Sunday, March 29, 2009

Worship conflict (4)

Following my visit to Gordon Conwell, I received a message from Calvin Woosung Choi:

I had a question which came to my mind after your departure. I wanted to ask your view on traditional and contemporary worship. I remember you mentioned about the wholistic approach to worship. Over the years of ministry, I came across several churches who were trying to set up contemporary worship in an effort to reach to a younger audience. Often this simply meant that taking out the choir, the creeds, the scripture reading, and the offering and having more of a praise oriented service. I would like to hear your view on this and how you would characterize them.

At the Pastors' Forum several pastors spoke (anxiously) about conflict over worship, exactly because of this issue. I had mentioned Marva Dawn's comment (in Reaching out without Dumbing Down, 1995) that two services - traditional and contemporary are "destructive and shallow" because they damage the formation of Christian community, allowing people to split off according to their tastes rather than grow together inclusively.

One pastor disagreed strongly, saying that music choices are "only a matter of style" and enabling people to worship God effectively is the first priority. Many different issues cluster here. It will be interesting to see how others react.

But let's at least begin with Calvin's request about characterizing these two terms. I agree with Rob Weber (Re-Connecting Worship 2004) that these terms traditional and contemporary have become "heavily value laden' and are often used from one particular interpretation to view the other negatively. He argues for this clarification:
  • Traditional - worship with printed prayers and responses, congregational singing primarily from a hymnal, and "special music", either solo or choral, accompanied mostly by piano or organ.
  • Contemporary - worship with little printed liturgy (though song lyrics often projected) using congregational singing and "special music" that draw from resources outside hymnals, accompanied by a variety of intruments, usually piano, guitar, bass and drums.

Both definitions contain a wide range of practices, but many churches know tension between tradition and innovation - especially well-established older communities. Both types of services can have a praise orientation, but styles of music can vary dramatically!

I want to pursue different aspects of this issue in days ahead. As always I shall be grateful for your insights and comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Renaming Worship Terms (3)

I am really grateful for the comments to my last blog from practitioners who care about loose definitions. Another concern, of course, is how we should ensure that worship is not just seen as Sunday services. Kent Hughes in Worship by the Book (ed. Don Carson, Zondervan 2002, page 140) writes:
As to everyday living, the fact that Christian worship is to be coextensive with all of life suggests that care must be taken in the way we speak of it. To call our public meetings "worship" can unwittingly install a re-sacralization of time and space. It is better to employ terms like "corporate worship" or "gathered worship."

I wonder what difference it would make to emphasize that our services are "gathered worship" and as we leave we continue in "scattered worship"? Anyone out there have experience of making this distinction, or anything like it?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Renaming Worship Terms (2)

On March 15th I mentioned that worship is much more than music and suggested that "worship leader" is an unhelpful term. Can you define ways by which we can ensure that worship is not just thought of in terms of music?

I know this is a big subject. It stirs up feelings! Don Carson (in Worship by the Book ed. Don Carson, Zondervan 2002, page 47) comments:
"The notion of a "worship leader" who leads the "worship" part of the service before the sermon (which, then, is not part of worship!) is so bizarre, from a new Testament perspective, as to be embarrassing. ...I know that "worship leader" is merely a matter of semantics, a currently popular tag, but it is a popular tag that unwittingly skews people's expectations as to what worship is. At very least, it is misleadingly restrictive."

Is it an improvement to rename?:
worship leader = "music leader" (making room for other co-leaders of worship such as the preacher!)
worship team = "music team," "corporate worship planning team", or in some traditions "liturgical team." Others involved in corporate worship might also be identified e.g. "Scripture reading team", "prayer team."
Any comments?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Worship Follow Up (1)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. It was not only set piece sessions: "Closing the Gap between Preaching and Worship" that brought interaction, but evenings and lunchtimes with pastors, students and faculty. Many strongly agreed that preaching and worship were too often treated in separate boxes.

One surprise was the depth of anger expressed by one or two pastors. One told me of that worship had become so defined as "music in weekly church services" that some of the worship leaders he dealt with were stuffed full of pride, and very difficult to work with. Because they believed they had the key role for "worship" they gave preachers a hard time. I also know worship leaders who also might chip in with a word about preachers being stuffed full of pride and difficult to work with!

It emerged strongly that DEFINITIONS are dynamite. When "worship" becomes music in Sunday services, and "worship leaders" deem themselves in charge there is going to be a loss of God's big vision of worship that involves all of us, for all of him. And pride rears its ugly head. How can we redefine worship more appropriately? And is it ever right to use the term "worship leader" in the light of Jesus' role (Heb. 4:14-16) and the wide community scope of worship (1 Pet. 2: 9-12)? These, and many other questions will keep me busy these next weeks. Any insights are welcome.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A faulty overhead locker

Very late Thursday night I returned from Manchester, New Hampshire on a United flight. We boarded on time. The plane was jampacked. All seemed well (except we were on the back row next to the toilets). As passengers pushed handluggage into overhead compartments we noticed that one wouldn't shut. It looked awkward, hanging down slightly from one side. Different staff tried pushing it back into place.

Our time for departure passed. Half an hour later we were told that this misaligned locker was the cause of the delay and someone had been called to fix it. Later we were informed there was noone in the airport detailed to do this job - contractors had been called and on their way, but their vehicle broke down! They were getting another vehicle.

Half an hour later, a worker appeared. With a screwdriver he removed the offending panel and walked off to applause. As we continued to wait our attendant said paper work needed to be filled in.

Half an hour later we were told that the locker door had to be brought back and taped in place according to regulations. Tape was now needed. However, it now seemed much more complicated to fix it back and, with huffing and puffing, eventually the locker cover was lopsidedly taped in place. Another long delay followed as paper work was completed.

Two and a half hours late we took off. Sitting around us were people who now knew they had to stay overnight in Chicago because of missed connecting flights. I was amazed at the patience of so many people whose plans were entirely messed up by this faulty locker. I was also surprised that if regulations insisted it was taped up, they had lost so much time unscrewing it in the first place.

Of course it's therapy to blog about it, but I was challenged again about how small faults can do much damage. Tens of lives can be disrupted, some seriously, when small issues are left unattended - like saying something unwise and unkind, or thinking that some slight won't matter. Let's not underestimate what damage small things unattended can lead to.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Website

It's rather too complicated to explain (involving a mislaid credit card and mysterious goings on!) but I have had to launch a new website: This initiative owes much to my masterminding son Rob. At present its structure and content are simple - beautifully fitting the subject! However, I hope to develop it as a complementary source for those people kind enough to be interested in my ministry.

I am delighted it is up and running - perhaps you will visit?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Christian (trans)formation (2)

I appreciated the comment on my February 10 post about how worship shapes people into God's community. It raised questions about defining worship carefully and expressed understandable scepticism: "Are you speaking about worship as we call our weekly praise gathering....I'm not sure how (this) accomplishes significant change." Good point! - can praise worship services change people? Anyway, shoudn't their focus be on God, not on us?

I have just finished reading Mark Labberton's: The Dangerous Act of Worship. It makes uncomfortable reading. He says: "Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it." As we praise God he calls us to the twin responsibilities of loving him and our neighbor. These are inseparable dimensions for worship. He considers much of the church is asleep: "Will God's people wake up to worshiping God in such a way that we demonstrate we are awake by loving our neighbor in God's name?"

So much challenged me. In particular he spells out the "false dangers'' that end up domesticating worship into safety first for ourselves. Instead of worship that includes glory and honor due God, and also enacts God's love, justice, mercy and kindness:
we are scared of worship that's-
  • not under control
  • doesn't seem relevant
  • doesn't meet expectations
  • isn't popular
  • isn't comfortable
  • is unfamiliar.

Rather, than seeking to keep people happy, he pleads for worship that seeks to encounter the real God, concerned about his truth, and being willing to change and to change the world (Micah 6:8).

This opens up a dimension of worship that has set me reeling. I want to try and tease out more implications in these forthcoming lectures. As always, your insights are welcome

Friday, March 6, 2009

Personally connecting with a book

To my great surprise I have just received three copies of a book through the mail. As they tumbled out of their box I was utterly confounded. Their front and back covers with every page in between were uttely unintelligible to me.

Reading the cover letter, I discovered they are the Korean translation of my book -360degree leadership. I had no idea this was being prepared. It's amusing to see this unfamiliar script filling pages and explaining diagrams, and to realize that I first viewed it without any sense of personal connection. I am truly grateful to Seung-Jin Lee for slaving over translating. And, of course, I really hope that these books will minister in Korea.

But, the analogy struck me, how many people can view Scripture even in their own language without any sense of personal connection. For too many it's as though it is in a foreign language. How vital it is, for those of us who seek to live by God's Word, to allow others to see how personally connected we are by our words and actions (see An Uncomfortable Sermon February 23rd)!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ockenga Lectures

Next week I shall be at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, near Boston, giving six lectures. Four of them fall within a day's Pastors' Forum (on Tuesday), with the other two occurring during the morning chapel periods (on Wednesday and Thursday).

I have committed to speak on "Closing the Gap between Preaching and Worship." Occasionally, past blogs have referred to this gnawing concern of mine - that preaching and worship seem to operate in separate boxes in many contemporary churches. This separation is aided and abetted by definitions of worship that limit it to music or worship services. Actually, a full understanding of worship as embracing all that we are and have for all of God changes everything! Instead of separate boxes language, I see preaching as one (yes, vital and important but only one) dimension of worship itself.

My journey with preaching as worship has taken several years so far, but I am hoping that exposure to this august crowd will sharpen up my thinking. I shall hope to keep readers informed about some of the outcomes in future blogs. Perhaps you agree preaching and worship shouldn't be in separate boxes yourself? Please, let me know.