DON’T BE LIKE THE SELF-FOCUSED WORSHIP LEADER ME

Posted September 21, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Leading Worship, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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Rob Lowe like this me Have you ever been in worship as a participant in the congregation and been distracted by what appeared to be self-focus by the worship leader or preacher? That sounds harsh and could even sound judgmental, but discernment in our spirit usually speaks up for some reason. Worship Leaders, have you ever, like I have, finished your leadership responsibility and felt you needed forgiveness for drawing too much attention to yourself? Platform responsibility carries that potential danger.

Have you seen those crazy Direct TV commercials with famous actors and athletes like Rob Lowe, Andrew Luck, and now there are two Peyton Manning renditions. One is Peyton Manning, alongside Skinny Legged Peyton Manning, and Peyton Manning alongside Really High Voiced Peyton Manning. At the end Peyton says, “Don’t be like this me” pointing to the “really high voice me” who is singing Camptown Races in castrati-land with a barbershop quartet. I don’t know about you, but to me these ads are pretty funny. Granted, I still have Cable TV, but I enjoy the entertaining commercials.

Do you know of pastors and/or worship music leaders who seem to be almost two different people on platform and off? Some talk about having an alter ego, not referring to the psychotic kind, but just having a kind of stage persona that kicks into gear on the platform. Indeed, in most evangelical churches it takes a certain level of platform confidence to go about the duties of leading worship music or preaching in an effective manner such that people remain interested. For some the difference between “platform me” and the “real me” can be dramatic. In far too many cases, if we are not very careful (and prayerful), the platform me fosters a drift whereby we lose the sense of what worship is about and who it is to please. Worship Leaders and Pastors, have you ever assessed what goes on in your own mind and spirit and felt like you didn’t know who that was? Did you ever feel like you needed to pause and, like the commercial, say, “Don’t be like the worship-leading me?”

  • Intentionally surrender yourself anew to the desires of God before taking the platform for any leadership role.
  • Prayerwalk the worship space before anyone else comes in and consider those who will be sitting in the chairs or pews and pray for their spiritual edification and their participation in worship
  • Check your motivations for every part of the worship service, but most especially anything intended to embellish given material. For example ask the why? Question seriously about modulations, repetitions and extensions, or if you preach, about self illustrations
  • If worship services are videotaped review those with prayerful honesty as to what you see in yourself as you lead
  • Have an accountability partner who can go over planned worship items, or can even view video footage with you and give open and honest input regarding appearances and motivations
  • Develop a closet prayer team of a few individuals who will pray for your humility and servant spirit before during and after the worship service
  • Use a journal and chronicle your experience of worship leading soon after each service has dismissed. Take special note of how often your journal entries include an assessment of how well the people sing and otherwise participate in worship.

There is likely always some mix of motives in the platform leadership of worship, but it seems to me we must surely at the very least recognize the danger here, and move slowly and deliberately in planning and preparing for worship leading. After all, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10)   and Paul says,  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Fellow Worship Leaders, let’s ask ourselves the hard questions and seek wisdom in reflecting on the answers. Be not afraid to face up to those things that we do that really are to please our fellow man, to hush the critics, or worst of all, to draw attention to ourselves. We must root out the real resons for what we do and why we do it. That which stands true to the Word, and is offered to God in Spirit-inspired direction will not return void. Even the simplest of songs or most basic of sermons will prove far more powerful, even if we do not see those immediate results, than the most dazzling of performances that are given to show how good we think we can perform.

Lord, help our leaders to be humble before You, and to lead Your people recognizing that this is the Bride of Christ. May our services of worship reflect You more and more through the humble, Christlike spirit of our leaders as they grow to be more like You. May we find our leaders joining the spirit of what we read in 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

WORSHIP IN THE EVANGELICAL TRADITION – IT’S PERSONAL

Posted September 15, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Congregational Singing, Private Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

Emily baptism I grew up the son of a Baptist Pastor. One of the things I learned early on was that Baptists believed in the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior. At its core Christianity was personal. I grew up in the glory days of Baptist programming, and I am really glad that I did. We had programs for developing music skills and learning about God through what we sing, which eventually led to understanding that whatever talents we had were gifts from Him to be offered back to Him in worship, ministry, and mission. We had programs for learning the Bible and sharing our witness. We had a program teaching the most basic fundamentals of personal faith and doctrine. It was in this latter program that I learned much about God, Man, Sin, Church, Creation, and Last Things, and about personal disciplines. All of these programs contributed to programming me. The programs, however, in and of themselves were missing the most fundamental component of Christian living. Worship. Warren Wiesbe reminds us that many things the church does are good, but divorced from real worship they are powerless and will not yield fruit.[1]

When I mention the word worship some think of music. It is, of course, much more. Some think of preaching. Worship is more. Many people think of worship as only the hour on Sunday morning when the church gathers for a worship service. Worship is a life style of obedience. With our emphasis on personal relationship we evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular sometimes miss the corporate understanding of worship as a body of believers covenanted together and gathered in a place and time to join the saints of all places and times in the eternal act of Christian worship. By the same token in our efforts to build our churches and draw large crowds I fear we have often lost our sense of the personal nature of worship even within the corporate setting. Although corporate worship is more than just the collected individual worship experiences of individual worshipers, in the evangelical tradition, even gathered or corporate worship serves to position individual hearts and minds to personally commune with the living God. Within the gathered body there are many individuals who are choosing to lend their hearts and lend their voices to corporate praise. Others may continue the struggle to yield to the heart of worship, and for them we pray.

Regardless of the size of a church it is imperative that neither sensitivity, corporate or personal, be lost. We are giving ourselves to the whole, many members one body. At once we are also in spiritual battle as individuals. Humbled before Him we trust His power, His Spirit. I could never fully explain it, but as our friends, our families, and particularly our children observe our humbled spirit yielded as spiritual response in worship the Lord’s presence is made known. Paul says others take notice and see. “So he will he fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:25) Others around us, and I believe especially those who know us best, have some sense of the positioning of our heart and spirit as we sing, as we pray, as we listen, as we respond. Robert Wenz says “He has made us to live in a material world yet calls us to worship himself, the God who transcends the material world. He calls us to worship by faith, believing that the unseen kingdom and the unseen King are as real and more permanent than the sensory world we live in.”[2]

Imagine if we had a tattoo placed on our face when we committed to faith in Christ. Then surely church members, family and friends, and our children would know whose we were. Instead our identity mark is baptism as our first act of obedience, and we take a towel to our dripping selves following that ceremonial act. Where genuine faith takes hold that mark remains and serves as identity in our own hearts, in the minds eye of all those who observed our baptism, and in our response to other Christian acts as a worshiper. All these responses are personal. When we sing with head and heart, it’s personal. When we listen with open Bible prayerful to hear a word from heaven, personal. When we take the bread and cup and share it with our brother or sister affirming covenant, personal. And others see.

Sunday I had the glorious privilege of baptizing my second grandchild, my oldest granddaughter. Stepping with her into the warm baptismal pool was a joy that defies description. Entering those waters I felt in a sense I was once again entering into my own baptism. The Lord Who saved me has claimed the life of another grandchild. The moments of lowering her little body to stir the water emboldened my own faith and my prayer for her and for family yet to come. Hearing the congregation continue their songs of redemption while I dried and dressed in the dressing room stirred my own chords of song. Tears dripped from my eyes onto my shoes as I put them on my feet. These were tears of spiritual joy, a moment of emotional worship before I headed back to be seated with family. I had just baptized my granddaughter. It was sinking in. It was personal. It was worship. Lord, let me walk in your way that others will see only You.

[1] Warren Wiersbe Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground? (Bake Books 2000) 8-16

[2] Robert Wenz Room for God? A Worship Challenge for a Church Growth and Marketing Era (Renewing Total Worship Ministries 1994) 161.

WAR ROOM AND WORSHIP

Posted September 8, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Leading Worship, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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War-room1 Last week I went to see the latest of the Kendrick Brothers’ movies, War Room. I will spare you my review of the film, since I am no movie critic. Nor will I serve as spoiler for those who may be planning to see War Room but have not yet gotten to the theater. Rather, since I think the theme of the movie is pretty obvious, I want to draw attention to an important dynamic of worship that watching the movie prompted.

I would invite you to consider the battle in worship, and think as well about the critical importance of prayer preceding, during, and following times of worship. The term, “Worship War” has been used to describe a conflict over music styles, a sadly common recurring dynamic in churches, especially over the last three decades. You know the drill, some people desire a specific style of music to predominate the song selection list for Sunday worship, and another group wants a different style, still others want a mix. The surface skirmish that has torn at the fabric of many churches is merely a symptom of the true war of worship taking place in the will of humans, within faith communities, in culture, and in the cosmos.

The war of which we speak is at the center of our existence ever since the Fall in the Garden in Genesis 3. We see the spark of the war in the desire of an angel to be exalted above the one true God, in order that he might be worshiped himself. Our own self-centeredness finds roots in this foundational separating sinfulness. Throughout the grand narrative of the scriptures we find the battle raging. We will not rehearse those battles here, but rather call to your attention the predominance of that theme in the whole of the biblical narrative, as well as throughout Christian history right up to present day. More pointedly, now I would like to draw your attention to the battle as it rages in present day worship practice and invite your consideration of a strategy for waging war effectively.

  1. The battle is at the core of the substance of worship, not the style in which it is practiced. While I would concur with those who believe the stylistic expressions in gathered worship reflect motivations that drive their use, I am convinced discussion at the point of styles of expression themselves yields little if any fruit. Such discussion has little to do with shaping worshipers as reflections of the one true worship leader, Jesus. The essential struggle has to do with the centrality of the Triune God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and whose desire is to be known and worshiped in all of His eternal beauty, having forever been and knowing He forever shall be the one true God. In opposition we have the competing desire of other centralities – ourselves, our church as an organization, nationalism, moralism, emotional gratification, etc.
  1. The battle must be informed by the past. Robert Webber warns, “we live in a society that has lost its own heritage.” He goes on to note “when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future.”[1] When worship ignores the past we risk presenting an unanchored gospel. While we fully trust the Lord to be at work in the now, we strengthen faith and sharpen sensibilities by reminding ourselves how He has worked in days gone by. In worship we gather up the stories of biblical, historical, and personal significance to foster continued sensitivity to incarnational reality.
  1. The battle is fierce in the present. Current conflict is the most intense because we are presently in it, we face it now. Whether things seem good, or things seem bad the battle goes on. Individually, collectively as community of faith, and culturally there is a continuous war and as Martin Luther penned, “and He must win the battle.” When things are good we struggle to give Him the praise and not turn it in on ourselves, give it to the preacher or the musicians. When things are going badly we struggle to find faith, or to trust the ultimate benefit. Jesus was the suffering servant, and following Him will, of necessity, place us on that same road at times.
  1. As warriors we be confident in ultimate victory. Isaac Watts gave us one of our victory marches, We’re Marching to Zion. The worship war calls for a recurring tone of triumph because the ultimate battle belongs to the Lord, and He is victorious in the finished work of Christ. Remembering what great things the Lord has done, with deep faith in His grace in the present moment, we look to the ultimate reward and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

Worship is war. It is waged in us personally, corporately, and cosmically. We do not have the power within ourselves to win over evil. Satan’s influence is all around us. He disguises himself and deceitfully seeks us out to destroy and distract from the battlefield. He hates when we worship in spirit and truth for it renders him powerless. The battle occurs in prayer before, during, and after worship and is itself at the very heart of what it is to worship. Engagement with God is only made possible by Jesus’ shed blood that tore the curtain of separation away that we can enter boldly to the throne of grace, and His resurrection empowers us over death, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, leaves the Holy Spirit with us to interpret and pray even when we have no words.

[1] Robert Webber Who Gets to Narrate the World: Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals (IVP Books 2006) 16-17.

Labor Day Prayer Song

Posted September 6, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Private Worship, Worship thoughts

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Though the roots of Labor Day are found in the organized labor movement, the holiday has come to serve a broader concept.  Labor Day is a time of celebrating the privilege we have to work.  I have found this prayer hymn to serve effectively in gathered worship and personally as a daily hymn to pray for the working day. As worshipers whose whole life is to be a “living sacrifice” as our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1) it is important to fix our perspective of gratitude on life as a gift from God given to us that we might offer it back to Him.

WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE? WORSHIP VIEWED FROM THE PLATFORM

Posted August 24, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

hands-worshiping2 I have spent many Sundays on the platform of a church sanctuary looking out over a congregation that has presumably gathered for worship. Some Sundays as the people sang, as love for one another was verbalized, as Word was preached and response was made openly I thought the ceiling would surely open and heaven’s glory itself would fill the room. Other Sundays I have wondered if attendees had undergone some kind of hypnosis that robbed them of all enthusiasm and just left body shells to stand in the pews. From the platform perspective I often think I have a sense of what is or is not happening in worship. Perhaps this is the case from a strictly performative, participative, or evident enthusiasm standpoint. In other words, sure, I can evaluate whether people appear to be singing, praying, listening, lifting hands, or responding to invited actions or not. The truth is, however, that such actions in themselves do not guarantee worship of the heart or engagement of the spirit. Nor do such actions necessarily indicate that the participant is acting in response to the presence of God. All the same, I personally prefer to see some evidence of enthusiasm in the open responses persons make in the worship environment.

I have spent many Sundays on the platform of a church sanctuary looking out over a congregation that has presumably gathered for worship. Some Sundays as the people sang, as love for one another was verbalized, as Word was preached and response was made openly I thought the ceiling would surely open and heaven’s glory itself would fill the room. Other Sundays I have wondered if attendees had undergone some kind of hypnosis that robbed them of all enthusiasm and just left body shells to stand in the pews. From the platform perspective I often think I have a sense of what is or is not happening in worship. Perhaps this is the case from a strictly performative, participative, or evident enthusiasm standpoint. In other words, sure, I can evaluate whether people appear to be singing, praying, listening, lifting hands, or responding to invited actions or not. The truth is, however, that such actions in themselves do not guarantee worship of the heart or engagement of the spirit. Nor do such actions necessarily indicate that the participant is acting in response to the presence of God. All the same, I personally prefer to see some evidence of enthusiasm in the open responses persons make in the worship environment.

Our subjective worship evaluations based on enthusiasm as we experience it fall woefully short of an encompassing sense of the Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. Our long-relished glut of emphasis on intimacy without proper perspective has left us with little sense of the magnitude of Him with Whom we claim such intimacy. I fear such excesses, certainly including my own, have too often been simply based in a small view of God. What if it were otherwise? As Will Willimon points out,

When we come in contact with the Divine, we experience ambiguous feelings of wanting to face the mystery and also of wishing to flee from it……Even the incessant clearing of throats, whispering, coughing, rattling of gum wrapper, and aimless activity that usually goes on in a congregation on Sunday morning may be a direct, if unconscious, attempt to avoid getting too close to the mystery. Protestant clergy have been accused, somewhat ungraciously, of being infected with “diarrhea of the mouth” because of the constant chatter and irrelevant commentary with which they fill all empty spaces during Sunday morning worship. Perhaps their chatter shows their nervousness during times of quiet or unplanned breaks in the action of the service—times when the “numinous” has a way of intruding.[1]

Not that silence is the only means of encouraging contemplation of transcendence, but it does seem to imply “other worldly” to simply remain quiet in our fast-paced, fill every second with sound and stimulation world. Basking in the mystery of a transcendent sense of Holy Other might well prove uncomfortable, especially for those of us on the platform. We might be left looking at a room full of people wondering, “Why don’t they do something?” Indeed, this is our inclination. As one who has tried merely a moment’s silence inserted in a service of worship in a Baptist context before, I can testify the impulse to move is a heavy burden. Perhaps we need to think differently as to what worship looks like, as if we could really know for certain. What’s more, perhaps we need to more deeply and prayerfully consider our expectations in worship, and know that the true work of holy worship occurs in the hearts of those worshiping in spirit and truth.

The churches’ worship provides opportunities for us to enjoy God’s presence in corporate ways that takes us out of time and into the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom. As a result, we shall be changed – but not because of anything we do. God, on whom we are centered and to whom we submit, will transform us by his Revelation of himself.[2]

[1] Will Willimon Worship as Pastoral Care (Abingdon Press 1979) 79

[2] Marva Dawn A Royal Waste of Time (Eerdmans 1999) 1-2.

MANAGING WORSHIP

Posted August 17, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

planning This is not a “how to manage your worship” article. Rather, it is a “if you are controlling it then is it really Christian worship?” article. One of the most fundamental issues at stake in Christian worship is the question of control. Our problem is that we want to manage worship when our need and the need of the whole world is for the essence of worship to manage us, and by extension bring us to recognize that God the Creator has ultimate control of the world. I am afraid that we who offer guidance for worshipers in the church far too often lose sight of our role in the process. What’s worse we may cause confusion and distract from the intended purposes of worship, particularly the intention to see God for Who He is. A central tenant of Christian worship is the reordering of our lives to God’s designs. This is why we rehearse His story, remember His works, celebrate and praise His characteristics, and express our faith in His promises. Worship repositions us to what the Lord requires, as we read in Micah 6:8, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Genuine worship reorders our reality to live in keeping with Jesus’ High Priestly prayer that we would be one (John 17), His Greatest Commandment that we love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and neighbor as self, and His Great Commission that we make and baptize disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So where have we strayed? How did we start managing worship rather than looking to worship to manage us? Did we lose our wonder by trying to create it? What is our only hope to come back to the heart of worship?

A Few Thoughts on How We May Have Strayed and How We Might Find the Way Back

Lost the wonder of worship. There is an appropriate tension in worship between the grandness of God and the intimacy of God. Seems to me we lose something of the awe and wonder of God when we begin to make it all manageable. The nature of awe in God’s presence is overpowering, overwhelming on its own. We do not have to manufacture anything, but rather seek to display God for Who He is. Biblical revelation, natural revelation, artistry that takes no credit save the true grace gift that comes from God in Christ – let our worship point with these along with a vibrant fellowship of believers who serve one another and the world to the Blessed Trinity. When our efforts in worship leadership become about engineering experience we are likely drifting. Strip away anything that clouds the reflection of the Lord Himself and the scandal of the Gospel. “Sir, we would see Jesus!” (John 12:21)

Made our songs too much about us. The tendency to sing too much about ourselves is not new. If you review hymns of the 19th Century you see many songs in the same trajectory. In the case of any era it is not that these songs are all bad, except where poor theology abounds, but it becomes a matter of balance and health. Singing our salvation is a powerful part of worship, but most important is the God-focused singing of Father, Creator, Almighty, and lifting up Christ in a biblical view of His finished work, as well as the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit. Singing worship develops us as worshipers to live out our worship in a world run amuck from God’s intentions with injustices, hunger, slavery, killing of the most innocent, and looking to false gods for answers. Prayerful song selection with counsel can help. Sing “that the light of Christ might be seen today” (Speak, O Lord)

Made worship into a performance that entertains or inspires worshipers rather than an engagement with God that repositions us to please Him and reflect His glory. In a lecture earlier this Summer at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies pastor/author Mark Labberton noted that giving glory to God is not just standing with arms open saying, “glory, glory, glory, glory.” He likened such to pointing at the sky and saying, “blue, blue, blue, blue.” Giving God glory means reflecting His likeness that others see Him. I have often said that to know we have truly worshiped Jesus means we become more like Him.

Thinking of performance in the worship setting as the point of worship rather than how we “perform” as Christians living in the world as a result of worship. This is closely related to the previous point. Worship is not about the Sunday “show” but instead, Sunday worship points us to how we live for God’s glory. “If we are coming to worship the Lord of all creation, the Savior of the world, then while we are setting up and checking the sound system or pondering prayers or sermons, we have to hold on to a wider vision of God’s love, a set of very different circumstances and an outcome of our worship that is meant to land us in places of need.”[1]

Seizing our position as worship leaders and pastors as a position of power rather than understanding our role as servants to the bride of Christ. While no church leader would admit to wanting notoriety, fame, or favor rooted in status, our methods too often bely a different trend. Celebrity envy is far too obvious in far too many settings. The accouterments are far too exposed for false humility to be believable in so many cases, and the detriment of the attitudes of those who fashion themselves to have arrived at celebrity status within their own locale is far too costly, namely a deaf ear by many to the gospel. The arresting of power for personal benefit, whether financial, emotional, or social smacks of insincerity that is usually plain for all to see. “Faithful worship helps us clarify and limit human power in our hearts and minds.”[2]

We got too good at the wrong things like high powered speaking, high powered music and media rather than investing deeply in prayer, confessional relationship, and disciple-making. As the organized church compartmentalized ministry, specialization trumped holistic discipleship and efficiency supplanted depth. No surprise that mass marketing techniques, scaled down scheduling for convenience sake, and dumbed down worship for popular appeal were in the mix. Author Frances Chan among others warns us of the danger that the church can conduct business as usual without Holy Spirit power. That should strike fear in our hearts.

Our answer? Surrender. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) Coming back to the heart of worship is not just about making Sundays a great experience, it is about yielding our lives to Christ to live for His glory as we await His return. Singing, praying, preaching, hearing, confessing, communing, sending are all aspects of our joyful obedience.

[1] Mark Labberton The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (InterVarsity Press 2007) 33.

[2] Ibid. 36

LET’S BLOW UP WORSHIP

Posted August 11, 2015 by Paul Clark Jr
Categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

all-creation-sings2 Striving to give worship consumers what they want the American church has far too often continued down the pointless road of making worship more and more about us and less and less about God. Oh, no one would ever admit such a thing of course, but there are signs within the way we “do worship” and the materials we choose that I fear imply just that. Sensationalizing platform personalities is common and revealing. Careful assessment of many song lyrics reveals a telling tendency to circle the sentiment back to our self. Just because it is our worshiping self does not change the ethos that routinely wants the music that makes me feel the way I want to feel. So what do we need if not to draw attention to our selves? What is our proclamation if not to give people that which will make them feel great, find happiness, and just generally be better? Granted, some of these may be byproducts of regular worship, but they cannot overtake the primary point of Trinitarian worship. The desperate need in Christian worship is to see the Lord, high and lifted up. When we make worship about us we make it smaller. When we join the worship of heaven and pray “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” our worship is made bigger. The awe and wonder of the Holy Other is not always the ooh and ah of a beautiful blue sky with white puffy clouds that gives me goose bumps. It may well be the overwhelming, frightening storm that serves to display the power and character of God. And it is God that we need as revealed through His Word and illuminated by His Holy Spirit. We need the Triune God revealed in His splendor as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May our songs, prayers, readings, and actions of worship reveal, praise, honor, and glorify Him. He is the essence of worship, the subject and the object of worship. By His provision we are able to come before Him, but it is not about us.

Let’s face it! Everything around us in popular culture tells us, “It’s all about you!” Have what you want. Do what you want. Make yourself happy. Let others serve you. Is there any stronger evidence that our self-obsession has slipped over the edge than the selfie? And now we even have the selfie stick to get a more flattering angle as if someone else is . We have perfected the ability for self promotion, and we can choose what self it is we want to present. This is what we do in current culture. It is who we have become. So, shall we just succumb? Shall we give in and just agree? Is it really all about me?

Masquerading as a means of reaching our culture we have become self obsessed in worship. Some have said we worship our worship. Boil it down and isn’t that really just another way of saying we are worshiping ourselves? If Ralph Waldo Emerson is right when he says “what we are worshiping we are becoming” then doesn’t it follow that if we are worshiping ourselves, we are just becoming ourselves? Resultant attitudes toward marriage, divorce, race, and other issues would indicate we are just becoming more of ourselves. One of our most pronounced tendencies in worship is to bring it down to our size. When our primary objective is to bring worship down to our level, even with the best of intentions such as to reach others, we are nevertheless shrinking worship to a place where we have control. Have we so used the Old Testament as proof text that we have missed the prophetic message of its overarching story? Almighty God is always in control. He is working out His plan. The story is His story and He has graciously allowed us to be a part, even calling us His children, sons of Light.

So how can those who facilitate worship help to present worship as larger than the “all about me” method would dictate? As worship music ministry leaders we have opportunity to select songs that place larger and deeper thoughts about God on the lips of the people. Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is a great place to start. Here we expose worshipers to historic praise in psalmnody (whatever the style), hymns that declare grand theological truth and reveal character of God, and spiritual songs that confess our need and His work in our lives in real time. What a challenge! Everything around us reinforces the lie that “it’s all about you.” Worship of the living God says instead, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:36-40) The Greatest Commandment leads to the Great Commission which reminds us that all power in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus, therefore we are to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them all things I have commanded you, and I am with you always.” (Matt 28:18-20)

The culture points us toward ourself, and worship points us outward. Genuine Christian worship results in us looking and acting more like Jesus. No wonder the whole creation groans in waiting as we see in Romans 8. Jesus said if we are silent the very rocks would cry out. Friend and composer/arranger, Mary McDonald recently noted regarding churches where the song seems to be muted, “I did not hear the rocks cry out, but I heard them clear their throats.”

Robert Webber summarized the act of worship as prayer in this way,

God, we are here to remember your story and to pray that the whole world, the entire cosmos, will be gathered in your Son and brought to the fulfillment of your purposes in Him!”[1]

[1] Robert Webber Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Baker Books 2008) 150.


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