Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Olympic Games for Worship

(Note:  With the recent fervor in the World Cup tournament, these thoughts fit the spirit of the day.  –ms)

“Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)

The 2014 Olympic Games are now complete.  My family and I enjoy watching the games when we can, since we feel it is important to honor the hard work and commitment that these athletes have shown in preparation for this worldwide competition.  Certainly, we enjoy seeing the USA win medals, but generally we appreciate the diligence of athletes from every country and their success at the games.

Now that I’m reflecting on this, I realize that this kind of competition might be a healthy and welcome enterprise for the church.  Just think, we could send our worship teams to some centralized location for an “Olympic Games for Worship.”  As they compete, we could award prizes in various events like the individual competition for smoothest vocalist, or the fastest guitarist.  Team medals could be awarded for bands for something like marathon playing (i.e., playing a repetitive chorus with the most repeats), or synchronized performance.

Every church would benefit from these Games, since musicians and worship leaders would be preparing and planning for them, as well as practicing every fine detail of their performances to make them the best they could be.  Overall, it would be a “win-win” for everyone involved.

I hope you realize by now that I am being a little facetious.  Nonetheless, I sometimes hear an underlying thread of concern from church leaders about the competitive atmosphere in our culture.  Especially as they seek to be relevant in their communities.  This concern is demonstrated by questions, such as:  “How do we compete with the entertainment of our society?”  Sometimes the question is even more direct:  “How does our church compete with bigger churches and ministries down the street or in our city?”  These questions reveal a great deal of pressure felt by planners and leaders of worship services.  They must compete for the attention of people and present a Sunday morning package that is of high quality, musically excellent (and showy), flawlessly timed and addresses up-to-the-minute perspectives on daily life.

The pressure these leaders feel is not unwarranted.  Many individual church-goers regularly complain about the quality of the music, the uninteresting sermons, or that somehow the church is not “meeting the needs” of themselves or their families.  Having just watched the latest movie the night before (or attended a concert, or enjoyed some other entertainment), they leave church on Sunday to go home and flip on the television to watch football, a weekly animated TV series, and multi-million dollar 30-second commercials.

It’s hard for the church to compete with that, or even keep up.  Faced with a decline in giving as the economy continues to struggle, many church leaders wonder how they will make mortgage payments, pay the utilities and still keep their staff members (and themselves) fully employed.  There is just no way to inject the time, energy and finances needed into the worship and music program to even come close to the competition.

So what should the church do about it?  My answer may surprise you.  I suggest that we don’t bother trying to compete.  We are not, after all, part of the entertainment industry.  We are the church.  I realize that some church services look more like concerts or major productions every week, but let’s not get sidetracked into that discussion.  Maybe we can address that at another time.  For now, let’s admit that we are not part of the entertainment industry and that our goals for Sunday morning are wholly different.

What might some of those goals for worship be?  Putting our heads together, we could probably come up with a pretty good list.  Worshipping and glorifying God would be at the top of the list.  Hearing from the Word through reading and exposition.  Prayer.  Fellowship with one another.  Each of these put the goals of worship in a different perspective than the goals of entertainment.

Let me also point out some purposes for our worship services that are not often at the forefront of our minds.  Like the purposes mentioned above, these are not part of our entertainment saturated culture and make the church unique in its role in society.

For example, our worship services should be reflective of the relationships within our church community.  Those people leading worship, singing special music, reading Scripture, calling attention to important weekly events, serving communion, receiving the offering – all of these people are our friends and our family members.  These are our neighbors and co-workers.  They represent the relational aspect of our gathered community for worship.  It is with these people that Paul calls us to unity.  “Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).

Another purpose for our Sunday mornings is that of service.  We are called as individual members of the body of Christ to serve each other.  That is the whole point of the spiritual gifts we have received from God.  The gifts have come from His hand, by His will, and are expressly given for us to serve others (1 Corinthians 12:7&11).  Peter sums it up clearly, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

These are just a few ideas, and I’m sure you could think of others.  The church is a living organism with a special place in society and in our lives.  We can actually leave the competition behind, because we don’t have to compete with the entertainment of the world or other churches.  We are about relationships with God and with people around us.  If we view our worship services as extensions of these relationships, then the pressure to compete falls away.

 

(Original Post on March 3, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/21341-the-olympic-games-for-worship)

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Worship and Patriotism (Part 2 of 2)

Here in the United States we are reminded of our freedom on the 4th of July each year.  This freedom has been bought with the blood of men and women sworn to protect us.  And, for this freedom we should truly be thankful.

We are also reminded of the freedom we find in Christ.  True freedom is found in a relationship with Him.  And, for this freedom we should truly be thankful.

Below are the lyrics of the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The fact that this is referred to as the Navy Hymn is also a reminder that the freedom we enjoy in this country is intertwined with the love of God and His care for humanity. Regardless of the detractors in society today, our country has threads of faith winding through its very core.  We should not be ashamed of this foundation of faith, and our yearly celebrations provide another opportunity to be reminded of this truth.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

 

 

(Original Post on July 3, 2012 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/18079-worship-and-patriotism-part-2-of-2)

Worship and Patriotism (Part 1 of 2)

 

The question will inevitably arise as to how appropriate it is to sing patriotic songs during our worship services. These types of questions arise each year in proximity to the July 4th holiday, as well as other national celebrations in which we remember America’s heritage.

Most of the arguments against such a focus on patriotic themes are that our public worship is about God and worshiping Him. To focus on our country, our troops, and our feelings about them would be close to “idol” worship, and therefore be inappropriate.  At least that’s how the logic goes.  This seems to me to be a limited understanding of the communal aspects of public worship, and fails to recognize the importance of the interpersonal relationships among those worshiping together (see Colossians 3).

I fall clearly into the other camp that would say that it is both important and appropriate to draw a celebration of our country into our corporate worship experience. I would point out that Paul, in Romans 13, establishes the precedent of acknowledging the ruling authorities as operating under the authority of God. With this in mind, our worship (especially here in the USA) recognizes God’s grace and mercy in giving us the freedom through our governing authorities to worship Him and proclaim Christian truth.

This is not about any particular political agenda, or at least it shouldn’t be.  Our celebration of freedom and liberty during these times recognizes the great sacrifice that men and women have made in order to secure that freedom.  In some ways, they are a reflection of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross to secure our spiritual freedom.  These are the kinds of connections we can make when we view our culture through the lens of a Christian Worldview.

Truly, we are not worshiping our country, but we worship our God Who has given us the privilege of living and worshiping here. As we do so, may we also remember those who have protected that freedom throughout this nation’s history. Let us honor them, and pray for them and their families, in the midst of celebrating within our communities.

 

(Original Post on June 26, 2012 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/18040-worship-and-patriotism-part-1-of-2)

Dr. Seuss and Worship

I have previously discussed in this column the importance of stories as a vital element in corporate worship (see “Missing Stories in Worship”).  Although we could discuss the need for more storytelling in the songs used in worship, I do not want to focus on that in this article.  Nor do I want to discuss how the pastor can read a story of another favorite sports star that has some kind of Christian testimony.  Neither am I interested in considering how to incorporate effective testimonies from members of the congregation.

Although these devices can be effective in certain circumstances, my purpose here is to look more broadly and comprehensively regarding the story of the whole worship service. And this is where Dr. Seuss comes into the discussion.  Dr. Seuss is known, primarily, for his ability to tell stories.  There are few of us who are unfamiliar with the “Whos down in Whoville” (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas) or that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” (Horton Hears a Who).  We recognize the striped hat of the Cat in the Hat, and can’t help but wonder if it was Thing One or Thing Two that has wreaked havoc in our house today.

These familiar characters are each part of a story, and alongside those stories are many other stories that we have read ourselves, read to our children and grandchildren, and watched on the screen for many years.  The ability of Dr. Seuss to turn a phrase and craft a quote were truly remarkable.  Whether he used common words, or had to create words of his own, he was the master of the story.

But his stories were not mindless fun.  Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) was, in fact, something of an activist.  His “Whos” represented any group of people that was threatened by a more powerful group.  His character, “Yertle the Turtle” showed the truth that anyone, no matter how supposedly insignificant, can make a difference in the world.  And who can forget little Jojo’s famous, “YOPP!” – that helped the world to hear that the Whos were really there? (See the Author page at www.seussville.com)

Where is this kind of storytelling in the Church today?  We certainly have examples in history of men who could tell a story in a painting like Delacroix’s, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, which in one powerful snapshot tells the story of Jacob’s family relocation, the hope of the future promised land, and the night of struggle with the Lord Himself.  Although we know of this painting today, Delacroix painted this piece in a side chapel of the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.  I’m sure that Delacroix hoped for many eyes to see his masterpiece, yet there it stands from day to day for the enjoyment and contemplation of local worshipers.   We can see it in a photo, but to really experience we must go to Paris.

And this leads to my point:  the worship service of the church each Sunday could be very effective as the place to tell a holistic story each week.  What I mean by this is that the worship service, itself, could be crafted as a re-telling of some aspect of the biblical story.  In fact, we worship on Sundays for this very reason.  Sunday is the day Jesus rose from the dead, and worship in the early church celebrated that resurrection week by week.

This idea is full of possibilities. Obviously, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is a prime story to tell.  The Exodus comes to mind as another significant story.  What about the story of Ruth or Esther?  Or the prophets?  Or the Apostles?  These do not have to be pageants, or special services, but weekly opportunities to make the biblical record come alive.

I realize this may sound like a lot of work to plan and prepare, and I suppose that it might be.  However, the biggest shift will be in your thinking rather than the planning and executing of the service itself.  We could use the same kinds of worship elements that we use today:  songs and choruses, Scripture reading, prayers, video vignettes, etc.  It’s how we might organize those into some kind of whole package that will communicate a story which will be the key to its success.

I’m reminded of one particular definition of art or music as a creative force:  “the way in which all the elements are arranged…into an expressive whole.”  That is what we want from worship, something that is formed and shaped into an expressive whole rather than a hodge-podge of loosely connected things that happen on Sunday morning because they more-or-less have to do with God, Jesus or the Church.

The Bible is a narrative – a long, elaborate story of God’s love for His creation, the loss of goodness, and the redemptive activity of God toward restoration.  It’s my hope that one day the Church might tell that story more effectively from Sunday to Sunday.

 

(Original Post on August 26, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/21116-dr-seuss-and-worship)

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