Open Letter to Evangelical Worship Leaders

Dear Evangelical Worship Leader,

I’m going to open this letter by admitting that I am not Screen-Shot-2012-11-04-at-3.16.45-PMnow and have never been in your shoes. I know that your position is one that gets attacked quite often in the so-called “worship wars.” I don’t intend for this letter to pile on. I know you work hard every week to learn new songs, teach those songs to others, and make the musical part of church interesting and engaging. You are using your musical talent to glorify God, and – as someone who loves music but can’t play an instrument to save her life – I am so grateful that He has blessed the church with people like you.

However, I have noticed some trends in evangelical worship that I find very disturbing. I decided that I should address these things with you, if only to clear my own conscious. From a congregation member who cares a lot for both you and the rest of the congregation, here are some concerns I have and suggestions for addressing them.

Please remember that your portion of the service on Sunday is supposed to be corporate worship. You are leading us to the throne of God. I know you mean well and want everything to sound good, but vamping during a song (the improved “ooh, yes, Jesus” etc.) takes a lot away from the corporate nature of the worship and makes it seem a lot more like a concert. I promise you that the songs will still sound right without that.

Related to that, not everyone in the church listens to the cds and Christian radio stations that you do. New songs, particularly difficult new songs, need an adjustment period. Please stop telling us to “sing out” when the song is brand new – we’re learning. We’ll do better next time. Also, not everyone is an exuberant, hands-raised worshiper. This doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worshiping God as much as you are. Telling us to raise our hands or clap or whatnot doesn’t change how deeply we are worshiping.

Don’t dismiss the hymns. Many of us love the hymns and miss singing them. Often you seem to assume that the only people in church who want to sing hymns are over 60, but that’s not true. There are many good contemporary arrangements of hymns that don’t require an organ or choir robes (this cd is a good place to start if you haven’t heard any). I’m not saying ditch the contemporary stuff for the hymns, but simply asking you to add some hymns into your song rotation.

Remember that you have a role in the presentation of the Gospel and the teaching of Biblical doctrine. Please pick songs accordingly. Being played on Christian radio (or being in a hymnal, for that matter) doesn’t automatically mean the song has correct doctrine.

I beg you, look over your song list before Sunday and ask yourself one question – is there at least one song worship-crowd-320x311on the list that couldn’t be sung by an agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, New Ager, etc.? Be honest with yourself. Many songs on KLove and the like can be sung by non-Christians as easily as by Christians. Christian worship should include at least some explicitly Christian songs – songs that mention Jesus by name, talk about the cross, talk about sin, and so on.

One point that may sound a bit nit-picky, but that I think should be addressed anyway – if you are going to say something during the worship other than introducing a song, please think it over before you get up in front of the congregation Sunday morning. Consider writing it down. I’ve spoken in front of the church myself and I know that it’s easy to get started on something you think is deep only to realize halfway through that you’re simply rambling. Your congregation will thank you for saying your piece in a way that is short and to the point.

Once again, I appreciate what you do. I don’t say it to your face often enough, but it’s still true. May God richly bless you as you serve Him and His people.

Grace and peace to you,

CG

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Missing the Gospel on Mother’s Day

The Mother’s Day service in evangelical churches is pretty similar wherever you go – something is given to mothers at the door (flowers, a card, a small present), mothers are honored at least once by being asked to stand or raise their hand, and the sermon focuses on mothering in one way or another. Often the children’s ministry gets involved in one way or another. Sometimes videos of children and mothers are shown.

All very sweet.

If you are a happy mother of a child with no problems.

But what about the other women in the church on sad-woman-silhouette-e1266563258497-225x300Mother’s Day? If your church has an average amount of people in it, I can guarantee that your congregation has heartbroken women.

Heartbroken women who:

  • Are grieving one or more miscarriages
  • Are grieving the death of a child they bore
  • Are struggling with infertility
  • Would love to have more children but cannot, either because of biology or unwilling husbands
  • Have children who have left the church and are living apart from Christ
  • Are struggling with feelings of guilt and doubt over mistakes they made with their children
  • Are post-abortive, be it one day or 10 years after their abortion, and feeling condemned by God

Some carry pain they brought on themselves through their own sin, some carry pain that was pushed on them by someone else’s sin, some carry pain that is simply a result of the fallen condition of the world. All are hurting.

You may not know. Many of these women carry their pain deep inside where no one can see. The church and the larger culture have pressured them into putting on a happy face and never revealing their brokenness.

Mother’s Day is a day when the church can preach a strong message of God’s amazing grace and mercy, His forgiveness of sin, His ability to redeem and bring back the lost sheep, His fatherly love, His desire to place the lonely in families. 

So often we miss it.

We don’t see the women who sit in church on Mother’s Day weeping tears of sorrow and pain instead of joy. 

We preach sentimentality instead of the gospel.

We do our congregations a disservice when we do this, because the gospel is so important to those who are hurting.

The gospel tells us that Jesus was a human like us in all ways except sin (Heb 2:17-18). While he was on the earth he knew pain and suffering and sorrow.

All those who trust in Him for salvation have their sins removed from them as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). Jesus is our once-for-all sacrifice to take away our sin and guilt (Heb 9:24-28) and give us new life with Him (1 Pet 1:3). All Christians are adopted into His family (Gal 4:1-7). 

God comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor 1:3-4) and He knows our tears (Ps 56:8). He has compassion for us because He knows our weaknesses (Ps 103:13-14). We may grieve for a while, but He will bring us joy (Ps 30:5). He is faithful and steadfast in His love and mercy (Lam 3:22-23). 

And Jesus has promised that He is preparing a place for those who love Him (John 14:1-3), a place of eternal joy where we will see His face and share in His glory (Rev 22:4; Rom 8:30). 

This Mother’s Day, don’t miss the gospel.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

(Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

What did you hear on Easter?

I know, it’s a bit late to be posting about Easter. This post was inspired by the Easter sermon I heard, and therefore couldn’t have been posted before Easter. I hope you’ll bear with me.

Maybe you went to a church on Easter Sunday and empty_tomb11heard a clear gospel proclamation centered on the resurrected Christ. If so, you can probably skip the rest of this post.

Maybe, however, you ended up in a service where the sermon gave a nod to Jesus and then moved on to more “relevant” topics. Maybe you sat through a sermon full of law and no gospel at all. Maybe you didn’t hear it for what it was – many Christians seem to miss this type of law.

We are fairly new at the church that we attend. My husband and I have felt a bit uncomfortable at the lack of Jesus and the message of salvation through faith alone in the sermons, but I figured that Easter would be different. It’s Easter, after all, the biggest day of the liturgical year.

The sermon started well, although the pastor seemed to be focused on Jesus’ death instead of resurrection. He was talking about Jesus’ words of forgiveness to those who crucified Him even though they neither asked for nor deserved forgiveness. Then, about a third of the way in, the sermon changed and became about showing love and compassion to hurting people in a broken world and ended with an exhortation to BE Jesus* in our relationships.

No forgiveness for our sins.

No hope of salvation.

No gospel and no grace.

Law centers on what we have to do. Be compassionate. Be loving. Be Jesus. Go and do and be and work. The gospel centers on what Jesus did in our place. He took our punishment and died our death. He rose from the dead and secured our place in heaven.

Yes, we should do good works. James is pretty clear on this point with verses like “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22) “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). But good works, as seen in these verses, stem from hearing the word and from faith – not from our desire to be Jesus in our communities and our trying harder to love people.

The Bible says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). If we don’t regularly preach the gospel how will anyone know what they object of our faith is, why we do good works, or how to be saved?

Here is the gospel in the words of Paul:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
1 Cor 15:3-5

This is what we proclaim as Christians – Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead. Be reconciled to Christ. It is more than shameful when Easter visitors hear a message of moralism and self-helpism instead of the message of forgiveness for sin through the very Son of God.

* It’s a bit off topic, but I wanted to address this quickly. Where in the Bible are we called to “be Jesus”? The best I can get is Paul’s “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). There was one Jesus, and you’re not Him.

How to Lose Volunteers (and Possibly Church Members) – A Tutorial for Pastors

  • Don’t keep people’s talents in mind when asking them to volunteer for things. Example: Ask someone with paralyzing stage fright to sing in front of the church.
  • Make sure people know that some volunteer work is more important than others. Example: Really push people to show up to a workday but not to join the choir.
  • Pile down people who are willing to work. Example: Have someone who is leading a Bible study, teaching a class, running a small group, serving on committees, working in the music program every Sunday, helping with VBS, attending work days, and more. They can balance that with their kids, spouse, job, and other parts of life. Burnout, shmernout.
  • Have more programs than your church can reasonably sustain. Example: Your church has 60 members. Have tons of classes, small groups, Bible studies, VBS programs, children’s programs, men’s and women’s group programs . . .
  • Schedule volunteer events at the worst possible times for the people you want to come. Example: Schedule a young parent event at 8 am on a Saturday or an event for older saints at 9 pm on a Friday.
  • Shame those who choose to not volunteer for certain events (or allow others to do so publicly). Example: Say from the pulpit, “It really is too bad that more of the young people in this church don’t come to the women’s group events.” Better yet, allow someone from the group in question to make such a statement and don’t say anything about it.
  • Prioritize where volunteers are needed based on how much you like the person or people who are running them. Example: Does your favorite person in the church work in the nursery but complain about needing more people? Make sure you push people in that direction, no matter what.
  • Don’t take into account other things that are going on in someone’s life. Example: Tell the young mother of two who works 50 hours a week, cares for her home and husband, and runs a women’s prayer group in her home that she needs to also be on a committee.
  • Don’t take into account how much work someone is doing in other areas of the church. Example: Tell someone that their work is required in programs you think need volunteers, regardless of the fact that they are volunteering in three or four other areas in the church.
  • Don’t require the same amount of volunteer work from everyone. Example: Really push heavily for some people to volunteer, but ignore the fact the many others do no work in the church at all (and are never asked to do so).
  • Make “volunteer” work non-optional in some instances. Example: Tell people that their child cannot be in the children’s program if they aren’t going to “volunteer” in said program.
  • Talk badly about those who don’t volunteer as much as you think they should behind their backs. Example: Tell everyone at a committee meeting that person x (who is not there) doesn’t work at the church as much as you think they should. Imply laziness.
  • Say nothing when your volunteers are treated poorly by members of the congregation. Example: Do people in your church yell at, belittle, gossip about, or insult your volunteers? It probably will help grow your volunteers holiness. Besides, you don’t want the people who act so poorly to leave the church, right?