Beyond Hands and Hymnals...
When being questioned by a church on a trip in view of a call to become their pastor, a woman asked a sincere question, "Do you believe in dancing." Answer carefully. Saying, "Yes," can end a relationship. Saying, "No," has the same potential. I pondered for a moment and said confidently, "Yes, ma'am, I believe in dancing, I've actually seen it." Laughter followed, no relationships were harmed. I avoided a lynching, but the next question settled deeper in my mind. I think about it regularly.
A man asked, "What do you think about people raising their hands in worship services?" The church had split over some specific charismatic practices that arose in the past. He was a survivor of that unfortunate chapter of the church's history. I didn't have to think long on his question. He touched an area of my passion that has grown more intense over the years.
I told the man, and the congregation, that the real issue for me was authentic worship. I explained that some people raise their hands just because they hear music, and that's not authentic worship. I noted that some people do the same thing when holding a hymnal. Even mouthing the words of a traditional hymn can rely more on meaningless habit than upon encounter with God.
I continued to describe how I'd likely approach either person, if practicing worship without authenticity, and engage in a spiritual conversation about their practices, their motives, and their spirituality. Worship is not about hands or hymnals. Worship is about God and us.
I've been observing worship leaders and processing some thoughts I've had for years about pastors as worship leaders.
In a church setting, no matter what the structure of the church's leadership, the pastor is the primary worship leader. He is the one responsible for the church before God. He's not a priest, but he is God's able guide for His people. Here are some things I've become convoked must happen for churches to experience authentic worship.
1. Pastors must worship in private before they worship in public. They reflect their private devotional worship when they leads public services. Churches will rise to the practices of their pastor, rarely beyond. Many pulpits are filled with preachers who dangerously neglect their worship relationship with God. I don't do everything in public that I do in private, but my passion shows. Pastors who sit and review their preaching notes during the singing throw a wet blanket on the worship leader's efforts. The pastor who leads the sining and does the preaching can throw that blanket over himself through neglect. Every pastor should acquaint himself intimately with singing, praise, confession, etc. before leading worship. Stand before God before standing before His people. This is essential.
2. Pastors need to prompt the congregation and guide them into and through worship. There are many ways to prompt and guide, especially when the worship leader is internally passionate about seeing others worship, too. Songs alone are inadequate. Many pastors and worship leaders seem to assume that having music automatically spawns worship. That's not true.
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Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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