Monthly Archives: March 2014

Looking Over the Landscape of Worship

There have been many topics covered in these articles, and at times, it might be wise for us to step back and view worship in a more holistic way, viewing the “whole landscape” in one glimpse.  With this article, I would like to look out over this landscape and give you some of my thoughts on what the future might hold for Worship and the Arts.

Good Thinking
Overall, as I talk with pastors and musicians and teach on this subject, I find that the primary critical need for Worship and the Arts within the church is good thinking.  The disastrous results of “worship wars” in congregations and the lack-luster spirit of worship is more often a matter of poor thinking (theologically and practically) in the area of worship than the abilities of those planning and leading the worship.  Only when we have a foundation in solid biblical thinking can we expect our activity to be worthwhile.  The principle is clear:  good thinking must come before, and leads to, good action (see Romans 12:1-2, and others).

One of the best ways that a pastor and a church can address this issue is to ask the simple question, “Why?”  Why do we order our worship in this way?  Why do we limit the use of instruments?  Why do we think we are, or need to be, contemporary?  Why do we think hymns are the best choice for worship?  Why do we have announcements during the service, or why have we eliminated them?  The list of questions could go on-and-on.  My point is that once you raise the questions, and find it difficult to articulate a good answer,then worship has become habitual rather than purposeful.  Use these questions to launch studies of particular topics, ones that will help you to think more clearly about various aspects of worship.

Trained Leaders
Another aspect that I believe is critical for the church is in the area of Worship Leadership.  The Western church has made an assumption, and acted upon it, that worship equates to music.  In so doing, we have sought to fill the role of Worship Leader primarily with musicians.  I have made the case before that biblically the Worship Leader falls under the general category of the pastoral role – and that individuals serving in these roles should be trained as pastors, as well as be good musicians (see Colossians 3:12-17).

Of course, many musicians serve in these roles effectively, and for that we can be grateful.  My main goal in pointing this out is that much of the training done for Worship Leaders is musical – yet they often have as much time, or more, than many pastors in front of the congregations each Sunday.  This means their understanding of how to craft worship services that will teach and admonish (Colossians 3:16) is vital to the corporate worship of the church.  Beyond that is their need to “shepherd” those under their leadership in an effective way.  Pastoral training must become much more integral to the training to build a solid foundation for the worship ministry of the church.

Pastors can be pro-active about this by spending time mentoring music leaders whether they are paid staff or volunteer.  An effective way to do this is by reading books together on matters of pastoral care, or related topics, and discussing them informally once or twice a month.  This can also be done in a small group setting if there is a group of leaders that participate in the worship and music ministry of the church.

Beyond these practical matters are issues of doctrinal integrity.  The foundation of worship is theological, and to miss important points of theological understanding is to undermine the role that worship plays in the life of a congregation.  A solid foundation of theological training, pastoral skills and good musicianship is the life of the Worship Leader.

Balanced Song Selection
Beyond these things there remains the importance of balance in song selection.  Many churches have gone full steam ahead into the “contemporary” worship that seems to utilize primarily the latest-and-greatest songs that the Christian Music Industry is producing.  In doing so, we leave behind the legacy and heritage of great thinkers who were able to communicate the truth of the gospel and Christian doctrine through song lyrics.  I am not saying that modern worship music completely lacks sound doctrine (although much of it does).  Nor am I suggesting that traditional hymns are always on target theologically (because some is not). We are well served to include the breadth of musical styles in our worship.To be clear, there needs to be a balance.  To jettison the relevant historical expression of worship in favor of exclusively modern conceptions is to disconnect the modern church from its roots.  Progress is inevitable, and necessary, especially as we seek to communicate God’s truth to our generation, yet we must be careful to manage that change in a redemptive manner.  Our connection with the Church throughout the centuries is something that crosses cultural and national boundaries unlike anything else.  The Church (its doctrine and its worship) remains steadfast even while nations come and go.  Retaining that connection in our worship will remind us of those who have come before, as well as the reality of the presence of Christ in the Church from century to century.

I am tempted to continue, but I know that space is limited.  The items I mentioned float to the top of my thinking as matter of importance for our churches in the area of worship.  As you visit the Worship Arts page week-by-week, you will notice that many of our articles fit into one of these categories with the intention of developing a clear understanding of Christian Worship.

 

(Original Post on August 13, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20362-looking-over-the-landscape-of-worship)

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Kermit the Frog on Worship

Kermit the Frog, in his own unique way, sings of the woes of ordinary life of a frog in the song, “It’s not Easy Being Green.” Green-ness is normal for the frog, but apparently that does not make life any easier. It can sometimes feel the same way with us as Christians. I hope no one has ever been promised a life of ease and comfort as a Christian. There will be joy, but sometimes through hardship and trouble. Real, daily Christianity is often difficult and requires an ongoing daily commitment to do what God says. We battle a subtle foe. It is not enough to just say you believe it, yet that is as far as many Christians ever get.

It is only by continually identifying those areas that must come under Christ’s Lordship and actively working to bring them to His feet that we will find victory in our daily Christian life. We must see the world and its lusts for the spiritual trap that they are, learn the patterns of life and methods from Scripture that give us a solid foundation for a spiritual life, and then actually put those methods into practice every day, day after day. This is the true life of worship: it begins by the internal renewal of the mind and grows outward into the total transformation of our lives.

Worship Reform

Recognizing the importance of our thinking is essentially a call for theological renewal. This theological renewal is at the heart of how we think about worship and is much broader than simply doing a study on worship as it is found in various biblical texts. Our theology of worship must be based upon a holistic understanding and foundation of what God meant for our relationship with Him. What it was like at the beginning, what happened that distorted it so grossly, and what He has done to restore (redeem) us for Himself. This pattern of thought—creation, fall, and redemption—is the classic pattern used in discussing worldview systems. Ultimately, our theology of worship unfolds out of our own worldview. Only in this broad-based picture can we truly develop theology which is both consistent with Scripture and tradition, yet adapts itself to our modern times and situations.

It is, therefore, imperative that we seek to mold our view of worship to one that is grounded in Scripture. We must seek renewal, not based upon new methods and theories, but by renewing our minds and hearts based on a study of God’s word (Romans 12:1-2). It is time to redeem worship theory and practice and return to foundational truths that transverse denominations, styles and cultures. It is, in short, time for reform.

The Daily Work of Worship

John writes, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). We can examine each of these a little further to help us identify them in our own lives. We must daily and actively seek to stem the tide of desire that continues to reside within us, even after salvation. This is the damage sin has caused, but the Lord has provided tools with which we can combat the effects of sin in our lives.

The “lust of the flesh” is that set of desires and cravings that cause us to selfishly provide for our own wants. The flesh is a powerful inner voice, part of the nature of man that seeks our own “good” in spite of the needs or wants of those around us. From this flows abuse of every kind, and damaged, hurtful relationships. The cry of self-sufficiency is the cry of the lust of the flesh, thinking that if we gather everything that meets our needs, wants, and desires we will have need of nothing, and no one, else.

The “lust of the eyes” is the vision that fuels our own self-sufficiency. We see what others have: beautiful houses, beautiful cars, beautiful women or men, huge bank accounts. Then we begin to envy. We desire those things whether we have earned them or deserve them. This form of lust convinces us that we deserve what we see because it is available around us. The cry of deservedness is the cry of the lust of the eyes: we deserve it because we can obtain it.

The “boastful pride of life” is the resulting pride from the fulfillment of all we crave. Once we become self-sufficient and can attain anything we desire, we imagine that we are important because of “all I have accomplished.” The cry of attention (“Look at me!”) and adoration is the cry of the pride of life: we want others to feel as good about us as we do about ourselves and our accomplishments.

Maybe we can change Kermit’s song just a little bit and sing, “It’s not easy being…human!”  With the triple threat of “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” we have great obstacles.  Yet, the presence of the Spirit in our lives can raise us above these things so that we might live a life that is truly one that will please our Lord.  It is His work in us that will allow us to live life in a worshipful way, and then join together with others each week to worship him together in our corporate bodies.
 

(Original Post on August 26, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20286-kermit-the-frog-on-worship)

Uniquely You: Worshiping in Your Giftedness

“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

In considering Romans 12, Paul does not leave us in the dark as to how we are to present our bodies as a “spiritual service of worship.”  In fact, he gets very specific in detailing the kinds of activities he is talking about.  Believe it or not, it is much more extensive than what you generally experience in church on Sunday. Actually, there are people worshiping God right now — and they are not singing, praying, or listening to a sermon!

Commentators often see Romans 12:1-2 as a transition from doctrinal considerations to how this set of beliefs works in daily life (or “practical” application).  This becomes glaringly apparent as quickly as verse three where Paul encourages “sound judgment” in our thought life about ourselves in comparison with others.  “God,” he says, “has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  And with that statement he sets the stage for us to comprehend the variety, unity, and complexity of worship within the Body of Christ (i.e., remember that the “body of Christ” is one of Paul’s primary pictures for the church, that is the community of believers.  See also 1 Corinthians 12; Colossians 1:18).

Paul explains some of the basics of the proper functioning of the Body of Christ in Romans 12. There are many members (individual Christians, vs. 4) and yet only one body (the church, vs. 5).  Each individual has been given a measure of faith (vs. 3) to serve others (vss. 5 and 6).  The grace and faith given, however, is not in equal measure for some have more, some less, but just as much as is necessary for the individual (see vs. 6), and each member has a different function, or a different job to do (vs. 4).  With these differing and numerous functions, or gifts, we serve one another, and the gifts Paul lists are set in the context of use within the community of believers, for he uses the phrase “one another” three times before the end of the chapter.

We are to present our bodies for service to the community of believers based upon our renewed and transformed minds. In so doing, we worship individually by exercising our spiritual gifts, and we worship corporately as the community works together to serve each other and the people around them. When a local representation of the Body of Christ functions in this way it is a marvelous thing, and it is extremely effective.  Paul says, in Ephesians 4:16, that “the proper working of each individual part (i.e., the Christian serving in his or her giftedness), causes the growth of the body (i.e., the Church) for the building up of itself in love”.

An example of this interplay of individual worship based upon spiritual gifts and service to the Body of Christ would be my act of writing.  Right now, as I work on this paragraph, I am by myself. I am singing no “Praise and Worship” songs, no hymns, and as far as I can tell there is no sermon being preached anywhere nearby.  I am alone.  I am here writing.  So, given the limited ideas of worship that many people have, they would not describe me as being involved in “worship.”

In the more encompassing approach that I have described above, however, I am quite involved in worship. In fact, I consider the activity I am involved in at this moment to be one of my more significant acts of personal/individual worship. Why?  How can I say that?  Because in my worldview of worship I am applying the gifts God has given to serve the Body of Christ. He has allotted to me some creativity, an enjoyment of studying and teaching, and an ability to write down my thoughts effectively. So, as I use those gifts (His mercies and grace to me, in a measure appropriate for the task), I develop these ideas and write in order to offer it to encourage, teach, and foster dialogue in the church, the Body of Christ.

For me, this is where the “rubber meets the road” in worship. This is worship beyond Sunday and infiltrating into my daily life.  It is the presentation of my body as a “spiritual service of worship.”  In its truest form, this is the widest ranging idea that we can consider as “worship”— a lifestyle in which God is honored and we serve Him daily, moment by moment.

There may be some of you who are authors, or could be, so you may actually join me in this form of worship. However, even then our work will be unique, as God has gifted us with mercy and grace appropriate for our own task, and we both can serve the Body of Christ in this way.  Diversity in unity is a key factor in the operation of the church.

Others may have no inclination to write, or research, or do anything of the sort. What is it that God has given you to do?  I have a friend who loves to see the church building clean. It is like his mission in life. He is passionate about vacuuming and loves clean windows. There may be others who can vacuum, and some who can clean windows. Even I can do that!  But, his internal joy at doing it, and his gifting from God, works to produce actions that go beyond average. This is worship at its best as he serves God by serving the Body of Christ with his gifts. To use a popular phrase, my friend in his cleaning has a “heart of worship.”

“As exhilarating, burden-lifting, and life-transforming as worship in our services can be,” T.D. Jakes writes, “this is only a part of the meaning of worship for the believer. Worship comprises the very essence and foundation of our life in Christ. Worship is the complete consecration of our lives to God.  It is the attitude we walk in, speak from, and meditate in at all times.  Our life is completely and totally His” (T.D.  Jakes, Intimacy with God:  The Spiritual Worship of the Believer in “Six Pillars From Ephesians, Volume 3” (Tulsa, OK:  Albury Publishing, 2000), pg. 6).

 

(Original Post on August 13, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20198-uniquely-you-worshiping-in-your-giftedness)

Learning to Worship from Other Traditions

Worship can often be a one-dimensional affair.  What I mean is that churches and individuals sometimes fall into the trap of assuming they know best how to worship.  The mix of songs and styles, the length of the sermon, videos or not, prayers of piety or prayers of audacity, the Bible (in the correct version!), along with any number of other elements that can be part of a typical worship service.  They’ve figured it out, and there is nothing else to learn or know.

In my experience, however, I have found that pulling elements from other traditions can be quite enriching.  In fact, by looking around at how other traditions and denominations worship can allow you to go deeper in your understanding of worship, and more importantly, a deeper encounter with the God that we worship!

For example, I have worked with several churches that did not regularly quote the Apostles’ Creed.  By introducing the Creed into a worship service, and explaining its significance, these congregations were able to sense their connection to Christians throughout the centuries.  Our community of believers is beyond those that sit around us in the pews.  It spans the globe, and in Christ it also spans time itself!

After this introduction of the Creed, one small group of believers spent time together studying the Creed more directly and found its richness and simplicity to be life-changing.  They also found how it deeply confirmed their faith.  They studied the Trinity in unexpected ways, and discovered elements of the story of redemption that they had never considered.  All of this from a group that had seldom, if ever,  heard or said the Creed at all.

You will note that the ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian) are each built upon the three-fold structure of Trinitarian Doctrine.  Basically, we see each section of the Creeds reflecting truth about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  These are not random thoughts, but statements built upon the foundation of Scripture and carefully worded and summarized in each of the Creeds.

The Creeds have been a vital part of worship for centuries.  So important were they, that both Luther and Calvin constructed writings upon their outlines.  For Luther, both his Shorter Catechism and Larger Catechism utilize the Apostles’ Creed for his commentary.  For Calvin, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, as a primer of theology, was built upon this same structure.

Worship can reflect this same outline.  I have found that centering the worship service on the Trinitarian aspects of the Creeds can be uplifting and encouraging.  It gives us a holistic view and perspective for life and worship.  The following example is admittedly short, but is meant to serve as a basic sketch that can be both expanded and amplified.  I use a basic pattern of declaration, response/reflection, and prayer.

God the Father
Read the first section of the Apostles’ Creed
Respond with singing:  All Creatures of our God and King (St. Francis of Assisi)
Pause for Prayer

God the Son
Read the second section of the Apostles’ Creed
Respond with singing:  In Christ Alone (Townend & Getty)
Pause for Prayer

God the Father
Read the third section of the Apostles’ Creed
Respond with singing:  They’ll know we are Christians by our Love (Scholte)
Pause for Prayer

So look around and go deeper.  Even introducing one new element on occasion into the worship of your church will bring a new level of appreciation for the wonder of God and how we can express our praise to Him.

 

(Original Post on July 10, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20135-learning-to-worship-from-other-traditions)

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