Is Singing Worship Songs A Heart or a Head Issue?

A couple days ago I posted an article I read on my Facebook titled ‘Why I Lead the Worship Music You Hate, and Why I’m Going to Keep Leading It‘ which lead to some interesting comments from some of my friends. Some liked it and agreed with it, others like bits of the article but not all of it, my dad didn’t like the tone of it and I overall liked it, but disagreed with some of the points. With about a 3 month hiatus from blogging, I figured this was as good a time as any to enter back into the fray (with apologies to anyone who has continued checking this for any updates: I began seminary this fall and haven’t had time to keep up with this)

First off, my goal as a worship leader through music is not to appease people or simply sing the songs everyone likes. Contrary to the belief of many people I talk to, Sunday mornings aren’t about what each individual wants or needs, but about lifting high the name of Christ. We all come from different background and have different issues that we’re struggling with that day, and to think that each Sunday morning is where I need to be filled up is a selfish way of viewing Sunday morning worship. This time together should simply be an extension of what we do throughout the week individually with Sunday mornings being a time for us to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage one another to better pursue Christ. As was stated in the article, “My job is to disciple worship in the church.” While worship is so much more than simply singing, it definitely includes singing and helps put melody to Gospel truths that allow us to better remember the God we worship.

Secondly, we are to worship God with our hearts, soul and body. We cannot so easily compartmentalize our lives into these little segments, but instead need to be worshipping God with all areas of life. These all bleed into each other and affect one another and together make up our entire being (there’s some Trinitarian theology in there somewhere, anyone else want to write about that one??). One of the biggest mistakes I have with this article is that it polarizes head truth with heart truth which cannot be done. Yes, we preach far better than we live, but we cannot completely separate our beliefs from our actions and vice versa. To separate these parts out (as in music is primarily emotional/heart and preaching is primarily head/thought) is a dangerous generalization. All of our lives are surrendered to God and need to be submitted to his perfect will. THAT is worship.

Thirdly, church services aren’t about trying reach non-believers. Our weekly corporate worship services are to disciple and equip the body to better serve God throughout their lives. Almost everything we do in church should appear strange to those who have not submitted their lives to Christ, and that’s good! We are called to be set apart, a holy priesthood, the very body of Christ. It’s not a social club or a lecture hall but the physical way God has chosen to reveal himself to the world. Believers should leave Sunday mornings more ready to be a living example of Christ in their homes, workplaces and various areas of life. The “seeker-sensitive” church model has been attempted by many people (and is still tried by many) and as Willow Creek has shown, cannot be sustained.

Finally, the words we sing matter. This issue has been written about by many people far smarter than I, but bears repeating in this discussion. My goal with the songs we sing is to help people have a better understanding of who God is. The songs we sing do teach and shape the way people interact with God. Practically, this means that I will sing (hopefully) a wide variety of songs that include both old and new songs. I just finished a book called Ordinary this week by Michael Horton in which he says, “Older forms, songs, and prayers are not better because they are old, but because they are family treasures in the attic. (Ordinary, 178)” I will not do traditional things simply for the sake of tradition, but because we draw from a rich heritage that can be traced to the very creation of the universe. Singing a wide variety of songs also teaches that God is vast and cannot be contained or every be fully described. We need new songs that can better reveal characteristics of God and even with an eternity we will not be able to fully describe who God is and what he is like. In Bob Kauflin’s book Worship Matters, he has a quote that says, “show me the songs a church sings, and I’ll tell you their theology.” (I’m sorry, I can’t find the book so I don’t know the exact page) Words matter far more than people realize or want to admit and music can be a powerful way to remember Gospel truths and allow the Gospel to better reach our hearts of stone and turn them to hearts of flesh.

Much to the dismay of many a worship through music leader at churches across the world, the worship wars are not dead and will not completely die until Christ returns. The problem is that the real worship war is within our hearts as we need to die to ourselves on a daily basis. Sunday mornings are not about you or I as individuals, but as the body of Christ. What can you do to better equip the saints to worship God throughout all of their lives?

3 Most Important Words in Ministry

It seems that every time I’ve caught up on my blogs the past couple weeks there’s been something new that the world needs to know about Mark Driscoll or that Christianity is falling apart at the seems. I am someone who has benefited greatly from Driscoll’s ministry in the past and am saddened that it’s gotten to the point that he needs to take an extended break from ministry-yet as I continue to read and learn and grow in my faith and ministry, I’ve discovered there’s a little phrase that is incredible important to use. I would even go so far to say they’re the 3 most important words in ministry, and in life:

I don’t know.

I’ve read before that when you preach, even if you only believe something 51% to be true, you should preach it like you believe it 100% and I think that’s a bunch of garbage. As evidenced recently with Driscoll (and Mahaney and Piper before him) those in pastoral ministry don’t seem to have a problem of thinking too little of themselves, and this is true of those in smaller churches as well. One of the most fascinating things I discovered early on in ministry is that you’re expected to be an expert on any topic people in the congregation want to talk to you about, from the latest technology and apps to social networking to politics to finances to theology. Of those listed, I REALLY enjoy 1 and enjoy 1 other. When you’re regularly asked about your advice on certain topics and have been given the room to be the authority it can be very easy to get a big head. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with people have been because I’ve been willing to admit that I don’t know.

In our culture we seem to make ourselves the experts on everything. We can read the 140 character summary of every news event and form our opinions based on the few words we see. I think more of us need to be willing that we don’t know everything and have an honest conversation where we can learn and grow from each other.

What don’t you know?

A Salve for My Soul

I posted a while back how excited I was for a new book coming out by Barnabas Piper simply titled “The Pastor’s Kid.” You can read some of what the book is about in Ed Stetzer’s interview with Barnabas here. I read the entire thing the day I got it and have already loaned out the 2 copies I had. So my incredibly short review about it is that I needed it.

Barnabas grew up not too far away from where I grew up and I even attended the church he grew up in after I graduated from college. While I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Barnabas I have met his little sister and parents and have benefited greatly from his father’s ministry. This book did an incredible job of revealing the temptations, weaknesses and issues inherent in growing up as a pastor’s kid. It brought some of my own sin issues to light and caused me to reflect on why I have ended up the way I have.

If you are a PK I would highly encourage reading this book, and if you are a P I would even more highly encourage that you read this book. It’s helpful for working through how to grow up in the spotlight and ways that PK’s are prone to sin that many other children aren’t. It can become so easy to hide behind Bible trivia instead of actually having a heart change. I’m grateful that God has continued to pursue me despite my lack of pursuing him, and despite my choices he still lavishly pours out his love to me.

Bricks In My Foundation

Throughout my life there have been times where I haven’t been able to see how certain things could ever work out. The first “big” one in my life was after my freshman year of college when I was finally giving in to a call to ministry. Instead of working for the remodeling company that I worked at the year before, I was going to cut back to part time and take on an internship at my parent’s church for the summer which was a significant pay cut. The church graciously offered to take a freewill offering for me at the end of the summer that more than paid for me to continue the next semester at college. I stood in the garage with my dad the afternoon after I found that our bawling at how God provided for me. He said, “Michael, just think of these as bricks in your foundation of continuing to trust that God will provide.”

As I’ve mentioned before, April was an incredibly difficult month for me in so many areas, yet in the midst of it all God graciously reminded me that He will continue to provide for me in ways I don’t deserve. This happened again this past week for me as I’m looking at buying a new car to get me to seminary in Denver and back once a week. I was applying for loans and stressed out that I’d never be able to afford the payments for it and that the interest rate would kill me. I should have trusted. The third place I went to not only gave me a great rate, but is running a special where I don’t have any payments due for 100 days. And this all started with a friend from church suggesting I look at their neighbors car which is 4 years old and only have 16,000 miles on it. Isn’t the way God provides amazing?

So this week I’m needing to remind myself that I can trust God and He will continually come through in astounding ways. He really is an amazing God who loves to lavish His gifts upon us! I’ve been listening to a song off Matt Redman’s new CD on repeat this week titled “Good Forever.” The first line is “Blessings before me, blessings behind me, forever You are good.” What are some of the bricks you have in your foundation that you can look back on and trust that God will see you through everything?

The Avoidance of Titles

As I’ve expressed before, during college I somehow found myself in the middle of those who consider themselves “young, restless and reformed.” The one time I interacted with Collin Hansen I was introduced as “one of the people you wrote about.” (thanks Dad…) I quickly embraced the title and began reading and listening to more Piper, Driscoll and Chandler and then went to as many of the “Gospel” conferences as I could (T4G, The Gospel Coalition). I enjoyed the commitment to the Word and history of the church but didn’t always enjoy the connotations that came with identifying myself as a “Calvinist.” After having the books for 2 years, I’ve finally been digging in to “Against Calvinism” and “For Calvinism” and find myself resonating much more with Calvinism than I ever have before, but still don’t always like what comes with the label.

Reading through a couple blogs today on what has been dubbed “the Neo-Calvinism” (which you can read about here and here) and continuing to reflect on where I’m at and where I’ve been I’m continuing to find myself less within the so-called neo-calvinism movement and more likely to consider myself to be an Evangelical, to which my dad has been delighted. So what do I mean by Evangelical?

Evangelical gets it’s name from the Greek word evangelion which we translate as “gospel” so the whole gospel centered movement is Evangelical in nature. I uphold Scripture as the ultimate authority in my life and daily strive to be more like Christ. In this way I am also reformed, in that I am constantly reforming my life to the message of the Bible. I can join with the early church fathers in reciting and agreeing with the creeds of the early church and go back to Christ’s final command in Matthew 28 to spread the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

This is also something I often hesitate to do because so many labels come with so much baggage. Calvinists tend to be over bearing and domineering without much grace extended. Many people don’t know what an evangelical is or what one believes. And reformed tends to bring to mind Luther and the Reformation. What are some labels you’ve seen in your life that have either been helpful or unhelpful?

In the same vein, some of my hesitancy to use labels to identify myself is because neo-calvinism is currently the “cool” title to use. And while there are some aspects of it I so resonate with and will whole heartedly agree with, there is some hesitancy for me to jump on bandwagons. I know things come and go so quickly in the church and don’t want to be swept away by the newest trends-even if they’re good things. I know that the truth is here to stay and am continuing to trust God to lead and guide the church of yesterday, today and forever.

A Childlike Faith

As Relevant reminded me, today is GK Chesterton’s 140th birthday. I have been meaning to get to a biography about him but have yet to actually start it, but I read a quote of his in another book (Boring) a few weeks ago that’s been in the back of my mind since that I read again today. Chesterton said

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

I am someone who thoroughly enjoys spending time with children and I never tire of the endless “do it again!”s that characterize younger children. Yet how often do I spend the same energy both physically and mentally in awe of God’s grace in my life, which is new every morning? Moving from the midwest to a state full of mountains has been quite the transition, and every time I see the mountains I’m struck again at how beautiful they are. Those who grew up here don’t seem to have the same appreciation for these things that I do, but every trip I take to Denver where the Rockies are out my passenger window never ceases to amaze me.

There’s a certain amount of repetition in all our lives that quickly becomes monotony. We tend to wake up at the same times, do the same things at work and probably even eat similar things from week to week. It can be so easy for us to get into the rut of doing the same things while refusing to be at awe at what’s going on around us. Our bodies continue to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide which allows our heart to continue breathing which allows us to continue living. Most, if not all of us, have computers in our pockets that are more powerful than what put us on the moon. We can pull it out and text or call our friends in different parts of the world and and hear back instantly. And every day the sun rises and the sun sets. When is the last time you took some time to be in awe at what God does for us on a daily basis? Even though we sin he remains faithful. Even when we ignore him, he relentlessly pursues us. He daily lavishes his grace upon us. Through the work of his son we are now sons and daughters of the creator and sustainer of the universe. And what good is dwelling on all these wondrous things if we’re not using it as an opportunity to worship God? Worship should be relegated to Sunday mornings, but should define our entire lives.

So stop.

Right now.

Walk outside.

Behold God’s wonderful creation.

And worship.

Reflections on Singing At Church

There’s been a blog that’s I’ve seen getting a lot of attention recently titled ‘Are We Headed for a Crash? Reflections on the Current State of Evangelical Worship‘ that led me to a really good blog from a fellow music pastor who has clearly thought through many issues that come with being a music pastor. Some of his ideas are spot on, some of them I’m planning to steal, and others I just can’t agree with. This one that has gotten a lot of attention is one of the ones I can’t find myself completely agreeing with.

In my own journey I’ve been inundated with theology from birth (thanks a lot Dad!). I “discovered” in college that I was both Reformed and a Calvinist and so I gladly jumped on the “young, restless, reformed” movement of Evangelicalism attending conferences like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, and even attending John Piper’s church in Minneapolis after college. Over the past couple years I’ve slowly found myself drifting away from that and into more of what I would describe as an Evangelical direction. I can’t completely agree with everything I’ve seen in these circles and while I still have such a great deal of respect for many people in the movement, I’ve found my own lines widening in include more than I would’ve 5 years ago. The zeal without knowledge described me to a T. With that came a certain expectation I had for music and worshipping on Sunday mornings. I know we all come to Sundays with certain expectations and I was no exception. Yet as I’ve continued leading a congregation in weekly worship through music, I’ve seen more of a resurgence in applying biblical and pastoral truths to the role of the “worship pastor.”

Last October I had the opportunity to attend our denominations worship leader conference in Minneapolis and got to connect with a number of like-minded and similar aged people who were wrestling through similar issues as me. The biggest thing that struck me, however, was that the younger 20 and 30 something music leaders viewed this role with a pastoral heart and are seeking to do our best to shepherd the flock entrusted to us instead of viewing it as a performance or a way to build up ourselves. I know many people, especially musicians, can get a big head very quickly, and I pray every Sunday for God to increase and help me to decrease. It doesn’t take much for me to get high on praise, but it’s a constant battle to make God greater in and through my life. And this seems to be the heart cry of many people my age who are gifted in music and using that gift in the local church. I am so excited by what I’ve seen as a transition from professional musician to co-laborer and pastor in the Gospel once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

The other issue I have with this article (and many other articles and books) is that it seems to paint a one-size-fits-all portrait of how music should be done in a church. He writes, “Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology.” I don’t think the things he lists here need to distract from the the message, but can and should allow us to better worship God, who gave people the gift of creativity. In fact, the picture I see in heaven where we will perfectly worship God is more beautiful than John can even begin to describe or fathom. It’s like he’s struggling for words to show how great this place is. And it has different colors and different materials and all points to God. I think the same thing can be done on a Sunday morning in a local church body.

That being said, I am grateful for Jamie bringing this issue to light, as I mentioned, it is a battle for anyone who is in front of a large group to make it all about Christ and keep the focus on him instead of us. We too often think too highly of ourselves at the expense of God. May all of our lives, including Sunday morning singing be done to the honor and glory of Christ alone.

On Friends and Struggles

It’s fairly well understood now that the 20s are some of the hardest times for people. Many of us are in jobs we don’t love, watching the skills we’ve spent a couple decades developing seem to waste away. Or others are in their dreams job enjoying waking up and going to work every morning. Some of us are riding solo, whether impatiently or patiently, while others are blissfully enjoying married life, maybe even with kids. There’s also the seemingly transient nature of the 20s where people move across the country for a better job after you met them a month earlier. The past few years for me have been full of so many of these changes: from graduating college then moving back home where I didn’t have any friends, to moving in with guys I met at a small group, then leaving them 10 months later to take a position 1000 miles away in the church I currently work at to now looking at starting seminary this fall. The past four months have been some sweeping changes for me as God has revealed some incredible things to me on what it means to be a friend and what it means to struggle.

I’ve been doing an early morning study with my roommates going through the  book “The Dudes Guide to Manhood” by Darrin Patrick. This weeks chapter was on being a friend, and the following sentences struck me:

“Guys actually enjoy serving each other. We are willing to load moving trucks and work on major landscaping projects together. What we don’t like is being served.”
-105

I think this is true not only of guys, but of gals as well. I so often find myself wanting to take care of everything by myself, without asking anyone for help. I still sometimes feel as if I have something to prove. I hate admitting I have weaknesses and am in regular need of help from those around me. I don’t even like telling a girl I’m interested in that I have weaknesses and struggles and have glaring areas that I struggle with.

On Struggles

Last month (April) was an incredibly busy month for me with Easter planning. I also had decided it would be a good year to add a new Easter service on Thursday night, celebrating the Last Supper. This meant I had to plan a Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday service and an Easter service, one of which the church hadn’t done before. I struggled praying and searching for different ideas on how to make each service unique but still meaningful, and then also got sick with 2 ear infections and a sinus infection. To top it all off, I was in the midst of applying for a scholarship that would pay for all my tuition for seminary, and I’d been told they had some big concerns with awarding me the scholarship. It felt like God was pulling the rug out from underneath my feet and my foundation was crumbling. I was stretched to the max and worried about how I was now going to pay for seminary. Then God threw another curveball.

Two hours after I got the call sharing the concerns with awarding me the scholarship for seminary, I got a call from said seminary telling me they had decided to award me the scholarship despite their hesitations. All this was 2 hours before the first of 3 services that weekend. Then God reminded me that He loves pouring His blessings out on His children as all three services were incredibly fruitful and a blessing to those who came.

On Friends

Throughout this difficult month, there were a number of people who took time to pray with me and pray for me. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Ultimately this verse finds it’s fulfillment in God’s Son, Jesus Christ who is now our adopted brother through his work on the cross. But I also believe that God sends people into our lives who are an earthly representation of Christ to us. I think of the friends I was blessed with in high school, and then in college, and then post college and now in the church I serve. I know I have weaknesses and struggles that they can help me with and use as an opportunity to pray with me, pray for me, serve me and ultimately point me back to Christ.

“Authentic friendship is not one-sided. It is an equal commitment from both parties. True friends give and receive.

“True friends know you and want to be known by you-celebrate you and are willing to be celebrated by you. They challenge you and seek to be challenged by you. And they serve you and are willing to be served by you.”
-Darrin Patrick The Dudes Guide to Manhood, 103

I fear there are many people in the church today – particularly men – who are unwilling to let someone get close enough to them to experience the incredible blessings that come from being a part of a fellowship of believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV) As has been pointed out many times before, this needs to happen within the confines of a local church. This is why it’s crucial to get plugged in to a local church. But while it is at the minimum church involvement, it can and should involve so much more than that. There should be a group of like-minded people with whom you regularly spend time, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens iron.” (Proverbs 27:17) There should be a group of people who know why you are the way you are and what makes you tick. And what if there isn’t a group like this at your church? Then create one. It’s incredibly easy to find people would be willing to get together over a cup of coffee or a meal and share what’s going on with them. Ask questions and seek to get to know them on a deeper level then what they enjoy eating.

Same Sex Attraction in the Church

I’ve dealt with the issue of same sex attraction a number of times on this blog, but because I it isn’t an issue I’ve struggled with, I can often have trouble relating to those who do experience those attractions. This article, titled ‘Same-Sex Attraction in the Church‘ is incredibly helpful in thinking through what it means personally for those struggling with this issue. The article is written by Sam Allberry who is a pastor in the UK. Yet he is committed to the biblical definition of genders and is not acting upon his temptations.

The more I’ve read about this the more I’ve felt like a kindred spirit for those who struggle with same sex attraction. One line in this article stuck out to me when Sam wrote, “We need to respect that singleness is not necessarily a sign that someone is postponing growing up.” Yes and amen! Being a single pastor is difficult, and it seems like everyone has someone they think you should get together with. Yet right now, because I don’t have a significant other, I’m able to devote much more time to my ministry and the spending time with those in the church. Do I want to be married? Absolutely! But for right now in the season I’m in, God’s doing some amazing things in me and through me and it’s a joy to be able to see Him working all things out for my good and his glory.

Dealing with the “Gray Matters”

I was first introduced to Brett McCracken during my time at Taylor University when he came to speak about his first book “Hipster Christianity.” My time in college was right in the middle of the emergence of the “cool Christianity” taking off where many my age were dealing with the issues raise by the Emergent Church and doing our best to reconcile these new issues with our generally conservative Evangelical upbringing. I quickly found myself spending time with those of the more reformed persuasion popularized by Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Along with our questions of faith came the questions of the legalistic upbringing we experienced including, but not limited to: no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no R rated movies (unless it’s about Jesus), no swearing and no cards. (Ok, the no cards rule was my grandma’s when my dad and I took them out to play some Rook). As my friends and I grew during college we were also expected to sign an agreement saying we would continue to uphold these things during our time in college (Taylor recently lifted their ban on dancing, but I was already gone). 4 years after I heard Brett speak, I finally got around to reading his newer book “Grey Matters.” In it, Brett wrestles with 4 areas that have been divisive among Christians for many years: food, movies, music and alcohol, the latter being the most divisive in recent years (see John McArthur’s letter to the Young, Restless and Reformed).

Throughout the book Brett doesn’t shy away from recognizing that these areas can be divisive for people and does a fantastic job of acknowledging problems on both sides of these issues. The most surprising one for me was the section on food. How many of spend any time thinking about what we’re eating and why? Or why some foods taste so good and others don’t (those that don’t seem to always be the healthy ones. What’s the deal with that!?). Yet through all 4 of these areas discussed, they offer opportunities for us to worship God as we’re commanded to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31.

One of the keys that emerged from the book for me was how community changes all these areas. I really enjoy cooking-thinking through the spices and different ingredients can be combined together to form something that doesn’t taste anything like the separate ingredients on their own. And even better: pairing said meal with a good wine or beer. Yet when I cook a big meal and sit down to eat by myself, it’s never as enjoyable. I generally try to invite someone or someone’s over to enjoy it with me. There’s something even better about eating within the context of a community. And this is true of the other areas discussed as well.

All of us have a favorite band that we could listen to on repeat all day (or bands). How many people have you told about your favorite bands by giving them a CD or having them listen with you? And the same thing is said about movies. They’re so much more enjoyable when you can discuss the movie with someone later. And finally, the four letter word in some Christian circles: alcohol. Being able to discuss the different flavors accented by a beer or wine is a very enjoyable community experience that allows us to learn from each other (as long as everyone is legally able to partake, if you’re in the US and under the age of 21, this shouldn’t take place).

So I’m grateful that I finally took the time to read this book, it’s very helpful in thinking through a number of the ramifications that come from dealing with these gray areas in life, and all of them can either help or hinder our worship of God. How do you think you can use gray areas as an opportunity to worship God within the context of community?

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