Weekly Worship Thought – Holy Week

easter-10-0As we prepare for Holy Week, I invite you to invest your time in worship. Specifically I invite you to join in stride with Jesus as he advances through the last days of his pre-resurrected life. The three services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil unfold like three movements within a larger composition. Individually they stand on their own as thematic events, but bound together they walk us through Jesus’ passage from death to life. These three services are sometimes called Triduum, or Three Days. The meaning of Easter is embedded in these Three Days. 

The Future of ELCA Worship

The Future of ELCA WorshipOn October 19-21 I will be in Chicago for a trip to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide offices. It is an honor to be asked by Rev. Kevin Strickland, Director of Worship for the ELCA, to participate in the Consultation on the Ongoing Renewal of Worship in the Church. We will be discerning what the continually unfolding renewal of worship in our churches might look like in the years ahead. As I prepare, I have been reflecting on what I long for in my own life and in my own ministry context. Where do I need to experience growth in my pilgrimage as a disciple following along the Jesus path? In what ways do I want to see the worship I design and lead stretched and deepened? Here are three areas I want to discover and grow into the future – both personally and corporately:

  1. Learn to Worship – I realize that stating a desire to learn to worship can sound bizarre coming from a professional church musician. Perhaps a better proposition would be that I desire for all my assumptions about worship to be challenged. Asking the right questions can peck away at our engrained assumptions about worship. Where is my understanding of worship one-dimensional when in reality it is three-dimensional? When am I distracted from truly worshiping in the midst of the assembly? Why don’t I make room for quiet and stillness? Where is God present when I assume God’s absence? How do I faithfully prepare my heart for worship before every assembly? Why do I suppose the living, breathing, moving God of heaven and earth is restricted to my preferences and tastes? What would a Sunday without music or speech look like? Where have adiaphora taken place of the central things? Renewing worship means asking critical questions about why our worship is the way it is.
  1. Learn to Feast – I have long felt that communion is more feast than funeral. Yet we more often than not connect the weekly Eucharist to Jesus’ last supper, betrayal, and subsequent execution. What about every other meal Jesus ate? What about the food with tax collectors, and the miraculously expanding fish and loaves, and the meal with two disciples at Emmaus, and the post-resurrection fish breakfast tacos? Jesus was doing something significant in reconstituting the Passover, no doubt. Christ is our Paschal Victim/Victor. But I think there is something important beneath it all: Jesus ate with people. Our celebrations around God’s table are connected to every meal Jesus ever ate – including the everlasting meal to come in God’s eternal Kingdom. What does the ritual action of feasting look like? How can communion become more feast than funeral?
  2. Learn to Converge – We are trapped by the need to clearly label and categorize our worship. Using worship as a tool to target a specific group of people produces consumers, not disciples. Instead of being preoccupied with the copyright date of the songs we sing (as if church music had an expiration date), we should be singing the best and broadest types of music from God’s people in all places and times. In doing so our worship becomes countercultural (perhaps counter to the surrounding culture, perhaps counter to the prevailing church culture). Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way. Through singing broad types of music we also become cross-cultural and can see God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own. This is the heart of convergent worship. Convergent worship is not a style. It is a mindset. Convergent worship is the coming together of the historic and the contemporary at every level of worship (not just the music) to create maximum opportunities for engaging worshipers with the presence of God. Convergent worship expresses a willingness to reopen all questions about worship and to learn from the entire worshipping community. Convergent worship has a healthy respect for the past while maintaining an absolute commitment to contemporary relevance.

These are the areas where I see a need for growth in my own personal and corporate worship. What about you – what does the future of worship look like to you?

Fresh Waiting – Resources for Advent

Advent is that season of expectation and preparation that leads us into the incarnational reality of God tabernacle-ing among us. Or as Eugene Peterson put it, God “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

Advent is also the kick-off of the new liturgical year. Even though not every church follows the Christian calendar religiously, there is something about Advent in which even contemporary churches can find hope. The intentional pause and reflection is highly sought after in our breakneck society. Advent plays well in churches trying to craft fresh expressions of the faith. But how do you make waiting fresh?

Here are some of my favorite creative resources for the season of Advent. Explore the links to learn more:

  • Songs
    • Sing to the King, words and music by Billy Foote and based on an older hymn by Charles Silvester Horne. This song captures the eschatological themes of Advent well. I actually include an additional original stanza that is left out of Foote’s version: “Souls will be saved from the burden of sin, doubt will not darken his witness within. Hell has no terrors, and death has no sting; love is victorious when Jesus is King.”
    • Immanuel, or as I like to call it, “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” (taken from the first stanza). Words and music by Stuart Townend, who has had some controversy lately stemming from the new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal. The four stanzas of this song give you a great narrative sweep of Christ’s birth, life, death, and return. I exclusively bring this song out every Advent. However, I do feel that the theology in this song needs a little tweaking to fit in our context. In the final stanza I change “hope of heaven or the fear of hell,” to “heav’n joins earth where God will dwell.”
  • Videos
  • Message Series/Small Group Resourcesadvent conspiracy
    • Advent Conspiracy is a campaign designed to help us all slow  own and experience aChristmas worth remembering. There are lots of resources: messages, videos, a book, and small group curriculum.
    • Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “God is in the Manger” is a devotional book with daily readings for the season of Advent. Last year we developed it into a four week message series with accompanying small group discussion questions.
  • Environment
    • Advent Wreath You can be pretty creative with how you advent wreathrepresent the Advent wreath. Consider how lighting can be used to create the effect of candles. This wreath was constructed out of corrugated plastic (the same stuff they make yard signs out of).
    • Advent banners can be cool. Don’t sell them short. They can add color and depth of meaning through the use of symbol and metaphor. Just search for “Advent banners” advent banneron Pinterest and put your creative people to work.

Silence is Golden

silenceTalking during a movie is rude.

I didn’t pay $10 to hear your story, or your snarky commentary, or your question because you can’t follow the plot. (This rant has now concluded.) That’s why I love watching movies at Alamo Drafthouse. They are zealous in their persecution of movie talkers. They have rules about talking. Rules that they actually back up:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards talking and texting during the movie. If you talk or text, you will receive one warning. If it happens again, you will be kicked out without a refund.” (www.drafthouse.com/about)

Silence during a movie is right. What about silence elsewhere? Why is silence sometimes uncomfortable? Why do we feel awkward when a silent lapse occurs during a conversation? Why do we feel the need to fill our daily lives and routines with noise? At the grocery store – earbuds inserted. At the gym – earbuds inserted. At work – earbuds inserted. What is the importance of silence?

We discussed this very subject in a recent Learning Group using the book Worship Matters (Augsburg Fortress 2012): “Consider this page. Without the white space on this page, the black letters and the words they form would not be comprehensible. Similarly, consider music. The rests allow the musical notes to be heard. We believe this to be a foundational reality with God as well. God speaks a word out of silence, and the world is created. Silence is a powerful and important response in moments of awe. Here we are invited to imagine silence as a response to God that is even more profound than our words or songs of prayer and praise.” (p. 62)

I’m reminded of the worship practices of our brothers and sisters in the Quaker/Friends Church. Their worship begins in silence, making room for the Holy Spirit to enter and move. They approach worship with neither a determination to speak nor a determination to remain silent. Patience, rest, and preparation are central in their worship gatherings. I’m also reminded of the way in which Elijah encountered God in 1 Kings 19:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Why is it that when we encounter silence during worship, we automatically assume that someone has missed their cue? We get panicky and our palms begin to sweat. If no one is speaking, or singing, or praying during worship, something has obviously gone wrong! Perhaps there is Someone speaking during the silences of worship. If only we had ears to hear it.

Evaluating Worship

(HT: Lester Ruth and Dean McIntyre from whom I borrowed)

(Download: EVALUATING WORSHIP Questionnaire)

Worship is always being evaluated. Although it may be informal, everyone that is sent forth from an assembled worshiping body has evaluated that service in one way or another. Evaluations might be based on any number of things: the number of people in attendance, the length of the sermon, the pronunciation of the lector, or the number of flubbed notes by the musician.

These questions are designed to move beyond surface-level evaluations into the deeper substance of worship. These questions help us consider things that are essential for all Christian worship, things that are faithful to a Lutheran heritage, and things that are biblically rooted. As a means of evaluation these questions can be applied to all types of worship regardless of time, contextual location, leadership, demographics, or style.

After each statement, select the response that best applies to your church/service. 

1 – Strongest agreement

2 – More agreement than disagreement

3 – Neutral, no response, don’t know

4 – More disagreement than agreement

5 – Strongest disagreement


  1. Our worship is richly Trinitarian (names the Trinity and all three Persons). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  2. God’s story of salvation is central to our worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  3. The ministry of word and sacrament is at the core of our worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  4. The primary symbols of communion table, baptismal font, and ambo/pulpit are present in our environment for worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  5. There is enough Scripture and scriptural content in our worship to tell a full, broad, deep, rich story of God’s salvation. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  6. Our worship is reflective of the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, risen and active today. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  7. The content of our prayers is true to Christ’s character and the breadth of his Lordship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  8. Our worship seeks the full, conscious, and active participation of all people assembled. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  9. Our people are filled with the Holy Spirit in worship (they talk about what the Spirit tends to talk about and are filled with love). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  10. Our worship is sensitive to the needs of visitors and guests and takes their participation in worship seriously. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  11. The leaders of our assembly are reflective of the Body of Christ that transcends class, age, ethnicity, and gender. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  12. The language of our worship includes a balance of addressing God and addressing people. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  13. Our worship helps the congregation experience its relationship with God. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  14. Our worship is contextually relevant to the culture and setting of our people and community. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  15. Our worship is a feast for the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  16. Our worship is filled with life, vitality, and joy. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  17. Our worship offers opportunities for reflection, confession, and lament. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  18. Our worship welcomes and calls people into the baptismal life (united with the death and resurrection of Jesus). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  19. The word of God, read, preached, and sung by the assembly, is essential to our order of service. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  20. Our worship regularly experiences Christ’s presence at the table with bread and wine. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  21. Our worship sends us out as disciples of Jesus, following his mission of serving, blessing, and loving the world. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5

Philosophy of Worship, part 4


Philosophy of Worship4. Worship should employ a wide range of styles.

There are as many styles of worship as there are tastes of music. Since we are the church [in a catholic sense – the universal church] we should use as many styles of music/art that we can. Of course this is all relative to the demographic of each congregation. If a congregation is contextually made up of X people [X = African, Korean, Native American, gangstas, cowboys, etc.] and serves a community that is primarily made up of X people, then X style of music/art should be used. Context is key.

But we are still a universal body of Believers. And something/sometime in worship should speak to and prepare the worshiper for that day when all tongues will be united in one song. What will the style of the song be? What language will it be in? We don’t really know [and perhaps it doesn’t matter], but we should be preparing ourselves for just about anything as we approach that day.

The church is not only made up of our brothers and sisters across the globe, but also across time. We need to be historically connected with our brothers and sisters who served God to insure that the message of Christ made it to us. We can do this by singing the songs they wrote and preserving the art they produced in service to God.

In my opinion this is one of the reasons why the church is in such sad shape today [from a modern/American perspective]. Good chunks of the church have failed to recognize and celebrate their past. Sacred liturgies, prayers, songs, rituals, calendars/seasons, creeds, etc. have been abandoned. We have dissected ourselves from the root from which we grew. We can learn something from those who walked before us. They worshiped the same God we do, they confessed the same faith, and they struggled the same struggles we do. And their songs/art are expressions of what they felt walking on the same path we find ourselves walking on.

Narrative Worship Script

Some Assembly RequiredDuring the month of August at Faith Lutheran Church, we are in a message series called “Some Assembly Required” (borrowed from the Synod Assembly title that I jokingly came up with). It is a four week series on worship, with each week taking up a different fold of the service:

  • August 5 – “Gathering: Worship and the Stranger”
  • August 12 – “Word: The Narrative of Worship”
  • August 19 – “Meal: The Down to Earth God”
  • August 26 – “Sending: Worship on the Way”

As part of the series, we decided to include a “narrative” script during each service that describes the significance of each action of worship. It works as a running commentary of the “whys” of the worship service. We printed the narration into the worship bulletins, and had a person read the narration aloud during the service.

Sources for the script include Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pg. 91-93), Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pg. 8-13), and original material.

Download Narrative Worship Script PDF

(before the Welcome/Announcements)
The basic pattern of this service – gathering, word, meal, sending – is a structure that originates from the earliest documented Christian liturgies. It is also a pattern we can observe in how God interacts with people throughout the Bible. As the people of God, we are joined together by the gifts of God’s grace, for the sake of the gospel, into the life of the one triune God.

(before the Confession and Forgiveness)
As we gather together as the body of Christ, we are reminded that Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection. We are assembled, brought together from different places, as a witness to the risen of body of Christ, active and moving in the world today. We begin in humility, confessing our sin and hearing God’s word of forgiveness.

(before the Gathering Hymn)
Singing during our gathering includes both hymns old and new. The songs that gather us together surround and support a people who come to worship with different frames of reference and different emotions. The gathering song moves each individual into the communal experience and purpose of worship.

(before the Greeting and Prayer of the Day)
During the gathering, the presiding minister and the assembly greet each other in the name of the triune God. The presiding minister gathers the assembly into prayer. All of worship is based on the foundation of prayer and can be understood as dialogue with God.

(before the First Reading)
The word of God is proclaimed within and by the gathered assembly. The first Bible reading, usually from the Old Testament, is followed by a psalm sung in response. This pattern of proclaiming the word is as ancient as the synagogue worship of the Jewish people.

(before the Psalm)
From their origin, the psalms were intended to be sung. Certainly the meaning of the text can be communicated when spoken, but the quality of this ancient poetry is inherently musical.

(before the Second Reading)
The second reading, usually from the New Testament letters, bears the witness of the early church. After the second reading, we stand to greet the gospel and sing an acclamation.

(before the Gospel Acclamation and Reading)
Christians have inherited the practice of publicly reciting the appointed biblical texts and responding to the recitation with singing. The read-sing-read-sing sequence continues. The gospel acclamation consists of two parts, alleluia and a verse of scripture, which acclaim the living Word, Jesus Christ, present in the gospel reading.

(before the Message)
Preaching brings God’s word of law and gospel into our time and place to awaken and nourish faith.

(before the Hymn of the Day)
God’s word is further proclaimed as we sing our faith aloud. The hymn of the day is the principal hymn of the service and is a distinctively Lutheran element in the liturgy. The assembly participates in proclaiming and responding to the word of God with a common voice.  The hymn of the day typically relates directly to the season or day, the lectionary readings, or the preaching.

(before the Prayers of Intercession)
As the assembly prays for the whole world, we remember we have a high priest who continually intercedes for us. The prayers follow a pattern that encourages us to turn our hearts and eyes outward to the world. We pray for the needs of the church, for all of creation and the people of the world, for those in need, and for the local community. We also give thanks for the lives of the saints who inspire us in our pilgrimage.

(before Sharing Christ’s Peace)
Passing the peace of Christ is an ancient component of Christian worship and liturgy. Our modern day version of peace passing is descended from an earlier act of worship known as “the kiss of peace.” The practice of verbally and physically sharing Christ’s peace trains ours hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of peace.

(before the Offering, Choral Offering, Offertory Response, and Offering Prayer)
A collection of material goods for the church’s mission, including the care of those in need, is a sign of the giving of our whole selves in grateful response for all God’s gifts. The table is set with bread and wine, also part of the gifts we offer to God. The choir provides an offering of music, a sacrifice of praise.

(before the Dialogue, Preface, and Holy, Holy, Holy)
Before the Lord’s supper is shared, the presiding minister leads us into thanksgiving. The words of the opening dialogue are known as the “Sursum Corda,” which is Latin for “hearts lifted.” This dialogue is found in the most ancient of Christian liturgies, dating all the way to the third century. The presiding minister and assembly exchange a formal greeting. Then the assembly is invited to lift their hearts to God. The final exchange indicates the assembly’s agreement to the presiding minister continuing to offer the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer on their behalf. The proper preface follows, which relates to the liturgical season or day. The assembly then joins with the whole creation in singing the angels’ song: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”

(before the Words of Institution and Lord’s Prayer)
The grace of God’s gift is always proclaimed in Jesus’ own words of command and promise at the table. The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The service of Holy Communion is connected to every meal in which Jesus gave thanks before breaking bread. The thanksgiving concludes with the prayer our Lord Jesus taught us.

(before Sharing the Meal and Prayer after Communion)
In Christ’s body and blood given to us, God forgives us and nourishes us for mission. We sing as the bread is broken and as the meal is shared. After sharing the meal, we pray, asking God to send us in witness to the world.

(before the Benediction, Sending Hymn, and Dismissal)
God’s mission sends us out. God’s mission includes the gifts of grace that we share in worship. Now, we are sent to continue our participation in God’s mission by sharing these gifts of grace with the world. With the blessing of God, we go out to live as Christ’s body in the world.

Quality Worship Leadership

“If you miss your notes, if you are flat when you sing, if your prayers are self-absorbed, if your song choices are predictably narrow, if you read Scripture poorly, if you prepare your sermons on the fly, then it’s unlikely that your people will worship well. They will be distracted and uninspired. On the contrary, if you perform with musical excellence, if you pray with thoughtfulness and authenticity, if you choose songs that reflect the breadth of God’s revelation, if you read Scripture with the reverential awe or interpretive depth due the Word of God, if you tell God’s truth with insight and conviction, then your people will be encouraged to offer themselves to God in genuine worship.”

~Mark D. Roberts, Worship Leader Magazine, July/August 2012, p. 10

Worship @ Synod Assembly 2012

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This year I had the honor and privilege of being part of the team that designed and led worship for Synod Assembly. Every year the Gulf Coast Synod of the ELCA (gulfcoastsynod.org) gathers for business, worship, andfellowship. The Assembly was May 11-12, 2012 and it was hosted at Lakewood United Methodist Church in northwest Houston. The team that planned worship met for several months working on all the details that go into planning an event for the whole synod. We had to design the services (including selecting the Bible readings, songs, prayers, and other elements), create and edit the worship folders (which we can proudly say were all printed onsite in the Faith office), and recruit and instruct all the worship leaders and assistants for the services.

The Synod Assembly this year was a huge success! The worship services were joyful celebrations of who God is and what God has done. It can be a challenge and stretch to create worship services for people coming from such a broad geographic context. How do you create a worship service for rural farmers in Brenham, suburban Houstonians, and urban folks from New Orleans, all assembled together at the same time? As the team discussed designing worship for such a diverse crowd, we found the Assembly to be the perfect place to celebrate what makes us each unique. As we sang each other’s songs, we realized we have much more in common than different.

One of the highlights was the Holy Communion service on Friday evening. All of the worship services were designed in a convergent style: many diverse languages, music, and ritual actions converging together in a prayerful way. Friday’s service used the service music from Setting 7 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, all sung in Spanish and led by a Mariachi Band! After the Hymn of the Day (using the organ), we participated in a Thomas Mass, which is a form of Lutheran worship originating from Helsinki, Finland. During the Thomas Mass, the people assembled were invited to move freely around the room and interact with several stations. They could serve and be served using a basin and towel for foot and hand washing, write intercessions for the world on a banner, create mosaic artwork for a communion paten, offer prayers of confession and receive forgiveness, receive anointing for healing, and leave an offering for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. We then celebrated the holy meal together around God’s table. This service was a beautiful picture of diversity and unity and I’m sure it will have a profound impact on me for years to come.

Pictures from the Holy Communion service taken by Larry Bose. A complete sketch of the order of worship is below.

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Order of Service

GATHERING

Prelude from Mariachis

Recognition of First Call Theological Education Pastors

Kyrie & Gloria – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Prayer of the Day

WORD

First Reading – 1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8 (chanted with shruti box)

Second Reading – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Gospel Acclamation – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Gospel Reading – John 6:35, 41-51

Sermon

Hymn of the Day 480 O Bread of Life from Heaven (Organ)

St. Thomas Mass Stations

Sharing Christ’s Peace

MEAL

Dialogue/Preface

Santo, santo, santo – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Thanksgiving at the Table

Lord’s Prayer

Invitation to the Table

Cordero de Dios – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Communion Song 485 I Am the Bread of Life (Piano/guitars)

Communion Song 472 Eat This Bread (Guitar/Taize)

Prayer after Communion

SENDING

Blessing

Sending Song 618 Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer (Organ)

Dismissal

Postlude (Mariachis)

Experiencing God in Worship

1228670_90111056How do you experience God in worship?

Is it a feeling? Is it an attitude? Is it a thought? Does it bring joy? Does it feel mysterious? Does it make your fingertips tingle?

Which part of Sunday worship is most meaningful to you?

Is it the songs and hymns we sing together with one voice? Is it the water that cleanses us and renews us as new creatures in Christ? Is it the reading of God’s story and the proclamation of the good news in Jesus? Is it the common meal we share in broken bread and poured wine? Is it the blessing and sending that propels us to be God’s people for the good of the world? Where do you experience God the most in worship?

The important thing is not how you experience God in worship – but that you experience God in worship. If you come to church week after week and never experience the person of God, never enter the fellowship of the Trinity, you’ve missed the point and we as a church have failed in our task.

Also valuable to remember is that how you experience God is not the same as how other people experience God in worship. God creates us as individuals and wires each of us in unique ways. Just because one person experiences God in a different way than us does not make it better or worse than the way we experience God. What becomes crucial is how we act and respond to those who draw near to God using “worship languages” that are different than our own. The words of Philippians 2:3-4 should guide the hearts of everyone in our assembly on Sunday: “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We worship God as one body, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Worship is designed to create space for the Holy Spirit to move and show up in fresh and unexpected ways. Worship is not a one way conversation. We are not the only ones speaking during worship. Worship is space for the Spirit to provoke, whisper, and prod us into Christ-likeness. The work of our worship is to be attentive in both heart and mind and then follow in obedience.