Songs Are Like Sermons

One of the most common phrases I hear about contemporary worship songs is that they lack the depth and richness of hymns. While I would strongly disagree with that statement, I don’t hear the same argument being made for the sermons that are preached or (for most people) the Bible translations we use. When David penned the words, “Sing to the Lord a new song” did he actually mean it, or was it just a cute phrase he penned to mean something else?

One of the things I’ve been reminded about God recently is that we will never fully understand him. His ways are so much superior to ours that we need an eternity with him to be able to adequately understand him (Isaiah 55:8-9). That means that while the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, it isn’t complete. If God can never be fully grasped, then all the ink and paper in the world could never adequately describe him (John 21:25). Every book about God will fall short in some area. This is one of the many reasons we continue to meet together on a weekly basis in the church: each week we’re reminded of who God is and what he’s about: redemption. The focal point of our time together on Sundays is generally the preaching of the Word which is, hopefully, an explanation of what the Bible is saying and how that applies to our lives today. While the preacher should preach Christ alone, he will still preach through the lens of his own life experiences and understandings, and no two preachers will sound the same. If they don’t preach exactly the same way through the texts of Scripture, can both still be right and faithful to the words of the Bible? I think, and really hope, so! Until Christ returns or we are called home our ideas of God will be skewed and will need to continually be honed and sharpened. We need the church and our family in Christ to continually point us back to God and to the glorious riches offered to us through Christ. We need a new word preached in a new way every week so our hearts of stone can be turned into hearts of flesh. Yet I don’t see the same logic applied to music.

Because God is completely superior to us, all the songs in the world would never be able to adequately describe him. That means we need new songs to be written that can help us to be reminded of who God is and what he is like. As we continue to be made more like Christ through the songs we sing, new understandings of God’s character will emerge and we’ll be able to relate to him in new ways that require new words. I would hope that our faith is an ever growing faith that moves us on to depth and maturity in faith. Yes, we cling to the words of Scripture as the primary source of truth, the norma normans (the rule that rules) while the songs we sing are the norma normata (the rule that is ruled).

So why don’t we hear people say, “These new sermons aren’t like they used to be,” or “These new sermons are so lacking in depth,” or “If only he would preach more like John Calvin”? Yet so many people will say these things about the songs we sing. No-I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and never sing hymns – there is a legacy there and helps to keep us grounded in the tradition of our faith (just as a side note, that’s why I think reciting creeds as a church is helpful). But that doesn’t mean we need to demonize new songs or new styles within music. God is a God of innovation as he calls each new day into being. Instead of harkening back to a “golden age” of music or church (which I don’t think existed), be grateful for new ways to worship the God who can never be grasped. And in all that we do, whether in word or deed, may we do it all to the glory of God.

Worship Wars

After a week away in Chicago and some time with other EFCA pastors, I got to come back home on Friday night and prepare for meeting with the body on Sunday. Some of my discussions with friends at the conference lead to thinking through some issues related to music and church on Sunday (someone mentioned the book “When the Church Was a Family” which lead to a discussion on this issue). As an introduction to this issue, think through the question: when was the last time you viewed your family through a consumeristic lens? Does your family exist to serve you or to be served by you?

1. We live in a consumeristic world. 

The “i-everything” mindset has permeated into all our thinking. We’re able to enjoy whatever we want with a touch of our finger. We don’t like being inconvenienced or to have anything but our perfect ideas served to us. I can listen to whatever type of music I want on my phone or listen to whomever I want to listen to preach a sermon. This all leads us to draw into ourselves instead of looking for ways we can serve our brothers and sisters around us.

Unfortunately, so many people look for a church to see where they can “be fed” or where they enjoy the music or where they have their friends. There’s no looking around to see how you can serve or get involved and pour out your life for those around you. However, when everyone is looking to see what they can get out of church no one is going to grow or be made more like Christ. The pastor’s job isn’t to feed you, it’s to grow you. Growing sometimes hurts. Growing sometimes means being pushed outside your comfort zone and being forced to wrestle with deep seeded issues that take a lot of time and energy to work through.

This mentality isn’t just for the younger generation. I see many retired people who are convinced church should be all about them. They’ve put in their time and energies during their younger years to give up when they’re getting close to the finish line. Instead of continuing to pour into those younger than themselves, they draw into their own groups and similar ages friends to remember the “good old days” and wish things were the way they used to be. I need and am so grateful for older people who aren’t giving up, but are continuing to faithfully serve the church and equip the next generation to rise up and lead the charge for the next generation. My best youth worker is a retired high school principal who teaches the youth group Sunday School class and checks up on me to help me better pour into the students that attend the youth group. That’s how older Christians are to live with the next generation.

2. We are too focused on ourselves.

This is often done at the expense of those in the church we’ve been called to serve. Because we’re some consumer minded we don’t encourage those around us like we’re called to in Ephesians 5. Yes, Ephesians 5 tells us a number of different types of songs we’re to sing (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) but at the end, Paul says as we do it we are, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That means we must look beyond ourselves to the betterment of the body laying down our interests and passions so the church can grow.

I also think this is the primary reason people don’t sing in church. They’re either too embarrassed by their “bad voice” or they don’t want others to know how their voice sounds. It’s still too focused on yourself instead of encouraging those around you by praising God with your voice.

3. We all have unique and individual preferences.

We are all called to be a part of a body. That means we all have unique contributions to give to the church and all have a job to contribute to the betterment of the body. This means that we need to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the better growth of the gospel in our lives and the lives of those around us. I have a unique style of music I enjoy listening to and a specific style of preaching I best relate to, and I have yet to find a church that has everything I like, including the one I currently serve in. What I’ve looked for in a church is a place that I can serve. As I’ve heard said before (and I don’t remember where, so I’m sorry for not giving the credit where credit is due), “worship is a war, but it’s a war against myself.” Any time I come to worship God I need to fight against my fleshly impulses and selfish desires and wants for the good of the church I’m in.

4. We don’t love.

Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled, “The Mark of the Christian.” What is that mark? Jesus in John 13 says it’s love. Not our definition of love where there is no calling out for wrongs, but God’s definition as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13. We’re called a family, a new family that runs deeper than just flesh and blood.

I naively thought that the “worship wars” that I’d read so much about were done and gone, and it so often to me feels like some people in the church have missed the memo that worship is about so much more than a style of music and is about God. It’s almost like the story of people who lived for decades without hearing that WWII had ended, and had been living in fear most of their lives. I pray that the church can move beyond individualistic preference and on to a family mindset.

“Solutions” for a Church That Won’t Sing

I’m starting to feel more and more like a cynic, I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting older (I sure hope not) or that the new wave of blogs and people who think they’re experts on a variety of topics has grown. Probably some of both! Whatever it is, I stumbled across a blog today titled ‘13 Solutions for a Church That Just Won’t Sing‘ and initially got excited because this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. What can I do as a music leader to help the people in the church I serve participate in our corporate times of singing? Then I read the article.

  1. The first point I whole heartedly agree with. We must begin with education. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable singing or know the songs very well they won’t be able to participate.
  2. This is where I started to sense I wouldn’t agree with this article. Most churches I’ve attended recently don’t even HAVE an organ in the building! And what makes an organ the most effective tool of worship songs? I would argue the opposite and the few churches I’ve attended that have an organ fewer people sing. Part of the reason the guitar is so easy to use to lead people in worship is because it’s an easy instrument to learn that allows others to easily join in and quickly help lead the congregation. Some of the most fun times I’ve had singing along with others are at “rock” shows where the primary instrument is a guitar.
  3. Once again, the answer to every question isn’t to go back to the way things used to be. Like it or not, contemporary-guitar led music looks like it’s going to be sticking around for a while, and I would argue that it’s good!
  4. I wholeheartedly disagree that the music team should “stand still.” Throughout Scripture we have accounts of people dancing whole heartedly before the Lord. Why should today be any different? We cannot and should not divorce the mind from the heart, and moving can and should be used as an expression of praise. That’s why we have the phrase “jump for joy!” We should be so excited that God has redeemed us through Christ, as I’ve told the congregation I serve “we above all other people in the world have a reason to celebrate.”
  5. Once again (if you couldn’t tell) I disagree that the “soloist” is the problem. I’ve seen a greater problem when there’s been a choir up front. People in the pews tend to sit back and try to enjoy the performance of the choir instead of actively participating in the singing. I would hope that the leader would be humble and use their platform to point the Christ, but to imply that the soloist is the reason people aren’t singing is a false assumption.
  6. Can we sing too much? I see so many more commands throughout the Bible to sing than to have an expository sermon. I don’t think we should do away with the sermon at all, in fact I enjoy preaching and listening to sermons on a regular basis, but how many sermons do you have memorized? How many songs do you have memorized? Songs allow us to (hopefully) easily remember Gospel truths.
  7. Finally! Another one I can agree with. This is the reason I’ve created a spotify playlist for people to learn and sing the songs we sing at church at home.
  8. This is one I half way agree with. Our spaces should be different because they are used as a sacred and set apart space. BUT God isn’t confined to a specific place or type of building. And many times we can’t change the buildings of the church we attend, but are simply stuck with a building that was there 30-40 or even 100 years ago. We are in the midst of picking out new carpet for our sanctuary, and I hope the space becomes more inviting and conducive to the worship of God. But that can be done in any, or no space.
  9. Once again, I agree. I hope Christians can do a better job of supporting arts and do music well and to the best of their ability.
  10. I think children singing begins at home, not the church. I have many fond memories of my family singing together, or listening to music with my sisters, or riding in my dad’s car singing our hearts out. This carried on o church. I thought singing was a normal thing for people to do!
  11. I think the words we sing matter much more than the music that accompanies them. The only person on my music team that has the printed music is the pianist because she’s the only instrument that plays the melody. When the “soloist” (I prefer the term leader) is capable and mixed well enough to be heard, people will learn the songs by singing. I think a majority of people today can’t read music anyway, so printing the music wouldn’t be worth the time.
  12. Once again, I agree with this. As I’ve said before, the words we sing matter much more than how we sing them. We should sing a wide variety of songs that deal with a wide variety of issues. Everyone comes to church with different experiences, backgrounds and expectations. I pray every week that the congregation is able to focus on Christ and be encouraged in their pursuit of him regardless of what issues they come to church with.
  13. I’m not sure how one goes about “placing strong voices strategically in the congregation.” In my experience people sit where they would like to sit and refuse to sit anywhere else. But I also try to sing songs repeatedly so people can learn and sing them! I don’t do them too much, but have a list of songs we sing regularly and will regularly add new ones and take older ones away.

I’ve talked a lot about my problems with this list, but what is my answer to the problem of congregations not singing? I’ve got a condensed list of 3 things:

  1. Educate. Why do we sing? Why do we sings specific songs? Why do we repeat phrases? Why do we stand when we sing? Letting the people know that singing is a command in Scripture is incredibly important. It doesn’t matter if one likes the music, the Bible doesn’t command us to. BUT we are commanded to sing to one another as a form of encouragement which is why we sing so much on a Sunday. It’s also helpful to explain why we sing specific songs, or help reveal confusing phrases or imagery in songs. There’s a reason for why we do what we do and it’s helpful to let everyone else in on those reasons. It may mean having a sermon series or Sunday school class working through books like Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin, or Doxology & Theology edited by Matt Boswell, or Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper.
  2. Model. If the leaders in the church aren’t modeling singing then the rest of the congregation will not be willing to sing either. This is also shown in physical expression. We are to worship God with our bodies, minds and souls. This is part of the reason we stand when we sing, to help engage our bodies in the worship of God.
  3. Persevere. It seems that the loudest voices are those who don’t enjoy the music at a church. Despite the complaints, continue to persevere with the help and support of the senior pastor. It’s exhausting hearing the various things you do wrong or the problems people perennially have with the music the church sings, but lean in to Christ and do not respond in kind. When I was in college I was told that there would always be people who would complain and I should either out-love them or out-last them.

On this side of heaven there will be no perfect congregation that always joins in the corporate singing, but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying! Continue to stand firm against those who would argue against music and trust that God can and will work in the lives of those who seem unchanged by the gospel message.

For a good laugh on the issue of contemporary music, see this article ‘Why Contemporary Worship Music is Dead and Decaying

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.

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