Weekly Worship Thought – Slow Down

I’m finding myself in the middle of one of the busiest seasons of my year. Probably even the last decade. I knew this time was approaching, as all of these events were on my calendar for months in advance. Sometimes the deluge of stuff arriving at the same time sneaks up on you.

I am preparing for our fifth annual TUNE UP worship gathering this Saturday. Around 75 church musicians are coming together for training and networking. I am also preparing video content and workshops for the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering that starts next week. And I’m in the middle of an online Greek course at Wartburg. And I’m trying to work ahead at church so I’m not too far behind when I get back late next week.

It is hard to sustain focus with so many things needing attention. It feels like there are lots of little fires burning – and it is hard to remember which ones I need to fan and which ones I need to put out. The most helpful thing for me in a time like this is lists. I have a weekly task list for church that helps me prepare everything needed for a Sunday morning. And I have a punch list for the TUNE UP gathering that I rolled over from the previous year to help me remember all the details that lead to a solid event.

In the midst of working ahead at church I peeked at the first reading for next Sunday (tenth Sunday after Pentecost). It is the story of Elijah seeing God on the mountain. Not the wind. Not the earthquake. Not the fire. It was the silence. God was made known to Elijah in the silence. Not the power and the activity, but the stillness. That is a hopeful story for me this week.

Weekly Worship Thought – 5 Good Reasons to Sing in Church

Why do you like to sing? There is something transformative that happens when our soul and body connect to the melody and text of a song. Here are what I consider to be the top 5 reasons why we should be singing in church. These ideas are adapted from Dennis L. Bushkofsky and Craig A. Satterlee, The Christian Life: Baptism and Life Passages. Augsburg Fortress, 2008. p. 55.

  1. Singing is communal. Singing in church is meant to be more than a bunch of solo voices forming notes at the same time in one space. When an assembly breathes together at the same time, creating the same pitches and harmonies, something unites all our solo voices into one. We become connected to everyone in the space. This connection seeps out of the current time and place and touches all believers from past and future and across the world.
  2. Singing nurtures faith. You are what you eat. In the same fashion, you believe what you sing. The story of God’s creation, reconciliation, and new creation is best learned in the psalms, songs, and hymns that have sustained generations before as well as those yet to come.
  3. Singing shapes memory. The songs that nurture our faith also give us the handlebars to hold onto our faith when crisis and frailty arrives. The songs of our brothers and sisters can lift us up and remind us of God’s faithfulness when we need it. Sometimes we need to sing for others. There will be times when others need to sing for us.
  4. Singing opens us to the Spirit. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, God makes a home amidst our praises. When we sing in community the hardened parts of our heart are broken open. We become open and receptive to how God is moving around us.
  5. Singing builds trust. When I open my mouth and sing in church I am instantly vulnerable. What if I stick out? What if I sing out of tune? What if I sing the wrong word? What if people think my voice is ugly? There is nothing like vulnerability that provides a place for trust to grow. And church is the one place where we should be able to trust that we are loved.

Weekly Worship Thought – Disney Don’t’s

Earlier in the week I scrolled across a video on Facebook. It was a recording of a pastor leading his Sunday assembly in the singing of a song from a popular Disney movie.

This is a big no-no. Here are a couple of reasons why:

Legality – Disney songs are not covered by your standard church music licenses. You need special permission to use their songs in a live performance. To publish a video of you using their song you would also need a mechanical license. Disney is very protective of their content. Our church made the mistake of publishing the title of one of their movies in an announcement. They quickly let us know about what licensing was needed to host a public gathering that featured one of their films. Don’t steal their content. You can’t afford the legal consequences.

Assembly song – Disney songs are not written to be sung by a worshiping assembly. As sentimental and charming as they are, their music wasn’t designed to be sung by average Joe parishioner. The range of notes and rhythmic complexity don’t translate to a large group of non-musically trained singers. They are meant for soloists and small ensembles.

So my advice – leave the Disney songs for the movies. There is plenty of good stuff to sing!

Weekly Worship Thought – Faithfulness

This has been an upside down week! Our air conditioner quit working in our house almost a week ago. In Houston, in July, that is a big problem. Our thermostat has been reporting 96 degree temps inside the house at 10:00 PM. To escape the heat we stayed in a local hotel for a few days. After that we have been graciously hosted by some of our sweet family nearby for another few days.

Despite the inconsistent schedule, frustration with the repair moving slowly, missing our comfortable home, and living out of suit cases, we are finding the silver lining. In all of the challenges and changes, God is faithful. We observe that we are provided for and loved despite not knowing exactly where we will sleep or when we will get back home.

It reminded me of the Psalm from last Sunday, and specifically the first verse. Psalm 89:1 says,

“Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing;

from age to age my mouth will proclaim

your faithfulness.”

Last week I wrote a little song to go with this verse.

God is faithful even when things seem like they are failing and not going according to plan.

Weekly Worship Thought – Worship Leader FOMO

Do you know what FOMO is?

Wikipedia says, “Fear of missing out or FoMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social angst is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

I think worship leaders can get weighed down with FoMO. There is this subtle voice in the back of the worship leader’s mind that suggests there is new music and it needs to be sung this week. There is a fear of missing out on the most current worship songs. “If I don’t use this song that (popular Christian artist) released this week, then people are going to leave and go to the church that did.” Or, “If I don’t use this song that (mega church) used last week then people are going to feel like we aren’t relevant anymore.”

Or perhaps the actual fear is not being able to post to social media that you were on the cutting edge of using that song first?

Instead, I feel our call is to select songs pastorally. What does that mean? That means that songs are selected for worship that will reflect and meet the needs of the people who are actually assembled with you. Which is different than selecting songs for the sake of staying ahead of a trend. Our call is to lay down our preferences and lift up others preferences for the sake of the church being the embodied hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

Weekly Worship Thought – Every Table is An Altar

This is a new worship song I came across called, “Every Table is An Altar.”

If I were going to use this song, I might arrange it leaving the Bridge section out. An 11 minute ballad isn’t for every church. I think the song is lyrically strong enough without the Bridge. Especially if you use the Pre-Chorus in place of the building Bridge section.

The lyrics are striking. I’m drawn to them because they connect the tables of our everyday lives to Jesus’ radical table fellowship. They remind me of the sursum corda (“Lift up your hearts…Let us give thanks…”). They also recall the Emmaus Road story:

Verse 1:
Every table is an altar
Every breath is a gift from you
Every moment is a treasure
Every day is a kiss from you

Pre-Chorus:
So let our hearts
Be awake, be awake

Chorus:
Break the bread, pour the wine
Let our hearts, come alive
In your presence, in your presence
Let our fear, fall away
Let our faith, rise today
In your presence, in your presence
Jesus

Verse 2:
Every stranger has a story
Every story’s being told by you
We’re all children on a journey
Jesus only you can lead us through

Chord chart can be downloaded here.

Weekly Worship Thought – The Crisis of Worship

In his book, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, Robert Webber identifies three crises facing worship today (p. 90-91):

  1. The crisis of content
  2. The crisis of structure
  3. The crisis of style

The crisis of content has to do with the story we tell in worship. His point is that worship should both remember and anticipate. Worship leads us to remember the mighty acts of God’s salvation in history as well as anticipate a new creation. The content of worship often falls short in providing the full breadth of God’s action in creation, incarnation, and re-creation.

The crisis of structure has to do with how the story is narrated. If worship is to remember and anticipate God’s story, it is best accented in the Four Fold historical model of worship that hinges on word and table. God’s word helps us remember, God’s table helps us anticipate. This is not to say that readings and preaching can’t cause anticipation, and that the Eucharist can’t cause remembrance. Word and table are less a rigid framework that stifles and more an acknowledgment of how God comes to us in worship (and in examples throughout the Bible, such as the Emmaus Road story).

The crisis of style has to do with how the content and structure of worship are communicated. Webber suggests that the content and structure of worship should be made indigenous to the local setting. I would use the word contextual. Style is less important than content and structure. Appropriate use of style makes God’s story more readily heard in any given culture.

Weekly Worship Thought – Taxonomy of Contemporary Worship

I’m convinced that labeling worship isn’t helpful. It puts our gatherings in boxes that they aren’t meant to be in. It creates the illusion that our assemblies are homogenized and that we can get away with using one genre or style that reaches and represents everyone. We should be able to design and implement any order of service with a full, robust toolbox of resources that draw from the best the church has to offer from all time and traditions.

This is why I have issues with labeling worship “contemporary.” It suggests a genre of music, and perhaps a philosophical approach, but is too vague. I’m growing to appreciate the work of C. Michael Hawn in identifying different streams of song in the church today. You can go knee-deep in this idea in his article from The Hymn, “Streams of song: An overview of congregational song in the twenty-first century.”

Here are the seven streams he identifies:

Stream 1—Roman Catholic Liturgical Renewal Song

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Roman Catholics have been finding their voice. This voice is diverse ranging from folk and classical song to African American gospel and various Latino styles. Many of these songs may be found in most Protestant hymnals, adding vitality to liturgy. Some of the key names include David Haas, Michael Joncas, Marty Haugen, James Moore, Cesáreo Gabaréin, Omer Westendorf, Delores Dufner and many more.

Stream 2—Contemporary Classical Hymnody

These are the hymns that follow in the tradition of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Their themes range from creation, ecology, mission of the church, social issues, to worship and the arts. Some of the most important names include Fred Pratt Green, Timothy Dudley Smith, Brian Wren, Carl Daw, Jr., Tom Troeger, Ruth Duck, Shirley Erena Murray, Mary Louise Bringle, and many more.

Stream 3—African American Gospel Song

This streams includes major African American voices including Andraé Crouch, Doris Akers, Margaret Douroux, Edwin Hawkins, James Cleveland, Kirk Franklin, and more.

Stream 4—Urban Gospel Song

Urban Gospel Song writers are represented by the Gaithers, John W. Peterson, and extensions of this song in the UK, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, and Keith Getty.

Stream 5—Folk Hymnody

These songs use an acoustic musical idiom grounded in the folk and protest movements of the 1960s. The theological focus of these songs is on direct language, unvarnished frankness, a social consciousness, and a simple singability that allows everyone to participate.

Stream 6—Pentecostal Song

The roots of CCM/CWM may be found in the Pentecostal movement that began with the Azusa Street Revival (1906) on the west coast. Vineyard, Hillsong, and others.

Stream 7—Ecumenical Global Song

The twenty-first century church is the recipient of songs from the world church—signs that the overseas mission efforts of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries have born much fruit. The former mission fields are sending their songs back to the church in the West. More than two-thirds of Christians now live outside North America and Europe. They have been singing our songs for nearly two centuries and now we have the opportunity to reciprocate by singing the songs of the world church.

Weekly Worship Thought – Christ Ascended

Today is an important event in the church’s calendar. Really? On Thursday? Ascension is essential to the story of Jesus. But why do we never hear about it or even really celebrate it? We celebrate Jesus’ ascension every year on the 40th day after Easter – which puts it on a Thursday every year. That’s why it doesn’t get as much play as other holy days. Sometimes we will include it on the Sunday after, sometimes not.

Acts 1:6-14

6When [the apostles] had come together, they asked [Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
  12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Why is ascension so important? It really is the conclusion of the story of Jesus’ time on earth. Jesus was born, lived, died, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. In the first few centuries of the church, the ascension was so central to the story that they tied it into the resurrection story and celebrated it on Easter Day. So Easter was just as much about Jesus rising from the earth as it was about Jesus rising from the dead.

The Good News of the ascension is this – Jesus was a real human. He was like you and like me. He knew all the ups and downs of life that we know. And that same human Jesus ascends to join the Father and the Holy Spirit for eternity. Jesus goes ahead of us and leads us on in modeling that our lives are not just about our present realities. We have an eternal future ahead of us, and we see glimpses of it occasionally when things line up with the way God orders things. Jesus ascends because he is made new in the resurrection, and we in turn get to be new because of Jesus. And not only us but all of creation gets to be made new as we anticipate a heaven and an earth that are joined together with God.

Weekly Worship Thought – Hymn Paraphrase of “Children of the Heavenly Father”

Putting the text of a hymn in your own words is a wonderful exercise for devotion and reflection. Here is my paraphrase of “Children of the Heavenly Father”:

1 All God’s children have a safe haven where they gather in God’s Spirit.
Rescue is found in God’s Spirit, embodied in the community of God’s people.

2 All people have an advocate and a provider in God.
God shelters from hatred and harm and raises up in the power of the resurrection.

3 There is no thing, good or evil, in all our living and dying that can separate us from God’s love.
All God’s children receive mercy and pardon because God knows their stories. God knows their troubles.

4 In times of plenty, and in times of hardship, God is there.
God is purifying us so that we might last longer and flourish.

Original Text:

1 Children of the heav’nly Father safely in his bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven such a refuge e’er was given.

2 God his own doth tend and nourish, in his holy courts they flourish.
From all evil things he spares them, in his mighty arms he bears them.

3 Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord his children sever;
unto them his grace he showeth, and their sorrows all he knoweth.

4 Though he giveth or he taketh, God his children ne’er forsaketh;
his the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy.

Text: Carolina Sandell Berg, 1832-1903; tr. Ernst W. Olson, 1870-1958
Text © 1925 Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, admin. Augsburg Fortress.