Early this season I returned to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, to attend my Ph.D. commencement ceremony and to be duly “hooded” – i.e., officially welcomed into the company of hopelessly nerdy liturgical and homiletical scholars.
It was the first time I’ve ever sat down for this piece. I had all intention to stand up tall and conduct with precision and as much strength as I could muster, but when the choir processed to the front of the sanctuary and took their places, I looked at their faces, seeing the same deep pain I was feeling, reflected in their brimming eyes, and just couldn’t do it. The familiar three measure introduction rang out from the piano and the choral voices came crashing into the room like a wrecking ball on first impact. “Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
OUR ACHILLES HEEL
I’m a believer in thoughtful worship. I’m a believer in biblical worship. I’m a believer in worship that is theologically deep, historically informed, and intellectually engaging. And yet, many of us who buy into this have an Achilles heel. In an effort to fill worship with meaning, we can end up over-explaining everything.
It’s a question everyone must ask. How do we see our life and our calling? When we find ourselves thinking about the things that fill our days, what images come to mind?
For the past five months, I’ve had the unique privilege of leading worship and preaching at Flatbush Reformed Church in Brooklyn, NY every week. As FRC is in the final stages of calling a new minister and my church meets at 5 PM Sunday evenings, this has been a great arrangement. FRC is the oldest church in Brooklyn and one of the oldest churches in North America.
“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek:
to behold the fair beauty of the Lord,
and to seek him in his temple” —Psalm 27:5-6
A Compelling Pastoral and Discipleship Opportunity
I am hearing a lot about ways to commemorate the Reformation, especially as we approach the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses in 2017. I am feeling a bit ill-equipped to approach this thoughtfully. What advice do you have?
Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start.
What happens at the very beginning of your worship service? Is it a “good” way to start? How intentional are you about the opening moments? While I think there are many appropriate ways to begin a worship event, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of a processional as a very good way to start.
CRASH. I rocked back on my heels awkwardly, hoisting a 6 foot long wooden rod parallel to the floor, while avoiding smashing into the dingy closet ceiling or falling on the wax covered, fake foliage littered floor. I balanced the rod at the perfect angle and slowly backed out of the closet. I have a serious love/hate relationship with the banner closet. Yes, it houses the church’s treasured memories- glorious displays of talent and craftsmanship, labors of love woven into the hand-stitched fabrics, artistic representation of the church’s history.
I said it at the Calvin Symposium a few months ago, and I’ll say it again. And nobody’s paying me to say this. It’s just true. John Witvliet is the Kevin Bacon of the worship world. It seems that every significant worship insight can be traced back, by a maximum of six degrees, to Dr. Witvliet. Instead of sweeping this reality under the rug, I’ll just go ahead and name it and claim it right at the beginning of this post: I got this idea from him.
Each week we come forward. Young and old. Spiritual veterans and rookies. Adolescents walking as if propelled by jet engines or ample caffeine. Seniors teetering on the arms of their married partner or friend of 50 years. It’s the end of our worship service, and time again for weekly communion.
My wife and I had an interesting experience at this year’s Calvin Worship Symposium. It happened Thursday night at the Covenant Fine Arts Center. The auditorium was beautifully prepped for worship with themed hangings and well-designed lighting on and around the stage. The worship team was first rate. And the service began with an inspired playing of a Bach prelude—that very few of us actually heard because virtually no one was paying attention.
Someone recently introduced me to the website www.challenge.gov. It is a list of competitions set up by 80+ agencies across federal government. Its tagline is “Government Challenges, Your Solutions.” These are real problems that need creative solutions from us, citizens of this great nation. It’s an opportunity for people to make a difference on the government level not just by voting in their candidates but by stepping up, using their gifts, insights and intellect to make real change.
Eleanor Vander Linde loved music! She hummed through her housework, she sang in the church and community choirs and she provided music lessons for her four daughters—who all grew up loving and performing music. In a short memoir of her life Eleanor wrote, “My whole life I lived with music, music in my heart, mind and voice!” In honor of Eleanor, I’m sharing two lessons that we, who also love music, might learn from.
Throughout church history and across denominations, God’s people have given a privileged place within worship to the reading of the Ten Commandments. In my experience, the Ten Commandments have usually been included as a Call to Confession or as a Call to Holy Living. In the first instance, our attention is drawn toward how we have fallen short of God’s expectations. Our sin is exposed. In the second, we are called to live more faithfully in response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Many churches are struggling to appeal to Millennials. Generally speaking, Millennials are those who are born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. As a Millennial, I have witnessed the church’s efforts to attract me, keep me engaged, and stay relevant to my generation. It is my goal here to speak to this struggle firsthand from my research and personal experiences.
When an international student moves to the United States, and starts watching American football or baseball, they are often perplexed. When a North American student explains the game, they start to appreciate it. But when they hear a true fan of the game respond to a brilliant play by exclaiming “now that was amazing,” then their attention is focused in a new way. That exclamation—a testimonial, really—becomes an invitation not just to understand the game, but to fall in love with it.
I knew it would be an emotionally heavy week. Recently, I participated in a Mental Health First Aid training offered by Mental Health Canada. In a similar way to a Red Cross first aid course, this course is designed to equip first responders with information, skills, and resources needed to identify and provide care to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. I highly recommend this course for those who are in the Canadian context and can access it.
The Evolving Discussion of Worship and Mission
It was so predictable that it became comical. The third Monday of the term students walked into the “Foundations of Worship” class that Karen deMol and I taught together at Dordt College with their heads hanging, eyeing us suspiciously, holding their worship reflection assignments in their hands.
Who Needs It?
It is a hazardous thing to criticize a worship song. The songs we sing in church are dear to us—sacred even. Their potency comes from the fact that, over time, the songs become a part of us. Like eating and drinking, the rhythms and rhymes of these songs have a way of seeping deep into our marrow.
So it is with a bit of trepidation that I criticize the much-beloved hymn below.