Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Drama of Easter Worship!

Easter is the high point of the Great Drama of Scripture.  Let’s consider the worldview implications of this yearly celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

We can keep the importance of Christ’s resurrection in perspective when we are careful to remember that the fullness of the Gospel can be told in the three categories that explain the Christian Worldview:  Creation, Fall and Redemption.

The Great Drama begins at Creation as God unfolds His creative work and places man in the highest place – as stewards, keepers, caretakers – as representatives of God Himself in the dominion of the earth.  We stand in His place as rulers of all that He made, responsible to Him for its development and use.  God’s goodness exudes from His creative work, and He underscores that by declaring, “It is good.  It is very good.”

Yet, as the ultimate drama, conflict and sin enter the story when Adam rebels against God in disbelief and pride.  The Fall of Adam tears into the deepest depths and throws God’s good Creation into disarray.  Man’s relationship with God is severed, his relationship with himself and others is broken, and his stewardship in Creation is marked by difficulty and toil.  God stands now in judgment against the humanity He created.  The damage must be undone, His Creation must be restored.

And so, as the Great Drama unfolds, we understand God’s ongoing efforts at restoration.  Even as He holds man responsible for his sin God works to redeem him.  Ultimately this redemption arrives in the person of Jesus Christ – God become Man.  In Christ the power of divinity is matched with the responsibility of humanity to repair the damage of sin.  It is only His uniqueness as the God-Man that redemption can come.

And Redemption has come!  It is in Easter that we celebrate the demonstration of God’s love for us and for His Creation.  Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross, His conquering of sin, death and the devil, and His resurrection are the beginnings of the restoration God has in store for us as His children, and through us into the lives of others and His entire Creation.

Let us truly celebrate the fullness of the Gospel during this season of the year!

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Viewing Easter through the Lens of Christian Worldview

Holy Week is generally considered as the series of celebrative and contemplative services from Palm Sunday through the Saturday before Easter Sunday.  It begins with a celebration of the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday).  It then moves into the week with Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday) which is a memorial for the Last Supper and the time in the garden.  This is followed by Good Friday that commemorates the death and burial of Christ.  Holy Saturday is that day of silence and contemplation, to consider the work of Jesus in dying to conquer sin and death.

All of this is very dramatic, and it covers the range of emotions from great elation to great sorrow.  It can cause us to shout for joy and cry out in pain.  It really can be a journey into the depths of what Christ really came to do on earth.  God become flesh, dwelling among us.

Ultimately, we burst forth into the joy of Easter Sunday, when we recognize Christ’s ultimate victory.  We also realize that, as believers, He has become our Victor and snatched us from sure doom.  Redemption has come in Christ, and we celebrate!

If you take only a few minutes and consider the highs and lows that are part of that week, and even read through the accounts in the gospels and follow the emotional responses of the Apostles and disciples, it won’t take long to see how much drama is found in these events.  Yet, many independent evangelical churches skip over Holy Week and celebrate Easter as though nothing special preceded it.  All of the sudden we are celebrating…but why?

Easter is truly the high point of the Great Drama of Scripture.  But we leave much on the table when we overlook the importance of the events of Holy Week.  I realize there is something of a resurgence of some aspects of Holy Week in some circles, and as people discover how insightful these various services can be it is an enriching part of the season.  For those that miss these events, they are shortchanging themselves on a truly reflective view of these last few days of the life of Jesus.

There are many resources on the internet to explain each aspect of Holy Week.  This would include viewpoints from different traditions.  If you are a worship planner, or pastor, I would suggest doing some research on Holy Week – since it’s not too late to plan even a limited series of services to enhance the culminating celebration of Easter.

And before we close, let’s consider the worldview implications of this yearly celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  Easter is at the heart of what the Christian Faith is all about, and we can keep the importance of Christ’s resurrection in perspective when we are careful to remember that the fullness of the Gospel can be told in the three categories that explain the Christian Worldview:  Creation, Fall and Redemption.

The Great Drama begins at Creation as God unfolds His creative work and places man in the highest place—as stewards, keepers, caretakers—as representatives of God Himself in the dominion of the earth.  We stand in His place as rulers of all that He made, responsible to Him for its development and use.  God’s goodness exudes from His creative work, and He underscores that by declaring, “It is good.  It is very good.”

Yet, as the ultimate drama, conflict and sin enter the story when Adam rebels against God in disbelief and pride.  The Fall of Adam tears into the deepest depths and throws God’s good Creation into disarray.  Man’s relationship with God is severed, his relationship with himself and others is broken, and his stewardship in Creation is marked by difficulty and toil.  God stands now in judgment against the humanity He created.  The damage must be undone, His Creation must be restored.

And so, as the Great Drama unfolds, we understand God’s ongoing efforts at restoration.  Even as He holds man responsible for his sin, God works to redeem him.  Ultimately, this redemption arrives in the person of Jesus Christ—God become Man.  In Christ, the power of divinity is matched with the responsibility of humanity to repair the damage of sin.  It is only His uniqueness as the God-Man that redemption can come.

And Redemption has come! It is in Easter that we celebrate the demonstration of God’s love for us and for His Creation.  Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross, His conquering of sin, death and the devil, and His resurrection are the beginnings of the restoration God has in store for us as His children, and through us into the lives of others and His entire Creation.

Let us truly celebrate the fullness of the Gospel during this season of the year!

 

 

(Previously posted on WorshipThink.com on 4/14/14)

The BIG Picture – Elements of Worship Series (Part 8)

(This entry was previously posted, but fits well in this series and is worth repeating!)

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.

 

(Previously posted on WorshipThink.com in October 2014)

Transitions – Elements of Worship Series (Part 7)

 

How would you answer this question:  What is the most important element of a Worship Service?  Many would say, “The sermon is the most important.”  Or, maybe Scripture reading is the key component?  How about prayer?  Maybe music deserves highest marks?  Talk to any room full of people and the debate would be endless.  I have found it interesting that there is such a diverse range of opinions on the matter, yet when I teach on the topic of worship there is one element that never receives attention in answer to the query.

Notice that my initial question was very specific.  I did not ask about the most important element or idea of Worship as a topic, but of a Worship ServiceThe question is one of a practical nature, as opposed to a philosophical or theological perspective.  The analysis of a Worship Service on this level is vital as our congregations come together for the purpose of experiencing God through song, sermon, prayer and other ways of engaging our hearts and minds.  Does this clarification to the question change your answer in any way?

Arguments are plentiful for the inclusion and importance of Scripture, the sermon, music, prayer and other elements in our Worship Services.  Our weekly gatherings as the Body of Christ are significant opportunities to hear from God in various ways.  But what is the connecting thread?  What element do we all notice if it doesn’t happen, or work well, but when it’s properly executed we don’t notice it at all?

Well, I suppose it’s time for me to get to the point.  What is the most important element of a Worship Service?  The transition.  Now some of you think I’m crazy.  What’s so vital about a transition?  Better yet, what’s so spiritual about a transition?  I’m glad you asked, so let me explain what I mean.

Transitions are the links of the chain.  When moving from one element to another, something happens – you either notice it or you don’t – and that’s a transition.  If one of those “links” breaks, it’s obvious.  When the “link” holds strong, it’s as though it’s not even there.  Are you moving from a song to a prayer?  There’s a transition.  Moving from the Scripture reading to the sermon?  There’s a transition.  Moving from songs, to announcements, to more songs?  More transitions.

Consider the idea that a successful Worship Service is a service of successful transitions.  Good transitions lead to minimal distractions from the established flow of a service.  Bad transitions are distractions that often great music or excellent sermons have difficulty overcoming.  Distractions can pull someone’s mind and heart away from what the Lord is doing in them, and may interrupt the work of God in their life.  That’s what makes transitions – good transitions – so important to our Worship Services.

Now, I certainly don’t want to undervalue the quality of the other elements of worship.  A poorly performed song can be a fatal distraction.  A sermon that doesn’t communicate with people at their level will lead to wandering minds and disinterest.  My point is that our services deserve as much time, energy and thought put into transitions as these other elements.

I’ve worked with churches for many years, both in my own church and as a consultant, and often my first order of business has been to analyze the Worship Services as they had been done prior to my arrival.  I’ve done this using videos of various services and timing each element as it passed.  What I discovered was the need to concentrate on transitions and the flow of the services.  Believe it or not, often no significant changes in the style of worship are made (not even new songs) for a time.  But, when work on transitions and flow begins, the results are readily noticeable.  Within just a month or two, we are able to draw together the loose ends and begin to create an atmosphere that minimizes distractions and helps people focus on the theme of the day.

Transitions are one key element in our Worship Services.  Don’t ignore them or underestimate their value.  Someone needs to be aware of them and think them through before they happen.  This is the best way to ensure their successful deployment and smooth sailing from week to week.

 

 

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

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