Table Manners

We are to discern the Lord’s body in one another. When the Lord’s Supper is being served, we should sit up straight, and look around the congregation, eyes open, up and down our row. It is true that we are to examine ourselves, but we are to do so in relation to one another. We must not curl up in a little ball, close our eyes, and try to establish a private, spiritual moment with Jesus.

—Douglas Wilson, A Primer on Worship and Reformation, 57

Priests of Creation

What, then, are we to say about our own place within this design? We begin by recalling the frequent declaration of the Psalmists that creation, in a myriad of ways, is endlessly praising its Creator. In all its colour, movement, subtlety, richness, diversity and splendour, it brings glory to God: ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.’ (Ps. 19:1) Our calling, I would suggest, is to articulate and extend that praise in ever fresh ways, to be ‘priests of creation’. In humankind, creation finds a voice; to use George Herbert’s word, each of us is invited to be a ‘secretary’ of praise. Through the human creature, the inarticulate (though never silent) creation becomes articulate.

—Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise, 177

The First and Last Word

The hymns of Israel stand in service of the central theological claim of the Old Testament, that the Lord of Israel alone is God and requires the full devotion of all creation. The expression of praise was the glorification and enjoyment of God, the true measure of piety and the proper purpose of every creature. So for Israel the first and last word of faith was “Hallelujah!”

—Patrick D. Miller, Jr., “‘Enthroned on the Praise of Israel’: The Praise of God in OT Theology,” Interpretation 39 (’85):19

Make It Clear

One of the more humbling times in worship leading is finding out that all of the thematic thoughts I had while planning the service didn’t really get communicated to the people I’m serving in our gathering. My careful song placement or artfully placed thematic items didn’t even get noticed.

What I have grown to realize is that plain explanations and clear leadership are a much greater blessing to the congregation than veiled themes. When it comes to worship gatherings, we shouldn’t think that our artistic or thematic nuances will have the same impact as will clear explanation of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

—Daniel Renstrom, “Stop Saying the Same Old Thing”

A Place for Music, and Music in Its Place

I’ve been amazed since becoming an elder in a local church just how dependent many Christians are on a certain style of music, or certain level of excellence in music. How many times have you heard someone say, for example, “I just can’t worship in that church.”? Or “I just don’t feel like I’m connecting with God there.”

Of course there can be a lot going on there, but I think that many times if you press in on statements like that, what you find behind it all is not very far removed from “I don’t like the music there.” People don’t put it that starkly, mainly because if you do it sounds silly. But I think that’s a lot of what people mean when they say, “I can’t worship there.”

I am really afraid that we’ve managed to create a generation of anemic Christians who are spiritually dependent on excellent music. Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling“close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.

I’m being facetious with the title of this article and the call for a moratorium on music, of course. The Bible tells us to sing. God gave us music precisely because it affects our hearts and emotion, and that is a good thing. But every good thing can be and will be misused by sinful humans. My sense is that “excellent music” has become something of an idol.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that it would do every Christian well to do some honest heart-searching about what makes them feel “close to God.” Can you feel close to God just by reading or saying the words, “In Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”? Would you be able to function in a church that’s great in every way except the music? If not, you probably need to give some thought to whether your spiritual life is dependent on something it should not be dependent on.

—Greg Gilbert, “Against Music” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/against-music

Theology and Doxology

The purpose of the theologian is to serve the church so that the people of God worship Him more faithfully.

Theology is by definition not an ivory tower discipline. It is not merely a form of academic discourse. When rightly conducted, theology is the conversation of the people of God seeking to understand the Lord whom we worship and how He wills to be worshiped.

—Albert Mohler, “The Whole Earth Is Full of his Glory: The Recovery of Authentic Worship, Part One” http://www.almohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2006-02-06

Right Worship

God is jealous for His own honor and He rightly seeks His own honor. He says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5) and “My glory I will not give to another”  (Is. 48:11).  Something within us should tremble and rejoice at this fact. We should tremble with fear lest we rob God’s glory from Him. And we should rejoice that it is right that God seek His own honor and be jealous for His own honor, for He, infinitely more than anything He has made, is worthy of honor. The twenty-four elders in heaven feel this reverence and joy, for they fall down before God’s throne and cast their crowns before him singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created”  (Rev. 4:11). When we feel the absolute rightness of this deep within ourselves we then have the appropriate heart attitude for genuine worship.

—Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1005

In It Together

The success of worship is not measured by its entertainment values, nor is its success the sole responsibility of its leaders. Protestant worship is a communal activity that requires the active engagement of the worshipers themselves. Persons who sit passively waiting for worship to happen to them are likely to be disappointed. Each Christian must practice the disciplines of meditation and prayer for him- or herself.

—Daniel Frankforter, Stones for Bread: A Critique of Contemporary Worship, 183

The God of Overwhelming Greatness

In our worship services God simply doesn’t come through for who he is. He is unwittingly belittled. For those who are stunned by the indescribable magnitude of what God has made, not to mention the infinite greatness of the One who made it, the steady diet on Sunday morning of practical “how to’s” and psychological soothing and relational therapy and tactical planning seem dramatically out of touch with Reality—the God of overwhelming greatness.

—John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 12-13

The Pastor and Worship (9)

POINTS OF ENGAGEMENT FOR THE PASTOR

  1. Be a private worshiper.
  2. Sing, pray and preach out of a walk of worship.
  3. Study worship.
  4. Preach on worship.
  5. Model worship publicly.
  6. Lead worship.
  7. Handle the text reverently and responsively in sermon preparation.
  8. Preach as an act of worship.
  9. Preach as an invitation to worship.

—Ron Man, “The Pastor and Worship,” Worship Notes 11.2 (February 2016)

The Pastor and Worship (8)

Protestant seminaries must, I think, confess considerable guilt. They have done little to make the average pastor knowledgeable about the history, theologies, or sociological dimensions of worship. Perhaps the trouble lies a bit farther upstream: in the graduate schools that train seminary professors, schools that have failed to train specialists in this field. The Church’s academic community has simply failed to prepare ministers for a major responsibility the Church now demands of them.

—James F. White, Christian Worship in North America, A Retrospective: 1955-1995, 139

The Pastor and Worship (7)

The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. I pick up some other identity.

I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God.  Worship becomes a place where we have our lives redefined for us.

—Eugene Peterson, “The Business Of Making Saints,” Leadership Spring 1997, 22

The Pastor and Worship (5)

As the church goes about the business of worship, resistance is sure to crop up.… If worship is looked upon as a problem by the pastor, Dittes says it is usually analyzed by the minister in one of two ways:

  1. The form of worship must be changed in order to make it more suitably matched to the needs of the people.
  2. The people must be changed and educated in the correct purpose, traditions, and meanings of worship.

Most liturgical reform and liturgical education begin from one of these two assumptions.  To work from the first assumption often means that the pastor stoops to the level of the resistance, stops leading worship, and starts planning worship, becoming a rearranger of worship, tinkering with the liturgy, experimenting with something new, anxiously checking out the people to see if they like this or that worship style better than the ones before. If the second assumption is followed, the pastor moves from worship leader to worship educator. He or she constantly coaxes, invites, teaches, and tells about worship, assuming that if he or she can just get the people prepared, then they will at last be ready to worship.

—William Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care, 84

The Pastor and Worship (4)

Every pastor should see the church’s corporate worship life as an important part of his spiritual oversight of the flock. The pastor has the responsibility of publicly cherishing the glory of God and expounding it and inviting others to share in the wonder of wholehearted, and whole-life, worship. Every pastor should have this ultimate vertical purpose to his ministry: a purpose of seeking to see the glory of God reflected in the lives of his people; a praying and striving towards a preoccupation with God, a loving of Him with all the soul, heart, mind, and strength, on his own part as well as that of his congregation; a private and public cherishing of him in lives of worship. Ultimately ministry is the work of seeking, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to build more and better worshipers of God.

—Ron Man

The Pastor and Worship (3)

As we said before, worship is primarily a corporate and incorporating event, incorporating not only diverse people but also diverse traditions, expectations, expressions, and motives. This broad, all-encompassing nature of the worship experience frustrates systematizers and writers of carefully circumscribed books about worship; but, for the pastor, it should be seen as one of the best reasons worship must be central to parish life.  Here, in that hour or so on Sunday morning, as well as at the funerals, weddings, and prayer meetings, our faith is expressed and formed, our innermost beliefs are transformed into outward acts and words, our past confronts the present, and our present leans forward into our future.

—William Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care, 28