Disturbing the Hush – a Guest Blog

congregational-singing1I invited Pastor Greg Lindsey of Mill Springs Baptist Church in Jefferson City to write a guest blog.  Earlier this year I conducted a Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend at Mill Springs, and sensed a real connection with Pastor Greg.  His writing is articulate and artful.  While the post is longer than my normal articles I think you will find it engaging.  I am happy to note that Greg will be with those of us who are gathering for an East Tennessee Training for Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing leaders at the end of July.  Thank you, Brother Greg for your friendship and for sharing from your heart.

“Disturbing the Hush” – Pastor Greg Lindsey

I can still hear her voice. Loud. Strong. And above all, joyful – soaring upward to the highest notes of her favorite hymn: “Love Lifted Me”… but also, here and there, lagging just a bit behind the words, as was her wont. In all her years, my Granny was never asked to sing a solo in church; but that didn’t stop her from singing! Instead, she lifted up her “ordinary voice” (by human standards), given her by the Lord of voices, and praised Him with all her heart through all her days – until, in 1986, she passed from this earth to keep on singing of His greatness in heaven. Her example of love for God in song inspired her grandson to lift up his own “ordinary voice,” which I’ve tried to do ever since.

Several months ago the familiar thought returned: “I sure do miss hearing Granny sing!” And that’s when I realized, “I miss hearing anybody sing like Granny used to sing!” And I began to ponder it: “How come that kind of singing seems to have disappeared? Where have all those voices gone? Ordinary voices (most of us), but loud, joyful, and intense – united in stout praise of the God of our salvation? Why isn’t that kind of singing heard anymore? We still gather, but what happened to the singing that used to ring out?”

I think of John Wesley’s, Directions for Singing (1761): “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.” (By “lustily,” our brother meant “vigorously, enthusiastically.”) This is the kind of singing that’s so largely vanished. Voices “lifted up with strength.” Oh, yes! We can amplify music “lustily” today – more than Wesley would have ever imagined, I’m quite sure! We have the power and technology. Unleash Brother Bose® on a congregation and he can jar loose the snuggest dental fillings! But kill all the microphones, loudspeakers, stage monitors, power amps, mixers, and instruments just for a moment on any given Sunday morning, and listen to what’s left: not much. A hush that disturbs.

“Since when did a hush ever disturb somebody?” Since the day this pastor began to notice call after call in his Bible for God’s people to praise Him loudly with their singing! “Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One’” (Isa 24:15-16); “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You – I whom You have delivered” (Ps 71:23); “Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps 66:2); “But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy” (Ps 5:11); “that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (Ps 30:12); etc., etc., etc…. You get the idea!

Does anyone else see the irony of gathering on the Lord’s Day to faintly sing, “Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise”?

Then, as God would have it, I came across a brother named Paul Clark, Jr. and an online brochure describing something he was calling a “Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend.” I stared at those half dozen words. “Yes, this may be it!” I said. “The answer to the hush!” So I emailed Brother Paul and inquired about a weekend, and received a most gracious reply the next day. “I am at once humbled and encouraged that you would reach out,” he said. “And I would be honored to assist and consider serving alongside of you by conducting at Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing conference at your church.”

And just that quickly, the ball was rolling. We were able to secure a workable date for both our schedules, which turned out to be March 6-8, and Paul shared the plan: He would meet with me and the church’s worship leader on Friday afternoon into the evening. The next morning, he would gather with all our leaders (Sunday School teachers, deacons, committee chairmen, etc.) for conversation and instruction, followed by an afternoon session with our praise team, musicians, and audio/visual team. On Sunday morning he would preach God’s word on the subject of worship. The weekend would be capped off with an evening session led by Paul on “A Biblical Theology of Worship Singing,” culminating in an hour of “congregational rehearsal,” in which we would attempt to translate our learning into action.

When I met Paul in person for the first time and we sat down to talk, I quickly realized that my brother in Christ not only has a mind for worship, but a heart for worship. His years of working with the Lord’s churches and, most importantly, of walking with the Church’s Lord, made our time together extremely edifying and beneficial. I discovered in Paul a man who genuinely loves the church that God “bought with His own blood,” and who also appreciates the tremendous responsibility that pastors bear as under-shepherds, “to keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). And now he had traveled many miles to come alongside me in seeking worship renewal for a local church. I was grateful and hopeful. I knew that with a servant-leader like Paul, if the Lord saw fit to bless our weekend, something special was going to happen.

He did. And it did!

We had good participation in the conference (although as a pastor, it seems like you always wish you had had better). I think a lot of people, especially our leaders, came curious, wondering what it was all about. I guess some may have wondered if we really even needed such a conference. By the end of the weekend though, I could tell that the congregational singing “picture” was becoming clearer in our minds and that a noticeable shift in understanding was beginning to occur – away from us being “okay” with hushed non-participation and back toward the biblical standard: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col 3:16). Although we have some amazing voices (again, by human standards) in the church, we have many more “ordinary voices” like mine – and these were the voices I was especially hoping to reengage in singing, so the result would be all our voices together as one in praise of the Lord.

It was actually several weeks later, during our Sunday evening Bible study. About forty-five of us were gathered in our fellowship hall. I know of at least one person who was thinking about Brother Paul’s outstanding teaching given us over the course of our weekend together. (Inwardly, I was yearning to see and hear a singing difference.) Then suddenly, it happened! With the words of a song on a sheet of paper in our hands, we had begun to sing. No instruments were accompanying; it was just us. But now the voices were growing louder, the singing stronger than usual. The sound was becoming “fuller.” It seemed more intense somehow, more robust. It’s hard to describe. Everything just felt more “focused,” more “alive.” Unison was melting into the sweetest harmony, and the sound of praise to God was filling the room. It was beautiful! Faith was awakening from sleep! Distant memories of a treasured sound were roused in my own heart! I hadn’t heard God’s people sing like that in years! I looked around the room at my fellow worshipers. Eyes were wide open and faces appeared surprised, as if to say, “What’s happening?!”

I knew exactly what was happening: I was hearing my Granny’s voice again!

Three months after Brother Paul’s biblical instruction and investment of his time and heart in our “Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend,” I wish I could say that loud, joyful, intense singing to God is now the new normal in the precious church I serve. But, I can’t – at least not yet. Worship renewal is a battle, and not for the faint of heart. At times when we meet, I think we’re “coming alive” to what we’re singing in worship, but then we seem to slip back into the older, colder tendencies that we’re so familiar with. (What is it they say about “old habits”?) Truthfully, I’m the last person in the congregation qualified to point worship fingers. My heart knows all too well how easy staid, perfunctory worship is! And speaking of the heart, isn’t that the real issue for us all?

But I believe what the Scripture proclaims: “Jesus is Lord!” (Rom 10:9). And as “the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph 5:23), He loves His church profoundly – beyond any measure of love that I could ever understand or show! “For Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:25-26). And one glorious day, He’s going “to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27). And on that day… oh, listen to us sing His praises!

Meanwhile, though, the people of God on earth aren’t called to sit around and wait until we’re the people of God in heaven. No! We’re charged to sing now! “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:1-4).

Brother pastors, when it comes to the worship of our triune God, isn’t whole-hearted, full-throated singing worth contending for? Surely! Then let’s preach and teach like it! Let’s walk right up to this “hush that disturbs” and poke it in the eye with our preaching! How about we decide to disturb it for a change? How about we preach some sermons on worship that, like thunder rolling across a night sky, will rumble in the quietness of our churches? Sermons that will signal unmistakably to our listeners our own passion for the return of heart-engaged, Spirit-filled singing on the part of all God’s people? Imagine for a moment the impact of such congregational singing – on believers and unbelievers alike (1 Cor 14:25)!

More and more, my conviction grows that the hush in our churches is a sinful thing. Mumbled praises are malfunctioning praises, and utterly absent in heaven; let’s strive then to make them absent on earth! Pray for loud, impassioned, full-bodied singing when we gather as Christians! Let’s lead toward it in the churches that the Lord graciously has called us to serve! And keep leading toward it, until by His mercy it becomes a reality! Draw inspiration, if you’re able, by recalling how the Lord’s people used to sing – all those “ordinary voices,” united in loud praise. Be convinced, for example, that if a group of people who love folk songs can sing with power (Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival), then a group of people who love Jesus can absolutely sing with power (Capitol Hill Baptist)! Call your people to sing this way! Encourage them in it! Urge them with all your heart, “Come, Christians, join to sing Alleluia! Amen! Loud praise to Christ our King; Alleluia! Amen!” And make sure they see you doing what you’re calling them to do – even if you’ve been blessed with an “ordinary voice” like mine… and my Granny’s!

“Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world” (Isa 12:5).

MUSIC HELPS PLANT, WATER, AND HARVEST THE SEED OF THE GOSPEL

Vicki drum classHave you taken students on a youth choir mission tour where you had no first time professions of faith, no kids surrender to fulltime vocational ministry, and came home to questions of whether or not the trip was “worth it?” Worse yet, have you had those kinds of doubts as to the value of such a trip in your own mind and spirit? Have you done a Summer music camp, or another special event where halfway through the week you thought, “there’s no results.” Perhaps you wondered to yourself, “Is this really worth all the time and money we are pouring into it?” In our pragmatic culture (church culture as much as the culture at large) everything tends to be utilitarian. We do something to get something, and if we don’t get what we intend, then we must have done something wrong. So-called success must surely be determined by measurable outcomes. Make a note. If it wasn’t “successful” then change it for next time – assuming there is a next time.

Brothers and sisters, this is the world in which we live and serve. It is part of what makes ministry a challenge. Do not misunderstand my sentiment. Every decision for Christ counts, and it is incumbent on us to count them and celebrate them along with those in our ministry teams who are involved in the kingdom work that brings them about. That is especially true of younger musicians as we help them discover the joy of ministry results. We pray ferventy that our student choirs will experience the joy of bringing others to Christ and be effective in ministering the gospel through music and personal witness. We dare not, however, allow ministry efforts that do not result in immediate measurable decisions be deemed ineffective. In fact, music mission ministry gives us a golden opportunity to call attention to the small nuances of growth that do not result in immediately visible measurable results. We need to keep the faith and help young musicians discover how music ministers. I find that the discouraging spirit that can so easily grab us by the……………….. choir stole……can put us in our own special Summer slump. Oh, but consider God’s plan and His way of working.   My grandfather use to point to tree plants, little vegetable growths, and tiny grass poking up out of the otherwise bald ground and tell me, “Look at that, God is growing a ___________! He helped instill in me an understanding of why planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting were all a part of the growing process. Likewise, in our nurture of young lives and in our serving in Kingdom work we have opportunity to help them understand what is involved in God’s redemption of a life. God is always at work after all.

Last Summer I got to be a small part of the first Freedom Children’s Choir event that was a shared ministry effort involving ten Nashville area churches seeking to reach refugees and internationals through a music experience for children and teens at Tusculum Baptist Church. I was assigned to be a part of a small family group of six or seven kids. On the first day leaders brought two young boys to my group and asked if I would pay them special attention because they had just come to the country from a war torn part of the world and they spoke no English. Their older brother and sister were in other groups in case I needed help. We had no words that would communicate between us, but animated gestures and voice inflection would help us until we could get an actual translator who could help some. I was not sure what good was being accomplished from day to day, but had a sense that God was doing something. At the end of the week I was sad to see it come to an end and felt compelled to continue prayer for this family living in a land that was strange to them. Fast forward to today. The second annual Freedom Children’s Choir event began. The two boys were back. They both recognized me and spoke English after the first year to tell me, “Yes, I remember” speaking of last year’s event. Talking with Pastor Paul Gunn about these boys and their family he told me an amazing story. An older sibling had indicated an understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done. That older sibling walked by us about that time, smiled, and Pastor Paul said, “That is him and this year he wanted to work as a small group leader in the event.” What a rich blessing to hear that God is at work in the family’s lives, and to think about those experiences of a year ago. A reminder that this is how God works. Music ministry is instrumental in every phase from planting to harvest. Keep the Faith!  And pray this week for Freedom Children’s Choir at Tusculum Hills.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

MY MINISTER OF MUSIC

Don and Suzanne Today we got word that Don Martin had gone to be with Jesus after suffering a stroke just a couple of days ago.  As most of you know I grew up a P.K., a Preacher’s Kid. One of the joys of being one of those was getting to know the staff members who served with Dad. Because Mom was always Church Organist and because all of us kids were pretty musical there was most always a special relationship with the Minister of Music. Each of these men had a strong influence on me, but one was particularly special. I am sure that a big part of the special relationship to this one had to do with the time and situations of my life during his years of serving alongside Dad, but certainly added to the timing was the personality and demeanor of Don Martin. He was a gentle man, kind at every turn. He had a great sense of humor and knew how to laugh at himself as well as with others. As our family spent time with his I got to see him parent. Better than I recall the humorous stories I remember the sounds of laughter that rang out through our house or theirs when we would be together and Don and Suzanne were telling of the escapades, especially of their twin sons, Mark and Mike. Their daughter, Mary (now Mary Roby) was and is a joy to be around with an infectious beautiful smile and fun spirit to go along with her phenomenal voice and talent.

I mentioned the timing in my life of Don’s service with Dad. You see, Don Martin was there when as a seventh grader my voice changed. He patiently escorted me to his office and vocalized me through breaks, explaining what was happening and assuring me it was normal. He moved me around in the youth choir so as to help me hear tenor and later baritone and bass. When Don was serving with Dad at Calvary in Jackson I had moved on, but as I was serving Liberty Grove in early college years Don was my natural go to for advice, counsel, and that calm reassuring voice of faith that always just made perfect sense. I admired him, loved him, and learned so much from him. Don had one of the purest tenor voices I have ever heard. He made it seem effortless, and hearing him sing with daughter Mary, my own dad, or even one time with me, was a special treat. It showed me how much he loved the truth of the message and the joy of singing itself. What a model for this Minister of Music to observe!

SOME THINGS I LEARNED FROM MY MINISTER OF MUSIC, DR DON MARTIN

  • Patience is a must when teaching musical expression
  • There is powerful dynamic available in the music itself when sung beautifully
  • Laugh at yourself
  • Inspire by faithful example
  • Gentleness is a virtue
  • People know when you care about them
  • Giving time is a demonstration of love
  • Do not be afraid to tell someone you sense a call on their life
  • Support your pastor
  • Express love to your family in private and public
  • Making beautiful music is not about the show
  • Humility is most powerful when genuine

These are not tidbits I heard Don Martin say. Rather these are just some of the patterns of his life that I observed him live out as minister, musician, family man, and friend. His passing saddens me for the loss, though 89 years lived well is sufficient to leave a powerful testimony and enormous legacy of youth choir “kids” and ministering musicians singing the Gospel of Christ in many places, but I rejoice with his family in the certainty of not only his whereabouts, but his present activity. It gladdens me beyond words to think about Don and Dad talking together again, laughing, singing a duet together, pointing together once again to the Christ, but this time literally glowing in the very Presence of the One Who is More Than You’ll Ever Know (except, of course, those of you who by grace through faith know Him, and you will one day join him).

HOW ABOUT SCHEDULING A WORSHIP REHEARSAL THIS SUMMER FOR THE WHOLE CONGREGATION?

rehearsal-balcony-lake-ave-church-1-28-12 If you are a leader with responsibility for some aspect of your church’s corporate worship services and have opportunity to speak into calendaring, how about proposing a Church Worship Rehearsal sometime this Summer?  If it helps, tell the rest of your team I asked.  If it hurts to mention my name, just say you had this great idea. J

What is it?  A Worship Rehearsal is a time of practicing together those aspects of worship that you do together regularly.  Just think about how you do other rehearsals.  You break things down into separate components, and rehearse those components, so that when they go back together they are executed well.  In music, that may mean phrase by phrase, or in major sections of a song.  In preparing for a major program it may mean segmenting major sections.  Hopefully you help musicians to know the “why” of what they are singing, playing, or otherwise performing, and the “why” of doing it that way.  Rehearsing worship gives you opportunity for the same kind of breakdown of a worship service into smaller components for the congregation.  It is opportunity especially to prompt full participation in congregational singing.  Your pastor can help people know their role in receiving God’s Word through the preaching.  With a couple of examples, he can lead them to practice listening, praying, and responding.  Worship Rehearsal provides opportunity to evaluate and practice awkward points in a service like the welcome, whether prompted or left to spontaneity as people enter.  What about different kinds of prayers, confession, concern for health and other needs, invocation, benediction, etc.?  What about the invitation?  How long since you have helped people consider what decisions and responses need to be made public in gathered worship?  Here’s an appropriate opportunity to call their attention to that very thing.  If you really want to break it down, how about rehearsing the ordinances, and passing the plate during offertories?  How about just general pew etiquette?  Like what to do if someone is in “your pew.”

What is there to gain?  A Church Worship Rehearsal is a great time to unpack every aspect of a regular worship service and help your congregation know the “why” of what you do week in and week out.  In such a rehearsal you can ask them to consider ways they can enhance those aspects.  You can give them opportunity to ask questions of leadership and foster healthy interchange surrounding how we worship together.  What’s more, then you can rehearse each aspect, especially musical ones, and further draw attention to the need for full participation. (I know a good resource to help with this – wink, wink).

Corporate worship is the most important thing the church does together.  Southern Baptist, Don Whitney reminds us, “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers”[1]  Pastor and Author, David Mathis, goes further to notate five of these graces and blessings as he sees them: awakening, assurance, advance, accepting another’s leading, and accentuated joy (can you tell he’s a preacher?).  When we consider Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, surely we must consider the importance of our unity as church.  Nowhere should that unity be more clearly on display than in the time of public corporate worship, the gathering of the Bride into one body.  Insiders and outsiders should be able to feel a thickness of the unity as we seek to be the answer to Jesus’ prayer “that they would be one.” (John 17:21)  So, how does that look in your church’s worship when the congregation is singing?  Are all engaged in full-throated praise as one body?  How about in hearing the Word preached?  Is there a sense of unified listening, even when different ears may receive different words of individual lives through the miracle of Spirit revelation?  What about when the choir or soloists sing, does the person in the pew know what their part in active listening is about, or are they just spectator?  Is there a warmth of hospitality when anyone enters the worship space that overcomes social and/or economic status envy, racial or provincial prejudice, or anything else that might otherwise divide us?  Well, a Worship Rehearsal could well present an opportunity to help the church understand responsibility and biblical mandate in all aspects of corporate worship.  Seems to me Summertime might present some such opportunities.  What do you think?

[1] Donald Whitney Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life (Navpress 1991), 92.

The Perfect Time for Filling Up

Gas Can Driving as much as I do I sometimes get into a jam trying to pick the perfect time to fill up with gas. Different dilemmas present themselves along the way. Sometimes the quandary is presented by virtue of sheer schedule crunch. Although it has only happened once, I did find myself in a real panic one Sunday morning as I headed out of my subdivision and was thinking just how much time I had to get to Athens Tennessee for a Sunday service when two things hit me. The first was the real panic-inducer because it just then struck me that Athens was Eastern time zone, and of course I live in Central. Yikes!! I just lost an hour – pedal to the medal! Go Murano! Go! The second panic point was realization that the gas tank needle was oh-so-close to the “E” mark. I began to think about the roads I was traveling so that I could pick the perfect time to fill up that would surrender the least amount of time. Of course, when I pulled in to the Shell station and slid my fleet card at the pump the pump’s computer said, “See Cashier.” Ugh! Really? So much for convenience. I eventually made it to the church in time for the service, but I was more than a little frazzled by time of arrival, and fully anticipated a couple of THP units to be awaiting my departure from the church parking lot. Another time I was driving back from Gatlinburg after the Tennessee Ladies Chorus had sung for their first Missions Get-Together several years ago. In this instance I had the privilege of having my sis, Teresa riding with me and we got to talking….and talking….and talking. I noticed when we left Gatlinburg that I needed gas, but thought I would fill up when we stopped for lunch. I had the perfect spot in mind, stopping at Puleo’s for a nice brother-sister lunch and then I would stop and fill up. Timing would be perfect. And it would have been….except I got to talking and forgot. Oops! So we are headed down I-40, and sure enough. No sputter, sputter…..no cough…..just suddenly powerless. I missed the perfect time to fill up and now I was paying the price. Thought I would have to walk and borrow or buy a gas can. Highway Patrol pulled up, offered a ride and to use his plastic tank, which I agreed to. Little did I know I had to ride in the back and first spread eagle across the hood of the patrol car so he could frisk me – “state law” he said. I think I saw three vanloads of WMU ladies heading back to West Tennessee pass by while I was spread out like a hood ornament. Could only imagine the stories being shared in churches during those reports from the weekend, returning only to spot the Worship Leader being tossed in jail. Not the perfect time to fill up.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. There are various reasons and pressures that may distract us from the perfect time to fill up. Same is true for renewing your spirit and refreshing your knowledge of resources, spiritual tools, and embracing networks of relationships that can help strengthen your resolve in life and ministry. Now and then we all need a fill up. While there may not seem to be a perfect time, Summer likely presents some opportunities that deserve your attention. Consider areas of your own need.

  • Spiritual enhancement – extend times in scripture, read devotional writers who challenge you spiritually and engage your mind and spirit
  • Organizational tune-ups – many of our systems of organization and leadership come unraveled in the hustle and bustle of weekly demands. Worship music ministry of any sort must have organization. Summer often provides a great time to re-think the plans for Fall and either tweak or re-do the organization for better development
  • Theological knowledge – too often we think of theology as the responsibility of the senior or preaching pastor. People get their theology largely from what they sing. Heavy responsibility boys and girls! Be careful what you place on worshipers’ lips.   Strengthen that expertise in Summer by delving into good theological reads. Better yet, network with fellow worship leaders to compare notes and share findings
  • Conferencing for the best – look over what all is available to you for Summer conferences from Lifeway to Baylor’s Alleluia to publishers to college or seminary offerings. This could be a good time and good way to fill up
  • Family nourishment – vacation is important to nurture your family relationships and spend time you often cannot find during heavy seasons of ministry. Use the Summer to renew your marriage, your parental skills, and just spend time hanging out with family for the sake of filling up the love bank.
  • Musical growth – learn some songs without pressure of performing next week, re-visit old friends that have stretched you musically in the past and spend awhile remembering why. Listen more in the Summer and nurture your joy of the musical art for its own sake, then let it once again serve as reminder of God’s creative genius and formation within your spirit.
  • Find old texts and rework as needed to bring new life. “Sing to the Lord a new song” can include an old song that finds new life.
  • Of course I hope you will all enlist your leaders and join us at Brentwood Baptist on August 7-8 for the Music Ministry Leadership Conference, which will be one of the best ever.

If I can help in any way this Summer, let me know.  This Summer I actually plan to pull over a little while myself and ask the Lord to “fill me up.”

FOR A FUTURE GENERATION

Woodbury Childrens Choir Sunday I began leading music for a revival at First Baptist Church Woodbury. Pastor Hunter Hay apologized for calendaring issues that led to the revival week beginning on the Sunday of senior graduation recognition and end-of-the-year children’s music program. I told him, “no problem,” and I meant it. I am here to serve and I hope to offer encouragement to choir, leaders, church family, and I pray the Holy Spirit will work among His people to renew and refresh hearts in worship and ministry. Granted, the morning service was packed rather full and we only got to sing one hymn other than the invitation, but the week is young and the Lord is sovereign.

As guest preacher, Gerald Thomas, capably noted Sunday evening, a theme of faithfulness was struck on Sunday in which passing the heritage of faith is paramount. Visited in several ways in sermon, song, and testimony, a striking component for me was the involvement of the children in their presentation of Living in the Light music presentation after using Growing in Grace curriculum for the children’s choir year. Songs clearly rooted in biblical truth, many including direct phrases from scripture verses, demonstrated what takes place in a children’s choir setting over the course of a year, and had potential to show parents and leaders the high value of holding firm to this important ministry. May their tribe increase!

If I might share a personal word of how things came together in my own spiritual worship on last Sunday I want to then draw attention to broader worship applications that I pray might strike a chord in your own setting. Through past days of Music Camps (Camp Carson and Linden) I have connections with people in the Woodbury church as they faithfully involved their children and youth in those opportunities over the years. The children’s choir Sunday was led by volunteer, Terry Brewer, who was leading in the early 1990’s when I first connected to the church. Two of his grown children are now serving, Claire played piano for the children’s group Sunday, and Rhett serves the church as Minister of Music. I saw Adults and children Sunday who recognized me from Kids Choral Connection and Youth Project, and expressed excitement that their choir was leading in worship. A couple of the children who had speaking parts Sunday had also been part of KCC, and now were receiving graduation hymnals, indicating they are moving forward from children’s choir to youth choir next year. These glimpses of days gone by, reflecting on music camps when Claire and Rhett were the size of the children now in the loft at Woodbury Sunday, and remembering ways their talent was discovered and fostered in those settings, all served to stir my spirit of determination to continue providing opportunities so that upcoming generations including my own grandchildren and their grandchildren would know the joy of praising the Lord in song. Hearing familiar scriptures on the lips of these children Sunday reminded me of my own Sunday School teachers and Bible Drill leaders who patiently helped me as a child to learn and grow. I thought of choir leaders who helped me learn songs that let me sing the Bible, and express and practice my commitment to their truths, even before I had any idea that such formation was taking place in my mind and heart. Reflecting on these days brought a thankfulness to my spirit Sunday in worship. Renewing worship brings about remembrance and reflection.

Sunday worship also connected me beyond the immediate physical location as I proudly thought upon friends and fellow musicians, Dora Ann Purdy and Terry Taylor, who serve to bring the Growing in Grace curriculum and music together. I knew that in those same moments that we were worshiping in Woodbury they were in leadership rolls at Forest Hills and Tusculum Hills in Nashville respectfully. Of course, such thinking also led me to ponder all of our worship music leaders across Tennessee and whisper a prayer again for their (your) effectiveness, sense of the Spirit’s power and presence, and confidence in the gifts God has given with which they/you serve. I then had visions of worshiping brothers and sisters in the churches of Rome, Naples, Florence, Arezzo, and Pestoia come to mind followed by consideration of the chapels of Wales, the churches of Rio, and Iowa, and Montana. Sunday worship connects the parts of the body, not only in the singular location, but beyond to worshipers who gather around our state, the world, and those who are gathered in the very presence of Jesus as we all will be one day. Renewing worship expands our horizon beyond the immediate physical location to connect us to the Kingdom whose ultimate end is the worship of our Triune God.

Sometimes calendaring for worship gets crowded, even through what seem to be mistakes or mishaps. Trust in the Lord! He brings together past, present, and future to meet in worship. In worship a future is unveiled “where God’s sovereign will reigns supreme and His love conquers all. In that sense the future is already accomplished. Christ is risen. His wedding feast has begun. There is nothing we or anyone else can do about it.”[1]

[1] Michael Walters, Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship (Wesleyan Publishing 2006) 214.

The More We Get Together – Church Worship Frequency?

Sunday Night Worship How often should our church join together for worship? Well, the song says “the more we get together the happier we’ll be.” Anybody buying that? For that matter, is that the purpose of gathered worship, to make us happier? From time to time this question of how many weekly worship services are best arises as I receive calls concerning aspects of a church’s worship life and/or an aspect of music ministry. To be candid, I do not have a pat answer and find the question often seems more focused on something other than worship. The focus may well effect the worship life, and certainly often effects the music ministry or some other ministry, but the question of how frequently should a local congregation gather together for worship is an important one to consider on its own. As I said, I do not have a pat answer. In fact, I am not of the persuasion that this is at all a “one size fits all” issue. So, like other similar issues that may not have a clear biblical imperative, I think it is good for church leaders to transparently converse with each other as to pros and cons of different practices, recognizing that we influence one another through our words and impressions, and thus need to enter such a discussion carefully and prayerfully. That said, I really want to toss this question out to you and ask for your reply for all to see. It could be as simple as “we meet Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday” or it could offer explanation of changes in recent years and subsequent effects. The more responses the better. Just leave as a comment below.

Here is where I am coming from. Having been a church staff member for many years, I know that Sunday evening worship can be a drag on the system (personally) and is often challenging to the family of every staff member, especially pastor and worship music leaders. I also know that youth choirs, discipleship training, and other important ministries have been greatly effected by leaders’ response to the “yes or no” of Sunday night church, Wednesday schedule, and/or additional gatherings of the church that include some form of worship, or as opportunity for worship training and preparation. I have observed that entrepreneurial efforts of books like Purpose Driven Church and Simple Church have greatly effected many leaders and subsequently their churches, even when misinterpreted or misapplied as fix-all solutions to complex sets of issues. As the church has moved in and out of programmatic methodology it is easy for important practices to get lost. This is especially true in a culture that reveres individualism to the point of idolatry. Sometimes pastors who lead with a CEO style mentality misconstrue building community as if it was like building a corporation. In such a mindset much is made of image and perception. Needless to say these are important factors, but they can easily substitute an artificial ethos for the reality of the situation.

What do you think?

Gratitude, It Does a Body Good

John Milton Gratitude quote One of the many things I love about sharing life and ministry with Tennessee Worship Pastors is when one of you shares a joy or affirmation from your own worship ministry. Tonight I opened an email from our dear brother, faithful TMC member, and longtime bivocational worship ministry leader at First Baptist Church Greenfield, Jackie Vaughan. Without breaking any confidences or embarrassing anyone I will just tell you that J.V. shared with me an email from someone in his music ministry for whom Jackie and Amy have been a very special blessing. As I read through what was shared I was reminded of some dynamics that are powerfully impactful in the course of life and ministry.

  1. In the midst of our ministry week in and week out more is taking place in the lives of those we serve than we ever know at the time. We ask someone to sing in the choir, join the instrumental ensemble, or take responsibility in a children’s music project at just the “right time” that they needed some encouragement to participate at a different level. Again, we may have no idea at the moment, but the way in which ask, the fact that we, as a leader, turned attention to them, demonstrates a caring that conveys encouragement beyond the fact of the request itself.
  1. The spiritual power of ministry in worship music is not confined to the music-making itself. While we certainly preach and teach of the effect of the music-making and foster understanding of how that art expression serves the liturgy of worship, proclaims the gospel, and ministers peace into the lives of people, still there is more taking place. The lives of individual choir members are being formed by the text and music. Relationships within the church family are growing deeper as emotive expressions are shared, harmonic balances grow to more than sound, and rhythmic vitality becomes a symbol for marching together on the journey of faith. In the midst of our teaching and interacting with text, music, and fellow music-makers, we discover healing in our own lives, deepened care for those around us, and strengthened resolve to proclaim truth.
  1. Affirming those who minister to us and with us and who have had an impact on our lives can be a powerful thing for both thankor and thankee. It was in the more careful study of worship at Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies (IWS) that I was confronted with living a eucharistic life. That is to say, a life of gratitude. A worshiping life is lived in that spirit. Certainly we praise the One who paid our debt, and give thanks, but we also can find the Lord’s giving through those who have authority over us, those who minister to our needs, and those who teach and disciple us in large or small ways.

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thes 5:12-13)

Likewise, as the one on the receiving end of gratitude from time to time, such as was the case in the message Jackie shared with me, we are strengthened and emboldened by such encouragement. Hearing someone share what God has done through you is powerful to remind us that all we do matters, and more importantly, who we are matters.

A resonant spirit of gratitude among the body of Christ is a powerful dynamic that can fuel our worship, enliven our praise, and generally accomplish something of what is exhorted in Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,[d] both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness,how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11)

A SEVEN-AND-A-HALF YEAR PRAYER ANSWERED! On the Baptism of My First Grandchild

Coen Baptism OK, you who know me are well aware that like most grandparents I am always looking for opportunities to inject stories and pictures of the grandchildren. There is a reason they call them grand you know. And while I am posting a picture of my oldest grandson, and could profoundly boast about his character, personality, and reflect the joy he brings to this granddad’s heart, that is not the purpose of this blog or of this post. Instead, I want to boast in Jesus Christ, to bear testimony to God’s faithfulness, and exhort all my brothers and sisters to never give up the powerful posture and practice of fervent prayer.

From the moment we knew our daughter was expecting her first child I began to pray. My first prayers had to do with the health and welfare of our daughter and protection for the baby. As the days of her pregnancy passed by I began to pray beyond the physical and emotional issues and pray that this child would one day come to know Christ. It was the forerunner of the prayer that continues this day for each and every pregnancy and grandchild. Once our oldest grandson was born and the joys of holding him, watching first steps, laughing at every antic we deemed cute at the time, Ebbie and I were awestruck with how much meaning grandparenthood added to our lives. We talked about it (I know, we still do) a lot. We built a play-gym complete with sandbox in the backyard for cryin’ out loud. As time has gone on we have eventually surrendered the few Saturdays we have “free” to soccer, basketball, and t-ball, now baseball. All well worth every minute.

I have to admit, though, that I experienced a change about three years ago, and it began with my oldest grandson. When he visits our house overnight we have a routine of reading Bible stories, then telling stories, saying prayers and (eventually) going to sleep. Of course, I loved the hugs, the laughter in response to my hokey antics, and sense that I was endearing myself to my grandson. All good things. As I considered the real essence of life lived as worship, however, I was convicted that worship has priority in familial relationships as well. Prayers for Coen’s salvation in God’s timing grew more intense. I was highly sensitized to questions, attitudes, and opportunities to speak of what Jesus has done for us. I will never forget one Sunday at First Baptist in Nashville when the ordinances were observed in worship. That night’s bedtime was a windfall of seed-planting, and spirit nurturing. Too young to understand, yet not too young to have a sense of faith awakenings. What’s more, my own faith was in God’s sovereignty and timing.

About a month ago I got a call from my daughter. Sharing joyful tears over the phone I heard the news. My grandson had prayed a prayer for salvation. He was trusting in Christ and asking that Jesus be Lord of his life. Glory! I must admit I was thrilled (and proud) that he wanted his “Poppy” to baptize him, and it was no doubt last Sunday was one of the greatest joys of my life. It was also, however, a reminder of God’s absolute faithfulness, and of the need to pray without ceasing. It was a refresher on what is important in this life, and how worship is an all the time posture in life and living, not just a weekly event. I am grateful to Pastor Tim Stutler and the people of Goodlettsville Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where our son-in-law serves as youth pastor, for their support and joining the celebration of praise. I am also thankful to be reminded of my own baptism as a young child, and find my heart singing today the hymn of baptism;

And as we rise with You to live,

O let the Holy Spirit give

The sealing unction from above,

The joy of life, the fire of love.

Come, Holy Spirit Dove Divine

                        Words by Adoniram Judson

Lord, may we stir the baptismal waters more and more as the message is problaimed “that wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory!”

WHY WORSHIP IS CENTRAL TO CHURCH REVITALIZATION

worship  There is little disagreement among Tennessee Baptists that we have churches in desperate need of revitilization. Reports are now telling us that 90% of our churches are either plateaued or declining. Now having pastors, other church leaders, or church members say, “Here’s one!” is a different matter. Strangely, it seems that there is a disconnect between recognizing a problem, and recognizing our problem. In other words, we have a very difficult time owning this issue of needing transformation in our own church. Yes, statistics tell us there is a problem in our churches. However, I am hopeful that you, like I, desire an evaluative look beyond statistics. I am convinced that looking differently at these matters will yield far different results. The really difficult thing is that measurability is much less attainable when we begin to explore aspects like a change in the spirit of worship services, deepening relationships, meaningful fellowship, biblical follow-ship, and other characteristics that are much more intangible. In the case of gathered worship it is in this less tangible arena that assessment takes place. Relentless numbers-minded folks will still turn to statistical measurements and rely first and foremost, if not solely, on questions answered by how many. How many attended? How many visitors? How many? How many? I was once working with a statistician on a worship project related to congregational singing involvement, and the first words from his mouth were, “How many are singing?” Please do not misunderstand. The “how many” questions are important and undoubtedly display some reflection on deeper matters. In matters of transformation and renewal, however, we simply must plough more deeply to try and discover more of the thick description, if you will, of what is happening among members of the congregation. Along the way, there may well be points at which we become dependent on what might be simply called, “a sense of things.” In the long run we may even find that some churches who show numerical strength are not necessarily experiencing renewal. Likewise we may find that some churches without significant numerical increase are nevertheless in the throes of great revival as the Spirit takes hold in the spiritual transformation His people.

This is where music and response and participation come into the picture. Worship music leaders may not be able to definitively say following a worship service, this many or that many people were singing. They may not be able to numerically compare one week’s experience to the next. With heightened awareness and timely questions, however, those responsible for planning and leading in worship services are quite likely to be able to offer some sense of the spirit of congregational worship. Most important, these same leaders including preaching pastors and music leaders can make comparisons as to how well a congregation is following admonitions of God’s Word. Pastors and Worship Ministry leaders should be relentlessly attentive to the design of biblical corporate worship, and provide some grasp of how well a congregation is participating in that worship. By expanding this group of assessors to include other staff ministers, deacons and elders, and other church leadership for open and honest evaluation as to how a congregation is following the claims of Christ we may begin to get a stronger sense of where a church is in relation to being renewed.

Please note I am not saying that because a congregation raises its decibel level in its worship singing it is therefore in transformation. What I am saying, however, is that a congregation showing clear signs of renewed commitment to remaining true to biblical demands including faithful worship on terms and in ways revealed in God’s Word is a mark of renewal. And for those who question the centrality of worship in this question of revitalization of a church, consider these quotes from author, pastor, and theologian, Warren Wiersbe from his book, Real Worship: It Will Transform Your Life.

On the priority of worship in transformation:

Separation apart from worship can become (and usually does become) a brittle piety that breeds arrogance, legalism, and an isolation from both the world and the church that, in my thinking, is not biblical. (15)

I began to realize that evangelism divorced from true worhip can become merely a program tacked on an already overloaded ecclesiastical machine, or, even worse, a struggle for statistics and results. Isaiah became an evangelist after attending a worship service in the temple and seeing God ‘high and lifted up.’ Evangelism is an essential part of the church’s ministry, but it must be the result of worship, or it will not glorify God.” (16)

How did the missionary venture begin? Even Paul’s missionary call came to him while he was sharing in worship in the church at Antioch. When missions is divorced from worship, the human need can become more important than the divine glory.

Worship is at the center of everything that the church believes, practices, and seeks to accomplish. (17)

Genuine revitalization in our churches will center in genuine Christian worship. Furthermore, genuine renewal of the church’s worship is a sure sign reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit of God.

 

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