01 Sep

Missing

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A few weeks ago, Vanessa Samuel asked me to write a guest post for her blog, https://christfollower85.wordpress.com, which focuses on worship.

Because worship is (or ought to be) a significant component of discipleship (see Matthew 28:16-17), I welcomed the chance to contribute to the discussion. Thank you, Vanessa, for inviting me!

Here is what I wrote:

When loved ones go missing, we jump into action! Years ago, during a visit to a mall in the Chicago suburbs, one of my boys vanished near an open court. I saw him one moment and the next, he was gone. Frantic, I focused my eyes like a camera lens and darted all over, trying to track him down. After an anxious minute or two, we found him. He’d strolled over to his grandfather. No big deal for my son, but a near heart attack for me!

People matter to us. That’s why we publicize those who’ve disappeared. We put photos on the sides of milk cartons, issue AMBER Alerts, and  broadcast stories on television.

People matter to God. The first question recorded in the Bible was God’s query to Adam, “Where are you?” And Jesus said that a good shepherd would leave an entire flock to chase down one sheep that got away. The Lord cares when folks don’t show up and He wants Christians to pursue them. But first we have to notice their absence.

You know who’s missing from church?

Men.

As David Murrow reveals, the average American congregation is 61% female and 39% male. Between 70-80% of participants in mid-week services are women. And overseas, ladies outnumber guys in church by as much as 9:1.

Murrow traces this phenomenon to the age of industrialization. Around that time, men began to leave their farms to work in factories. Away from home, they relinquished church-related responsibilities to the ladies. As a result, the female perspective came to dominate every aspect of church life, including worship.

British theologian Ian Paul describes one effect as “the move away from familiar, rhythmic, structure songs to more unpredictable, emotive and interiorising songs.” Unfortunately, as Paul Coughlin concludes, “worship music is often too sentimental for guy tastes.”

Yet another factor dissuades men from engaging in worship. Murrow claims that the professionalization of music ministries, coupled with the introduction of too many new and unfamiliar songs, reinforces passivity. Churchgoers become spectators, and this is problematic for men in particular since most males gravitate toward activity and accomplishment. They need to take part but feeling uninterested or inadequate, they pass.

He recounts that “as I visit churches around the country, I’ve frequently observed that the majority of attendees do not sing. They stand motionless, looking at the words on the jumbo screen . . . I’d guess that only a quarter of the men sing.”

I can confirm this. At last Sunday’s service, I scanned what I could of the audience around me to see who was singing. At the beginning of the worship set, I watched more congregants refraining than participating. And almost no men sung. By the end, more people had joined in, including men, but not a lot. Everyone stood, but few sang.

How can we instill in men the vital experience and persistent habit of worship?

We can demand change. Pastor Doug Bursch disputes the premise that churches have feminized and professionalized their services. And even if they did, he rejects those as valid excuses for not worshipping God. Basing his argument on the account of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, Bursch reduces the problem to the condition of men’s hearts. Like Cain, guys offer second-rate worship to God when they ought to give Him their best, as Abel did. The solution is not to change Sundays but to transform souls. The fear of the Lord will achieve this.

“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.” – Deuteronomy 6:13 (NASB)

Besides requiring repentance, we can also depict the fulfillment that comes from worshiping God. In Real Men Worship, music ministry leader LaMar Boschman frames healthy masculinity within the context of devotion to the Most High. And Merlin Carothers wrote several books expounding the blessings and benefits of praising God.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” – Exodus 15:2 (NIV)

Repentance and encouragement may persuade men to honor the Lord. But remember “the Sunday clothes. The contemporary love songs to Jesus. The winding sermons. Typical dudes don’t thrill to any of those things.”

If we want to motivate men to worship, there’s something else we need to do.

We must teach them.

I’m not talking about sermons and Sunday School classes that promote praise and worship. I mean choosing, crafting, and performing songs that instruct Christians in their faith.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about this subject. In that article, I analyzed admonitions Paul wrote to two different churches. Here are the passages:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” – Ephesians 5:18-20 (NASB)

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” – Colossians 3:16-17 (NASB)

Ephesians grounds worship in the Holy Scriptures; Colossians, in the Holy Spirit. Apart from that difference, both epistles affirm that songs educate. Paul disregards issues that capture the attention of many Christians today, like how lyrics make us feel or which musical style wins God’s approval. Instead, he cares about how worship ministry edifies the church.

Pastor John MacArthur insists that “worship is directly correlated to understanding. The richer your theology, the more full your grasp of biblical truth, the more elevated your worship becomes.”

Emotions have value, but they follow dedicated expression. As Pastor Eugene Peterson writes, ”worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.”

Murrow observes that contemporary worship songs are less “about” God and more “to” Him. In other words, our lyrics favor “You” over “Him.” He recommends more of the latter because, he contends, men prefer those kinds of lyrics.

But we find both types in the psalms. For example, Psalm 111 exalts God for His good deeds toward Israel:

“Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly. 2Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. 3Glorious and majestic are His deeds, and His righteousness endures forever. 4He has caused His wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate. 5He provides food for those who fear Him; He remembers His covenant forever. 6He has shown His people the power of His works, giving them the lands of other nations. 7The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy. 8They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness. 9He provided redemption for His people; He ordained His covenant forever–holy and awesome is His name. 10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. To Him belongs eternal praise.” (NIV)

In Psalm 5, the writer addresses God Himself:

“Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament. 2Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray. 3In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly. 4For You are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with You, evil people are not welcome. 5The arrogant cannot stand in Your presence. You hate all who do wrong; 6You destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful You, Lord, detest. But I, by Your great love, can come into Your house; in reverence I bow down toward Your holy temple. 8Lead me, Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies–make Your way straight before me. 9Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies. 10Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against You. 11But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You. 12Surely, Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favor as with a shield.” (NIV)

So while Psalm 111 talks about God in the third person, Psalm 5 speaks to Him in the second person. (Sorry to get grammatical there!)

But Psalm 3 does both:

“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! 2Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ 3But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. 4I call out to the Lord, and He answers me from His holy mountain. 5I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. 6I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. 7Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. 8From the Lord comes deliverance. May Your blessing be on Your people.” (NIV)

While I appreciate Murrow’s concern, the Bible frees us to sing to the Lord and about Him. We don’t have to choose between them.

Let’s make sure our hymns and choruses communicate significant biblical themes. While our songs needn’t substitute for sermons, they should complement them. A deep song will give people something worth pondering throughout the week.

By memorable music, we transport into mundane routines the spiritual lessons we absorb in worship. The songs of the church can teach men how to conduct themselves in God’s kingdom and in their jobs. Peterson suggests that “worship should be a renewal of work, not an escape from our work.”

Songs that address the heart and nourish the mind benefit all believers in Christ.

Including men.

 

27 Jan

Winning the Worship Wars

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Do you enjoy the worship in your church? Which do you favor: traditional music or contemporary choruses?

Few things provoke skirmishes among Christians quite like different styles of worship. I suppose it’s because the stakes are so high. After all, what’s more important than glorifying God? And if you’re going to praise Him, you’ll want to make sure you do so properly.

But I suspect that it’s more a matter of personal preference than of honoring the Lord. Some people appreciate what they grew up with and they resist any changes. Others feel like church music should fit the surrounding culture and if the old songs don’t cut it, replace them. God’s name gets used more as a cover than as the genuine motive.

The apostle Paul offers a solution to this problem. He wrote about worship to two different churches: one in Ephesus and one in Colossae. His comments mimic each other, as you can see:

Colossians 3:16-17

Ephesians 5:18b-20

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, “Be filled with the Spirit,
with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”

Two churches, two different approaches to worship? Let’s see.

Paul gives the same advice to each congregation, but he points the Colossians to Scripture while he directs the Ephesians to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this doesn’t mean much; after all, the results turn out the same.

But combatants in the worship wars take sides. Traditionalists gravitate toward the Word; dynamists (seems like a good name for them!) emphasize the Spirit.

In one sense, each group is right. Our worship songs should be biblical, meaningful, and informative. They should also invigorate our commitments and inspire our hearts.

In another sense, each group is wrong for denigrating the other. Songs that do nothing but rehearse Bible verses without the warmth of God’s Spirit fall short of their intended purpose. And worship music that releases the flow of the Spirit but conveys nothing meaningful fails to build up the faith of Jesus’ followers.

So how can we end the worship wars? What songs should we sing? In these passages, Paul hints at a solution.

First, he reminds believers that we are to teach, admonish, and speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul doesn’t say that we should quote lyrics to each other. He expects songs to be sung. But he assumes that every bit of praise we offer to God has an educational impact on those around us. It’s foolish to deny it; the words we sing have the potential to damage or fortify the trust we and our brothers and sisters place in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s serious business.

Second, we’re told to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Let’s place these on a spectrum.

Psalms—————————–Hymns—————————Spiritual Songs

Psalms represent the Word. We know this because they’re part of the Scriptures; in fact, they form the largest book of the Bible. Every time we chant a psalm, we’re repeating God’s Word. This should please traditionalists. If they want their worship to be biblically grounded, they should include the psalms.

Spiritual songs typify the lyrics and expressions given (often at the spur of the moment) by the Spirit of God. These songs can either be timeless or crafted to meet a specific need. Dynamists relish spiritual songs; every believer should.

And then there are hymns. In my experience, both groups of worshippers enjoy hymns. It’s hard not to like them! The words are deep and the music is usually pretty simple. Regardless of their stylistic preferences, most Christians recognize the value of the hymns of the church.

Why is that? Why do hymns have such value and make such an impact on the devotional lives of God’s people? It’s because hymns integrate the best of the psalms and the spiritual songs. Unlike the psalms, hymns are not Scripture; but, they are scriptural. And unlike spiritual songs, they’re not contemporary or spontaneous, but they’re timely.

Hymns lie in the middle of Paul’s worship list; they ought to occupy the center of every church’s worship. Because for dynamists, hymns can reinforce the importance of sound theology. And for traditionalists, they can promote the movement of the Spirit within the heart.

Incorporating hymns in your services will help your church to win its worship war.