Our Kids

Why is it that when we talk about children’s ministry in the church, we often think of cartoon characters and bright colors; but when we think of “adult church”, it is often drab or dark?

For Thanksgiving service this year, we printed out some color sheets and put baskets of crayons at the tables for families to share. Do you know who worked the hardest on their coloring sheets? It was not the kids. We had grown men and women diligently coloring in those pictures of turkeys and family dinners. The kids were so engaged with the activities of the evening because their parents were engaged.

Photo Jan 03, 4 27 44 PM

Much of who we will become as followers of Christ begins when we are children. Sometimes I wonder if we are not sending our kids the wrong message about faith and life.

We tell them that being a kid is “fun” but being an adult is “serious.” Without thinking about it, we communicate to children that they might as well enjoy their faith now; because once they become an adult, they will have to stop enjoying it. They will no longer be able to worship in the language of laughter and creativity. They will have to worship through lectionary and liturgy.

I don’t think the church’s worship should be childish or foolish. I think there is a way to integrate the joy of creativity and interactivity with the “serious” activities of worship. Why should we have to dull our senses when we come together? And why should we feel we need to shield our children from worship they can’t comprehend?

I could be wrong, of course, but when I read the Scriptures, I see that the early church was a family affair. We tend to think that they worshiped the way that Paul wrote his epistles – barreling straight ahead in a doctrinal treatise. But there are hints and shadows that the worship itself was not like Paul’s letters at all.

The apostle Jude calls the church’s worship αγαπη, literally “love” (v 12). Paul speaks of their worship as day long celebrations that began with meals (1 Corinthians 11). He also reminds the churches that their worship is supposed to be full of singing and celebration (Ephesians 5:19). Paul’s letters are also full of instructions for all members of the household, including children and even slaves.

Worship is supposed to be vibrant and creative, interactive to the core.

But somehow, worship has become about listening quietly or overreacting exuberantly. Children still get asked lots of questions in Sunday School, but adults get asked none in worship.

Somehow, we have gotten it backward.

Somehow, the only time a parent talks to a child in the “adult” service is to tell her to be quiet or to sit still. Why? Because that’s what we have been told to do ever since we were children. Why doesn’t it occur to us that church is not a “be quiet and sit still” place? Why isn’t church an interactive space, where our minds are stretched and our imaginations expanded?

Are we so afraid of making mistakes or blowing it that church has become a place where you’re not allowed to express yourself? Not allowed to discover truth for yourself? Not allowed to interact with truth?

No wonder kids don’t like being in the services.


Singing Theology

In November, I will be teaching a series called “Singing Theology.” We will be talking quite a bit about music and worship. Over the years, my thinking on this issue has swung back and forth a bit.

On Sunday, our congregation sang people’s favorite hymns. Generally, we worship using music from many different ages. We cherish the great hymns of the faith, but we also include music from our own era as well. There is both depth and breadth to being familiar with all of them.

What was curious to me was the responses. For some people my age and younger, the older hymns must be boring by default. They have no appreciation for the beauty of their melodic lines and the intricacies of their lyrical composition. For others, who are generally much older than me, hymns are “how you worship” and the idea of including anything else is just unthinkable. They might even dismiss all modern music as “choruses” – a word they utter as if having to eat overcooked asparagus.

The message of the Gospel takes many forms, and will take many more before Jesus returns. Some are majestic, others are earthy. But all are glorious when the Gospel is at their core. In fifty years, the people who find hymns “boring” now will be complaining about the modern music of that era. It is a never-ending cycle.

“The Doxology” and “Just As I Am” were once controversial. There were churches who refused to allow the piano as part of their worship, and others who would not accept any song not from the Psalms. We just go around and around on this issue.

What matters?

1. That God is glorified through Christ.
2. That we worship in spirit and in truth.
3. That our worship is theologically sound.

Everything else is flexible.

The Content of Worship

Recently, someone showed me a “new worship song”. They were so excited about the way it made them feel closer to God.

The “new worship song” opened with a pretty, melodic piano piece and was then followed by a single phrase – something like “I want to see you” – repeated five or six times before a big build and then a statement of all the ways the singer feels good when they are worshiping.

This is not worship.

Let me put this in context. Let’s say I wrote a love song for my wife and it went like this:

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
You do the dishes.
You scratch my back.
You take care of the stuff that I don’t want to do.
You give me sex whenever I want it.
You make me feel good about myself.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.

Maybe my wife is different than yours, but my wife would haul off and slug me. Then she would not talk to me for at least the rest of the evening except to strongly suggest that I sleep on the couch.

Worship is not about repeating myself and commenting on how great it is that God gets to love me. That is narcissism, not worship.

People might say, “But it comes from the heart!” to which I reply, “Then your heart needs some adjustment because this tells me you are self-centered at heart.”

When we read the Psalms, the greatest book of worship songs ever written, we find a constant theme of God’s glory – very little of which involves the worshiper. Sure, the worshiper speaks a bit about himself from time to time, but then he turns it around and worships God in his divinity, transcendence and power. That bit about the worshiper – that’s not worship, it’s just context. The worship is the part about God.

The content of worship needs to be deeper and truer than our own emotional responses. That’s not to say that worship is not an emotional thing, but when all we can think of is our own emotions and responses, then it is actual self-worship and not God-worship.

Let me encourage you to pursue deeper content in your worship – musical or otherwise. Do not content yourself with putting on a Christian appearance for your sentimental journeys. If you need assistance, just pick up a psalm or two. They will feel unnaturally “deep” but they are after all God’s inspired worship.

Break Away from the Myths

Myths are powerful things. They are stories that might have some grounding in truth but are usually expanded far beyond their original scope. They drive and control the lives of those who accept them as fact without considering whether they align with reality.

Recently, I sent a link to this article from Jon Nicol about worship myths to the musicians in our congregation. Nicol listed three myths that affect small congregations, but there are lots of myths that float around the church – particularly small congregations – that paralyze us.

How do you break away from these controlling myths?

  • Do some research and publicize the results. Don’t be intimidated by statements with no facts to support them. Find out whether these myths have any foundation and whether they even apply to you.
  • Dream big together. As a ministry team, spend time dreaming. Make sure you clarify that dreaming is not planning. Dreaming is not bounded by budgets and limitations. It is exactly what it sounds like – dreaming. Jesus’ vision for you is bigger than your plans, and in dreaming, we often realize His vision.
  • Write your own story. Myths try to write your story for you. Covenant together to write a story with the resources you have, to accomplish something only you can in only that place.
  • Become the vision. Never stop learning. Never stop growing toward the vision God lays before you. Never stop failing forward in your quest to realize what He has set for you.


Worship Manifesto, post 3

Worship is not simply a response to God’s glory. This is the fatal flaw of so much modern worship music. It spends so much time in emotional response that it abandoned the worship core of God’s glory. It unconsciously substitutes the response for the reason. In the context of the reading of the Scriptures and the consideration of God’s glory, an emotional response is appropriate but it is not the true function of worship.

Worship cannot be generated through mood lighting or great musicians because the source of worship must be the understanding (in part, 1 Corinthians 13:12) of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. Worship is not of this world; it is an attribute of resurrection. Only those raised in Christ can truly worship.

You might ask, then what about the worship in the Old Testament? That is also the song of resurrection, even if it is written in another key. The themes of resurrection run throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, but they are present in the agricultural metaphor of spring time and harvest. They resonate in the narratives of barren women like Sarah, Rachel and Hannah who receive children from dead wombs. Resurrection is the entire point of books like Ruth and Ezekiel. What is the point of Jeremiah’s Lamentation if it is not that there will be a restoration?

And they shall build the old wastes,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall repair the waste cities,
The desolations of many generations.
(Isaiah 61:4, KJV)

Worship is only possible in resurrection, and resurrection is only possible in Jesus Christ. If we do not celebrate the resurrection, then we celebrate things that are dying and lost.

Worship Manifesto, post 2

manifesto  (ˌmænɪˈfɛstəʊ) —  , pl -tos -toes
a public declaration of intent, policy, aims, etc, as issued by apolitical party, government, or movement

The Church defines worship in many ways, but none is universal. A liturgy of worship can aid a congregation in worship, but it is ultimately a state of the heart.

Many want to make this a state of complete prostration, others wish it to be conviction while others take it to the extreme of reckless celebration – drunkenness in the experience.

Worship can be found in all of these things, to some extent, but worship’s core is the person of Jesus Christ. At the very core of worship must be the gospel – that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, come to redeem and restore all of creation.

It is not enough to view His work as a punctuation point in the midst of a larger story, to be “saved” and then along the way become “holy.” Worship’s core is the reality that Jesus’ redemption and restoration of creation is ongoing, active and present, and that while there is a personal element to this redemptive work, it is not solely or even primarily focused on the individual.

Worship is knowing that Christ is not simply imminent (overhanging and coming soon) but also immanent (present and active), that the restoration of creation is not just happening in individual hearts and will one day happen in all creation but that the work in the hearts of men and women is one and the same with the work in the creation.

At worship’s core must be the conviction that Jesus is not just my Savior but that he is creation’s Savior, and that the gospel preached to us is not that of the individual but of all things (Revelation 21:5).

Worship Manifesto, post 1

manifesto  (ˌmænɪˈfɛstəʊ) —  , pl -tos -toes
a public declaration of intent, policy, aims, etc, as issued by apolitical party, government, or movement

I am endlessly fascinated by the machinations of the modern church, in our varied attempts to justify our own existence. When we feel that sentiment is pulling toward social engagement, we become activists. When it is pulling toward leadership and programming, we become businessmen. When it pulls toward conversionism, we become evangelists. There is a constant tension in the church, pulling in all directions at once and creating a ministerial schizophrenia that makes us feel as if we are relevant and active while in reality paralyzing us. There are so many competing models and paradigms that there is no longer one focus. And sadly, when we try to reclaim that focus, all too often we simply reframe the competing ideas without accomplishing anything of significance.

Today, we declare that we will center our focus on Jesus – the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2); the Savior, Apostle and Head of the Church (1 John 4:14, Hebrews 3:1Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18; the express Image of the Father (Hebrews 1:3); the Only Begotten Son and the Firstborn of the Resurrection (John 1:18Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:18). And we declare this focus to be worship.

We declare that our intent as the Church of Jesus Christ is to worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24); to be reborn and remade through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17Romans 8:29Philippians 3:10); to walk in new life (Romans 6:4); and to discover a new, shared vocabulary of worship and praise (Ephesians 5:19Colossians 3:16).