Monthly Archives: January 2015

Beginnings – Elements of Worship Series (Part 3)

How does your Worship Service begin?  Upbeat and energized music?  A personal welcome from the Pastor?  A prayer of invocation?  Announcements?

Regardless of the form that the first element of your service takes, it must be purposeful.  Although there are many techniques for gaining the attention of a crowd, or drawing them into the moment, it is vital that the purpose be biblical – just as every aspect of our worship should be.

For example, a pastor or worship leader may desire for the congregation to be engaged at the beginning of the service, so the expectation is put forward that the music must have “energy” and, by implication, not be slow.  However, it does not seem to me that Scripture places “energy” in the mix of purpose statements for worship.  We might suggest that joy or praise be a substitute word to use, but I can think of plenty of examples in which joy and praise can be accomplished with slow, soft music (or even silence).

What about the personal welcome from the Pastor?  If we have a specific purpose for this at the start of the service, it is certainly appropriate.  However, it may be that the pastor should express greetings to the congregation at some other time during the service – and that should be purposeful as well.

Scripture has plenty of ideas about the beginning of worship.  Colossians 3:16 notes that teaching and admonishing others are appropriate activities in worship.  Can we start there?  Nehemiah and Ezra begin an extended time of worship with reading of Scripture (Nehemiah 8).  Can we start there?  In Psalm 62, David begins worship in silence.  Can we start there?  On the other hand, David also was very loud in some settings of worship (1 Chronicles 16).  Can we start there?

Can we start there?  The answer is, “Yes.”  As we think about the overall theme for the service as a whole, the purpose for the beginning of the service must support that main theme.  Scripture shows us that a variety of elements can be used, depending on the focus for that service.

As we continue our evaluation of these elements of worship from week to week, you will notice a recurring point being made.  That is, someone must think about these things and be purposeful about what is happening and why.  How we start the service is no exception.

 

For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at http://www.marksooy.com/books_store/

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The Prelude – Elements of Worship Series (Part 2)

When we consider the different parts, or elements, of the Worship Service it might be thought that we should start with the “opening song.”  That is, after all, the first thing that happens in a service, so we might as well start there in our series.  However, there is something that takes place before that first song, or call to worship, or other specific element that “begins” the service:  the prelude.

In modern church life, many churches do little by way of planning for the prelude.  In fact, the use of CDs and other pre-recorded music is a staple of many churches as the people come to fill the sanctuary to be part of the service.  In the not-too-distant past, however, the prelude was much more deliberate in the life of a Sunday morning, and special attention was paid to the music that was played during that time.

There are a few churches, even today, in which the prelude is a reverent and thoughtful time for people to prepare their hearts for interacting with God during worship.  Encouragement of a hushed, even silent, space in the sanctuary allows those gathering to consider their need for God’s grace and to wait expectantly for the Spirit to work in their midst in that hour.  Whether one can change the tide of modern church culture to enter quietly such as this is doubtful if it is not already a habit of the congregation, but it could be effective on occasion.

Prelude is defined as “an introductory performance, action, or event preceding and preparing for the principal or a more important matter.”  Notice the inherent assumption that the prelude is a deliberate activity.  It is something that happens on purpose for a specific reason, and is a preparation for what follows.  With that in mind, let’s consider what we might do to plan more effectively for the prelude in our Worship services.

The main point I’d like to make about the prelude is that it must be deliberate.  In other words, someone has to think about it and make it part of the planning for the weekly worship service.  This may be, as in some churches, a time for meditation.  However, it may also be a time when enthusiastic interaction and greeting takes place in the midst of the congregation.  Biblically, we could make a case for either, but the argument here is not that it must be one way or another but that it should be planned and deliberate.

Let me say that the use of CDs or other pre-recorded music is a fine choice for many churches that may not have the resources of time or talent to have a live performance during the prelude.  The point is that throwing in a CD off the pile in the sound booth, or letting someone pick their favorite artist to highlight during that time will not be conducive to the preparatory nature and purpose of the prelude.

Spend time integrating the prelude into the whole service.  Allow it to truly fulfill its purpose of preparation.  Try different styles and methods.  Explain it to the congregation.  It will take some work, but will be worth the added effort as the worship planning includes this important feature.

 

For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at http://www.marksooy.com/books_store/

Elements of Worship – Series

Many of my articles on worship are based on re-thinking, or challenging our thinking, about worship and related topics.  I try to balance theory and practice, but I know that my tendency is to spend more time on theological and philosophical matters than on the practical matters of how our actual practice of worship should be affected.

With that in mind, I will begin a series considering what I call the elements of worship.  Just so we’re all on the same page, I’d like to define elements as the particular ingredients or pieces that make up a worship service.  When we bake a cake, we use many ingredients (plural) to ultimately create a cake (singular).  When we assemble a car, there are many pieces and parts that go into making one vehicle.  When we plan a worship service, there are many elements that result in a singular event.

The need for planning is obvious, and certainly the Apostle Paul teaches us that public worship in the church is to be “done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  But what does that really mean when we come to think about the various elements of a worship service?  How do we know what these parts of the service should be?  And, once we figure out what pieces should be included in worship, how do we know what makes up any particular piece of the service?

In coming weeks I will discuss these ideas, with the intention of looking at specific elements each week.  Some of these will include:  the prelude, prayer, announcements, call to worship, the sermon, Scripture reading, special music, congregational singing, and more.  In doing so, I would like to dismantle each carefully with the idea that once we put things back together, we will have a more complete, integrated worship experience

Let me preface this series to remind my readers that each specific aspect of a worship service serves a greater purpose.  Although many feel that the sermon is the main point of worship, this is not a biblical or balanced view.  Even the sermon serves the greater purpose of the worship service.  It is part of the whole.  There may be a focus on a theme, or a specific doctrine, but ultimately worship is for helping the gathered community connect with Christ through the Word (Him to Us), for responding to His Word (Us to Him), and to encourage and admonish one another (Us to Each Other).  See my post here for a full consideration of this concept (or visit my bookstore here and order “The Life of Worship”).

 

For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at http://www.marksooy.com/books_store/

More Thoughts: Entertainment and Worship

Entertainment.  Our society thrives on entertainment.  We wake to music, watch the “morning shows” before leaving home, and listen to the morning news in the car.  The radio plays all day in most work environments and we return home listening to the radio again in the car.  Our evenings are filled with TV and movies, and our weekends with concerts and sporting events.

Is it any wonder that some kind of entertainment mentality has crept into our worship services?  How different methods of entertainment are evident when we worship?  I can already hear many readers entering into denial:  “Are you suggesting that within our worship service we incorporate elements of entertainment?”  Yes – that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  In fact, I’d rather call it a statement of fact than a suggestion of something that might be there!!

Think about it.  There is evidence of entertainment in virtually all aspects of a public worship service.  To really appreciate this observation, let’s explore the idea from two viewpoints:  Those doing the entertaining (the Pastors, Worship Leaders, Soloists, Choirs, Drama Teams, etc.) and those being entertained (the congregation).  If we analyze our worship services this way we can discover some interesting things.

First, from the standpoint of those doing the entertaining we must consider the goal of the service and what they are seeking to accomplish.  With few exceptions, the primary consideration in worship is the preaching of the gospel and the accurate transmission of the Word of God into the minds and hearts of the hearers.  This is the role of those leading Worship regardless of the method in which they participate.  Pastors do it via preaching, Worship Leaders by leading congregational singing, solo and group performers through artistic presentations of key thoughts and themes.

It is the particular method of transmission of God’s truth that can be properly designated as entertainment.  Some readers may not like that parallel, but nonetheless it exists.  Pastors use various methods of entertainment to gain and hold the congregation’s attention.  I sat under one Pastor who used a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon at the beginning of every sermon.  Often the cartoon had no connection to the sermon, but was simply a tool to grab the attention of the congregation.  Some Pastors now use Microsoft PowerPoint® regularly with pictures, graphics, sermon outlines, and sometimes moving images to make their sermons more interesting (i.e., entertaining).  The assessment of a Pastor’s sermon (by both the Pastor and the people) is more often evaluated on the entertainment value (“His sermons are really boring…”), rather than the accuracy of truth and theological content.

The dynamic and influence of entertainment methods are even more definitive in Worship leading and musical/dramatic presentations.  This is strikingly evident in one way – rehearsals.  On the one hand, rehearsals are legitimately reasoned to be the activity by which performers hone their skills to present the best they have to offer back to the One who gave them the skills in the first place.  On the other hand, rehearsals are also the way in which a soloist or group ensures that the entertainment value of their chosen method of communication does not detract from the message they are portraying.  Admit it.  Hearing Sandi Patti, Steve Green or Larnelle Harris bring a song to a dynamic, forceful ending with a live orchestra and choir certainly delivers the message more powerfully than little Suzie’s rendition sung out of key with “canned” accompaniment!!  (“Canned” is the affectionate term many musicians have for “pre-recorded.”)  The reason for this is the entertainment elements involved in a professional presentation, rather than an amateurish one.  God can use both, but the road sure is smoother when the vehicle is in good shape!

The second viewpoint we must consider is that of the congregation (should we call it the “audience”?) – those being entertained.  Remember the quote above of the sermon evaluation?  (“His sermons are really boring!”)  How about the reaction to the special music?  (“Wow!  That girl can really sing!)  And the response to a short dramatic presentation or vignette?  (“Man, was that funny or what!)  Then there’s the ever-present comment about timing. (“The sermon went way to long, and that missionary report could have been better organized.”)

All of these comments – heard and loosely quoted from the cold, hard reality of many years of planning and leading worship – indicate an entertainment mindset found in the congregations of American Evangelical Churches.  Evaluation by the congregation is being done based on entertainment value, rather than the accuracy of the truth and theology presented.  It is not enough to know the Bible or Theology, but one must also have some expertise in how to communicate it – otherwise it falls on deaf ears.  This point shows the difficulty that faces Pastors and worship planners on a weekly basis.  They must balance quality of Biblical exegesis and theology with creativity of presentation – a balance which has all to often favored creativity and left short a serious depth of Biblical insight.

I suppose this discussion could be viewed with a desire to avoid the connection between our public worship and an entertainment mentality.  Avoidance, however, does not change the fact that the connection exists in real and identifiable ways.  Modern Christians have followed the pattern of Christians for centuries by adapting differing methods of communication found within their cultures to share God’s truth and the gospel of Christ with those around them.

I don’t think that this should be seen as a huge negative influence either.  The adaptability (by which I mean the use of various methods of communication) of the message of Christ is what has made the Christian faith applicable throughout the centuries and within different cultures.  Many religions supplant culture and seek to make all adherents act, dress, and think alike.  Christianity can uniquely transform cultures (by transforming people); yet allow freedom for cultures to differ from country to country and express their faith in unique ways.

It would be a fruitful and enlightening discussion for worship planners to discuss this phenomenon in their own settings.  What evidence do you see in your church of this “entertainment” mindset?  Are you comfortable with it or does it bother you?  Should we fight it or embrace it?  How are other churches dealing with this influence?  Awareness and open discussion of these things will bring a richer and fuller understanding of how the church can influence culture – and how culture has influenced the church.

 

For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at www.MarkSooy.com

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