Monthly Archives: April 2015

Technology: Elements of Worship Series (Part 11)

Given the focus in modern culture that technology is a solution to all problems (can anyone say, “Enlightenment”?), it is important for the church of today to think more clearly about the use of technology in the church.

We certainly do not want to abandon technology, since the use of technology has a long history of significance in the church.  The use of the printing press during the Reformation era is one such positive example.  However, we must think about it deeply and critically so that technology does not overtake or subvert the purposes of the church.

It has been noted by many observers that modern worship methods in the Western Church are pregnant with entertainment models and practices, and technology is the driving force behind this move.  One example of this trend is ear-bud monitor systems.

We gather a group of musicians and charge them with the responsibility of leading a congregation in worship.  Then take these people, place them on a stage, turn up the lights on stage (and down in the house), and ask them to use in-ear monitors because “we can control the sound better that way.”

You have just completely isolated the worship leaders from the people they are to be leading.

Not only is it difficult for the leader to see those in front of them because of the lights, but possibly more startlingly is that they cannot HEAR the interaction of the congregation (or more properly, the audience!).  How do they know if the people are being led?  How are they interacting with people from whom they are isolated in their own little world of what is being piped through their monitor system?

Ear-buds may solve some problems with mixing and sound reproduction, but the loss of true corporate worship and the erosion of community are unfortunate by-products.  This might be alright for entertainment, but what is it doing to the Church and its worship?

These are the kinds of questions we must consider as leaders.


Prayer – Elements of Worship Series (Part 10)

What was the atmosphere of prayer in your church on Sunday?  How many prayers were offered?  What kinds of prayers were they?  Who prayed and what were the topics of their prayers?

These questions can tell us a lot about the spirit of prayer in services, and in our church communities.  The New Testament certainly teaches the central part that prayer should play in the life of believers and, by extension, in the life of the gathered community of believers.  I’m reminded of the many prayers that Paul offers for the churches under his care, the significance of what those prayers focused on (see Philippians 1:9-11 and Colossians 1:9-11 just for a start).

However, my recent observation has demonstrated something of a disregard for prayer in corporate worship.  Over the last few months, I cannot recall one service in which more than two prayers were offered (before the Offering and before the Sermon), and usually one at the end to “wrap things up.”  I’m inclined to ask if this is the best plan for prayer – or whether prayer is planned at all!

Some more liturgical kinds of churches will have prayers throughout the service, which certainly increases the frequency of prayer.  In those cases, I wonder about whether those prayers really connect the people to God, since many are scripted or recited by rote by either those leading worship or by the congregation.  Does frequency solve the problem of a lack of focus on prayer?

I would suggest that BOTH frequency and quality are necessary for prayer in our worship services.  By frequency I mean more prayer, but not necessarily more prayers.  An extended time of prayer at one point in the service may be a meaningful experience that would supersede that offered by five shorter prayers.  A multiplication of praying by splitting into small groups for prayer can be another way to revive prayer in our weekly worship.

Regarding quality, I intend to convey both that prayers be planned into the service AND that prayers themselves be planned.  As for planning into the service, prayer can be an integral part to developing the theme of the service by both bringing God our petitions, as well as listening for His answers (rather than a convenient time for the Worship leader to return to the stage!).  We should be strategic about prayer.  Why do we pray at THAT time in the service?  Is there another place that prayer would be an appropriate response?  Or an appropriate time to request something of God?

When planning the prayers themselves, I’m not suggesting a full script for every prayer, although scripts for some prayers can be very effective and meaningful.  In addition, planning the topics of prayers is a missing art in worship (and in prayer generally).  We should ask what the prayer should be about at any given point in the service.  We can use biblical prayers as examples and tools to fashion our own prayers in the same way.  An excellent resource using Paul’s prayers is Discover the Power in the Prayers of Paul by David Bordon.  (May be out of print, but used copies are available.)

Overall, this part of our weekly services can be much more significant.  Even by thinking more carefully about the prayers offered now, without adding any, would be an improvement.

Scripture – Elements of Worship Series (Part 9)

In previous articles I have pointed out that worship is about communication.  It is communication specifically taking place in four directions, which I described as:  God to Us, Us to God, Others to Us, and Us to Others.  For a full understanding of this idea, please visit the previous post:  Worship in Four Directions.

For this article, I wish to discuss the most important of these four communication channels.  This one is the most important because without it, the others just don’t matter!  The most important channel of communication is God to Us.  Francis Schaeffer reminded us of this in his book, “He is There and He is Not Silent.”  God’s communication to us is the foundation of worship and the key to our response to Him.

Of course, what I am referring to is nothing less than God’s word.  God has spoken, and continues to speak, into the lives of His people and into His creation.  However, modern worship often leaves little room for this most basic and fundamental need.

Martin Luther noted four different ways in which God’s word comes toward us.  I have written a full chapter on this in my book, Essays on Martin Luther’s Theology of Music.  For a full discussion, please refer to that book.  For now, these four can be summarized in this way:

  1. The SPOKEN word. This is demonstrated in such statements as, “In the beginning God said…”  In His spoken word, God creates reality.
  2. The WRITTEN word. This is our Bible, and the permanent record of God’s revelation of Himself.
  3. The LOGOS. Referring to Jesus Christ as the Word become flesh.
  4. The PREACHED word. This is the word that comes through teachers and preachers, but is a mediated word (indirect).

In modern worship, we are hard pressed to hear from God through His word.  Granted, we hear a lot of preaching, so I am not suggesting that pastors are ignoring their duty.  Although, I would suggest that the movement away from expository preaching toward topical sermons and therapeutic considerations have diminished the effectiveness of the mediated word.  What I really think has changed is the direct communication of the word in worship.

Specifically, what seems to be missing is the reading of Scripture as more than a passing thought or setup for the pastor’s sermon.  If the written word is the permanent and enduring communication of God to His people, how can the people really know it if they do not hear it?  And how can they hear it if we do not plan for it in our services.

I realize that Scripture reading must be an individual and daily undertaking by each believer, and by each family.  However, we must admit that the practice of daily reading continues to diminish in modern Christian experience.  This is unfortunate and cannot be overcome by adding more reading to the public worship service, however, the communal experience of Scripture reading can be a vital link to a resurgence of the power of the Bible and its teachings in the life of believers and in the lives of their churches.

My point here is simple:  If you want to hear from God in your services, read the Bible and listen for His voice there.  Songs are wonderful, and sermons are nice, but to hear directly from Him increase the use of Scripture reading in your services.

Now What? Worship AFTER Easter…

Now What?

Now that the great Easter services are over, what do we do?  How do we top that?

I have found over the years that churches, pastors, worship leaders and music planners have a tendency to create such grandiose worship services for Easter, that the following week(s) are something of a let-down.  After the hours and hours of work and preparation, rehearsal, and the adrenaline rush of Easter morning, we get tired.  And it shows.

I don’t write this in order to take away from the importance of great and celebrative worship.  We certainly see examples of this in Scripture, when His people see God move they are often moved to celebration.  I’m reminded of the festival-like procession and worship that Nehemiah led after completing the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Two choirs, all the officials in attendance, and an enormous feast!

In fact, our Christian year seems to “bounce” from one grand celebration to the next.  From Christmas to Easter to other events that are liturgically based as well as cultural.  Yet, the intervening weeks sometimes exist as if in a mist.  The march of the Sunday to Sunday schedule is relentless, and even after the BIG EVENT the next week is just a few days away.  So what do we do?  How do we keep up and keep fresh?

Well, ideas may abound to work through these things.  Some churches have the ability to draw on resources of multiple teams of people to plan and lead worship, which allows them to plan for and execute the next Sunday’s needs with a fresh perspective and fresh people.  Others have leaders that apparently have abundant energy.  No need for a break, they just keep going and going (like that pink bunny in the commercials).

Yet, there are many churches and leaders that don’t have such resources of people or energy.  One suggestion I have is to be purposeful about quietness and reflection.  The members of the congregation may be experiencing some exhaustion from Easter activities as well, not to mention that some Spring Break activity goes on in the same time frame.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Review the story of Christ’s appearances following the Resurrection. Consider what it may have been like for those who saw Him.  How might that idea work in a worship service?
  • Spend time in the service reflecting on the coming summer months – what is God preparing for your congregation? How might we bring redemption into the lives of those God has put in our paths?
  • Consider the grandeur of God and the ascension of Christ to His right hand? What might it be like in their presence?

These are only a few thoughts.  The flow of worship from week to week should follow the “warp and woof” of life.  Just like we celebrate in life, we must also get on with the daily life of work.

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