Monthly Archives: October 2014

Worship as Service

For many churches, the Sunday morning worship service is quite predictable.  The format followed each week is the same, and variations happen only on special occasions.  Even then, the changes are only slight.  Many believers enjoy this style of service and find comfort in knowing what to expect from week to week.

For other churches, Sunday morning is anything but predictable.  The order of service changes weekly, new songs are introduced regularly, the pastor uses creative drama and technology for sermon illustrations.  Some of these churches change the setting on stage from week to week, or even in the middle of the service.  Those attending churches such as this enjoy the anticipation of what next Sunday will bring.

Existing somewhere in between these two extremes are those churches that may, or may not, use a somewhat regular order of service.  Although many elements remain the same from week to week, the order of the service changes pretty regularly.  Maybe the general order of service is the same (Welcome, music, offering, sermon), but the way each aspect of these takes place differs on any given Sunday.  Basically, there is enough familiarity to be comfortable, and enough creativity to be interesting.

Normally, we would call the first church described above a “liturgical” church;  the second would be considered “free form” worship; and the third some sort of hybrid between the two.  Whether a church subscribes to any of them, or none of them, is inconsequential.  Each has legitimate strengths to build upon, and weaknesses to overcome.  I have found that experiencing each style has enriched my understanding and enjoyment of corporate worship altogether.

What I’d like to point out is that each of these churches is operating from some sort of a “liturgy.”  The word “liturgy” is one we hear used, but often misunderstand its meaning.  It originated from a Latin word that means “service.”  When we say that a church is using a liturgy, then we are saying that it is doing service.  Not doing a service, but doing service.

But what exactly does it mean for a church to be doing service?  I’m not asking about the content, for example:  Is this a seeker-sensitive service or one targeted at believers?  What I mean is:  How is the church serving?  Whom is it serving?  How is the service rendered?

We could have long, involved discussions to answer these questions, but let me give a few ideas to get you thinking about it.  First, the church serves Jesus Christ.  Before we can serve seekers, believers, or any other demographic category we must have the mindset to serve our Lord.  Our purpose and focus must always to be to bring Him glory and honor in the way we serve the people he has called us to.  In fact, it can be argued that the only way we can show that we love and serve Jesus is to love and serve the people around us.

And that’s the next aspect of serving.  The church serves the people in its midst.  This must be a balance of service to both believers and unbelievers.  When the church serves only believers, it will eventually grow stagnant and become complacent and self-serving.  When a church only focuses on the unbeliever, it will often lack the depth of spirituality to withstand the attacks of enemies within and without.  There must be a balance of genuine love and care for those who are “the least, the last and the lost” which will bring them to Jesus, and then the ability to equip them (along with all the believers) to join the battle of the ages.

In our public worship “services” we should seek to balance these characteristics of both evangelism and discipleship.  When the Truth is proclaimed through music, Scripture reading, preaching and teaching, prayer and other elements of corporate worship God will move the hearts of men and women to respond to that Truth.  The Holy Spirit is in the business of changing lives, and we must admit that the lives of believers often require changes that rival the changes needed in the lives of unbelievers.

So, as you prepare or participate in the “liturgy” of your church this Sunday.  Consider how you are being served, and how you might serve those around you.  Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life.  He will teach you and use you—maybe even at the same moment.  Truly, this will be the moment when “liturgy” really happens!

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Silence and Listening for Renewed Worship

Go ahead, try it. Turn off the TV and radio. Shut off the ringer on the phone. Power down the cell phone. Slip the ear-buds out of your ears and let the MP3 player rest for a while. Find a place away from the kids or your co-workers, or others in your environment. Sit down, take a deep breath…OK? Now, just be quiet. Be silent. Let the busy-ness of life fade away and spend time in solitude.

If you’re like most of us, this little exercise won’t last long. A few minutes at best. We are not people of quietness. We like noise, we like a background “buzz.” Our lives are full of noise – at home, in the car, at the grocery store, in the malls, at church, in our neighborhoods. It’s everywhere!

In a song long forgotten, the Christian songwriter Steve Taylor noted that we are “slaves to that ubiquitous beat.” Don’t worry, I didn’t know what “ubiquitous” meant either. The dictionary tells us that it means, “existing everywhere; inescapable.” And now, just think about it. We are constantly confronted with (and sometimes assaulted with) noise and music and information. TV, radio, satellite and internet are all available at the touch of a button in a variety of settings. It’s everywhere, it’s inescapable, and it’s out of our control!!

I’ve even noticed that the malls and restaurants and stores have turned up the music meant to be in the background and have made it much more a part of their identity. The style of music they play helps them define their audience and customer base.

Through the din of it all, God calls us to silence. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The idea of being still is meant to portray a ceasing of our striving and busy-ness, a quiet and attentive waiting on God, and a silence to listen for His still small voice. With all the hubbub of life swirling around us, and forcing its audible energy into our lives, we must make specific efforts – dare I say discipline – to move toward silence.

In fact, silence and solitude are considered key components of a healthy spiritual life. We can hear God’s voice in a unique way (through Scripture, in prayer, as revealed in creation, etc.) as we step away from the onslaught of noise. We must actively ask Him to renew our hearts, and then wait upon Him to do so.

Even as we individually enter into the discipline of silence, it can be a refreshing and uplifting part of our corporate worship as well. Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? I know that some churches have a time of “silent prayer,” which actually amounts to a 15 or 20 second pause in a verbalized prayer, but I’m suggesting something more. What would it be like to develop a disciplined congregational moment in which the whole of the body focuses and seeks to “know that He is God?” Could it be 30 seconds or a minute? Could it extend to 2 or 3 minutes?

Sure, there will be distractions. The fidgety kids. The labored breathing of an older person. The inevitable giggles of the teenager. The impatience of those who must look at their watch, suggesting that seeking God is a waste of time. The noise of traffic outside, or children playing in the church basement. Feel free to use any of these excuses to avoid silence, or create some excuses of your own…

For those brave enough to try – may you and your congregation discover something more of God in the midst of the silence…

 

(Original Post on July 28, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/22107-silence-and-listening-for-renewed-worship)

Why Art should be More than an Evangelistic Tract

In the mid 20th century, Francis Schaeffer set the framework for thinking about the arts in relationship to a Christian Worldview.  However, in the late 20th century, as the church focused on more pragmatic goals and thinking,his point of view was lost to all but a few and missed entirely by the general Christian population.

In his excellent little volume titled “Art and the Bible” Schaeffer states the following:

For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts.  A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.  An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

Among other things, Schaeffer makes the point that art, as redeemed under Christ’s Lordship, speaks to the fullness of God’s creative stamp upon His creation.  Beauty, as one of the foundational purposes of the artistic endeavor, is reason enough to create art within a Christian Worldview.  At times, seeking to “preach” with the arts undercuts the very nature of what the arts may be actually saying.

With this in mind, Christian artists and patrons must work to think more clearly in this regard, especially in light of the tendency to find comfort in our own Christian sub-culture.  Our voices (artistic and otherwise) get trapped in the outer edges of the wider culture because we are always preaching at people.  Yet, when speaking carefully to the wider world about wider issues, within the framework of a Christian Worldview, the Christian artist may find that someone has heard the very voice of God through their creative efforts.

One of the more intriguing pieces of art I have seen recently was in a small gallery while I was traveling in out of state.  Unfortunately, I do not recall the artist – but I remember the painting.  It showed a young woman who had been apparently abused in some way, either physical or emotional.  She sat, legs folded up to her chest and her head down in her knees.  She was painted as she crouched in the corner of a stairwell.  There were three or four stairs below her, and another set of stairs going up to the right.

As I examined the painting, there was one other small feature that could go unnoticed, yet put the Truth of the painting into clear focus.  A few steps down from the young woman sat an apple with a bite out of it.

To the common viewer, this might have fit into the painting as simply a feature of a dirty stairwell, but to the Christian it is full of keen insight.  Of course, the Apple is a reference to the sin of Adam.  Sin has infected the world in which we live, and life is not just about how wonderful Jesus makes our lives when we know Him, or about singing pretty little choruses that make us feel good.  Sometimes life is bad – really bad!

The young woman in this painting is shown to be in a difficult, hurtful situation.  The brokenness of life is the result of the presence of sin in the world.  We don’t know why things happened to this woman the way they did, but we do know that the pain and suffering she is experiencing is not what God intended for this world.

This is an example of what it means to think holistically as a Christian artist, and to show the fullness of the Christian Worldview in a piece of art.  It is thoughtful, provoking, and gives a real world picture of life as we know it.  Although Christ can redeem this young woman, the pain of her situation is a real thing and worth our careful consideration.

So, to all Christian artists and musicians out there:  Think deeply and portray life in its fullness, demonstrating the Truth of the creation-fall-redemption story of the Christian Worldview.

 

(Original Post on August 11, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/22168-why-art-should-be-more-than-an-evangelistic-tract)

Thinking Through the Whole Worship Service

Due to the nature of our ministry, my family and I serve in many different congregations. We experience various styles of worship, including a wide degree of competency in the ability of churches to plan and execute a corporate worship service. As I share some thoughts in this article, I would like to draw together some observations that I believe every church can accomplish, no matter how polished, or unpolished, the service.

My comments come under the umbrella of one overarching idea:

Someone must have the full view of the worship service. This person may be the pastor, but is often an associate or even a volunteer worship planner or leader. It really doesn’t matter who it is, but it is important that this “someone” really exists. This is the individual that has the “big picture” of the service. They are able to visualize the entire service, from beginning to end, and anticipate what issues must be addressed so that the congregation is not distracted from God’s work in their midst.

In keeping with this idea, we must remember that the individual parts of the service (or worship elements) serve the whole. Whether your church uses a liturgical guide or plans more of a “free form” service that changes week by week, there is generally some kind of thematic sweep of the service. This might be a theological doctrine or concept or a more general theme, but it’s some kind of focus to which all aspects of the service point.

Certainly the worship music is a key ingredient, but that element must stay in line with the thematic sweep of the service. Lyrics of songs should supplement the theme, not supplant it by introducing opposing or contrary thoughts. Prayers and transitional comments should be considered in light of the theme. From prelude to postlude no elements should be overlooked, but can be planned to serve the broader focus of the service. Even the sermon, yes, is to be analyzed as a part of the service that serves the whole.

Beyond these more conceptual areas, there are several visual and aesthetic issues that arise in many churches. Cords and wires, for example. How can these be wrapped to create a more pleasing visual for the congregation? In addition, we must consider the safety issues of those who may have to walk over those cords and wires. There is not much that will distract a congregation more than an individual up front tripping over wires that could have been easily hidden or run along a different path.

Another aspect of visual importance is the movement of people and props. Do chairs have to be moved? When? Why? How will the people involved move from one place to another? Do they know when to move and where to go? Are there microphones where they need to be? Are there enough mics that one does not have to be moved from one area to another? Are music stands in the way of the congregation seeing the pastor or other people on stage? These questions, and others, can be part of the visualizing process which will make the service flow much smoother.

Finally, I’d like to make some comments about technology. I’m going to suggest that the most common mistake made with technology is the muted microphone. You know what I mean: Someone on stage begins to talk or sing, but their mic is muted and the congregation misses the first few words of their comment or song. Was the sound tech aware that the mic was needed? Was he or she distracted? How can you eliminate distractions for those serving in this area? It is certainly important to provide an order of service so they know what to expect, but we can also give them permission to politely “ignore” those that might try to engage them in conversation just as the service begins (or even once the service is under way). Their attentiveness to details is as important as the musician that is expected to play the right notes!

The other area of technology is both lighting and projected images (and/or lyrics). Regarding lighting let me say that moving lights are really cool. However, cool moving lights do not fit every song or every service. Less is more when it comes to this feature. Remember that this is a worship service, not a concert hall. Only use moving lights if they can directly increase the impact of the thematic focus. For visual images, use the same criteria. Beautiful pictures are wonderful, but when they become the focus they will distract from the purpose of the service. And just two thoughts about projected lyrics: use spell check and a font that is easily readable.

There are many more observations that I could make, but I’ve tried to develop this short list as one that really can be accessible and doable by each and every church. Find someone who will visualize the service before it happens each week and you will find that many of these annoying little things (and others) will gradually dissipate and allow your congregation to focus more readily on the theme for the day.

(Original Post on Sept. 8, 2014 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/22271-thinking-through-the-whole-worship-service)

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