The Stewardship of Worship Leading (2)

As worship leaders . . . we also have the holy task of being stewards of God’s Word. Our choices of Scripture and themes for worship represent a degree of control over people’s spiritual diets, over how they feed on the bread of life.

—John Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding, 282

Heart Worship in the Body

Though I trust it’s been unintentional, the contemporary worship movement has conveyed that a certain level of production quality is necessary to achieve faithful modern worship.

In this sense, contemporary worship has come quite a long way from the folk guitars and simple choruses of the 1970s, which were designed to democratize congregational singing so that more people could engage with it meaningfully. In the 2000s, contemporary worship media have embraced the values of polished production and mass-market appeal. But as modern praise has become more professionalized, it’s led at least some church leaders to conclude that they’d be better off foregoing human musicians altogether and leaving accompaniment to the (virtual) experts.

The good news is that God gives each congregation all they need to serve Him. First Corinthians 12:18 reminds us that “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” If that means a church is unable to produce the same quality of music they see at worship concerts and on YouTube, then we can trust God’s good purposes. He cares far more about the state of our hearts than the ability of our band to recreate the sound of an online video.

—Matt Merker, “How Contemporary Worship Music Is Shaping Us—for Better or Worse” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/singing-congregation-contemporary-worship/

Depart to Serve

And now the time has come for us to return into the world. “Let us depart in peace,” says the celebrant as he leaves the altar, and this is the last commandment of the liturgy. We must not stay on Mount Tabor, although we know that it is good for us to be there. We are sent back. But now “we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit.” And it is as witnesses of this Light, as witnesses of the Spirit, that we must “go forth” and begin the never-ending mission of the church. Eucharist was the end of the journey, the end of time. And now it is again the beginning, and things that were impossible are again revealed to us as possible. The time of the world has become the time of the Church, the time of salvation and redemption. And God has made us competent, as Paul Claudel has said, competent to be His witnesses, to fulfill what He has done and is ever doing. This is the meaning of the Eucharist; this is why the mission of the Church begins in the liturgy of ascension, for it alone makes possible the liturgy of mission.

—Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 45-46

The Leveling Table

The Lord’s Table is a leveling reality in a world of increasing inequalities, an enacted vision of “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine” (Isa. 25:6). This strange feast is the civic rite of another city—the Heavenly City—which is why it includes our pledge of allegiance, the Creed.

—James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love:  The Spiritual Power of Habit, 98

Worship as Story

Christian worship rehabituates our loves because it embeds us in—and embeds in us—a different orienting Story, the story of God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. But Christian worship doesn’t just rehearse the outlines of this story in a kind of CliffsNotes, bullet-pointed distillation of some “facts.” It does so in a way that is storied, imaginative, and works on us more like a novel than a newspaper article. Story isn’t just the what of Christian worship; it is also the how.

—James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love:  The Spiritual Power of Habit, 106

Trained Hearts

Worship is not some escape from “the work week.” To the contrary, our worship rituals train our hearts and aim our desires toward God and His kingdom so that, when we are sent from worship to take up our work, we do so with a habituated orientation towards the Lover of our souls.

—James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, 187

Doxology to Doctrine

The incarnational Christology of the New Testament had its roots not in philosophical speculation, and still less in the gratuitous imitation of supposedly similar ideas in other religions and cultures, but in Christian experience of Jesus, both in His earthly ministry and in His risen power, and that it was the natural translation of this experience into an attitude of worship which provided the seedbed for New Testament Christology. To fail to explore and account for this attitude of worship, as has much modern discussion of the origins of Christology, is to discard the real life-situation of a warm and experience- centred devotion to Jesus in favour of a process of philosophical speculation which lacks an adequate starting-point in the life of the Christian church.

—R.T. France, “The Worship of Jesus: A Neglected Factor in Christological Debate?” in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie, 33

The First Word and the Last

As one body, in union with Christ and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we come before God in expectation of dialogue, an actual give-and-take exchange between God and God’s people. Biblical worship flows like a purposeful conversation, during which we speak, but only because we have been spoken to.

In a classic form of the dialogue, God issues an invitation, a call to worship:  “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing”; and we respond, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever…”

God longs for reconciliation with and among his children, and so we confess our sins and lament their effects. God assures us we have been forgiven in Christ, and we renew our commitment to live faithfully. Before Scripture is read, we call upon the Spirit to illumine our minds and soften our hearts. God speaks, through the ancient text that is opened and the message that is preached. Thanks be to God, we may hear in the message the Word of the Lord. God seals His promises in the cup of salvation and the waters of baptism, tangible gifts by which we taste and see that the Lord is good. We pray—for ourselves, the church, and the world—and we offer our gifts.

Having had the first word, God also has the last: a blessing of grace and peace. 

—Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today, 136-8

Prayer

Almighty God, gracious Father, we are not fit for Your presence, but we look to Jesus Christ, who takes away our sin. Through Him we would now come to You, listening to Your voice, trusting in Your love, delighting in Your Word, and leaning on Your arm. We joyfully beg to see Your face! Now cleanse our minds of all error and our hearts of all idols, that we may shine in the world with Your radiant light.

—D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book, 225