A Thought on and a Prayer for Willow Creek (and for All of Us)

I am taking a one-week break from the ongoing series Reflections on Worship in the Contemporary American Church to offer a thought on and a prayer for Willow Creek Community Church (and for all of us).  Lord willing, I will return to the reflections next week.

I have hitherto not offered any public comment on the ongoing situation at Willow Creek Community Church, one that first rocked the evangelical world back in March.  Folks far wiser and more in tune with the Holy Spirit than I have weighed and continue to weigh in.  I have not felt that any profound words of wisdom have been ignored, nor have I felt the inspiration to offer anything fresh to the conversation.  That still being the case, I offer here one thought and one prayer, neither one original, in the hope that the insights of one and the heart’s cry of the other will minister to all who read them.

CrouchThe thought comes from Andy Crouch, itinerant speaker and author of a slew of books, including Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  My wife and I have of late found Crouch’s words to be prophetic for our times.  I commend his entire Q talk (Andy Crouch on power) to you, but the phrase that stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it was this:  “[Power], if left unchecked by worship, [will] destroy me, my marriage, and anything I have to give to the world.”

No one goes into Christian service of any kind assuming the allure of whatever power eventually accompanies the position will inevitably bring down the ministry . . . but to assume said allure won’t, at least, prove problematic and need to be brought into check at regular points in the process denies the reality of human nature.  May all of us in positions of leadership in the Church Universal align ourselves with wise counselors who can–graciously but forcefully–keep us rooted and, especially, humble.  And may we pursue authentic worship with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength . . . for all kinds of holy and righteous reasons, but, for the purposes of this topic, because doing so is our best defense against our abuse of power.

(In case you don’t have time to watch the clip–it’s only 18 minutes–here are a few other Tweetable quotes:

  • “Who is flourishing because you have power?”
  • “Every idol [representing the end result of the deepest corruption of power] . . . makes two promises to us . . .  1) “You shall not surely die” . . . [and] 2) “You will be like God.”
  • “Poverty is simply the result of someone playing God in the life of someone else.”
  • “Do we believe that we can be agents of flourishing without having to make or become idols?  That is the question of power.”)

VVThe prayer comes from a collection of Puritan prayers entitled The Valley of Vision that I have used in my devotional efforts the past couple of years.  I pray this prayer, “The Cry of a Convicted Sinner,” on behalf of those in leadership at Willow Creek who have caused their brothers and sisters grief and pain, but even more so I pray this for myself (for though my sins might not make front-page news, they are as vile as anyone’s), and I would encourage you to do the same (for though your sins might not shake to the core an institution that has had 40 years of global impact, they are as reprehensible as anybody’s).

Thou righteous and holy Sovereign, in whose hand is my life and whose are all my ways, keep me from fluttering about religion; fix me firm in it, for I am irresolute; my decisions are smoke and vapour, and I do not glorify thee, or behave according to thy will; cut me not off before my thoughts grow to responses, and the budding of my soul into full flower, for thou art forebearing and good, patient and kind.

Save me from myself, from the artifices and deceits of sin, from the treachery of my perverse nature, from denying thy charge against my offences, from a life of continual rebellion against thee, from wrong principles, views, and ends; for I know that all my thoughts, affections, desires and pursuits are alienated from thee.  I have acted as if I hated thee, although thou art love itself; have contrived to tempt thee to the uttermost, to wear out thy patience; have lived evilly in word and action.

Had I been a prince I would long ago have crushed such a rebel; had I been a father I would long since have rejected my child.  O, thou Father of my spirit, thou King of my life, cast me not into destruction, drive me not from thy presence, but wound my heart that it may be healed; break it that thine own hand may make it whole.


The Lord be with you!

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Reflection #7 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number seven in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #7:  Confidence monitors, which allow musicians on stage to see the lyrics being sung by the congregation, sometimes do more harm than good.

At Judson University, our worship arts students take several communication classes to help them more fully appreciate how all the elements of dialogical worship can be Brendaenhanced by an understanding of some basic but important principles of communication.  One of those classes is a 400-level Communication Theory class taught by my colleague Dr. Brenda Buckley-Hughes.  Typically, halfway through the semester, students’ heads are swimming; by the end of the semester, most of those students have become equipped to bring a deeper understanding of what worship leaders can (and, we would argue, should) bring to corporate worship.  It’s amazing to see.

Basic communication theory dictates that communication happens best when obstacles (physical or psycho-emotional) are removed between the sender and the receiver.  That’s part of the motivation at work when pastors use a small music stand or a hightop table, instead of a massive pulpit, for their messages.  The smaller the obstacle in front of the speaker, the more clearly the message will (have the chance to) be heard by the audience.

The response to this well-intended urge as it relates to praise bands often finds vocalists, in particular, going without music on stands so that they can make better eye contact with congregations.  Because your typical praise-band volunteer doesn’t have the time in her schedule to memorize music–and because even the best of us fail to remember memorized material from time to time–most churches project the lyrics to the songs on a screen at the back of the church, colloquially known as a “confidence monitor.”  This takes care of the cluttered-stage-as-inhibitor-of-communication problem, to be sure.

The problem with confidence monitors is that they too often provoke slavish attention from musicians to the extent that the very-worthy goal of increasing eye contact with the congregation gets lost.  Only the most disciplined singers seem to be able to avoid staring at the confidence monitor in the midst of leading the people’s song.  This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise nowadays.  How many of us discipline ourselves with any kind of regularity when eating at a restaurant that features a TV in every corner?  Not too many.  I know several people who purposely ask the hostess for a table where they will least likely be distracted by a TV screen.  I do this myself whenever possible, especially on date nights with my wife.

The Worship-Leading 101 solution I’m going to suggest here is easier today than it ever has been, what with more-than-adequate videography available from a simple smartphone.  You can tell your praise-band members not to stare at the confidence monitor as often as you want, but nothing will grab their attention like watching a video of an entire worship set in which they have served.  Pastoral worship leaders will want to undertake this exercise with grace and a light-hearted spirit.  Staring at a video screen as opposed to communicating well with the congregation via excellent eye contact is not the Unpardonable Sin, but if all of us desire to bring our best to the altar in worship, neither is it inconsequential.  It will also help in the feedback process if you, as the worship leader, can point out in the video an observable area or two where you can improve as well.  Nothing helps build community in your team like fostering the (true) notion that while you are the designated leader, you are still first among equals (with “equals” being more important in the equation than “first”).

The Lord be with you as you and your praise-band teammates strive to communicate effectively in corporate worship!

Coming next week (Lord willing): The pastor’s wardrobe.

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Reflection #6 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number six in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #6: At least 50% of the churches we have visited that project lyrics on screens in worship services are not compliant with copyright laws as determined by the prevailing licensing agency for contemporary worship in America, Christian Copyright Licensing International, or CCLI.

I’m being generous here.  I bet the figure is closer to 75%.  And it’s not just the under-resourced churches that aren’t in compliance.  Even megachurches, with more in their weekly budget than some churches have to work with annually (i.e., who have staff resources that should allow them to assign someone the rudimentary task of making sure the copyright information shows up on the projected slides), sometimes seem immune to this pretty basic concept.

Why is this the case?  Well, it’s certainly not the most important thing a worship leader needs to worry about for any given worship service, so it is easy to think that pretty much every other thing related to corporate worship should take precedence over something that most people don’t tend to notice anyway.

So why should I bother?  Well, because it’s the law.  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because it carries on the centuries-old tradition of recognizing those who have written the music that worship leaders put on our lips every time we gather for corporate worship.

What do I need to do to make sure we are doing what we need to do where copyrights are concerned?  Start by checking out the CCLI website (CCLI), which is a news-ccli-unveils-new-visual-identitywealth of information; their customer-support people are also extremely helpful.  CCLI isn’t the only licensing agency that covers churches, but it is Windows to everyone else’s Linux.  Some “liturgical churches” (see the post from a few weeks back) use One License, which covers some of the “liturgical” music not covered as thoroughly at CCLI.

How, specifically, do we need to alter our slides in order to be compliant?  In short, each song needs to feature (usually at the bottom of each song’s final slide) the composer’s name (or composers’ names), the publisher(s), the year of publication, and your license number.  The CCLI website is very helpful here: “What acknowledgments should I give when displaying song words?

So we’re covered for all our copyright concerns with a CCLI or One License subscription then?  For some churches, yes.  But if the scope of your use of copyrighted music goes anywhere beyond congregational singing, no.  The basic CCLI and One License licenses cover printing and projecting lyrics CCS_logo_3only.  Many churches, technically, in order to be completely copyright compliant, given the way they use music and/or video in their ministries, need to purchase at least another license or two.  (A really quick and dirty reference guide can be found here: “Is a CCLI License All My Church Needs to Be Copyright Compliant?”).  A great one-stop shopping hub for any and all other licenses is Christian Copyright Solutions.

This seems like an awful lot of work!  Tell me again why I should dip into my already insufficient budget to purchase one or more of these licenses?  In the words of one of my favorite worship leaders, Paul Baloche, because it “always feels good to do the right thing.  Let’s do it.”

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): The pros and cons of confidence monitors.


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Reflection #5 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number five in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #5:  Most contemporary worship follows a two-fold pattern that could be augmented to be even more formative and beneficial for the Church.

Let me begin this week’s reflection by giving props to one of my grad-school profs, 41-dcAhhxOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Dr. Constance Cherry, from whose modern-day classic, The Worship Architect, I borrow liberally for this blog.  All three of the books in her Architect series, which includes The Special Service Worship Architect and The Music Architect, are must-reads for worship leaders.

The structural norm for contemporary worship is a two-fold pattern consisting primarily of Music and Word.  Typically, the worship leader mounts the stage, offers a word of greeting, and launches into the worship set.  Next come announcements (which can be a third fold for churches that spend a lot of time here) and then the message.  A brief word of farewell (and sometimes a reminder of an aforementioned announcement), and it’s all finished.  To be clear, every week, in churches all around the country, God is glorified and His people are blessed via the current manifestation of two-fold worship.  So what’s the big deal?

Cherry–on the heels of her mentor, the late Robert Webber, whose efforts helped spark the worship renewal movement 40 years ago–feels there’s much that is missing in this approach.  She advocates for the four-fold pattern that has its roots in Scripture (where the book of Acts documents the Church meeting for instruction and the breaking of bread, i.e., Word and Table) and the early historical documents of the Church (particularly the Didache), where we see elements of entering and dismissing come into focus, thereby establishing the four-fold pattern of worship.

Rather than struggling to summarize what Cherry articulates so clearly, I am going to quote her directly for further elucidation.  All the following quotes come from chapter 3 of The Worship Architect:

“[The four worship parts] form a progression–there is actual motion forward from beginning to end.  In a real way, worship moves!  Worship is a journey–a journey into God’s presence (gathering), of hearing from God (Word), that celebrates Christ (Table), and that sends us into the world changed by our encounter with God (sending).  Each movement leads intelligently to the next so that, in the end, it is the journey that is experienced.”

Here she utilizes the story from which this blog takes its name:

“[In] Luke 24:13-15 . . . there is a marvelous example of this type of journey, the story of two disciples of Jesus traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection.  At first glance, this passage appears to have little to do with Christian worship.  Yet the . . . events provide a striking parallel with what is to occur in worship:

  • Christ approaches his followers (Luke 24:13-24)
  • Christ engages them in the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27)
  • Christ’s identity is known in the context of the table fellowship (Luke 24:28-32)
  • Christ inspires them to go and tell the story (Luke 24:33-35).”

“These four movements provide a marvelous picture of the church at worship.  We move from our life in the world, through an encounter with Christ by way of his Word and Table, to an eagerness to share his presence in a spirit of renewed joy.  The incarnational presence of Christ is made known in the entire journey of worship: we are approached by his presence, instructed in his presence, fed by his presence, and we depart with his presence.  Gathering, Word, Table, sending: a journey with Jesus together.”

Finally, Cherry offers her pièce-de-résistance argument:

“[T]he order is the gospel.  Robert Webber is helpful in demonstrating how the order itself parallels the gospel message:

The Gathering: God acts first; God seeks us, calls us; God desires to be in fellowship with humanity; God initiates an awakening through the power of the Holy Spirit; God comes to us.

The Word: Because our relationship with God is fractured through the fall, he sends his Son to restore the relationship; Christ, the living Word, is freely given to the world through his life, death, and resurrection; Christ is God’s revealed truth.

The Table: Such revelation demands a response; we are offered an invitation to repent and believe the gospel; we come to Christ in faith and respond to God’s plan of salvation by saying “Yes”; we lay our sins on Jesus, accept his forgiveness, and resolve to take up our cross daily and follow him in true discipleship.

The Sending: Becoming followers involves being sent; God intends for his people to be active representatives in his world; the message of Christ is now our message.”

Structure, not style, is the key here.  The four-fold pattern can serve any style of downloadworship, as contemporary worship leader/liturgist Aaron Niequist attests: Aaron Niequist: “What Is Liturgy?”  His worship-as-well-balanced-meal metaphor is attractive for further contemplation, and I pray that the second wave of worship renewal that seems to be springing up among 30- and 40-something worship leaders will continue to posit the historical four-fold pattern of Christian worship as a model worth pursuing.

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): CCLI compliance (and the lack thereof) in contemporary worship.


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Reflection #4 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number four in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #4:  Where contemporary worship is concerned, some “liturgical” churches seem to be muting elements of traditional liturgy, and some “non-liturgical” churches seem to embracing elements of traditional liturgy.

First, nomenclature.  In layman’s terms, liturgy simply means “the work of the people Mark[in worship]”; hence, as my Judson University colleague Mark Torgerson likes to point out, all churches are liturgical.  But in the culture of the contemporary American church, historically “liturgical” churches tend to utilize tools such as creeds, responsive readings, corporate confessions, times of silence, and weekly observance of the Eucharist (or communion or the Lord’s Table/Supper).  Historically “non-liturgical” churches tend to eschew these activities–except for communion (very rarely “the Eucharist”), which is observed monthly, quarterly, or even annually.  “Liturgical” churches are often referred to via the adjective “high-church,” and “non-liturgical” churches are often referred to via the adjective “low-church.”  (I’m going to abandon the quotation marks henceforth, but please understand them to be there in spirit.)

In the churches my wife and I have visited during this season of ecclesial free agency, it has been interesting to see that some liturgical churches have abandoned pretty much all vestiges of liturgy in their contemporary worship services.  These churches typically have a service (usually earlier on Sunday morning and labeled its “traditional” service) in which they recite the Apostle’s Creed together, pray prayers of confession corporately, and engage in dialogical rhetoric at key moments in the service (celebrant: “The Lord be with you!”; congregation: “And also with you!”).

In one Lutheran church we have visited a few times, the contemporary service is hardly indistinguishable from what one would expect at an Assemblies of God church (minus outward manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit [1 Cor. 12: 8-10], anyway).  They don’t shy away from proclaiming their standing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, yet they don’t embrace the kind of liturgy in their contemporary service that has, historically, helped define Lutheranism.  The absence of liturgy doesn’t seem to be a turn off for the congregants.

Contrast that with our visits to one of the many megachurches in Chicagoland, one that has, with some frequency, utilized corporate confessions and creedal recitations and, every week, following the reading of Scripture, engages in the dialogical “The Word of the Lord”/”Thanks be to God!”–usually prefaced by a brief word of explanation from the pastor.  (They even used an Advent wreath and candles, classic elements of Advent liturgies, last December.)  The presence of liturgy doesn’t seem to be a turn off for the congregants.

What does all this mean?  Time will tell, but it does seem that historically liturgical churches that mute their liturgical practices in contemporary worship services are perhaps operating with a similar set of motivations that drove those who championed seeker-sensitivity in the 70’s and 80’s.  Much good came from that movement, to be sure, but what ended up being lost, as often as not, was an understanding that Sunday-morning worship can and should be transformative for both parishioners and congregations–i.e., worship should be spiritually formative for both individuals and churches as a whole.  Could it be that more churches pursuing contemporary worship will swing the pendulum back a bit to reclaim a few liturgical practices now and again?  As more and more millennials and Gen Z leaders come into position of influence at churches, perhaps.

IWSLogoNameLeft-144Last week my wife and I attended a gathering of members of the community of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (Jacksonville, Fla.), where I did my doctoral work in worship.  Seated round the table were administrators, alumni, and prospective students, one of whom was a 25-year-old former worship arts student of mine at Judson University who is contemplating pursuing a master’s in worship at IWS.  Among the topics of discussion was the notion, confirmed by my former student, that millennials and members of Gen Z are not turned off by liturgical practices anywhere near to the extent that many of their parents’ generation seemed to be–that, in fact, many long for something more substantive in worship, and many seem to find more substance in liturgy.

Do liturgical practices in worship, in and of themselves, form us spiritually?  Many would say they do, based on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our midst when we gather and share in the experience of proclaiming words Christians have uttered in worship for centuries.  But even if, for the sake of the argument, we disagree, we can at least assert that liturgies that have stood the test of time could possibly, especially when facilitated by a trained and passionate worship leader, benefit the assembly in ways that might not untitledbe readily apparent for those who have never experienced them before.  I look forward to seeing how all of this plays out in the years to come; in the meantime, if the exploration of anything above appeals to you, consider picking up a copy of Aaron Niequist’s forthcoming new book, The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning.

Coming next week (Lord willing): The prevalence of two-fold worship.

The Lord be with you!

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Reflection #3 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number three in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, they vary in significance, and I welcome discussion re: any of them.

Reflection #3: As a general rule, worship teams are more diverse than ever before.

81536I suppose I could put “As a general rule” in front of all of these reflections, as there will always be examples where the complete opposite is true, but the introductory qualifying phrase is more appropriate than usual here.  I recognize there is so much room for improvement where diversity on the typical American church platform is concerned.  Dr. King’s assertion that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most-segregated hour of the week is still, unfortunately, true.

But that assertion is, at least, slightly less true than it used to be–and that’s to be celebrated.  Especially in larger churches, I’ve seen more and more people of color leading, not just playing in the rhythm section or doing vocals on funky or gospel-driven songs.  Change comes slowly, often too slowly, but it comes.

One area related to diversity where change has come more quickly in the Church over the past several years concerns demographics unrelated to skin color.  Call it the diversity of superficial beauty.  At the dawn of seeker-sensitivity, it seemed to me that churches actively attempting to attract unbelievers to their services purposely chose primarily (and sometimes exclusively) worship participants who wouldn’t have been out of place on the cover of GQ or Elle.

I wrote an article for Worship Leader magazine at that time entitled “Church Choirs: The Quest for Cultural Relevance,” in which I extolled the benefits of utilizing choirs, one of which was that “choirs help [militate] against the market-driven, we’re-all-young-and-beautiful vibe so prevalent on the platforms of so many ‘culturally relevant’ churches.”  (You can read the whole article here: “Church Choirs: The Quest for Cultural Relevance.”)  I went on to offer a critique on what seemed like the prevailing philosophy of megachurches and megachurch wannabes in my part of the world:

The power of images . . . is strong, and the predominant human images in our culture feature an alarming emphasis on youthfulness and superficial beauty.  More space to, er, flesh this argument out would be nice, but, truthfully, is unnecessary.  That American culture worships at the altar of the airbrush is self-evident.  And when the Church reinforces that dynamic by putting only the most vibrant and physically fit of its members on the platform, where the spotlight shines most brightly, it unwittingly blesses the lies spewing forth from Madison Avenue.  Utilizing choirs of all ages, on the other hand, allows the entire Body of Christ, warts and all, to participate in the leading of worship, a more biblically sound model (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12).

Fifteen years or so later, it’s not unusual for me to see overweight folks taking a significant role in worship leadership, even on megachurch stages.  (I especially appreciate this as one whose metabolism stopped working, never to return again, around the second semester of my sophomore year in high school.)  I see more and more older people on the platform as well.  Both of these demographics were severely under-represented in churches pursuing contemporary worship in the not-too-distant past.  (There’s a delicious, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did irony re: senior-citizen Baby Boomers–many of whom ushered in seeker-sensitivity while ushering out anything or anyone perceived to be old and musty–still taking their places on worship platforms.  In the end, of course, this is a good thing.)

It’s gratifying to see that the Church, which seemed to participate with such alarming willfulness in the genteel racism inherent in much of 20th-century evangelical Christianity, has been quicker to recognize and refute the sins of fat-shaming and ageism.  (I would love to see the barrier of physical disability be the next one to fall.  Yes, we will need to redesign stages, create entrance ramps for wheelchairs, and add dollars to our worship budgets.  Let’s get to it.)

So while we have a long, long way to go, and though we will never fully “arrive” on the diversity issue (or any other sin issue) this side of heaven, my recent visits to numerous churches of different denominations and different populations give me reason to hope that we have turned a corner on diversity where worship teams are concerned, at least to some extent.  We have “miles to go before [we] sleep,” as Robert Frost once wrote, but we are on the right path.

The second verse of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “God of Grace and God of Glory” 31005serves well as a conclusion to these thoughts:

Lo! the hosts of evil round us / Scorn the Christ, assail His ways! / From the fears that long have bound us / Free our hearts to faith and praise. / Grant us wisdom, grant us courage / For the living of these days, / For the living of these days.

The Lord be with you!

51+7Q1L5IeL__SX341_BO1,204,203,200_P.S.  Re: last week’s post, the best resource I’ve come across to help worship leaders find words for worship is the aptly named Worship Words, by Debra and Ron Rienstra.  Highly recommended!

Coming next week (Lord willing): The interesting irony of liturgy in “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches pursuing contemporary worship.

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Reflection #2 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number two in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, they vary in significance, and I welcome discussion re: any of them.

Reflection #2: I appreciate worship leaders who “connect the dots” for me.

If I have one prevailing takeaway impression from almost two years’ worth of visiting churches where current and former Judson University Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts students serve in worship ministry, it’s this: Oh, my goodness; they have so much more to offer!  They are really good at what they do.  Pastors, worship committees, congregations: please encourage them to spread their wings and fly.

CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTI am, of course, biased.  My JU colleagues and I worked long and hard 20 years ago coming up with a worship arts curriculum that wasn’t just a music-performance degree with one or two worship-related courses sprinkled on top.  We offer unique courses like Speaking the Faith (a communication-arts approach to the non-musical skills required of worship leaders) and Worship and the Arts (a theology of all the arts, not just music, that combines theory and practice), and we make our students pursuing a Praise and Worship Music minor take a class called The History of Rock and Roll: The Medium and Its Message, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has attended a church utilizing contemporary worship music.

Hence, our students (and Judson is not alone here, of course) leave after four years truly equipped to lead worship, not just perform worship music.  Why, then, do so many churches seem perfectly content with song leaders instead of worship leaders?

RoryDr. Rory Noland wrote a beautiful article on this subject in Worship Leader magazine recently.  I encourage you to read the whole article here (“How to Teach without Being ‘Teachy'”; page 8)–as it fleshes out my suggestions, below–but let the introduction whet your appetite:

A few years ago, I was with my son and his family at Disney World and we took our granddaughters on one of the safari rides.  At one point, our tour guide stopped the train and pointed out a rhinoceros off in the distance. . . . One might assume the tour guide’s efforts were unnecessary.  After all, how could anyone miss a rhinoceros standing in front of them?  However, this formidable creature . . . was a rare and shy breed, whose color blended in perfectly with the surrounding rocks.  If no one had shined a spotlight on what was already there, we tourists would have completely missed this amazing animal.

Noland goes on to say, “Worship leaders are like tour guides.”  Exactly.  Most of us would demand a refund if we took a tour with a guide who never spoke, and yet many Christians every weekend sit under worship leaders who rarely open their mouths other than to sing.  Yes, occasionally the songs speak for themselves, but more often than not a brief, thoughtful comment can enrich the corporate experience for everyone.  Extending Noland’s safari-guide metaphor, here are some suggestions to help song leaders become worship leaders.

untitledPoint out interesting sights along the way that might not be obvious to all of us.  The time when we could assume a basic biblical literacy in our congregations is long gone.  Even concepts that seem painfully apparent to you might benefit from attention.  For example, if you’re singing “This Is Amazing Grace,” consider taking a moment to give a basic definition of grace, reading a brief excerpt from either of Philip Yancey’s books on the subject, or quoting (and briefly explaining) 2 Cor. 12:7b-10.  As a worship tour guide, don’t assume the congregation will necessarily know what to look for–or even how to recognize it when they see it.

Explain why you are choosing this particular experience for us.  As a worshiper endeavoring to love the Lord my God with all my mind, I benefit from knowing why you chose to put this particular song–of the countless available songs–on my lips.  What line in the song is particularly significant, theologically speaking?  Which phrase stands out as being especially beautiful in its imagery of God?  And, especially, how does the song you’ve decided to have us sing inform the song we just sang? or the song we are about to sing? or elements of the pastor’s sermon? or anything?  As you guide your worship safari, go the next step to let the congregation know why what you point out is significant, a process I like to call “connecting the dots” in worship.

Speak with authority as one who is trained for the job.  The vast majority of worship leaders have had at least some basic training in worship, and some worship leaders, of course, have prepared in college and graduate school.  Even if the extent of your training is a weekend conference, that’s more training than most members of your congregation have.  So be bold.  The best safaris are led by confident tour guides who believe they have something to offer.

Shepherds of our Lord’s Church: I encourage you to unleash your worship leaders to be all that God has called them to be.  Worship leaders, study to show yourself approved (2 Tim. 2:15) and then go out and lead worship, not just singing.  The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Worship teams and diversity.

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