Monday, April 27, 2015

City Notes 22 | Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of God Part 3 of 3

Emmaus City Worcester MA Worship Story of God Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Transcultural Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities

City Notes 22: Books in 30 minutes or less

City Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here are links to the previous City Notes books:


Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper Review of Quotes | City Notes 22: Part 3 of 3


Chapter 8 | Liturgy and the Rhythms of Grace

The word 'liturgy' comes from two Greek words meaning 'public work,' or (as it's often described) 'the work of the people.' To talk about liturgy in its most basic sense is to talk about what the congregation is gathering to do. In this sense, every church has a liturgy; we all gather with work to do. At one end of the spectrum, that liturgy might be extremely loose – a general mood set through songs and pastoral leadership; the 'work to be done is a powerful emotional experience. At the other end of the spectrum, the liturgy might be detailed in a word-for-word script that walks the congregation through a collection of prayers, songs, and Scripture readings. It's through our liturgies that the rubber of lex orandi, lex credendi (so we pray, so we believe) hits the road. As we plan and order our services, discerning the content to include, we shape the beliefs and devotional lives of our church members. ... Beliefs are both taught explicitly (through sermons and teaching) and caught implicitly (as congregations participate in the prayers and songs of the church, which are themselves loaded with affirmations and denials of beliefs).” – pgs. 117-119

"Eugene Peterson has said that the primary task of the pastor is to teach people to pray. In a recent 'Q Session" with Gabe Lyons, he described how church members would ask him to help them learn to pray, and he'd answer by describing a group that gathered weekly to do just that – and would they like to join? Inevitably they'd say yes, and Peterson would invite them to their regular Sunday morning worship service. Our gathering, learning, and practicing happens in community. Gathered worship is where the unity of Ephesians 4 is most clearly expressed when, as one body, we affirm one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6). It's also the most significant furnace of Ephesians 4:11-16, where those gifted to shepherd God's church are said to build up the body through the gifts he's given them as they build up the body in unity and faith, and we all 'speak the truth in love,' declaring and remembering the gospel in community, abounding in love for God and one another. ... If our worship gatherings are formative of our beliefs and are teaching us to pray, then we need to embrace practices that prepare us to respond faithfully to life's storms. ... The goal of our gatherings should be to cultivate practices that form our church to live in the good news of the gospel. The primary concept we 'present and practice' ... should be the gospel. Nothing better prepares us for life's ups and downs, humbles and affirms us, roots us in where we are, and points us to where we're going.– pgs. 120-121

"In Christ-Centered Worship, theologian Bryan Chapell spends some time reviewing the historic liturgies of a variety of liturgical and theological streams. 'The common pattern of the order of worship in the church,' he says, 'reflects the pattern of the progress of the gospel in the heart.' These liturgies 're-present' the gospel and 'reenact' the gospel. Chapell sees the pattern for this dialogue, evidenced in the worship in the Scriptures, such as in Isaiah 6, Deuteronomy 5, 2 Chronicles 5-7, Romans 11-15, and Revelation 4-21. (I would add Joshua 24 to this list as well). The common sequence, which Chapell roots in the Scriptures and highlights in the various traditions, is this: adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, blessing. The overarching movement is a retelling of the story, remembering that God is holy (adoration), we are sinners (confession and lament), Jesus saves us from our sins (assurance, thanksgiving, petition, and instruction), and Jesus sends us on his mission (charge and blessing). It's a movement that runs parallel to another way of thinking about the story of the gospel: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation." – pgs. 122-123
"Tim Keller identifies three general movements in the liturgy ... During the Reformation in the 1600s ... an Isianic cycle (based on Isaiah 6: God reveals himself as holy, and we respond as sinners in need of mercy), a Mosaic cycle (the word is read and taught with the goal of seeing God's glory), and an Emmaus cycle (the church gathers around the table to see Jesus and responds in eating). Keller's own liturgy uses the same general movement, with an adoration cycle, a renewal cycle, and a commitment cycle. Though the specific language might differ, a wide variety of traditions view gathered worship as a rehearsal of the gospel story. In this framework, worship is an invitation to step into the rhythms of grace. We remember our identity as gospel-formed people, journeying through the story that gave us our identity and being sent out to live gospel-shaped lives.– pgs. 123-124

"We submerge ourselves in it weekly, learning not merely through passive receptivity, but in very participatory ways. We stand and sit, sing and shout, lift our hands and bow our heads. We read the Scriptures aloud together, or listen as they're read aloud to us (which is a far different experience than reading them silently, as we're prone to do). We welcome one another with handshakes and hugs, we hear the Word preached and proclaimed, we taste the bread and wine, and we send one another out with a blessing. Christian worship recognizes the fact that we're embodied creatures, engaging the whole person in the reenactment of the gospel story. Rehearsed regularly, the gospel becomes part of our way of thinking, seeing, feeling, loving, and being in the world. It's a weekly heartbeat, gathering us in and scattering us back out to our homes and workplaces, to children's soccer games and board meetings, to chemotherapy sessions and evenings around the dinner table. From there, we return to the gathered church, once again rehearsing the story, remembering who God has made us, singing and celebrating that identity. Liturgy that immerses the people of God in the rhythms of grace doesn't merely train them for gospe-centered worship; it trains them for gospel-centered lives." – pg. 124

"God is Holy – Creation | Call to Worship: Worship begins with God. It begins in the purity and perfection of his own being. It begins there because apart from his own creative action, there would be nothing else. ... Worship begins with God because God begins everything, and everything that exists is a testimony to his handiwork. ... We come because God is the great initiator. He made the world, he made us, and he is remaking us in Jesus. Our gatherings, our songs, our sermons, our fellowship around the table – all of it is a response to his initiation and invitation. In one sense, worship can be thought of as a three-way conversation: God to us, us to God, us to one another.– pgs. 125-126

"God is Holy – Creation | Adoration and Praise: ... adoration is also a declaration of war. God calls us to worship out of a world that that's clamoring for us to worship a pantheon of idols. When the church hears God's call and begins to sing in response, it's simultaneously an affirmation of God's worth and a declaration of the worthlessness of the idols around us. John Witvliet explains: 'Every time we sing praise to the triune God, we are asserting our opposition to anything that would attempt to stand in God's place. Every hymn of praise is a little anti-idolatry campaign. ... When we sing 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow,' we are also saying 'Down with the gods from whom no blessings flow.' The goal of adoration is to put the character and glory of God on display in our songs and Scripture readings. ... Remember: so we pray, so we believe. What kind of spirituality are we cultivating if we teach people that worship is fundamentally about their love, their song, their dance? What happens when life's storms hit and, like Israel in exile, we have no song left in us? Worship must fundamentally be about who God is and what he's done, not how great our singing, dancing, and loving is – we're too prone to wander to be counted upon. But the song of Jesus continues with or without us, and the wonder of the gospel is the way it catches us up in it regardless of how feel. Bob Kauflin once asked a room full of worship leaders, 'How long could you talk about God's glory? How much depth could you go into?' Our times of adoration and praise provide the language and images of God's glory for God's people. ... 'Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.'– pgs. 127-128

"We Are Sinners – The Fall | Confession: In Isaiah 6, the prophet beholds the glory of the Lord and immediately feels the intensity of his own fallenness. 'Woe to me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!' (Isaiah 6:5). So it is with us. Our first response to God's revelation of himself is wonder and worship, and our next is the pain of our own uncleanliness. ... In worship, as in all of the Christian life, we need to cry out in our brokenness and hear the assuring comfort of our Savior. ... William Dyrness refers to this as a 'healthy orientation to reality.' As a community, our corporate confession of sin is a three-fold acknowledgement that (1) the world is not the way it was mean to be, (2) we as a church are the way we were meant to be, and (3) I am not the way I was meant to be. Sin's invasion into our world and our hearts has corrupted all of us, and apart from the mercy of God, we are without hope. ... I actually have come to belief that confession of sin is one of the most hospitable things we can do for both Christians and non-Christians. Most people are all too well aware of their sin and their shortcomings and are busily spinning their wheels in attempts to surmount them. ... What if we came into a church gathering and heard: 'Almighty God, we confess how hard it is to be your people. You have called us to be the church, to continue the mission of Jesus Christ to our lonely and confused world. Yet we acknowledge we are more apathetic than active, isolated than involved, callous than compassionate, obstinate than obedient, legalistic than loving. Gracious Lord, have mercy upon us and forgive our sins. Remove the obstacles preventing us from being your representatives to a broken world. Awaken our hearts to the promised gift of your indwelling Spirit. This we pray in Jesus's powerful name. Amen.' As Christians acknowledge their failures together, they testify to the world that the plausibility of the gospel is rooted not in their performance, but in the faithful mercy of God.– pgs. 129-131

"We Are Sinners – The Fall | Lament: Just as we plead mercy for our individual and corporate brokenness, we lament the brokenness of the world around us. There's no better model for this than the Psalms, which cry out again and again, 'How long, O Lord?' They boldly ask God why he's absent, why he's abandoned us, why he allows evil to run rampant, and when he'll come and crush his enemies once and for all. ... What the church needs isn't empty promises of success in exchange for faith (or tithing), but a gospel message that assures us that suffering is purposeful and that we have a God who is present in our suffering. ... It's the confidence of Henry Lyte, who, as he neared his own death, penned the words: 'I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.' The gospel (and the gospel alone) can give someone that kind of confidence in the face of death. It frees us to bring the anxiety and pain of suffering before God, and there we find the hopeful presence we need to sustain us. Just as the psalmists cried out, we can cry out, lamenting the infection of sin that pervades our world, both for those who presently experience its weight and for those who inevitably will. Every Sunday, people walk through the doors of our church buildings facing similar challenges. They come with AIDS and cancer. They come from homes with abusive spouses and rebellious children. They carry burdens of debt and joblessness, plagues of addiction and chronic pain, barren wombs and shattered dreams. In Israel and in the historic church, they could join in singing, 'How long, O Lord?' How are we equipping them to sing in the desert? How are we preparing those who think they're immune?" – pgs. 131-134

"Jesus Saves Us Redemption | The Peace: The only voice that can offer true peace is the voice of God. David says in Psalm 51:4, 'Against you, you only, have I sinned.' If our sin has ultimately only offended God, then only his voice can offer the peace we need, only after we've acknowledged reality. In the liturgy, once sins are confessed, we hear an answer from the voice of God that assures us, 'It is finished.' ... Welcoming one another with love and peace flows naturally from the ongoing gospel dialogue in the service. We recognize that God is holy, we are sinners, and Jesus reconciles us to God and to one another. So we respond to that revelation by welcoming one another with peace, as family. ... It can be far more meaningful if we connect that hug, handshake, or high-five to the fact, in Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, or (for that matter) black or white, Democrat or Republican, or rich or poor. All of our common cultural hostilities are dissolved by the mercy of Jesus. If we can make that clear as we lead worship, when the church turns to welcome one another, they will see each other with new eyes. It can be as simple as saying: 'God has ended the hostility between him and us, and between us and one another. That means that because of the gospel, we have true peace with one another. We're a family – so let's welcome each other as a family. – pgs. 136, 139

"Jesus Saves Us Redemption | Giving/Offering: In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul connects Christian generosity to Jesus's sacrificial example and calls believers to respond in kind, following the example of Christians who, despite their poverty, pleaded to give to the apostles' mission. The passage shows how New Testament giving is a worshipful response to the gospel: with transformed hearts, we're released from the idolatry of money and empowered to give it away. Jesus spoke more about money than about heaven or hell. Eleven of thirty-nine parables are about money, and his teaching on money always connects it to the heart. The gospel that saves us motivates us, and should move us away from money idols and toward generosity, eager to support the mission of God, the pastors and shepherds of the church, and the brothers and sisters in need. The offering during our weekly service is an opportunity to deconstruct one of the human heart's greatest idols. Every week, we can point to how Jesus shows us how to give and the gospel invites us to give. ... the gospel tells us that giving is a privilege and to which we are invited, something we're free to do because we're no longer enslaved to money. So the call to give is a call to worship ... Sometimes a simple prayer can make the whole picture clear as well: 'God has shows us the meaning of generosity in the beautiful diversity of creation, in the overflowing love of Jesus Christ, in the never-ending gift of the Holy Spirit. God has abundantly blessed us and called us to be a community that honors each other, to serve others with joy, to share our love and material possessions. Let us rejoice in what we have been given and in what is ours to give.'" – pgs. 140-141

"Jesus Saves Us – Redemption | Pastoral Prayer: What's often called the pastoral prayer or the prayer of thanksgiving logically falls at this point in the service, after the church has acknowledged that God is holy, we are sinners, Jesus saves us, and Jesus reconciles us. As a community united by the gospel, we come together in prayer before God with thankfulness and prayer requests. – pg. 142

"Jesus Saves Us – Redemption | The Sermon: In the context of a gospel-centered worship service, a sermon that opens the Scriptures and reveals Jesus is crucial. It's a microcosm of the gospel's centrality to all of life: the redeemed people of God remember the gospel, open the Scriptures, and hear again the gospel. We never move past that message. Preaching should always be an Emmaus road experience, wherein the Scriptures are opened and explained in such a way that Jesus is revealed as the key that holds the whole story together (see Luke 24:37; John 5:39).
– pg. 143

"Jesus Sends Us – Consummation | The Lord's Supper: No symbol quite captures this sense of timelessness like the Lord's Supper. We gather at a table whose roots stretch not only to the first century, but all the way back to the exodus. Jesus was feasting with his disciples on the Passover, a meal that God gave Israel to protect them from the plague of death and to forever remind them of his mercy. It's a meal that has continued in the church for two thousand years, and it's a foretaste of a meal that will be eaten in the New Jerusalem at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Past, present, and future come together at the table, connecting Israel's Passover to the body and blood of Jesus and offering a through-a-glass-darkly foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb. It's a beautiful, tangible, concrete gift where we can physically remember the gospel story. ... If we are biblical when we serve Communion, we can make clear that the Supper is a remembrance of the saving grace of God, and not a ritual that saves. If we are pastoral, then like singing, praying, and preaching, Communion can remain a fresh experience from week to week. As Robert Rayburn said, 'I have never heard any Christian say, 'Let's be careful not to have our pastor preach the Word too often.' ... As James K.A. Smith describes it, 'It's as if the story we've been hearing and rehearsing now comes with live illustrations.' Smith goes on to point out that God gives us physical elements bread and wine – to remind us that redemption isn't a merely spiritual or gnostic reality. Instead, the physicality of bread and wine are a symbol and a foretaste of the redemption of all things." – pgs. 144-145

"Jesus Sends Us Consummation | Commitment/Preparation for Sending: There's a sense in which the Lord's Supper, with its eye to the future, turns our attention to the mission. The day is coming when Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, and the urgency of that day's approach calls us to go back into the world serious about mission and serious about living out the new identity given to us as God's people. An affirmation of faith or an affirmation of commitment is something confessed together before the church is sent out. ... it's also helpful to reinforce the message with songs that recapitulate what was taught, or that call the church out into the world." – pgs. 146-147

"Jesus Sends Us – Consummation | Benediction: It's 'sending God's people out with the promise of divine pardon, presence, and peace.' ... The benediction has a centrifugal force to it – spinning us out from the gathering to our scattered lives where worship continues as before, but in our varied corners. Historically, the benediction is almost always Trinitarian, and in this way it reminds us that we scatter in the same mysterious Trinitarian dance in which we gather." – pg. 148

"As Paul says in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-20, as we sing, pray, read, and preach God's Word together, he dwells among us richly in the Spirit. The Spirit's work will enable us to carry all of these habits with us as we go. The way we adore, confess, and lament together will shape the way we adore, confess, and lament in our ordinary lives. When people spend months or years praying psalms of lament, they're better prepared to face the day that tragedy strikes, as the Spirit of God brings these words and prayers to mind. When they learn every week to extend grace and peace to friends and strangers in the gathering, it helps them to do so in the rest of life. As they face and voice their sinfulness and learn to express it together, they will more easily face and voice their sinfulness in their scattered lives. The gathering shapes our ordinary life, and ordinary life shapes our experience of the gathering. Our burdens and guilt, joys and celebrations inevitably come with us. We gather not to escape these burdens and joys, but to bring them to a place where we acknowledge what is most true, most real, and most valuable. There, in the light of the gospel, all of these emotions and all of the circumstances of our lives are revealed in their proper place, and God speaks a word of peace over them. So we hold them up as we celebrate and thank, we hold them up as we confess and lament, and in return, we hear the voice of God, thundering from his Word and his Son, pouring out grace upon grace as we remember, recommit, and are sent again into the world." – pgs. 149-150

Chapter 9 | Sing, Sing, Sing

“Our faith is a sung faith. The people of God sing in war and peace, victory and defeat, celebration and lament. ... We sing an ancient song that climaxes in the hazy but hope-filled future. ... (But) If music is worship, then when you mess with someone's musical preferences, you threaten their access to God. No wonder the debates become so heated. ... the Bible's definition of worship (and for that matter, the church's definition for the larger part of its history) isn't exclusively music. Instead, worship in the gathered church is the total work of the people – the gathering of the church for prayer, preaching, sacraments, giving, and singing. ... We also need to broaden our understanding of the role music plays. Because we tend to define worship as singing, we tend also to treat singing as an individualized encounter with God. So we go to church and sing with closed eyes while trying to avoid being distracted by the people around us. This too misses an important point. Worship is a broader thing than music, and music's purpose in the church is bigger than my personal experience. It's not merely my song, but our song. We sing together, uniting our voices and our words. ... (In Colossians 3:11-15) Paul presumes gospel-formed unity before he talks about singing. In other words, the gospel should be what connects people – not music. Our differences are never so slight as they are at the foot of the cross. It's the ground upon which the church gathers, a place where social, political, ethnic, and cultural boundaries are obliterated, and instead, Christ is all and is in all. In that place we find peace, and that peace should be accompanied by a spirit of thanksgiving and unity. And in response, we sing.”  – pgs. 152-154

" ... Harold Best once said, 'A mature Christian is easily edified.' If we're gathering humbly, united by the gospel, we should be marked by a sense of thankfulness that brings us together, regardless of our stylistic and cultural decisions. ... The reconciling work of the gospel is the prerequisite to our singing, just as it is the prerequisite to all of our worship. It's in the light of the gospel that we live, and everything our living, breathing, singing, preaching, praying, working, parenting, and whatever else we do should flow from thankful gospel-reconciled hearts." – pg.155

"(In Colossians 3:16) Paul says that the way the Word dwells richly among us is by our teaching and admonishing one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. In this view, the whole verse is a single command. To put it another way, we sing so that we can teach and admonish one another, resulting in the rich indwelling of God's Word in God's people. If music in the church is just about consumeristic preference, then my singing is motivated by my personal tastes. If singing is about letting God's Word dwell among us, then my singing is motivated by love for God (whose Word I want dwelling with me) and love for my church family, whom I have the chance to admonish and encourage as I sing. If we believe that the Word of Christ dwells richly in us as we sing it, then the way we sing and what we sing have a much different importance. We don't want to miss out on the opportunity to experience the richness of God's indwelling Word, and we will if we treat song as something sentimental or optional. ... Colossians 3;16 says that we're teaching and admonishing one another as we sing, so our songs aren't meant 'only for God.' We're singing to 'one another' too. We can glorify God as we testify to one another about who he is and what he's done. We can also encourage and build up one another as we sing praises to God. ... Harold Best says, 'A congregation is just as responsible to sing the gospel as the preachers are to preach it. These two tasks (singing and preaching) jointly undertaken to their fullest, then reduce themselves to one common act.' It's an expression of unity for us to join in one voice and declare to one another that we're on the same page. We're united around the same things. One gospel, one church, one faith, one voice, one song." – pgs.155-157

"Not only do we unite with the body of Christ in the church today; we united with the people of God throughout history. Consider this: ... The command to sing occurs more than a hundred times in the Psalms, and many more times beyond that book. ... Genesis 4:21 takes time to mention the invention of musical instruments – we don't get to know who made the wheel, but we know who invented the harp and flute. ... Throughout history, revival has been accompanied by song-writing movements. This is true from the monastic renewals in the Middle Ages to the English Reformation and the Great Awakening in America. ... God himself sings! 'He will rejoice over you with singing' (Zephaniah 3:17). ... Jesus, as he breathes his last on the cross, cries out the first line from Psalm 22, a messianic psalm that shows our Savior suffering, then rising victoriously to lead an assembly in worship (Psalm 22; see also Hebrews 2:12; 8:1-2). ... When we read of eternity, we find the people of God singing (Revelation 7:9-11)." – pgs. 157-158
"First and foremost, our singing should flow naturally from hearts that are grateful for the peace and reconciliation purchased for us in the gospel (Colossians 3:11-15). Second, singing is a means God has chosen to allow the Word of Christ to dwell richly in us (v. 16). Third, we have a multitude of commands in the Scriptures to sing. Fourth, we have the examples of Israel, saints throughout church history, God the Father, and Jesus, our singing Savior. Taken together, ti's a compelling case that singing is a vital part of the Christian life." – pg. 158

"At the time the letter to the church in Colosse was written, there was already a body of hymns emerging and being passed around the various churches. Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11, for instance, were early examples of hymns. The Psalms were integral to Jewish worship (in which the church's founders would have had a long history), and the New Testament writers quote from them regularly, so they too would likely have been a part of the life of the young church. It seems that when Paul uses the words 'psalms' and 'hymns,' he is referring broadly to both the book of Psalms and the variety of other songs being written and sung among the churches. ... I believe that the wording of Colossians 3 calls us to embrace diversity in the Psalms – referring to the biblical psalms, hymns (the two-thousand-year-old heritage of the songs of the church), and spiritual songs as the continued testimony of believers in new songs." – pgs. 159-160

"I've seen it again and again in our church, especially during personal testimonies during baptism services – lines from hymns sneaking their way into people's stories. That's what songs and hymns are meant to do. They provide language for experiences that often leave us speechless. They prepare us, as John Witvliet says, for our encounter with death. 'One wise pastoral musician said that every week as she led congregational singing, she was rehearsing the congregation for a future funeral.  (This makes me wonder, What if we planned our music with this as a primary goal? 'Musician, why did you choose that piece of music?' 'Well it fit the texts of the day, it was well crafted, it challenged us musically – but mostly I picked it because you'll need to know that piece when your family is preparing to bury a loved one.'" – pg. 162

"Colossians 3:16 ends with the words, 'Singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.' Here again, the way we translate determines much about the way we understand the words. Barry Liesch, citing theologian Gordon Fee, points out that the word translated 'gratitude' (or 'thankfulness' in many translations) is never translated as 'thankfulness' elsewhere in the New Testament. Instead, it's typically rendered as 'the grace' or 'in the grace.' Liesch likes the New King James Version for the way it brings this out: 'Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.' Fee says, 'The focus is not so much on our attitude toward God as we sing, but on our awareness of his attitude toward us.' In other words, we sing to God with an awareness of his gracious action in our lives, and, Fee adds, it's 'our standing in grace that makes such singing come from the heart.' Taken together, the entire discussion of singing in Colossians 3 has grace as its bookends." – pg. 163

"We've learned to be spectators on Sundays – listening, enjoying, and critiquing – but the Bible unapologetically calls us to be participants. ... We gather in order to sing to one another, and if the band's accompaniment or the stylistic choices inhibit participation, then we've failed. ... (However) It's remarkable to hear the way a large group, after listening to a CD for a few months, is capable of singing together. ... we will all sing with passion and energy if we're in a situation we find compelling and inspiring. This is particularly true if we're emotionally attached to the songs we sing. ... We need to remember that the hymn tradition, with its strict melodies and unity of voice, is but one stream of congregational song. There are other cultural traditions and other ways of participating in singing with the church. In gospel music, for instance, each individual has more freedom, and different members of the congregation freely improvise in a beautiful polyphony. In some streams of church music, participation takes more of a call-and-response rhythm. I wonder if, for instance, hip-hop couldn't be employed in service of congregational worship in such a way. The goal of music in the gathering isn't great sound or elaborate musicianship. It's a church gathered and united in song. ... Pull the band out for a song or two, leave choruses open so that voices can be heard. ... Whatever our preference may be, in the light of Colossians 3:16, a passive, critical, spectator attitude about singing doesn't make any sense. God has brought us into his family and made us a community with one another. He has called us to sing and to testify with our voices, to teach and admonish with our songs about who he is and what he's done. If we fail to participate, we've lost sight of this final point – we aren't acting like recipients of the greatest gift imaginable in the gospel. We aren't singing with grace. Chip Stam once taught me that worship is a matter of preference and deference. Sometimes I get to sing with my preferences, enjoying the songs, styles, and sounds of music that resonate with my cultural 'place.' Other times, I defer to others in my church family, joining my voice with their choice of music. Grace makes that deference joyful. As I join my voice with the diverse community of faith around me, I also join my voice with saints from all of the past two thousand years. Together, we sing and shout, teach and admonish, and experience the rich joy of God's indwelling Word. We sing with grace, and we sing because of grace." – pgs. 164-167

Chapter 10 | The Pastoral Worship Leader

"Planning and leading worship is a pastoral task. As we step onto the platform on Sundays, we do so as undershepherds of God's church. The songs and prayers we place on the congregation's lips will, to varying degrees, be taken with them into the rest of their week. ... Pastors are meant to be equippers, enabling the church to do its work. In the case of gathered worship, the 'work of the people' (the liturgy) is to remember and rehearse the gospel together. We do this as embodied, encultured people speaking to embodied, encultured congregations. The gospel is a message that is constantly on the move, pressing outward from the church and into the culture. People, too, are constantly on the move, being drawn this way and that by the culture around them. Good pastoral work is, in a sense, always the work of a missionary. We seek to understand the culture in which we're immersed and to speak in ways that are comprehensible to that world.– pg. 170

"Long ago, a young pastor in training joined his parents for worship in their hometown. He was struck during the singing that the church didn't understand its songs. The people sang almost by rote, and he felt that the language of the songs did more to obscure the gospel than reveal it. After church, he complained about this problem to his father, who replied, 'See if you can do better.' That comment sparked the most significant work in the life of Isaac Watts, who is widely considered the father of the English hymn– pgs. 170-171

"Watts's goal was to pastorally exposit the Psalms through song for the sake of building up the church. They needed to sing the Psalms and see Jesus. ... Watts became the father of the English hymn and rightly deserves a place among the greatest names since the Reformation. He paved the way for much of our rich treasury of hymns, and he established the ground upon which our understanding of music's role in the church is seen today. To this day, hymns like 'Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed,' 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,' and 'Our God, Our Help in Ages Past' are sung in churches around the globe. Watts's work inspired Fanny Crosby, author of hundreds of gospel songs, to give her life to Jesus at a revival when she was thirty years old. Henry Ward Beecher in 1872 claimed that Americans' theology was shaped even more by Watts than by the Bible. Watts's three-hundred-year-old songs resonate today because of their timeless poetry and theological weight. ... we can be reminded that Watts was concerned first and foremost with shepherding and encouraging his flock. ... We need to lead worship in such a way that when people gather, they see Jesus. Like Watts, we need to understand our context and speak creatively to it. Along the way, we need to be willing to boldly challenge tradition for the sake of gospel clarity.– pgs. 173-175

"Laboring to explain terms and make concepts clear pays dividends in allowing the church to fully comprehend and thus fully participate in what's being said and sung. Doing this also requires significant legwork from pastors; to speak to our context, we have to understand it. ... Pastors and church planters are called to shepherd and serve that body, and although preparing the body for its mission is certainly part of the work, if our contextualization goals fail to factor in the culture of the people already gathered, we dishonor them, placing cultural roadblocks in their path to service. ... we should focus on trying to draw out excellence from those already serving. Excellence is, to some extent, culturally transcendent. Though an individual may not love gospel music, a truly excellent performance will nonetheless be engaging. That's the nature of great art and music – it collects and gathers people who are both familiar and unfamiliar.– pgs. 176-178

"Who isn't here and needs to be? This question requires much more prayerful imagination. Whom are we trying to reach with the gospel? What would it look like for them to wake up one day and start singing songs to Jesus? How does this community celebrate in the rest of their lives (weddings, sports events, block parties, etc.)? How does this community mourn or lament? What would it look like for this community to confess and repent? What would it look like for this community to share comfort and assurance? What kind of language do they use? What is their common level of education, and how should that shape our language? In North America, speaking to our post-Christian culture takes some serious wrestling. Decisions about the kinds of language we use or about dress, music, and architecture have a great impact on mission, sending signals almost immediately of whether or not a visitor belongs. That's the nature of enculturation; as we speak other's language and paint a picture of the gospel that they can comprehend, we say, 'The kingdom has advanced even here.'" – pg. 179

"Most churches are going to have a stylistic center based on the predominant demographic of the congregation. That should be where a church roots itself musically, but it shouldn't merely stay there. It should also stretch to reflect whatever degree of diversity is present in the church. Musical diversity opens the the door to those who are present yet feel on the outside. It also teaches a congregation to not be overly dependent on a musical style for their participation." – pg. 182

"To quote James K.A. Smith again, 'When our imagination is hooked, we're hooked.' ... Our God knows creativity well. As important as doctrine is, as important as legal language and clear facts are, God knows we need our imaginations to be captured by truth. We need to be won over by the surpassing beauty of Christ, the utterly compelling glory of God. We must see these as a greater good and better hope than all the promises of our idols and daydreams. So God doesn't merely present the gospel to us in a contract. He gives us a wonderfully creative book in the Bible and invites us to engage with our imagination. Israel's rescue from slavery is both history and allegory. So see yourself in slavery, in the wilderness, and in the Promised Land. The book of Esther is a literary masterpiece, full of irony and wit, telling a story in which God is the hero though his name is never mentioned. The prophets speak to a context that is both particular and universal, inviting us to imagine ourselves in their audience. Likewise, notice how Jesus teaches or responds to theological questions. He often says, 'Let me tell you a story. There were once two brothers ... ' or 'Two men worked in a field ... ' or 'Some young women were waiting on a bridegroom ... ' He knows that his hearers need more than a black-and-white answer. They need something that ignites their imaginations. ... My friend Kevin Twit regularly talks about how the work of preaching and worship is to present Jesus as more beautiful and more believable to us than he was before. ... A little creativity can help to turn the imagination away from the promises of our idols and toward promises and hopes that will never fade. Fresh metaphors can confront and disturb, disrupting the comfortable apathy in which many of our religious thoughts reside, haunting us like Jesus's parables. A song, a story, or even a fresh illustration in a sermon can be tossed alongside us alike an innocent gift, an unnoticed package. But inside is an explosion of truth, a mustard seed that can explode in our minds as it takes root, transforming our daydreams from hollow fantasy to faith-invigorated hope.– pgs. 183-185

Next post: Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Part 1 of 3

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