Responding to An Open Letter to Praise Bands

I came across a blog today titled, ‘An Open Letter to Praise Bands,’ written by James K.A. Smith, a professor at Calvin College. In his blog he lists 3 problems he sees with worship music in churches today, and they are:

  1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.
  2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.
  3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

While I wholeheartedly agree with his statements on worship, there is some refining of them I would like to see, as someone who leads worship. I completely agree with his first statement, you shouldn’t need ear plugs at a church. If the congregation can’t hear themselves it encourages people to become much more focused on themselves than the body around them, who they are there to encourage through their singing (Ephesians 5:19).

The second point I also agree with, but would refine some. Different congregations have different styles of music they prefer to do. Now, with the internet, when you go to most churches today, you’ll typically recognize a couple of the songs, but every church has their own unique gifts and styles, especially in urban contexts. One church I went to did old Gospel songs that I didn’t recognize, but everyone else in the church loved! Another place I’ve been used rap as worship for a couple songs. The other issue I have with this is some of the push back I’ve gotten from elderly people where I serve. Some of the older people will use this as an excuse to not sing some of the songs on a Sunday. I would encourage people to listen to the songs we sing on Sundays outside of Sunday so they can sing along. And finally, introducing a new song can often be difficult for people to grasp, so I will often sing a verse and chorus so people can figure out a song, then repeat it and encourage the congregation to sing along.

Finally, the third point is the one I would most refine. Part of the reason I like to lead from the front so people can see me is so that they can know when their supposed to be singing. It’s always awkward when there’s one person with an especially loud voice who doesn’t know when the next verse starts, so they jump right in then sheepishly look around. Yes, I do want to model what it looks like to worship through music, but I also want to show the congregation when they are supposed to sing along. One of the things that I think is incredible helpful for this issue is to make sure what is being said is focused on God. This can be done by including pertinent Scripture passages during musical interludes, or having someone use that time to praise an attribute of God that the song talks about.

Honestly, it is very hard to not make it about myself and try to use music as a way for me to build myself up, so I pray before every service that I make God’s name great, and pray the same prayer of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” I want to model to the congregation what it means to worship, but then apply that worship to my whole life as I conform myself into the image of God’s Son, Jesus.

“You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God Himself.”

-D.A. Carson

Making the Best Use of Time

I’ve been reading ‘Spurgeon: A New Biography” by Arnold Dallimore the past few weeks and have been amazed by Spurgeon’s life and service. He was reading and understanding the Puritan’s by the age of 10, and took his first church at the age of 17, taking over a large church in London by the time he was 19. It’s difficult to not compare yourself to him as you’re reading it, but he was a uniquely gifted individual. One of the things that’s most amazed me about him is just how much he got done. He preached 10 times a week, edited 1 sermon a week, visited numerous people throughout the week, wrote 500 letters a week, taught Bible classes at a college he started, wrote and edited a magazine and somehow still had time to care for his wife. From reading what I have so far, I’m guessing he didn’t stick to a 4o hour work week. During this reading, a passage from Ephesians 5 was brought to mind that says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Here we are told to make the best use of the time. How does one go about doing that?

In college, during one of my many periods of self-discovery, I called my dad and asked him if I had wasted my time pouring so much of my time into basketball growing up, instead of reading the Bible and growing in my understanding of God. In a nutshell, he said no, and as I’ve been reading through the life of Spurgeon, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I waste my time on still today, and if I need to focus more time reading the Bible and theology. Then I came across a little sentence in Spurgeon’s biography that said, “A smooth area had been prepare for lawn bowling-a game Spurgeon greatly enjoyed, especially since it had been the favorite pastime of the Puritans” (137). I decided that if Spurgeon can have his activities outside of theology that he enjoys, so can I! Yes, Christians should focus on learning more about God and growing into the image of His son, but God has also blessed us with so many things that we enjoy doing, and let’s continue to enjoy those things and finding enjoyment in the gifts God has given! So do I need to feel bad if I play some Wii for a bit, or play a game of basketball, or go to a movie with friends? Unless it’s consuming my life and superseding my time with God, I don’t think so! So yes, I am a Christian Hedonist, looking to enjoy God and the creation He has given me to enjoy.

What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Once And For All

Passion is a wonderful conference that has exploded in recent years. Fueled by speakers like Louie Giglio and John Piper and music by Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, people flock to this conference by the tens of thousands. I have a few friends that have gone to this conference in the past, and every year I buy the CD to hear some of the new songs that will be big in churches the following year. This year was no different-a wonderful conference with great music. I bought the CD the day it came out, and have begun doing some of the songs at the church in which I help lead music. One of my favorite songs from the album was ‘Once and For All’ done by Chris Tomlin. This past week, I was sent an e-mail with a discussion about some of the wording in the song, and led to this blog on the song. The lyrics in question are the first ones in the chorus “We believe our God is Jesus.” One of the most difficult concepts within Christianity is the idea that God is three persons yet one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this line is true, then Jesus is the only person of the Godhead who is God. Wording in the songs we sing matters!

This is similar to a song I used to love in middle school by John Reuben titled ‘God Is Love.’ The chorus says, “Love is God and God is love.” Yes, God is love (1 John 4:8), but love is NOT God. Describing God as only love puts limits on many of his other characteristics.

So what do we do with a song like ‘Once and For All’ when the rest of the lyrics are theologically sound and speak to the truth of what Jesus has done on our behalf? The writer of the blog I pointed you to earlier suggested changing the words to “We believe our King is Jesus,” which I agree would be a big improvement on the song, and would keep the song theologically true. I continue to be grateful for the gift of Chris Tomlin and hope to sing this song soon at church, with the edited words.

Doxology & Theology Review

I just finished reading a new book edited by Matt Boswell titled Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader. Throughout my life I’ve read a number of books on how to be a biblical worship leader, and have regularly felt like I have a good grasp on what the Bible says about leading worship, but this book stretched me in some very good ways and in some ways that were very uncomfortable for me.

This book was written by a number of different worship leaders from many different churches across the country (interestingly, they all seem to be from larger churches). In the first couple chapters I thought it was going to be just like a number of other books I’ve read on worship, but then I got to the third chapter, “The Worship Leader and Scripture” and realized this book was much more personal than the ones I’ve read before. In the introduction to this chapter, Michael Bleeker writes, “Our churches are filled with uninformed worshippers.” From here on out in the book I was forced to deal with many of my faults in my leading the worship through music at my local church. As soon as I got to the third chapter I thought, “well this will be the highlight of the book for me,” but then I would read the next chapter and think the same thing!

The most difficult chapter for me to read was ‘The Worship Leader and Justice,’ by Aaron Ivey. Social justice has become something of a hot topic in America and is something I personally have struggled doing. How do I pursue social justice when I live in a primarily white smaller city in Wyoming? I know the command in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” How can I become involved in this justice that God requires of me? I’m going to be working through the implications of this chapter for a while.

For anyone that is involved in the leading of worship through music at a church, this book is a very helpful resource for personal growth and reflection. I would add it to your library and read through it with your senior pastor to help you become a stronger Christian and better equipped worship leader.

“Love Jesus. And don’t be afraid to show people that you love Him. It will help them love Him more.”

A Book I Wish Was Written

I found a blog today about a book R.C. Sproul has thought about writing on numerous occasions titled The Sensuous Christian. What is a sensuous Christian?

The sensuous Christian is one who lives by his feelings rather than through his understanding of the Word of God. The sensuous Christian cannot be moved to service, prayer or study unless he ‘feels like it.’ His Christian life is only as effective as the intensity of present feelings. When he experiences spiritual euphoria, he is a whirlwind of Godly activity; when he is depressed, he is a spiritual incompetent. He constantly seeks new and fresh spiritual experiences and uses them to determine the Word of God. His ‘inner feelings’ become the ultimate test of truth.

This could be true of so many people I have met, and myself through some periods of my life. Every relationship I’ve been a part of has involved work and sacrifice. It takes the daily discipline to give time to the relationship and effort on both sides to make it work. If one only spends time with someone when they “feel” like it, it’s not a true relationship. There are many times that I don’t “feel” like going to church, but I know I need to in order to spend time being encouraged by those around me and also for me to encourage and support them. Who do you know that is a sensuous Christian? Are you?


A Gracious Theologian?

One thing I’ve discovered about myself in recent years is that as I learn new things, I’m convinced I’m an expert on them before I truly understand everything I’ve learned. I read a really good article today titled ‘Fourteen Characteristics of Theological Legalism.‘ Michael Patton, a professor at Dallas Seminary wrote:

Theological legalism is nothing new (and such is certainly not limited to the world of theology). Think of the Pharisees who, according to Christ, strained out gnats and swallowed camels (Matt. 23:24). To the theological legalist, there is no such thing as gnats. Christ spoke of the weightier things of the Law (Matt. 23:23). To the doctrinal legalist, all issues are of equal weight. Paul spoke of things of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3); to those who are theological Pharisees, everything comes in first place, there is rarely, if ever, a second.

He then goes on to list 14 ways that show someone who is a theological legalist, and finally, says,

If you love theology, please be the first to put on the attitude of humility. When someone speaks about you in this regard, don’t have your goal to for others to think you are smart or right, but humble and meek. When others talk about your personality with regard to theological discourse, would they say you are arrogant and legalistic, or gracious and meek? This does not mean we sacrifice our passions or beliefs, it just means we temper ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. The truth is too important for us to lose our witness due to theological legalism.

I’ve seen this in my own life, as well as the lives of many of my friends. In college, I discovered that I was reformed, and was convinced only those who were reformed were true believers. Then I discovered I was a Calvinist and was convinced anyone who didn’t hold to the “TULIP” was either uniformed, unintelligent or not a true believer. Yes, we should be a people who are studying the things of God (i.e. theology) but may that knowledge be used to build up others in the body. As I’ve come to know many people who are far smarter and learned than I am, I am continually amazed by their humility and graciousness. These men who are some of the experts in their field took time to stop and talk to me and ask about the ministries I’m involved in, yet I often have trouble “lowering” myself to talk to someone who is an Arminian. What is my problem? I hope and pray that as I continue to grow in my understanding of God, that I am a humble and gracious theologian, one who not only intellectually knows God, but who lives out the things I know so that I may grow to be more like Christ in my everyday life.

Why Do I Go to Church?

Everyone’s heard the statistics, a majority of the students in our churches will end up abandoning the church once they leave the home (18-20) and then somehow stumble back into the church in their 30s, seemingly without missing anything the church has done. I know many people who view church as not much more than a club for them to be members at, and it looks good to the people around you to go to church. Unfortunately, this is a profound misunderstanding of the church! So why do I, as a 24 year old single male go to church, besides the fact that it’s my job?

  • I really enjoy going to church. I don’t know of any other place where I can interact with people ranging in age from infants to late 80s. Most of these people aren’t those that I would generally choose to spend a great deal of time with, but because of Christ in both of our lives, we have Him in common! It’s a joy to get down on a knee and hear about a 2 year olds new bike helmet, and then turn the corner and get a hug from an 80 year old woman who told me she was praying for me this week.
  • We, as a congregation, reflect God’s purpose for his people. I’m reading ‘Doxology & Theology‘ which says, “Through the work of worship we “become something corporate.” We become the body of Christ, we become the bride of the King” (125). This flies in stark contrast to our individualistic American society where we are so focused on ourselves that we have trouble seeing anyone else around us.
  • I’m going to be spending eternity with Christ’s bride, the church. I need to learn how to love the people in my church who are different from me, because, as was just said, we together make up the body of Christ. I need to spend time with those I don’t always see eye to eye with in order to grow in my areas of weakness.
  • Last, but most certainly not least, is because the Bible commands me to go to church. Hebrews 10:25 says, “do not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.” This verse could have been written to many people today! We are commanded to meet together because together we make of the body of Christ.

For me, going to church has never been an option, and I haven’t always gone joyfully, but through God’s grace, I’ve learned to enjoy the imperfect church we have on earth. Why do you go to church? What are some of the excuses you’ve heard for why people have given up on the church?

Awful At Being In Awe

Hebrews 12 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It starts off with such a beautiful picture of those who have gone before us and points everything to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” But then the passage goes on to talk about entering in to the presence of God and ends by saying, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” This fire brings to my mind a couple occurrences of fire in the Old Testament. First, a fire that led the people of Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21), and secondly a fire that consumed a very wet offering that Elijah gave to God on the top of Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). How often do we view God as a consuming fire? Perfectly holy and just and apart from a perfect sacrifice unable to have anything to do with sin.

Many people I’ve talked to do not want anything to do with God’s holiness. They insist that God’s love covers over any other attribute he may have, and while it’s true that God is love (1 John 4:8), if that’s the only characteristic we have of God, we have an incomplete and false perception of him. One of the books I’d recommend on this article is ‘The Hole in Our Holiness‘ by Kevin DeYoung. We, generally, are awful at being in awe of God. We too often turn the glory in on ourselves instead of marveling at the incredible creator who cares about the intricacies of our lives. As I once heard Matt Chandler say, you never hear anyone stand in the Grand Canyon and talk about how much they can bench. That would be ridiculous! But we will look at the God who created the universe and try to tell him how much he owes us.

How can you work at being more in awe of God this week? How can you encourage your church to be more in awe of God?

What One Thing Do You Have?

Kevin DeYoung wrote a blog today titled ‘If All You Have Is A Hammer.’ He finishes the thought by saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So many times and of so many people in the church this is true of them. They insist that they are the hammer and they view everything through a specific lens. To whom is Kevin referring with this? He says,

What do I have in mind? No one in particular but lots of things in general. The Christian who blames everything on fundamentalism and relates every story to their upbringing where they had to wear long skirts and watch Lawrence Welk. The feminist who sees the oppression of woman in every tweet. The conservative who can only sound the alarm of cultural declension. The Presbyterian who relates everything to the regulative principle. The church critic who sees every weakness as an expression of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The gospel-loving saint who smells legalism in every exhortation against vice and in every celebration of virtue. The philosopher who has concluded that every problem boils down to epistemology or the one and the many or whatever. The academic who thinks everything that ails the church finds its roots in whatever he wrote for his dissertation. The revisionist who is confident that the church is all out of sorts because of Greek thinking, Constantine, or Old Princeton. The wounded soul who can’t see past his own hurts or makes it her life mission to rage against the machine. The liberal who can’t stop talking about tolerance and dialogue. The Sunday school teacher who finds a reason in every class to beat on Charles Finney. The peacemaker who sees every conflict as a third way waiting to happen.

I know many people who have their one issue that they view the world through instead of through the whole of Scripture. From the people who think we can only sing one genre in church, to the people who still think dancing is a sin, to the people who view everything as an end times prophecy. This is one of the many reasons we need to read through the whole of the Bible regularly. We don’t get to pick and choose the things we make important, God does. Now this doesn’t mean that the things Kevin listed aren’t important, they are! BUT if that’s the only thing you have to talk about and you refuse to look at the other things God is doing through other people you are living life incorrectly. I’ve been reflecting on Philippians the past couple weeks, and think we all could take an example from Christ

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Philippians 2:4-7

Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

I wrote recently about life after graduation, and some of the difficulties it presents. This week, I found a great blog titled ‘Idle of the Heart.‘ In this article he encourages people, specifically young men, to get up and work hard at whatever job they can get at the time. The blog goes through three biblical reasons about work:

  1. You are called to work (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).
  2. You are called to work now (Ecclesiastes 3:22).
  3. You are called to work for Jesus (Colossians 3:23-24).

Again, I recommend reading Kevin DeYoung’s book ‘Just Do Something.’ It’s not enough to sit around and wait until your dream job lands in your lap. Get up, go work hard and continue to pursue your dream job while you’re involved in a local church and getting to know and be open and real with people in the church. God will continue to lead and guide you even in a job you don’t like very much.