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Worship – From Closet to Platform

Closet Door

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.

E.M. Bounds:

“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!

 

*Tozer quote from “Renewed Day by Day:  A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980), for January 10.
**Bounds quotes from “The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer” by E.M. Bounds (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1990), pages 413-414.
(Original Post on January 30, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.breakpoint.org/worshiparts/articles/19181-from-closet-to-platform)
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First Think, Then Worship!

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Actions Flow from Beliefs

Scripture regularly points out that our actions are the result of our thinking.  More specifically—right actions result from correct thinking (1 Peter 1:13-16; Eph 4:20-24; 1 John 2:3-6; and others).  Over and over again we are told to “prepare your minds for action,” (1 Peter 1:13), or to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23), or to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Should we wonder that these same admonitions also apply to our worship?  We all have heard horror stories about church splits as a result of changes in worship methods and styles.  The tales of “worship wars,” in which opposing sides battle to place their preferred style of worship as pre-eminent over other styles, are only too familiar within the last twenty or more years.  The striking truth of the matter is that much of this upheaval has little to do with worship style, although that is where the battle seems to rage.  In reality, the underlying issue in these “worship wars” is a shortsighted and shallow philosophical and theological understanding about worship itself.  Unfortunately, this shortage of insight resides in both the leadership and the laity.

If the right belief system can be established concerning worship, then extremes that cause divisions might possibly be avoided.  As mentioned earlier, our thinking will direct and determine our actions.  Thus, correct thinking about worship will guide our practice of worship.  This will include a solid, broadly defined theological understanding of worship based upon Scripture.  Our Scriptural and in turn theological understanding will lead to the transformation of our daily Christian walk.  It will also include a realignment of some forms or patterns of corporate worship.  Finally, it will allow for a complete experience of worship in all of its joy, sorrow and other emotions.

Theological Foundation

Recognizing the importance of our thinking is essentially a call for theological renewal.  This theological renewal is at the heart of how we think about worship and is much broader than simply doing a study on worship as it found in various Biblical texts.  Our theology of worship must be based upon a holistic understanding and foundation of what God meant for our relationship with Him.  What it was like at the beginning, what happened that distorted it so grossly, and what He has done to restore (redeem) us to Himself.  This pattern of thought—creation, fall, and redemption—is the classic pattern used in discussing worldview systems.  Ultimately, our theology of worship unfolds out of our own worldview.  Only in this broad-based picture can we truly develop theology which is both consistent with Scripture and tradition, yet adapts itself to our modern times and situations.

It is, therefore, imperative that we seek to mold our view of worship to one that is grounded in Scripture.  We must seek renewal, not based upon new methods and theories, but by renewing our minds and hearts based on a study of God’s word.  It is time to redeem worship theory and practice and return to foundational truths that transverse denominations, styles and cultures.  It is, in short, time for reform. A.W. Tozer said it pointedly:

“Every spiritual problem is at bottom theological.  Its solution will depend upon the teaching of the Holy Scriptures plus a correct understanding of that teaching.  That correct understanding constitutes a spiritual philosophy, that is, a viewpoint, a high vantage ground from which the whole landscape may be seen at once, each detail appearing in its proper relation to everyone else.  Once such a vantage ground is gained, we are in a position to evaluate any teaching or interpretation that is offered us in the name of truth.” (A.W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1973, pg. 36-37.)

Tozer’s words continue to speak to the heart of what ails many churches today in the area of worship—theologically, philosophically and methodologically.  There is no shortage of opinions out there floating through cyber-space, and in print, that fall short of recognizing the foundational theological issues that face our churches in the area of worship.

I hope that my thoughts will be a continuation of the discussion of worship theology.  By saying this, I wish to recognize and appreciate the many men and women who have gone before me studying, struggling, practicing and writing on this subject—from whom I have studied, struggled, practiced and written.  I also realize that my treatment of the subject of worship might be somewhat atypical in comparison to other studies.

There has been a lot of good work done in the last thirty years in the study and advancement of worship as a discipline and activity of the church.  As I review the books on my shelf, and think through the various lines of discussion in current circles, it seems that much of what has been written deals with methodology.  Whether it is revival and renewal in liturgical worship, focus and organization in “free” worship or a combination of the two, most topics deal with the practical aspects of the public or corporate worship service.  Most often, the focus is on music—what is right, what is wrong, why we are right, why they are wrong, etc.

What I have not found in my reading and study is more than a few authors dealing with what I perceive as the heart of the matter, that is, what I would call a “theology of worship.”  As you encounter this, and other portions of my writing, you will begin to understand why I feel this is so important, and why my discussion of worship will take unusual turns from the common patterns associated with this topic.  I hope it will both encourage and challenge you to think further and deeper in regards to worship.

Please read with a heart of prayer, curiosity to explore further, a mind ready to stretch and grow, and a whole life desirous and willing to honor God in all that you do.  In this journey, I will gladly join you.

 

(This is an excerpt from Mark Sooy’s book, The Life of Worship: Rethink, Reform, Renew available through the links at www.MarkSooy.com)

 

First Think, Then Worship!

Actions Flow from Beliefs

Scripture regularly points out that our actions are the result of our thinking.  More specifically—right actions result from correct thinking (1 Peter 1:13-16; Eph 4:20-24; 1 John 2:3-6; and others).  Over and over again we are told to “prepare your minds for action,” (1 Peter 1:13), or to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23), or to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Should we wonder that these same admonitions also apply to our worship?  We all have heard horror stories about church splits as a result of changes in worship methods and styles.  The tales of “worship wars,” in which opposing sides battle to place their preferred style of worship as pre-eminent over other styles, are only too familiar within the last twenty or more years.  The striking truth of the matter is that much of this upheaval has little to do with worship style, although that is where the battle seems to rage.  In reality, the underlying issue in these “worship wars” is a shortsighted and shallow philosophical and theological understanding about worship itself.  Unfortunately, this shortage of insight resides in both the leadership and the laity.

If the right belief system can be established concerning worship, then extremes that cause divisions might possibly be avoided.  As mentioned earlier, our thinking will direct and determine our actions.  Thus, correct thinking about worship will guide our practice of worship.  This will include a solid, broadly defined theological understanding of worship based upon Scripture.  Our Scriptural and in turn theological understanding will lead to the transformation of our daily Christian walk.  It will also include a realignment of some forms or patterns of corporate worship.  Finally, it will allow for a complete experience of worship in all of its joy, sorrow and other emotions.

Theological Foundation

Recognizing the importance of our thinking is essentially a call for theological renewal.  This theological renewal is at the heart of how we think about worship and is much broader than simply doing a study on worship as it found in various Biblical texts.  Our theology of worship must be based upon a holistic understanding and foundation of what God meant for our relationship with Him.  What it was like at the beginning, what happened that distorted it so grossly, and what He has done to restore (redeem) us to Himself.  This pattern of thought—creation, fall, and redemption—is the classic pattern used in discussing worldview systems.  Ultimately, our theology of worship unfolds out of our own worldview.  Only in this broad-based picture can we truly develop theology which is both consistent with Scripture and tradition, yet adapts itself to our modern times and situations.

It is, therefore, imperative that we seek to mold our view of worship to one that is grounded in Scripture.  We must seek renewal, not based upon new methods and theories, but by renewing our minds and hearts based on a study of God’s word.  It is time to redeem worship theory and practice and return to foundational truths that transverse denominations, styles and cultures.  It is, in short, time for reform. A.W. Tozer said it pointedly:

“Every spiritual problem is at bottom theological.  Its solution will depend upon the teaching of the Holy Scriptures plus a correct understanding of that teaching.  That correct understanding constitutes a spiritual philosophy, that is, a viewpoint, a high vantage ground from which the whole landscape may be seen at once, each detail appearing in its proper relation to everyone else.  Once such a vantage ground is gained, we are in a position to evaluate any teaching or interpretation that is offered us in the name of truth.” (A.W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1973, pg. 36-37.)

Tozer’s words continue to speak to the heart of what ails many churches today in the area of worship—theologically, philosophically and methodologically.  There is no shortage of opinions out there floating through cyber-space, and in print, that fall short of recognizing the foundational theological issues that face our churches in the area of worship.

I hope that my thoughts will be a continuation of the discussion of worship theology.  By saying this, I wish to recognize and appreciate the many men and women who have gone before me studying, struggling, practicing and writing on this subject—from whom I have studied, struggled, practiced and written.  I also realize that my treatment of the subject of worship might be somewhat atypical in comparison to other studies.

There has been a lot of good work done in the last thirty years in the study and advancement of worship as a discipline and activity of the church.  As I review the books on my shelf, and think through the various lines of discussion in current circles, it seems that much of what has been written deals with methodology.  Whether it is revival and renewal in liturgical worship, focus and organization in “free” worship or a combination of the two, most topics deal with the practical aspects of the public or corporate worship service.  Most often, the focus is on music—what is right, what is wrong, why we are right, why they are wrong, etc.

What I have not found in my reading and study is more than a few authors dealing with what I perceive as the heart of the matter, that is, what I would call a “theology of worship.”  As you encounter this, and other portions of my writing, you will begin to understand why I feel this is so important, and why my discussion of worship will take unusual turns from the common patterns associated with this topic.  I hope it will both encourage and challenge you to think further and deeper in regards to worship.

Please read with a heart of prayer, curiosity to explore further, a mind ready to stretch and grow, and a whole life desirous and willing to honor God in all that you do.  In this journey, I will gladly join you.

 

(This is an excerpt from Mark Sooy’s book, The Life of Worship: Rethink, Reform, Renew available through the links at www.MarkSooy.com)

 

(Original Post on July 3, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19996-first-think-then-worship)

AW Tozer – Worship Begins at Creation

In the beginning, God… (Genesis 1:1)

One of the purposes of the Worldview Church is to help those in church leadership think clearly about the worldview implications. What the church teaches and how the people live out this teaching is to reflect the redemptive activity of Christ in the world.  In particular, the Worship Arts pages focus upon themes that help us toward this ends.

We turn again to A.W. Tozer’s writings, a Christian thinker and theologian whose observations are as applicable today as they were in the mid-20th Century.  In his unique way, Tozer reminds us that the focus—no matter what kind of artistic expression is used—ought to draw our attention to a broader perspective. Tozer’s words strike of both observation and warning.

It is characteristic of the unregenerate man that he sees God only in nature, and of the immature Christian that he can see God only in grace!

Because sin has injured us so deeply and because the whole transaction of repentance and deliverance from the guilt and power of iniquity makes such a mighty impression upon us emotionally, we naturally tend to appreciate the work of God in redemption more than in nature.”

That we “naturally tend to appreciate the work of God in redemption more than in nature” reveals a misunderstanding of the importance of creation in the redemptive story.  In fact, one could say that redemption is pointless without a “good” creation fashioned by a good God, one that was subsequently plunged into darkness because of Adam’s sin.  It was because God loved mankind, as well as His whole created order, that He sent Christ to repair the damage of sin.

But everything God does is praiseworthy and deserves our deepest admiration.  Whether He is redeeming mankind or creating a world, He is perfect in all His doings and glorious in all His goings forth.”

Tozer does not ignore the reality of the great salvation that comes to us through faith in the Lord Jesus.  He recognizes that our hearts naturally are drawn to this demonstration of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8).

Yet the long, long ages, however far they may carry us into the mysteries of God, will still find us singing the praises of the Lamb that was slain.  For it is hardly conceivable that we sinners can ever forget the wormwood and the gall.

We human sinners above all other creatures have benefited by His grace, so it is altogether natural that we above all others should magnify the blood that bought us and the mercy that pardons our sins.”

So it is proper and right for our hymnals and song books to be filled with praises for the redemptive work of Christ on our behalf.  Although all of creation was infected with sin, and succumbs to its effects, it is Adam’s race into which Christ entered. As it was on this earth that sin’s corrupting influence began, so it was here, as a Man, that Christ’s redemptive work began.

Therefore, Tozer draws our thoughts back to creation itself.

Yet we glorify God’s redeeming grace no less when we glorify His creating and sustaining power.  If we miss seeing God in His works we deprive ourselves of the sight of a royal display of wisdom and power so elevating, so ennobling, so awe-inspiring as to make all attempts at description futile.  Such a sight the angels behold day and night forever and ask nothing more to make them perpetually satisfied!”

With this grand vision, Tozer paints a broad stroke by associating meaningful worship with God’s grace in His work of creation.

It was by grace that God created the world out of His infinite love. Nothing in God’s created order deserved to be created.  In other words, within the Godhead, all things were done by His unmerited favor (grace).  He loved, He spoke, He created.

Ultimately, He created man in His own image to rule the earth as His representative.  Again, this was an act of grace, for Adam had done nothing to deserve such a great honor.  He was granted this honor by God solely because He desired to do so, and He enlisted man and woman as part of the means to do so.

After Adam’s sin and disobedience, we immediately see God’s grace continue to favor mankind in His planning and preparation for the redemption to be found in Christ, the One who would “bruise His heal” on the serpent’s head.

We see the fulfillment of God’s grace poured out upon us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  His redemption flows not only to His chosen but also to all of creation. In other words, God’s grace comes full circle as we—those He has redeemed—join Him in this redemptive work.  It is in the midst of His work through us that we find ourselves praising Him for all of His grace, both in creation and redemption!

*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day:  A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).

(Original Post on June 19, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19917-worship-begins-at-creation-)

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