Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Worship Repercussions (8) - Music, music, music

I am grateful for the comments on recent worship blogs (as well as private emails). Let me focus on a couple of specific issues raised. I admit I don't have reflective answers to the questions I want to raise. First:

Music, music, music.
In response to Worship's Inclusiveness (6) one person wrote about music resonating with the soul, another about the need to be inclusive. Yet another said they were tone-deaf, so the whole debate seemed irrelevant! The more I think about music's role in contemporary worship, the more I see how some people have to be careful in music leadership. Let's place four attitudes towards music on a scale of 1 to 10. At both ends there are difficulties.

1. DISINTEREST. Friends who are tone-deaf fit here, but this raises important questions about how else the liturgy ("work of the people") may involve them. How vital is participation in prayer, Scripture, Lord's Supper, and preaching for genune opportunity to belong. (1 & 2 on scale).

2. NEUTRALITY. Those who have no particular interest in music and go with the flow. (3 & 4 on scale)

3. ECLECTIC. Those who are enthusiastic about music and commit themselves to a wider range of musical styles. Intentionally, they embrace differences. (5,6 & 7 on scale).

4.FOCUSSED. Those who are totally committed to one style of music and find it difficult to listen to any other. (10 on scale).

Now, noone should underestimate the major issues at either end of the scale - those for whom music is unimportant, or all-important! Somehow, room must be found for the tone deaf, while encouraging those who are neutral to realize music's possibilities for worship. But major work has to be done with the totally focussed, who may be in danger of hi-jacking the agenda. The eclectic option may sound rather weak, but actually speaks volumes about seeking to appreciate what other people experience in different kinds of music while learning how to respond positively.

Recently, my son "treated" me to half an hour listening to his Ipod tunes. Frankly, I had never heard any of the artists or their music before. But I realized how much they mean to him and I sought to enter in. And I know his thoughtfulness, when he puts on classical music for me. Its a small (familiar) example. But I do think it says something about avoiding extremes to exclude others.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beyond Pulpits and Pews (2)

The Ministry Growth Seminar yesterday, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, lasted 3 and a half hours, and went out by satellite and internet streaming to an estimated 25,000 pastors and leaders right across the world! It was overwhelming (especially for a non-technie like me) to see the rows upon rows of transmitting equipment and electronic wizardry - with blinking lights and lit-up screens. Fortunately, for those of us who had to preach there was a live audience who gave us personal focus when we stood in front of the cameras.

I am immensely grateful to the organizers for the prayerful ways they had prepared the whole project and for their superb planning on the day. In question times, leaders were able to interact across the world. Powerful voices from Africa and Jamaica contributed in my session. We await further stories of responses but I am so grateful and humbled to have tasted something of the world church in an unforgettable day. What opportunities technology gives us, and how responsible before God we need to be in using it for Him!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Worship matters (7)

I am racing (puff...pant) to complete my material for the Ministry Growth Seminar down in Tennessee on Tuesday (April 22). Many of you will sympathize with my trying to meet conflicting deadlines, and understand why this is a holding blogpost! When I return I want to respond to comments made to my worship blogs 5 (April 2) and 6 (April 12). Several have posted online and others have made personal remarks by email. I really appreciate the insights expressed.
Several big issues have been touched on that really matter. I look forward to a breathing space in a few days. Please be patient with me!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beyond Pulpits and Pews

Next Tuesday, April 21st 2009, I am taking part in the Ministry Professional Growth Seminar which is broadcast by satellite and internet to thousands of pastors all over the world. Entitled: Beyond Pulpits and Pews, apparently, many thousands have signed up on (It's free to register!) I shall be one of four speakers who include the redoubtable Fred Craddock - a most significant figure in the preaching world.

Challenged to speak to pastors about mission, I am focusing on Luke 4:14-21. Many see this as a key mission statement for the church today - it's global, subversive, impossible without Jesus, yet possible with Him in Nazareth...and our places. It's going to be a demanding day because, after each address (the organizer calls them "prectures" - half preach/half lecture), questions will be taken from pastors all round the world, and answered by a panel. What an opportunity to encourage leaders!

As always, I am grateful for prayer support from my internet friends.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Worship's Inclusiveness (6)

One special moment surprised me during the Halifax Keswick Convention. One night's session was planned for young people - who were very evident! Responding to the loud rocky music, (with very thoughtful lyrics I must say), they jumped up and down and clapping vigorously at the front of the auditorium. It was high decibel active praise.

Later, when I began speaking, I mentioned how my wife had suggested that I get up and join them. Laughter greeted the suggestion and I explained how, anyway, I needed all my breath to preach.

When I finished, the musicians came up and began to play for the concluding part of worship. As the young people rose to take their place along the front again, one young man rushed across and pulled me up out of my seat. Very self-consciously I joined in at the end of the line. I feebly identifed with limited body action (!) as I found myself surrounded by real enthusiasts. Two girls came up alongside. One said: "You're doing well!" and then she added poignantly: "We are so glad you joined us."

Music can be a great divider and so easily break people into groups. And yet, it can also be a bridge between generations. Sure, it wasn't my first choice of music (nor my second!) but this worship enabled these young people to express their love for the Lord, and they wanted to include me. How much is it worth joining together across age boundaries and style preferences? Let's rephrase that question: How much is it worth to God who longs to create a new kind of worshiping community in Christ (Gal 3:28)?

So many questions arise?
Why do musical tastes clash so violently? (Thomas Troeger writes of "sonic cultures" - that we need to understand our own so that we can relate to others' too. Tension seems inevitable).
Did I please God by joining in the young people's loud praise music?
What were my motives? Was this a genuine way to show love and to strive for unity in the body of Christ?
Would they be as willing to join me in more reflective music? (I think some were there other sessions!)
Would it ever be possible (or desirable) to choose music in worship that would enable us to share in services together? How much would we have to suppress musical tastes? Is that a way of showing love to God and neighbor?
Should music have such a major role in setting worship parameters anyway? Isn't there so much more to gathered worship than music?

I believe that I glimpsed something afresh of the love that we need to show to one another if the unity of Christ's body is to be safeguarded. Is this easy when it comes to music? No. But some things are worth striving for. Working through implications of this experience needs so more thought, but I am so glad I went through it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Return from Halifax

I have returned with real thanks for the Keswick Convention in Halifax, when I preached on some of the questions Jesus asked: The Confrontational Jesus. In spite of deluging rain and the sheer busyness for many leading up to Easter, I particularly give thanks for:

The quality of preparation for the whole event - every practical angle was covered.
The prayer support - I sensed the organizers' prayerfulness in all their planning. Best of all - half-an-hour before every event there was an open prayer meeting. I cannot overstate the importance of these occasions for bathing each session in prayer.
The feedback - so many people commented on the questions of Jesus:

"I never thought of Jesus asking questions - I have always seen him an an authority who teaches us, but now I also see him as a Lord who invites us to answer."

"I see these questions as opening up a relationship. For anyone enquiring about Christian faith they show us how Jesus opens up to seekers. Amazingly, he makes himself vulnerable because people can answer or turn away."

"The question 'What do you want?' (John 1:38) stays with me - I just cannot get it out of my mind. It seems as though Jesus is asking it whenever I come into worship!"

"These questions have given me a completely new way of looking at the gospels. After the first evening, I couldn't wait to get home to open my Bible and find out some more questions, and to realize that Jesus was speaking to me."

"These questions really probed. That one "Who are my mother and brothers?' (Mark 3:33) challenged us about belonging together as brothers and sisters. I just wish everyone in my church had heard this."

I felt re-affirmed about the need to write these questions up for a wider audience...let's hope for some breathing (writing) time soon. However, CDs of the event are available from the convention at My thanks to the Council and all who prayed for this convention. May God go on speaking to us.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Questions in Halifax

Over the next few days I am speaking at the Metro Keswick Convention in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Some time ago, I jumped into preaching on some of the questions that Jesus asks in the gospel. Alongside famous questions like Mark 8:29 "Who do you say I am?" there are many others, some almost hidden. From a longer list, I asked the organizers to choose which questions they would like me to feature in the eight main sessions.

It's been thrilling to work on the outcome - a couple chosen were new to me, and take me into fresh places. Actually, responding to Jesus with an open heart and mind always does that! The event is called: "The Confrontational Jesus" and their website spells out more detail -

I know friends will be praying for me - I long for it to be a time of encounter with Jesus.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Worship Conflict (5)

Frankly, I don't think the definitions in (4) helped me much.

The more I think about the role of music the more I have to ask the big question: How important is music for worship? For people who define worship by music, it's all important. For them, praising God with music is so primary that when different "tastes" are catered for separately, the outcome means more people worshiping. More people satisfied by music = more worshipers.

As you might guess, I want to define worship as much more than music. So much more! Rather, it's the full-bodied response as a whole people lives for God's glory. A holy nation, royal priesthood, once not a people but now a people, because belonging to God they live differently (1 Pet 2:9-12). Not just by the way they sing, nor only on Sundays in services, but by the quality of community - offering lives as living sacrifices (Rom. 12;1,2) within gathered worship, and (most vitally) flowing out. Here the outcome is not measured by numbers of people singing, but by a church's quality of unity, love and mission. And that is a very different measure.

So the crunch comes if music, seen as primary, is allowed to divide up people, and contribute to disunity, spite and complacency. What irony - music as worship ruins God's plans for worship! Music choices, just because they are often so visceral and emotive, can actually stop people maturing together. I believe that dealing with music in worship, where churches have strong divided opinions is the contemporary proving place for the work of the Holy Spirit. Nothing shows God more at work, than being open to worship that inclusively enables unity, love and mission. This means much Holy Spirit fruit, plenty of skilful preaching leadership (see 360degree leadership!) and always a willingness to keep maturing into Gods' big picture of worship.