Search this site
My Book

Entries in evangelical presbyterian church (6)


A Comprehensive Collection of Short Explanations of Various Elements of Liturgy

For over five years, while Pastor of Worship & Liturgy at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver, CO, I weekly wrote "column notes" for our four-page order of worship.  These brief notes would appear in a long, narrow strip on the right side of our bulletin, and their main function was to educate our worshipers about what we were doing in worship and to inspire a more whole-hearted understanding of and participation in worship.  

Over those five years, I watched God use those worship notes to shape our doxological community.  I watched liturgical skeptics become my best allies and supporters.  I watched modern worship folks transform into lovers of tradition.  I watched traditionalists develop more generous spirits toward elements and aspects of worship that seemed foreign, devoid of meaning, or overly ritualistic.  

As a pastor, I received more feedback about the positive impact of those worship notes than I did about any other aspect of my pastoral ministry.  These worship notes are over 80 pages worth of helpful summaries of various elements of worship.  I almost found it a weekly discipline (sometimes a painful one) of distilling thought into short, understandable explanations.  

It also became a way that I was able to help the congregation grow into a full-orbed theology of worship, as the worship notes began to span out beyond the scope of merely explaining the liturgy to explaining and articulating what worship was all about.  The notes, therefore, became a place where we not only exegeted worship, but exegeted culture and our own hearts, as well.  

Over the years, the worship notes doc has become a distillation of much of what I've read and attempted to appropriate for my local context.  I kept it pretty organized, alphabetized by topic and then subsumed under larger categories.  Some of my explanations are highly specific and contextual to my theological tradition (Reformed Presbyterian), denomination (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), or city (Denver), but the notes are generally transferrable to a lot of different contexts.  Insofar as they're useful to my readership, I commend them to you.  

To make the best use of the document, I'd suggest opening it and doing keyword searches to quickly navigate...things like "Call to Worship," "Advent," "Doxology," or "Drums."  Here's just a snapshot of some of the content of the Worship Notes document:

  • Explanation of the Call to Worship
  • What does "Doxology" mean?
  • Why do we recite the Apostles' Creed?
  • Stories and explanations of hymns and modern worship songs
  • What does "liturgy" mean?
  • Why do we call it "Communion?"
  • What is a litany?
  • Why Responsive Readings link us with the worship of the ancient church
  • Why repetition in worship is not a bad thing
  • How singing hymns is like drinking theology
  • Why do we pronounce a Benediction?
  • Why preaching is important in a postmodern age
  • Is it okay to raise hands during worship?
  • How we participate in the baptism of others
  • How listening to Scripture and Sermon is an act of worship

If you want an even more hands-on taste, check out this post on the Call to Worship.  It's basically copied and pasted straight from all the worship notes on that subject I wrote over the years.

So, if the worship notes document is useful to your churches, I invite you to beg, borrow and steal.  I only ask that, when certain resources have been quoted, you provide the necessary references.



Critique Less, Sacrifice More: The Rule of Love in Worship

I recently attended my denomination’s General Assembly (the gathering of pastors and elders from every church in the country) at Hope Church in Memphis, TN.  For such a little denomination, we are quite diverse in our worship-expression.

Click to read more ...


Worship as Fasting & Prayer: Not Popular, But Powerful

Some denominations have more “organizing documents” than others.  Presbyterians often get (many times lovingly) disparaged for being a little overkill in the organization-and-documentation department.  I guess, then, that my love of my denomination’s constitutional documents, like our Book of Order, makes me “one of those.”  Our Book of Order has a very helpful section on worship, and in Chapter 4 (“The Worship of God at Other Times”), it says this:

Days of Prayer and Fasting: The Lord Jesus Christ set the example for God’s people in a time of fasting. Throughout the New Testament there is frequent indication that Christians in the early Church practiced fasting. Therefore, the Church will do well in its spiritual life if it follows this example. The Church Session should be diligent and sensitive to those times when such a special day is called for and should be eager to order such an event. Christians individually and in particular families should observe special days when fasting is practiced.

…When the Church Session calls a day of prayer and fasting, the purpose of the occasion should be announced and adequate time given in order that members may prepare themselves. It is appropriate on such occasions for services of public worship to be conducted during the day set aside. All the members under the authority of a Church Session should make diligent effort to conscientiously participate in the day set aside.1

In a class on Christian ethics, one of my most influential professors—Douglas Groothuis—urged us to re-engage the lost art of fasting.  He reminded us that our cultural setting is not conducive to denying ourselves, because it is a now-oriented, appetite-driven environment.  (By the way, this is why our brothers and sisters in Ghana engage this Christian practice with much more regularity and effectiveness.)

Fasting is one of those things that is not popular because it does not appear to be powerful.  It makes us weak and dependent—something that is not a part of the American psyche.  Fasting, furthermore, not only makes us physically uncomfortable (something that Americans aren’t used to), but spiritually uncomfortable.  Why?  Because it is often during a fast that one’s idols, so regularly and conscientiously fed, go hungry.  The idols, in turn, rise up in our hearts and cry out for feeding, attention, and worship.  When this happens, our spirits become restless.

But here’s why fasting IS powerful. 

1)     Christ’s example shows us that fasting fills us with power (when connected to Christ, the source of that power).  Luke 4 records Jesus’ forty-day fast: “He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (v 2).  Then, the devil appeared and tempted Him three times.  Jesus did not succumb, and the text implies that Jesus’ victory was not due to the mere fact that He was fully God, but that, in His humanity He relied on the Father for strength because His fasting had made Him utterly weak.  Christ, the man, had the power to withstand temptation because He fasted.

2)     One of the hallmarks of Christianity is that things that seem foolish to us end up being very, very wise.  1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  God’s wisdom confounds ours.  This should be very instructive when we’re tempted to think that fasting is a weak, empty enterprise.

3)     God chooses to unleash His power through weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9 records God saying to Paul and to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  There is actually an obvious logic here.  If God is using His power through someone, it would be most apparent that it is God’s power when that someone is noticeably weak and powerless.  If God is using His power through a powerful figure, one could mistake that power as being from the person.  But if someone is obviously weak, then such power can only be attributed to the work of God.  It is backward thinking to us, but because fasting puts us in a position of physical and spiritual weakness, we become a more fitting conduit of the raw, unquestionable power of God.  Wow.

At the start of the year, our church session (our leadership team of elders) chose to heed the wise admonition of our Book of Order and call for a time of prayer and fasting.  This past Sunday, we had a special service of prayer and Communion, concluding with that call for people to fast.  We left the duration and type of fasting up to the discretion of the individual.

Here’s what I’m discovering this week.  By fasting and praying together as a church, we’ve extended our corporate worship out past Sunday.  We’ve all taken the practice home with us, but we are still engaging it as a community.  Here’s what I wait for in hopeful anticipation of the result of this period:

  • ·   A more vibrant worship service this coming Sunday morning—people more fully engaged in mind, heart, and spirit.
  • ·   A more evident hunger for the Word of God when it is preached.  (I’m preaching this Sunday, so my antennae will be up.)
  • ·   Some “breakthrough” wisdom from godly elders and congregants about how our church can fulfill our vision and mission in the near and far future.
  • ·   Some restored relationships within families and within our church family.
  • ·   Physical, psychological, and spiritual healing of individuals in our congregation.

Why do I wait in faith for this?  Because, by fasting, our church has chosen to open a box full of pulsating power (one that we haven’t opened in a while), and I can’t imagine that when that power is unleashed among us that it will do nothing.  I look forward to rejoicing when the stories come in.



1Evangelical Presbyterian Church, “Book of Worship,” in Book of Order (Livonia: Office of the General Assembly, 1987), §4-2


On Technology, In-Ears, and Personal Sacrifice for the Sake of the Congregation

My friend Mark will be contributing his mad electric guitar skills to our band this Friday night for Ascent GA, a fusion of modern worship and rich liturgical elements.  We had our dress rehearsal last Saturday, and it was Mark's first experience with in-ear monitors.  The listening transition is always a shock.  

I can always count on Mark to think deeply and reflect biblically on every aspect of life.  It's something I admire about him.  Sure enough, Mark has given some valuable reflections on the interplay of technology, music-making, and faith.  

To summarize his conclusion: The in-ear experience is less than ideal for true musical ensemble, but, in a reverberant space like ours, it becomes a joyful sacrifice of the leader for the sake of the people.

Mark ends his post with this beautiful prayer:

My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you.
My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you.

St. Nicholas of Flüe

Read Mark's full post.


Indelible Grace Finally Gaining Legitimacy in the PCA

Indelible Grace (the pioneer of the hymns movement) is leading a hymnsing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  This is exciting!  (The artist list is pretty hot, too.)  What is being undersold about this event is that it's connected with a larger event--the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  This is significant.

I was involved with the PCA for 5 years, gaining some important ministry chops at a church plant here in Denver, interacting with the other elders in our region (the Presbytery) as I came under care and pursued a pastoral internship.  I'm now in the EPC, so I'm an outsider looking in (my perspective may be off).  I haven't spoken to Kevin Twit or Matthew Smith (Indelible Grace guys) about this lately, but a conversation we had a few years ago in Nashville gave me the impression that Indelible Grace, to my surprise, was still trying to gain a sense of legitimacy among the old-liners in the very denomination that birthed the movement. 

Because I was involved in a PCA church plant, and because the other PCA churches I was connected with nationally were generally other church plants, "Indelible Grace" was a byword for everything that we wanted our worship to be all about--theological depth, historical-rootedness, cultural-connectedness, gospel-centeredness, old hymns to new music, etc.  But the new church plants do not summarize the ethos of the denomination.  My conversation with Twit and Smith revealed that there were still traditionalists purists who did not care for or even opposed the enterprise of setting old hymns to new music. (This is surprising, because, as I discussed in a previous post, Indelible Grace and those in the hymns movement, are actually MORE true to the practice of historical church music than those who are pure traditionalists.)

So now we find ourselves at the place where Indelible Grace is headlining a major event at the PCA GA.  Even more, the GA's theme is "Love, Sing, Wonder," taken from John Newton's hymn, which has been one of Indelible Grace's more popular hymn re-sets. 

I thank God that the PCA is placing Indelible Grace in a prominent position.  Indelible Grace deserves it.  They've carved a new path that has had considerable grass roots, underground influence on mainstream evangelical worship.  I would very much consider my own passions and desires for the broader church's worship (having come out of a more mainstream evangelical setting growing up) shaped and influenced by IG.  Despite continued traditionalist objections, IG is doing traditional worship a huge favor, and hopefully there will be more of a coming together of traditionalists and those who are comfortable with modern musical styles, because what they DO share is the most important thing--a commitment to biblically rooted, historically informed congregational songs.


urban philosophy goes out the window

So I'm sitting here at General Assembly (our denomination's national meeting...our largest gathering of churches), and I've chosen to sing in the ad hoc choir gathered to help lead worship.  The thematic focus of GA this year is urban ministry...God's love for the city, justice, etc.  I've met a wonderful worship pastor, Russell Thompson, who leads music at City of Refuge Church in Houston, TX.  He's directing our choir, and doing a fabulous job guiding us in God-honoring, modern black gospel style worship (think Israel Houghton).  The dude has a fabulous voice and is a humble, more-than-able worship leader.  I hope he and I stay connected over the years.  I need his gifts and perspective informing me, my calling, and context. I'm an analytical person, so even as I participate and dive in head first to rousing gospel singing, American Idol-style vocal licks, and pop-style, straight toned, belty singing, I'm sifting all of this through my worship philosophy grid. My findings (and I'm broad-brushing gospel-style worship based on this and a few other similar there will be some holes): Positive Feedback

  • the music of the modern black gospel genre is more sophisticated than typical mainstream modern evangelical pop/rock worship--melodic and harmonic structures are more complex (more chord inversions, more quick passing chords, more added tones to chords, expansion beyond major and minor into half-diminished and diminished chords, trills and grace notes built into the main melody)
  • the rhythm of the genre requires a greater skill level than typical mainstream evangelical pop/rock worship--I've played with enough pianists to know that to do what the pianist did today requires a totally different skill-set from typical pop or classical training
  • the expression is unabashed..."worship with abandon"
Constructive Criticism (through my grid)
  • you complain about 7-11 songs...these are more like 70-111 songs
  • many classically oriented singers will find these songs not just temporarily unsingable (until they learn them), but permanently unsingable (the syncopation is too perpetual, too demanding; the vocal style is too free, not dictated enough)
  • the theology is very simple (I prefer to use "simple" rather than "shallow," though I know some of my cohorts would call it that)--it's gospel-based, experience-based, immediate, not terribly profound
  • strong committal, triumphalistic texts ("I can do this, I will do [such and such a righteous act], I'm going to live [in such and such a pious way]"; this is the very notion I criticized in verse two of "Mighty to Save" [read about it])
So here's the issue.  Why is it that I am strangely ambivalent about my constructive criticisms in this instance?  Why is it that I feel my worship grid doesn't (and shouldn't) apply here?  Why is my philosophy going out the window? All I can think is that there's a liberality of God's Spirit based on context.  I have to think that if I came into City of Refuge Church in Houston and led a worship service transplanted directly from my suburban Denver church, the people would not engage with God but feel quite hindered in their worship of Him.  I may be leading out of my philosophical ideals (and some would applaud me for such "integrity"), but I'm losing the people.  Now (the voice of the idealist pops up), should we be people-driven?  Of course not.  Worship is God-centered and God-directed (that's the center of my Philosophy Statement).  But I also spent a good portion of my previous position in a church leading worship almost totally out of my ideals, and the result was a decaying of the general spirit of worship (an observable "hardening" among some) and a pharisaical attitude about worship among our worshiping community (this wasn't total, but I witnessed it as a growing force).  The lesson I learned there was that a good worship leader stands in that gray area between ideals and reality.  I'm sure that has something to do with a little thing called original sin and its effects on both the world/society globally and the person individually. I don't think everyone's going to agree with me on this.  But if you're going to be totally on the ideals-driven side, I wonder if you've had a consistent worship-leading position in a church. If so, I wonder how long.  I also wonder what the overall aura, "vibe," or spirit is of your worshiping community. But my reflection here is really unfinished, because it seems odd to me (it itches) that I'm comfortable throwing out (really, ignoring) some of my ideals so readily when worship happens in the urban context.  However, though I'm relatively young, I've been around the block and talked to enough wise people to have realized that unresolved tension is that place where truth abides.  Hmm....

Click to read more ...