Posted tagged ‘Christian worship’


November 2, 2015

Routine Worship The order of worship in a church service never saved anybody. It is quite possible, however, for the worship order to reflect the shape of the very Gospel that it purports to proclaim, the Gospel that changes everything. It makes sense to me to reflect and embody the Gospel in every way possible in our worship, including the way we order components, and guide worshipers along in a conversation with our loving, saving Lord.   One of the roles of worship leadership is to remind worshipers where we are in that conversation of worship. Let’s face it. This worship thing is strained enough as it is. After all, we are seeking to engage in spiritual connection/communion with a Three-in-One being we cannot see, and do so by faith guided by a book we may struggle to understand or believe. What’s more, we are trying to embrace this engagement together as a corporate body united. Impossible. And yet it happens. As with salvation itself, the engagement is only possible by grace that He gives through faith that He gives (Ephesians 2:8). It would seem important that we participate in routines such as we see represented in biblical patterns of worship.

Like it or not there is a routine to worship. I realize that many churches describe their worship with words like fresh, new, exciting, transformative, and the like. I think those expressions are generally just market-speak, but hope they imply an underlying desire by leadership for people to come to know a new, exciting, transformative life in Christ. Christian worship involves certain elements, certain actions. We may mix them up, scramble them around, leave some out then add them back later, move some from live to video, or from aural to visual, from written to spoken, from spoken to sung, etc. Regardless, the elements of worship are the elements of worship. Newness that will make a true difference in one life or in a corporate body, or in the community around us is not our construct, but a grace gift of the Holy Spirit.   There are components of Christian worship that have been practiced since the earliest gatherings. They serve a purpose.

Far too often it appears entrepreneurial leaders engender change for change’s sake. Intentionally or not, critical elements of biblically, historically sound components end up removed or relegated to a place of unimportance in what has become a “new” liturgical pattern for the sake of convenience, ingenuity, or other values that miss the mark of Theocentric (God-centered) worship. The truncated routine tends to look something like this:

Pre-service music

Announcements and Welcome



Feature Song and/or Offering


Response song



Along with this liturgy-lite approach, many churches no longer bother with printed order. Under the banner of a “less is more” philosophy, or “since they don’t see it in writing we can surprise them” approach, the gathered are purposefully (and sometimes literally) left in the dark. Given the consistency of our routine practices, printing or not printing likely has little impact regardless, unless the leaders were to consciously communicate through what is printed as order. To be blunt, I find settings that pride themselves in innovation to be some of the most predictable environments of all. And there are lots of them. The question I would join others in posing is, “what have we given up by abbreviating the traditional worship order?” What I am speaking of by “traditional” is what Kein DeYoung refers to as the “traditional Protestant order of worship…..what churches use to do when they didn’t know what else to do.”[1] I am talking about an approach that engages worshipers in the rhythm of worship, God’s revelation and our response, and in an orderly manner that participates in the shape of the Gospel itself. For those who fear drifting back into long orations by humdrum voices, your innovation can surely be applied remaining faithful to the Gospel shape. Worship acts such as call to worship, praise, invocation, confession, illumination, petition and intercession, passing of the peace, communion or invitation response, sending and benediction can be said, prayed, or sung. We must exercise great care, however, as to what is left on the cutting room floor. By eliminating scripture readings, prayers, acts of fellowship, frequent observance of ordinances, and other sacred acts, I fear we have fostered drive-by worshipers looking to get the worship thing in before returning to other business in “real life.” Checking worship off the to do list is a far cry from the kind of “take up your cross and follow me” sacrificial living intended as Jesus worshipers reflect the light of the risen Savior Who gave all for His Bride, the worshiping Church.

[1] Kevin DeYoung Is the New Evangelical Liturgy Really an Improvement?


October 26, 2015

obamas-you-didnt-build-that-spin-destroyed-in-1-5-minutes-620x451 In July of 2012, President and then also candidate Barak Obama began a political firestorm when he rather inartfully tried to make a point about all that goes together to help make a business, and more broadly the American economic system, successful. Taken out of context, but still on point he said, “look, if you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own.” And later in the same speech, “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Well, we Americans pride ourselves in being independent, self-made, pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of folks. Obama’s adversaries made political hay out of the statements. Likewise, the candidate’s allies not to be outdone pointed their nanny-boo-boo fingers back at his adversaries and called them “one percenters” who were filthy rich and born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Don’t you just love politics?

Well, for goodness sake let’s get off politics, but there is a correlation when we think we can pull off “great worship” in our own power. We need a heart check in relation to our worship life and attitudes to see if a “we did it ourselves” spirit is not at the center of some of our worship environment issues. In his just released and much needed book, True Worshipers, Bob Kauflin writes of our inability on our own to worship God. There is perhaps no point so pertinent in our day in Christian worship than this central tenant. Through healthy biblical reflection Kauflin reminds us of the absolute dependency upon God’s own provision for our worship. Though created with perfect orientation toward our Creator, having no need for exhortation to worship since that was initially our very nature, the temptation to be little “g” gods ourselves was overwhelming, and thus the Fall and resultant sin nature that stands at the heart of every problem and issue we have to this day. God’s faithfulness, though, is never failing. He is Jehovah Jireh! He provides. From Cain’s unacceptable offering to the Tower of Babel to golden calves to glitzy light shows and American Idol-esque “worship leaders,” we tend to depend on our own designs in worship. It will never suffice. All the while, God has continued to provide. There is one provision for our access to the Father. He is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE! It is Jesus! “Through Jesus we bring the sacrifice of praise.” (Hebrews 13:15) We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, and spur one another on to love and good deeds in our faithful gatherings, all because of our high priest, Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

So why do we tend to pattern our worship after entertainment models? Why do worship planners tend to plan and pattern using an entertainment rubric for everything from scripting, to timing, to music. Consumerist lifestyles have become our means of interpreting what is taking place in church. We are certainly capable of assessing whether we enjoy the service, if we like the preacher, or if we agree with the style of music, etc., etc. But so what? The same can be said about a movie or a club. After all, those events are centered around pleasing us. But look to Colossians 3:12-17 and consider the ecclesial lifestyle encouraged. Here is a spirit pleasing to God, on Whom we say worship is focused and in Whom worship is centered.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I am afraid I agree with Paul Tripp who says for many if not most church members, “church is a place that they attend thankfully but that constitutes no essential aspect of their living.”[1] God does not ask us to check in on worship now and then to see how we like it. Through the apostle He says offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God – this is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

[1] Paul David Tripp Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do (Crossway Books 2015)


July 21, 2015

Singer struggling  I find deeply meaningful the traditional hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing?, also known by its first line, “My life flows on in endless song.” Likewise meaningful is the newer worship song that borrows much from the 1868 hymn accredited by some to an unknown “Pauline T.” and by many hymnals to Baptist minister/teacher/hymnwriter, Robert Lowry. Whether singing the old hymn or the Chris Tomlin/Ed Cash/Matt Redman version, either expression carries a sentiment of a passionate spirit of praise and heartfelt worship such that testifies the singer simply cannot help but sing. Both worship song and hymn express that even in the struggle of life’s storms there is “an endless song,” though it may be a “far-off hymn,” still “it finds an echo in my soul.” The hymn and worship song reflect a sentiment that I fear has been lost in many settings that are called worship. Of course, I am not just speaking in relation to these two songs, but rather to worship singing itself. I wonder if many can no longer hear that “far-off hymn,” the “endless song,” or if it cannot echo in their soul because their soul has no ear to hear.  I wonder if their sentiment would instead be “How can I keep singing?”  or just “How can I sing since I have nothing to sing about?”

Much has been written about stylistic and musical jockeying that has been done with worship singing over the last fifty or sixty years that has morphed “worship music” into little more than listening to the loud band, the polished choir, the grand organ, the orchestra, the virtuoso soloist, etc. In recent days more and more leaders seem to be awakening to the fact of this distortion of the congregational worship environment. I am thrilled to read blogposts and musings from some who have engineered and trumpeted a performance environment before, but who have had an epiphany that something needs to change. It is as though someone looked up one Sunday and realized, “Hey! Ain’t nobody singing out there!” Yes, folks, it hardly seems like “admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” if everyone is standing around watching the leader(s) do their thing and then offering up a holy golf clap after the song ends, or when the leader tries to jack up the applause meter a bit more by hollering into a microphone, “let’s give the Lord a hand!” Really? Sorry, but it just seems grotesquely disingenuous. I fear that we have changed the disposition of the worshiper from “How can I keep from singing?” to “How can I keep singing?”

Undoubtedly, mechanics and fundamental musical components are at play in discouraging full participation in worship singing, but that is not my purpose in this post. I fear a much more severe problem that will never be fixed by changing the mechanics. I am deeply concerned that what may well be keeping many would-be worshipers from singing is that there is not a genuine connection to “the endless song,” the “far-off hymn.” I am fearful that we may have pews and chairs of people that have not truly been born again. I am reluctant to even write such a thing because it certainly is not for me to judge anyone ever, and those who sometimes use the statistics to build up a kind of salvation numbers game generally repulse me. Only God truly transforms a life. He alone knows what is in the heart. There is reason, however, that estimates by the George Barna group, Billy Graham association, and others estimate that anywhere from 65% to 90% of those who attend church are unsaved. We could discuss soteriology at this point, but rather I would ask leaders to at least consider whether we have piled so much fluff in our worship environments so as to presumably make people feel like they are worshiping, but have instead simply drowned out the discoverability of the truth that many are generally disengaged. Regardless of your particular theological understanding of salvation it speaks volumes (pun intended) when music leaders crank the volume to levels that are harmful to the human ear in order to cover the fact that so few are actually singing in worship. The same can be true of a blaring pipe organ. It is certainly fair to say there is a place for a so-called Christian concert, whether rock ‘n roll or sacred classical. These kinds of events may well minister and contribute to the development of maturing worshipers, but they do not take the place of admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Nowhere does the scripture say, “Listen to a new song unto the Lord.” Rather, we know it directs emphatically to “Sing a new song to the Lord!” Over and again it says, “Sing!” But I wonder if oft-heard excuses like “I just don’t sing,” or “nobody wants to hear me sing” are really just cover up for “sorry, but there is no song here.”

The song we see in scripture is the song of deliverance, the sweet song of salvation. From the Song of Moses sung by Israelites after crossing the Red Sea to the Great Hallel in the Psalms to the hymns of the New Testament that announce the coming Savior, declare the saving power of His death on the cross and resurrection, and promise His return, the theme is God’s glorious acts of saving grace. We are still singing that song today, whether Victory in Jesus, A Mighty Fortress, or Glorious Day, and there is no need to try and change over to an over-romanticized song in order to try to get people to “feel their love for God” as I heard one leader describe it. The miracle is His love for us even while we were yet sinners. Instead of trying to manipulate feelings surely we are better served praying and studying to hide God’s Word in our heart. Could we pray that He might “stir the slumbering chords again?” Oh, would that the Spirit send fresh wind, fresh fire that we might be regenerated or reminded according to our need, and be able to sing with authentic ferver:

Wonderful, wonderful Jesus

In the heart He implanteth a song:

A song of deliverance, of courage, of strength

In the heart He implanteth a song[1]


[1] Anna B Russell Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus in Baptist Hymnal 2008, #567


July 5, 2015

confused-face2 Christian worship is suppose to be about Word and Table, engaging the faithful in singing, proclaiming, praying, fellowshipping, and sending out to baptize and make disciples. The pattern is ancient and contemporary, practiced in churches of different faith traditions, and of varying ethos through the years. Just think about all the surrounding circumstances of all those years; war, pestilence, death, birth, decline and renewal, dismay and elation. The steady repetition of worship and the accompanying song has been sung through seasons of greatest jubilation as well as deepest lament. In our own country we have experienced seasons of cultural acceptance and even meshing of church and culture whereby “going to church” was the right thing to do – the accepted norm. Then again there have been times when those who sought to worship faithfully have been culturally suspicioned either as “holy rollers” or as “cold ritualists.” Viewed as such, the faithful are dismissed as irrelevant. The wrestling match with cultural acceptance, rejection, or adaptation has always confronted the Church. In present day America churches are reacting to recent civil and cultural events in varying ways. Plenty has been and is being said about the SCOTUS decision in their redefinition of legal marriage, and the fallout as it effects various faith traditions. My address here is not about that decision or fallout directly, but rather regarding our direction in worship gatherings, and the need of the Church as it worships with fissures in the convictions of the faithful, either spoken or silent. How do we worship in an environment of confusion? Some of you may say, “What confusion?” as you are convinced beyond a doubt that your convictions are right, and thus you might desire the spirit of singing to be somewhat militant in reflecting your convictions. Certainly, within my own Southern Baptist denomination, there is little dissent from the traditionalist position. Likewise, however, within the ranks of other faith traditions there is a libertarian position with equal force of sentiment. Both sides use biblical reference as proof of correctness. What are you singing, worship leaders?

Worship sentiment varies widely anyway among the churches, especially in evangelical communities where week to week liturgy is not prescribed, and sentiment may largely follow the reaction that leaders have to real time happenings. If Facebook is any indicator last Sunday’s worship in many churches was dominated by reaction to the SCOTUS ruling. As I read on church websites and Facebook pages, post after post announcing, “Come to hear Pastor ________’s response to the SCOTUS ruling,” I could not help but wonder, “What songs will worship leaders ask their people to sing in those settings?” “What will be the spirit of the singing?” Divisions in the faith family seem accentuated in light of such strong opinions and the feelings that drive them. So what is the spirit of our singing in these seasons? Militant? Defiant? Forgiving? Loving? Confessional? Priestly?

I continue to be convinced that worship music can serve as an effective instrument (pun intended) of expression amidst the tensions inherent to Christian worship. There are many such tensions; transcendence and immanence, humility and boldness, cerebral and emotional, vertical and horizontal, traditional and contextual, already and not yet, to name a few. There is just something about music that helps us rise above the human logic of the tensions to simply sing the tensions with proper embrace of either side of such tensions. In other words, we can sing Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise and sing I Am a Friend of God in the same service and fully embrace the truth of each as well as the tensions inherent. Likewise, in light of recent developments in our country, I might propose singing of bold reminders of God’s sovereignty, His unfailing mercy, His command to love one another. Our singing of timeless texts with boldness that reaches beyond ourselves can aid our escape from the entrapment of how I see something (or feel about something) to Who God is, what He has done, is doing, and will do. Worship’s song must surely ever include the tone of ultimate triumphant of Christus Victor! Meanwhile, living in the not yet we must also sing so as to spur one another on to love and good deeds that our light will shine before men and point them to the Father. We are far too often given to stray from loving neighbor as self, building walls around us and our children instead. Let us be renewed as the faithful

My faith is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name


On Christ the solid rock I stand

All other ground is sinking sand

All other ground is sinking sand

                        –Edward Mote (1834)


May 11, 2015

baptize I grew up a P.K., a preacher’s kid. As a a son of a Southern Baptist pastor I observed baptisms in church from the time I was much too young to have any notion of what was going on other than somebody was being lowered into and raised up from a tank of water. I remember getting tickled when watching a lady with a bouffant’, hair teased and concreted in place with hairspray, who was lowered into the water and when she came back up she was a few inches shorter as the pile of hair became a wet stringy mess plastered close to her head. I remember friends being baptized and wondering if they would flail their arms as did happened from time to time, much to the entertaining pleasure of us kids. I remember Dad chuckling when I asked if his baptizing boots (waders) were good for fishing too. All in all this baptism thing was kind of a strange rituaI to a kid. Not as weird as if they still baptized naked what archeologists have indicated was early church practice. I also remember, though, a certain excitement that seemed to go along with baptism. In a worship service it broke up what was sometimes a monotony of songs and sermons. Baptism provided a focus on family members of the one being baptized. I remember family members standing when their child, brother, sister, mom, or dad was the one in the tank. I remember time and again seeing my dad weep as he announced special words about dying with Christ, and being raised to walk in “newness of life.” I remember him saying “I now baptize you my young brother, or sister.” Some of these “young brothers” were my buddies. Some of the “young sisters” were girls who passed me “she likes you” notes during Sunday School. Baptism was part of family in the making.

These memories and more came flooding to my mind again just a few weeks ago when I had the humbling privilege of baptizing my oldest grandson. Like my dad when he baptized me decades before, I found my voice breaking and a tear running down my cheek as I spoke those same words that had been spoken over me. This is a mark of identity. This is the sign/evidence of a new birth and a testimony to church and community. It is a proverbial big deal! Robert Webber spoke and wrote of “living into your baptism.” He spoke of a baptismal spirituality. It was appropriate in every way for baptism to be addressed as a part of worship study because this is what it is, an act of worship. In his book, Divine Embrace, Webber speaks of turning away from identity in Adam and turning to Jesus for new identity. That turning, he says, is expressed in a ritual that marks us. “Those who accepted his message were marked as his own.” (Acts 2:41)

Lost in our present day flaps over worship style (really music style), worship environments, and technology, is a far more critical set of issues, including our desperate need to make more of baptism. Lest Worship Leaders think this is a senior pastor issue, this is an every believer issue, and if you are a leader, then for certain it concerns how we lead and guide the church to worship. I want to note two aspects of baptism that I believe need elevating in worship, particularly among we evangelicals. Whether one’s doctrine teaches baptism as sacrament, covenant, or ordinance, its importance cannot be overstated. Here are two ways I believe evangelicals must make more of baptism in gathered worship.

  1. Gospel proclamation for witness to Christ during worship. This is not just a reciting of theological belief. Baptism reveals visual enactment of gospel embrace. As Webber says, “language and symbols perform.” Heightened awareness of the welcoming embrace as one of God’s own, as a new member of the family of faith, is surely essential and pregnant with powerful witness to others. Songs sung, scriptures read, prayers prayed, life testimonies given that lead up to this moment of visual outward sign displaying an inward reality” deserves undivided attention. Even unbelieving family members who have come to “observe” are often more susceptible to the Holy Spirit’s urging during these moments of Gospel on Display than perhaps they have ever been. The new identity is to be hailed with similar gusto as when we pronounce the birth of a new child into our biological family. I pass by a Church of Christ on my way to work that uses its marquee to announce the celebration of baptism in its church family. It states name of the one being baptized, announcing that to the outside world. I sure believe that marquee is stronger witness than a lame spiritualized euphemism could ever be. I love the idea of trumpeting baptism to all who drive by. I read the name and utter a prayer of thanks.
  1. Celebrate baptism as a unifying force for the church body. Baptism is a common identity among fellow believers and serves as a reminder of our common sinfulness, our new life, and need for ongoing renewal. Let me say again that songs, scripture readings, prayers, sermon themes, and testimonies can well serve to remind us of our baptism, reiterate to all our shared identifying mark called baptism. Churches would do well to consider how a baptism of a new believer is handled and celebrated, but also to perhaps consider a “Remember Your Baptism” service in which special focus is given to recalling our baptism, and professing renewed commitment to living into our baptism. Using stations for touching water (in a bowl perhaps) and/or other means of interactive confession and testimony hold great prospect for worship enhancement. In formal or informal ways worshipers could speak to one another to remind and remember and testify, “I have turned from old ways. I have united with Christ.”

The theological richness of water is undeniable. Baptism gives opportunity to remind worshipers.

Hope for True Worship Rooted in the Living God

February 8, 2015


The following excerpt is from my book, Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing.

Most any study of worship practice or theology posits a working definition. A difficulty in defining Christian worship is that no one word for worship is translated from Hebrew, or Greek to English. Rather, there are gestures, words, attitudes, and actions that reflect what we have come to call “worship” that are translated “worship.” Even worse, writers who simply use the English word, “worship,” tracing its etymology from the Old English weorthscipe, with its connotation of “ascribing worth,” leave us open to the subtle but destructive practice of assuming that we stand in a position to determine God’s worth.[1] This presumption in itself is anthropocentric. (7)

At issue, here is the unitarian sense that God is static. The English word struggles to capture the multiplied attributes of God Himself and the active responses to His revelation.  Part of the astounding beauty of worship is that as we engage in the rhythmic dance of worship, revelation and response, we live in the tensions of various attributes of God. Yes, He is, of course, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet He is also the living God, from Whom we see new mercies morning by morning. Yes, He is the one true God, and yet He is also God in three persons, Blessed Trinity, in which there is community. As we sing worship and encounter God’s Word in Holy scripture we embrace these tensions and step into the beautiful mystery of God.

A Canadian blogger and fellow worship leading practitioner and thinker that I like to read is Stacey Gleddiesmith. Stacey confronts the problem of using the etymology of the English word as the definition for worship. She notes its stagnant character, which is far too shallow an attempt at grasping a sense of the intentions and desires of the Triune and living God.

Worth-ship is a state of being (like friend-ship). When we apply the word “worship” to God, we simply affirm that he is of worth. There is no sense of movement, of interaction, of relationship with God. There is no sense of the narrative that underlies scripture; of the call and answer that enriches our lives before God; of the patterns and forms of approach that God has set in place. It’s a definition that would easily lend itself to a deist stance: my worship of God admits to his existence and his worth, but does not really infer any interaction between us. God might have set things in motion, but he has now stepped away, and I can admire him from a distance. (

The stagnant presentation of God in worship may well be responsible for the tendency toward theistic moralism so prevalent in evangelical faith practice today. I fear that in the Sunday services of many churches from my own denomination worship has been relegated to music interested primarily in the experience of the would be worshiper, and the propositional preaching that opines positions of the Almighty, as interpreted by the one preaching. Instead of making disciples of a suffering Savior, who willingly laid down His life, we are making consumers of “good worship” as determined by personal or popular tastes in music, and agreed upon polemics likely to be expounded from our pulpits. Parishioners drop by to hear tunes they enjoy, and to pick up polemics they can post on facebook. Rather than building a faith community seeking to lose their life, die to self, and live to Christ, walking in His resurrection, we are fostering a spiritual gas stop where dropping by holds hope of feeling good, building our positional arguments, and leveraging affiliations for personal or organizational gain. And how is that working out for us? Lord, help us. We need a Savior.

But wait! There is good news! Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! The church has always been in a state of reformation, and will be until Jesus comes back. Could we pray toward our own conviction, repentance, and response to His revelation? Leaders, let us pray fervently for return to our first love. Let us forgo production and simplify to genuine edification and convictional covenant. Instead of building props, let us build real community. Let us subject our practices to the scrutiny of the Word itself to find life in loving the Lord, our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and loving neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps we should revisit our baptism, the symbolic mark of our identity with Christ.

The words of this great baptismal hymn penned by Adoniram Judson around 1829 come to mind:

Come, Holy Spirit, Dove divine,
On these baptismal waters shine,
And teach our hearts, in highest strain,
To praise the Lamb for sinners slain.

We love Your Name, we love Your laws,
And joyfully embrace Your cause;
We love Your cross, the shame, the pain,
O Lamb of God, for sinners slain.

We sink beneath the water’s face,
And thank You for Your saving grace;
We die to sin and seek a grave
With You, beneath the yielding wave.

And as we rise with You to live,
O let the Holy Spirit give
The sealing unction from above,
The joy of life, the fire of love.

[1] Peterson, Engaging with God, 17. Peterson is referencing W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (ET, London: SCM, 1961; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), Vol. 1, p. 102.

Singing Worship and Mission – A Personal Testimony

October 20, 2014

World  I grew up on the second pew of Baptist churches where my dear dad was pastor. He was preacher, too, of course, but I choose the term pastor to reference Dad as a term of endearment because he was first and foremost a shepherding pastor of the people he served. His preaching was clearly an aspect of pastoring, shepherding God’s people through the Word of God. It was a normal and regular occurrence to hear prayers for specific church members by name voiced in our home before meals or bedtime. It was not unusual to sense Dad’s desire for spiritual renewal to take hold in the congregation, or for the church to have courage in their witness. We prayed for missionaries by name, and purposefully learned about them, including hosting them in our church and home at times. I am sure that kind of home environment fueled my grasp of missions giving, missions praying, and missions worship. As good Southern Baptists our churches sang the militant hymns associated with “doing missions,” Send the Light, We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations, O Zion Haste, and We Have Heard the Joyful Sound. Stacked atop the Southern Baptist Convention’s unrelenting emphasis of missions giving and missions education through Girls’ Auxiliary (G.A.’s) and Royal Ambassadors (R.A.’s), I never doubted but what missions were integral to life as church, life as a Christian.

I know that the sentences above testify only to my own experiences as child, Baptist, believer, and novice worshiper. Fellow Baptists, however, will recognize the terminology, the hymns, and the ethos and piety associated with my lame descriptions. Even in the midst of those years of growing up a P.K. (preacher’s kid) I knew that not everyone lived and breathed these passions of church life the same as we did as pastor’s family. Likewise, I was pretty sure that not all my fellow church members felt the same conviction related to what was taking place on the mission fields. I trusted, however, that the preaching and singing that kept calling us to hear the Macedonian call would convict and draw them as it often did me. Even the high seasons of Christmas and Easter included bold emphasis on giving to special missions offerings to spread Gospel around the world. This was all part and parcel of worship in my childhood and teen years. As I grew I came to better understand that mission and evangelism had to do with much more than a compartmentalized notion of something that happens overseas, or in places foreign to my routines. Growing as a Christian disciple and worshiper meant embracing my own place in sharing Christ in the world.

Fast forward to a more specific study and interest in worship liturgy. Growing past a strictly thematic approach to worship planning, whereby the service revolves around a sermon topic, I have found my missional roots grew even deeper through an understanding of fourfold liturgy’s form. The fourfold structure fully embraces and fosters missional living. Worship is both event and lifestyle, and the worship event ,whereby we rehearse the Gospel pattern and message in song, Word, and actions, effectually draws the faithful into the pattern and affections that include sending us into worshiping lifestyle. I am convinced through experience, learning, and observation that effective gathered worship can transform the way we treat the clerk at the market, the waitress at the restaurant, and even other drivers in traffic, as well as ways we treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  When our worship helps us to gaze upon Jesus, how can we but see Him in the world around us, and reflect His image through our own living. Of course, this Christo-centric focus is what we pray and sing often when worship includes healthy substance rooted in biblical truth. It is also why worship leadership must caution against self-focus in worship that seeks personal experience above Christlikeness. This does not mean in any way that worship will not be emotive, or that it is not experiential at its core. Seems to me at constant issue is the question of controlling point – surrender.  

It sounds counterintuitive to be overwhelmed by the singing of songs of sending, songs of surrender and humility. It can certainly be, however, a powerful worship moment to offer self with hopefulness that the Lord might work through us that His will would be done on earth “as it is in heaven.” I sometimes struggle to sing Daniel Schutte’s reflection of Isiah 6:8 in his song, Here I Am, Lord. Likewise, it can be particularly powerful as we sing the effectual work of the Victorious Christ in songs like the modern hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, Across the Lands. When sung with head and heart, such hymns serve as a a kind of battle anthem that strengthens our resolve as we faith the work of Jesus in the world through what He has done and is doing in bringing the nations and peoples to Himself.

What are songs of sending and mission that help you express worship?

Nurturing the Creative Spirit Within

Inspiration, Resources & Bible studies from Jody Thomae

TN Mens Chorale Mission Italy 2014

Sharing the love of Jesus with our friends in Italy

Worship Life

Heart - Soul - Mind

Holy Soup

with Thom Schultz

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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