Christianity 201

September 20, 2011

Repetitive Worship

 NASB: Matt 6:7  “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for theirmany words.

Actually, the above verse isn’t mentioned in the article that follows, but I wanted to mix things up a bit and give you something more to think about.  This is from Thom Turner at the blog  Everyday Liturgy. If you wish your worship leader wouldn’t do another circuit of each chorus, you might find this somewhat challenging.  The original title was, Is Repetition Unholy?

“Is Repetition Unholy?”

I remember the first time I heard the bizarre statement that repetition took away from worship. It was, not surprisingly, in a Baptist church. I had, probably naively, asked why the church didn’t practice communion more often. The response was that repetition made spiritual practice meaningless and unimportant: “If you do something too much it no longer has any value, so we only practice communion every now and then to keep it fresh and exciting.”

That is an American response.

That is the response of a person who was raised on instant gratification.

That is the response of a person who expects new, exciting forms of entertainment.

That is the response of a person who values change over consistency.

That is the response of a person who values feeling more than commitment.

Most importantly, that is not a Christian response.

The Christian response is that our spirituality and worship are everyday, every hour, every minute happenings. We are admonished to take communion each time we gather, to pray without ceasing, to pray in a certain way, to sing songs, confess sins, listen to the reading of Scripture, meditate, teach, learn. These are all things we repeat. Unceasingly.

Repetition is not unholy. It is a deep, elongated experience that should make us into disciples.

Repetition in worship is just like when you tell a family member you love them.

Repetition in worship is just like when you take a drink of water.

Repetition in worship is just like when you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Repetition in worship is just like when you go to sleep.

Repetition in worship is just like when you go to work.

Repetition in worship is just like when you turn on a light so that you can see clearly.

Yes, I can readily admit that we can stumble into laziness or unfocused action in repetition, but that is not the fault of the spiritual practice, just as much as it is love’s fault when a spouse just mumbles the words “I love you” without any thought or care. We need to learn to embrace repetition in worship, the normalcy and comfort of sameness in worship, just like we accept this normalcy and comfort of routine in the rest of our lives.

I repeat: we need to learn to embrace repetition in worship. And when we do, we will become aware of the slow and steady movement of the Spirit in every aspect of our life. When we do, we will become aware of how God is steadily working on our holiness: through repetition.

Thom Turner

July 12, 2011

Don’t Squander Sunday Mornings

What you do with your Sunday morning service says a lot about what you think about God.  If you have a neighbor who is interested in pursuing faith matters, the first thing  you might think to say is, “Why don’t you come to our church?” But first you should consider the sub-text that church service might contain.   This is a piece I wrote at TOL back in June of 2008.

This weekend I caught a church service which was being used largely as a promotional vehicle for an upcoming building expansion program. Before I continue, let me say that (a) in and of itself, the service was well done; the testimonies of those who are being helped and ministered to by this church are quite real and genuine; God is at work in this church; and (b) there wasn’t the hard-sell offering at the end to raise money; in fact, the regular offering occurred quite early in the service and no other collection was taken.

Having said all that, I was totally appalled at what took place because (a) there was no scripture reading; very little allusion to scripture other than a projected theme verse; and (b) there was no sermon or even a short, devotional meditation. As good as the testimonies were, and as good as the worship was; this service was totally deficient overall.

There are only 52 Sunday morning services in the course of a year, and for some people, this is there only major spiritual event in the week. I know that doesn’t speak well of how many Christians practice the spiritual disciplines, but we all know the truth: Some people get their only feeding on God’s word once a week.

I also despair for those who might have been visiting in a quest for a church home. They would have found the experience self-indulgent. I did not. I knew most of the people at this church by at least their first or last name. I like those people. I like that church. But this service was just plain wrong.

Much of what we know about God we know from The Ten Commandments. From His point of view, these are The Ten Priorities. One of them is the concept of sabbath. “Give me a day each week;” He asks; we give him 60-90 minutes on Sunday. Another one of His priorities is stated as a kind of sub-clause to the first commandment, “I am a jealous God;” it says. Put the two of them together and you’ve got, “I want you to set aside a day that’s all about Me.” Does that sound sacreligious? No, that’s God.

I have never been a person to function in the prophetic gifts, but I believe that if God were in the parking lot after the service He would say, “Good testimonies, good music, good vision you have for what can be done in this place in the future. But you never opened My Word, and you never fed My People. If you really love Me; feed My sheep.”

I think God’s feelings about that particular hour would be as mixed as my own are as I write this; but in general, I think He would be a little ticked off. I would be afraid that if I were involved in the planning of that service, at some point, way down the road, at the time of judgment, the subject of June 22, 2008 might just come up. I would be afraid of his wrath at squandering a Sunday morning service for the sake of promoting a particular local church agenda.   Yes, squandering.   This isn’t the first time this particular church has done this.   There was flak last time, too.   Three members of my family never returned to that church from that day to this.

Yes, there are great things God can do through the local church. So keep doing those things. Don’t pause to look back, or to commend yourselves on what is being accomplished. Be faithful in serving that one person for whom this is “day one,” this is their “entry point,” this is the “time of beginning.” With the skill and craftsmanship of one who would bring their finest gift to lay before the King, teach and preach the Word with excellence. Each Sunday. Without taking a week off.

It was a great service; yes. And no; they shouldn’t have done it. Because at the end of the day, the church with the most faithful teaching and preaching of God’s Word wins.

~Paul Wilkinson

April 30, 2011

Unfashionable Worship

A shorter post today to make up for yesterday! This is from the worship.com blog where it appeared under the title, Worshipping Unfashionably.

Isaiah 6 teaches us something foundational about public worship. If you read the first few verses you’ll notice the first thing Isaiah encounters in the house of God is the glory of God. It doesn’t first say he encountered friendly faces or hot coffee, or soft bagels or a booming sound system. It says he encountered the glory of God. In the Bible, the glory of God is God’s “heaviness”, his powerful presence. It is God’s prevailing excellence on display. In God’s house, Isaiah meets a God who is majestically in command.

What does this mean for our worship services? It means we ought to come, first and foremost, expecting to encounter the glory of God–his powerful presence. We should come ready to sing of who he is and hear of what he’s done. We come to feel the grief of our sin so that we can feel the glory of his salvation. We come, in other words, to see God on display, not preachers or musicians. A worship service is not the place to showcase human talent. It’s the place for God to showcase his Divine treasure.  A worship service that contains the power to change you is a worship service that leaves you with grand impressions of Divine personality, not grand impressions of human personality.

Isaiah did not leave the temple thinking, “What great music, what a great building, what a great preacher.” He left thinking, “What a great God.” This is why songs and sermons need to be about God first. Everything done in worship ought to communicate God because it is God and God alone who can transform your life and mine. Seeing me will not help you. Seeing God is the only thing truly capable of moving you from one place to another. This is why John Piper rightly asks, “How shall entertaining worship services – with the aim of feeling light hearted and friendly – help a person prepare to suffer, let alone prepare to die?”

November 2, 2010

How We Approach Worship

Joshua Harris has noticed a disturbing trend in his church with people arriving later and later, even for the “late” 11:30 AM service.   “I’d rather have you guys looking bedraggled on time than looking beautiful late.”   He also introduces a pre-service prayer time.

His three points are:

1. Come Eager to sing to him, fellowship with other Christians, hear his word.
2. Come Expectant that he will speak, change us and refresh us.
3. Come Early —not walking in late, but in our seats and ready to go [when the service starts].

Is this message applicable to the place where you worship?   Do we need reminders like this to avoid the risk of complacency?

August 25, 2010

Worship Leader Strategy

For a blog that was created to avoid the topical tangents of my other blog, I do, in fact, end up talking about worship many times.   Maybe that’s not a bad thing.   Even if you don’t sing or play an instrument, to what degree are you known as a ‘worshiper’?

The other day my mother mentioned to me in a phone call that even though her voice has aged, on a recent afternoon she wanted to sing a couple of songs to the Lord.  She got the concept that He was the audience.   She wanted to give Him that gift.

Doug Thorsvik writes the blog Strategic Song Selection which is read by other worship leaders.   What follows isn’t a regular post, but a special page he created in April ’09 on the subject of worship leaders having a well-planned strategy behind what they do.

As part of the Air Command and Staff College seminar I completed when I was in the Air Force, I took a correspondence elective course titled “On Vietnam”. The big idea I took away and the lesson that has stuck with me is: tactically the U.S. Military had little trouble winning individual battles; however, strategically the U.S. ended up losing the war. Following those tactical defeats, our opponents strategically delayed the war through regular peace table talks until the lack of popular support for the war in America ultimately forced an end.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the military terms tactical and strategic here are brief definitions and examples:
Tactical: 3. of or pertaining to a maneuver or plan of action designed as an expedient toward gaining a desired end or temporary advantage. (Dictionary.com) Example: Desserts and junk food stimulate the taste buds with fleeting satisfaction.
Strategic: 4. Military. a. intended to render the enemy incapable of making war, as by the destruction of materials, factories, etc.: a strategic bombing mission. (Dictionary.com) Example: A balanced and nutritious diet makes good overall health and well being possible.

I wonder . . .

  • Does our approach to planning and choosing songs for individual worship services emphasize the tactical at the expense of the strategic?
  • Are we winning the battles, individual engaging church worship experiences, but losing the war, growing worshippers of depth, substance, and endurance?
  • Do we choose songs to serve believers at all times and for a lifetime, or is our concern limited to individual Sunday worship services?

Paul uses military concepts in Ephesians 6:10-18 as he talks about the armor of God. The passage is rich with potential applications using songs. For example, when he says: “18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” I would say strategic use of great prayer songs can help prepare believers to do just that.

What exactly does strategic song planning look like? A starting point is recognizing the difference between being tactical and strategic. It’s easy for the tyranny of the urgent (the next set list) to overshadow being strategic (taking a longer view).

Read more at Strategic Song Selection