Category Archives: Music

The Correct Way to Worship in the Church

The correct way to worship in the church.

That’s a loaded statement.  And, it’s one we need to discuss.  While the answer may elude us, and more questions may arise than answers, the way we worship in our various churches is a serious matter that needs to be part of a larger conversation that includes culture, society, and the rise of secularism we’re witnessing right now.

Our ship is taking on water, and some, instead of bailing, are filling up the boat by the bucketfuls.

Identifying the Problem

In our worship meetings, it is often difficult to distinguish between worship of an almighty God and the concert arena.  All manner of elements have become part of our worship, and it is difficult to distinguish between the sacred and secular.  What is part of one can easily be imported from the other.  Music, with it’s performance cousins sound and lighting, are at times indistinguishable from the concert in the arena.  Preaching, too, can resemble a self-help book or an afternoon “fix-your-life” TV show.  The line between sacred and profane is, at times, blurred at best.

If you’re an 80 year-old, don’t blame me.  It’s not my fault.  And, I (a 53 year-old), will certainly not place blame on those 20-something year-old worship leaders.  We – all of us – have simply repeated history.

It’s His Fault

The line between sacred and secular in our worship services was blurred a long time ago by a guy named Constantine.  In the early 4th century, Constantine, the emperor of the Roman world, legalized Christianity.  No longer were Christians persecuted for their beliefs.  No longer were they seen as a problem in the empire.  Instead, Christians, who had to make a deliberate decision to follow in The Way, could come out into the open and live their faith.  They were free…and free to worship.

What once was done in secret in a believer’s house, could now be done in the middle of the city in the temple.  Preachers could wear their robes, singers could sing louder, and everyone could attend the weekly gathering of saints.  From the catacombs to the city square, believers made the joyous procession to worship God.

However, the gatherings that once focused on the “writings of the Apostles”, to praying, to giving alms, to caring for the widow and orphan, and breaking bread to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, became infected from the outside.  All those who now freely came brought with them their previous pagan practices and slowly, surely incorporated them into Christian worship.  What was once a singular expression of believers was now being corrupted by a pagan, or secular, society.

The Liturgy

In the book Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views, Timothy Quill, a Lutheran pastor, proposes a focus on the historic Liturgy of the church.  The liturgy is simply the elements included in worship, and may be a word many are unfamiliar with.

Liturgy – from the Greek leitourgia – is used in the New Testament man times whenever worship is discussed.  The word literally means public service, and in the early church referred to the acts of worship.  It’s from that Greek word that we get ‘liturgy’, and it is used to describe what we do as a church when we worship.

Before you dismiss the word, thinking that your church doesn’t incorporate a liturgy in its Sunday gatherings, know that your church does indeed have a liturgy.  It may be an unintentional liturgy, but it’s a liturgy, nonetheless.

Think about your Sunday morning service.  How does it usually begin? An upbeat song?  And then, what usually follows that? A prayer? And then, some more songs, and so on?  That pattern, that weekly way of doing worship at your church is a liturgy.  It’s the accepted way and followed by your congregation weekly, and it says a lot about your church.

Quill tells us that “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church.  Liturgy articulates doctrine.”  That means how you worship says much about what you believe.  Some churches observe communion every Sunday.  Others will have a time set aside for manifestation of spiritual gifts.  Others will sing a few songs, then hear an hour-long sermon.  Still, others will read scripture from a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel.  All of it says much about what is important to you and your church.

What Liturgy Should Do

In his article, Quill clearly states that liturgy is not style.  Music is not limited by preferences.  Preaching, too, is not a stylistic issue.  While we all have preferences, we can’t equate those to liturgy.  Liturgy has one purpose, and that is to reflect the gospel.

In some churches, the liturgy will be divided into the liturgy of the Word (preaching and scripture) and the liturgy of the Table (the Lord’s Supper).  Within these two parts is the opportunity to express the gospel – who God is, who man is, what Christ has done, and how we respond.

Quill goes on to say that the liturgy provides “a common biblical and theological understanding of how man acts in God’s presence and, more importantly, how God has chosen to be present and how God acts towards those gathered in his name.”

My Conclusion

A liturgy will help us stayed focused on God and the gospel.  It will help us, too, keep the secular influences out of our worship, an act of public service that is unique to believers who celebrate the gospel.  If we are to be an influence in our society, then we must focus on what makes us different and what gives us hope – God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Focusing on the gospel in our worship is the correct way to worship.  Any time we stray from that, and allow something other than the gospel to be proclaimed and lived, we become no different from the pagans.

Let our liturgy proclaim the gospel.

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Issues in Worship: Manipulation

Today is the fourth post of several where I’ll address some of the issues I’ve noticed in leading worship over the past 20+ years.  Ultimately, all of the issues I’ll address find their root in the heart, and are given wings with our pride. 

revival preacher 4I remember it like it was yesterday.

The revival pastor would preach a fiery, animated message and, as he would come to the close of his sermon, he’d share a story that would go something like this:

I preached in a revival a while back, and the local pastor and I went to visit a family where the father was not a believer.  His wife was a Christian, and she was faithful to the church.  And, she was faithful to bring the children every time the doors were opened.  But, for some reason, the father wouldn’t attend.  I asked him if he would come to the services that night, and he said he would.

At the end of the message, I gave an invitation to come forward.  The father was there, and I could tell the Spirit was working in his life, but he just wouldn’t take that one step into the aisle and come forward.  The invitation ended and we closed the service.

Later that night, on the way home, the father was killed in tragic automobile accident.  He died, not knowing Jesus as his Savior.  And, that wife and mother, and those children will never get to see their daddy again in heaven, because he’s not a Christian.

So, with “every head bowed and every eye closed,” the revivalist made the plea with all of us there that night to come forward and accept Jesus, because, you never know, you could be like that father and die before you have the chance to ask Jesus into your heart…

I don’t know…maybe the story was true.  But, I have to admit, I’m skeptical.  It seemed like every evangelist had a story almost identical to that one.  After a while, I felt manipulated.

The definition of manipulation is this:

…to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.

Revivalists are not alone in the tactic of manipulation.  Worship leaders do it, too.  And, pastors, as well.  It’s a “full steam ahead” approach to get worshippers to respond to something, anything.  And, it’s sin.

Trusting God?

When we, as worship leaders, use something to manipulate those worshipping, it says that we don’t trust God.  We don’t trust his sovereign work of salvation in the lives of those present.  We don’t trust in the power of the Gospel.  We don’t trust in the working of the Spirit to open the hearts and minds of people to hear the Gospel.  In essence, we trust only ourselves to manipulate people to do something – make a decision, sing a song, raise their hands, and so on.

Many times, you’ll see manipulation work out in several ways.  Here are a few:

1.  A look.  Worship leaders and pastors can dress a certain way, style their hair a certain way, and so on to get that “look.”  I suppose it’s an effort to be trendy, current, or contemporary; or, it could be a way to hold on to tradition – like wearing a coat and tie.

2.  An atmosphere. Walk into any place of worship, and you can tell immediately and with accuracy what the worship will be like.  The most evident will be lighting, especially lighting that very subtly changes colors with certain songs or points in a sermon.  Even more, when the stage is brightly lit, and the auditorium is lit dimly or not at all, it’s full on manipulation.  Add some candles, a rug for the worship leader area, some up-lit backdrops, and you’re in for a full on assault.

3.  A style.  This isn’t just worship style.  It’s style of delivery.  The most obvious is the weak, breathy, almost-quivering singing voice that pierces right to the heart.  Dynamics are one thing – music calls for soft and loud – but vocal affectations are a bit much.  And, the same applies to preaching…vocal ups and downs and extreme dynamics can be used as a tool to manipulate the message.

4.  A method.  There are tried and true ways to plan a worship service or sermon that can major on affectations more than the message.

Be faithful

I suppose the point here is that we plan and carry out our worship with excellence.  And, we cannot neglect that we are created with emotions that allow us to express our heart.  Yet, when we, as worship leaders, focus on and “skillfully influence” the emotions of those in worship, we sin.  We show a distrust for God and the gospel.

God is unchanging and is always faithful.  Let us, too, be faithful to who we are as worship leaders and trust God fully as we lead.

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Issues in Worship: Performance

Today is the third post of several where I’ll address some of the issues I’ve noticed in leading worship over the past 20+ years.  Ultimately, all of the issues I’ll address find their root in the heart, and are given wings with our pride. 

Worship_Music_Hands_LiftedI am a worship leader.  Actually, one of many in our church.

Our pastor leads worship.  So, too, does our choir, praise team, instrumentalists and A/V techs.  And, if you’re one who reads scripture or gives a testimony or leads in prayer, you’re leading worship.

If you’re a worship leader, and you’re honest, you’ve dealt with the issue of performance in worship.  From how we sing and play and preach and pray, we can sometimes perform more than we worship.  When that happens, it’s an issue.  A big one.

Much has been said and written regarding performance in our church gatherings.  It’s an issue that worship leaders have had to contend with for ages because we are, by nature, sinful creatures who enjoy, even crave, the accolades.  To rightfully focus our worship towards God, we must constantly check our hearts and minds to make sure that when we stand in the congregation to lead, it’s done with the right intentions.

It’s a good thing

Performance, though, is not by itself a bad thing.  At its most fundamental existence, performance and performer are words that describe any act or person who provides some sort of service in a given setting.  Being a performer can be a good thing.

For example, when you do something – anything – you are a performer in the base sense of the word.  If you hem a garment, mow a lawn, play quarterback for the high school football team, type a document – you are performing a task. Performing a task is not a bad thing.

No…it’s a bad thing

Performance, though, can become corrupted when we are doing something  – anything – that is contrary to who we are.  It’s as though we become actors, transforming ourselves into something we’re not.  That’s when performance in worship becomes an issue.

Here are 4 ways to avoid the issue of performance as you lead in worship:

1.  Be authentic.  When you’re leading worship, be you.  It’s tempting to try to be like someone else, and usually, when we do that, it’s because we want the praise.  If we’re not authentic when we lead worship, the focus can be on us…not God.

2.  Be sensitive to the community.  Leading worship in church means just that…leading.  The purpose is to allow a group of people to do something together.  If we’re singing a song, and I decide to move away from the melody to show my vocal abilities, it can very quickly cease to become corporate worship.  While I may possess a great range in my voice, most in the congregation don’t.  As a worship leader, I have to be sensitive to the dynamics of our congregation so that they can all take part in what we do.

3.  A right view of worship.  When the congregation gathers with the intent of giving glory to God, worship leaders must take the view that it’s about us and God.  If I’m more focused on my performance – how I look, how I sound, what I say between songs – then I’ve lost the right view of what we’re doing.  An active faith can help us keep our eyes and hearts focused on our worship.

4.  Personal prayer (and worship) is a necessity.  To lead worship in the Church, I have to – no, I must – be in a constant state of worship.  This means I need to meet with God daily in prayer, reading His Word, studying His commands – to make His will, and my worship, the affection of my life.  What my heart feels, my mind (and will) put into action.

A faith that lives

To take this a step further, giving glory to God – or worshipping him – can happen in every aspect of my life, every day.  It’s living my faith.  Whatever I do – in my work, my relationships, my recreation – I do it so that God is glorified.

As we struggle to keep pride out of our worship and worship leading, we must remember that we do have to prepare ourselves, both spiritually and musically.  Musicians practice and preachers study so that we can, as the psalmist says, worship “with excellence” (Psalm 33).

As we prepare for worship, we have to constantly be aware that performance in worship is an area where we can be easily attacked, and so we must seek God daily and keep our eyes and hearts focused on him.

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Issues in Worship: The Same God

Today is the second post of several where I’ll address some of the issues I’ve noticed in leading worship over the past 20+ years.  Ultimately, all of the issues I’ll address find their root in the heart, and are given wings with our pride. 

bigstock-Country-Church-5593006Churches are a numerous and varied lot.
On just about every corner in town, especially in the south, there is a church.  If you don’t care for any particular church, just wait a moment…another one will spring up at the local high school or YMCA or vacant downtown building.

Every church is unique.  

There are Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on.  And, then, there are the non-denominational types – or, should I say, hidden-denomination – that put much of their effort attracting a certain crowd or mindset.  You see it mostly in the names – The Experience, ONE Church, The Fellowship at Cedar Creek, Ethos Church.  Unlike a Baptist or Presbyterian Church, you have to enter the building and attend a service to see what they’re about and what they believe (or, maybe, go online).

As Believers, we are called to make disciples.  Jesus gave us this command just as he ascended into into heaven:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

It’s the intent of every denominational church – and every non-denominational church – to make disciples of “all nations.”  All of us want to reach people – the unchurched, the disenfranchised, the seekers – as well as disciple those who are life-long believers.  It’s a task that should be at the forefront of every evangelical group seeking to obey Jesus.

The issue here is worship.

Hear me when I say this…I appreciate and respect all worship styles and leadership.  I understand the dynamic worship-leadersinvolved.  God has created us imago Dei – in His image – which means we, too, can be creative within the guiding rule of Scripture (The point here is not to debate Regulative and Normative principles of worship.)  God can and will use a worship leader sitting on a bar stool as much as a music academic aligned with church choirs.

So, where’s the rub? It’s those who feel their way is the only way, the correct way.

___________________________________

It’s the senior adult who thinks gospel hymns from the 50’s are superior to a spiritual song written in 2014. We worship the same God.

It’s the Baptist who disparages the liturgy of the Episcopalian church. We worship the same God.

It’s the 20-something who thinks real worship is led by a barefoot guy with a guitar and holes in his jeans.  We worship the same God.

It’s the high church parishioner who sneers at a simple, country-church service with a bivocational preacher.  We worship the same God.

It’s the hand-raising church member shouting “Amen!” who is frustrated because no one else seems to get it.  We worship the same God.

It’s the preacher who gets a tattoo so he can have some cred with the people he’s hanging with making a joke that this is no place for suits and ties. We worship the same God.

It’s the stoic, hands-in-their-pocket attender who is so easily angered when people clap and are expressive in worship.  We worship the same God.

___________________________________

We are followers of Christ.  We are part of the kingdom of God.  God is over all and in all and through all.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? (Malachi 2:10 ESV)

Whether you attend a Baptist church with your parents on Sunday morning at 11:00 am, or you go on Tuesday nights to the warehouse gatherings, or you attend an Ash Wednesday service at the local Episcopalian church, you should be able to see and experience and participate in the evidences of God.  In other words, if you are a Believer, you should be able to sing and worship regardless of the place or worship leader or liturgy.  As Paul said to the church in Corinth,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ESV)

In other words, We worship the same God.

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Issues in Worship: Singing

Over the next few days, I’m going to address some of the issues I’ve noticed in leading worship over the past 20+ years.  Ultimately, all of the issues I’ll address find their root in the heart, and are given wings with our pride. 

worshipAs a worship pastor, I have been called to shepherd the local church through and with music.  While leading worship does not require musical skill, my position does.  I’m in charge of a variety of musicians – vocalists and instrumentalists – who use their talent to lead, bless, and encourage the Church.  The intention is to play and sing together with excellence so that the Church can experience one of the biblical ways of giving praise to God.

I love what we do when we gather as the body of Christ to worship God.  Worship is a fundamental need built into allcong_singing of us – we want to and will worship something.  Hopefully, that fundamental need in Christians is to meet together and worship our heavenly Father – by the power of the Spirit – for who he is and what he has done through Jesus Christ, his Son.  Churches will meet on various days to do this, most occurring on Sunday.  We meet together to worship, and one vehicle of expressing our heart, mind, and soul is singing.

Everyone can (and should) sing.

Whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t sing in our worship gatherings, I have to wonder.  Are they physically unable to sing, or do they just not have anything to sing about?  That’s a serious question, and lack of participation in singing in worship may be an indicator of a deeper problem.  Here are a few comments I hear whenever I encourage someone personally to sing:

1.  I can’t sing. Usually, the blame is placed on a former music pastor, or a youth minister, or a parent, or spouse.  If I’ve heard the comment, “____________ told me I couldn’t carry a tune in bucket,” one time, I’ve heard it a hundred times.  It’s a cop out, and it’s an indicator of pride.  Plus, you’re lying…everyone can sing.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2 ESV)

2.  I don’t know the songs we’re singing. At some point, neither did I.  If you want to praise God for who He is and what He’s done for you, learning a new song isn’t difficult.  Follow along on the first verse and chorus, and join from there.  Once you’re familiar with the melody, it’s easy to join in.  This excuse is a cop out, too, because it indicates a lack of effort and desire to worship.

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. (Psalm 96:1-2 ESV)

3.  I don’t like the songs we’re singing.  We’re not worshipping musical styles, nor is the intent here to be entertained.  New songs are being composed everyday that have deep theological precepts that can undergird Scripture.  In the same way, older songs can help us express the precepts of Scripture, and they give us a ‘faith heritage’ as well, since they have been sung by believers throughout the centuries.  C.S. Lewis criticized those entrenched in “chronological snobbery” – it’s an attitude of selfishness and pride in our own generation if we think our music expresses worship best.

…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV)

Not singing in our worship is disobedience to the Bible’s commands to do so.  If we come to worship with the Church, singing is a command; and, it’s necessary.  Putting aside the sin of pride, sing because you have been redeemed and give God the glory for that.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:1-2 ESV)

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Nothing But the Blood

Assurance_hashtagToday, our pastor begins a new sermon series titled Assurance: The Genuine Article.  Today’s sermon is titled “Genuine Baptism.”  While songs that focus specifically on baptism are few, I do think the gospel hymn “Nothing But the Blood” might help us draw a correlation between the symbolic washing of water with the scriptural teaching that our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus.  The first line of the hymn takes us to that quickly – “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

The hymn was written by Robert Lowry, a Baptist minister who served churches in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey in the second half of the 19th century.  He is the author and composer of many hymns, and his work was included in many of the Sunday School hymn books of that period.  A few of his hymns are still sung widely today – “Low in the Grave He Lay” and “Shall We Gather at the River”, a hymn written to comfort those affected by the epidemic of 1864 in New York City.

“Nothing But the Blood,” written by Lowry in 1877, was originally known as “What Can Wash Away My Stain.”  While we sing 4 verses today, the hymn originally had 6.

In the first 2 verses, we see that it is the shed blood of Jesus that pardons us and makes us clean.  In essence, new creations.  In verse 3, the focus is on the work of Christ for our salvation – it is not by any good work, but only by the cross that our sins are atoned for.  Verses 4 and 5 lead us to profess the comfort of knowing the blood of Jesus is our only hope.  And, finally, verse 6 is a declaration of praise for our salvation.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Refrain:
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I’ll overcome—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Now by this I’ll reach my home—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Glory! Glory! This I sing—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

 

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From My iTunes to Yours

Over the past few months, I’ve been in my car quite a bit traveling back and forth to baseball games and other places, and while I’m driving, choose to listen to my iTunes to help pass the trip.  I’ve discovered that I can put my driving mind in autopilot and really tune in to the music.

Here are a few artists I’ve focused on and highly recommend to you.

1.  Luciano Pavarotti: The Best

This collection presents a wide variety of musical styles, with most of the attention given to operatic arias.  But, there is a good sampling of popular songs.  This video is “Nessun Dorma” (None Shall Sleep) from the opera Turandot by Puccini.

2.  Back to the Woods – Chuck Leavell

This collection serves as a tribute to the pioneers of blues piano.  It’s good…really good.  Careful, though…you’ll be driving 90 if you get into it too much.

3.  City Hymns: Fragments of Grace – City Church

Karl Digerness, of San Franciso-based City Church, released this album in 2011.  It’s a worshipful, theologically sound collection of old hymns and new songs that is best described as folk.  He uses a wide range of instruments – from pedal steel to electronic loops – to color the texts.  These songs are thoughtful and inspiring.

Enjoy!

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