Category Archives: Leadership
I continue to wonder how closely those who plan and lead worship really read the lyrics of songs used in corporate worship. In addition to many obvious theological and biblical errors found in modern songs, there seem to be many songs cropping up lately that assume all those who participate in worship should feel, respond, or believe in a particular way. At times, I find myself distracted by the lyrics and begin to reflect on whether I should really be singing those words, making those commitments, or assuming those convictions.
In the effort to sing the latest and greatest songs churned out by the industry, and played excessively on Christian radio, worshipers have been exposed to sentiments that may neither be biblical nor spiritually healthy. The responsibility for filtering the lyrical content for corporate worship falls squarely on the shoulders of pastors and worship planners, but few seem to really be paying much attention. It seems that sentimentality and feelings rule the day, rather than clear theology (which is one of the purposes for corporate worship, as I’ve written previously).
Although it does not take long to find examples in a quick review of the most popular worship songs, to quote specific songs in evidence would be counterproductive. In conversations about such matters, I find that people get defensive rather than thoughtful. They assume these observations regarding the content of worship are somehow reflecting their personal spirituality, and certainly to attack a favorite song decreases the likelihood of careful consideration and response.
In light of this, let me describe in general terms what I have noticed, and allow you to consider the songs you are asked to sing during worship in coming weeks. Ask yourself if you can make the commitments that are assumed in the lyrics. Do you really believe what you are singing? Are you willing to do whatever the lyrics are committing you to do? Listen carefully, review the lyrics, and sing as both your head and heart are able.
Example 1: Songs that say, “I will bow, lift up my hands, dance…”
Admittedly, some churches are less physically engaged in worship than others. In fact, some people in churches would be shocked at someone who might actually do one or all of these things. Yet, these kinds of sentiments are in the worship music even in churches that discourage such demonstrations.
Example 2: Songs that say, “I will give up everything, leave it all behind, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Jesus…”
It seems to me that this kind of sentiment must be stated in a figurative way, rather than a literal way, since we seldom see this kind of sacrifice in the Protestant tradition. (However, the Catholic tradition does demonstrate this in some of its religious orders.)
Example 3: Songs that say, “My experience of God makes Him real, and this song is about that experience which you can have, too…”
In spite of our desire to experience God, our experience is the result of Him being real and engaging those He loves. God remains real and faithful in spite of our experience, and to pin our faith on our experience places it on shifting sand.
“So that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres.” (Nehemiah 12:27)
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 (and other major holidays), that the following weeks 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!
“Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; and the priests…with the trumpets… And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar. (Nehemiah 12:40-43)
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 (until they burn out!).
Yet, there are many churches and leaders that don’t have such resources of people or energy. Let me share a few suggestions that can give you a change of pace, and that might be welcomed by either your worship planners and leaders, or the congregation (and maybe both!).
First, try to avoid big holiday celebrations!
Yes, what you read is what I meant. There are several churches that I have served in which we avoided a big Christmas production and instead planned a very special Thanksgiving service the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We included choirs and solos and testimonies and preaching – just like any holiday service. The difference was that we spent all of our preparation time in September through mid-November, and then we were done. We celebrated the Christmas season in a much more relaxed atmosphere as a result, and the Church gave a needed “rest” to families needing more time during the holiday.
A Second idea is to plan a “mini event” each month.
You might think that would be a lot of extra work, but in fact it is an opportunity to involve others in significant ways in worship. For example, there may be a small group of men or women that would enjoy putting together a package of songs to sing, and maybe even participate in leading the congregational singing. They could be scheduled two or three times a year. Many churches have children’s choirs that could be scheduled more than at Christmas and Easter. Why not let the Youth groups plan a service two or three times per year? These ideas, if scheduled in advance, can allow those planning the “bigger” services to get a break, and yet provide the congregation with some very enjoyable services.
A Third is to be Purposeful …
A final suggestion I have leads us back to the need of these next few weeks, now that Easter is behind us. My thought 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 several ways that this could function:
- 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. Some days seem to be more wonderful and wondrous, and others mundane – yet all are to be lived under the Lordship of Christ, the resurrected Lord!
(Original Post on April 21, 2014 at the Worldview Church)
As a follow up on my article regarding architecture and décor, let me make a few observations regarding the visual focus of worship. What do I mean by “visual focus”? As someone sits in the congregation (or audience), looking at the front of your sanctuary (or auditorium), what do they see? What is the focus of the space based on what they see with their eyes? Without any knowledge of the purpose of your building, would be obvious from what they see that you worship Jesus Christ? Would there be any indication of the Trinitarian aspects of our worship?
This thought came flooding into my mind recently as I walked into the sanctuary of a church and was struck by something which was very instructive. As we find in many churches in our western world, the platform had been transformed into a stage, complete with all the trappings of modern worship – sound equipment, drum shields, monitors, and a kind of drapery that was used as a backdrop. This kind of setup is so common in churches, that it’s often a shock to find anything different.
But what does it say? What is the focus? Based on what we see, the focus is on the performance aspect of the service, and is not too much different than attending a concert. The focus is the performers. To underscore this, the pulpit (more like a stand to hold a book or notes) was moved to the side in order to avoid blocking the main focus on the performance of the band.
To top it off, as I looked at this particular sanctuary from the back, I noted an interesting twist. There was a Bible located to one side of the stage, down on the floor level, almost in the corner. It was displayed in a kind of “shrine” setting and almost appeared as a museum display.
Please understand that this church probably preaches from the Bible during its services. I am not analyzing their spoken word, I am observing the unspoken words. What we find, in church after church, is that many do not realize the message they are sending without words. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that speaking without words is a vital part of our communication as we seek to share the message of Jesus Christ (see Psalm 19).
What is to be done? Clearly, most churches never consider the visual messages they are sending – except as they prepare PPTs or printed materials to present them in a professional manner. In other words, they are concerned with the branding and image of their church, but not with the image of Christ as portrayed visually in their sanctuary.
It would certainly be refreshing to see a church holistically think about architecture, décor and visual messaging. However, I’m afraid the trap of modern worship does not allow for this kind of holistic thinking.
I have written previously on this blog about the visits I have made to church buildings that show, in their architecture and décor, the message of Jesus Christ. Many sanctuaries in cathedral style churches are actually in the shape of a cross. Some churches have paintings, reliefs, sculptures and stained glass windows that show specific aspects of biblical stories or doctrinal truth. For more modern structures, one might see large metal sculptures on the grounds that depict various messages, such as Christ on the cross. In addition, modern churches often have a “flair” that lifts the eyes heavenward built into the experience of the space.
Even though some of the congregations in these churches no longer proclaim the gospel, we find that the very nature of their buildings proclaim the good news. Having been designed in this way, we realize that the designers and architects continue to proclaim the message of Christ – even many years after the building was completed. The fullness of allowing the lordship of Christ show in their work has made that message endure.
In contrast to this, there continues to be a disturbing trend among churches today to make their spaces as common as possible. For the last 40+ years we see church buildings looking more like warehouses, office buildings, and large corporate facilities. There is little in the architecture that helps the passerby know what the buildings are used for, or who resides within.
Beyond this, there are many examples of church structures that continue to look like a traditional “church” on the outside, but upon entering one might discover that every attempt has been made to remove the “churchiness” that might be represented. Black ceilings, covered windows, stage lighting, and an obvious lack of aesthetic display of Christian truth in any way is the trend of the day. It seems that Christians want to do all they can to not appear to be Christians.
Of course, I know all the pragmatic points that are brought into a discussion like this. A Church must be “inviting” for the visitor. The sanctuary must be multi-purpose room. The budget will only support things that are “practical” and useful. Art is a waste of money. On and on it goes.
What this really shows, however, is a significant lack of holistic theological understanding. It does not take long to read through the descriptions of the Tabernacle or the Temple in the Old Testament to discover God’s interest in art – for beauty and creative expression. The very nature of the design of these worship buildings was to say something without using words!
In a Christian Worldview, we must recognize the opportunity being missed. Our architecture and décor can proclaim Christ in ways that we just cannot do with words. Our faith is a full faith, holistically spanning every part of life, not just a faith of words and text and ideas. This is a faith for our eyes as well, but we would never know it when looking at many churches today.