, not passive.  In worship that is shaped by gathering, the Word, the Table (responding), and sending.  There is active motion in the communion/encounter with God.  Utilizing this simple, though biblically and liturgically sound pattern of four-fold worship structure, let’s consider how a “program worship” mindset can interfere with participative worship where we engage with the Triune Living God.  We will look at each one of the sections (Gathering, WORD, TABLE, Sending) in separate blogposts.  I pray this might spawn your thinking and even open discussion to aid a more engaging worship environment.


GATHERING – When program worship is planned our invitation to worship becomes an invitation to see and hear performers, even though the performance may be about God things.  Consider present-day environments where lighting clearly resembles a theatrical stage, and pre-service dramatic buildup leads to the entrance of platform personnel who will perform.  The community into which this piety may form us seems to imitate the faceless, nameless Rock concert crowd, rather than confessing disciples responding to the Spirit’s call to enter gates with thanksgiving.  Opening words like, “How’s everybody doing this morning?” whether spoken into an over-amplified microphone to continue that Rock concert feel, or delivered in the folksy, “How’r ya’ll doin’?” manner, either way seems to deflect attention from even the possibility of a Present Incarnate Deity.  If our Gathering is the people of God responding to His invitation to come and worship, recognizing that we are the Body that has been scattered, but comes to worship gathered, then surely we leaders must help prepare the way.  Dr. Cherry notes the purpose of the gathering as twofold: “(1) to unite our spirits in God’s presence and (2) to prepare us to hear the word of God.”[3]

This purpose holds great promise, and reason for anticipation in itself.  There is certainly good reason for church leaders to avoid a funeral home-esque pre-service atmosphere that might suggest that Holy Presence = somber sadness, just as they would avoid flippant pre-service gymnastics that seem to imply “Get ready, the big stars are comin’ up next.”  Serious, honest analysis of embedded messages in our methods, means, and materials utilized during Gathering must surely be an ongoing and regular practice for leaders sincere about God-centered, God-encountering, Biblically sound worship.  Precisely because so many of us who lead are performers at some level by training, such honest evaluation can prove difficult, even testing the fabric of our relationships.  If, however, we intend to guide genuine Christian worship, we must humble ourselves and engage in such analysis.  Otherwise, we risk just another program about God, rather than helping set the stage for transformative encounter with Him.

[1] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker), 269.
[2] ibid.
[3] Ibid. pg 55.


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)


July 23, 2013

busy Our American culture places a high value on being busy.  If at any moment you actually are not busy, you may sense the need to look busy.  Have you ever faked a cellphone call while walking to your car, or sitting in a parking lot?  Have you stood in the grocery store aisle and pretended to check messages on your smartphone, when in reality the last message received was six hours ago?  When a luncheon conversation with a colleague grows the slightest bit monotonous, does your smartphone burn a proverbial hole in your pocket?  In fact, did you know that a recent article indicates the U.S. is the 28th country in the world in regard to “work life balance?”  That is only slightly better than Mexico, and is only nine steps away from being worst in the world.  The June 1 Atlantic Monthly article by Derek Thompson inquires, “If we are so rich, then why are we working so hard that we do not have time to cherish the fruits of our prosperity?”  We are busy people!  We are often busy at being busy, or even just looking busy.

An obsessively busy culture infects those serving as ministry staff, and through busy pastors and people sadly find its ways into the worship environment of our churches.  Worship leaders, consider the apprehension brought about by the mere thought of a twenty-second period of silence.  Many a music leader knows the prospective scorn of a nervous senior pastor or parishioner confronted with that moment of quiet in a worship service where they are not sure what you want them to “do.”  Reactions and sensibilities of this sort are likely a direct result of this “Gotta be busy” mentality that has danced its way into the life of congregations across our land.  Such an ethos is a far cry from “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

We have re-labeled places and things in a way that implies more action.  So we no longer construct sanctuaries.  We build worship centers.  Rather than creating space that calls worshipers to a sense of something larger than themselves, we convert rooms into theatrical venues and hang motorized lighting to resemble those settings with which people are familiar in the entertainment world, and try and convince them this is for them.  Rather than surrounding worshipers with stained glass, giving them time to study and soak in scenes from old and new covenants, we flash images in milliseconds to impress religious perception in hopes some of the impressions will somehow stick.

I know….I know….the world has changed.  Indeed it has!  An ever-present struggle of discipleship is measuring how much and in what ways we are to adapt to the world in order to communicate the Gospel into current reality.  Or, on the other hand, the question is how firmly we are to remain rooted in historical foundation, reflecting an unchanging Gospel that is secure as evidenced in its transformative power through all time.

The truth is that in our busy culture, worship planners – leaders – pastors are going to be busy about something.  The question is whether we will be busy about that which God intends, or busy about those things that reflect busy-ness.  In our context, it may be difficult to know the difference.  Here are some cautions to watch out for, some adapted from items listed by Josh Reich, Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Revolution Church in Tuscon, AZ, in his cautions about being a “celebrity pastor.”

Signs you may be about the wrong busy-ness

  • Worship planning is dominated by production issues – tech, performance, personnel, music and visual presentation
  • You are afraid to be away from your church in fear worshipers will like the way the sub leads worship better than when you lead
  • The primary comments you pay attention to regarding Sunday worship is whether or not you were good
  • Conferences you attend are mostly about new songs, new gadgets, or new gimmicks
  • You can’t turn your phone off at night.
  • You worry what people say about you, your songs, or your church on Facebook. You also feel the need to comment on everything or want to know how many likes your last status update got
  • You have to be at every rehearsal or tech meeting and be part of every decision that is made regarding worship
  • You don’t take time off.
  • When you become aware that one of your musicians is engaged in sinful actions, you do not challenge their sin for fear you will hurt their feelings and/or lose their participation
  • You are the bottleneck for all decisions related to worship; they must run through your office. By doing this, you say that you are keeping everyone on the same page, but really it is because you don’t trust that the culture and DNA of your church has spread, which says more about your leadership than your followers
  • You spend more hours and effort planning worship than worshiping
  • You have trouble quieting your spirit for worship in solitude because every scripture or song draws you back to think how it might be effective in the gathered setting
  • You seldom engage in settings where others are leading worship, or place yourself in a support role such as choir singer, worship band player, or other instrumentalist

Steps to regain direction for your sense of calling

  • Pray with an open heart and mind that your spirit would be restored in the joy of God’s salvation by His grace
  • Revisit your spiritual landmarks and ask the Spirit to guide your journey
  • Confess and celebrate your limitations, recognizing that your humanity is a gift of God; ask the Lord to help keep you mindful of these that you might more quickly recognize His Spirit at work
  • Engage in an honest evaluation of all aspects of your ministry and processes, especially those involving worship planning & leadership
  • Invite spiritual partners and leaders to pray for and with you regarding your sense of calling
  • Get your senior pastor or other leadership’s permission to unplug the worship environment for a period of time allowing healthy reflection for you and those you lead
  • Get involved in networks with fellow worship leaders with resolve to avoid a competitive spirit
  • Engage in periodic rest, retreat, and spiritually refreshing worship in settings other than the one in which you hold primary responsibilities


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.




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