Mind & Emotion in Worship


Cross Posted on Grace Notes

Last week I shared that this past summer I have been challenged to consider the way in which I worship as an individual, as well as how I lead worship on Sunday mornings.  We’re going to begin looking more at this concept of worship today.

Let’s start by defining worship.  Of all the definitions I’ve read, I still like Mike Harland’s the best (from The Seven Words of Worship): “Worship is our response to God’s revelation of who He is and what He has done.”

Harland goes to write,

Simply stated, we are called to respond to all that God has revealed about Himself—and to His never-ending desire to enter a deeper relationship with each of us. Through the ages, God has been in the constant process of revealing His character and essence. Yes, God is mysterious in many ways, but He is never a mystery. He has gone to great lengths to reveal Himself throughout history—including sending His Son, Jesus, into the world—and He continues to reveal Himself today in a variety of ways:

  • God reveals Himself in creation.
  • God reveals Himself through His Word.
  • God reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a few minutes to consider this.  There are some important phrases there, one of which is the idea that God is seeking a “deeper relationship” with us.  Remember, God is not seeking worship in and of itself, but worshippers.  Stephen Newman writes in his study, Experiencing Worship, that “Worship fosters a dynamic relationship between the Father and us, His children.”  As such, worship is a deeply personal and intimate act.  That also means that worship is so much more than music.  We use music as a means to worship, but it is only one tool available to us.  Since we are a musical group we will focus primarily on the use of music in worship, but let us acknowledge that it is not the only tool.

Since worship draws us into deeper relationship with God through Christ let’s also consider the fact that relationships are based on two things: facts and emotions.  We have deep relationships with those we know, which is a very intellectual activity, but we also have deep relationships with those we love, which is a very emotional activity.  It stands to reason, then, that worship should bridge both this intellectual and emotional divide – we worship what (whom) we know (see John 4) but we also worship what (whom) we love.  Too often our conversations on worship in evangelical circles casts a large divide between these two areas – either we focus on only the intellectual part of worship (with its liturgies and rules) or we focus only on the emotional part (with its music and even the more extravagant spiritual gifts).  Yet we have to remember that both are necessary to worship – these are not two warring parties at opposite ends of the spectrum but are merely two sides to the same coin.  Both are necessary.

Which is why sometimes we will sing sings that are very thought-provoking and reflective (both from a lyrical and musical standpoint), and at other times (perhaps even in the same service) we sing songs that are deeply emotional (again, both lyrically and musically).  We can not separate the two.

And the same goes for us as a choir.  Sometimes the music I select for the choir will hit some of you as very “intellectual” and “thought provoking” and “void of emotion”, while at other times people may feel the music is “too emotional” (or, dare I say it, “emotionally manipulative”).  That’s because worship requires the engagement of both our minds and emotions (spirit), and we demonstrate that through the music we sing.

If you find yourself drawn to one side of the coin or the other, I challenge you to purposefully explore and seek to understand worship in ways that are different and new to you – ways that challenge you to grow.

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Worship – Part II: Mind and Emotion (3.2)


Last week I shared that this past summer I have been challenged to consider the way in which I worship as an individual, as well as how I lead worship on Sunday mornings.  We’re going to begin looking more at this concept of worship today.

Let’s start by defining worship.  Of all the definitions I’ve read, I still like Mike Harland’s the best (from The Seven Words of Worship): “Worship is our response to God’s revelation of who He is and what He has done.”

Harland goes to write,

Simply stated, we are called to respond to all that God has revealed about Himself—and to His never-ending desire to enter a deeper relationship with each of us. Through the ages, God has been in the constant process of revealing His character and essence. Yes, God is mysterious in many ways, but He is never a mystery. He has gone to great lengths to reveal Himself throughout history—including sending His Son, Jesus, into the world—and He continues to reveal Himself today in a variety of ways:

  • God reveals Himself in creation.
  • God reveals Himself through His Word.
  • God reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a few minutes to consider this.  There are some important phrases there, one of which is the idea that God is seeking a “deeper relationship” with us.  Remember, God is not seeking worship in and of itself, but worshippers.  Stephen Newman writes in his study, Experiencing Worship, that “Worship fosters a dynamic relationship between the Father and us, His children.”  As such, worship is a deeply personal and intimate act.  That also means that worship is so much more than music.  We use music as a means to worship, but it is only one tool available to us.  Since we are a musical group we will focus primarily on the use of music in worship, but let us acknowledge that it is not the only tool.

Since worship draws us into deeper relationship with God through Christ let’s also consider the fact that relationships are based on two things: facts and emotions.  We have deep relationships with those we know, which is a very intellectual activity, but we also have deep relationships with those we love, which is a very emotional activity.  It stands to reason, then, that worship should bridge both this intellectual and emotional divide – we worship what (whom) we know (see John 4) but we also worship what (whom) we love.  Too often our conversations on worship in evangelical circles casts a large divide between these two areas – either we focus on only the intellectual part of worship (with its liturgies and rules) or we focus only on the emotional part (with its music and even the more extravagant spiritual gifts).  Yet we have to remember that both are necessary to worship – these are not two warring parties at opposite ends of the spectrum but are merely two sides to the same coin.  Both are necessary.

Which is why sometimes we will sing sings that are very thought-provoking and reflective (both from a lyrical and musical standpoint), and at other times (perhaps even in the same service) we sing songs that are deeply emotional (again, both lyrically and musically).  We can not separate the two.

And the same goes for us as a choir.  Sometimes the music I select for the choir will hit some of you as very “intellectual” and “thought provoking” and “void of emotion”, while at other times people may feel the music is “too emotional” (or, dare I say it, “emotionally manipulative”).  That’s because worship requires the engagement of both our minds and emotions (spirit), and we demonstrate that through the music we sing.

If you find yourself drawn to one side of the coin or the other, I challenge you to purposefully explore and seek to understand worship in ways that are different and new to you – ways that challenge you to grow.

LWLC Day 4: Worship Revolution


Some people have asked why I post a blog update every day while I’m away at my conference, and so I figured I should give an answer.  It’s really two fold.  One reason is that my church has been gracious enough to pay for the conference, so I want to post updates so that people from my church can follow along.  The second, and really more important reason, is that it is the best way for me to reflect back on over all I have learned each day and begin to internalize it… Today I’m working on doing my reflection early since my wife is coming up this evening around dinner time so we can spend the evening together, so I want to have this done before she arrives 🙂

So let’s reflect on today…  While the worship in the AM service didn’t hit me quite as hard as previous days, the message was absolutely out of this world – revolutionary would be the best word to describe it.  Mike Harland spoke again, and he started in 1 Peter but then moved over to the gospel of John.  His focus was on the interaction between the woman at the well and Jesus, with a particular emphasis on 4:24 where Jesus says those who worship God “must worship in spirit and in truth.”  Without having to summarize the entire sermon I’ll just say he revolutionized the way I saw that verse.  He said (and I agree) that when we talk about this verse as worship leaders we always talk about the two words “spirit” and “truth”.  But then he made the statement that changed how I saw this verse, but I think he’s right on here…  According to Harland the most important word in the verse is not “spirit” or “truth” but “must”.  He stated that when people see Jesus for who he is the only response they have is worship, and then he tied it to Revelation where John talks about all creatures worship Jesus at the end of the age.

If you’ve been following my blog at all this week you know that the one major thread that’s run through every session I’ve attended and every reflection I’ve done is a focus on Jesus, and Harland nailed it on this point.  He took me back to my most basic statement: worship is about Jesus.  I have served on staff of two churches in the past six years – two very different churches in style and denomination – yet in both interviews (and at both churches) I said to the staff and the members that what is important is Jesus.  “If you’re preaching and teaching and worshipping Jesus then all the other stuff is pretty insignificant.”

But over the past year or so I think I’ve lost sight of that, to an extent.  I’ve become more focused on song styles and special music and Christmas cantatas and big choir numbers and orders of service and…  You get the idea.  If nothing else, this week has served to turn me back toward my first love – Jesus – and my most basic belief about worship – it’s all about him.

Harland also reminded us that we were not called to “lead music” but called to “lead people”, and, in light of the above statement, this one hit me between the eyes.  When I first came on at my church that was one of the things I told people at church, and one of the things I consciously thought about and worked on.  But, again, in the last several months, perhaps last year, I started to loose sight of that.  And I believe it’s negatively affected my ministry.  The morning session I attended by Phil Barfoot focused on practical ideas to grow the church choir.  Several of the ones that I took away, and I plan to use this coming year, are ones that re-focus us on the people in the choir as individuals.  Doing things that honor and connect with each individual on a personal level.  And so that’s my goal for this coming choir year.

Finally, this afternoon I attended two sessions led by a minister of music named Larry Grayson.  He gave two sessions, both which were very powerful.  He shared the stories from his own life that defined who he is today, and then challenged us to create our own list of “Defining Moments” and “Defining People”.  While I am going to work on this over the next several months I can tell you that this conference is becoming a defining moment in my ministry.  There are others that I can already name off the top of my head: the night I became a Christian in 7th grade, the day I got married, going through the death of my sister, and becoming a father.  He also shared a fantastic church dream that I want to quote below.  I’m still trying to find the full context of it, but here’s an excerpt of what he shared:

We dream of a church where people find real help, experience real change, and discover real answers; where destructive lifestyles, habits, addictions and compulsions are forever jettisoned; where wasted lives are retrieved and new beginnings are launched.

We dream of a church where marriages are healed and parents’ hearts are turned toward their children; where children and youth are made strong in their ability to serve the Lord and stand for Him in a godless culture.

We dream of a church were grace is accepted and extended; where love for people springs from love for God; where joy permeates the air; where service is considered a privilege and not a burden.

Wow – that one hit me square between the eyes!

Finally, he focused on the characteristics of a worship leading choir, something I’ve been speaking about with my choir, but I have decided I need to go further on.  I’ve been able to get some resources and contacts that I am hoping will help me with this concept….  I’ll be doing a dedicated post on that idea later in the summer as I digest this more and more.

In closing, today has been another fantastic day.  The only way I can describe it is that it has been revolutionary in how I am viewing worship and my role as a worship leader.  Tomorrow is my final day here, and it is really just an AM worship service, but I am excited about what God will be doing there, too.  Now I get to look forward to one final reading session this afternoon before my wife gets here, and then a wonderful evening with her.

LWLC Day 3


Today was an oasis in a very packed week.  The day was specifically designed as a “light” day in terms of sessions so that we were done a little before 3:00.  The rest of the day and evening was left open for us to use for personal reflection, solitude, hanging out with others, or whatever we wanted to do with it.  Let me start at the beginning of the day and go from there.

As with the past two days, a major highlight of the day was the AM worship service.  Dick and Mel Tunney were the worship leaders, and for the second day in a row I found myself in tears during the worship.  They introduced a great new song they had written entitled Life and Breath, which I will be purchasing as soon as it’s available to share with my congregation.  Some of the musical sets they selected were very powerful, so I am going to steal them for my planning purposes 🙂

Mike Harland continued his teaching on 1 Peter, and today he focused on interpreting life through the lens of scripture and having an eternal perspective.  Using 1 Peter 1:22 he shared three truths for us to remember: obedience to the word (which requires we know it), pure motives that cause us to focus everything we do on Jesus, and loving others – especially those who are difficult to love.  We then ended the service with a time of response – one that was truly unique and yet very moving.  He reviewed each of the three truths he had taught on.  As he mentioned each one he would stop and ask people to stand if they felt God had spoken to them in regards to that particular truth, and at the end he prayed for everyone that was standing.  It was a very touching and moving experience.

I attended three other sessions today, one in the morning entitled “Ultimate Ideas for Worship & Music Ministry”, which gave some very practical ideas for growing the music ministry (several of which I am going to be able to implement), and then two in the afternoon.  One of the afternoon sessions was a reading session, but the other was entitled “Leading a Worship Culture Change.”  The presenter, a gentleman named Michael Adler from Alabama, talked about not getting caught up in the latest “fad” but focusing repeatedly and consistently on Jesus.  It was a wonderful reminder that I need to understand my own church’s culture as I plan worship and work to fit into that culture.  It was a great piggy-back to my session yesterday afternoon where we discussed Vital Contexualized Worship.

Then once my sessions were over I went for my hike – something I have honestly been looking forward to since I arrived.  I ended up doing about five miles this afternoon before dinner – I would have gone further, but I needed to be back in time to eat dinner before 6:30 when the cafeteria closed!

It’s amazing to see the majesty of God through the beauty of creation.  I actually took a couple of pictures with my cell phone and am including these in my blog below, but they don’t do the scenery any justice (as anyone who’s ever tried to photograph a mountain knows…)  Even in the midst of the “wilderness” atop the mountain, though, I was struck by the gift of technology I had with me.  See, I’ve been taking notes for the conference on my new iPad.  Every day they sync up with my laptop and my iPod touch.  For my hike I took my iPod with me because it tracks my mileage via a chip in my hiking boot called Nike+, but in addition to that while I was up on the mountain I was able to pull out my iPod and not only read back on my notes and reflect on what I was learning, but I also was able to read my Bible because I have it loaded on my iPad.  And not only was I able to read my notes and my Bible, but I was also able to do a little journaling and then have it sync back to my iPad and laptop!!!  Okay, very cool (I know, I sound like a technology geek).  Anyway, here is an excerpt of what I wrote on the mountain:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Gal 2:20, 6:14, 16
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Cor 5:17-19

I’m sitting on top the mountain and was reflecting on the past two days, as well as reading through the book of Galatians.  I am thinking about the cross and the work Christ accomplished through it.  I’ve been challenged this week to constantly keep the message of the cross central to worship planning.  Jesus said that when he is lifted up he will draw all men to himself.  It’s not my job to draw people to him but to lift him up and he will take care of the rest.  This week in worship I’ve been in awe at how the worship leaders are able to usher us in to his presence by simply focusing us on Jesus and the cross and then letting him take it from there – which he has!

Which is why the verses listed above are so meaningful – because of Jesus and his work on the cross I am now clean and pure and can live forever with a holy God.  More than that, though, is that my interactions with him don’t have to wait until I die. He is here with me now, today, and everyday.

This pictures were taken from where I was sitting as I wrote.
In closing, it has been a wonderful day of reflection and praise.  All week I have been confronted with Jesus and his work on the cross, which reminds me that this is what I need to constantly bring before my congregation as I lead them in worship.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for tomorrow!

LWLC Day 2: Overwhelmed (Afternoon Notes)


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!