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Another option would be to use anointing oil during part of the ceremony.  Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, as is water.  When I did a renewal of baptism, I asked the congregant to give a personal testimony of his life and why he wanted to renew his baptismal vows.  I read a scripture passage that he selected shared about his journey.  Then in front of our baptismal font anoited him with oil making the sign of the cross on his forehead using the words, "You are a child of God, you belong to God, live for Him, In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  However, I like Henry's Idea of the renewal liturgy.  I'll use that in the future. 

Larry -

As for your retirement pension.  Good advice to save more.  I certainly don't see the current CRC pension plan being sufficient in coming decades.  I would like to see us move away from a defined benefit pension towards a defined contribution pension system (Like the RCA) to encourage pastors to know more about our own (and our church's) financial matters.

May you continue to experience God's provision in this new phase of life.

As for the annual conversation about finances.  I've never had it with either of my congregations.  I didn't know it was a thing.  When needed I've broached the topic and we've discussed it well, but I think this would be a good thing to implement here.  If I had it to do over again, I would negotiate an annual cost of living increase as part of my call.  Something to the effect, "Ordinarily the pastor will receive an annual cost of living increase to his total salary (cash and housing).  When mutually agreed upon that annual increase may be suspended for up to one year or increased as God leads." 

That language helps when there is a significant turnover in council during a pastor's tenure.

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.

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:  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

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.

There are benefits to lectionary preaching.  However, I find lectionary preaching insufficient if we truly want to preach the whole Bible to all of God's People.  The lectionary leaves out significant and important chunks of Scripture (notice how few passages there are from Revelation) and its pericope divisions don't always make sense.  Furthermore, follwing the church seasons/calendar makes much more sense in a rural setting than in most urban settings.  For a banker or a single mom there isn't much difference between December 18, March 18 or October 18.  The rhythms of the lectionary are beautiful for people who relate to them, but it was written for a different time and place.

Since we must preach a text in its context, following the lectionary is additionally hard because it necessitates significantly more background study week after week. 

My practice that has worked very well is to follow John Stott's pattern in "Between Two Worlds."  Preach through a book of the Bible.  Alternate between an Old Testament book and a New Testament Book.  Then on the last Sunday of each month take a break and preach from God's word about a contemporary issue.  It's amazing how many life issues are addressed in the pages of scripture when we simply let the Bible speak to us as it was written.

Duane, I fully agree with you that most parishioners don't believe their pastors understand their concerns.  That doesn't mean however, the author of scripture doesn't understand their concerns.  Our challenging task is to understand the text in its context and help our audiences grasp that while we as preachers may not understand - God understands.  I love the illustration from Haddon Robinson who related the following story.  His son was just ordained as a pastor.  He said to his son.  "What does a young guy like you have to say to an old guy like me that I don't already know."  His son responded, "Nothing dad.  I don't have anything to say to you - but Scripture does, that's why I preach from the Text."  AMEN!

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