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When I wanted to join the worship band, I was told (gently) that I needed to spend more time developing my skill. In response, I spent hours each day spending “time in the woodshed”, as my friend likes to put it.
May 20, 2015 0 0 comments
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A Millennial shares his take on what will draw his generation to the Church...and you might be surprised. But what do you think? Is Jonathan right?
May 20, 2015 2 0 comments
Discussion Topic
In any given congregation there are people who have recently lost their mother or father. There are people with strained family relationships. How can we honor Mothers while being sensitive to difficult situations?
May 5, 2015 1 14 comments
Discussion Topic
When it comes to paying our congregational musicians, most churches are faced with a couple different scenarios. Has your church wrestled with this question?
April 29, 2015 0 2 comments
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If every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists, doesn’t it make sense to prepare individuals to serve as liturgists?
April 20, 2015 1 3 comments
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We felt many members were placing too much emphasis on the style of our music. We needed everyone to focus on the essence of being a church. We saw a music fast as an impactful tool...
April 13, 2015 1 1 comments
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For those who work in the church, Sunday is a work day. It’s a high calling, it is kingdom work. But if you don’t get a Sabbath – a true rest day – even church work will drain your soul.
April 7, 2015 0 0 comments
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It didn’t take me long to determine that my repertoire doesn’t include a song with lyrics like those written by God in Deuteronomy 32 – and then to ask, “What is God trying to teach me?”
April 7, 2015 0 0 comments
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Last summer, though it wasn’t for Lent, our church gave up something bigger than chocolate; we gave up music. Taking a break from music can help a church reach a deeper understanding of worship.
March 24, 2015 2 8 comments
Discussion Topic
“...the use of themes and sermon series is the new wave in 21st century congregational worship." But then I wondered. Are all series or themes equal? What makes for a good series?
March 18, 2015 1 0 comments
Q&A
Small group conversations are challenging for hearing-impaired members & small group discussions aren't accessible to the range of cognitive development. How have others tackled this?
March 10, 2015 0 2 comments
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Are there any not-so-well-known songs that you’ve used recently? Making room for good songs that aren’t widely used can be an effective way to add theological breadth and musical diversity.
February 26, 2015 1 1 comments
Discussion Topic
What did you like about this year’s symposium? What did you not like so much? Any ideas for next year? Please take a moment to contribute.
February 26, 2015 0 0 comments
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I hope I never hear it again. I hope I never say it again. I hope we can make this phrase totally disappear from the life of our church. You’ve probably heard it…..
February 20, 2015 3 1 comments
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Christians like to sing. Among God’s people there are gifted song writers who favored us with the fruit of their hard work. We sing when we have needs and we sing when we have abundance.
February 19, 2015 1 1 comments
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Why do most pastors prepare their sermons and most worship leaders prepare their songs, but some of those same individuals choose to wing their prayers?
February 10, 2015 2 7 comments
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If vibrant means giving back to God the life he has ignited in you, then I think it can happen in any type of service, of any style.
February 10, 2015 2 2 comments
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To me, God working for the good of his people, is not exactly the same as working for my good. Does the subjectivity of the word "good" cause you any doubt?
January 25, 2015 0 3 comments
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If I had played the recording or had the praise team perform the song, the congregation would not have been a part of it. Without participating, they can not worship
January 7, 2015 0 2 comments
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I was in China during the holiday season, and I saw a marquee that said in English, “Lucky Christmas!” How about us? Do we believe in the coming of Christ because of what God can do for us – bring joy, peace, happiness, love?
December 17, 2014 1 0 comments
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The songs we sing at Advent and Christmas have some poignant, powerful truths to teach us.
December 11, 2014 0 1 comments
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When congregations gather on holidays so many good things happen.
December 3, 2014 0 0 comments
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When it comes to worship songs, there's an additional aspect that can make it tough to offer your creation for others to use. Can we offer our original songs and other worship creations, and still remain humble?
December 2, 2014 0 1 comments
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TJ has cerebral palsy so being confined to his wheelchair limits his physical activities, but with his absolute fervor for life he is not limited in his possibilities to get involved and be connected.
December 1, 2014 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic
I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to promoting music that is written for the church body. Can anyone provide guidance on the balance between self-promotion and humility?
December 1, 2014 0 1 comments

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Janice, 

Thanks for your transparency and vulnerability.  May your words serve as a wake up call to a growing demographic in our churches. In our family oriented church culture we need to be sensitive to those who do not live within a family structure for whatever reason.  Mothers/Fathers day is only one time of many situations where the single adult is left on the sidelines or more troubling their grief overlooked. 

I wrote a blog post about this topic earlier this week. You can read it here: http://www.janicebuist.com/mothers-day-church/ 

I am in a great place in my life. My post doesn't come from bitterness or jealousy or other feelings that some might want to attach to honest words from someone in the minority on Mother's Day. 

I have been in churches that have read The Wide Spectrum of Mothering prayer that has already been referenced. And, it was fine and well-thought out and inclusive. 

The phrase in The Wide Spectrum of Mothering prayer that is about me reads: "To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children - we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be."

Might I be really transparent for a minute? For a few seconds while that phrase is being read/prayed, people might hurt for me that life has not turned out the way I longed for it to be. But I have yet to feel this mourning or sentiment from those in the church at any other time - not even after the service on a hard day like Mother's Day. It is more common that my struggle is not ever acknowledged in the church.

I have attended churches all over the US so my reflection is not based on one church. Universally, there is not consideration given for the ache of those that are single and desire to not only be married and have children, but carry a child within. The church is one of the hardest places to fit in as a women in her mid-30's without children - at all times of the year. Therefore, prayers like the phrase listed above can seem trite because it isn't something actively lived out in church (at least the 10 churches I have attended as an adult).

I think most things that happen in church that cause pain are done with good intention from those in leadership. I don't think leaders try to hurt others. I would challenge, though, if your leadership is making decisions that you are aware could potentially hurt or isolate others, it might be wise to pull in a few from the minority and include them in the discussion and planning. 

Those that are mother's will likely have the opportunity to be honored and acknowledged in other ways over Mother's Day weekend without a church worship service celebration or token gift. As one of my dear friends, who is also a pastor, said on her FB page, "Be gentle with each other this Mother's Day weekend." My hope is that gentleness and thought of others before self can be present in our churches this weekend. 
 

Bill, 

Thanks for sharing this insightful, honest article. I appreciated her perspective. 

Staci

We will be printing and reading "The Wide Spectrum of Mothering" this year. Pdf download can be found at this link:

http://www.messymiddle.com/.../an-open-letter-to-pastors.../

 

Tough one to deal with, having to draw the line between what should be volunteer and what should be paid work. This difficulty extends to any worship director/coordinator that your church may have.

One thing I think I could agree on, but still probably not clear cut depending on who you talk to (what in life really is beyond the story of salvation?), is the provision of music and other such supplies (strings, sticks, etc) to the musicians and singers. These are items that are being used in the ministry of the church and comparable supplies are regularly provided to other ministries. Although, if you're regularly demanding gold-plated guitar strings, I think we might have an issue. :) (Maybe a stipend instead?)

I personally do not expect to be paid for the amount of time I put into learning my instrument because I want to volunteer my time and do something I love to do, but I know we all come from different life experiences so not all will agree. But I am only in a worship leader role and the actual service planning is completed by another individual so if I were doing both consistently I might feel differently. (I suppose if I was paid and considered self-employed I might also be able to claim some home office and auto expenses on my tax return and donate the money I made back to the church for a tax credit...)

If there are not enough/no musicians in the church and outside musicians need to be brought in, they should be offered compensation where the church can afford it - it is up to the individual offering their "services" to determine whether they want to volunteer their time or not. But it is not nice to see churches where there are capable musicians as part of the congregation and outside musicians are always being brought in.

One thing that paying inside musicians could do is make it awkward if you have to stop paying someone because they are not pulling their weight or do not pay someone at all because their skill level is not there (not that this should be the sole reason not to pay musicians, just a musing)

Sorry for all the competing thoughts I have going on in this comment. It makes sense in my head...

posted in: Paying the Piper?

We honor all women on Mother's Day with a small gift of some sort-- a keychain, bookmark, or something like that.  We used to do flowers, but there are many in our congregation who are allergic, so now use a different token of our appreciation.  We also make sure to include compassion for those for whom the day is difficult--those who wish to be mothers, those who have lost their mothers, or those who have had difficult relationships with their mothers, etc.  We usually include this in our Prayers of the People.

Thanks for sharing, Bonnie!

I once heard a sermon on Mother's Day that focused on all the feminine images of God in Scripture (i.e. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, longing to gather his people as a hen gathers her chicks ... there are so many). It was excellent in considering the love of God, the love of our mothers, and how we reflect God's love to others.

Absolutely, Erin! Thanks for sharing what your church is doing. 

We do acknowledge Mother's Day each year, in different ways. While we try to respect those in difficult circumstances, we also feel it's important to honour the mothers in our congregation and not "steal their joy" altogether. If we hand out a special gift (flower or chocolates) we do give it to all women. This year we are doing a Mother's Day prayer we've developed using something written from Amy Young ("Shout out to Mom"). We have a few expecting mothers in our church and they are over the moon right now and it's not really fair to ignore or downplay the day either. Whether or not it's a "Hallmark" holiday, it is being celebrated all across the country and it would be weird and awkward if the church just ignored it. Our world is broken, we know that. So taking time to celebrate the good is SO important!

Great suggestion - thanks so much for sharing! 

Maybe by acknowledging that they know there are people struggling with different issues, and bringing an awareness to the fact that it is a hard day for some women. 

Thanks for sharing, Angela! Grateful that your church is so inclusive. 

Our church celebrates Mother's Day by celebrating all women. The children hand out carnations to every women during the service. We also, in our prayer, are intentional about mentioning all the various difficulties women may struggle with. 

Joyce, thanks for making the points that musicians have (almost always) had years of lessons and practice and have to put in time planning. And that they must purchase music on their own, which is very expensive. Many years ago in a previous church I would hear people argue that Sunday school teachers are not paid, so organists should also not expect compensation. That falls on deaf ears for those of us who have studied music and paid for lessons since childhood.

posted in: Paying the Piper?

One way to prepare more people is to stop using the term "liturgist".  Such a word obscures what is really being done.  To have more people pray, or bless the people, or lead the singing, or lead a responsive prayer or praise, is what is really being done.  To be a worship leader, or service leader, prayer leader, or song leader during the service... or to read scripture... or present a message...  such is what is being done.  When put in those terms, the scope of the task, and the purpose of the task is clear.  It is not about "liturgy".  

Sam,

Thank you for writing this article on liturgy and liturgical training.  I agree with you: there is much to be done in terms of training liturgists for weekly worship.  To this end, we are having our first (hopefully) annual "worship workshop" at our church.  Accordingly, one of the topics we hope to address is the "in-between" words that we liturgists are called to speak between elements in the worship service. 

Thank you also for suggesting the Quentin Schultz book on public speaking.  I look forward to reading it.

Happy Easter,

Leon

The reason I prefer a "high" Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic . . . liturgy is they have been around for 100 or so years. They read well, everyone knows what the words and the thoughts behind them mean. I quit saying ad hoc liturgies because I don't always know what they are "getting at" and/or they seem semi-Pelagian at best.

Let me add a few more things that I (the pastor) learned in response to this experience.

1) This was a good decision for our music transition.  Christy did not mention that as part of our ministry overhaul we had a change in the staff leadership of the music ministry.  The staff change was hard on everyone and was made with great pain.  This music fast helped to make a clean(er) break between the two different directors.  That clean break helped set up the new person for a fresh(er) start.

2) I (or we the staff) needed to communicate the purpose behind the music fast a bit better.  We fasted for theological, philosophical, and stylistic reasons.  Our hearts were in the right place.  Yet I heard a number of people (most of whom did not attend our congregation during the music fast), "Why are you punishing us for not singing when there is a (fill-in-the-blank-style) song?"  For some, the fast felt like a punishment instead of intentional discipleship.  I don't think we could have eliminated all of that feeling, but we (I) could have done a better job communicating more frequently and more clearly the positive reasons for this fast leading up to it.  Yet I recognize that when we began my thinking on this was not as clear as it is today - experience is often the best teacher.

3) Attitudes about music have improved!  For at least a few weeks and especially during our music feast/festival, the singing was marvelous!  What powerful worship in song.  Many folks who would occasionally sing half-heartedly began to SYLO (Sing Your Lungs Out - from my days in High School Youth Ministry).  This past Sunday (April 12, 2015) was our annual youth Sunday when the youth lead the entire service.  A few people said to me things like - "I didn't know the songs that they picked and I had a hard time singing them - but the words were powerful."  That was a refreshing comment!

4)  Timing matters!  For a number of reasons we picked the right time for our congregation.  However, I may pick a more strategic time in the future.  Because it was the Summer we had a number of families on vacation during various weeks so they missed the overall experience.  One dear saint - who was initially very skeptical of our plan - said to me, "We should do this in the Fall because so many people are missing out.  Everyone in our congregation should experience this."  On the other hand some of our snow birds were back in town and one of our regular musicians (who also happens to be a snowbird) said, "It's really disappointing that I don't get to participate in music very much during my short time back in our congregation."  I'd give more thought to the when if we did it again.

Hi all! I wanted to let you know that the follow-up to this post (Music Fasting Part II) is now available. Check it out! 

 

posted in: Music Fasting

Christy, thank you for sharing your heart.my wife Mary and I are musicians and part of NISSI Institute, a ministry  in San Antonio Texas. Recently The LORD gave me a visual concerning using our gifts to worship and Glorify Him. The Father reaches His hand down from heaven with a lump of clay and say's here my son. I grab hold of it, being made a little creator, created in His image I mold it skillfully and fashion it with love. In my case one of the gifts he has given me was creating music, musical movements and sounds. So when I lavish love on The Lord in song, I am taking that now sculpted creation with both hands, lifting it up high to Him and saying look Daddy, LOOK DADDY I made this for you. My hope is that Daddy accepts it and hands it back to me, and the process continues.                                                                                                                                Paul Gamboa-  fb Nissi WorshipBand

 

 

 

Hello Todd,

Thanks for sharing and providing directions to the sermon recordings. I now know what I'll be listening to on the way to and from the in-laws this weekend.

Peace,

Adom

posted in: Music Fasting

Dear Diane (and Michele)-

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of music and it's importance in worship.  That's why we only fasted from it for three weeks.  And we did it with much fear and trembling and lots and lots of prayer.  We also had the full support (at least in public) of the Elders of the church.  The fourth week we ended it with music festival where almost the entire service was music (sorry Michelle as a CRC church we couldn't eliminate the preaching of the word), but we concluded the service with a sermon from one of our missionaries.

As far as fasting from speaking.  I'd be all for a silent service of meditation and prayer.  We need space for silence to Hear God's Still Small voice in our souls - and our worlds are so full of noise.  That might be for another season, or a special service.

Music is indeed formative.  I believe that music (and the hymnal) is the most effective theology class we can take. - that's why the words of hymns and spirituals and praise songs are so important.  However, music can be divisive.  Music can also put us into auto-pilot in worship.  Taking a short intentional break can refresh it's power in our midst.  As an adult I've now listened to the lyrics of popular music I liked as a kid and teenager.  When I listened to those lyrics with fresh ears I've thought - wow, That song isn't about what I thought it was about - or Wow that song is really great.  But it took a break and fresh ears for me to hear it anew.

I'm happy to dialogue with you (plural) about any other questions you may have.  It was a risk and I think it paid off --- but I'm not sure what Christy has planned for the next blog post, I'm curious to read it myself.

posted in: Music Fasting

Dear Joyce (and others)-

Our first sermon, "It's Not about you."  The message was a study on the question, "What is Biblical Worship." It was taken from a number of texts.  Deut 6:4-6, Psalm 33, and Galatians 1:10.  Main Idea:  Christian Worship means that we exalt God because He is God.  (Not because we like the style etc ...)

Our second sermon, "It's not about one style."  The message was study on the question, "How does the Psalmist urge us to worship?"  The main text was Psalm 150 but also Ephesians 5:19-20.  Main Idea: Worship is bigger than you think.  (The Bible encourages to worship God (with music) in all possible means.)

Our third sermon, "It's not just for the mind."  The message was on the question, "How does David celebrate God's presence?"  The main text was 2 Samuel 6:12-22.  Main Idea:  In true worship we celebrate the Lord's Glory with genuine, unashamed adoration!  (Worship involves emotion not just intellect.)  

The fourth week was a music festival.  Almost the entire worship service was one big musical.  We did have a sermon from one of our missionaries who serves in Austria.

The rest of the summer we did additional services on worship and what it means.  If anyone is intrested in those, feel free to see our website: www.cragmorcrc.org  You can listen to the messages.  If you want manuscripts, feel free to e-mail me and I'll send you what I have.  No Charge, but if you chose to borrow or simply re-use my sermons I simply ask that you would give credit for any ideas that aren't originally yours.

-Grace and Peace 

Todd Hilkemann

 

posted in: Music Fasting

Along with ability of music to heal, minister peace or convey emotion, it is true that words combined with music (melody, rhythm, harmony) have a way of embedding truth deep in our hearts and minds that the spoken word alone does not. Music in worship invites us to participate, which adds another level of learning (heightening the importance of the songs that are chosen). And of course, those who have studied child development know that physical activity combined with melody helps place a song into a child's long-term memory. (holding up 1 finger is naturally connected to the song, "This Little Light of Mine" for those of us who learned it as a child).

Your decision to fast from music in worship is surprising, but interesting in the fact that I'm sure you had to think deeply about how to express truth and emotion in other ways. It makes me wonder about something else thing that we take for granted in worship - the spoken word. Did you also think about 'fasting' from speaking? It would be challenging, but also interesting, to think of how to communicate the entire service using only music (sung and/or played), visual arts, and movement.

posted in: Music Fasting

Sorry, but I'm having a knee-jerk reaction.  This post freaks me out, so I'm not even near considering your congregation's motives for this fast of yours, let alone contemplating the possibility of suggesting to my church leaders that we do the same. Maybe, some people should check out the article in Scientific American Mind's April/May issue titled "How Music Heals the Brain: Its Power to Lift Mood and Build Connections," and consider if such a fast might affect some of their fellow members adversely.  Of course, I'm sure people can always listen to music at home, but it's not the same.  I often miss church services for health reasons, and watching services on TV is just not the same.  To get the same quality of preaching I'd get in church I often have to settle for a sort of performance that strikes me more as entertainment than worship.  I don't go to church to be entertained but to entertain God as it were.

posted in: Music Fasting

Love this concept - can't wait for the next post...

posted in: Music Fasting

Looking forward to reading your next post.  Would your pastor be willing to share his/her sermon outlines with us?  

posted in: Music Fasting

I have had mild hearing loss in one ear ever since a bad infection over 20 years ago, and I find small group conversation challenging; I can only imagine how bad it could be for those with more severe impairments.  I definitely concur with the suggestions in the previous comment--first of all, evaluate the room.  High ceilings, hard furniture, tile floors can create a "live" environment that bounces the sound around and makes for too much noise competing for my "good" ear. This is particularly important in a large room with several groups meeting at different tables.  In that type of setting, something to absorb some of the extra sound (curtains, acoustical panels, carpets or area rugs) is needed.  Flexibility in seating may also be helpful.  If I can sit where the primary sound is on my right (the good side), I can manage better.  And limit "background" sound.  If music is used, keep it very soft and instrumental only, so it doesn't compete with conversation.  Do consider having some type of visual support.  If the setting isn't appropriate for a Power Point, maybe just a flip chart and markers to highlight main points being discussed will help people make sure they don't miss anything.  Hope these suggestions are helpful.  

Kory, what a wonderful conversation your church is having and your concern for inclusiveness is wonderful.

It may be possible to do small group conversations that include both the hearing and a wide range of cognitive abilities with just a few modifications.  

What room are you having the small group conversations in?  If it is exceptionally "live" acoustically a change in venue may be all that a hearing challenged person needs.  Also sitting in a circle may help so that the reading of lips is possible and the sound of the voice isn't muffled by people's backs.  

As for reaching the full range of cognitive abilities.  I'd encourage presenting the material using as many media as possible.  Can every topic be presented in two different ways?  Could a discussion on a scripture passage be set up by both reading from scripture and a storybook Bible or a thematically related picture book? Or use scripture and video?  Then in setting up the questions keep at least some of them very open ended.  "I wonder..." questions work well for adults as well as children or "What would you do if..." If there are no right/wrong answers then it is possible for everyone to feel comfortable participating.  

I don't know, maybe you've already tried these things and they didn't work in your context.  If you haven't tried them, it may be a place to start.

If you do decide to move forward with this let us know how it goes and what you learned because I think you are right that many churches are struggling with answering that same question. 

I suspect that people who are uncomfortable with extravagant displays of faith in and love for God are lukewarm in their relationship with Him or even just plain cold.  No one who's in love with the Lord would even think to ask, "Was that necessary?"  Unless they're Scrooge 2.0, they would probably not think twice about getting a bouquet of red roses for the love of their lives on Valentine's Day, so why not buy roses for God if you love Him that much?  That would be the modern-day equivalent of Mary's pouring the contents of a jar of pure nard over Jesus' feet and wiping off the excess with her hair.

This last summer we did a sermon series on the Psalms, and we insisted on singing the matching Psalm from the Blue Psalter. 

It was enlightening how many of our old timers said "we've been singing in this church for 60-80 years, and we've never sung that before". It was also joyful to be able to sing wonderful words to tunes that were new for many of us.

__________________

Samuel Sutter

www.SutterSaga.com

posted in: Using Obscure Songs

Vibrant is not necessarily a well run/produced/whatever worship service - it can simply mean a service that is "full of energy and enthusiasm" (thank you Google). We could sing "The Church's One Foundation" with only an organ and singers and it could be vibrant and we could do the some with a "full band" and it could be dead. What comes to mind specifically are the times when we are in the Sunday morning service and it looks/sounds/feels like people could be dead when they are supposed to be aiding/leading the church in worship in some capacity. I recognize that there might be any number of reasons why the individual might look like they are in a food coma (including nerves), but it seems important that whoever is in a leadership position in a service, in whatever capacity, shows some life - preferably that they truly believe in what they are doing/saying/singing/praying/etc. I think this is why some churches assess their volunteers before they can participate in a service in a visible role. I understand that this can be exclusionist and generally may not be possible in smaller churches, but maybe it's something we need to consider more. And I know it requires all members of the body of Christ to build each other up.

Amen!

posted in: On Writing Songs

This is the other reason I prefer a liturgical worship service - the prayers have been vetted and I know what the sentences

mean. Sometimes I disagree with the theology of the readings that come out of Grand Rapids so I keep my mouth shut. Some of the things I hear/read are more dispensational than Reformed. 

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

We avoid "vibrant"  worship and prefer "high Church" Lutheran, Episcopal, or Catholic liturgical worship. We attend First Everett (WA) for the sermons and fellowship, not the music selections.

Leon, thanks for the reminder that the Psalms are the best of the formed prayers.  Your comments harmonize with today's reading in the One Year Bible - Psalm 36.  Verses 5-7 offer a great prayer of praise. 

Grace and peace to you,

Sam

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

Thank you for the excellent feedback - and for the spirit in which it was given.

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

Sam,

Thank you for writing this reflection on the Prayers of the People.  I'm thinking quite a bit about this ministry right now, so I appreciate your thoughts on the topic.  I work hard on my Prayers, as I recognize the importance of them.  I've employed a variety of strategies as I seek to pray for the people and teach them how to pray.  We sometimes have what I call "prayer conversations" at our church, at which time we invite testimonies of thanksgiving and prayer requests.  Then I'll invite the people to pray for any requests they feel called to pray for.  At other times I'll write out my prayers and read out the prayer.  Regardless, one thing I've found very helpful with both forms of prayer: praying the psalms.  I'll almost always read a psalm as a Call to Prayer or use parts of a psalm in the actual prayer--with great blessing. 

Again, thank you for reflecting on public prayer.  A very important ministry in the worship service.

Grace & peace,

Leon

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

Thanks Sam for responding to my long winded comment.  I judge from your last response, as well as your original article, that apart from the theology of prayer, or who we are addressing in prayer (whether God or the congregation), pastors and worship leaders are directly or indirectly helping to shape the prayer life of worshipers.  The reality, though, for most if not all in the congregation (including ministers) is that their personal prayer lives consist of impromptu prayers, rather than formed or extemporaneous.  So if ministers are hoping to shape the prayers of those in the pews, shouldn’t they help them in the format they are most comfortable with?  Do we really expect church members to use “formed” or “extemporaneous” prayers in their devotional lives?  Following your premise of shaping the prayer lives of those in the pews, perhaps developing easy patterns of impromptu prayer (such as Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) would be more helpful to those in the pews, especially if ministers used such impromptu patterns thoughtfully.   

As to my personal opinion, as to what format ministers and worship leaders use in congregational prayers, I think they use what is most comfortable for themselves.  Some find it much more comfortable to have their prayers prepared ahead of time, so they don’t find themselves put on the spot in the immediate moment of praying.  Others use the formed prayers of others because they sound and feel meaningful to the ears and hearts of the congregation.  Others feel more comfortable and adequate with impromptu prayer.  Extemporaneous prayer, as you describe, seems to be a combination of those three.  Whichever format one uses in public prayer it should be thoughtful, just like the rest of the worship service.  I agree with you that ministers should never just “wing it,” (even with impromptu prayer).  And if that is the point of your article, that congregational prayer should not be winged, I agree with you.  Thanks again for making us think.

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

Thanks, Roger.   Good stuff.   Always good to talk about prayer.  And you got me thinking about the impact of the audience on our preparation.  We prepare our sermons for the congregation but shall we prepare our prayers for the Lord? You raise a good question. 

Plus you accent two points I was trying to get at.  First, of the three types of prayer - impromptu, extemporaneous, and formed - I have not found one type essentially more spiritual than another. Second, the prayers of those on the platform will shape the prayers of those in the pews. For that reason, I often opt for extemporaneous or formed prayers, rather than impromptu.  

Thanks again for taking the time to response.  Your words are helpful to me as I shape my lectures for seminarians.

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

Thanks, Sam, for your article on corporate prayer.  Prayer, for most Christians, is a puzzling subject.  Before answering your question of how ministers or worship leaders should pray in corporate prayer, let me make some necessary comments first.  What do we accomplish or hope to accomplish through prayer?  In what ways is prayer effective?  Does God change his mind about our circumstances in life so that by prayer we can persuade God to change his preplanned actions.  Does the one praying have to fulfill a list of criteria in order for his/her prayers to be effective?  Is prayer for the benefit of God or for the one praying? The list can go on and on as to the questions and doubts one has in regard to meaningful and effective prayer.  Although there are a number of different aspects of prayer (ACTS), what stands out in both the Old and New Testaments is the concept of petitionary prayer.  Jesus taught on several occasions to “ask for whatever you want and it will be given.”  It easy to give thanks to God, to give praise, to confess one’s shortcomings, but petitionary prayer is where the rub comes in.  How often do we receive from God what we prayed for, that wasn’t likely to happen anyway?  When it comes to petitioning God, does prayer really have any effect?  It would seem that if prayer was effective in the simple and commonsense way that Jesus taught about it in the gospels, then Christians would stand in much better stead than those who weren’t Christian and who didn’t pray. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.   So if Jesus’ instructions can not be taken literally how should we understand them?  And so ministers and theologians come to a multitude of conclusion in regard to prayer.

That is the reason why different ministers and worships leaders pray in the various ways that they do.  They are, perhaps, trying to reach God in the most effective way possible in order for God to hear and answer their prayers.  Some might suggest that written and pre-prepared prayers do not touch the heart of God therefore are not as effective as Spirit driven spontaneous prayer.  Others would say that the Spirit can inhabit prepared prayers as much as spontaneous prayer.  So I would suggest that one reason that a minister might use one kind of prayer over another has to do with his concept of prayer and what happens through prayer.  

A question I have in regard to extemporaneous prayers, as you suggest, is, are they any more effective than any other pattern of corporate prayer?  Perhaps as you suggest in your last paragraph, what difference do it make?  The difference that you imply, is it doesn’t really matter to God, but it might to the congregation.

Something worth remembering as to the difference between prayer and other parts of the worship service, is that in prayer you are addressing God and in the sermon you are addressing the congregation, two different audiences.  So if in prayer, you are addressing God, then as you say, why does it make any difference?  If you are trying to impress a congregation with a style of prayer, then maybe you have to pick and choose?  But who are you praying to anyway?  Certainly not the congregation.  I really doubt that any one form of prayer has a greater effect than any other.  But I’m quite certain that others would disagree.

Maybe the makeup of the congregation would also make a difference as to how a worship leader or minister would conduct prayer.  A large traditional church, a large contemporary congregation, or a small farm community church would each make a difference in the church’s personality and likely would also make a difference in the spontaneity or formality of congregational prayers.

Thanks for your interesting article.  It does make a person think about the topic of prayer.

posted in: Winging Our Prayers

I don't know about the song, but I agree with your reservations about the theology.  I wonder if Romans 8 should be read like this: 

Romans 8 is not primarily (and certainly not just) about your personal salvation, but about the way God plans to use those who are in Christ to bring hope and healing (salvation) to a broken world.  So the first part of the chapter talks about the wonderful, and necessary, changes that are needed in the believer (those who are called), and the assurance that God is doing that work in us ("he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you")  The creation waits in eager expectation for this to happen (i.e. "for the children of God to be revealed").  In equipping us for that work we are displaying "the firstfruits of the Spirit".  The Spirit helps us to carry out the work God intends, not the work we intend.  That's why it says "the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God [my italics].  Our wills are meant to conform to God's will. We are meant to conform to his Son. "the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God" [again, my italics].  Only in that context does it seem right to expect that God will work for our good. 

Perhaps even the Heidelberg Catechism misses some of that.

There is a similar dynamic, I think, in the asking in my name passages in John 14-16.

Thanks for your interest, Christy, in hymnology.  But don’t you think that you are making a stretch to come to your conclusion?  If God works out all things for the good of his kingdom (those who love him) then it is natural to conclude that they are also ultimately for my good, as a part of his kingdom.  If you want to go with some alternate manuscript, which is not likely the most authentic or if you want to interpret “good” in a way not intended by the Bible (or a particular Bible verse), then you are simply putting your own spin on the words of the song.  And then you might as well start scrutinizing a lot of songs and hymns we sing, even ones from the Psalter, because they likely don’t fit with your own personal theology either.  Who is going to be responsible, in the church, to scrutinize the words of our hymns to the level that you have examined this one phrase?  I might not agree with the theology of many of the hymns and songs we sing in church, but finding others to agree with me (or my theology) would be an impossible task.  I think you, are facing an impossible task, as well.

“To me, God working for the good of his people, is not exactly the same as working for my good.”

This is precisely why the Church’s expectations must be defined by God’s Word and Spirit, not by our human nature and culture.

Without explaining all the Greek on this, let’s go to context. In Rom. 8.18, Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” If we tend to believe that personal suffering is the greatest evil (and much of our culture does), then we have a problem. Why? Because Paul has already admitted to believers “suffering” – and “suffering” in Rome for being a Christian included more than a raised eybrow or a lost job. Either the Bible is wrong or our understanding of “good” and “bad” is off-base.

How off-base are we? Again, let’s look at context, especially looking at Paul’s death. According to history, Paul was martyred by being crucified upside down. Was that “good” for him or “bad” for him? Was that “good” for the whole Body of Christ? While that is the question we wrestle with in our culture and our understanding of the word “good”, here’s a different question: What if the will of God being worked out in us – even in painful, self-denying ways – is “good” in and of itself AND for the whole Body?

Since Scripture interprets itself, I think we have to see our “good” in Christ’s words alongside and defining Paul’s:
Matthew 16.24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Luke 14.26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

When the Word and Spirit define our own personal “good”, we will have a much different outlook than the rest of the world.

the Holy Spirit can and will use anything to minister to anyone when He wants, even secular songs... songs that are still in the making, songs that are just seconds old or centuries old...  is every song going to speak to everyone the same way, no, and even if we do get snobby about our music preference, He still can and does use it to melt our hearts...  I remember walking into an Avalon concert with a very bad attitude -I would have preferred not to be there, and He melted and convicted me in less than one minute after the first song started... i was weeping so hard, i could not stop the entire concert and for well over a year afterward anytime i heard on the radio the song that the Holy Spirit used to melt and convict me, i would immediately start crying again, it was that powerful and life changing... and part of the message God put on my heart at that concert was "don't limit what I can use to minister to you"... He can use anything to minister to anyone.  (and believe me, you can't work up any emotionalism in less than a minute of music, especially starting the bad attitude i walked in with)

Thanks Christy for your article on meaningful worship.  I have to agree, though, with Robin on his comments in regard to worship. I think you may have jumped the gun on writing your article before giving full thought to your comments.  Personally, I think worship is a very subjective matter, one that varies with individuals. What makes worship meaningful to one is not the same as for another.  That’s why there are worship wars in so many churches.  What meets the needs of an eighty year old is not likely the same for a twenty year old.  What moves the heart strings is different for all of us. We have to do better at accommodating each other in worship.  So good luck on finding the one authentic form of worship.  Nice try, Christy, but I’d say, you need to go back to the drawing board.

This is a very well-written blogpost.  Yet, I am struggling with the veracity of the "Without participating, they can not worship" and "...without singing the song, they can't worship" statements.  I think I can understand the motivations behind the "...parishioners are every bit as important as the leaders, if not more important.  So they need to participate" statement.  Still, worship comes from the heart and not necessarily, always and only, from our actions.  We can still worship, whether we are singing or whether we are in utter silence.  Just because someone is standing up and participating, does not mean that it is the only form of worship.  And, just because someone’s lips are moving does not mean that they are truly worshipping.  A person can still be disengaged, not paying attention, critiquing the worship team, talking to someone, etc. 

In both Isaiah 29:13 and Matthew 15:8 we read, “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.  Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

There are times when we need to receive ministry.  I believe that is the part that feeds our souls and strengthens us for our Christian walk.  As we are all created for worship, it is equally important for us to also know when to receive someone serving us.  Just as Jesus demonstrated humility and servanthood to the disciples by washing their feet, Jesus also was able to receive someone anointing and washing His feet.  

So, I do not see it as a performance, I see it as ministry.  That worship leader and/or the musicians and singers on that recorded track are using their gifts to glorify God, to serve others, and to lead us in worship.  There is still an anointing on that gift and sometimes those songs need to ruminate on the hearts and minds of the people, so that they can carry it with them.  To imply that it is null/void and somehow less edifying to God unless we are all standing up, like cardboard cutouts, participating, is lost on me.

Admittedly, I come from a different denominational background, so maybe that is why I do not see worship as something that always needs to be participatory, but that sometimes we need to enter into His presence in stillness, while He speaks.  I am not saying either way is right or wrong, just that both ways, to me, are valid.

I just found a couple more I don't want to forget:
:: "O Jesus, We Adore You" PsH 472
:: "Christian, Do You Struggle" PsH 575

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