Worship in Adversity

We began a new series this week at Grace on the life of Elijah titled ‘Adversity.’ As I confessed during the beginning of the corporate singing, it was pretty tough to find songs that we know that deal with this important issue. This week I found a blog by a pastor at New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs who asked the question: how many minor keys are we singing at church? Looking at the 104 top CCLI songs from the past 25 years, there were 7.

Paul in Romans 12:15 tells believers, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In my experience, we tend to do a great job rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly, even if inwardly we’re jealous) while a poor job at mourning with those who are mourning. It seems that we want people to mourn for a short time and then move on to being happy. Instead of actually mourning we offer poor platitudes, while not actually relating to any seen or felt needs.

This is also true of some songs that deal with our response to difficult situations. In trying to find songs that related to this theme, one of the first that came to mind was Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ He wrote that right after 9/11 when he realized that many of the songs the church sings don’t have any aspect to dealing with difficulties. Yet that song is still in a major key and resolves in a hopeful statement.

I introduced a new song to the church this week, ‘Give Me Faith’ by Elevation Worship that hopefully helps put words to how we as believers can deal with difficult situations that arise: through faith. Hebrews 11 talks about the faith that many people have demonstrated throughout history. My hope and prayer as we go through this sermon series is that we can  pray for the faith to trust God even when our lives feel like a mess.

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Is Singing Worship Songs A Heart or a Head Issue?

A couple days ago I posted an article I read on my Facebook titled ‘Why I Lead the Worship Music You Hate, and Why I’m Going to Keep Leading It‘ which lead to some interesting comments from some of my friends. Some liked it and agreed with it, others like bits of the article but not all of it, my dad didn’t like the tone of it and I overall liked it, but disagreed with some of the points. With about a 3 month hiatus from blogging, I figured this was as good a time as any to enter back into the fray (with apologies to anyone who has continued checking this for any updates: I began seminary this fall and haven’t had time to keep up with this)

First off, my goal as a worship leader through music is not to appease people or simply sing the songs everyone likes. Contrary to the belief of many people I talk to, Sunday mornings aren’t about what each individual wants or needs, but about lifting high the name of Christ. We all come from different background and have different issues that we’re struggling with that day, and to think that each Sunday morning is where I need to be filled up is a selfish way of viewing Sunday morning worship. This time together should simply be an extension of what we do throughout the week individually with Sunday mornings being a time for us to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage one another to better pursue Christ. As was stated in the article, “My job is to disciple worship in the church.” While worship is so much more than simply singing, it definitely includes singing and helps put melody to Gospel truths that allow us to better remember the God we worship.

Secondly, we are to worship God with our hearts, soul and body. We cannot so easily compartmentalize our lives into these little segments, but instead need to be worshipping God with all areas of life. These all bleed into each other and affect one another and together make up our entire being (there’s some Trinitarian theology in there somewhere, anyone else want to write about that one??). One of the biggest mistakes I have with this article is that it polarizes head truth with heart truth which cannot be done. Yes, we preach far better than we live, but we cannot completely separate our beliefs from our actions and vice versa. To separate these parts out (as in music is primarily emotional/heart and preaching is primarily head/thought) is a dangerous generalization. All of our lives are surrendered to God and need to be submitted to his perfect will. THAT is worship.

Thirdly, church services aren’t about trying reach non-believers. Our weekly corporate worship services are to disciple and equip the body to better serve God throughout their lives. Almost everything we do in church should appear strange to those who have not submitted their lives to Christ, and that’s good! We are called to be set apart, a holy priesthood, the very body of Christ. It’s not a social club or a lecture hall but the physical way God has chosen to reveal himself to the world. Believers should leave Sunday mornings more ready to be a living example of Christ in their homes, workplaces and various areas of life. The “seeker-sensitive” church model has been attempted by many people (and is still tried by many) and as Willow Creek has shown, cannot be sustained.

Finally, the words we sing matter. This issue has been written about by many people far smarter than I, but bears repeating in this discussion. My goal with the songs we sing is to help people have a better understanding of who God is. The songs we sing do teach and shape the way people interact with God. Practically, this means that I will sing (hopefully) a wide variety of songs that include both old and new songs. I just finished a book called Ordinary this week by Michael Horton in which he says, “Older forms, songs, and prayers are not better because they are old, but because they are family treasures in the attic. (Ordinary, 178)” I will not do traditional things simply for the sake of tradition, but because we draw from a rich heritage that can be traced to the very creation of the universe. Singing a wide variety of songs also teaches that God is vast and cannot be contained or every be fully described. We need new songs that can better reveal characteristics of God and even with an eternity we will not be able to fully describe who God is and what he is like. In Bob Kauflin’s book Worship Matters, he has a quote that says, “show me the songs a church sings, and I’ll tell you their theology.” (I’m sorry, I can’t find the book so I don’t know the exact page) Words matter far more than people realize or want to admit and music can be a powerful way to remember Gospel truths and allow the Gospel to better reach our hearts of stone and turn them to hearts of flesh.

Much to the dismay of many a worship through music leader at churches across the world, the worship wars are not dead and will not completely die until Christ returns. The problem is that the real worship war is within our hearts as we need to die to ourselves on a daily basis. Sunday mornings are not about you or I as individuals, but as the body of Christ. What can you do to better equip the saints to worship God throughout all of their lives?

Reflections on Singing At Church

There’s been a blog that’s I’ve seen getting a lot of attention recently titled ‘Are We Headed for a Crash? Reflections on the Current State of Evangelical Worship‘ that led me to a really good blog from a fellow music pastor who has clearly thought through many issues that come with being a music pastor. Some of his ideas are spot on, some of them I’m planning to steal, and others I just can’t agree with. This one that has gotten a lot of attention is one of the ones I can’t find myself completely agreeing with.

In my own journey I’ve been inundated with theology from birth (thanks a lot Dad!). I “discovered” in college that I was both Reformed and a Calvinist and so I gladly jumped on the “young, restless, reformed” movement of Evangelicalism attending conferences like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, and even attending John Piper’s church in Minneapolis after college. Over the past couple years I’ve slowly found myself drifting away from that and into more of what I would describe as an Evangelical direction. I can’t completely agree with everything I’ve seen in these circles and while I still have such a great deal of respect for many people in the movement, I’ve found my own lines widening in include more than I would’ve 5 years ago. The zeal without knowledge described me to a T. With that came a certain expectation I had for music and worshipping on Sunday mornings. I know we all come to Sundays with certain expectations and I was no exception. Yet as I’ve continued leading a congregation in weekly worship through music, I’ve seen more of a resurgence in applying biblical and pastoral truths to the role of the “worship pastor.”

Last October I had the opportunity to attend our denominations worship leader conference in Minneapolis and got to connect with a number of like-minded and similar aged people who were wrestling through similar issues as me. The biggest thing that struck me, however, was that the younger 20 and 30 something music leaders viewed this role with a pastoral heart and are seeking to do our best to shepherd the flock entrusted to us instead of viewing it as a performance or a way to build up ourselves. I know many people, especially musicians, can get a big head very quickly, and I pray every Sunday for God to increase and help me to decrease. It doesn’t take much for me to get high on praise, but it’s a constant battle to make God greater in and through my life. And this seems to be the heart cry of many people my age who are gifted in music and using that gift in the local church. I am so excited by what I’ve seen as a transition from professional musician to co-laborer and pastor in the Gospel once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

The other issue I have with this article (and many other articles and books) is that it seems to paint a one-size-fits-all portrait of how music should be done in a church. He writes, “Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology.” I don’t think the things he lists here need to distract from the the message, but can and should allow us to better worship God, who gave people the gift of creativity. In fact, the picture I see in heaven where we will perfectly worship God is more beautiful than John can even begin to describe or fathom. It’s like he’s struggling for words to show how great this place is. And it has different colors and different materials and all points to God. I think the same thing can be done on a Sunday morning in a local church body.

That being said, I am grateful for Jamie bringing this issue to light, as I mentioned, it is a battle for anyone who is in front of a large group to make it all about Christ and keep the focus on him instead of us. We too often think too highly of ourselves at the expense of God. May all of our lives, including Sunday morning singing be done to the honor and glory of Christ alone.

Don Miller’s Thoughts on Church

Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz penned a blog this week on why he doesn’t go to church very often. And that’s all well and good – people do connect with God better through different ways. I have friends who best connect with God when doing some intense studying, others who do it through painting, and others who do connect to God through singing. Yet Miller’s whole premise is off because it makes church all about him. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:

Church isn’t about you, your needs, your desires, your wants – church is about God and his people representing Christ to a dead and broken world.

Yet even if someone doesn’t necessarily connect to God through singing, we’re still commanded to do it (Eph 5) and the biggest book in the Bible is devoted to, you guessed it, singing! This singing thing must be pretty important if we see so much of Scripture devoted to it. What are your thoughts on singing at church, whether or not you do connect with it?

For a much more in depth look at this issue, see Stephen Miller’s blog here.

Practicing for Heaven

Do you ever practice for anything? I have at least one practice every week for music on Sundays, and usually I have two practices. When I was growing up I practiced basketball for hours on end and my parents forced me to practice piano. These days my practice generally falls into two categories: reading and music. I read so I can grow in my knowledge of God and I practice music because I love it and because it’s part of my job.

Have you ever thought about anything on earth that we are practicing for heaven? My dad wrote a couple pieces recently on music (The Church’s Corporate Singing: Reflecting the Now and the Not-Yet-Ness of the Kingdom, and The Singing Church: Praise, Prayer and Proclamation). I also just recently finished reading ‘Rhythms of Grace‘ by Mike Cosper, a fantastic book I strongly recommend if you think through anything related to worship. Through my dialogue with my dad and reading that book I was reminded that singing songs together today is practicing for what we will one day do in heaven. 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter says, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” So many things people on earth put so much stock in today will eventually pass away, and what will remain? God’s love.

Revelation also paints a picture of us singing praises to our God, starting in Revelation 4 with the four creatures and twenty-four elders, continuing in Revelation 15 singing the song of Moses, and finally the great multitude in heaven praising God in Revelation 19. We are a people who sing praises to our God, and we are a people who will be singing praises to God for all eternity. Preaching will someday be done, because we will be in the very presence of God! Teaching will someday cease because God will reveal himself to us! But singing is something we will get to do for all eternity. So do you regularly sing praises to God, or are you too worried about what those around you will think? Do you view singing as a way to practice for heaven?