Why the Reformed Need to Look to Our Own Roots for the Seeds of Anti-Liturgical Worship

The history of the Reformed tradition of Christianity is beautiful and bizarre. When I was an outsider looking in (I didn’t grow up in the Reformed tradition), I thought the tradition's historical map was a lot more straight-lined than it was. I did not realize that within a generation or two after John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, and Thomas Cranmer (I consider all these names, in varying ways, influencers in the Reformed reformation), there would be such a divergence of expressions of Reformed Christianity.

A Broad Landscape

When it comes to worship, the landscape is broader many people think. Certain Reformed thinkers will sometimes claim that a specific expression (e.g. Psalms-only singing, highly liturgical, practicing weekly Communion, more low/free church expression) is the one true way of Reformed worship. I think this perspective lacks both generosity and honesty. Perhaps there’s still more of Calvin’s understanding of the Bible to unlock when it comes to worship, but the truth is that Calvin (the beachhead of the Reformed reformation) was either purposefully ambiguous or irretrievably silent on some issues. And it’s my perspective (not all will agree) that this ambiguity in Calvin is why we’ve got so many tributaries of worship practices streaming from sixteenth century Geneva.

The "Heart" in Puritan Christianity

One of those tributaries is the Puritan stream, whose headwaters sprung from England but certainly spilled over the Atlantic into the emerging United States. Some evangelicals don’t realize just how much Puritanism runs through our veins, whether we’re Reformed or not.

One of the Puritan distinctives was a strong spirituality of the heart. In reaction to what they perceived to be the heartless religious ritualism of the established church, they strove to shake off all unnecessary pomp and circumstance. Simplicity and sincerity, for them, were marks of true worship--heart-borne and heartfelt. When these sensibilities commingled with the newness and looseness of the American frontier's westward religious expansion, we can see the seeds being sown for evangelicalism’s deep-seated suspicion of formalized liturgy and ritual in worship. This all comes together in worship historian Paul Westermeyer’s summation:

Heart religion, the part of the Puritan strain that did not want religion mediated by set forms, and the American frontier with no structured church life all pointed toward a future that would presumably avoid the marks of the church’s history, liturgy, and music.*


When I read this, I had an “aha” moment about my own Reformed tradition. For those of us in the Reformed tradition who value historic liturgy, we can sometimes get little cranky about other traditions that write it off or don’t take it very seriously. But the reality is, whether we appreciate it or not, we have our own tradition to thank (or blame). And, we need to be honest that at least some impulses of Calvin himself were the very seedlings that sprouted an anti-liturgical branch in the Reformed tree. Calvin was, after all, a theologian of the heart very much in the spirit of Augustine. You read in his Institutes an ongoing concern for empty religious practices that not only lack heart but almost deceive the practitioner as a kind of heart-substitute. You hear this, for instance, in his explanation of the cautions and joys of singing (Institutes 3.20.31).

The fact of the matter is that any liturgy (either the formal or the informal kind) will always carry in its DNA a kind of entropy. That means, left unchecked, our rituals will have the latent potential to downgrade into heartlessness because we are people who are always fighting the flesh. The Puritan strain of my Reformed heritage reminds me of this, and it also gives me a greater appreciation for and understanding of my fellow brothers and sisters who look at me funny when I get all excited talking about liturgy.

I am also reminded that liturgy must always be injected with heart and meaning by its liturgical leaders. Yes, even a rote liturgy has the power to shape, as James K. A. Smith has proven (even going through the motions is still formative), but do we really want to get there? Do we really want to get to a place where liturgy’s detractors observe so very little heart in liturgical practice that they feel forced to jettison the project altogether? The challenge of our Puritan forefathers and mothers stands before us.

*Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 245.

Spontaneity, Planning, and the Holy Spirit in Worship

In the Cracks

For many of us who have been knowingly or unknowingly schooled by a certain influential slice of evangelical worship, our view of the Holy Spirit's role in worship is pretty straightforward. The Spirit comes in the "cracks"--the surprising moments, the in-between times, the unplanned invasions. And, to God's glory, Scripture describes the Spirit's work in this way. We witness Jesus, for instance, sparring with a well-educated theologian with this little jab about the way salvation works: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8, ESV). The Spirit's surprising, unplanned work is tied in with some pretty pivotal moments in the history of the Church, such as Pentecost (Acts 2). The very Greek and Hebrew terms for "spirit" (pneuma, ruach) are the same words for "wind" and "breath," those ethereal elements of nature that can't be fully pinned down. 

So it's natural and fitting for us to believe that the Holy Spirit works in worship in the unexpected places. Some traditions actually plan for unplanned time so that this kind of Spiritual work might be made manifest, and I for one need to constantly listen to these voices and practices...God really does amazing things there.

Orderly Spontaneity

I would hope, though, that the traditions that preeminently cherish the Spirit's spontaneous work in worship would also increasingly hear Scripture's voice about the work of the Spirit in the order of things. Now, with that statement, I'm sure that for some, it feels like I have thrown a big bucket of water on the raging Fire of God. Hang with me, though, and check out what Constance Cherry has to say about all of this:

[When we turn to the Scriptures,] what we find there is that God is a God of order--it is one of the most significant aspects of God's nature. There are many examples of this in Scripture, but none more obvious than that found in the creation accounts in the opening chapters of Genesis. One simply cannot miss the orchestrated plan that God uses to create the heavens and the earth...The order of creation mattered. ...

When we give some forethought to planning the order of worship, we emulate God's approach to events. Remember, in providing for order, one creates a condition in which every part or unit is in its right place. An order (to anything) is simply a plan for a succession of events. Order provides direction for these actions.

The Holy Spirit is always at work--in advance, during, and after the events of human history. Though the Holy Spirit may appear to us to act spontaneously, this is because we are often unaware of the Spirit's action until it occurs, for we are not often privy to God's actions in advance. Therefore it is a leap in logic to assume that the Spirit primarily acts spontaneously and is therefore the preferred mode for the ordering of worship events. I am not suggesting that there should not be room for unexpected movements of God's Spirit in worship; these should be expected and welcomed when they occur. Yet there is no biblical evidence that the Holy Spirit is especially available as an antidote for inadequate worship planning.*

There is a lot of great wisdom packed in there, and it's a helpful balance for those of us who plan and lead worship. If we lean toward believing that the Holy Spirit's work is more or less equivalent to the unplanned and spontaneous, it's a helpful check to ponder the "orderliness" of God's actions. The Spirit, who hovered over the waters, had a central role in moving creation from chaos to order as those opening days progressed. Order is rooted in the nature of God, who is the Holy Spirit. This is what more liturgical traditions will try to articulate to more charismatic traditions about the nature of the Holy Spirit in their worship services, and I think it's worth hearing.

How I Try to Find a Balance

Here are some of the ways I try to find a balance, being someone who believes in the dynamic and immediate work of the Spirit in my life, open to surprises yet believing in His work in the "systems."

First, with some regularity, I pause to invoke and invite the Holy Spirit even as I'm sitting before Planning Center thinking through my liturgy and song set. As I do this, I must admit that things still feel very human. I'm thinking through songs, wrestling with tempos, keys, arrangements, and affects. I'm not all of a sudden feeling like I'm in some heightened spiritual state (though it would be refreshing if it happened more often). It feels very mundane. But I try, I strain to believe that when I ask for and invite the Holy Spirit's presence, He graciously condescends to fill me.

Second, I'm often firing up what some of us evangelicals call "arrow prayers" throughout the week and especially on Sundays, asking the Holy Spirit to prepare the people and fill the service with His life and power. As I'm going about other tasks, when it comes to mind, I simply ask God for those things in one or two sentences.

Third, I'm repeatedly firing up those same types of prayers throughout the service I am leading. In little instrumental breaks or turns between verses, choruses, and bridges, especially in the opening songs, I'm praying in my head/heart (or even sometimes with my lips), "Holy Spirit, come and fill your people," "Help us now, Spirit!"

Fourth, with less frequency but with a steady regularity, I pray with our teams before worship and include this type of sentiment: "O Holy Spirit, we want to acknowledge that You've been moving among us through the planning and rehearsing of this service. These plans are your plans, and we believe that You've been faithful to make them. Even so, sometimes we can get in the middle of things and mingle our sin, idolatry, and misdirection into Your perfect plans. Forgive us. We give this service to You. If you want to take it in an entirely different direction, or if you would desire to disrupt and change our plans, make us ready and open. We come to you with open hands. We want to be honest that though our plans aren't sacred and infallible, Your work in them always is."

Fifth, I try to plan for what I know the Holy Spirit loves all day every day: Jesus. I'm firmly convinced that a Spirit-filled worship service is, at its core, a service that makes little of ourselves and much of the person and work of Jesus Christ. (For more on this, check out this post.)

Trans-Tribal Relationships

I know my charismatic brothers and sisters will want to press me here for at least one more thing on this list--actually creating space for spontaneity in the service, whether it be an extended interlude or an open time of prayer and ministry. Ah, I'm trying. Seriously, pray for me and my church. I believe that these moments can be powerful, and within who God has made us to be and what God has called us to do as a church, I want to foster this kind of culture in the appropriate places.

But, hopefully, we can keep the dialogue open and ongoing. I certainly haven't said anything new, but I thought it worth reiterating and sharing what my practice is. My encouragement to all of us across traditions is to continue listening to each other...and I mean a deeper listening than reading a blog post or article from "outside your tradition." I mean relationships. Get to know the worship leaders in your town and give them the freedom to talk about what their passions, hopes, and dreams are for worship. Give them the benefit of the doubt (love hopes all things), and then graciously share your own heart. I've found strange and wonderful things happen when I legitimately get out of my tribe for a bit.

*Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 40-41.

Leading Worship Through a Major Church Crisis

It's been a while since my last post. Most of you all know what has happened at Coral Ridge, and I've personally received a lot of love, prayers, and support from so many of you. Thank you! This blog, for me, has always been a place to think out loud by wrestling thoughts to the ground, processing in real time the ins and outs of one local worship leader who is asking questions about worship and pastoring in his little corner of the globe. I've been encouraged to see that some of my thoughts have been helpful to others in their contexts. So today I turn to what will be a cathartic post. It will help me to organize the jumble of thoughts and emotions that go into trying to keep your head above water in a pastoral crisis.

I've been serving churches as a worship pastor long enough to have gone through several crises. Though none have been this large and this public, on the ground there are certain common themes that have emerged for me over and over again that I now perceive as "givens." I want to talk about these in hopes that my very immediate reflections might be of help to others. I am on the front end of this new season in our church's life, but I'm already witnessing things that, though painful and difficult, are quite predictable simply because every church is full of train-wrecked sinners like me who tend to exhibit the same types of behaviors in moments like these. So, here goes...

1. The Vacuum

Whenever there is a shakeup at "the top," it leaves a leadership hole. That vacuum tries to get filled in a bunch of ways. On the leadership side, it means that we church leaders need to rally as a team, pray and seek the Lord together, and lead strongly and visibly. In a sense, for the time being, it is our job to fill that vacuum. It means more time, more emotional energy, more prayer, more burden. This is a given.

One of the negative sides of the vacuum is that there are unhealthy ways that congregations can seek to fill it in short order. Many times, when a leader is gone, it becomes an opportunity for some to declare the things they've been holding back. These things include ministry emphases, visionary choices, but also (maybe especially) things relating to worship. This has certainly been the case for me, and based on my past experience, it won't really let up for quite some time. In fact, we're still sort of in "shock" phase, which means that as the newness wears off, people will be able to process more...which means that the best is yet to come. :)

But knowing that the vacuum always happens and will continue to cause weird things to occur is half the battle. And all this leads to the second point.

2. The church needs stability and familiarity in its worship.

In moments like these, people's concealed desires for what worship "should have been like all along" become revealed. In some cases, these desires are the worship leaders', too. (Not in my case. My senior pastor and I thankfully saw quite eye to eye on most of it.) It can be very tempting to start implementing all those desired tweaks and changes, but this is exactly the wrong time to do this. What churches need in moments of crisis is stability and familiarity in their worship. Whatever the liturgy has been, stick to it. Give them more songs that everyone knows and loves. People don't need to be raising eyebrows or tweaking their heads. They need to be crying out to God.  

3. The church needs stability and familiarity in its leadership...but not mini-Messiahs.

Every church is different, but in my context, I was one of the two faces of leadership that people were used to seeing more or less every Sunday. One of those faces is gone. Mine is the only familiar face left. It's really important that I'm there. It's really important that I'm present and undistracted. It's really important that I exhibit a non-anxious presence and display a confidence in the one and only Head of God's Church--Jesus Christ.

At the same time, I have to wrestle with very honest "Messiah complex" feelings. I am not the church's Savior. I had a moment where I started to think I was, though, when I almost cancelled my vacation plans coming up in a few weeks, feeling the burden of the fact that "the church needs me." In one sense, the church does need me. But I know my heart, and my wife knows my heart. When I started to hint at the transgression of our vacation plans, I knew that would be disaster for me (and my need for rest) and disaster for a family who needs their husband and dad. When that got some clarity, it became as simple for me as remembering that Jesus loves His church more than I do and that I'm not Coral Ridge's Messiah. Praise God for that, for my sake and the church's.

4. (1) and (2) mean that I need to find safe places off the beaten path to process my own personal pain and confusion.

Yes, I need to be a strong, stable, non-anxious leader in this time. But I still have anxiety. I still am weak. I still question my calling. Like my congregation, I'm going through my own version of the stages of grief. I need safe places to explode, to cry, to vent, to strategize, to collapse. On the one hand, it would be very "authentic" of me to do that in front of the church. But the church doesn't need that, and I actually think it would be detrimental to her health. 

But if I bottle it all up, I have no doubt that I will find myself in my own crisis in a few short weeks or months. And then I'm no good to anyone. So, I've chosen a few friends, a few safe havens. And they have been a wellspring of life for me. They have been Jesus.

5. No emotions are off limits, and we should expect (and in worship make room for) every kind. 

When churches go through crises, congregations experience the full spectrum of emotions. It brings up PTSD-like symptoms for some. Others get depressed, angry, or cynical and jaded. Some people surprise you by leaning into the church like they never did before. Others surprise you by becoming quite oppositional. Some get upset over very peculiar and specific things that happen. Others seem upset over everything. Some retreat and go into radio silence. Others are emailing, texting, calling every day.

Knowing that all emotions will come, and knowing that they are all perfectly valid ways of handling situations like these, we need to be ready for them by giving voice to them in worship. In my experience, a great place to handle this is in the church's moment of confession. I've been given to praying more extemporaneously to help give voice to some of these emotions. My prayers, privately and publicly, have sounded like this:

God, this is a very confusing time for us. We confess that we've been angry...with others and with You. We confess that we feel hurt. We confess that these moments cause us to doubt Your goodness, Your promises, Your faithfulness. We struggle at times to see the good in these moments.

We confess that some of us feel numb and cold. Some of us are finding it hard to honestly and earnestly worship You. For others of us, it's all we can cling to. We confess that we aren't the kind of people that can handle this well apart from Your grace. We're weak. Be strong for us.

As odd as it may sound, the last three weeks of worship at Coral Ridge have been sweet times of community. We're more broken open, leaning a bit more on God and a bit less on ourselves. Desperation is a remarkable catalyst for authentic, vibrant worship. And our emotions have been all over the map. I'm grateful that God has created enough of a safe culture of worship at Coral Ridge that at least some can feel free to be honest before the Lord in community. God has been faithful and good to us.

6. Care very little about what is being said "out there." Care very much about what is being felt "in here."

In all honesty, I'm paying very little attention to what's happening in the sphere of blogs and social media. So much of it is partially informed and feels distant, cold, and dispassionately clinical. It can be very distracting, though, and it can raise fears and concerns that simply don't need to be there. Through past experience, I've learned to pay attention to the flock in front of me. What are their hurts, their fears, their concerns? I don't need to answer the critics. They're not the ones God has called me to keep watch over. I need to be close to our flock, spend lots of time with them, and really listen. So I've been sending lots of emails, making lots of phone calls, and drinking way to much coffee with folks. My office has been a revolving door.

As a workaholic and a task-oriented person, I'm tempted to think that all this people time is very un-productive. (I'm not getting anything done!) I've learned, though, that such thoughts spring up more from the enemy and my own idolatrous heart than they do from any good place. My call now is to be very, very present for people that need it. I feel a bit relationally stretched thin, and I feel like some important goals are getting sidelined. But there's just a strong sense that I'm doing the right thing. So I just have to let the chips fall where they may.

7. The church needs the hope of Jesus.

Worship needs biblical lamentation, which is another way of saying that the church needs to be able to cry out "How long?" WITH HOPE. In times like this, I've found that emphasizing the following themes are important and powerful:

  • God's faithfulness generally
  • God's faithfulness specifically--His mighty deeds of the past
  • Confession & Lamentation
  • Death & Resurrection (both literally and symbolically)
  • Jesus' undying love for His Church
  • The Eschaton--the End when God will make all things new
  • The nearness of the Holy Spirit

All these things, when emphasized, become a soothing balm for the anxieties, fears, pain, anger, and sorrow of a congregation going through crisis. Thankfully, there are so many Psalms, songs, and prayers that speak right to these things, because, well, suffering seems to be one of the few givens for every human being. 

You feel it in the air of Coral Ridge right now, and I think any Gospel-oriented community would feel the same: hope abounds. This doesn't mean that everyone is feeling hopeful, but there is a kind of communal sense of hopefulness and trust when we gather. We're still smiling and laughing. And some of us are getting very energized for where God will take us as a local church in this city. 

Still, right now, we're a jumble. If you've seen Inside Out, it feels like we're in that deconstruction-reconstruction phase that characterizes most of the movie's storyline. It's an unsettling place to be, and it's a blessed place to be. I'll write more when I have something to say...and only then!


Two Diagrams That are Captivating My Imagination Right Now

I'm continuing to chip away at this book of mine. It's amazing to see the ways God is using the very chapters I'm working on to minister to specific and immediate needs in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters at Coral Ridge. I'm working on a couple of diagrams that visual learners might appreciate. (Click on the diagrams for detail.)

The "Gospel-Shaped" Emotional Journey of a Worship Service

This is a kind of "schematic" of the emotional journey a worship service can take when it is shaped according to the gospel narrative of scripture. Some people call this narrative Creation-Fall-Redemption. Others call it Gathering, Confession, Assurance. I tried for a little alliteration: (1) Glory of God; (2) Gravity of Sin; (3) Grandeur of Grace. In any regard, I think the diagram is a helpful one, but I'm trying to hone the descriptors in yellow to fill out the "emotional palette." 

The Worship Pastor's Varying Roles

This is an idea I'm working on which bring together the chapter headings of Part II of my book. The final chapter in this section is on "The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect," and the hope is to bring home all the preceding chapters to this point. I began to see some corollaries of the way some of the Worship Pastor's roles are analogous to the three offices of Christ--prophet, priest, and king. So this serves as a kind of visual guide into Part II of my book. I want to stare at it a while to see what I think about it.

I'd be curious if either of these diagrams elicit thoughts, ideas, or comments. 


How Worship is the Most Important Form of Pastoral Care

I've been working on my book, The Worship Pastor (read about it here), and I came across this fabulous quote. Keep in mind that this is a Roman Catholic writer making these observations:

For centuries, the liturgy, actively celebrated, has been the most important form of pastoral care. This was especially true of those centuries in which the liturgy was being created. Unfavourable conditions brought it about that in the late Middle Ages, in spite of the liturgy being celebrated and developed in numerous churches with great fervour and magnificence by collegiate clergy and monastic communities, a veil became drawn between the liturgy and the people, a veil through which the faithful could only dimly see what was happening at the altar. Even in all this we can still see how pastoral concern led to the development and adaptation of the liturgy.*

I can't amen this enough. I've seen, time and again, that thoughtful, passionate, and intentional worship leadership yields pastoral care for the people of God. People can tell when you're caring for them. People can feel that you love them. And people can sense when a worship service creates a context of care.

We often think of pastoral care as an individualized enterprise outside worship: counseling sessions, hospital calls, in-home visits, praying for individuals’ needs, and presiding over funerals. These are all vital, indispensible care practices of any pastor. But the Church’s history offers a different paradigm for the center, the starting place, of all pastoral care. It tells a story of pastors who see the core of their ministry to sick, hurting, wounded sheep happening in the context of leading worship. Worship is the ground zero of pastoral care. It is the place where all pastoral care rightly begins, and without it, all other forms of pastoral care lose their meaning and power.

The people who darken our doors each Sunday come bruised and battered. They are exhausted by life's demands and their failure to meet them. They are beaten up by their sin and the effects of others' sin on them. They come in desperately needing a word of relief. Our worship services need to be so much more than motivational talks and pump-you-up sessions. We need so much more than good advice and a few inspiring songs. Maybe even more to the point, our worship services need to feel less like therapy and more like a heart transplant (Ezek 36:26). Only telling the story of sin and grace can do that. 

If this is true, then one of the best ways, week in and week out, that we can care for the people of God is to give them a worship service that walks them through the story of the Gospel, giving moments to highlight the glory of God (Call & Praise), the gravity of sin (Confession), and the grandeur of grace (Absolution & Assurance). In short, the Gospel is balm for the weak and weary, and worship is where God chooses to most liberally pour out that Word in song, sermon, and sacrament.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). 

*J. A. Jungmann, Pastoral Liturgy (New York: Herder & Herder, 1962), 380.

Exciting New Projects for Coral Ridge Music

I want to share two things that we're doing with Coral Ridge Music that really light my fire. They are extensions and expressions of the way that we're trying to think pastorally about the way we write and produce music for our local church...with the hope that it will help some other churches out there, too.

A Kids' Worship EP

One of the things we felt burdened to do was to translate for kids some of the ways we're experiencing the Law and the Gospel in worship at Coral Ridge. We also want to be able to bless the young families that are a part of our community by giving them something to bump in their minivans and at home. So, we've tasked our summer interns (Scott Bajgrowicz, Dasia Canales, Caleb Koornneef, & DJ Vining) with recording a kids' EP of six songs. Some of them are simplified rewrites of previously recorded songs, like, "His Be the Victor's Name," and "Wake Up Sleeper." Others are fresh takes on some children's classics: "Jesus Loves Me" has some added verses that flesh out grace for our kids; "Father Abraham" (with a modified tune) weds some sweet covenant theology and Christological themes into a classic. Yet other songs are attempting to liturgically train our kids to experience the gospel narrative in worship, so we've written a confession song called, "I'm Sorry, God," that walks through in a simple way the "thought, word, and deed" of sin in our lives.  This is a blitz project and will be ready for our families and the broader public in the fall. Keep on the lookout for a Kickstarter campaign by our Terns! 

A "Feedback Panel" for Some New Worship Tunes

Julie Anne Vargas and I have been in the woodshed, working on new songs. I can honestly say that I've never worked so hard and put so much effort into crafting these texts and melodies. Many of these songs have been wrestled into submission. We're adding a layer, though, to the songwriting process. Tonight, we're bringing together a small swath of our congregation, along with some friends and local area worship leaders for a "Worship Night Song Panel," where we'll present these songs, talk about them, solicit feedback, and sing them together. Before we fully commit to these songs, we want to create a safe space for them to "hit" our congregation in order to see what sticks. We're anticipating that this night will give us some important insight on the traction that these songs will or will not have in our community. We'll go through six songs in a conversational, coffee house-style format and hopefully God will bless us with a rich sense of His presence among us. We want to worship our way through this experience.

These songs will travel through this process and then hopefully make it on to an EP or LP due out in February 2016.

If you all have done similar things in your churches, I'd be very curious how the process went for you...what it looked like, how successful it was, some do's and don't's you learned. Please comment!


How Singing Together Rehearses Mutual Submission

As I'm writing my book, I'm enjoying the disciplined privilege of dialoguing with old friends and mentors who sit on my shelves, reminding me of their ministry to my life. I was cracking open one relatively recent "old friend," Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology, edited by Jeremy Begbie and Steven Guthrie. I opened up Steven Guthrie's amazing chapter, "The Wisdom of Song," to discover fierce underlining. Many of the ideas I had interacted with in those pages were forgotten, and rediscovering them was like finding an old tool that I thoguht I'd lost. I'd like to share an insight from that chapter which should inspire worship leaders struggling to figure out just how their work actually pastors people. It will encourage you.

Ephesians 5:18-21 is one of those hallmark passages that we often forget when we talk about worship and being "Spirit-filled." Often times, we can get pretty narrow in what we think "Spirit-filled" worship looks like. (I address some of that in detail here.) Ephesians 5 helps us broaden that out. In teaching Greek, some professors will point out that this passage is one of those places where English translations have done a poor job in connecting the ideas of the Greek. In the original language, we have an imperative (a command), followed by a string of participles ("-ing" words) which help flesh out what that command looks like. In Greek, the command is "be filled with the Spirit," and the "how" gets described in the participles, "speaking...singing and making thanks...submitting." We can observe several things here.

First, as we probably have all experienced, speaking/singing/making music are all ways we embody being filled with the Spirit. Second (probably more surprising), submitting to one another is another one of those ways. And third, look at how closely singing and submitting are linked in this passage. Now let's sprinkle a little musical reflection on top of this and hear what Steve Guthrie has to say:

What kind of mutual submission happens in song? For one thing, singing words together involves synchronicity--staying in time with one another. The singers submit themselves to a common tempo, a common musical structure and rhythm. In addition to this, those who sing surrender to the constraints of a particular melody and harmony, a common key and tonal hierarchy. As they submit in this way they discover limits that are not oppressive; limits that do not frustrate but facilitate the participants' intention to sing. If this mutual submission entails the loss of one sort of freedom (the freedom to sing whatever notes one wants, in whatever way one chooses), it also enables freedom of another sort--the freedom to sing this tune; the freedom to be part of a chorus. ...

Even in the midst of our bickering, we all would have affirmed the wisdom of Paul's command: "submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ." With each week's opening hymns, however, we're forced to rehearse this mutual submission, and as we did, we learned how such submission is enacted in song.*

Did that blow your mind like it did mine? In singing, we "rehearse" our Spirit-filled mutual submission. That means that we, as worship leaders, are pastoring this Spirit-filled virtue into our flock when we lead them in song. Perhaps even without us knowing it, we are contributing to the positive shaping of the Body of Christ into the image of Christ by the power of the Spirit. Worship leaders, you are pastors.

*Steven R. Guthrie, "The Wisdom of Song," in Resonant Witness; Conversations Between Music and Theology, ed. Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 400-401, 407.

So...I'm writing a book

I'm very excited to announce to my readers that I've got a book coming down the pipeline. I'm joining forces with a great team of folks over at Zondervan to deliver a project that has been on my heart for quite a while.

The Back Story

For the last five years, I've been thinking long and hard about my own journey as a worship leader, and I've been thinking a lot of those thoughts out loud on this blog. I've been throwing ideas onto the wall, and in many ways, you all--my readers--have been a major help in figuring out what is truly sticking.

My own vocational journey started out as a confused, schizophrenic biography. Since my teenage years, I had sensed a strong call to pastoral ministry, and I had always thought that this call would take the shape of everything else I'd seen: preaching, teaching, visitation, leadership, weddings, funerals, etc. But, God kept on providentially shoving me down the "worship leader" road, and I kept asking Him, "So, when am I going to be able to become a pastor?" Several years ago the realization came, "I AM one, right where I am, doing just what I'm doing."

And then I started having conversations with other worship leaders who were sniffing out the same ideas in their own callings. But there was very little out there (either educationally or resource-wise) that helped us flesh out what it means for worship leaders to take seriously a pastoral call in their vocation. So we reflected together and informally learned from one another. A few years ago, I started putting those reflections down on paper and keeping a kind of "hopper" for these ideas to get dumped into. The hopper grew and grew, and I not long ago sat down to organize those tossed-in thoughts. I realized I had a pretty comprehensive outline. And, more importantly, I began to realize that God was giving me something to say that just might be helpful for some other brothers and sisters.

What the Book is About

And now I'm here. Somewhere in mid-to-late 2016, we should, Lord-willing, see a book called, The Worship Pastor hit the scene. The hope for The Worship Pastor is that it helps worship leaders flesh out just how their jobs are already a pastoral ministry and equip them to do it better. It's something that I hope both colleges/seminaries can use as an introductory resource and worship leaders can easily pick up and find a use for (that's going to be a tension I will be working hard to straddle...substantive enough for institutions, accessible enough for people without much formal training). 

Each chapter will be a vignette, a kind of metaphor for the worship leader's pastoral life. I'll tackle subjects such as the Worship Pastor as...

  • Emotional Shepherd
  • Prophetic Guardian
  • Theological Dietician
  • Caregiver
  • Mortician (yup, that's right...if my book had a soundtrack, this would be where the Scandanavian Death Metal gets played...face-melt)

I'll share a lot of stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly in my own road of worship leading, and hopefully the book will provide a lot of hope for worship leaders on all points of the journey. My desire is that The Worship Pastor might set a lot of young worship leaders on the right path. At the same time, I hope that the book might provide a renewed vision for worship leaders who have been in the trenches for quite a while and need some fresh inspiration.

Why Am I Telling You This?

So...given that the book is quite a long ways away from being in print, why in the world am I telling you about it now? First, I'm just excited. Second, I invite you to pray with and for me. You all have been such a big encouragement to me, and you're actually probably the main reason I'm writing this thing. Third, I'm going to be pouring a lot of my energies into writing, which means less time for blogging, and I wanted you to know why. The posts will continue to come, but they probably won't be as frequent.

I'm already learning how different a book project is from blogging. Each writing medium has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the exchange of ideas. Writing a book with a team of editors requires a lot more discipline and provides a lot more accountability. For those reasons, I think this will be some of my best writing and integrative thinking to date. I can't wait to see what's on the other side of all this. All in all, God has really paved the way, so I'm stepping into this new facet of my call. 

I Want Your Thoughts...RIGHT NOW

The fourth reason I'm telling you this is that your feedback has been invaluable to me over the years. It's sharpened my thinking, and many times it's redirected my heart to new and better places. So...I want your feedback.  As I write on the topic of pastoring through worship leading,

  • What topics do you hope are addressed?
  • What have YOU learned that you wish someone had told you earlier?
  • Where, in your estimation, are the pastoral blind spots for worship leaders?
  • What are things I have said in the past which have been helpful or real "aha" moments for you?
  • What are things I have said in the past which need sharpening, correction, or clarification?

And...finally...some of these topics are sensitive or too long for blog comments. So...shoot me an email, too, at I welcome your help in making this book as helpful as possible for Jesus' Church.

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