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Entries in glenn packiam (5)


Thoughtful Responses to All the Modern Worship Bashing

In various spheres of the online worship conversation, a few posts (like this one and this one) have been circulating and dominating many of our social media feeds. They offer a strong (and not completely unwarranted) critique of "contemporary worship" and "megachurch worship." Their sharply critical posture, along with their provocative titles, is certainly what has attracted so many people to click, read, interact, and share. Several people have asked what I think about it all. The short answer is that I think about these kinds of posts similarly to how I have reviewed T. David Gordon's Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: These posts are unhelpful in actually moving the church in a positive direction, not because some of their arguments aren't worth pondering but because they caricature what they critique and, in doing so, foster a spirit that actually makes fruitful dialogue harder. In my opinion, contemporary/modern/megachurch worship (whatever label you wish to use) is simply not homogenous enough to successfully analyze it in the way these writers have analyzed it. I'm not saying that making generalizations is bad, and I'm certainly not saying that today's worship landscape doesn't need an awful lot of prophetic critique. 

Thankfully, there are a few responses out there that I think do a far better job analyzing the issues at hand and offering ways forward, and that's the reason for this post. I would love to point you to them. The first is Glenn Packiam's "What You (Probably) Don't Know About Modern Worship." Glenn's is more strictly a critique of the critique. Here's a choice paragraph:

If one wants to prove the shallowness of modern worship, examples abound; but if you want to really understand and assess the subject, you need a more careful eye. And you must account for an insider perspective. What matters is not simply what the outside observer/blogger/professor thinks is going on; what matters is also what the pastor or worship leader says is going on, and what the worshipper is experiencing. (The latter is known as phenomenological perspective— the way people describe their experience of a thing.) If all we get are theoretical assessments from afar, we will evaluate modern worship without knowing if we are actually evaluating modern worship or our impression of it— which is almost always a caricature.

The second post is Mike Cosper's "Kill Your (Celebrity Culture) Worship." Mike (I think successfully) reframes the discussion around more core issues. Here is his summary:

In our day, we should be suspicious of the overhyped promises of megachurch worship, but we should also be suspicious of overhyped laments for “the good ol’ days.” What’s truly needed today is what was needed in every age: liturgical renewal—faithful pastors leading in worship that is faithful to the gospel, comprehensible to the congregation, and formative of the soul. 

Please read those posts! 


Listening to the Charismatic Tradition

If you're a worship leader engaging in any way with the mainstream of the music of modern worship today, you are interacting with and encountering charismatic Christianity in some way, shape, or form. Lately, God has led me into a season of earnest listening to the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions (many understandably lump the two together, but the more I hear from them, the more I understand their distinctives). God has placed some pretty amazing friends and worship leaders in my life who are committed, Jesus-loving, Spirit-seeking charismatic brothers and sisters. We hang out, do lunch, talk shop, swap stories, and encourage one another.

The Reformed, liturgical, and evangelical tribes I tend to most regularly hover in are often critical and suspicious of Pentecostal and charismatic worship thought and practice. And though I share some of these concerns, I find that folks in my traditions can be quite knee-jerk, broad brushed, and under-informed. Our criticisms (as is often the case in any polemic) are caricatures based on either (a) second- or third-hand information, or (b) the worst representations of the traditions.

In the spirit of one of my new heroes, Chuck Fromm, head of Worship Leader Media, I've been trying to listen and converse more widely than my tradition often goes. Some might call it selling out. I just call it loving the Church. And in my desire to listen well, I've tried to hear from the different types of voices: theologians, authors, speakers, musicians, worship leaders, worshipers. The net effect has been hugely edifying. So, with just a little commentary, I'm happy to disclose to you some of the things I'm listening to, reading, and learning.

(I will encourage you, though, with one thing. As worship leaders and pastors, we should cast our social and theological nets wider than our immediate circles. Read widely, and, even better, socialize widely. Nothing beats actually conversing and building relationships with people outside your folds. From personal experience, I can testify that it's just incredibly healthy. It also allows you to go back to your circles and better sniff out the Pharisaism, especially the self-righteousness in your own heart. Lord, have mercy.)

Worship leaders and thinker-practitioners:

Glenn Packiam, Pastor of New Life Downtown (Colorado Springs, CO), is one of my favorite charismatic dudes out there because he is exploring how the heart of charismatic worship (particularly in terms of the charismatic emphasis on "encounter" [see Pete Ward below]) intersects with the liturgical tradition. He just wrote a paper on worship and emotions that I can't wait to tell everyone about whenever he makes it public. Great, integrative insights. Everyone should check out his blog. He most recently wrote an excellent booklet called Re-Forming Worship: A Futurology of Congregational Music for the Non-Denominational Church.

Andrew Ehrenzeller, a South Floridian Jesus Culture artist, has become a valuable conversation partner. He introduced me to Ray Hughes (see below), and I find in him a zeal and earnestness that makes me want to be a better worship leader. He and I have had some very meaningful conversations about spiritually interpreting the indigenous musical styles of cities and regions to hear how God is already at work in them to sow the seeds of the gospel. Deep stuff. Check out his beautiful, creative, Peter Gabriel-ish album, Children of Promise.

Justin Jarvis, another South Floridian connected with Jesus Culture is a guy I respect and admire. I've had a few great, inspiring conversations with him, and I've interacted with his latest album, Atmospheres, HERE.


This was brand new for me and highly insightful. Pentecostal teacher Ray Hughes, whose ministry has evidently had not a small impact on many influential new charismatic movements (like Bethel and Jesus Culture), makes some fascinating connections between Old Testament worship, spiritual forces, music history, science, and ethnomusicology. For many, Hughes seems like he's really "out there" in moments, and some will find him hard to follow. His speaking style is organized but feels a bit stream-of-consciousness. I recommend his Minstrel Series at least to open up your senses a bit. 

One recurring itch for me, though, is how little the Gospel of Jesus is talked about. To me it gives credence to one outsider's observation that some corners of the charismatic tradition can feel like they're "pole-vaulting over Calvary to get to Pentecost."*


The Spirit in Worship - Worship in the Spirit, ed. Teresa Berger, Bryan D. Spinks

I particularly found the chapter, "The Spirit in Contemporary Charismatic Worship," a helpful history of and view into the later charismatic movements in the UK.

Simon Chan's chapter was a great featuring of how Nicene Christianity has always seen a close connection between pneumatology and ecclesiology...the relationship of Spirit to Church. I felt like there was some caricaturing of Western Christianity, though.


Pete Ward, Selling Worship

I had passed by this book many times in years past, because, based solely on the title, it looked like just another critique of worship's consumerist tendencies. Boy was I wrong. Glenn Packiam turned me onto this gem of historical analysis. I've spent the most time digesting one of the final chapters on "encounter," which gave me important insights into one of the hallmark distinctives of charismatic worship music.


Don Williams, "Charismatic Worship," in Exploring the Worship Spectrum, ed. Paul Basden

This Presbyterian-turned-Vineyard pastor helpfully and generously articulates the charismatic perspective. I think his vantage point as a former Presbyterian was helpful for folks like me reading his insights. He knew that there would be some concerns, and he addressed them.



*Paul Zahl, "A Liturgical Worship Response," in Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views, ed. Paul Basden, 154.

Addressing Blind Spots for Non-Denominational Worship Leaders

As the years go by, I become more grateful for the journey and leadership of modern worship leader and pastor, Glenn Packiam.  God has planted him in the non-denominational, Pentecostal tradition and has given him a voice, along with a gift for writing both songs and prose.  He’s an Integrity recording artist with some great albums out there.  In fact, I think his latest album, The Mystery of Faith, is his best yet and is a testament to his most recent reflections on the blind spots that often befall modern worship.  (Check out my review of his album here.)

I’ve reflected many times on this blog how I see modern worship moving in a positive direction, with their increasing embrace of biblical depth, theological reflection, historical awareness, and liturgical appreciation.  You see it in the songwriting of most of the major heavy-hitting modern worship recording artists (Tomlin, Redman, Passion, Hillsong, etc.). 

Upon reading Glenn Packiam’s recent post and then his paper, “The Futurology of Congregational Music,” that he will present in a few days at Ripon College in Oxford, I’m even more encouraged that inroads are being made toward the non-denominational movement being more rooted in the broad, beautiful, and biblical tradition of historic Christian worship.

In his essay, Packiam writes:

Musical styles arguably function much like a language. Just as Bible translators like Wycliffe and Tyndale gave their lives for churches to be able to read Scripture in the vernacular, the move to “translate” worship into the language of a culture is right and good... But is translation all that has occurred? Did the modern worship movement simply trade pipe organs for electric guitars? Or has the very shape of corporate worship been changed and new forms been adopted? There is an implicit claim within the modern worship movement and the church growth movement with whom it is closely associated: forms and practices are neutral and therefore interchangeable.*

Packiam goes on to critique this implicit claim, largely through the lens and leadership of James K. A. Smith, who has received a lot of press on this blog, encouraging his readers that the form of worship is not neutral and has a shaping power. In the wake of the considerable impact of Smith's Desiring the Kingdom (2009) and Imagining the Kingdom (2013), what Packiam is saying is not new.  But what is new and intriguing (and encouraging) is that Packiam is saying it as a non-denominational worship leader TO non-denominational worship leaders. Packiam is challenging the unchecked hyper-pragmatism that we evangelicals are all too guilty of and non-denominational churches are particularly susceptible to.  

"Win the lost at any cost" sounds like the right thing. It sounds biblical. After all, didn't Jesus give it all on the cross? Didn't He leave the ninety-nine to go after the one? Indeed, He did. But it is a HUGE leap to say that method, form, and practice are 100% up for grabs, so long as the "content" is there. What Packiam is saying, and certainly what Smith has been saying, is that there is very real and formative content in the methods, forms, and practices of worship that we need to be paying attention to.

So what is Packiam's solution? Ironically, for a non-denominational, free-church leader, it's a return to the historic Christian liturgical structure fused into a modern worship service. Fascinating. Packiam's essay is $0.99, available on Amazon in Kindle format here.  It's well worth the read.  If you know worship leaders in the non-denominational sphere, I'd encourage you to pass this little gem along.

*Glenn Packiam, "Re-Forming Worship: A Futurology of Congregational Music for the Non-Denominational Church," self-pubished, 2013.

Glenn Packiam's The Mystery of Faith - Another Testament to Modern Worship's Increasing Embrace of Liturgy

Pentecostalism Meets Historic Liturgy

Several years ago, while still in Colorado, my wife, kids, and I stopped by New Life Church in Colorado Springs one Sunday evening to worship with the saints there.  Glenn Packiam was pastoring the community of Christians what would regularly gather in one of their smaller spaces on the megachurch campus.  I was taken aback by how much historic liturgy and practices were incoprorated into that service, especially when it was coming out of a church strongly seated in the Pentecostal tradition and well-known for their contemporary/modern worship output with New Life Worship and Desperation Band.  I posted about the experience here.

Since then, Packiam has taken a New Life congregation to downtown Colorado Springs, and it appears that they've even more deeply embraced the historic Christian worship tradition, because Packiam's latest album, The Mystery of Faithis loaded--absolutely loaded--with rich, ancient liturgy.

The Album is a Worship Service

The album, especially the first eight tracks, loosely follows an historic Christian liturgy:

  • Call to Worship
    • "Victorious God"
  • Creed / Statement of Faith / Preparation for Confession
    • "For the Life of the World"
    • Nicene Creed
    • "Grace flows Freely Down"
  • Confession of Sin / Assurance of Pardon
    • Prayer of Confession
    • "We Confess" (which ends in an assurance)
  • Preparation for Communion / Eucharist
    • "The Lord Be With You"
  • Communion / Eucharistic Affirmation
    • "The Mystery of Faith"

You could literally run this album from top to bottom and suddenly be immersed in a trans-denominational, historic Christian liturgy, all set to modern, singable melodies and arrangements.  Needless to say, I love it.  Let's just briefly unpack what's happening in this album and why it's so significant.  But just know that these are my observations and may not necessarily reflect Packiam's intent in all places.

Dissecting the Liturgy of the Album

"Victorious God" celebrates Christ's kingship and resurrection, inviting heaven and earth to join as one in worship.  It's a beautiful Call to Worship, distilling the worship theology present in Revelation 4 and 5:

O sing, you heavenly choir,
Come on, Church, lift your voices higher
Look what our God has done

 "For the Life of the World" immediately makes me wonder whether Packiam has been reading Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann's work by that title.  Regardless, its loaded with Nicene allusion:

For us and for our salvation
You came from heaven to earth

That this connection to the historic Creed of Nicea is intentional is obvious from the fact that following the song is a beautiful recitation of the Creed, with many voices leading the proclamation of our faith. What this does is effectively ground a worship service in the objective person and work of Christ, not our subjective feelings.  This is nearly the opposite of what sometimes characterizes modern worship (songs which reflect how I feel about God, without adequate grounding in the gospel).

(Interesting sidenote: Packiam chooses to leave out what is called the "filioque clause," the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son [filioque].  This isn't a small matter. In fact, it's at the center of the division between the Eastern and Western Church.  Perhaps Packiam sides with the Eastern church [leaving out the filioque clause] simply because it's more historic/original as a rendering of the Nicene Creed, but it might also be that Packiam is planting a theological flag in the sand.  The issue sounds a little silly at first, but there are important implications for Trinitarian theology in the debate.) 

The Prayer of Confession is straight from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, followed by a song, "We Confess," that basically versifies the original language of the confession and then adds an Assurance of Pardon in a beautiful musical and melodic climax, moving from minor to major tonality:

As far as the east is from the west
So far have I removed your sinfulness
I carried your guilt and shame upon Myself
You are forgiven, forgiven 

The song then ends with an incomplete cadence, on the V chord, leading climactically (as if to say, "It's not complete yet") into what follows, "The Lord Be with You."  Those familiar with historic Christian liturgy know this as the Sursum Corda, that classic congregational response that prepares the people for Holy Communion:

Leader: The Lord be with you
People: And also with you
Leader: Lift up your hearts now
People: We lift them to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our saving God
It is right and good
Always and everywhere
To give thanks to the Lord 

 It then moves into the next stage in the historic Christian liturgy, the Sanctus:

Holy, holy, holy
God of power and might
The whole earth is full of Your glory
Hosanna in the highest

The final song in the liturgy-section of the album is "The Mystery of Faith," which is a beautiful, historic proclamation that summarizes what is known across liturgical traditions as the "Memorial Acclamation": 

Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
This is the mystery of faith that we proclaim 

Why this Album is Important

What I love about what is transpiring in this album is that Packiam is attempting to honor the Great Tradition while seeking to contextualize its expression to his local body.  Would to God that we had more thoughtful pastors and worship leaders who truly grappled with the reality of being a Church rooted in history yet planted in a particular time and context.  Many times, this double-call of the local church creates a tension that feels too intense, and we run to one side or the other--shirking tradition, or running from all things that smell like the culture.  The Mystery of Faith is a testament to one pastor's journey in boldly standing in that tension, refusing to let go of the rope yanking from either side.  No doubt, this means that Packiam will receive criticisms from both sides, but I salute the work and am inspired by its model for my own church and context.

Taking one further step back, know that this album comes from a fairly mainstream worship artist/leader and on a definitively mainstream worship label--Integrity.  It may very well be a drop in the modern worship bucket, but it still signifies that a tiny tributary is routing off the main river, and that tributary is pouring into some fabulous territory.  Something's happening.



Megachurch in Town Goes Liturgical

I have the privilege of working with a church that grants me study leave.  Our church is one of those visionary places that recognizes when its leaders are given (sanctioned) opportunity to unplug, reflect, read, and process, we’re better at what we do.  I naturally gravitate toward introverted, cerebral activities, so I purposefully plan aspects of study leave to be connecting with others in my field and learning from them.

This past week, I went down to visit some new friends at New Life Church down in Colorado Springs.  They’re a non-denominational evangelical church with a charismatic-style history. They are a megachurch that is doing a lot of good; they’re using their “mega”-blessings wisely, in my opinion.  They’ve been in the news for different things—a pastoral controversy a few years ago (we pastors need God’s grace, too!), and an infamous shooting more recent than that (please continue to pray for healing).  Still, for all the bad press, they remain a faithful body, committed to God and to prayer (their commitment to prayer blows me away, actually).  I also appreciate one other thing about them: from the oldest to youngest, New Life is committed to corporate worship.  Thank God for my brothers and sisters down at New Life.

My intention for going down there was to soak in their version of modern worship, hopefully to learn a few things that might translate into our context up here in Denver.  I met with worship leader, Aaron Wagner of The Mill (New Life’s Friday night young adult community / worship gathering).  Aaron was extremely generous with his time, easy to talk to, and exhibited a wisdom beyond his age.  Aaron clued me into a new thing going on at New Life that I jumped on—a Sunday night service that’s more “liturgical.”  What?!?

Anyone who knows New Life looks to them as the bastion of all things contemporary.  One of their church’s bands (the Desperation Band) is signed with Integrity’s Hosanna! and several of their worship leaders regularly speak at contemporary/modern worship conferences all across the nation.  So, as someone who has fallen in love with ancient liturgy and has continued to wed it with modern worship for years now, I was intrigued. 

Greeted by a rainy early Sunday evening, my family and I stepped into the service eager to worship God alongside our brothers and sisters at New Life.  The service’s origins seem to be from the heart of pastor Glenn Packiam (a Desperation Band original member and a great thinker and articulate communicator), its main planner, overseer and pastor.  We stepped into “the Tent”—a smaller worship center—and were greeted with the familiar sights and sounds of modern worship.  A blacked-out, largely circular room, sophisticated lighting coupled with a gentle use of haze (I personally like haze, as I think it can, for the modern person, create a visual sense of simultaneous transcendence and immanence…I know some people think it’s overly “rock show,” but I think there’s liturgical value for those open).  The room was oriented as a semicircle of seats around a stage that was elevated about 4-5 feet high.  It was dark and comfortable, and it was obvious that the people present were there to worship.  The band was pretty typical—male bass player / lead singer (a bit unique), female vocalist, electric guitar, keyboard, drums.  In short, the venue was outfitted with all the best bells and whistles of modern worship.  Below is the service, coupled with some reflections (I’m doing this from memory, so there may be some flaws):

Opening Songs

  • Blessed Be Your Name, along with several other great New Life Songs by Jared Anderson and Glenn Packiam


  • A well-articulated statement of purpose, some community-related announcements, and some great pastoral encouragement about worship from Glenn.


  • A few more songs, typical in this setting, moving us from “praise” to “worship.”  There was a great Reuben Morgan song in there whose title escapes me.

Confession of Sin

  • Straight from the Book of Common Prayer (!), Glenn led the people in reading this beautiful confession, the words projected on the front screen.  Glenn did a good job explaining to a group of people, whose charismatic heritage leans them toward feeling that pre-written prayers may be artificial and potentially “devoid of the Spirit,” the value of praying other people’s words—citing Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament evidence.

Words of Encouragement and Preparation

  • Glenn prepared hearts to enter in a time of communion, which they celebrate every week in this service!  Coming off the heels of having taught a 16th Century Christian Thought class on worship in the 16th century, this is rather remarkable.  (But maybe this shouldn’t be, given that the charismatic family tree goes: charismatic/Pentecostal>Holiness>Methodist>Anglican [though many charismatics don’t know that they have Anglican roots!].)  Glenn also called communion a “sacrament” and articulated a simple, Protestant perspective about it being a means of grace.  He offered a great phrase, roughly quoted: “A sacrament means that here we actually receive help from God in a special way.”  I like that.  But again, for a non-denominational evangelical church to call the Lord's Supper a “sacrament” is pretty extraordinary.  Glenn invited us to the front or back of the room, where stations were set up with larger plastic cups (rather than the dinky, anti-festal ones most of us use) and baskets of previously-broken bread.  He encouraged people to share a cup with about four people.  For germophobes, this is a nightmare, but for people like me who LOVE teasing out the symbolism and import of the Eucharist, it was bliss (and I’m glad someone out there has the guts to fly in the face of our overly germ-conscious culture for the sake of a beautiful communal act).  One thing was absent from Glenn’s preparation.  There were no words of institution.  I don’t believe words of institution are a necessity, but they certainly are a rich part of the church’s tradition, dating back before the Reformation, and they provide great biblical context and thought to the Meal. 


  • With music playing, people spread out in the room to the various stations.  Interestingly, there was no one administering communion at the stations.  The elements were just set out for people to take.  Again, I don’t think this is a necessity, but having people administer the sacrament provides personal continuity as a powerful symbol of how the Last Supper was distributed (i.e. from Jesus to His church, person-by-person).  Also, in many traditions, it helps church leaders to faithfully administer communion under the warnings of 1 Corinthians, so that the elements are distributed to recipients ready to receive it. 

The Lord’s Prayer

  • Even a lot of more traditionally liturgical churches don’t recite the Lord’s Prayer as a part of communion, but this practice is quite ancient, and it was great to see it used here.  Again, the words were on the screen.  It was a slightly modernized version, with the most notable phrase being:

And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Scripture Readings

  • A lengthy Old Testament reading, and then a lengthy New Testament reading, both ending with:

Leader: The Word of the Lord

People: Thanks be to God.

It’s a no-brainer in many liturgical churches to have an Old Testament and New Testament lesson.  However, for modern evangelical churches to do it, especially nowadays, is out of the ordinary.  My colleague, Don Sweeting, and I have tossed lamentation back and forth that the Scriptures are shockingly vacant from many modern evangelical services.  This is historically ironic, because evangelicalism is rooted in the Protestant Reformation, which worked so hard to bring the Scriptures back into more prominence in worship.  It’s exciting to not only see this shift happening at New Life, but to see it coupled with the liturgical response that helps jolt us low-churchers into a remembrance that the Scriptures are a precious gift of grace from God.


  • To provide continuity with Sunday morning (without overly taxing the pastor, which I appreciate!), they replay the Sunday morning’s sermon on video.  The down-side to this is that the preacher cannot personally engage with listeners.  The other down-side is that in an overly “screened” culture, which has moved us from being text-based to image-based, it’s good to do some gentle cultural combat here, given that our faith is rooted in a text (the Bible).  The more illiterate and image-driven we become as a culture, the less easy it is for people to imbibe longer passages of Scriptural text. 

At this point, my family and I had to leave to get back to Denver, but what follows according to Packiam's blog post was some sermon-discussion with the people gathered...pretty extraordinary that some really personal community-time like this is able to take place!  Then there were announcements and dismissal.  Somewhere woven in (I can't quite remember) was an offering, but its usual spot seems to be after the sermon.

Overall, I’m excited to see more and more churches grabbing on to the beauty and depth of historic liturgy.  I think New Life is a great example to how contemporary churches can tastefully and meaningfully incorporate ancient liturgy into a modern worship service without sacrificing the core of modern worship sensibilities (blocks of songs, flow, modern ambience, etc.).  I sense, among young and old, a growing hunger for liturgical roots like this.  I’ll leave it to another post to process the “why’s” of THAT!

I hope I get a chance to meet Glenn Packiam in the near future and pick his brain about the conversational and visionary origins that led to a service like this in a place like this.  In the meantime, I'll continue to note the growing number of Christian worshipers who are re-engaging old liturgy and old hymns in new ways.  It's hard for us to see it, but we're in the midst of a new (and better) dawn in evangelical worship.