How Do You Discern a Call to Ministry?

There are a ton of Facebook groups that are related to various aspects of music ministry that have been really helpful for me. There’s lots of helpful links, discussions and discussion about helpful equipment and programs that have come out. One time, someone asked a question that sparked an interesting debate. The questioner asked: “I have recently been called into worship ministry. How long do I wait before I start asking people to call me a worship leader?” This lead to me thinking about my call to ministry, as well as the call to ministry of a number of my friends, and there are two aspects to a call to ministry that must be in place in order for the call to be true.

  • Being gifted in the are you think you’re being called.

Many times people think they have a gifting in an area, but the outworking of that leaves something to be desired. This seems to happen often in relation to music ministry. People think that because they’ve sung karaoke, or because they’re great aunt twice removed on their mother’s side once told them they have a good voice they are the world’s greatest singer. If you haven’t ever watched it, look on YouTube for some examples of the early episodes of the each season of American Idol. Sometimes people are very misled in their giftings!

Another piece of this is: are you working at and growing in the area of ministry to which you think you’re called? If you’re called to a particular ministry, then try to grow in it. Get involved in a church and find ways to serve and grow if you think you’re being led in that direction. Who knows, you may work your way into a job!

  • Being recognized by a local church and being commissioned by them.

This is even more important than the previous point. Unless a church calls and commissions you to serve them, you may be misled in your calling. I spent many hours in seminary classes with people who thought they were called to ministry, but didn’t exemplify many fruit of the Spirit, or a humble willingness to seek to learn. Al Mohler has said that unless a church would be willing to hire a person as a pastor they shouldn’t encourage them to attend seminary. This doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job after seminary, but you should be trying to find ways to grow in your gifting even in seminary so that you can more faithfully discern how God has uniquely wired you to serve in his kingdom. This may also allow you to grow in some areas of weakness that will make you better suited for your first ministry call after school. The ultimate goal, however, is to be faithful wherever you are.

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What Defines a Hymn?

Throughout church history there have been debates on what is acceptable and permissible to be sung at a church. I’ve read books that argue that we should only sing songs from the book of Psalms. I’ve got churches just down the road from where I live that play top 40 hits as a part of their Sunday morning worship. I’ve also got people in the church I currently serve who talk to me like the only thing we should sing on Sunday morning are hymns (generally meaning older songs). So that leads to the question: how do we define what a hymn is? Augustine, writing in the 4thCentury stated that a hymn is comprised of 3 things: “song, and praise, and that of God.” So it must be sung, it must be praise, and it must be to God. Let’s take a look at these 3, and then 3 more that didn’t make Augustine’s list.

  1. Sung

This one should go without saying, in order to be a hymn, it must be sung. It’s hard to have a hymn without singing! This obviously isn’t including instrumental music, which can also serve a role in a service, but for Augustine, a hymn must be sung.

  1. Praise

According to a quick Google search, to praise is to “express warm approval or admiration of.” In the case of a hymn, we are demonstrating admiration of God, which ties us in to the next point. My question with this, is what do you do when you are not exactly in admiration of God? I’m currently reading through Job and have been reminded how difficult life can be. I also see Psalms where they aren’t praising God, such as the imprecatory Psalms. So maybe this point isn’t as helpful in defining a hymn.

  1. To God

Finally, Augustine says a hymn must be to God. This will come up in one of my 3 points, but what about Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:19 where we’re called to address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? Or what about Psalms like 42 and 43, where the Psalmist speaks to his soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are in turmoil within me?” Apparently we can have songs that are addressed not just to God!

 

So 3 more things that I would add that Augustine didn’t include in his definition are:

  1. Scripture saturated.

A phrase that I like to use is “be steeped in God’s Word.” Just as tea is made by soaking leaves in water, so should our lives as Christians be steeped in God’s Word. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christdwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Songs are an amazing way to allow the Word of Christ to soak into our lives. This is why I create Spotify playlists, and give chord charts to anyone who asks, I want our songs to affect our lives.

  1. Addressing One Another AND God

Songs can be addressed to God, but part of the reason we sing is to “address one another.” (see above) But we’re also called to sing praises to God. This is a healthy tension that we walk when choosing the songs we sing, but we are called to do both.

  1. Don’t just sing hymns

Both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 talk about singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Psalm 98:1 says “Sing to the Lord a new song.” I am so tired of the “contemporary versus hymns” debate and wish people would instead focus on the content of what we’re singing. There are some incredible hymns that are being written today, just as there were some terrible hymns written hundreds of years ago! (and bad songs being written today just as there are good hymns from hundreds of years ago) But the Bible doesn’t tell us what kinds of songs to sing, nor what instruments we’re supposed to use, nor what melodies we’re supposed to sing. So let’s sing a wide variety of Scripture saturated songs that allow us to teach and admonish one another, and encouraging each other all the more as we see the day of the Lord’s return drawing even closer!

Re-Oriented to God

Why do we gather together every Sunday morning? Wouldn’t it be far nice to go play golf, sleep in, or go eat brunch with your family? I spent some time last week reading Resonant Witness, edited by Jeremy Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, and was struck by the line, “In worship, we are re-oriented to God.” James K.A. Smith has done a great job with his cultural liturgy series on addressing how all humans are created as worshippers who are shaped and formed by our practices. The events we participate in, the rhythms that we practice in our lives, and even the way we approach our spending of money all shape our worldviews. This means it is vital for us to spend regular time worshipping together to re-orient ourselves to who God is, what he is like, and what he expects from us.

This also gets to the point and purpose of the gathered church. Many churches pick one side or the other saying it’s either for Christians, or it’s for the unchurched. Others will try to balance that out and say it’s both. But the real purpose for the gathered church is for God. With the focus and purpose being on God, we then have to articulate how we go about focusing on God, which gets to our liturgies. Another book I’m currently reading, Reformation Worship, states, “The mission of the church, Christ’s bride, is worship and witness.” Once again, it’s easy to focus on one or the other, it’s much more difficult to encourage a faithful pursuit of both areas. We are commanded to meet together (Hebrews 10:25), and to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).

Our worship services, or liturgies, either help or hinder us from seeing God as he truly is (see ‘The Visible Gospel’ for one way for us to structure our services to better understand God). For many people, this is unfortunately the only time they set aside each week to “fix their eyes on Christ” (Hebrews 12:2), so it is vital for us to be faithful with our task as worship leaders to plan our liturgies in such a way that they help us marvel at God’s goodness and grace in our lives.

Resources for Church Music Teams

One thing I’ve been asked through my years in ministry is what are some good resources for those who are feeling called to oversee or help out in a worship ministry? So here’s a list of the best resources I’ve found, I’ve ordered them in the order of significance I’ve found them to be:

Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin. I’ll read and recommend pretty much everything he’s done! This book gives a great theological base while tying it to the practical elements of what a worship leader is called to do.
True Worshippers by Bob Kauflin. This is a follow up to Worship Matters, and is aimed at the congregation. Helpful for a worship pastor to think through what he should expect of the congregation.
The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks. Each chapter is a different area the worship pastor at least needs to be aware of and thinking through on a regular basis. If you’re interested, the list is: The worship pastor as…. Church lover, corporate mystic, doxological philosopher, disciple maker, prayer leader, theological dietician, war general, watchful prophet, missionary, artist chaplain, caregiver, mortician, emotional shepherd, liturgical architect, curator, tour guide, failure.
Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. Similarly to Rhythms of Grace (see below), Chapell takes it to the New Testament to present and how the various elements of church services through history have all attempted to be demonstrations of the gospel message.
Doxology & Theology edited by Matt Boswell. A number of worship pastors across the country contributed to this one, but it addresses how doxology and theology are two sides of the same coin. If our theology (study and understanding of God and who He is) does not affect and allow our doxology (praise of God) to become deeper and richer then it’s useless.
Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper. Cosper walks through the Bible and how the story of the Bible should shape our worship services.
Worship By the Book edited by D.A. Carson. This is an older one, but gives 3 ideas about how to structure a worship service, from high church to low church.
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. Smith is a philosopher at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, this is one of a three part series where he directs the cultural liturgies of our day and shows how those affect us, and also how we should be intentional with our worship liturgies because we are shaped and formed by that which we most love.
The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. This one should be read by every worship pastor! It’s a classic that talks about the need for both emotions and intellect in our worship (loving God with our heart, mind, soul and strength)
Gather God’s People by Brian Croft and Jason Adkins. I just read this one, it adheres pretty closely to the regulative principle (in a church service, we can only do that which is specifically described in Scripture), and I don’t agree with their idea of singing “Psalms,” (as in Ephesians 5:19, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs), but they’ve got some great things to think about as far as what the Bible actually tells us about how we should corporately worship.
Reformation Worship by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey. I just started this one after getting a recommendation from Mark Dever at T4G. It’s already given me some great nuggets anythings to think through and about. They take a look at some various church liturgies from 1523-1586, with some comments and updated translations. So this includes liturgies from Calvin, Knox, Luther, Cranmer and many others. I realize it’s a hefty book, and very expensive, but from my just starting it, it looks like it will be a really helpful resource.
Online Resources:
-Bob Kauflin blogs at Worship Matters regularly.
Doxology and Theology. This started as the book, it’s the worship branch of The Gospel Coalition. They also do a conference regularly.
Worthily Magnify. This is by a worship pastor name Jamie Brown. He’s at an Anglican Church, and I don’t agree with everything he writes, but it’s some good stuff to think about.
Worship Matters Video Intensive. I waited YEARS for him to do this! I’m currently taking my leaders at church through this, it’s Bob walking through his book in a video format, with discussion questions.
I’m always looking for new books or resources for us to use that are helpful for us to think biblically and theologically about how we craft our worship services, but this list will keep you busy for quite a few months, and give you many good ideas about how to better plan and structure our corporate worship services.

The Visible Gospel

It seems that one of the trendy things for Christians today is to leave the church. For many, church is seen as the biggest problem with Christianity, a place full of hypocrites and those pursuing wealth. Yet individual Christianity is not an option. We are called to “not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some,” and are called to encourage each other on a daily basis. One of the primary reasons we are commanded to meet together is because we so often neglect or marginalize the gospel in our daily lives. I stumbled across a video today in which Jerry Bridges explains why you never outgrow the gospel. In the video, he states, “The gospel is for sinners, and if we do not acknowledge ourselves as sinners, then we tend not to put much value in the gospel.” Tim Keller has similarly said, “The gospel is not just the ABC of the Christian life but the A to Z of the Christian life.” So how do we remember the gospel on a regular basis? One way is through our church services, which are meant to be the gospel made visible.

In order to demonstrate the gospel, we first need to understand what the gospel is. 9Marks has a helpful definition that is broken down into 4 parts: God, man, Christ, response. God has created the world and everything in it, including man. Man sinned, separating himself from God and other men. The only way to be reconciled back to God is through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. That sacrifice leads to a call for everyone to respond by repenting of sin and trusting in God to be saved. These 4 parts should affect the way we plan and structure our worship services, with thought given to how each of these parts can become a regular part of our worship. So what does that look like? Here are some ways I’ve tried to work this in to each of our services.

1.God

Each service begins with a call to worship, where we are reminded who God is. That he is completely separate from us, completely holy, and is thus worthy of our worship. I also try to begin our services singing about who God is, so last week we began by singing “All the Earth,” and this week we sang “Blessed Be Your Name.” These songs remind us who God is, that he has created everything in the world and orchestrates everything according to his perfect plan.

2.Man

This element seems to run contrary to the previous one (how can there be an emphasis on man when our focus needs to be on God?) But we need to remember that we are all sinners and apart from God’s grace are destined for an eternity in hell, separated from God. We need to remember that we have no hope apart from God’s work, which will be demonstrated in the next point. So to demonstrate our sin, we will sing something like “Lamb of God,” or this past week we read question number 16 from the New City Catechism: “What is sin? Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.” This is also a great time to read a public confession of sin, or create a time of silence for people to confess their sins privately to God.

3. Christ

Then we see that we are not left without hope, because Christ has defeated sin and death and has thus reconciled us to himself through his death on the cross. Some of my personal favorite songs to use to remind us of this message are “O Praise the Name,” “At the Cross (Love Ran Red),” and “Man of Sorrows.” These songs do an incredible job of pointing to our need for a Savior and remind us to respond to God in awe and worship – with our whole lives.

4. Response

Finally, we are called to respond. This can be done through singing, Scripture reading, the sermon, or the benediction. I am not a big fan of alter calls, because they tend to be emotional manipulation, but there needs to be times for people to respond to the gospel message, which can be as easy as inviting people to talk with you after the service. A couple that we’ve ended with recently are “His Mercy Is More,” and “The Stand.” These call us to respond to who God is and what he has done in and through us – even in the past hour we’ve spent together, gathering around His Word! We also include a benediction, which is a Scripture reading encouraging us to allow the sermon to influence our lives. The Bible has many benedictions throughout it that can be helpful conclusions to our time together, such as Hebrews 12:1-2, Hebrews 13:20-21, Jude 24-25, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

While these elements do not need to be a part of every service, and sometimes it’s more helpful to focus on just one part of the gospel to better allow it to permeate into our thinking, these should serve as the regular structure of our services to allow us to better steep in the goodness of God through the gospel message. It’s vital that we think through the elements of our services to allow our congregations to see the gospel throughout everything we do! As John Calvin said, “Without the gospel everything is useless and vain.”

3 Ways to Fix Our Eyes on Christ

I had the privilege of spending last week in Louisville, Kentucky for the bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference. While the speakers and free books are great, it’s often even better to spend time with friends – old and new! One of my friends encouraged me to pick up writing at my blog again (thanks Kevin!) So here we go. I’m going to try to write a weekly blog on some things I’m think about in relation to worship – both gathered and scattered. One thing that stuck out to me was something one of the speakers said: Christians are leaky, like a sieve. We get the gospel poured into us, but it has a tendency to leak out very quickly. This is part of the reason it is so important for us to “not neglect meeting together.” (Hebrews 10:25) We gather to be reminded. But what are we reminding each other to do? One of those things that I pray every week before our services begin is that it reminds us to fix our eyes on Christ. (Hebrews 12:2) So here are 3 ways during our weekly worship that we can better fix our eyes on Christ:

  1. Read Scripture

One of the most impactful classes for me during my time in seminary was in the first class I ever had: Survey of Christian Doctrine. The professor stated that we as Evangelicals claim to be book-centered people. But if that’s true, why is Scripture not a greater part of our weekly worship? How many services have you been to where Scripture isn’t read until the preaching portion of the service? But not only does Scripture need to be read, but read WELL. The Bible is “living and active,” (Hebrews 4:12) and many people do a disservice to the reading of God’s Word by reading it in an un-engaging way.

One way I’ve tried to do a better job of implementing Scripture reading is by beginning all our services with Scripture – generally from a Psalm. This helps us to reorient our hearts and minds to what we’re about to do together: focus on Christ. By beginning our time with God’s Word we are reminded to ground everything we do in that Word, as Colossians 3:17 reminds us, “Let the word of Christdwell in you richly.”

  1. Get Our Eyes Off Ourselves

Another way we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Christ is by getting our eyes off ourselves. Obviously this is just the opposite of fixing our eyes on Christ (we can’t fix our eyes on 2 places, after all), but this is another area where we often need reminders. Philippians 2 encourages us to have the same mind among ourselves as Christ Jesus: humility. Every person on the planet is prone to naval gazing at the expense of gazing at Christ. So when we gather together to sing, read God’s Word, give our offerings, and encourage one another, we do so to help each other get our gaze off ourselves and onto Christ.

  1. Look Also to the Interests of Others

Finally, as Paul also reminds us Philippians 2, we need to remember to “count others move significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Each week when we gather, we’re coming with different life stories, expectations, proclivities to sin, and areas where we need encouragement. By fixing our eyes on Christ we can better serve each other and remember that our focus needs to be on those around us instead of ourselves. I love what Ephesians 5:19 says about our purpose for gathering: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” We are called to address one another on Sunday mornings. This helps us look to those around us who are in need of encouragement and support to faithfully live out God’s commands for another week. This then helps us to get our focus off ourselves and reorients our lives to better reflect the realities of our changed lives.

What Makes a “Worship” Song?

One of the perennial issues I receive comments on is on the music we sing on a Sunday morning, and whether or not it’s actually “worshipful.” So what exactly makes a song a “worship” song? And is that the question we should be asking? A song is made up of a few different things: melody/notes, rhythm and words. Let’s look at each one of these.

  • Melody

The songs we sing on Sunday shouldn’t jump around too much, and should be easy for the entire congregation to sing. This means rap wouldn’t be good to use as a tool of worship with the congregation. This doesn’t mean that songs that have melodies that jump around a lot can’t be used as a tool to worship, but they shouldn’t be one of the songs we sing on a regular basis at church. And a melody doesn’t inherently make make a song worshipful or not. When Martin Luther was writing his hymns he wrote them to well known bar tunes so people could join in and sing with him. The focus for Martin Luther, and for us, is that the congregation sings together (Col. 3:16). Therefore, any melody can be used as song of worship, but a certain melody does not a worship song make.

  • Rhythm

As I was growing up, one of my favorite songs was Audio Adrenaline’s ‘The Houseplant Song.’ A line in there said, “If it’s syncopated rhythm then your soul is gonna rot!” (Coincidentally, this was one of the first songs I learned on guitar!) Once again, you can have a song that is used for congregational worship with all sorts of different rhythms, the key is making it a rhythm the congregation can sing. Are there too many words in too short amount of time? Are there too few words for the pace of the music? Is it in a weird time signature that’s hard to pick up (like 7/8 or 5/4)? As weird as it sounds, this is why I think it’s important to keep up with top 40 music, so we can learn what our congregation is listening to and what is shaping their ideas of music. Once again, a worship song can have a wide range of rhythms and still be a worship song.

  • Words

That leaves us with words. Words alone make Christianity unique. Jesus is the Word made flesh. God revealed and reveals himself to us through his Word, the Bible. A phrase that gets thrown around a lot that I despise is “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” Supposedly St. Francis of Assissi said it. I don’t hate it because he never said that, but because the gospel by definition, requires words. The word we translate as gospel more literally means “good news.” How can you hear news unless someone tells it to you? (Rom. 10:14) So, the only thing that makes a song worshipful or not, is the words. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the WORD of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The Word alone and the words alone of the song are what make them useful for worship. Are these songs teaching us truths we see in the Bible?

Most of the complaints I get about the songs we sing on a regular basis are because of the melody or the rhythm being something that someone doesn’t like. A more helpful question to ask is: does this song help me teach those around me the truths of Scripture? If it does and the melody is relatively easy, and the rhythm allows us to catch on quickly, let’s proclaim that truth together, but apart from the words we can’t tell if a song is worshipful or not. How can you ensure that the word of Christ is dwelling in you richly? By paying attention to the words you’re singing!

What Do We Believe?

I have been in the Evangelical Free Church of America for pretty much my whole life. The statement of faith of the denomination is comprised of 10 points that all churches who are a part of the denomination agree to. I took this 10 points and wove them in to our services for 10 weeks to help us remind each other what we believe.

One of the purposes for us to regularly gather together as the church is to both remind each other of the gospel message that transforms us, and encourage each other to live out that gospel message as we continue to be the church scattered throughout our various vocations and locations during the week. We, as finite humans, are forgetful people, who are so easily distracted by the things that are going on around us (Hebrews 12:1), and we need the weekly reminders of what we actually believe, and how that affects our daily lives.

This is part of the reason having something like “The Apostle’s Creed” memorized is so helpful! It’s the early church’s attempt to have a succinct statement about what we as Christians believe. Obviously, this does not explain every detail about God’s story, but it does an amazing job of summarizing what makes Christianity unique.

So at the end of a weekly gathering, are you reminded what you believe? Are you able to encourage others to remember what they believe?

Formed By What?

We all have habit and routines that shape us. As my beloved Adventures in Odyssey taught me: addictions can be habit forming. The same is true of our weekly worship services. Whether we like to admit it or not, our corporate gatherings are times that shape our view of God. This means we need to think through the songs we sing, the architecture and decor of the church and even the use of the Bible in the services. Everything we do affects our view of God, either positively or negatively.

Bryan Chappell in his book Christ Centered Worship argues that throughout history, the church has followed a gospel centered liturgy. That means that our worship services from the flow to the language used in the service should lead us through the gospel message each and every week. In the book, he lists several components that comprise a gospel centered service:

  1. Calls
  2. Prayers
  3. Scripture Readings
  4. Music
  5. Offerings
  6. Creeds and Affirmations
  7. Benedictions and Charges
  8. Rubrics
  9. Sermon
  10. Sacraments
  11. Expressions of Fellowship
  12. Testimonies
  13. Oaths
  14. Ordinations and Commissionings
  15. Church Discipline
  16. Fasting
  17. Other?

All of these will not take place every time we gather, but should be regular parts of our worship. Which of these do you see taking place regularly, and which ones do you not see? How are some ways you think the church could grow in their reminders of the gospel routine? How can you personally better grow in your re-telling of the gospel in your own life?

Being Contextually Aware

The past month I had the wonderful privilege of leading music at 2 incredibly different conferences. The first was the EFCA Theology Conference in Chicago, where over 300 pastors gathered from across the country to hear lectures on the Reformation. The time was rich and deep, and we sang many hymns that are hundreds of  years old, as well as some new hymns. The instrumentation was just me playing piano. There is something incredibly unique about 300 men raising their voices together! Then, this past weekend, I got to lead the music for our district Middle School retreat where something like 500 middle schoolers gathered in Estes Park hyped up on energy drinks and excited to be away from parents for the weekend. This time I had my wife singing, an electric guitar, a drummer and myself and we only did songs that have been written within the past 10 years! Instead of sitting behind a piano this time, I got to dance around and jump along to upbeat energetic songs, and it was a blast! But it was funny to me to compare the 2 situations, and reminded me of the need for both in our corporate worship.

Some services we need time to dance and get excited about what God is doing among us! And other times we’re going to need the simplicity of 1 instrument and 1 lead vocal singing songs that are a thousand years old. This is the beauty of singing the gospel together: it covers every spectrum of the human emotion. There is no right or wrong way to join together in worshipping God, and we should all allow and encourage those around us to continue worshipping God with their whole lives! God is worthy of our dancing, and our piano playing, and I hope that whatever is played and sung is an opportunity for us to be made more like Christ.