Category: Uncategorized

Documenting Church Life, Musically.

A few weekends ago, Church at Charlotte hosted a baby dedication service that was a new way for families to celebrate their little ones and dedicate them to the Lord in the company of friends and family as well as other parents. This seemed to be a more purposeful way to dedicate the children instead of having it during a Sunday service where it is only a part of what’s going on during a busy service. So this was a way to honor the families as well as give them time to pray for the parents and the children and it gave the parents the opportunity to share some about their own dedication to bring up the child in the way of the Lord.

In many ways, music can help document what is going on in the life of a church. If you listen to a church’s original music, you should have a feel for what season they are in or what particular theme is stirring in the hearts of members as captured by a songwriter. We wanted to help remember this moment in time by having a song played during the service specifically about child dedication.

Which was a bit of a problem. At first.

Maybe I’m just unaware, but there aren’t too many child dedication songs out there. There certainly are some, but they were not stylistically fitting with our church and what we wanted to do. However, Kevin (Worship Pastor at CAC) and I came up with a solution. Find a hymn text, and match it to a hymn tune that people recognize, thereby abiding by the classic rules of hymnody.

So we found a hymn text called “This Child We Dedicate to Thee.” It happens to be 8.8.8.8. which is fairly common. We then chose the tune from “Behold the Throne of God Above” which is a song that our church knows well. We did two stanzas from “This Child” in the lower melody, and then went back to the first verse and went to the higher melody for some dynamic build. It didn’t need to be long, as its only about a minute and a half. But it served as a musical prayer and aided in documenting a piece of the church’s worship life.

This is a neat way to give the church something tangible to help remember the event. And it doesn’t have to be perfectly produced and sound just as good as the Ray LaMontagne album that comes out in May (stoked). The purpose is to document, not impress people. Quality should be as good as you can possibly make it and competing with culture is always a losing battle if that’s the motivation.

The church should always be a place of artistic expression. My challenge to you, and myself, is to seek out ways to document God’s story as we play our part and as it unfolds in our communities with any and all artistic expression and even in ways that seem a bit different or uncommon. Try something. Mix things up. Create. Fail, even.

I thought I’d share the music and the video here. Feel free to use our arrangement if it would serve your ministry well.

Grace and peace,

SHF

Rebelling from Rest

Quiet

Stillness

Silence

Solitude

 

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In our fast-paced culture of instant satisfaction and the breakneck speed of change, we often neglect working towards quietness and having a stillness of heart that looks in the face of noise and says, “I am at peace.” The words listed above are often foreign to us; uncomfortable, even. As we become more and more accustomed to noise, silence becomes even more foreign. 

We can not escape the noise and busyness that surrounds us. As appealing as it may be at times, we do not live in a monastery where silence is sacred and solitude is praised. So our challenge is to embrace a lifestyle of peace and quiet from within and impose it on our surroundings, rather than allowing the noise of external forces to dictate the attitude of our hearts. Stillness becomes a lens through which we view and live in the world and it directs how we respond to life’s challenges and struggles. 

It is safe to say that I’ve been wrestling with peace. When the Bible talks of peace, what does it mean? I’m finding the writings of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Frederick Beuchner helpful, but the practical consequences have yet to yield fruit. Nonetheless, I will share some thoughts I’ve gleaned along with questions I’ve yet to answer. 

Solitude is not as concerned with physical seclusion as it would appear. The most effective and the most biblical kind of solitude comes not from our surroundings but from a Spirit-empowered, Christ-like peace that is countercultural and against the desires of our earthly bodies. Merton writes that it is “not an absence of men or of sound around you; it is an abyss opening up in the center of your own soul. And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.” Simply escaping noise is not the solution. If it were, the only way to quiet our hearts would be to live in some form of isolation or a lifelong retreat from noise. Therefore, this peaceful contentment is not dependent on external silence. Rather our quietness is the same in interruption as it is when left undisturbed. 

Which brings me to my first practical dilemma. How earnestly I seek this solitude but how quickly it leaves when my “silence” is interrupted! How impatient I become when I am disturbed from my thoughts! When something intrudes on “my time” I respond as one who is grieving the loss of precious quiet instead of one who carries peace from within. What this reveals is that my solitude is not inner-solitude but still dependent on external environmental factors to produce inner-silence. I have yet to learn that quietness comes from within. Beuchner writes in Whistling in the Dark that “Silence can’t be anything but silent. Quiet chooses to be silent. It holds its breath to listen. It waits and is still.” When my hearts is quieted, I begin to hear things we would have never heard before, even in the midst of others and surrounded by noise. This is the goal of solitude: to be and to be still. What I mean by this is that our existence is defined by stillness in all that we do. We live our lives as all people do, but we do them with a kind of stillness that is unique. Otherworldly, even. 

I believe at our core, we are resistant to rest. We rebel against it. Some of this may be cultural and environmental conditioning, but I believe it is an issue of the heart as well. When a heart is at rest, it is on the verge of spiritual cultivation and that may not be the most comfortable season to begin. It is not natural to be still. 

In Isaiah 30, the prophet describes the Lord’s displeasure at the rebellious nature of his people. The basic issue was that the people were making plans that did not come from God and they were relying on their own wisdom, power and directives to carry out their own purposes. That sounds a bit like you and I, if we are honest with ourselves. In Isaiah 30:15, the Lord states:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

Quietness and trust proceed and interact together. I believe one of the reasons why we rebel from rest and quietness is because it requires trusting something other than ourselves and we do not like to admit that. We rebel from quietness because it will force us to reflect, to be still and to acknowledge our own weakness and brokenness. There have been times in my life where I have deliberately and adamantly avoided quieting my heart because I knew the consequential discomfort that would follow. When this happens, I’m clinging to my own powers rather than Christ. My trust is placed in something unstable, and there is no way to rest in that.

Israel’s issue with rest was wandering trust. It is our issue as well. 

Peace, then, can not be passive. For peace to occur, there must be some heart-directed action towards the True Peace. With this engagement comes a trusting of his power, a reliance on his might, and a violent surrender of all that is burdensome, wearying and cause of worry. I use the term violent to communicate that there must be a death warrant placed on fear and anxiety in the face of the peace of Christ that guards our hearts and minds (Phil 4:7). Peace and stillness can be disruptive and uncomfortable at first because it is a shifting of reliances. 

Seek peace and stillness of heart. Fight the rebellion from within that says, “Embrace noise” and “Keep up the pace.” Slow down. Listen. Learn. Be comfortable with the sound of silence, the stillness of a moment, the peace in all circumstances. This is the only way to find peace and rest, for our peace comes from Christ and his victory over death and the hope of his coming to make all things right. 

 

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:15-17).

 

 

To Be For the People, Be With the People.

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Being involved with music in church is a blessing that comes with a few challenges. I won’t list them here, for that’s a task for another day. I believe one of the most important challenges is realizing that worship ministry is pastoral ministry primarily, and music and arts ministry secondly. What I mean by this is simply that it is an act of pastoral leadership and pastoral care. It is about people first, and music and arts second.

It should be pretty obvious that in order to have an impact on people, you have to be with them. I have been combing through Arthur Mann’s reader entitled Immigrants in American Life and he describes the mid-19th Century political climate that immigrants found themselves. George Washington Plunkitt was a politician in the 1850’s in New York City. He held the title of what was know as a ward boss. Plunkitt capitalized on the increasingly important people group by adopting a brilliant political strategy of avoiding mailers and biased literature. He opted to simply spend time being with the people he represented. Because of this, the immigrants looked to him boss as a friend, adviser and protector. The knew he was on their side, at least politically. In exchange, they gave him their vote when election time came. Plunkitt breaks the system down quite simply:

To learn real human nature you have to go be among the people, see them and be seen. I know every man, woman, and child in the Fifteenth District, except those born this summer — and I know some of them, too. I know what they like and what they don’t like, what they are strong at and what they are weak in, and I reach them by approaching at the right side.

There’s only one way to hold a district: you must study human nature and act accordingly.

I believe there is some profound wisdom there. Obviously, Plunkitt’s reasons for being among the people are politically motivated and Plunkitt was guilty of graft and other dodgy political activity. But he understood how unify people toward his goal of election: be among them. Know them as neighbors and friends. Live with them. Mourn with them. Rejoice with them. Walk and sit with them. To use his words, approach them by being right there beside them. Sounds like a definition of community to me, actually. And it precisely describes how Jesus ministered to people.

Maybe it is just me, but one of the most difficult challenges in worship ministry is remembering people. Individual people. It is easy to look at a group of people and see them as a congregation. But it is much different to view them as a collective of individuals, making up the body of Christ. These individuals have hurts. They have worries. They have needs and celebrations. They have stories to tell and questions to ask.

The stage, therefore, is not a separation of leader and people. It is an avenue of engagement. It is a door of opportunity. The most important personal interactions will happen before or after the service and these interactions are of the utmost importance and should not be neglected, forgotten or avoided. I believe this changes how we lead worship during a service, as well.  It is a body of people gathered, not just a room full of people.  It is a communal act of hearing God, and responding. It is a beautiful act of adoration and praise coming from people we know and love. When we know our congregation, there is natural movement towards a unified song of praise. If my congregation is only a sea of faces, I’m spending much of the service trying to “read” them and gauge their reaction. When I am alongside them, the dynamic changes.

So my question to you (and mostly myself) is:

How close are you getting to the people you lead?

Dr. Mike Mitchell says that “ministry happens in proximity.” This comes directly from the way the Jesus’ was among people. He certainly when off alone to pray, but when he encountered crowds, he had compassion on them like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).  Look at Jesus interaction with a leper in Luke 5:12-13. Lepers were to be avoided, not touched. But Jesus was comfortable being with them, and he healed them. He came alongside them and treated them as they were: Image bearers of God, handcrafted by the Creator. 

When we see the people sitting in the chairs in this light, worship ministry becomes so much more exciting. It is not simply putting together a set list of Biblical songs that tell a story to communicate the Gospel (though that is important!). It is doing all that alongside the Body of Christ. This is the privilege and the challenge. It is not all roses and rainbows. People are not easy to deal with, but they are our family. And it is the pastoral duty of the worship team to lead while being alongside. 

-SHF

Mann, Arthur. Immigrants in American Life. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

Mitchell, Michael. Leading, Teaching and Making Disciples. Bloomington, IL: CrossBooks, 2010.

Seeing and Washing the Slime.

I am one of those people that will genuinely overlook a piece of trash on the floor and not see it for hours. Then when I notice it, I’ll forget to deal with it and it will remain on the ground. But I’ll notice if the books on my desk have been moved or rearranged. If I really look inward, what I focus on externally is what I value internally. Do I care about the trash on the floor? Certainly. But not as much as I care for the books on my desk. It is quite simple, really. 

This got me thinking: What else do I overlook?

 

So I’ve been thinking about that for a few weeks, and most likely overlooking other things in the process. Here are a few honest conclusions:

1.) I overlook the poor by worrying far more about my own finances. 

2.) I overlook my own sins while judging others for doing the same thing.

3.) I overlook people for the sake of “ministry.”

4.) I overlook my family for something that is “for their benefit.”

5.) I overlook ways I waste time but want others to carve out time for me.

The short stories Flannery O’Connor have been nurturing my soul lately. In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” O’Connor tells the story of a swindler named Tom Shiftlet who meets Mrs. Crater and her deaf daughter Lucynell while wandering in the countryside. She convinces Mr. Shiftlet to marry her innocent daughter and as a wedding present, Mrs. Crater grants Mr. Shiftlet the keys to the car along with some money for a honeymoon. Driving away on their trip, Lucynell and Tom stop in a restaurant. When Lucynell falls asleep on the counter, Tom sees his opportunity and leaves her there. He leaves with the money Mrs. Crater gave him for their honeymoon and in her dead husband’s car. 

After picking up a hitchhiker and having an argument turn south leading to the hitchhiker jumping out of the car, Tom revels in his self-righteousness:

Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him. He raised his arm and let it fall again to his breast. ‘O, Lord,’ he prayed. ‘Break forth and wash the slime from the earth!’

 

Here is a man who has done a terrible thing, but feels no remorse. Rather, he overlooks his own sin and sees the sins of everyone around him, further expounding on his earlier rants about how bad the world is now.

I’m sure you know where this is going. This reminds me of a story in Luke 18 when a Pharisee and a tax collector both go to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee sees the tax collector and says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). And the tax collector, standing far from the fold, beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (18:13).  The Pharisee was not really praying, he was using prayer as a means to puff himself up in front of others. We can easily identify this for what it is.

Slime.

We love to read stories in the Bible and imagine ourselves as the ones doing what pleases the Lord. I believe this is further evidence that we are often unwilling to admit how broken we actually are. I think we are often completely blind to the state of our spiritual health. Or decidedly blind, take your pick. The effects of the Fall are all around us and they within us as well. But I would contend we act more like the Pharisee than the tax collector on most occasions. This is the battle that wages within us. There comes a point in time where we must admit that, to borrow O’Connor’s phrase, our slime is what needs washing.  And this particular point in times because a continued practice of spiritual discipline. We can overlook it and even ignore it, but when we come to a place of honesty and vulnerability, we see what we are. However, it is far easier to look at others and think of what they must do, what they are doing wrong or what they should have done. When we investigate our own hearts, we see that everything they do, we do the same. 

This seems a bit depressing, quite honestly. But I do believe there is a silver lining to this. The more actualized our perception is, the more we see and come to understand even a little more of the depths of grace and mercy. How can we dwell on the grace of God if we do not think we need it? When we see that we need it, it is beautifully mysterious and changes the way we live and forms us to be as God intended. How can we experience the love of God if we truly believe that sinners need it far more than we do? When we live in this place of conviction, of living as one who is loved and redeemed, Christ takes his rightful place as priest and king of our hearts, the Spirit continues His work within us and the Father is glorified. 

This is why I think one of the greatest prayers to pray is:

Jesus, have mercy on me.

 

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Jesus, have mercy on me. 

 

-SHF

 

 

The Story or the Event? Being Intentionally Christocentric.

People love stories. We have and we always will. One of the reasons I love reading fiction is that it tells me a story I haven’t heard before. Reading history also quenches our thirst for learning how a story unfolded. I believe this is why movies that tell great stories impact us so deeply. Even the greatest production and special effects can’t mask the fact that a story is weak and full of holes. It may get people in the door of the theater, but they may leave unmoved by the story told. In those cases, the movie is simply a source of entertainment to leave reality for a few hours. But the story of the movie did nothing for them.

It is not the church’s role to entertain, but to proclaim.

We are to tell a story, not create an event.

Entertainment is centered on ourselves – our likes, our preferences. It implies that we are the recipients and we are the reason for the gathering. Now there is some transactional activity that occurs in worship, but this is not the purpose. For instance, sitting in the presence of the Lord moves me emotionally and spiritually in a seemingly mystical way that is beyond my comprehension. But again, this is not the purpose. If this was the purpose, worship would be, as James K. A. Smith calls it, a “refueling event.” We do receive something, for being in the presence of God is transforming and life-giving. If worship is perceived as a refueling event, it is not about Christ. It is about me.

But we must be careful not to overemphasize the fact that we are receiving. Worship must always begin with glorifying God, praising Him for who he is, all he has done, all he is doing and all he will do. By worshipping Christ, we proclaim that his death, resurrection and his eventual coming again are the reason we gather. And in doing so, we tell the marvelous story of salvation and invite others to join in this wonderful story of life and freedom.

All of this may seem very simple and you may be thinking, “I know this already!” If you are like me and you spend a good portion of your time planning services and worship sets, I pray you will think a little deeper about the origin of some service elements or song choices. Regardless of whether we realize it or not, we are telling a story in each service. So we must ask, “How am I telling this story?” Is the story telling the beautiful story of the Gospel or is it designed to meet entertainment needs? I believe doing both is missing the point, in a way.

The other day I was reading Glenn Packiam’s blog and he was describing the first time he went to an Eastern Orthodox Church. In this blog he writes that Eastern Orthodox services (along with many other traditions) are planned by theologians, not creative directors or production managers. Does this mean we have to go to seminary and be Bible scholars to plan a service? I don’t believe so. But what we can learn from this is the intentionality behind everything. We must know the why behind the what.

I call this being Intentionally Christocentric. 

(I found this blog about Christocentric Worship straightforward and clear.)

Put inquisitively and poignantly: Is everything we do pointing to Christ or is it putting on an event? Am I telling the story of the Gospel or simply putting songs together?

Intentionally telling a story communicates the story’s importance. Being intentional about every part of each service communicates that the Gospel is the central reason of our gathering and that Christ is the reason we sing.

The story we tell is greater than any other story we could create or imagine. If we settle for a “story of earth” we settle for something powerless and lifeless. We use what is from the earth to tell the story of what is beyond earth. Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote, “The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realise, is to feel ourselves to be at home here on earth.” The story we tell should be beyond what is here on earth, but it should be told in a way that is accessible and understandable. 

I must admit, sometimes my own “version” of the story takes precedence. I struggle with the thought that I may get in the way of the greater story, by my own preferences and disposition. At the beginning of each service, a bit of fear creeps over me. Not because I am playing music in front of people, but the thought that I would somehow miscommunicate the foundational truths of the faith or that something would be unclear. But I must also realize that I am not the reason people gather. God will be God. He will use what He will use. May I simply be intentionally Christocentric in my planning, and simply get out of the way, letting the Spirit of the Living God move and work as the story is told and believed.

Praying for the Pope.

Regardless of your views or opinions of the Catholic Church, the Pope is the spiritual leader of over one billion Catholics and has an incredible amount of influence among Christians worldwide. The election today was not simply for the Catholic church, but it has a great and lasting impact for all believers. To say the least, he needs prayer and that was one of the first things Jorge Mario Bergoglio asked for in his opening statements after being elected as the new pope. Choosing the name Francis is a testament of his humility and concern for the poor as has been displayed throughout his life prior to election. 

Even though this prayer can not be traced precisely to St. Francis, I found it fitting to post the “Prayer of St. Francis” which is a beautiful prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen
Also check out the prayer beautifully set to music in the form of a beloved British hymn.
-SHF

 

Faith and Fatherhood.

I’ve been thinking about faith as a verb lately. Certainly faith in its noun form is something I have and that defines the parameters that assist me in navigating how I live my life. Faith must also be something I do. Merely thinking about faith doesn’t move mountains. (James 2:17) It takes acting in faith, walking in the confidence that God is who he says he is and completely trusting that he can accomplish mighty things through those who are obedient and faithful.

The Bible frequently mentions the faith of Abraham. Hebrews 11 sums up the Old Testament account in Genesis 22 of Abraham’s willingness to offer his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice in obedience to God. The Israelities were continually tempted to follow the practices of the surrounding religions which included the abominable practice of child sacrifice, so it seems quite strange that Abraham was willing to follow God’s seemingly absurd command, given that God continually commanded his people to be set apart from the temptations of surrounding peoples. But he obeyed despite the peculiar nature of the request. His obedience was not out of fear of punishment, but from an assurance of faith, knowing that God’s plans were much more important than his own. His faith was a verb. Had his faith remained a noun, he could have been content to remain comfortable thinking and dwelling on his faith rather that acting and moving in faith. Abraham also relied on God’s track record. This was the same God who gave him a son when he was such an old man, staying true to His word. This is why his faith has been celebrated for centuries and will continue to be praised until the end of time. His faith vehenmently protected a religious identity to ensure that Israel would be the instrument of God’s grace in bringing salvation for the entire world.

I’ve only been a father for less than two weeks. I’ve known my son Elliott for a very short time in comparison to Abraham’s relationship with Isaac. Genesis tells us that Isaac was a young man at the time of testing so it is logical to conclude that they potentially had a very significant father/son bond by this time. I find it extremely difficulty to imagine having the faith to walk my son up a mountain with the full intention of sacrificing him on an altar, no matter his age.

But I do not feel this is a reason to feel bad about myself. I believe the emotions we feel towards our children is a God-given glimpse of his affections for us. However, it reveals to me a desire for a deeper faith.

Since we are looking at faith as a verb, I believe it is something that can be practiced and learned as we grow. The example of such strong faith is given so that we may strive towards a faith that is greater than what we have currently. And Hebrews 11 give us such wonderful examples of people acting “by faith.”

At the end of my time on earth, there may not be an excerpt in a famous book about the ways I acted by faith. But I hope and pray that when I see the Lord face to face that I can be confident in the fact that I did everything I could to follow Him obediently by faith, to lead my family in faith and to impact my surrounding community with the knowledge of saving faith by expressing that faith in a loving, compassionate way.

Boy, it takes faith to be a parent. I’ve learned that already.

-SHF

The Reinvention.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you’ll notice it is a bit different now. I figured having the word “mundane” as one of the first words of the blog was neither inviting nor exciting. So after much thought and consideration, I’ve renamed this blog “The Advancement” and given it a slightly different look. Up at the top next to the About Me section, there’s a tab with a post about the new name and the goals and focus of the blog. Check it out and let me know what you think. It is my desire for this blog to become a place of discussion and sharing of thoughts and ideas, so if you are a regular reader or a first time visitor, join the conversation by commenting.

For the most part, the content will be the same, but now there’s a more centralized theme holding it together. I’m excited about the new look and looking forward to the next season of this blog. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you come back soon.

-SHF
@stewplay

How Do We Measure Worship?

I’ve been a Coldplay fan since 2002. Yes I keep track of these things. I had the opportunity of seeing them on the Viva La Vida tour and as I’m writing this, I’ve just seen them on their most recent tour. Great band and a great live show, as always.

It is no secret that we are wired to worship. Spending five minutes in a concert of a popular band and its clear. If you were to take video snapshots of people in the crowd and mute the music, it could be a scene from a powerful worship service. People are going to worship something. The Israelites continually dabbled in the religious practices of the Canaanites when they forgot about God’s faithfulness, and we do the similar wandering here in the present. The “tempting other gods” just look different. Last time I checked, Coldplay doesn’t require child sacrifice to attend their concerts, but I could have missed it…

So my question is: How are you measuring worship?

What is it that makes a “good” worship service?

If you are measuring the worship of your church solely by the amount of people with their hands raised or beating their chests, you may be getting a incomplete picture of the worship life of your church. As a worship leader, it feels great when you look out and the majority of the congregation have their hands raised and seem fully engaged. But as leaders, we must go deeper in our evaluation in our church’s worship. While congressional response can be and should be a very good indicator, there has to be more to it than just the outward expression. How do we know they aren’t just worshipping music or even the worship team? Its possible to get caught up in the music at church and express genuine affections for Jesus but that could be the only worship experience during this week. (I’ve been there.) This is similar to a concert attendee. The excitement and passion for the band stops at the concerts closure. This is a tragic mentality for worshipping the Almighty.   As leaders, we should continually be looking for ways to bring our congregations to a deeper place in a lifestyle worship, because it is an amazing wellspring of life that knows no end. And those ways look different for every congregation.

But please don’t think I’m belittling the importance of physical expression. The Psalms are full of encouragement to raise your hands, clap, shout etc.  So there is no excuse for having boring music. If nobody is enagaged, there’s something going on that needs to addressed. And if the song you are playing on Sunday morning is serenading people to back to sleep, it is probably one worth skipping. As I’ve written about before, worship is most powerful when truth and experienced are combined in a way that is tangible to a congregation. The firm, unadulterated, truth about God combined the emotionally powerful, sonically beautiful experience of music and song is the best way to ensure that your congregation is getting fed in a way that leads them towards spiritual growth.

The concert I attended last week was a great experience. Was there any life-giving truth in the lyrics of the songs? Not really. But the music was exceptional and I had a great time and there’s nothing wrong with that. But worship must be more than a good time or a pleasant musical overture before the message. We are responsible for inspiring our people and providing the means to encounter a holy God and that’s not light nor an easy task. It is a wonderful burden.

In trying to evaluate the worship life of the church, consider these questions:

Is life change happening?
Are people learning more about God’s character as they worship?
Are they experiencing His power and presence outside the walls of the church?

At Seacoast, we evaluate the lyric content of the songs we present to the congregation because it is important to be intentional about what people will be proclaiming about God. We want them to be saying and singing things that are true, things that matter and teach them about God. I love hearing the stories of life change happening during worship because of a lyric or a moment when the presence of God was a reality for somebody. Those are the Kingdom victories and that’s how we should measure the effectiveness of a worship ministry.

-SHF

Don’t Take Congregational Singing for Granted.

We are fortunate to be living in the modern world. I can watch TV from my phone and use Google earth to “travel” to any city in the world. It is an incredible time to be alive. It is also a great time to be a believer, especially in America where we are free to worship without persecution or government oppression.

This past spring, I completed a research paper on worship in early church and I’m in the midst of writing a similar paper on worship after the Reformation. (If you are interested in reading or looking for a sleep aide, email me and I’ll gladly send email you a copy). It is amazing to learn there was a time in the church’s history where the only people allowed to sing in the service were professional choirs of singers and priests. That doesn’t exactly inspire a community of believers to come together in song. And all those enriching and creative original songs your church loves to sing? Those would have been outlawed as well. There were church leaders who thought the only kind of song that should be sung was one that used exact Biblical texts as lyrics. The motive was to maintain pure worship, yet it squelched human creativity by adhering to the simplest form of worship possible. For over ten centuries this was how the church worshipped through music, and songs were only sung by believers outside the walls of the church.

Fortunately, it was not to remain this way. Martin Luther, also an accomplished hymn writer, encouraged congregational singing and wrote hymns with this in mind. Along with his other reforms, Luther helped to revive the wonderful sound of God’s children singing praises to Him. While the battle continued to rage for many centuries, original hymns for the congregation were composed, integrated into services and joyfully received as the church became a singing church once again.

Some questions for the modern worship leader (myself):

1. Can people sing along to the songs you’ve selected?

2. Are most of your songs in keys that only a professional singer can sing?

3. Are there entire sections of the song that are too high for anyone else to sing but you?

4. Do you take for granted the fact that your congregation is welcomed and encouraged to sing with you?

As a musician I completely understand the other side of this coin.

-Singing a song in a lower key might be boring.

-Favoring familiar songs gets old if you offer multiple services which translates into doing the same 15-20 songs over and over and over…

-Sometimes a more creative song is more fun to play.

However, as worship leaders (not performers), we must always be asking ourselves: Is this song conducive to leading people to sing praise to God or is it serving our own interests?

As always, have a great week!

-SHF