Thursday, February 24, 2011

There Are Times...

There are times when I do feel like "Christian" in Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress:

"Then Apollyon espying his opportunity began to gather up close to Christian and wrestling with him gave him a dreadful fall, and with that Christian's Sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, "I am sure of thee now," and with that he had almost pressed him to death so that Christian began to despair of life, but as God would have it while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his Sword and caught it saying, "Rejoice not against me O mine Enemy, when I fall I shall arise," and with that gave him a deadly thrust which made him give back as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again saying, "Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors through him that loved us." And with that Apollyon spread forth his Dragon's wings, and sped him away that Christian for a season saw him no more."

"... I am sure of thee now... Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors through him that loved us."

Prayer: "Father, keep us nimble with Your Word, the Sword of the Spirit, and in Christ Deliver us from evil." Amen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Admitting Mistakes is the First Step for Improving

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are scouring the copious notes of Dr. Harvey Cushing, who practiced neurosurgery from 1896-1912. He kept detailed notes of his mistakes such as operating on the wrong side of the brain or dropping surgical instruments into a wound. One of the hardest things for any human being to do is to admit to our mistakes and failures. Yet, this is the key to our improvement.

God's word teaches us the same thing:

Proverbs 28:13 He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be honest and to acknowledge my sins. Remind me and reassure me of Your forgiveness in Jesus. Help me to avoid the same mistakes and to improve in all that I think, say and do. Amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Worship: Chocolate or Vanilla?

I was involved in what people today call "Contemporary Worship" long before it was known by that name. In high school (1970s) our youth group asked the pastor if we could have a "Folk Service." He asked us what would be involved in such a service. All we could think of was playing songs on guitars. (Obviously we had no business planning a worship service.) He then asked, "Do you think it might be good to have a few Scripture readings?" "Oh yeah," we said. "How about the Apostles' Creed, a sermon, and prayers?" "That would be great." Little by little he had us back to the basic worship service!

As a campus pastor in the 1980s I came into a ministry that had been using contemporary worship. As a guitarist and singer, I looked forward to the freedom this gave me to explore different worship styles. However I found it increasingly difficult to find music that wasn't repetitive or would fit well with the themes of the Church Year. I also found myself spending a lot of time trying to develop these services, valuable time that could have been used going out to meet students.

For the last twenty years I've been serving in a church that uses very traditional worship.

I used to accept the idea that worship styles didn't really matter, but I've definitely had a change of heart about that. This isn't a chocolate or vanilla question. There are some major differences between the two styles of worship as they have developed to this point. Here are five that I find quite important:

1. Both contemporary and traditional worship can be emotional. But I believe that emotions take a primary role in contemporary worship. The music tends to focus on the mood of the worshiper more than the mind. Sounds are primary; texts are secondary.

2. Traditional worship tends to be more theological than therapeutic. Contemporary worship reverses those. Traditional worship focuses primarily on the person and work of Christ and then the new life. Contemporary worship tends to focus on the new life.

3. I will grant that contemporary worship may be more relevant to the unbeliever. After all I wouldn't expect an unchurched person to have any clue what "Here I lay my Ebenezer" means as it is sung in "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." But if our central worship service reaches low to be relevant, how does the church lift its members to relate more deeply to Christ?

4. Contemporary worship tends to be a much more passive experience for the worshiper. We tend to sit back and watch the show. This is certainly something our culture encourages. Traditional worship engages the worshiper in responsive readings, prayers and songs, creedal affirmations, standing, sitting, and kneeling. In this way traditional worship is counter-cultural.

5. Traditional worship is aimed to serve people of all ages. Yes, even little children often enjoy traditional worship, whereas the more contemporary the more likely the children will be dismissed. Contemporary worship loves to divide up into groups (Boomers, Busters, Mosaics, etc.) Traditional worship loves to unify the octogenarians as well as the eight day olds.

For these reasons (and more that I don't have time to go into) I am convinced that traditional worship should have and will always have a central role in the life of the church.

This doesn't mean that we can't have "lighter" or "age-oriented" worship experiences. As long as we fix some of the issues involved in #s 1 & 2 above, I think there can be a place for these in the life of the church. But their place must always be secondary and supportive of the main worship of the church. They should be designed to lead the worshiper toward the central worship experience of the church and not away from it.