Words Matter


We often talk about how words have the power of life or death, but I’m not sure we actually believe that the words we say really matter all that much, at least when it comes to worship.  For if we did I think we’d say (and sing) very different things than we often do.

I’m often bothered by what I call the “me” focus focus in worship  While it’s not something I’ve written on lately – actually, in a very long time – it is still something that I spend much time contemplating and praying about.  I struggle with trying to change people’s focus and help them to see that while they may feel like they are worshiping God because they are having a very real emotional experience, their words would suggest otherwise.

Take, for example, a popular worship song I hear on the radio and in churches: Healer.  Now before I make it sound as if I hate the song or if the song should never be sung in a church let me assure you I don’t hold to either of those beliefs – I’m simply going to use this song as an illustration to a larger point I want to make (specifically, that words matter). If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a video of it so you can watch (and listen to) it.


Did you catch the chorus?

I believe you’re my healer, I believe you are all I need, I believe.

I believe you’re my portion, I believe you’re more than enough for me.  Jesus you’re all I need.

What could I possibly have wrong with those words?  It’s really quite simple: it’s the first two words “I believe.”  Go back and listen to the song again – it starts as a direct proclamation to Jesus (“You hold my every moment…”), but then instead of proclaiming truth we start talking about what we believe.  Too bad in our society and culture what we “believe” doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore – it’s understood by most as nothing more than an intellectual ascent to an idea, but whether that idea (or ideal) has any impact in our everyday lives is pretty much up for grabs.  Do you think I’m over-stating this?  Tell me, what would your spouse (parent, child, friend) say if you looked at them and said, “I believe I love you.”  What kind of statement is that?  You believe you love me?  Why not just tell me you love me?

And I have to wonder if that’s what Jesus thinks and feels when he hears us utter these words of “belief”.  Why can’t we just say to him, “You are my healer.  You are my portion.  You are enough for me.” rather than infect them with the words “I believe”?  I understand the intent here is probably to make it personal so that we perhaps “own” the words and internalize them.  But the fact is that’s now how our minds work – in our culture to say “I believe” is a way to distance ourselves from the idea and weaken it; it’s a way to say say that what we are talking about is really just our perception of reality while acknowledging that our perception may be false.  Let’s get political for a moment to illustrate the point: which is more offensive in today’s culture – to say, “Gay marriage is wrong” or to say “I believe gay marriage is wrong”?  It’s the former – because it makes a claim as fact, while the latter is simply my own belief, or preference, or interpretation.   Or let’s flip it around…  “Gay marriage is right and should be allowed legally” versus “I believe gay marriage is okay and that we should allow it legally”.

Are you starting to see the difference?  One allows for argument because it claims a truth while another simply subscribes to a personal opinion.

Ironically, even the secular world realizes this.  Check out the following advertisement about the power of words:
A friend of mine recently told me of a blog post with the title, Stop Singing Oceans which reinforces this idea that our words matter.  And I can’t disagree with him (or the author of the post)!

So how does this words matter stuff related to what I’ve called the “me” culture in worship?  Simple.  The focus of the words in the song Healer I quoted above have a very clear focus: the person singing.  The lyrics themselves do not point to the healer (well, at least not for all but the last phrase of the chorus), they focus on the one holding the belief.  And that, dear friends, is a huge difference.  If our focus should be on Jesus – who he is and what he has done – then why would we allow it be infected with any hint of us?  The Bible has a very clear definition of anything that we place before God – it’s called idolatry.  Call me a cranky old-timer if you want (though I’m certainly not old :)), but I just get so tired of listening to Christian radio and singing songs in worship services that seem more focused on us than they do on God.

Words matter – they literally matter.  Not just because they are both a reflection of what we are thinking but also because they direct our thoughts.  But even more than that, words matter because they have a spiritual life to them.  Must I remind you that Jesus was called The Word?  Must I remind you that God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence?  Or that the Bible is called God’s Word?  Or that we are told that “The Lord gave the word“?

And just in case you’re still doubting me, I challenge you to try something.  For the next week when you talk to other people – whether Christians or not – instead of using the universal (and often less-offensive) term “God” try actually using the name “Jesus”.  What you’ll most likely find is that if you don’t speak Jesus’ name verbally very often but rather default to “God”, “Lord,” or some other generic term, that saying the word “Jesus” is uncomfortable and feels strange.  Why?  Because there is power in the name of Jesus, because our words matter – the literal, individual words we choose.  And our enemy knows this.  He knows that as long as we don’t use the name “Jesus” there is ambiguity in our speech.  He knows that when he convinces us to talk about “our beliefs” that he has disarmed us because we no longer claim The Truth but rather A Truth.

And that, my friends, is not a place I want to be.

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Me-Centered Worship


I have just finished reading the story of the Exodus – where God takes on Pharaoh and miraculously delivers his people from Egypt by performing 10 wonders (or plagues, depending on which end you are on!), culminating in the awe-inspiring parting of the Red Sea.  Having been working through this for a couple of weeks now, the drama has continually been building up to the point where the people finally experience the full salvation of God from the hands of Egypt and get to watch as the Lord destroys the Egyptian army in the blink of an eye when they find themselves at the bottom of the sea.  And then we arrive at chapter 15 of Exodus:

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said:

I will sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted;

This seems so simple, and I’ve written about it before, but for some reason it jumped off the page at me today.  Here in Exodus we have the first recorded song in scripture, and I want to spend a minute looking at just the first line.  Do you notice why the people sing?  It’s because “He” is highly exalted.  Other translations say it’s because “He has won a great victory” or “He has triumphed gloriously”, but what is important is to notice that it’s because of Him.

Seems simple enough, yet as I thought about this I reflected on how backwards we have it in our culture.  Our culture is so self-focused and me-centered, that we really think worship is about us.  Not just in our songs (I’d be curious to take modern worship songs and even old hymns to count the number of times “I” or “Me” is mentioned rather than “Him”, “He”, or “You”), but in our attitudes.  Why don’t we sing in church?  Here are some reasons I’ve heard and continue to hear:

  • I don’t like the style
  • I don’t feel like it
  • I can’t sing very well
  • I can’t hear myself (it’s too loud)
  • I hear the person next to me (who can’t carry a tune and distracts me)
  • I don’t like the song
  • I don’t know the song
  • I can’t sing this song – it’s too hard
  • I _________________ <fill in the blank>

It’s me-centered worship.  Two years ago I wrote specifically about men singing in worship services, and it still irks me.  Our worship shouldn’t be dictated, determined, or driven by us (preference, emotional state, etc).  Our worship is to be dictated, determined, and driven by the God we serve.  Look back at Exodus 15:1 – the people sang to the Lord for the sole purpose because he deserved it.

Not convinced yet?  Think it’s easy because they had just experienced the miracle of the Red Sea crossing?  Take a look at these verses (which I also read today):

Psalm 61:3, “for You have been a refuge for me, a strong tower in the face of the enemy.”

Psalm 62:1-2, “I am at rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.”

And then look at Psalm 63:1-8

God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.
I thirst for You;
my body faints for You
in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
So I gaze on You in the sanctuary
to see Your strength and Your glory.

My lips will glorify You
because Your faithful love is better than life.
So I will praise You as long as I live;
at Your name, I will lift up my hands.
You satisfy me as with rich food;[a]
my mouth will praise You with joyful lips.

When I think of You as I lie on my bed,
I meditate on You during the night watches
because You are my helper;
I will rejoice in the shadow of Your wings.
I follow close to You;
Your right hand holds on to me.

Look again at verse 4…. David says he lifts his hands why?  Because he feels like it?  Because the key change in the music demands it?  No, he lifts his hands because of God’s name.  In other words, because of God.

Worship isn’t for us, it’s for Him.  And it’s not for Him because we feel like it, but because he deserves it (and he deserves it whether we feel like it or not).  Recently I listened to a sermon by a former pastor of mine who now serves at A2 Church in Birmingham, Alabama and was so profoundly challenged and encouraged by it I forwarded the link on to the band leadership and the general leadership at my church (groups of which I’m involved).  Of particular interest to me was the 2.5 minute excerpt between about 3:25-6:05 where the pastor starts talking about the importance of Sunday.

And here’s my conclusion based of my reading and as I reflect on the sermon linked above (which I encourage everyone to listen to): until we can see for God for who he is, until we can set aside ourselves in worship, until we can deeply and truthfully begin to comprehend that the resurrection of Jesus means something beyond ourselves and our personal salvation then our “worship” will always be me-focused and me-centered.  Until we walk into church and realize that we don’t sing because we want to or because we feel like it but rather because God deserves it then worship in our churches will always be driven by performance-ism and have a self-centered focus.  In short, if you can listen to just the first 6 minutes of the sermon linked above and NOT have an overwhelming, emotional, and fully human response leading to awe and amazement, then you need to examine and reflect on who you think God is and what your relationship to him is like.  Worship isn’t driven by us and who we are, it’s driven by God and who he is.

We don’t worship for any other reason that because God deserves it.  To not worship for any reason is to suggest that God is undeserving and our feelings, thoughts, and attitudes are higher than he is.  And the word used in scripture for considering something higher than God (giving worship to anything but him) is idolatry.

 

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.

Perspective


About 8 months ago I was first introduced to the song Forever Reign by Hillsong, and, to be completely honest, I didn’t care for it.  The phrase that particularly frustrated me (for lack of a better term), was found in the chorus: “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms. The riches of Your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace, Light of the world forever reign!”

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know a frequent focus of my posts is worship.  I actually feel I’ve been rather silent on the issue for several months, due in large part to no longer serving in an official capacity as a church worship leader but also just because I’ve not been blogging much lately.  One of my criticisms of much modern worship music has always been the lyrics, and I’m in the camp of those who sometimes feel like worship songs sometimes sound more like “prom date music” than they do words of adoration to the King of Kings.

That was, honestly, my first reaction to this song, in particular the phrase quoted above.  For several months I struggled with the song because of this vision it created in me – a song I didn’t, as a male, feel comfortable singing to Jesus, who walked the earth as a man.  It just seemed… well… wrong.  It was one of those songs that I categorized as “more appropriate for women” but not necessarily a good song for men.

As I prayed and meditated on this, though, I asked God why I struggled with singing certain songs.  I asked questions such as, “Do I really love God as much as I say I do if I don’t feel comfortable singing these words?”  But I never felt like the answer to that question was in the negative; what I sensed God telling me,though, was that the answer was in how I was viewing Him and understanding the text myself – it was all in my perspective….

One day I received a new “vision”, so to speak, a new perspective.  Instead of seeing the text in a clearly romantic light (that “prom date” idea), I saw it as the love between and father and his children (or, more specifically, between a child and his father).  There is little I enjoy in this life more than to see the look on my daughters’ faces as they run up and jump into my arms.  One day when I came home from work and they did this I realized they could be singing these words about our relationship: that they were running to their daddy’s arms and wanted to be held by him (which they do all the time).

It was at that moment I realized I could say the same about my Heavenly Father.  I didn’t need to see these words as a twisted eros type of love (not that I ever did because I didn’t, I just struggled with finding a suitable alternative).  I could see these words as a little kid running up to his daddy and jumping into his daddy’s arms.  One of my favorite descriptions of prayers is, “If you want to know how to pray just watch how a little kid talks to her daddy.”  So I guess in the same vein, I’ve realized that if you want to know how to view yourself as truly believing the text, “I’m running to your arms,” view it as a little kid running to her daddy.  This new perspective changes everything.

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.

And It Continues….Worship


I’ve written quite a few posts regarding worship, specifically the place of music in worship, over the years, but this post is unique.  In contrast to all my earlier posts on the topic, this post is written from the standpoint of just another congregant and not a music director.  As we’ve been visiting various churches this topic is always one of the things we talk about after the service.

I really don’t want to go on and on about issues of style or mechanics (music selection, “traditional” vs. “contemporary”, to clap or not to clap, what key a song is sung in, etc), but instead want to focus on the place of music and worship in the service.  Let’s agree on one thing: worship is more than music, and the idea of a “worship section” of the service is a misplaced concept – worship is not something we attend but rather something we do; it is something that requires the engagement of heart, spirit, and mind.  These are some pretty basic concepts that I’ve explored in other posts, and perhaps I’ll come back to them again, but since I’m talking about something bigger today I won’t explore them right now.

Worship is response.  Pure and simple.  Worship is our response to God as he reveals himself through his Word.  Which begs the question: how can we respond to that which we do not know?  I’ve been the member at a lot of different churches in my lifetime, and I’ve served at two different ones as a professional music director, and this is a truth I’ve taught over and over again.  So let me say it again: worship is our response to God.  It is not music, it is not raising or clapping of hands, it is not speaking in tongues, it is not singing, it is not a particular style of music or action. Worship is response.  How we worship may be examined (at least partially) by looking at those things, but the concept of worship is much broader than any of them.

So I naturally want to know what a church believes about worship.  The obvious place to look is to examine how a congregation worships (all those things I’ve listed above), but there are some other things to consider at as well – and that’s the focus of this post.

Since the primary purpose of church is to learn the Word in community, I look at what a church emphasizes in terms of time.  If preaching takes 20 minutes and singing takes 40 minutes then a caution sign goes up in my heart.  Is that to say you can never spend more time in song than in teaching?  Absolutely not, what I’m talking about are repeated trends that happen over time.  One Sunday with that ratio isn’t going to bother me; 5 in a row is going to raise some serious concerns. (yes, for the sake of argument I’m using a standard 60 minute service, though the vast majority of churches we visit and have attended over the years have an average length much closer to 90 minutes, which is my personal preference – I’m making a broad generalization here)

Another important thing to look at is the order of worship in a service.  While there is no right or wrong here, the order can tell you a lot about how a church views worship.  Take the offering, for instance.  Is it smack dab in the middle of a service, between singing and preaching?  Based on a lot of conversations I’ve had with people I find this can often (though not always) indicate a practical belief that the offering is simply a “transition” time in a service.  Is it after the preaching?  Every time I’ve seen it here the church tends to believe the act of giving our offering is a response to the word that was preached (hence, an integral part of worship) (on a side note, I’ve actually spoken to pastors who specifically refuse to put the offering at the end of the service because “too many people may leave after the sermon and we may not get our full income for the week”.  This represents an entirely different view on the offering, and an unhealthy view at that!).  Then there’s the whole issue of do you pass the plate or let people bring it forward…. Again, I’m not suggesting there is a right or wrong place for the offering or way to take it, what I’m looking for is that a church has consciously thought these things through and can justify them.

Another thing I look for in terms of order is a response time after the sermon.  I’ve visited churches where after the sermon there is a quick “God bless you.  Amen.  You’re dismissed”; I’ve been at churches that force an alter call every week (and keep extending it until someone comes forward for prayer, it seems); I’ve been at churches that will sing a single “song of response” (sometimes with very little response by anyone); and I’ve been at churches that fall somewhere in-between those extremes.  I believe there needs to be a time for response – whether it is prayer time, singing, offering, whatever, there needs to be a time in the service where congregants can meditate on the words and challenge of the sermon and then respond to it appropriately.  When churches place extended singingafter the sermon instead of before it they communicate to me they view response in worship as a crucial part of the service, and they communicate an understand that worship is response.  By placing all the singing before the sermon and no response after of any sort they communicate a belief that music is to prepare us to hear the word (in other words, worship is initiated by us) but that worship is not response (after-all, if we can’t respond then response must not be very important).  Again, I’m not suggesting there is a clear right or wrong answer here, except to say that I personally think there should be music before (to help prepare our hearts for worship/learning and demonstrate a physical/aural break with the world we came from) as well as after (to give us an opportunity to respond to what we’ve just heard).

Finally (for this post), one last thing I’m looking for is a church’s belief on the presence of communion in the service.  Perhaps it’s because I spent part of my childhood in a liturgical church, but I think communion should be present more often than it is absent.  Communion is the sacrament we do to remind us of the death of Christ and what he paid for us; we are told to do it “in remembrance” of him.  Do you have to do it every week?  No.  Is there any specific verse in the Bible that says how often it should be done?  Not that I’m aware of.  But if it is part of the regular worship service then it is never viewed as an “after-thought”.  On a broader scale, participation in communion is a constant reminder to me of my membership in the universal church and not just my local church.  Call me crazy if you want, but when I take communion not only do I think of what Christ did for me on the cross, but I am reminded that I belong to a body of believers that crosses geographic, political, and even time lines.  Some argue that if it is done every week it looses its meaning.  If we accept that line of reasoning, though, then we should not pray or read the Bible every day because it will loose its meaning if we do it that often.  For those churches that offer it every week I ask them, “Why” and I want an answer – and it better be good.  For those that do not I ask the, “Why not?” and I also want an answer – and it better be a good one.

I guess what I’m trying to say in all this is that I want to know a church has put much prayer, thought, and study into the construction of its worship service.  To say “That’s how the church has done it for years” is one sure way to turn me off – I could really give a horse’s rear end about tradition.  If tradition helps focus us on God then by all means keep it.  Don’t keep it for tradition’s sake, keep it because it draws you closer to God.  But if tradition doesn’t draw you closer to him and lead you into authentic, responsive worship, then for cryin-out-loud get rid of it!  Just as much as churches need to be able to answer questions of doctrine (where do you stand on such-and-such), they also need to be able to answer questions on worship; churches should invest just as much time defining and studying the structure and components of their worship service as they do defining their statement of faith.  This is, after all, the primary time during the week where the “church” gets together – don’t you think we should be clear on what that is going to look like?