Author Archives: marksooy
During 2018 WorshipThink! is being developed into a new book indexed by topic. Included will be new material on technology, worship planning, and other practical aspects of weekly worship preparation.
Until then, this site is still searchable for topics related to worship. We will keep you updated!!
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!
The need to be relevant may be at the heart of more difficulties than the modern church realizes. In our day of highly produced Worship Programs, one wonders whether these events really produce worship, or whether it is relevant in spite of the pursuit of revalence.
Being relevant is important. We want to speak to people in terms of their real lives, their real struggles and the real world in which we live. If you visit the main site of the Worldview Church at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview (www.colsoncenter.org), you can do a search with the word “relevant” and find many articles dealing with the topic.
The pursuit of relevance, however, by many post-modern churches is a cause for concern. Although many herald their ministries as following the example of Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17), close examination of their message and methods falls short of Paul’s actual ministry there.
Paul used idioms and references of the culture of Athens as a basis for the presentation of Truth: that there is a God that exists and is Creator and Lord of all things; that this God takes no form, yet mankind seeks for Him; that this God will hold mankind accountable and desires their repentance; and, finally, that Jesus Christ, having risen from the dead, is proof of God’s intervention in this world and will judge its inhabitants.
Many modern claimants to this method pursue relevance and cultural connection, but fall short of Paul’s unapologetic declaration of Truth. These churches, and those that lead them, seem to skirt the real issues of Truth and link their success at being “relevant” to positive press reports and large attendance. There is an excellent article at Touchstone Magazine by Russell Moore which articulates some of these thoughts in depth titled, “Retaking Mars Hill: Paul didn’t build bridges to popular culture.” I would encourage you to read it.
I place this pursuit of relevance in the arena of “entertainment” for this reason: It seems to me at the heart of the desire for relevance is simply that many simply want to be popular.
There is something not-quite-right with the image which portrays the average “contemporary” church worship experience. Without much imagination I can see the image in my mind because I’ve seen it so many times in magazines, in advertisements, and in videos of such churches. There are no windows. The lighting focuses all attention on the stage, and the sound system is state of the art. It’s a large auditorium seating several thousand. The seats are set up in some kind of semi-circle. The stage is crowded with variously dressed people – some shabbily, others somewhat nice. Some people are raising their hands, others have their eyes closed. Some guy with a guitar stands in the center in some worship-relevant pose. The audience, as well, is in various postures of “worship.”
When I see these pictures, I wonder. I wonder what would happen if we placed a popular non-Christian artist on the same stage? I wonder if performers on the concert stage often use the same mannerisms as those in a contemporary church (or is it vice versa)? I wonder if the lighting or sound production would be any different in a modern concert compared to one of these church settings? I wonder if the response of the audience would be much different towards the secular music star and the Christian music star, in that the audience shows various postures of worship in both settings? I wonder if we watched a YouTube video of a contemporary church performance with the sound off, if we could really tell the difference between that and the average rock concert with the sound turned off?
I wonder if this is really what Paul intended when he preached on Mars Hill – and became the poster boy for all things “culturally relevant”?
This focus on performance is accentuated by the volume level of modern church settings. I work regularly with many people in the planning and leading of corporate worship services. One of the underlying frustrations of those leading is their feeling of being disconnected with those they are leading. This is often caused by the need for performers to have their sound levels high enough to hear themselves and perform well, thus eliminating (or at least diminishing) their ability to hear the rest of the “community.” If a performer uses ear bud monitors, then they are completely cut off — which is a theological quagmire, and sets the leader in solid footing as a performer completely separated from those they are supposedly leading.
That this undermines the “communal” sense of corporate worship is significant. The modern needs of performer require that volumes on stage be loud enough for the musician to both hear their own performance, as well as those of the other musicians (or by using ear buds). Once that monitor level is set, the house speakers must be loud enough to provide a blanket of sound throughout the auditorium (whether it is a sanctuary or a gym) so that the “mix” approaches the quality of what the audience regularly hears in other forms of entertainment (concerts, radio, movies).
Once all of those volumes levels are set, it is often the case that the congregation can no longer be heard over the sound of the monitors and main speakers. In this sense, a communal sense is lost for we are no longer having a common experience of worship. If you pay attention, you will note that this causes some in a congregation to simply stop participating. Not only can they not hear those around them, but they can barely hear themselves. They stop singing and become spectators.
This, in part, is why the modern worship band often appears more as entertainers than worship leaders. The community of worshipers may not be actually having a communal experience, but play the part of an audience at a show.
We must rethink these things. The initial impetus for relevance has spiraled downward into a church culture that experiences little of real corporate worship, but excellent examples of how to entertain the masses that come to see them perform.
(Original Post on July 31, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.colsoncenter.org/worshiparts/articles/20136-does-worship-production-really-produce-worship)
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12)
The stylistic differences in corporate worship abound in today’s church. Although more modern forms of music have made inroads into the church setting, this has not necessarily led to the abandonment of liturgical forms, by which I mean the overall structure of the worship service. For example, many church traditions refer to the main pastor as the “Worship Leader.” Although others might lead songs, say prayers, or read from Scripture, in this view the overall responsibility for leading the worship service is with the pastor. It is the role of the pastor to plan and oversee all elements of public worship. On the other hand, many churches have an individual designated as the “Worship Leader” who does little speaking in front of the congregation (such as a pastor would do), but is considered the one responsible for constructing the “worship” elements of the service including music, readings, drama, etc.
The common idea is that corporate worship is dependent upon leadership. With this in mind, some of my recent reading has reminded me once again of the importance of being dependent upon God in our leadership of worship. We must be ready and willing for the Holy Spirit to move and guide us in all aspects of planning, rehearsing and ultimately performing the various aspects of a worship service.
That Jesus knew this was apparent. Our passage (above) notes that Jesus spent hours in communion with the Father. This particular passage refers to the night prior to His appointing of the Twelve Apostles is an illustration of the importance of prayer in making important decisions. Yet, in the same way, Jesus often slipped away to pray as part of His regular pattern of ministry. It is obvious that His ministry thrived because He was intimately connected to the Father by prayer.
There are many faithful saints who have recognized the importance of prayer in ministry, and I share the following quotes from just two men who saw the results of prayer in their own lives. Although these quotes refer to the pulpit, or to preaching, or to the preacher, I would like to suggest that as our modern churches have developed a wider presence of responsible leaders in front of the congregation, that these words apply to the pastor and the worship leader equally.
If you are a leader of a congregation from week to week, place yourself into these quotes.
A.W. Tozer, with his usual laser-like insights, reminds us that our effectiveness before the church on the platform is dependent upon our effectiveness with God in prayer. He wrote:
“No man should stand before an audience who has not first stood before God. Many hours of communion should precede one hour in the pulpit. The prayer chamber should be more familiar than the public platform. Schools teach everything about preaching except the important part, praying. The best any school can do is to recommend prayer and exhort to its practice. Praying itself must be the work of the individual. That it is the one religious work which gets done with the least enthusiasm cannot but be one of the tragedies of our times!”
Another author, E.M. Bounds, had a significant influence on Jim Cymbala and the prayer ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Page after page of his writings demonstrate not simply a philosophy of prayer and its importance, but he wrote from an intimate acquaintance of the reality of the power of prayer. Note the emphasis on the power that prayer brings to the leadership of the church:
“If prayer be left out of account, the preacher rises to no higher level than the lecturer, the politician, or the secular teacher. That which distinguishes him from all other public speakers is the fact of prayer. And as prayer deals with God, this means that the preacher has God with him, while other speakers do not need God with them to make their public messages effective.”
He goes on to show the reality of the work of prayer. Bounds knows it to be a serious undertaking that must be cultivated and developed in private in order for ministry to be effective in public.
“The prayer which makes much of our preaching must itself be made much of. The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Serious praying will give serious weight to preaching. Prayer makes preaching strong, give it unction, and make it stick…It cannot be said with too much emphasis, the preacher musts be preeminently a man of prayer.”
I like that he connects our praying to our character. I think this is more than just style, but really speaks to our inner man. When we are dependent upon God for the power and effectiveness of our sermons, our music leading and even our public praying, then we are truly laying aside our pride in our own giftedness and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring His Word and truth to the hearts and minds of people. For this privilege, we should be thankful and grateful.
May we, as leaders, be preeminent people of prayer!