Some Thoughts on Worship


Earlier this summer I had the honor of speaking at my church on the topic of Worship, based on an examination of Exodus 15.  Below is a video of the presentation.  Hope you find it to be a blessing.

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A Response to Mark Gungor


Last week a friend of mine shared Mark Gungor’s post titled Attention All Worship Leaders. Musicians and Singers.  In it, Gungor identifies four “big problems when it comes to music” in the church today.  While I agree with some of what he says in the post, I believe he’s completely off base in a major way when he talks in big terms about the role of music leaders in the church.  Some of what he says is, well, just down-right disheartening and, to be quite honest, I’m glad I don’t attend his church – and if I did, I think after reading this post I would have to seriously reconsider whether I did or not.

My major disagreement with him starts fifth paragraph of his second problem.  He writes,

In my church, musicians are on the stage for one reason: They can sing or they can play—period.  They are not pastors, apostles, prophets, evangelists or teachers—they are musicians. They hold no special status like that of an elder or deacon. Quite frankly, their spiritual status is of little matter and in some cases, not required at all.  We don’t put the musicians on our platform through a spiritual filter anymore than we would ask that of the construction workers who built the building.    We do not hire a construction worker based on the condition of his heart, but on the status of his skill.  So it is with our musicians. (emphasis mine)

I can not disagree with him more.  The spiritual status of the musicians on his stage are of primary importance.  Gugnor’s position here reflects a key misunderstanding of the role of music in worship.  Let’s assume for a second that everything is about the music.  If that’s the case, then Gungor’s position is perfectly defensible and even understandable.  If what you are looking for is people to lead and perform music, then, yes, find the best musicians you can find regardless of their character.

But, if you are looking for worship leaders to lead people then character is the utmost importance!  Here’s the point: worship leaders are not called to lead musicthey are called to lead people.  Now that doesn’t mean they have to have “special status like that of an elder or deacon,” nor do they have to be “priests of worship” or have a special “anointing” or “power”.  What they do need to understand, though, is how to relate to people.

If you think I’m misunderstanding him, read these excerpts from his post:

It is always ideal and preferable to have a committed believer lead the music; one who understands who God is and what it is we are trying to do.  But at the end of the day they are up there for one overwhelming reason: They have musical skill….Again, our singers and musicians are up there because they can sing or play—period, not because they have some unique Old Testament version of an “anointing”. (emphasis mine)

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting that you can put someone on stage with no musical skill who has a deep walk with the Lord, because both are needed.  What I am saying, though, is that musical skill does not trump one’s walk with the Lord or their leadership ability (though one’s walk with the Lord should certainly trump musical skill, contrary to what Gungor says).

While he’s got plenty of other statements in his blog post that I disagree with, my point here is not to go line-by-line in rebuttal of his position.  I will ask this final question, though, and I’d honestly love to hear (or read) the answer…  Gungor writes,

[C]onsider this: Many (if not most) of the musicians you hear on Christian recordings are not believers in Jesus at all.  Some of them, frankly, are quite accomplished heathens and pagans (I know—I’ve met them).  You think when you hear that big string section on your favorite worship CD that they are all committed followers of Christ?  Hardly.

I’d like to know who he’s talking about here – which artists that I listen to are accomplished “heathens and pagans?”  I’d honestly like to know.  This is not something you can say without actually backing it up with some truth.  And I’m curious, has Gungor called them out on their “heathen and pagan” practices?  Does he pray for them?  Has he challenged them?  Has he brought other believers in to hold these people accountable since due to their hypocrisy they will actually suffer even more in Hell than if they just lived in open rebellion to God?

Again, Gungor’s position is, at it’s heart, a basic misunderstanding of the role of the worship leader in the church.  If leaders are called to lead music then, yes, he’s spot-on in his arguments.  But leaders are called to lead more than music.  They are called to lead people.  And that, Mr. Gungor, is a completely different role than the one you apparently desire at your church.

If you’re looking for proper perspective on the role of the worship leader, I would recommend avoiding Gungor’s post and instead reading the post entitled 4 Characteristics of Great Worship Leaders by Laura Singleton.

And it Continues…The Singing Men (or lack there-of)


I’ve been tossing this one around in my mind for awhile, discussing it with a couple of people, and even reading other people’s thoughts on it.  So it’s time to throw it out there for people to consider and even comment on.  As we have been visiting churches I’ve noticed a phenomenon I don’t care for – and it really bugs me.  At first I started seeing it only subconsciously, but now that we’re visiting lots of churches I’ve actually started looking specifically for it: do the men in the church sing?  Let me lay out a couple of assumptions/beliefs so you can understand where I’m coming from on this:

  1. Worship is a response to God, as such it is not initiated by us (I’m not even going to link to a specific post on this because I’ve written on it so much – if you click on the tag “worship” you’ll find more posts about this than I can count)
  2. The Bible calls men to be leaders in the church and in the home.  I’m not saying this to down-play the role of women or sound chauvinistic; I’m simply stating what the Bible says (and I’m not going to get into a long drawn-out discussion about it because that’s not the point of this post).  I’m also not saying women can’t hold leadership roles – because they can and do; if you disagree with this statement just bear with me and I think the context will help explain it.
  3. Men, by nature, are designed by God to be initiators; women are designed by God to be responders.  Now, this is a broad (very broad) generalization, but it helps me make my point so I’m going to keep it in here.

You’re probably wondering why I pay attention to whether men sing in church when we visit: after all, shouldn’t I be focusing on God and not the people in the room?  I look specifically because I want to see what the leaders of the church do in worship: what do they model?  I’m not talking the formal leaders (deacons/elders, pastors, musicians, etc).  I’m talking the leader of every household is standing in the congregation – I’m talking about the men.  I look to them because people do what the leaders model, so if men aren’t singing it says a lot to me about the church.

Now as I was researching this topic a little I realized I wasn’t the only one to have noticed this trend over the years – in fact, I stumbled across an entire website dedicated to getting men more involved in church (including singing and worship).  In fact, this website has multiple pages dedicated to helping churches design their ministry to encourage men to participate (at least that’s what they say).  Posts like Men Vs. Praise and Worship or Why Men Have Stopped Singing; they even have a so-called “Guy Friendly Test” for churches to take to see if their culture is too feminine for men to feel comfortable!  Then there’s this page I stumbled upon named “Why Do Men Resist Getting Into Worship?” or one worship pastor’s thoughts from his blog.  Apparently I’m not the first person to wonder about this question.

And these people make some great arguments – saying that music is too feminine, or too emotional, or too performance-oriented.  It’s great reading, but I’m not going to re-hash it here since I’ve provided the links above.  In all honesty, they offer some pretty decent suggestions for churches to consider in designing services that men would feel more comfortable in.

But that’s not what I want to talk about – I don’t want to talk to churches and church leadership (pastors and worship teams).  I want to talk directly to Christian men.  Here’s the bottom line, guys: I don’t give a darn what type of music your church is using – if you don’t like it get over yourself, get over it, and start singing.  Grow up and be a man – stop being a baby and pouting every Sunday morning.  I have been to too many churches in the past four months (at least 8 by my most recent count) and I am sick and tired of seeing men in the service standing during the songs with hands in pockets or arms crossed, lips not moving, and just staring with disgusted looks on their faces.  Do youreally think that when you stand before God after you die and he asks you “Why didn’t you worship me in church” he’s going to accept some lame-a** excuse that “I felt the song was too feminine and emotional” or “I just couldn’t get the tune” or “Singing is for women – I’m a man” or any of the other excuses identified by the writers mentioned above?

We are the leaders, so we need to lead by example.  My girls need to see that men sing – and we sing our hearts out.  Not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us!  Why is it men will do the absolute dumbest things at a sporting event but then check-out when it’s time to cheer for the God of the universe?  Do you think he’s not looking?  Not only do my girls need to see that real men sing and real men worship (so they know what to expect in a husband), but the young boys in churches – two of which will one day marry my daughters – darn well better see what they are supposed to be so they can adequately lead as husbands.  If we don’t do it guys, no one will.

It’s not easy and I’m not going to pretend it is.  Go back to points 1 and 3 above: if they are true (and I believe they are), then worship itself will in many ways feel un-natural for men.  If worship is response and  we are not by nature responders, then we’re going to have a hard time worshipping.  But anyone who says they can’t do it is lying not only to themselves but also to God on High.  If you can cheer for your favorite team you can cheer for your Lord and Savior.  I get excited to see the Cubs play – even though they haven’t won the World Series in over 100 years (no, I’m not bitter!).  I wear hats and shirts with their logo on them – and I don’t even live near Chicago anymore.  And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way about a sports team.  If I can do that for my favorite baseball team I can certainly do it for my Lord.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not equating worship with singing, because worship is so much more than that.  But singing is one of the most visible ways we can worship.  And we don’t worship for others to see us, we worship for God.  Yet at the same time when we refuse to sing we send a very strong message not only to Him but also to those around us.

I mentioned that I look at this because it tells me a lot about a church – and it does.  One of the things it tells me is how seriously men take their walk with the Lord.  Do they really believe what their hearing?  Are they willing to look like a fool for the one they love?  Does the church evaluate what they are doing in terms of preaching and worship (because if all the men are disengaged obviously they aren’t evaluating their effectiveness very hard since they aren’t very effective)?  Do I see men who challenge me to draw closer to God and become more like Jesus?  Do I see men modeling for the boys the type of man I want my daughter to marry?  Yes, I really do believe you can make an initial assessment of the health and vitality of a church just by looking around it to see if the men are singing.  It’s that big of a deal.

So men, this Sunday at church (which for me is in just a couple hours by looking at my clock), stand up and sing.  Don’t worry about how you sound, don’t worry about if you like the song, just sing.  Let your kids see you singing and praising God.  Let others’ kids see you singing and praising God.  But most of all, let God see and hear you singing.  Forget about the lights you don’t like, the music that’s not your style, the song you may or may not know, or the distracting whatever on stage (fill in the blank there: drum set, dancing worship leader, etc).  Just sing to Him and for Him.

It will not only warm his heart, but it will also warm the hearts of those around you.

A New Vision for Worship (4.1)


I’m not sure if you remember the series I did last spring on what worship looks like, so to jog your memory a little bit let’s remind us what was discussed.  In short, we talked a lot about the whole issue of having a “blended” service and I made the comment that I wanted us to move away from the term “blended” and more toward the word “unified” in how we described our service.  Here’s the definition I gave last year in regards to what a “unified” service means,

 “I prefer the term ‘Unified’ worship over ‘Blended’ worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term ‘Blended’ worship does not necessarily mean that it is ‘unified’ worship. The best way to describe ‘unified’ worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the ‘best of the best’ from the past and the present.” (Scott Wesley Brown)

This summer in my studies I “stumbled” across this verse in Matthew (and I put stumbled in quotation marks because if you believe it happened by chance I would tell you I don’t believe in chance…)

“Then [Jesus] added, ‘Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.’” (NLT)

That verse is Matthew 13:52.  When I read it I had a picture of what music in a church should look like – it should be a unification of the “old” and the “new”, which for music in our terms means the “traditional” and the “contemporary”.

Which is one reason why choir will not sing in every service in the fall.  We’ve decided to try something new in our effort to unify the worship experience at Landmark.  What you’re going to see beginning October are two different musical styles in the worship service.  On the First and Third Sunday of every month we’ll have a traditional service, which will include the choir and orchestra – similar to our current setup but a little more traditional than we are doing.  On the Second and Fourth Sunday you’ll experience a more “contemporary” service with a praise band – those are the weeks the choir will not sing in the service.  For those months with a Fifth Sunday the youth will lead our musical selections.

We’re attempting to balance the two facets of worship: that facet that says worship is vertical and God-centered while also understanding the equally important truth that corporate worship is horizontal and is supposed to allow us to minister to each other.  By offering these two different “styles” in musical options we’re trying to better reflection the diversity that exists within our congregation.  Please pray for discernment and wisdom for your church leadership, and for me as the music director, as we journey down this uncharted path together.

Music Style: A Vision of Unity


Note: for those who have missed any rehearsals in the past month, all devotionals are available on my blog (the address is at bottom of the page).  This particular devotional is part four in a four week series, so if you’ve missed any of the previous ones you may want to go back and read them to better understand the context of what I’m writing, or now that I’m finally wrapping the entire thing up you may want to go back and look at the first three to refresh your memory on how we got to where we’re at.

Week 1: It’s a Matter of the Heart

Week 2: It’s Culturally Bound

Week 3: To Blend or Not to Blend? That is the Question.

Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at this issue of musical style in worship and last week I suggested we needed to move away from the term “blended worship” and towards “unified worship”.

I came across the term “Unified” worship about six weeks ago in an article by Scott Wesley Brown.  Below is an excerpt from an article he wrote on the subject of Blended Worship.  Because I think he hits the nail on the head here (and says things much more succinctly and elegantly than I can), I’ll just quote him (for the full article click here):

I prefer the term “Unified” worship over “Blended” worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term “Blended” worship does not necessarily mean that it is “unified” worship. The best way to describe “unified” worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the “best of the best” from the past and the present.

 

The Church today faces “the spirit of individualism” and has succumbed to tailoring worship to meet the expectations of various age groups by fractionalizing the church into what are now called “venues”. No longer called sanctuaries, these “venues” cater to the “experience” one is up for. If you don’t like the “Traditional” try the “Edge” or the “Over the edge”……….whatever works for you! How dare we ask a teenager to sit through a hymn or a senior to listen to a song by Delirious!

I do understand that it is appropriate for children, youth, seniors or those of other cultures to have a meaningful experience within the context of their own group, but what ever happened to “corporate worship”? Indeed worship is both vertical and horizontal; it is about God, yet it is about people in fellowship with one another before God.

But when the focus is on people (mostly ourselves) there will always be battles because we are diverse (and opinionated!). If you think it’s hard trying to please everyone at your church, imagine how difficult I thought it could be leading worship for a church in the Middle East with 500 members from 40 different nationalities and dozens of denominations. Yet somehow it worked…..not perfectly…but it worked because the greater focus was on God. They had their individual meetings throughout the week, but on the Sabbath they were in corporate worship.

Mark Horst wrote, “As soon as we come to worship looking for and expecting an experience, we have violated the most basic principle of (worship). We easily become religious aesthetes capable of judging the entertainment value of a church service while remaining unaware of the reality it can open us to. Unfortunately for us, when our worship becomes self-conscious rather than God-conscious, it points not to God’s reality but (only to) our own.”

Too often we think of worship mostly or solely in terms of how it impacts us rather than how it impacts God. And we are the losers when we do that. If we think of ourselves as the necessary beneficiaries of worship we won’t truly worship. If we think of God as the beneficiary of worship, we will also benefit. One of the major reasons people argue about worship today is that they have the wrong person (themselves) in view. Worship ultimately is not about us; it is about God.

And if it is about God, then it is about pleasing God with a heart attitude clothed in humility.

Now, I’m not sure there is much difference in the way Unified worship “looks” versus the way Blended worship “looks”, particularly in our church, because what is important here is the heart of the worshipper (remember the first devotion back in February that touched on this topic).  What I know is this: as long as we seek to please our own desires in worship and not touch the heart of God then we are committing idolatry by placing ourselves on the throne instead of Jesus.

And once we realize that this issue of musical style in worship is less about style and more about the heart we have made a tremendous step forward in Christian growth and maturity.

Cross posted on Grace Notes

 

Music Style: To Blend or Not to Blend, That is the Question


It’s funny how some things take longer than expected.  Take this devotional, for instance.  In the middle of February I sat down to write a brief devotional on musical style in worship.  Here we a month later and I’m still trying to finish writing a devotional on musical style in worship!  We’ll try and tie this all up in the next two weeks before we take our hiatus from rehearsal until the beginning of April.

Last week week’s devotional ended up being much more history lesson than I had originally intended, but I really felt it was important that you understood some of that.  History is important because it helps give some perspective on where we are right now and also informs us as we move forward into the future.  I ended with this statement: “The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.  So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church?  That’s something we’ll look at next week.”  Well, next week is here!

When I first came on staff I was given the job of working to “blend” the musical style in the services.  Without repeating the history of what’s happened here over the past decade in terms of music style (since most of it was before my arrival, anyway), let’s just say that there has been some disagreement on how music should look in church.  From my understanding a process was put in place and, at the end of it all, there was some pretty obvious desires on the sides of the coin labeled “traditional” and some on the side labeled “contemporary”.  A decision was then made to work towards a “bled” in style – something that would have a little bit of everything in an effort to make everyone happy.  It would lean neither too far to one side nor the other but attempt to stay somewhat in the middle (if I’m wrong on my history I’m sure someone will let me know this week via email or phone call!).  I don’t know everyone who was involved in those discussions or decisions, and, quite frankly, I’m kinda glad I wasn’t here when the decisions were made because choices like this inevitably leave some people’s feelings hurt – regardless of how sensitive everyone tries to be.

Over the past couple of years I have worked very hard to transition our church’s musical style in worship into what I consider a “blend”.  Sometimes with resistance from people, but more often than not I have been met with openness.  People have generally understand that sometimes music is planned that they may not like, but, for the most part, they take it in stride because on any given Sunday there may be something they like but someone else doesn’t.  It’s one of those give-and-take things that mature adults and believers are able to understand and accept.  But as I’ve gone through this process myself (both as your leader and personally) I’ve come to realize there is one main struggle I have with the “blended” approach.

It’s about us.

That’s the bottom line.  “Blended worship”, as it has been defined in the past decade across multiple churches and multiple denominations, is not about worshipping God at all (at its heart).  It’s about making man happy with a particular musical style.

Ouch.  That hurt to write, so I can only imagine how much it hurt to read.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe the people who made the decision years ago to pursue a blended style made what they honestly believed was the best decision at the time – and I probably would have made the same decision myself (in fact, when I interviewed, I remember saying and believing that!)

In the past several months I’ve given this a lot of thought, prayer, and study.  While I believe the spirit with which “blended” was arrived at was done with the best of intentions, I believe it’s time for a change.  As a church we’ve made some great strides in musical style transformation over the past years.  I believe we are more “blended” now than we were three years ago.  But we have so far to go – not musically speaking, but spiritually, in terms of understanding and accepting style. So next week I’m going to introduce that concept to tie this all together.  But here’s the sneak peak: Instead of “blended” worship let’s try for “unified” worship.

Cross Posted in Grace Notes