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Measuring Qualitative Growth


Nickels and noses are easy to count and important to some degree, but numbers can be both enticing and misleading. When trying to measure the success and effectiveness of our church leadership team, the question to be asked is not:

How many people do we have?

But rather:

What kind of people do we have?

In other words, qualitative growth is more important that quantitative growth.

If we as leaders are faithful teachers of the gospel, attuned to God's will, spiritually vibrant, passionate worshipers of Jesus who are, in the words of Brother Lawrence, “Practicing the Presence of God,” the fire will spread, and, by the Spirit, our people will mature in the faith. The key to measuring our success and ministry effectiveness is making sure our people are maturing. So, it's as simple as that. Not quite, consider what the Scriptures say in Hebrews 5:11-14.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

I believe much of the American church can be identified by this passage. The writer had just finished talking about Jesus the Great High Priest, who learned obedience through His suffering (suffering – a thing American culture teaches us to despise). We live in a milky culture. Think about it, all we’re getting from every direction is milk: TV, entertainment, shopping, Starbucks (fig. and lit.), prescription drugs, child idolatry, travel, longing for retirement, and even church. Every time I watch a talk show on television, the theme ultimately is “If it makes you happy, do it.”

This is what is constantly pounded into our people day in and day out. What fruit should we expect from them? The responsibility of leading our people into maturity is incredibly difficult, often with little return, considering everything they are up against. There is hope, though. After the writer of Hebrews spills out some of the milky things his readers ought to move on from, which, sadly, to us may seem pretty solid, like the doctrine of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, he then gives us hope:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

Our people are Christians. They do have faith in Christ, moral convictions, and love for the saints. There is a desire in every one of us to serve the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The exhortation here is “to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” This is basically a call to get off our butts and imitate Christ.

Yesterday morning, I woke up, and the first thing that came into my mind was “I am a sluggard.” I get so enraptured by the tasty white chocolate mochas flooding my soul that I forget the call of Christ. I sink into seasons of little communication with God, lose my footing and fall from prayer and Scripture reading and other disciplines. It’s not that I don’t love God and the church, but my problem is I am trying to fit God into my life, my plans, instead of finding my place in His. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that other leaders and church people struggle with the same thing.

We need to identify the evil powers at work in our lives and the lives of our people, pray against them with fervency, create a very visible awareness of these milky delights, as well as their danger to the soul, give our people hope, remind them daily of the gospel and Christ’s commission, listen, encourage, practice the presence of God unapologetically in our lives of worship, setting an example for the community around us to see Jesus, both inside and outside the church. Then we will be maturing, eating solid food “for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Then we will obtain the “better things – things that belong to salvation.” Then we will be able to measure true success (not Osteen success) and see our ministry effectiveness.

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Sanctified Endeavor


I recently stumbled upon a book of poetry by Frances Ridley Havergal called "The Ministry Of Song" published in 1872. Havergal may be best known for her hymn "Take My Life And Let It Be" but I was taken by the Prelude of her collection of poems.


Amid the broken waters of
our ever-restlessthought,
Oh be my verse an answering gleam
from higher radiance caught;
That where through dark o’erarching boughs
of sorrow, doubt and sin,
The glorious Star of Bethlehem
upon the flood looks in,
Its tiny trembling ray may bid
some downcast vision turn
To that enkindling Light, for which
all earthly shadows yearn.

Oh be my verse a hidden stream, which silently may flow
Where drooping leaf and thirsty flower in lonely valleys grow;
And often by its shady course to pilgrim hearts be brought,
The quiet and refreshment of an upward-pointing thought;
Till, blending with the broad bright stream of sanctified endeavor,
God’s glory be its ocean home, the end it seeketh ever.


This has become a regular prayer for myself and those who write, sing, and lead musical worship. May our songs be used to point others to Christ and let them blend into the stream of sanctified endeavor, and may they be lost in the ocean of Gods glory and not our own.

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The "Just" Prayer


"Lord, would you just come down and meet us here? Just touch us in a fresh and powerful way. We just need to learn how to pray, so we just ask You right now, would you just teach us how to pray?"

The word "just" is to the prayers of Contemporary Church-goers, as the word "like" is to the conversations of California valley girls. Has anyone else noticed this?

I really don't have that much of a bone to pick (heck, I'm glad to see people praying at all), but it has made me aware of the shortage of thoughtful, intentional prayers among Contemporary Church people. In one sense, we can't blame ourselves for leaving behind the common for the spontaneous. In another sense, however, I think we are missing out on some well-thought-through and rich prayers from history. (Here comes a plug for the Book of Common Prayer.)

Allow me to recommend a solution to your new annoyance. (Believe you me, you will be annoyed the next time someone is praying the "Just" Prayer). There is a little black book called the Book of Common Prayer (see my recommended books in the left margin). It is filled with common prayers written by people in history who labored sometimes for days over two-sentence prayers. Not only did they weave their words together with great intricacy, each prayer was written for a specific Church Calendar season or sacerdotal occasion, among other things.

I have often opened the Book up to page 137 in the morning, and prayed through the "In the Morning Daily Devotion" with my wife, "just" to kick off our day. I have also used the "Collects" beginning on page 211 during our church worship services. Their profound simplicity always makes for a beautiful transition between songs, not to mention, a perfect opportunity to change your capo position. Here is the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

So, the next time you're at a loss for words, tap into the well of resources outside of your own brain. And the next time you hear someone (including yourself) praying the "Just" Prayer, don't make fun of them...unless it's you...then you can make...fun...

...I'm going Christmas shopping.

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Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God


If you have not beheld the Lamb of God with Andrew Peterson, you simply must. Buy this album, sit down with your audio medium, close your eyes, and enter the world of one of the best tellings of the Christmas narrative ever produced. Seriously, it's that good.

BTW, the song "Labor of Love" may very well become a universal Christmas Eve service staple song. It begins, "It was not a silent night," and then goes on to speak of a travailing young woman on the streets of David's town. Peterson's songwriting shines brighter than ever in this record. This is an excerpt from "Labor of Love":

Noble Joseph by her side
Calloused hands and wearied eyes
There were no midwives to be found
On the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night
So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A Penitent Advent


Christmas time is here. Our decorations are up and lit, hums of Christmas tunes fill the air, and the feelings and memories of Christmas past ring in our souls. We are filled with joy and childish reversion. And just as we long for the the holiday cheer of vacations, families, and presents, we long to once again hear the story of the Christ Child come.

A new year has begun. It is the first week of Advent, the beginning of the Church Year. We join the children of Israel as they wait for their King to come and save. It wasn't eggnog and ornaments for them. They desperately longed for deliverance from years of torment and injustice. Remembering promises and prophesies of the coming Messiah, they cried out to Yahweh. It's hard for us to worship in this way. We desperately long for the newest fashion line and video game system and cry if we don't get what we want.

Hear what Christopher L. Webber has to say in his Introduction to Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas:

In our culture, the time before Christmas is a time of celebration, gift-giving, and parties. The sooner the fun can start the better. It's easy to overlook the significance of Advent in the rush of Christmas shopping. Advent requires some deep thought on serious subjects, and it's harder to sell these themes than Christmas presents at the mall. So Christians who take Advent seriously find themselves looking strangely out of step. Around them the party has started, but they are still in a solemn time of preparation, considering "the shortness and uncertainty of human life." (vii)

Let us not forget the penitential side of Advent; that we are sinners, deprived of goodness, and in need of a Savior. As we worship Christ this season, let us cry out to Yahweh for salvation, and let us praise Him with the best kind of Christmas cheer, the joy of redemption through Christ. Our Advent worship is, in the words of Bob Webber, "joyful sorrow."

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Receive and Respond: The Purpose of Musical Worship


What is the purpose of musical worship in church? To answer this question, I believe we must first determine what is the central part of a worship service.

Before the Protestant Reformation, the Eucharist, or Communion, was the center of church worship. This is still true for the majority of the Church today, namely Catholics. The movement of their worship, or liturgy, culminates in the past (the work of the cross) merging with the present (the Sacrament), i.e., Christ is present with His worshipers in the Eucharist, hence His “communion” with His worshipers. In the same time dimension, God’s, worshipers are present with Christ at the Last Supper, on the cross, and in the resurrection. The Eucharist celebrates the Church’s union with Christ, so it is always the climactic moment of worship.

This “presence” of God in the sacraments, bread/body and wine/blood, was one of the major protests of the Reformers. Not the spiritual/mystical presence of Christ, but His physical presence. And like most people that have bones to pick, Protestants have minimized the importance of the Table of the Lord in their practice of worship, mostly for fear that it will become as rote and ritualistic as it has for many in the Catholic Church. So, beginning with Luther and Calvin, the Word began taking over as the centerpiece of worship.

Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, was one of the foundational tenants of the Protestant Reformation. What that meant for them was that the Word of God was the only special revelation of God, the only means by which God revealed Himself to men in a saving way. For the Catholics the service of the Word was essential for the telling of God’s story. They placed a very high value on Scripture, reading three passages every week (one Old, one New, and one Gospel), but the Eucharist ultimately served the greatest purpose. Not so for the Reformers. The Sacrament of the Eucharist did not have the power to save, as Catholics believed (and still believe), so the Protestants demoted it to the passenger seat, while elevating the Word to the highest place.

I could go on about the history of this split, and I should, but let it be sufficient for now to know that the Eucharist is the center of Catholic worship, and the Word is central to Protestant worship.

Now, what is the purpose of musical worship in church? Well, for me, I lean toward the Reformed camp in what they deem central to worship, the Word. But, I also recognize what we Protestants have lost by pushing the Table aside. At any rate, I do not believe musical worship in itself should ever be the center of worship. It should serve as an aid to worshipers receiving and responding to both the Word and the Eucharist. Unfortunately, what has happened in the Contemporary Church is that “Praise and Worship” has become such a major part of the service that worshipers have come to think of it as “worship”. Worship has been redefined as an emotionally heightened experience of the presence of God through singing songs. If singing songs is “worship”, what do we call the Word and the Eucharist?

I’m not here to say that Praise and Worship is bad and should not be a part of worship. What I am saying is that musical worship should not be an end in itself, but rather, it should be a means to the people of God worshiping Him through the Word and the Eucharist. Musical worship can open our hearts and prepare the way for Christ, the Word. It can calm the waves of busyness that consume us. It can stir us and ignite a passion in our hearts to praise God. It can turn our affections away from ourselves and toward God. It can refresh and heal us. But it cannot save. Like the Eucharist, musical worship cannot secure our rightstanding with God. It can only point us to Christ, the Word made flesh. And it is only He that can invite us into a true expression of worship.

What this means for me, a worship leader, is that my job is not merely choosing songs and performing them. It means I must think carefully of how I can lead people in receiving and responding to the Word, first, and the Eucharist, second. How does this Opening Song help bring worshipers together in exuberant praise of their Maker? How does this Song of Preparation before the sermon prepare the hearts of worshipers to receive truth? How is this Response Song helping people respond to the Word they just heard? How does this Communion Song bring people to the cross and empty tomb of Christ? And how does this Dismissal Song encourage us to bring the gospel with us as we leave? These are the questions that go through my mind when I am planning and choosing songs for a worship service.

As a side note, there will be fewer complaints about style, etc., when musical worship serves the greater purpose of aiding worshipers in receiving and responding to the Word and Eucharist. What better answer to a complaining parishioner than, “I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment, but I chose that song because it best prepared our hearts for the specific truth our pastor had for us today.” After all, it is not your responsibility to please the people of your church. It is your duty, nay calling, to point people to Christ by supporting the Word and Eucharist with your musical worship.

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"You're Beautiful" by Phil Wickham


Phil Wickham has one of the best singing voices I have heard in the modern praise and worship scene, and his songs have better melodies than most of today's popular choruses.

In my previous posts I have written about using balanced worship sets and the balance of truth and emotion in musical worship. Some songs are filled with gospel truth but are lacking emotional melodic accompaniment. Other (most) songs are emotionally catchy but lack depth of lyrical content. Wickham's songs, such as "I Adore You", "Mystery", and "Grace", bring a good balance to the truth/emotion spectrum.

In his new album, "Cannons", Wickham shares with us a modern hymn titled "You're Beautiful". I wanted to mention this particular song as an example of what I look for; a strong melody that effectively accompanies truthful words.

The song consists of four verses, the first two recognizing God in the light of day and His power in the stars at night. In the last two verses Phil tells the story of Christ's redemption, sharing the truth of His suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension in verse three, and painting a beautiful picture of the hope to come in verse four, when "death is just a memory and tears are no more", and we are united with Christ. Here are the lyrics, and at itunes you can preview and purchase the song.

You're Beautiful
by Phil Wickham

I see your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say... You’re Beautiful

I see your pow’r in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
Its all proclaiming who you are... You’re beautiful

I see you there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now you are setting on your heavenly throne
Soon you will be coming home... You’re Beautiful

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing... You’re Beautiful

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Currently Not Reading


There are so many exciting things happening in my life right now, I don't have time to read.

1. God has led me into a pastoral position at River Valley Church in Mishawaka, IN (South Bend area). My family will be moving October 24th, and I will begin my new job as Associate Pastor of Worship October 26th. We are wrapping things up here in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where we have lived for the past three and a half years. We will miss our friends dearly, especially our church family at Trinity Community Church.

2. We are trying to sell our house, and we are in the process of buying a new home in Granger, IN. We haven't even begun packing, and we're moving in less than two weeks. Please pray that our house in Gurnee, IL sells quickly.

3. My Breedlove acoustic guitar and Fender electric guitar amp were stolen, so I'm dealing with my insurance company to get them replaced. That's always fun. Cool story about God's help in this:

    I initially called State Farm Claims Center the day of the theft, and the lady I was talking too was trying to label my claim as a business loss instead of a personal loss. The difference is huge, for if it is a business loss, I can only collect up to $1,000, but if it is a personal loss, my items will be entirely replaced (over $5,000 appreciated value). I told the claims lady I wanted to talk this over with my agent before proceeding with the claim.

    My agent assured me this is a personal loss and not business related for a few reasons: Even though I use my guitar as a paid worship leader, a) the guitar was originally purchased six years ago, and I was given complete ownership, b) I specifically listed the guitar on my home owner's policy two and a half years ago as my possession, while I was not in a paid position, and c) I was not getting paid for leading worship in Mishawaka, IN during the trip when the guitar was stolen.

    I tried the next couple days to contact the claims lady to give her this information, but we kept missing each other. Finally, I asked to speak with someone else about my claim. A guy named Andy picked up the phone and asked what I needed. I told him I wanted to proceed with the claim. He said, "Okay, give me a couple minutes as I review the notes." While he was reading he made frequent audible sighs and moans. When he finished he said, "Man, I feel your pain. I am a worship leader and play a Breedlove guitar." He told me that technically, by the book, it is a business related loss. "But," he said, "Let me talk with my managers and see what I can do for you." He called me a few minutes later with the good news that they will be filing it as a personal loss, so I will be getting full replacement. Praise God. Now, what kind of guitar should I get? I may be limited to State Farm's contracted vendors.

Despite all of this craziness, I did have a few moments yesterday to read Proverbs 10 and Psalms 46-50 over a delicious pumpkin spice latte. I look forward to settling down and picking up a book once again.

“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”
(Psalm 50:22-23)

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Suggested Reading


On Wednesday evening, September 12th, my wife and I attended a worship roundtable discussion at Judson University in Elgin, IL. Several worship leaders and students got down to the "neety greety" as Judson's Chapel Director and Worship Arts Professor, Warren Anderson, facilitated the conversation. It was great to hear of how God is working in churches around Chicago through worship ministries of many denominations. In meetings like this I always leave with a greater passion for worship ministry, greater motivation, greater knowledge, and more creative ideas to implement into my own worship practice.

Before we left, Warren asked each of us to name two of the most influential books in our lives of worship. Below is the list. Enjoy!

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Song DISCovery



Every other month Worship Leader Magazine releases a compilation album of twelve to fifteen new songs that subscribers can use as a resource for their worship ministries. A worship pastor friend, recently received Song DISCovery Volume 64 and surprised me with the news that "Christ Is Exalted" is track 2. What an honor it is for so many to be blessed and to be given the opportunity to respond to God's word through this song.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Song DISCovery.

Click here to listen to "Christ Is Exalted."

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Currently Reading


I am in a season of life that is busier than ever there was one before. I thought (or hoped) that finishing school would reacquaint me to the stress-less life of freedom I previously experienced twenty-four years ago, before I started school. Nope. The day after I graduated, our first little one was born, introducing us to an entirely new means of time consumption. Additionally, I work more hours per week and have accumulated more vocational responsibilities than formerly assigned. Then there's home maintenance, financial budgeting, grocery shopping, car problems, emails, a little TV, more car problems, and bit of blogging, all of this pushing out time for spiritual and physical discipline and family cultivation. But in all of this craziness I am getting twenty minute snippets of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, as I ride the bus to work.

Through one particular chapter of this book the Holy Spirit is convicting me to the core, as Pete Scazzero addresses the perpetual forward motion in my life. The chapter is titled, "Discover the Rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath: Stopping to Breathe the Air of Eternity." God is exposing my utter disobedience to his command for me to rest. And it's true. Every moment of every day I'm moving, moving, moving. Even when I sleep it seems like I'm only doing it to get quickly charged up in order to keep going, and going, and going, just like you know who. I'm beginning to put the pieces together, now, as to why I have constantly been tired and artificially motivated for the past four months. I haven't been stopping. What Scazzero suggests is that I establish a stop-and-go rhythm in my daily life.

Throughout history, from Bible times to now, the people of God have taken regular breaks. Key figures, such as King David, Jesus, St. Benedict, and Martin Luther, would stop what they were doing multiple times daily to seek God. Christians around the world have taken to the Daily Office, which is composed of such elements as stopping, centering, silence, and Scripture. The Jewish Sabbath, instituted and commanded by God, allowed for God's people to rest weekly, and the Law also provided for more extended seasons of sabbatical. Why? Because they needed it, the earth needed it, God wanted it, we still need it, and God still wants it. Sabbath encourages us to stop, rest, delight, and contemplate.

So, why am I "still going"? Because I don't think I have time to stop. The absurdity in this is astounding. It is sheer disobedience on my part, causing more stress, task incompletion, frustration, and anxiety than if I would just flow with God's wonderful design.

All this to say, in order to worship God, we must stop what we are doing and focus on what He is doing. What happens when you snap a photo while you're moving? The image is distorted. In the same way we must be still in order to see God clearly.

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Imperative Worship


The title of this blog site (Reform worship.) is an imperative command. We are telling ourselves and asking you to reform worship. In our minds it is imperative that we continue refining and expanding our understanding and practice of worship. I like imperative commands. Not because I think I'm right, and it's imperative that you change, but because of the challenges that come with imperatives, first to myself then to others.

I also like imperative commands in praise and worship songs. For example, the hymn "Come Ye Sinners" calls everyone to find refuge in the loving arms of Jesus. As we are singing the song, we are, in a sense, inviting each other into Christ's embrace, singing to one another in a very communal way. This type of corporate communion is somewhat rare in the average American worship service. In a culture where individualism thrives, the church can be uncomfortable collectively worshiping God, especially singing to one another. We are most comfortable singing in the first-person singular to God, "I love you, Lord." We are also fine with singing songs about God, "The Lord is gracious and compassionate." But we are much less accustomed to exhorting one another in song, "Come ye sinners."

Last year I wrote a song with the intention of breaking myself out of this mold. It has turned out to be one of the more effective songs our congregation sings together. I believe it has something to do with the imperative nature of the lyrics and the communal worship experience it facilitates.


    He Is the Lord

    Open up your heart
    Let the Spirit sing
    Stand aside and wait
    For the Lord, for your King
    Open up your ears
    Listen to the song
    Saints of every age
    Every voice sings along

    He is the Lord
    He is the Lord
    He is the Lord
    Jesus is Lord

    Open up your lips
    Tell of what He's done
    Dwelt among the lost
    Wholly God and a son
    Opened sightless eyes
    Light no more concealed
    Spoke of things to come
    Word of God, truth revealed

    Open up your eyes
    Testify of grace
    Cling onto the cross
    Perfect love, God's embrace
    Open up your mind
    Mystery of life
    Gaze into the grave
    Jesus Christ is alive

    Keep us believing
    Give us the faith to keep on believing, Lord
    Keep us confessing
    Give us the grace to keep on confessing, Lord


Other songs consisting of imperative commands that I can think of off the top of my mind include:

  • "Oh Praise Him" (Turn your ear to heaven.)
  • "Give Thanks" (Give thanks with a grateful heart.)
  • "All Who Are Thirsty" (Come to the fountain.)
  • "How Great Is Our God" (Sing with me. [Although, in my opinion "sing with me" is kind of an awkward lyric to lead.]).

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Worship Trash


My brother and his wife attend an urban church. During one particular Sunday worship service, instead of the usual singing of songs before the sermon, everyone was given a trash bag and went around the neighborhood picking up garbage and talking to each other about what God has been doing in their lives. They reconvened after a short time, filled the stage with trash, and continued worshiping.

As I have relayed this story to others, I have had mixed reactions. Some think it is awesome to break out of the typical Sunday morning routine and do something like this. Others believe singing should always be a part of Sunday worship, and they are not so quick to throw unpredictibility at the people.

I believe Sunday worship should be a time for a gathering of people to collectively exalt the Name and Word of God (Ps. 138), and the ways in which we worship should aid the people in such a response.

So, is picking up trash one such way of glorifiying God? Is there a place for this in Sunday worship? Might worship leader-less churches benefit from creative alternatives to music in church?

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Worship Leader Magazine...Almost


A couple months ago I was asked by the managing editor of Worship Leader Magazine to answer several interview questions for a special segment in their September edition. Says Worship Leader:

The issue we’re working on is themed on the influence that the Millennials (people who have always had the Internet, general birth years of 1975-2000) are going to have on our practices in worship services. This is to get at the heart of who the Millennials are and what they care about.

I just received an email informing me that they ran out of room and will not be able to use my answers. And "as much as it was a space issue, the tone of your answers was more educated than what we were looking for. It's a great 'problem' to have because your answers were fantastic and well written, it's just that we were going for a little more raw feel." So, since you won't be able to read the interview in Worship Leader, here it is.

Name: Ryan Flanigan
Age: 27
Church, city and state: Trinity Community Church, Libertyville, IL
Favorite book (other than the Bible): The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite TV show: Lost
Favorite video game: Tetris

1. What pushes you away from church? In addition to my own sin that keeps me from loving the church, I am immediately turned off by consumerism, performance/entertainment, cultural accommodation, anxiety relief programs, sacrificing quality for quantity, topical preaching, shallow songs, and narcissistic worship. In a phrase, I don’t like when people are “being churched.”

2. What draws you into church? I am particularly drawn to expository preaching, narrative flow, gospel-doctrine plus gospel-action, holistic worship participation (heart, soul, mind, and strength participation in every part of the service), order, cultural engagement, Trinitarian worship (entering by the Spirit into Christ’s communion with the Father), fellowship/friends, and lots of babies. In other words, I like when people are “being the church.”

3. What is the reason you go to church? I go to church to devote myself “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Every week at church I am reminded of the gospel of truth, which I so easily forget; that I am a sinner saved by grace, and that I am not my own. At church I have the honor of worshiping the Triune God together with His people, and I am encouraged and equipped to share Christ with the world, both in word and deed.

4. In what way do you feel the way you express your spirituality is different from the way your parents do? In what way is it the same? According to Robert Webber, “Spirituality is a passionate embrace of God’s vision. It is understanding your place within the context of God’s story.” Generally speaking, my parents’ generation has been bombarded with traditionalism and/or seeker-sensitivity, less Bible and more self-help, and hence a diminished view of God. Their spirituality in effect reduces God to a mere object of their affection, to which they might commit a portion of their life. They are more concerned with following the methods of extraordinary church leaders than the vision of God. In contrast, I express my spirituality by learning my role in the drama of God and acting it out. God is the subject of my affection, and I am the object of His. Like my parents’ generation I often live as if I am the subject, trying to find a place for God in my own story. This always leads me away from the cross and toward self-exaltation. (My mom and dad do not fit the generalization.)

5. When you are dealing with big life issues, where do you turn? Spiritual answer: the Bible, prayer, and pastoral counsel. Truthful answer: my intellect, my wife, my friends, and then, after letting me flesh it out for a while, God brings me back to the spiritual disciplines.

6. What would an ideal church service look like to you? See my answer to Question 2. Additionally, I prefer a four-part worship structure (Gathering, Word, Table, Dismissal), where each part facilitates full church participation. Every time we gather the whole gospel must be presented through fellowship, communion, the arts, and especially the sermon. Musical worship should primarily aid the church in better understanding and responding to the Word of God.

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Americanism 7: Worship Rock Stars


Prior to a pastors meeting one day I walked into the office of a fellow pastor at my church. He was setting with his back to me strumming a guitar and trying to tune it. I offered to help and he turned around…

To my surprise I saw a low-end Epiphone made more "valuable" with the signatures of the artist who played a Celebrate Freedom Concert, put on by the nations largest CCM radio stations. It seems the guitar was auctioned to raise money for charity, and somehow it ended up being given to our church.

I got a few strange looks when I said “Wow what a perfect example of the sinful state of the Church today! That we ask for the signatures of our worship leaders as if they are rock stars!” I laughed it off and pretended I was kidding…but I wasn’t.

It is kind of sad though, we make so many worship leaders “stars” and we are okay with them acting like “stars”. We find ourselves making worship leaders famous rather than seeing the fame in the God they are (supposed) to point us to. We want to be able to say that we are connected to them, know them, have met them, and we like having that proof in photo or in signature.

The truth is, we are known and loved by the sovereign God of the universe, but sometimes we forget that it’s enough. I myself once made an idol of a worship leader I looked up to. When I met him and had dinner with him, I was let down, he was not such a nice guy. He was not worthy of my idolotry, and he definitely never endured the wrath of God on my behalf!

The guitar hangs proudly on my office wall. It comes in handy sometimes to figure out a chord or two while writing charts. But other than that, it's really just a cheap guitar.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 7 of 7)


Reclaiming the Gospel

Currently, doctrinal truth is being restored to the Contemporary Praise and Worship Movement. Songwriters such as Matt Redman and Stuart Townend are capturing the best of musical cultural engagement and gospel truth. Songs such as “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us,” jam-packed with the gospel message, yet with contemporary melodies, are crossing denominational and traditional barriers. Speaking directly to the observation I made earlier, about many contemporary worshipers believing they have something good of themselves to offer God, Matt Redman writes:

We have nothing to give
That did not first come from Your hand
We have nothing to offer You
That You did not provide
Every good perfect gift comes from
Your kind and gracious heart
And all we do is give back to You
What always has been Yours
We are breathing the breath
That You gave us to breath
To worship You
And we’re singing these songs
With the very same breath
To worship You (16)

On the same album, Redman confronts the ignorance of Unitarian worshipers with these teaching words:

This is a gifted response
Father, we cannot come
To You by our own merit
We will come
In the name of Your Son
As He glorifies You
And In the power of Your Spirit (17)

I would submit that the music of Contemporary Praise and Worship itself is not the message, but the right music can and does better support the message with cultural relevance. Recently, with the influence of Emerging thinkers and the questions that are arising with that conversation, there seems to be a deeper appreciation for traditional and even ancient forms of worship. Churches like Redeemer Presbyterian and Holy Trinity, Brompton, are finding ways to blend Contemporary Praise and Worship with their rich liturgical traditions.

Conclusion

Contemporary Praise and Worship is only about forty years old. Before worship choruses, there were hymns. Every hymn was written within and influenced by a cultural setting, wherever and whenever it might have been. It is unfair for staunch traditionalists out of mere distaste to decry the advent of newer styles of worship music in the church. Their own stylistic preferences have cultural limitations. They do have a right, however, to bemoan the unhealthy effects of Contemporary Praise and Worship. Longing for an emotional experience of God rather than longing for the glory of God is definitely unhealthy and leads to all kinds of problems. Performance-based musical worship is no different than a concert. I would actually esteem it to be more potentially detrimental to the souls of its participants, for it is done in the name of Jesus, whereas a pop concert is done for entertainment purposes primarily. In all, Contemporary Praise and Worship, which began as a culturally engaged, biblical expression of worship, eventually turned into a capitalistic venture, but is being redeemed for the glory of God.

As a worship leader who was brought up in a traditional/contemporary church, I know full well the struggle to fight a reactionary attitude against traditionalism. I saw a thick dividing line between the conservative elderly and the cutting-edge younger crowd. At first I delved into Contemporary Praise and Worship with all of my might. I even attended Christ for the Nations Institute in order to grow closer, I thought, to Jesus. While I was there, however, my eyes were opened to the experiential fantasies of “the presence of God.” I wasn’t drawing near to God; I was creating my own imaginary god out of my emotional experiences. Since then I have quietly come to know the God of the Bible. I have not given up on Contemporary Praise and Worship, though. Yes, I have wrestled long and hard with the pros and cons. And yes, there seems to be more cons. But I have found that Contemporary Praise and Worship can assist in bringing glory to God and joy to His people.



(16) Redman, Matt. “Breathing the Breath.” CCLI#: 4328876. © 2004 Thankyou Music. Used with permission.

(17) Redman, Matt. “Gifted Response.” CCLI#: 4301570. © 2004 Thankyou Music. Used with permission.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 6 of 7)


Fatally Flawed or Redeemable?

Contemporary Praise and Worship has generally produced feel-good Christians who find God to be very predictable. They come to church expecting to receive from God the blessings of His presence. If they don’t get what they want, they begin to criticize the presentation or style, and will eventually move on to bigger and better things. Basically, they come to approach worship in the same way they approach everything else in life, whether it’s shopping, going to the movies, or spending time with family and friends. They come to consume.

The Contemporary Church has become much too dependent on good music. Although it is not their primary goal, musical excellence and performance shine far brighter than the glory of God and the gospel message. The way it works in this church is the better the music, the bigger the church; the bigger the church, the lesser the gospel content, because the gospel is not what keeps people.(15) The show keeps people. The gospel is the very thing that repels consumers, because the gospel is inherently anti-consumeristic. Instead, the gospel crushes our selfish desires and frees us to give and serve rather than consume.

There is nothing wrong with good worship music, but the moment it begins being used as a manipulative tool to captivate and keep an audience its message is lost. After all, as soon as a product loses its flavor the consumer will go back to market. And who is to say that the product of Contemporary Praise and Worship truly is the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God? Comparing the experience this movement sells with the emotional stimulants of popular culture, one does not see much of a difference between the two. In fact, the influence pop culture has recently had on Contemporary Praise and Worship makes the two nearly indistinguishable. Apart from the present of the church being wrapped in Jesus paper, they both offer consumers the same gift, an emotional experience of self-pleasure.

There is a big difference, however, between cultural accommodation and cultural engagement. Culturally accommodated Praise and Worship is self-seeking and experience-based. It is an end in itself. The medium is the message. Out of the imagination the worshiper creates relative meaning based on the level of emotional intensity. The church selfishly gains, like any other corporation with a good product. The Word of God is quickly left behind, as fresh new revelations pave the way for future cultural interaction. Culturally informed Praise and Worship, on the other hand, is merely stylistically relevant. It is a tool meant to lead people into a true expression of worship, which is just as valid an expression as the hymns of old, but with stylistic relevance to a new generation of worshipers. There is obviously much cleaning up to be done, but like me, a filthy sinner in need of redemption, Contemporary Praise and Worship can be, is being, and will be redeemed. (next post)



(15) Here I do not speak of those large churches that have grown through the faithful preaching of the gospel with the aid of popular music. Rather I am speaking of those mega churches that have exploded by means of clever marketing and presentation styles, especially and primarily via popular music and entertainment. These churches sacrifice sound doctrine for what is more culturally accommodating. The main difference is the music and worship of Church A is a means to exalting the truth of the Word, while the music and worship of Church B is a means to church growth.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 5 of 7)


Contemporary Praise and Worship Today (Continued)

To remark further on the content of many Contemporary Praise and Worship songs, the doctrine of the Trinity is virtually absent. There is only one song in CCLI’s top twenty-five that mentions the three persons of the Trinity in the lyrics. Out of the top 100 songs, the Trinity is alluded to less than five times. This largely has to do with the emphasis on experiencing Jesus’ love and friendship exclusively in worship. Fifteen of the twenty-five on the list speak of love or intimacy. Christ’s role within the Trinity is reduced to His role as our “buddy” or “lover”, and the roles of the Father and Spirit have long fallen by the wayside. With Jesus as the ultimate object of affection, the worshipper tends to believe God can be accessed directly as long as worship is offered from the heart. According to James Torrance this is a Unitarian understanding of worship, like the worship of Judaism and Islam, where there is no mediator. Trinitarian worship means by the Spirit entering into the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.(11) It is communal by nature and requires the participation of the entire body of Christ. Even when we are expressing our most deeply personal longings to God, like the Psalmists, we are doing so by the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. Concerning communal worship, it is worth noting only eight of CCLI’s top twenty-five songs are partially in first-person plural (we/us/our). Contemporary Praise and Worship has become so individualized, like everything else in our culture, that we often completely miss the corporate expression that the church so desperately needs in order to hold one another up.

Also absent in most Contemporary Praise and Worship is gospel content; namely the reality of sin and our need for salvation. Referring again to the CCLI chart, only five songs make reference to the cross, and only four speak of sin. The absence of these themes signifies a deeper problem within the Contemporary Praise and Worship Movement, and that is “powerful, emotional encounters with God are never meant to be used as a retreat from reality.”(12) The reality is, no matter how climactic our experience of God in worship, we cannot live in that world of heightened emotion. We will always come down, and sin will always come knocking at our doors. Contemporary Praise and Worship takes the reality of sin too lightly. The gospel is not complete without the acknowledgment of sin.

One last note concerning Contemporary Praise and Worship is, when Unitarianism and narcissism shape a worshiper’s mind, worship is viewed as something good within us that we have tapped into and presented before God. It is subconsciously engraved in the minds of contemporary worshipers that we have something good to offer God. Songs like “You’re Worthy of My Praise” speak of giving God my worship and my praise(13), as if I have brought a pleasing offering to God for Him to receive. Joe Horness says, “It must be our passion, and our calling, to lay upon the altar the very best offering that we can bring to God each week.”(14)

In summary, experiencing the presence of God is central to Contemporary Praise and Worship, as it was in the Jesus Movement and throughout the last four decades. There is a goal to have an emotional encounter, especially in feeling the warmth of God’s embrace. Worship is viewed as relational interaction with God, so Contemporary Worship seeks to connect with God. For Contemporary Praise and Worship, acceptable worship is conditional upon the heart of the worshiper being fully surrendered and right with God. We’ve looked at how Contemporary Praise and Worship has come to be. We’ve briefly glanced at what it is. Now let’s see how it has affected individual worshipers and the Christian sub-culture for better or for worse. (next post)



(11) From: Torrance, James. Worship Community and the Triune God of Grace. Inter Varsity: Downers Grove. 1996.

(12) Peacock, 54.

(13) Ruis, David. “You’re Worthy of My Praise.” CCLI#: 487976. © 1991 Maranatha Praise. Used with permission.

(14) Horness, 115.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 4 of 7)


Contemporary Praise and Worship Today

Joe Horness, worship leader of Willow Creek, defines Contemporary Praise and Worship in this way:

Contemporary worship endeavors to use modern instrumentation (e.g., guitars, drums, synthesizers, percussion, horns), contemporary musical styles (e.g., rock, jazz, hip hop, rap, gospel), and freshly written or arranged songs (both new choruses and fresh treatments of traditional hymns), in the language of this generation to lead people into authentic expressions of worship and a genuine experience of the presence of God.(6)

Contemporary Praise and Worship fits best within a non-liturgical, congregational worship setting. At the beginning of this type of service there is about twenty to twenty-five minutes of song singing, usually a couple up-tempo songs followed by a few slower ones. This time of singing songs together has come to be known as praise and worship, or simply worship.

Horness says as a worship leader his “primary purpose is to lead God’s people to meet God,”(7) but in practice, the goal of the worship leader often seems to be to elicit some form of outward expression from the people. Expression is equated with meeting God; if worshippers are not outwardly expressing their worship they are not meeting God. To the onlooker, the worship service appears reminiscent of a concert being performed before an admiring audience, with their hands raised, singing the same words to the familiar, popular songs flawlessly performed by the excellent musicians. Since there is no liturgy, there is no need for the songs to be inter-related thematically, or for any of them to pertain to the preached word to follow. In fact, there is really no need for the words to have very much meaning at all. As long as the people have had an emotional touch from God, they have “worshiped” Him to their satisfaction. The lyrics have little if anything to do with the experience.

Since the sung words have such little significance, naturally, the lyrical content of most Contemporary Praise and Worship songs lacks doctrinal depth. “Love” seems to be the hottest topic. There has been a gradual shift from singing of “God’s love” in general, to singing of “God’s love for us,” to “our love for God,” to “God’s love for me,” and it has become ever more popular to sing of “my love for You, God,” with God as the object of my affection. I have actually participated in a contemporary worship service in which the leader encouraged everyone to draw an imaginary box around themselves, so as not to be ashamed or distracted by anyone around, and to make love to Jesus. These lyrics to one of the wider known Contemporary Praise and Worship songs attest to this shift toward narcissism:

Draw me close to you
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear you say that I’m your friend
You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause nothing else can take your place
to feel the warmth of your embrace
Help me find a way
Bring me back to you
You’re all I want
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know you are near(8)

Narcissistic worship says that the origin of worship is within the self. God is the object “out there” who wants and maybe even needs my worship. “I worship you,” “I enthrone you,” “I magnify you,” “I exalt you,” and, I should add, “I free you,” for according to Horness, “If we learn to worship from hearts that are fully engaged, God will be glorified and set free to move in us and among us”(9) (my emphasis).

“Draw Me Close to You,” a beautiful song in its proper context, is on CCLI’s list of the top twenty-five Contemporary Praise and Worship songs of all times. Out of these twenty-five songs, nineteen of them use the first-person singular (I/me/my) with God as the direct object (You), while only eight of them partially use the third-person singular (he/him/his) with God as the subject.(10) Not only has this lent to narcissistic worship, but it has largely diminished the element of narrative in expressions of worship. God’s great story is not told. Worshipers do not try to find their place in God’s story. Instead, they tell God their own stories and try to fit Him into their own lives.

(This section will be continued in Part 5.) (next post)



(6) Horness, 102.

(7) Horness, 113.

(8) Carpenter, Kelly. “Draw Me Close to You.” CCLI#: 1459484. © 1994 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing. Used with permission.

(9) Horness, 104.

(10) Click here to view table of CCLI top 25 song topics and persons.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 3 of 7)


Corporate Influence and The Culture of Narcissism

Willow Creek was one of the first churches that attempted to make church more accessible and enjoyable to non-Christians. In the early stages of forming such a service, however, they were repeatedly falling short in the area of musical worship. After visiting a charismatic church in 1982, Pastor Bill Hybels found the missing link. “For the first time in his life, Bill had experienced the kind of worship that [his church] had been dreaming about—worship that was rich and heartfelt, where the presence of God was deep and real, and where hearts were changed as a result of being there.”(3) They immediately began implementing this style of worship into their seeker service, but they took it one step further. Not only did they embrace this cultural product with a Christian twist, like the Pentecostal Church and Charismatic Movement had, but they accommodated to the culture itself by setting up lights and loud speakers in order to give the people what they wanted. The production was a big hit, and coupled with Willow Creek’s impeccable business marketing strategies the church began to grow like no other. And although it was not the original goal of Willow Creek to explode in numbers—they simply wanted their friends to come to Jesus—they soon became a megachurch and a much-coveted standard among other evangelical churches.

Out of Willow Creek flowed the Contemporary Church Movement, and when it caught on, Contemporary Praise and Worship began turning less Biblical and more cultural. It had become shaped by consumerism. It became a show, just another place to be entertained. William Romanowski, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College, describes the process:

There is a connection historically between Contemporary Christian Music and the Megachurch Movement. By bringing contemporary music into the worship service, it also brought all the cultural baggage that comes along with it. So Contemporary Christian Music, even though it might have grown out of purposes like evangelism and worship, gets used in an entertainment setting. Conversely, it brings that entertainment setting into the church. A lot of critics ask, has worship become entertainment? It professionalizes worship in a certain sense.(4)

This shift made it very difficult for worshipers to look beyond the stage to the One Whom it was all about. It didn’t seem to bother the worshipers, though. They were getting what they wanted, an emotional experience in the presence of God. Christians were bumping up against narcissism in their worship. It was only fitting, though, seeing that the culture of consumerism had already gripped their lives outside the church.

In the 80’s, the topic of self-esteem and other therapeutic catch phrases began surfacing in American culture. Self Magazine was even established, symbolic of the direction of our culture’s heart. The Contemporary Church found tremendous success in emphasizing anxiety relief programs. Everything seemed to shift focus inward to the self. Worship was no different. In his book, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch identifies several characteristics of a pathological narcissist. Everyone in our age subconsciously operates in some of the less extreme, common narcissistic traits in their everyday lives. One such trait is “dependence on the vicarious warmth provided by others combined with fear of dependence.” Another is “a sense of inner emptiness.”(5) These two descriptors might be the most accurate motivating factors that sustained contemporary worshipers. They came to need the warmth of God’s presence, but feared committing their entire lives to Him. They could never feel satisfied in His presence, because as much as they received from Him experientially, it was never enough. More talk of narcissistic worship, as it currently pertains to Contemporary Praise and Worship, will be discussed in the next section.

The insatiable appetite for emotional encounters with God is closely related in principle to the Christian music industry’s capitalistic excesses. As Contemporary Praise and Worship spread across denominations and into the 90’s, its public popularity was increasing dramatically. By the middle of the decade, worship leaders such as Darlene Zschech, Darrell Evans, and Matt Redman brought a new wave of freshness to the scene, especially among charismatic churches again. Passion Ministries heightened the demand by emblazing hundreds of thousands of young people and college students with powerful new songs by Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, David Crowder, and others. Many of the popular CCM artists, such as Michael W. Smith, Petra, and Third Day, began putting out albums full of Contemporary Praise and Worship songs instead of their usual concert-oriented songs. The industry clearly felt which direction the market was moving, and they cashed in. Not only were the production companies and distributors making big money, the development of Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) made a way for individual songwriters to profit. This brings us to today. What does Contemporary Praise and Worship look like now? (next post)



(3) Horness, Joe. “Contemporary Music-Driven Worship.” Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views. Ed. Engle, Paul E. & Paul A. Barsden. Zondervan: Grand Rapids. 2004. 108.

(4) Romanowski, William. Religion & Ethics News Weekly. PBS Interview. April 30, 2004. Episode no. 735. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week735/interview1.html.

(5) Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. W.W. Norton: New York. 1978. 33.

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Americanism 6: TV Gospel


Flipping through the channels on Sunday afternoon, I stopped for a moment when I saw a familiar face. Years ago, before I knew the true gospel, I believed a different one. The person I saw on television was one of its proponents, and I used to follow his teachings. Here is an example of the kinds of things he taught:

Never confess anything negative over yourself, such as,"I'm not feeling well," because if you do speak such words, you will become ill. Instead, recite these words over and over: "I don't identify with sickness, I identify with Christ. I don't identify with poverty, I identify with Christ. I don't identify with sin, I identify with Christ." Et cetera.

I am convinced that the christ I used to worship is not the Christ of the Bible. The reason is because when I believed in the false gospel, I never acknowledged my sin. The joy of salvation was not finding refuge in the blood of Christ thus escaping the wrath of God. Rather, the joy of salvation was moving on from not having blessings to receiving lots of blessings; from being sick to being healthy; from poverty to riches.

On this TV program, the following caption read across the bottom of the screen:

Help spread the gospel of Christ around
the world...Sow your financial seed now.
1-866-611-4388
http://inspirationtoday.com/

I listened as my former teacher told a story of how there was a time in his life when he didn't have any money, but the Lord told him to plant a faith seed anyway. He continued, "You see, I realized that in order to receive from God, I needed to plant a seed. Now [as he points to the camera] are you just gonna sit there, or [as he points to himself, inadvertently I hope] are you gonna obey the Lord?"

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 2 of 7)


Cultural and Charismatic Influence

The 1960’s in America hosted a revolution like no generation had seen before. With the rise of feminism and free sex there began a major breakdown of the family and morality. That which traditional parents had esteemed as the ideal standard of living, their youth reacted against with great vigor. The lost young were driven by an urge from deep within to find peace and love and to experience it in the most authentic and fantastic ways imaginable. Bob Dylan and other singer/songwriters of the day led the way with their provocative and perhaps prophetic songs of politics, war, and the ever-inspirational topic of love. At the tail end of this era a pastor with a heart for the pot-smoking hippies on the beaches of Southern California opened the doors of his church to welcome those who were searching for a true spirituality. From Chuck Smith’s little church a move of the Holy Spirit swept across the region as thousands of wanderers flocked toward the Good Shepherd. The migration became known as the Jesus Movement.(1)

These new believers didn’t simply throw aside their disillusionments and pick up where their parents would have had them in the first place. They continued meeting with Jesus on the same level He first met them, with their acoustic guitars in their hands, strumming love songs, hoping for a truly divine experience. The object of their affection, however, was no longer the product of some rare and exotic moment, but Jesus the Son of God. Naturally, the old hymns were a less than fitting means of expressing their feelings to their newfound peace, not to mention the fact that they didn’t know any of them. They needed something more tangible, more interactive. They wanted something more familiar to which they could relate, musically and emotionally, so they began writing choruses of their own, only theirs were in the first-person singular instead of the third-person. They used the Bible as their source for lyrics. “Create in me a clean heart,” they sang with David.

It is no surprise the Jesus Movement was largely a charismatic one. Whenever experience is sought with such fervent expectation, emotions can reach beyond limits. As the actions of worshippers, such as prophesying and speaking in tongues, began stretching the boundaries of the Bible, experienced-based lyrics gradually replaced Scripture-based ones. “The focus shifted from knowing God through His Word to knowing God through experience. This in turn shifted the focus from thinking to feeling.”(2) Indeed, as other charismatic movements tapped into this new chorus-driven style of worship music, more and more new compositions were without Biblical grounding or theological depth. Worship was turning into a time for individual worshippers to receive from the “presence of God” more so than a time for God to receive collective praise from his people.

Pentecostalism was largely responsible for the spread and popularizing of this new kind of musical worship and experience. The Association of Vineyard Churches was one of the better known organizations stemming from the grassroots genuineness of the Jesus Movement. The worship music of the Vineyard was stylistically in line with the music from outside the church. The themes of their choruses focused mainly on love, intimacy, and simply dwelling in the presence of God. Another Pentecostal organization, Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, TX, began pumping out choruses in the 70’s that influenced churches around the world and are still sung today. “As the Deer” and “More Precious Than Silver” are a couple of the better known ones. In addition to Vineyard Music and CFN Music, a number of record production companies began springing up and spreading the good news of this new kind of worship music. Among them were Hosanna Integrity and Maranatha Praise. Chorus-driven worship was mainly experienced within the confines of the Charismatic Movement and Pentecostalism until the 80’s, when the Megachurch Movement and Contemporary Church entered the scene. (next post)


(1) Much of the historical content in this paper is drawn from the lectures and notes of three Robert Webber courses I took at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary: NBTS 301 Theology of Worship and Spirituality, NBTS 302 History of Worship and Spirituality, and NBTS 303 Current Practices in Worship and Spirituality.

(2) Peacock, Charlie. At the Cross Roads: An Insider’s Look at the Past Present, and Future of Contemporary Christian Music. Broadman & Holman: Nashville. 1999. 44.

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Contemporary Praise & Worship (Part 1 of 7)


Have you ever taken the time to interpret a cultural text? Most of the time I simply drift along in the cultural currents of our day. But every once in a while I stop and analyze why I live the way I live; why I do the things I do, say the things I say, eat the things I eat, etc.

Last year, I took a course in seminary called Cultural Hermeneutics. Our final assignment was to choose a narrow cultural phenomenon and interpret it; specifically, assess the world behind the text (where did it come from?), the world of the text (what is it?), and the world in front of the text (where is it going?). We could choose anything (approved by Dr. Vanhoozer, of course). My classmates chose topics ranging from grocery shopping to Apple computers. I chose to write on the modern cultural phenomenon of Contemporary Praise and Worship.

This series of blog entries will consist of several long posts (my term paper was about twenty pages long), but since most of us participate in this type of worship activity (CP&W) on a regular basis, it might be worth taking some time and think about just what it is we do and why we do it. So, here are my thoughts. I will be very eager to hear yours. Feel free to disagree.

Introduction

Over the past ten years the intrinsic value of my vocational skills has spontaneously increased to the point of affording me the prestigious market label, “hot commodity.” There are few essential positions in my line of work more important, apparently, than what I can fill. I humbly base this assertion on the nature and number of job offers presented to me of late. No, I’m not a genius stock analyst, or anything of the financially like. I’m not a real estate guru, able to predict the specific location of the next commercial boom. Nor am I a rising star in the world of popular entertainment. What I am is hope, an assumed promise that when I come aboard, company growth will quickly follow, consumers will be filled with pleasure, and life as a struggling corporate entity will come to an end. Yes, I am a worship leader, and the demand is high for good worship music in the Contemporary Church.

There is a standard of musical professionalism that small struggling churches seek to attain and that thriving megachurches must maintain. This standard drives many pastors and church leaders into thinking it is necessary to have good music in order to grow as a church. Unfortunately, this is true to a certain degree, for we as churchgoers in America have bought into many selfish cultural lies that have turned our desires, even spiritual desires, away from God and toward ourselves. If the church wants to win the competition for our time, they must supply what we want. We want to be entertained, and there is no better way to draw a church crowd than to have a band of perfectly gelled musicians performing the most popular Contemporary Christian Music of the day. Within this genre, though, there is a category of music, which in its short history has become CCM’s most widely listened to and recorded style. The amount of revenue this new style has brought to the industry is incalculable. It seems like everyone is investing in it, both recording artists and consumers. The Contemporary Church cannot survive without it. This new category of music is Contemporary Praise and Worship, and it has changed the definition of worship among evangelicals. (next post)

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Prayer-Turned-Song


A couple days ago I wrote up a blog titled "Four-Part Worship Service," but when I went to publish it an error occurred, and I lost it all. I had put quite a bit of time into the post, so naturally I was a bit frustrated. Maybe it wasn't time for me to share it, so I'll try again in the future. For now, the gist of it was:

Our church uses the historical four-part structure of worship in our services (Gathering/Word/Table/Dismissal). Then I listed a couple reasons why we do so: 1) The burden of transitional flow rests on the order of service itself and not on any man, and 2) Full church participation is encouraged and better facilitated.

We aim for the church to "be the church" instead of "being churched." We are entertained everywhere else in our culture. Church is not another place to be entertained. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to function as the body of Christ; meaning, we are called to actively participate in our worship services. The four-part structure enables us to do this. The Contemporary Church model (Praise & Worship/Announcements/Sermon), for the most part, does not give the people such an opportunity to participate.

Now, on a lighter note, a couple weeks ago I read Romans 1-2 and prayed this prayer-turned-song on my way to the bus stop in the morning:

Show Your kindness to me
Bring me to repentance
Give Your righteousness to me
Take me faith to faith

To believe in Your work
See the law's fulfillment
Christ the Final Sacrifice
Pardoning my sin

O Lord I need Your mercy
Today more now than ever

For I am one more day a sinner
But I am one more day forgiven

I have found myself praying this prayer daily. I also put a upbeat melody to these words and we sang it on Sunday morning.

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Americanism 5: Debt


I just traded in my VW for a Subaru. I saved money and miles in the process, but I'm still thousands of dollars in debt.

Cain's offering was not accepted by God because he offered it as if he was paying back a debt.

Perhaps many of us have a skewed understanding and practice of spiritual worship because we are so accustomed to paying back (or not paying back) our earthly debts. I certainly do not delight myself in writing out my car payment and mortgage checks, but, judging by where most of my money goes, I obviously worship my possessions to a certain degree.

Can you imagine the clarity and discernment of God's will we might have if we were free of debt and relied on fewer earthly possessions? Jesus clearly heard the Father's voice, and He had no place to rest His head. Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had. The disciples told the church to do the same thing. I don't know how this would work in America.

I won't say what kind of car Sean just bought.

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Justified Man, Sanctified Worship


Last week we pondered the question of what kind of offering or sacrifice God accepts. I am persuaded that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was, is, and forever will be the only pleasing offering presented to God. What this means for us and our worship should be very encouraging to us, for the demand of the law has been lifted off of us and fulfilled in Christ. Understanding this truth should dramatically alter the way we worship.

We have heard of Christ as our Mediator, or Intercessor, but have we ever understood Christ's mediation as directly affecting our worship? My guess is that most of us have viewed Christ's mediation in terms of justification only; meaning, because of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, we sinners are saved from the wrath of God and stand justified before God. This is Christ's atoning sacrifice for us. But the work of the cross does not end there, for whoever God justifies he also sanctifies. In other words, He will finish what he started in each of us. Through the mediation of Christ our offering is perfected.

Another way to put it is when God justifies a man, He sanctifies that man's worship. If a man is not justified, his worship is not sanctified. Whatever we offer to God before we are justified is not accepted. So when Paul in Romans 12 talks about offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, a good, acceptable, and perfect offering to God, it is to be understood that Christ receives our tainted sacrifice, sanctifies it, and presents it to the Father. Additionally, we cannot attain justification, or God's approval, by our offering. A man must first be justified by God before his offering is accepted.

So we see Christ's mediation working for us in two ways: First, a man stands before God justified through Christ, and second, the offering of a man is accepted by God after it is sanctified through Christ.

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Worship and Good Works


Hebrews 13:15-16 says:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Worship is doing good and sharing what we have. This is contrary to how I have traditionally understood worship, as acts of devotion to God, such as praying, singing, and meditating. For some reason I have separated worship from good works. Loving others has been placed in different category in my mind, maybe in the missions compartment. The two cannot be separated, however. Worship is loving others.

I recently had a conversation with my friend Adam about how the Church can worship by doing good works. Our church is located in a middle-upper class suburb of Chicago. There doesn't seem to be much need in our community in terms of caring for the poor, sick, etc. We do collect food and distribute it in a neighboring town. And we do reach out to the community in other practical ways, attempting to share God's love with people. Adam and I were a bit discouraged, however, because it seems like there is such little opportunity to do church the way the early church did. We are preoccupied with so many things, like jobs, kids, and meetings, and we are left with very little time to be the church, or at least be involved in church activities.

Perhaps we have been going about our mission in the wrong way. Consider what Scot McKnight says about what the church does:

"Let’s take it as an assumption that a central concern of Christians is to care for the poor. What if one lives in a nation, such as Denmark, or in a suburb, such as we live in, where there aren’t many poor. Of course, if you get your ear close enough to the ground, there are still some poor in these places. But, there aren’t that many. So, what is the church to do? How central is care for the poor and the downtrodden, or the sick and unhealthy, to the mission of God in the way of Jesus? To carry out the mission of Jesus do we have to relocate to where the poor are?

"Making care for the poor, along with any marginalized person, central to the mission of God in the way of Jesus misconstrues the gospel and the missional life. I want to contend that making care for the poor the center of it all gets things backward.

"Jesus’ mission was to love God and to love others — and you can express this central motif of Jesus in a variety of ways — and only because Jesus expanded the meaning of “others” do the poor come into the picture. In other words, we love the poor not because they are poor but because we love them as Eikons of God (made in the image of God). We love the poor because they happen to be Eikons who are also our neighbors. We don’t have to make the poor our neighbors in order to love the other.

"Because we love others we love the poor; loving the poor is not the only “other” we are called to love. We are called to love all others, including the poor, but not only the poor. Our mission is to love the other, whoever that might be.

"The genuinely loving person loves all others. In fact, that person finds the needs in others and knows that needs cannot be limited to socio-economic condition; some need friendship, etc.

"Wealthy people, who are loved by God, deserve our love. Established people deserve to be loved by God. Disestablished people deserve to be loved. Poor people deserve to be loved. The poor are loved, not simply because they are poor, but because they are our neighbors and we are called to love the other. The problem is that many shrink the meaning of “other” to where it means 'those I like.'

"What is a pastor in the heartland of Iowa to do if in his or her parish people are doing fine? What is a Christian in a Danish village to do if everyone is middle class and there are no poor around? Do they leave where they live in order to find the poor? [By the way, I have no problem with some who leave such securities and relocate so they can spend their time ministering to the poor.]

"Or, and this is my contention, are they to look out their window, listen to the voices of their neighbors — both here and beyond, learn about the needs of those around them, and link to them in love in a local way? Yes, I think this is the central mission.

"The central mission of Jesus begins at home, extends to my immediate neighbors, and from there works itself out into my world. It extends love to anyone who happens to be 'in my way.' The good Samaritan love the wounded man, not because he was looking for wounded folks to love, but because he loved anyone who happened to be 'in his way.'

"Do we care for the poor in other places? Of course. Do we extend grace to those in the inner city when we live in suburbs? Of course. Do we extend mercy to those in the world who are in need — AIDS, Darfur, tsunami victims — of course.

"But why? Because we are called to love the other and we have observed them in our journey with Jesus."

(From Scot McKnight's blog, jesuscreed.org.)

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Americanism 4: Sports



Does anyone have an answer to the following guilt-inducing question:

Why is it that you scream and cheer while watching your favorite sports team, but you show such little expression in worship?

I love the Cubs, and I fear that I am more committed to listening to Ron and Pat on WGN radio than I am to listening to God in prayer. I fear that many American Christians are like me.

Only six people showed up to our church prayer meeting the other day, which, ironically, is called "Devoted". We meet two Wednesday nights per month to praise God in song and to pray. It is always a somber gathering. I miss the days as a teen when we would have all-nighters, screaming in prayer; albeit not really knowing much about God, but passionate nonetheless.

Do we just not believe in God's providence unfolding through prayer? Do we even believe we need God anymore? Are we just too comfortable in our death-gripped homes? Are we just too busy working at our jobs and idolizing our kids? Do we even have time to evangelize, or simply discover what evangelism is today?

Have we been entirely Americanized?

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What was I thinking?

Consider this chorus I wrote a long time ago:

I could never sing enough
To tell about Your wondrous love
But I will do the best I can
To wholly give you all I am
I could never give enough
To offer up what You deserve
But I will fear You everyday
For holy is Your mighty Name

Now compare it with this chorus I recently wrote:

We have nothing to give to You
But Jesus came
And He gave it all
So rightstanding we worship You
He takes our blame
And up from the Fall
We rise with Christ

My former understanding of worship was very Cain-like: "Don't you owe it to God for all that He's done for You?"

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Breathing the Breath


I really enjoyed reading Ryan's last two posts about offerings, but if you're like me, you're probably wondering how to apply these wonderful truths to our worship. One practical way of sharing these truths is through a song that I am currently using congregationally in musical worship. The lyrics to Matt Redman's "Breathing The Breath" really bring to us an accurate perspective of God and man. The song is a very singable tune and also incorporates a 7/4 meter in the ending chorus, making this song, both musically and lyrically, a breath of fresh air compared to typical contemporary praise and worship songs.

Breathing The Breath
Words and Music by Matt Redman

We have nothing to give
That didn't first come from Your hands
We have nothing to offer You
Which You did not provide
Every good, perfect gift comes from
Your kind and gracious heart
And all we do is give back to You
What always has been Yours

Lord, we're breathing the breath
That You gave us to breathe
To worship You, to worship You
And we're singing these songs
With the very same breathe
To worship You, to worship You

Who has given to You
That it should be paid back to him?
Who has given to You
As if You needed anything?
From You, and to You, and through You
Come all things, O Lord
And all we do is give back to You
What always has been Yours

We are breathing the breath
That You gave us to breathe

The truths in this song which are great to point out to a congregation are: 1) We owe our very ability to worship to Christ alone. The Spirit of Christ in us enables us to worship him in multiple ways. 2) Worship is more than just musical worship. We live (or breathe) as an act of worship, and we sing songs as one artistic expression of this life of worship. 3) Simply, "Of Him and to Him and through Him are all things."

While leading this song, it may be helpful to share these Scripture passages with the church.

Job 41:11
Romans 11:35-36
James 1:17-18
Job 12-10

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