Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Pastoral No

(from page 283 - Planning and Leading Worship as a Pastoral Task)

"They are willing to say no to a text or narrative or image or song that is inaccurate, simplistic, or sentimental."

At first this line struck me as almost insulting, essentially giving pastors the power of censorship over what is presented to the congregation during the "worship service". As a highly intelligent, well educated Christian I should be able to decide for myself what is theologically "sound". Yet as I type this I realize I am echoing the teachings of the post-modern/Western culture that characterizes my generation. In so much of daily life I am forced to critically evaluate and filter the things I encounter, be it in books, movies, TV or music. As a Christian I should be relieved that there is someone else doing the hard work for me for a small period of time.

Amazingly enough I am called to be this person for those for whom I will be a leader in worship (which is the label we used in my home church). As pastor I am responsible for showing the congregation where the good food is. In the words of Psalm 23 I am to lead them to green fields and quiet waters. Which can only be done if I myself have frequented them often enough to know where they are.

As we are discerning in crafting our pastoral ministries we will teach our congregants to have the same discerning taste with everything they encounter. By introducing them to the depth and richness of Scripture, liturgy and the Christian tradition we will open their tastes to things that are better for them and more satisfying. As pastors it's the difference between throwing happy meals to the kids in the back seat, and inviting them to linger over a home-cooked Thanksgiving (perhaps Eucharist???) dinner.

What that requires is an ability and willingness to say "No". A diet of "cotton-candy gospel" will leave a congregation famished for the Bread of Life. It's easy to give into the screaming demands for junk-food theology, but as leaders it is our responsibility to say, "You can't have any more candy until you eat your veggies". No matter how much they cry or pout. As they mature hopefully they'll learn to eat well of Scripture even when you aren't there to ensure they have a well-balanced diet. It is the difference between discipleship and perpetuating spiritual infants (1st Corinthians 3).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Worship Quote of the Week

In contemporary society the heart is reached through participation, and all approaches to worship—traditional, contemporary, or blended—need to relearn how to achieve services characterized by immersed participation. Robert E. Webber

Friday, July 18, 2008

Everything is Spiritual?

First, I would like to thank Chad for his good post below. This is exactly what I'm hoping for here-- the meaningful and personal engagement with the reader. He immediately sparked my thinking and engagement. I want to extend the dialogue and I debated doing it in a comment and decided it was too much fun for a comment. I'm going for a post. Now that, my friends, is a successful blogpost-- when it inspires another blogpost. ;-) So thanks Chad. Now allow me to take on the Kalas quote from your post.

“Becoming familiar with sacred things can hurt us-because the sacred becomes normal.” (E. Kalas)

On the one hand I want to applaud this statement and say put it up over the door of the office.

On the other hand-- I want to say, "Dr. K! Wait. . . . . isn't that the point. . . . . for the sacred to become normal. Isn't that precisely what happens in the incarnation-- the sacred becoming normal; a normal human person-- at least the "normal" God had in mind. I mean isn't that what Rob Bellinger--I mean Bell, is talking about? ;-) Everything is Spiritual! Right? It is only when the sacred becomes normal that the normal can become sacred again.

Kalas chooses his words carefully. So maybe his emphasis is on "familiar," as in "familiarity breeds contempt." But isn't this the risk of the Incarnation everywhere it happens-- that God will be treated with contempt. (see John 1)

It's interesting that the word "familiar" descends from the Latin word, familiaris, leading to Familial. It is a "Family" word. (i.e. "children of God" see also John 1) The word means "well known from long and close association," and also "in close friendship; intimate." Would the goal be to become "unfamiliar" or "less familiar." Surely not.

So maybe the real problem I have with the saying has to do with the notion of "things." Maybe that's the problem-- worship becoming about "things." Things, like lights, cameras, sound, accoutriments, amenities, candles, icons, art, instruments, songs, liturgies, robes, bulletins, books, hymnals orders of worship and so forth. Worship is about the God, after all. Familiarity with the God seems a worthy end of worship doesn't it. Familiarity with God leads us to a proper understanding and appropriation of things. A proper approach to God tends to help the "things of worship take on symbolic or iconic or sacramental dimensions. On the other hand, a reverencing of things tends to make God distant. It creates a religious world that obscures God.

I think I do get what Chad is driving at here with his reference to the Kalas quote. He's saying don't go to sleep at the wheel. Stay vigilant. He's saying wake up to the sacred, sacramentality of our every day worship work. And he's exactly right. In the end I think I prefer the way Eugene Peterson talks about the things of worship. You are going to be tempted to think I am taking this in an entirely different direction. Peterson says that over the door of every sanctuary where the Triune God is worshiped should be a large sign that reads, "Beware the God!"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

where moth and rust do not destroy

Planning and Leading Worship as a Pastoral Task:

I have had the luxury of using our reader for almost a full year, I guess you can call it a benefit of being on the team for two years. Both times, one of my favorite article is this one. After 6 years of being involved in planning, leading and running worship-I understand how sometimes it just seems to be a task that must get done.

I have a quote written on a piece of masking tape in my bible from Dr. Kalas from last years NSO chapel.

“Becoming familiar with sacred things can hurt us-because the sacred becomes normal.”

Everytime I read this quote it jumps out at me. It really speaks to the situation we have as worship designers. The article outlines four self-images of the worship planner, and I think the last one of “Spiritual Engineer” is the most dangerous. We feel the need to always “out-bling” ourselves at every service. How often have we thought that we can get enough of a holy frenzy going on for the Holy Spirit to come down (I have blogged about this before, you can read the post here). As the article states we sometimes think we have the task of “turning an ordinary moment into a holy moment”, and that is something the church has been facing for thousands of years. But we can’t do that, and this idea always reminds me of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, screaming and cutting themselves in an attempt to call down fire.

In our attempt to make a moment holy we have to daily be stepping back and remembering that we serve the Holy One, and a moment is not just Holy to him, but His entire makeup screams holiness, it is the output that shapes all other outputs of God.

We have to understand our task of “worship”. It is not just music filler before the sermon. And the sermon is not the apex of our worship. We have the goal of completely integrating the entire service as a unitive whole. When we design a service that is fully integrated together and shows the journey through the Biblical Story of a Triune God who desperately loves this world we have accomplished designing worship. Then we are truly focused on God in our entire service, through the announcements to the benediction.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Defining Worship

Tim Hughes has begun a good conversation on his blog concerning the definition of worship.  I encourage you all to read the thread of comments and give it some thought.  And I ask the question of you:  how do you define worship.  As I have said on my own blog.  The way we define worship determines the way we design worship.  

What is missing in the conversation?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dan's Thoughts

I have struggled with worship services for years. I have attended small churches (25-150), medium sized churches (350-400), a large church (1000-1500), and a mega church (7,000-11,000) and in each church I struggled with the services. As I sit back and reflect on the churches, I feel as if there is something missing, and for years I haven’t been able to put my finger on it.

In the Webber piece (1st in the reader), he talks about how the church’s focus should be on joining in with the story of God (an objective experience). He compares this with the way it really is – us telling God how worthy he is and how much we love him (a subjective experience).

When we travel somewhere, my job is to drive (Stephanie’s job is to fall asleep). So I get tons of time to think about things. This weekend as we drove home, I was rolling the idea of worship as an alternate reality. I had heard somebody use this term, but it had never sunk in. As we were going for a while, I began to realize what is meant here: as we worship we are living our lives completely differently – we view reality differently.

Worship is the understanding reality that all our attempts at power and security are futile. It rejects the upward movement mindset of capitalism, the struggle between economic stratospheres of Marxism, and religion’s struggle with becoming a better, more enlightened being. Worship is the recognition that God is in control, that he is acting within history, He is truly holding all things together, and then submitting our lives to his lordship.

When we make worship about the subjective and not the objective we end up missing the story as we only begin to focus on our needs and ourselves. We become the main players in the story, and God becomes just a deity to appease. As worship becomes about us, we very quickly lose the ability to see the world for the way it truly is. This is because we’re only concerned with ourselves. Worship only becomes self-expression.

When worship is about self-expression, we begin to have “worship wars” as people are concerned with their personal preference. As self-expression drives worship, worship often becomes about performing. It becomes hollow, repetitive, and meaningless. It becomes a race to say the most dramatic, the most expressive, and the most ______ statement possible-even if it isn’t necessarily true.

When worship is presenting an alternate reality it becomes something that is exciting. It becomes something that is alive with possibilities. It becomes hopeful. It drives us to become different people. It connects us with the mind of God. It leads us to new places. It is not repetitive, nor is it hollow. This is what I have been missing all these years…

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I am wondering if you have been able to crack the cover of the Worship Design Team Summer Reader yet.  If so, please post a comment on which article(s) you have read.  It will help me know how to engage the conversation here in the coming days.  Sound good?

THE SERMON: Reading Practices

Hello ChAlSiPaDaJeDa

Love that word.  

I've loved your posts on THE SERMON so far.  I want to refine the challenge though.  
We are 18 days in to the 30 day challenge.  For the next 22 days I want to challenge you to read the sermon aloud to yourself.  It is important for your own ears to hear the Word as well as for your mouth to speak it.  I want to take a step back from interpretive or application oriented work or comments.  In this phase we aren't so interested in what it means as what it actually says and how it says it, it's progression, it's cadence, it's feel and so forth.  I want you to focus on reading and hearing the THE SERMON.  And I want you to make a post oriented around your experience of the text and any observations yielded by this process.  This is what I would call the "walking around the text" process.  We are surveying THE SERMON like a work of art, beholding its beauty, listening for its rhythm, hearing its wisdom and submitting ourselves to its mastery.  Make sense?  I'll try to make a post soon to give you an example of what I am getting at.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Love your enemies

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)

I have been meditating on this verse and God has been teaching me through it. Here is what I am learning.

God is the ultimate source of love. He loved us into creation. It's His love that won victory on the cross for us, and it's His love that will be consumated when the Bride, the church, is ready.
Hate is an attribute of Satan. But love through Christ is the conquerer.
I think we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us because as children of God, living in His will for our lives, if someone is our adversary, then their brokenness is possibly being used and manipulated by the enemy for Satan's advancement.
By praying and loving our enemies, we unite with God in His love. Through prayer in His love, we have the authority to cancel Satan's plan of division, additional pain, and further brokenness. Through loving and praying for our enemies and persecutors, we can be agents and ambassadors of God, working in his healing redemptive plans for God's kingdom advancement.
In this time between the Fall and New Creation, battles are being waged. We are given the opportunity to choose which weapons to use: Love and Prayer, or Hate and Gossip. Both have power. When the time for a battle arises, which weapons will you choose?