This is the second post in regards to Day 2 at the Lifeway Worship Conference. To see the morning session reflection and notes click here.
After lunch I attended two great sessions. The first was led by Mike Harland of Lifeway Worship. The session focused on being a confident leader. We spent the time discussing leading when there is opposition and examining how Paul led and treated opposition, particularly at the church of Corinth. Mike gave 10 principles to remember in dealing with opposition. Of the 10, a couple struck a chord with me:
- #4: Godly leaders never relinquish their responsibilities to the people they lead (this is not the same as delegation);
- #5: Godly leaders keep confidence in God and let ministry results speak for themselves;
- #6: Godly leaders find confidence in their intimacy with Christ and not from within themselves;
- #7: Godly leaders lead not by vision but by revelation.
This last one really hit home, and maybe it’s because of my background and training as a school administrator and looking at leadership. But as Mike shared his thoughts I found myself agreeing with him more. He defined vision as something that is generated from within myself – a plan that I set forth and aspire to see accomplished. Revelation is something that is given to me by God. He referenced Proverbs 29:18 which is often referenced as, “Without vision the people perish.” But he taught us that the Hebrew word translated “vision” should actually be translated “revelation”.
Not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I went and looked up the verse in several versions. The NIV, ESV, and the HCSB all translate the verb as some form of “revelation” and not “vision”, so I am going to assume he knows what he’s talking about 🙂 The Holeman Christian Standard reads, “Without revelation people run wild,” and the ESV reads, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”
However, the most poignant story he told dealt with an interaction he had with a gentleman at a church he once served. Apparently after a service this guy came up and complained to him about the service, telling him all the things he didn’t like. Mike replied by apologizing for leading the person to believe that worship was about him and not God. He then told how he shared with the gentleman the purpose and goals he set out for worship, and through that the guy was able to eventually become a key supporter and prayer advisor to him. Again, I was overwhelmed by how differently I would have (and have in the past) responded.
My second afternoon sessions dealt with style in worship, and it was very eye opening as well. It was lead by a gentleman from South Carolina named Mark Powers. Our text for study was Jesus interaction with the woman at the well in John 4. I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure I agree with the exact analogy he drew from the text, but I think his point was right on. The important concepts I took away from this session were the importance of Christ Centered Worship, The Worship Report Card, Worship Idolatry, and Vital Contextual Worship. Let’s break these down…
Christ Centered Worship is pretty self-explanatory, it is worship that focuses on Jesus. It also reminds us that worship transcends style. This is an important, key element to remember when we get down to Vital Contextual Worship. We started our session by having a discussion on what exactly the word “worship” means. Mark gave a fantastic demonstration of the Hebrew meaning, which literally means to bow down, fall prostrate, and show your neck in vulnerability. Worship begins by falling prostrate on the ground in front of a holy God. In the time in which it was written, the word used for “worship” was a term that meant a person would literally fall before someone of high authority and beg for mercy, at which point the person could literally execute them by cutting off their head (hence the reference to bearing one’s neck) or turn the sword sideways and tell them to rise. Again, not being a Hebrew scholar I’ll have to trust him on this one, but it sure does make for a great illustration 🙂 He also reminded us that worship is an overflow of the love we have for Jesus.
The Worship Report Card is a term he uses to remind us that worship is not about what we “get” out of it but of what we “give” to God. David writes in 2 Samuel 24:24 that he will not give the Lord that which costs him “nothing.” It is about what we bring to God, yet too often people (even me) evaluate worship by what we “get” from it, but that is not how God intended it. I personally attribute this to our extreme consumer-driven mindset as Americans, but I suppose it is also a result of our deep, ego-centric nature that must be constantly surrendered to Jesus. He shared a great quote which read, “Most matters of church growth resolve themselves when people fall deeply in love with God.” It challenged me, again, to show people the love of God so they could be overwhelmed by it and respond in surrender.
Worship Idolatry is when we begin to insert things into our worship service that we end up worshiping rather than worshiping Jesus. It fills in the blank for the statement, “X must be present for me to worship”. “X” can be anything – communion, a particular song, the way the offering is taken, a particular tradition, an instrument (or lack thereof) – anything. We then were asked the questions, “What is ‘X’ for our church?” and “What is ‘X’ for you?” This question has me reflecting a lot on how I would answer. I once served a church where music had become an idol for the church, and part of the job I did there was to help break down that idol (which I believe was done to a certain extent, though it will be up to other leaders to continue that work). Often times “X” is a very valid component of the service, but when we say it has to happen in order for us to worship then we run the risk of making it an idol. And that’s a dangerous thing to do.
Connecting this with the session on confident leadership, though, reminds me that one major aspect of being a leader is to address issues such as this and point them out so there can be healing in the congregation.
Finally, Vital Contextual Worship is the term Mark used to describe worship style, and here I think he is 100% correct. I abhor the terms “traditional” and “contemporary” in regards to worship, and this term, though academic-sounding, is the best one I’ve heard yet. Vital simply means that is is alive and vibrant; Contextual means that it is within the culture of the individual church (not the global church); and Worship reminds us it is focused on Jesus and giving him the worth he deserves. This echos many conversations I have had with other music directors, pastors, and congregational members for years. There is no one right or wrong style of worship; style is dictated by culture. I would put forth that our “worship wars” (as they are often referred to) are really “culture wars” – a clash of cultures. Again, I take much insight here from my work in the public school system. I describe culture as a set of values, belief systems, traditions, and expectations. When a person enters a church and any or all of what is experienced is contrary to their cultural context they will understandably have a reaction to it.
Once we understand the culture (which helps us understand style) we can then begin to work towards changing it (if need be) or better relating to those within it. Worship is about what we bring to God, and we have to remember that what we bring comes out of our values and experiences, in other words, our culture. So in order to offer God suitable worship we need to create worship experiences that are culturally relevant to our attendees. This is not about a consumer-driven mindset for culture, but it is ultimately about leading people to Jesus. We wouldn’t expect that a preacher would get up and deliver a sermon in Chinese to a group of people who don’t speak Chinese, so neither should we expect to usher people into worship who have a negative reaction to one style of music or another. Worship is not the end but the means, and the means must be appropriate for the cultural context of the church (on a side note, this follows the same logic as my posting on the use of Patriotic Music in Worship Services).
The evening ended with a concert/worship service led by Dennis Jernigan. I’ll just say this about it – he has one absolutely amazing testimony. If you don’t know it, you need to visit his website and learn more about him and his story. While I have not watched the videos on YouTube he’s done talking about his life, he did reference them, so you may want to visit YouTube and do a search for “Dennis Jernigan Testimony”. It was quite a powerful story.
Whew…. Now you know why I used the term overwhelmed to describe my day. It was a full one!