Key Thoughts on Corporate Worship

Corporate worship is based first and foremost on our common relationship in Christ. At first glance, this sounds pretty elementary and foundational to Christian doctrine. However, if you’ve ever tried to unify a diverse and multi-generational body in worship lately, you might find that it is easier said than done. Does that negate the truth of our unity in Christ? Not at all. However, the unnecessary conflict (some conflict is both healthy and necessary) exposes the fact that we enter into corporate worship with motives and expectations that aren’t based on our unity in Christ. Also, how we deal with that conflict is a tell-tale sign of where we are in our own relationship with God as well as an indicator of our love for our fellow believer.

So, what are the principles that should guide corporate worship in the church? Are we left to the whims of culture or are we confined solely to the traditions of man as they’ve been handed down to us? Is there middle ground, or is that simply compromise? These are questions that I have asked over the years.

As a leader, I want my actions and decisions to be founded on practical principles that won’t change through the passing of time. Does that mean that I lock myself in a cultural time-bubble, stick my head in the sand and decide right now THIS is the way it should be? I think not. I don’t want to make blanket statements today that I have to retract 20 years from now simply because I succumb to pressure or because I realize that my past decisions were based more on comfort and convenience than on what is biblical, practical, and effective.

Below, I have lined out some key thoughts that help guide me in my decisions for corporate worship. I pray that as we seek the Lord and learn to love people, our churches will once again experience the joy and unity of our common relationship with Christ.

Principle #1: Though Christianity is supracultural in its origin and truth, it is cultural in its application—this includes the arts when used as medium to the gospel message. (Acts 2; Acts 17:26-30; 1 Cor 9:19-22)

Principle #2: Through Christ, the church has experienced the redemption of articles and practices that may have at one time been considered common or undesirable for believers (Acts 10:9-15; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Cor. 10:29-31; Titus 1:15).

Principle #3: God is both transcendent and immanent in His relationship with His people and the nature of this relationship will be evident in a balanced view of this truth as it relates to corporate worship. The fear of God is our foundation for our friendship with Him (Acts 17:24-27; Psalm 25:14).

Principle #4: Recognition should be made that sola Scriptura requires consistent reevaluation of even the most revered human traditions (Matt 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13; Col 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Principle #5: Clear communication is vital to corporate worship, and communication must be contemporary, at least in the sense of being familiar to the hearers. Anything that varies greatly from common forms and styles will do more to detract from the message rather than contribute to its communication (1 Cor 14:7-9).

Principle #6: Sensitivity to the potential presence of unbelievers in corporate worship gatherings should influence, at least to some degree, the elements of public worship events (1 Cor 14:23-25).

Principle #7: The Great Commission requires us to engage with the culture of people outside the church (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 17; Romans 15:20; 1 Cor 9:19-23).

Principle #8: Maintaining unity among the diversity of the church’s membership requires that we defer to one another in love, being willing to submit one another’s preferences to that which is most edifying to the church body as a whole (John 13:35; 1 Thes 3:12; Gal 5:13; Eph 5:21).

Principle #9: Expressions of art have no inherent power other than what the creators and interpreters of the art willingly give to it (Isaiah 2:8; 2 Tim 1:7; 1 Cor 8:1-13). This has two main implications concerning corporate worship music: (1 Cor 6:12).

  1. There is no music that is unlawful for Christian expression in and of itself. However, not all music may be appropriate for all cultural contexts. (1 Cor 10:23)
  2. There is no particular music and/or artistic expression that is necessary for corporate worship. However, certain expressions/styles will be more appropriate for particular cultural contexts. (Psalm 34:18; John 4:20-24)

Principle #10: God accepts and desires the worship of people from every race, nation, and tribe. (Psalm 66:4; Rev. 14:6-7;  Rev. 5:9-10; John 4). These distinctions are largely cultural and the Scripture does not prohibit the free expression of worship based on cultural grounds only, unless the heart of the one who offers is not authentic (spirit and truth), or the expression is expressly forbidden in Scripture. (Mark 7:7; Gen. 4:4-7).

Let me know your thoughts.

The Path of Michael Jackson

This past week I’ve had the opportunity to read a couple books. One of them is The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley. It serves as a sequel of sorts to his book The Best Question Ever, which deals with our daily decisions and how they influence not only who we are, but influence who we are becoming often more than we ever know in the moment.

The basic premise of the book is that “direction, not intention, determines where you end up”. It sounds really simple, doesn’t it? Not extraordinarily profound. Often, though, it’s the simple truths that confound us. It’s the simple truths that either gives us great leverage or become seeming thorns in our side. A minor turn here or there surely won’t keep me from where I want to go, right? We don’t use that logic when taking a trip. Why do we use that logic in life? There’s probably no better illustration of that than what is in the news right now with the passing of Michael Jackson.

Even a casual observer of his life could see the signs. “No, Michael, don’t go that way…it’s a dead end.” All of the allegations, quirky behaviors, and strained relationships along the way just illustrated how easy it was for everyone except for Michael to see where he was going. Most of the world excused him, though, because he was so incredibly talented. I mean, come on, he united people (“We are the world”…remember?), broke racial barriers, he entertained people, oh, and the voice…wow. He almost single-handedly shaped the popular music of an entire generation and beyond. In all of that, though, the path of his decisions led him right where he ended up. Remember, it is our direction, not our intentions that determine where we go in life. The Scripture tells us that the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”.  God is the only One that is deserving of our whole heart. Do not trust your heart to something or someone else, or you will be highly disappointed. The next time you are up against a major decision in life, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Does this option violate one of God’s laws?

2. Does this option violate a principle?

3. In light of my past and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?

I’m currently on vacation and am sharing the same beach with people that, fiscally speaking, are both poorer and richer than I. However, the road we chose got us both to the same destination (for whatever reason). The good news (and bad news) is that in God’s economy, it doesn’t matter whether you are Michael Jackson or Average Joe, the path you choose will always lead to the same place. At the end of the day, whoever dies with the most toys…still dies. The real question is, how do you want your story told?

Take a hard look at the man in the mirror… What legacy do you want to leave? Are you currently traveling the path that will get you there?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

Exposure, Experience and (ah…) Vacation.

I am writing this sitting on the Gulf Coast of Alabama at Orange Beach. (I know, I live in Florida but am vacationing in Alabama…what’s up with that??? It’s a long story, but we’re here with some good friends). I have had the time to think, process, and simply relax. It has been so timely and Randi and I have enjoyed the time away. This has also given me the opportunity to “catch up” on a few things that I’ve wanted to do for several weeks/months.

I am often asked for the resources and materials that we use at Trinity to aid and influence our corporate worship. Here I hope that you will find this site both informational and inspiring. You will notice that to the right there are links to several resources that we use regularly. I’ve also included some posts from another blog site that I have posted several weeks/months ago that are relevant to this site. These resources, hopefully, will be helpful to you whether you find yourself in a new church plant or in an existing meg-church or somewhere in between.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned is that there is nothing new “under the sun” (if it was true for Solomon several thousand years ago, I’m sure it’s true for me). Chances are, if I need it, someone else has as well. Usually someone a lot more intelligent and experienced than myself has already come up with a solution to my problem long before I was even aware I had one.

I hope you will find these resources helpful to your ministry. If you have any that you would recommend, please send them my way. I’m always looking for new  ideas and resources to help our congregation experience God corporately in a fresh way.

I’ve found that there are two vital elements to successful leadership: 1) Exposure and 2) Experience. I hope that this site will be informative enough to help expose all of us to new ideas as well as inspirational enough to motivate us to use them. Without exposure we simply are bound to the hamster wheel of what we already know (which usually isn’t much). I’ve met people in ministry for 30 years who have claimed to have 30 years experience. Often, I have found that they have had one year of experience repeated 29 times.

With exposure, we have the ability to experience and process new ideas as they relate to ministry. However, it is actually getting out there and using these ideas that gives us the experience and fortitude to be effective. Otherwise, we become highly theoretical and idealistic with little to show for it.

I’ll close with this quote that I came across the other day “We must think like a man of action and act like a man of thought.” (even though the author, Henri Bergson, was not a believer, I believe this is a truism–see James chapter two and the entire book of Acts).  If we will be diligent in both our thinking and our actions, we can change this world for Christ.

I Then Shall Live

I’m looking forward to this coming Sunday. I always look forward to assembling with our church to worship our great Savior. One of the songs that will be featured this weekend is “I Then Shall Live”. It will be presented by a men’s ensemble along with our Celebration Choir and Orchestra.

What possibly excites me most about this song is the representation of men that will be singing it on Father’s Day and declaring its truth. If I could express to you what it would mean to experience this truth in my own life, and in the lives of those around me, it would be life changing for all of us.

The lyrics were penned by Gloria Gaither several years ago to the tune FINLANDIA, which has served as the musical setting of several hymns. Probably one of the most well-known is “Be Still My Soul”. It also serves as the tune to a Finnish national hymn.

I would like to post the lyrics to this song below. Let’s reflect on its truth and prepare our hearts to worship this Lord’s day with love, joy, and compassion for a world in need.

I Then Shall Live
Words by Gloria Gaither
Music by Jean Sibelius, “FINLANDIA”

I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven;
I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am His child, and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother,
The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion;
I’ve been so loved that I’ll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.
And when relationship demand commitment,
Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.

Your kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me;
Your Hallowed name, O may I bear with honor,
And may You living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may You feed a hungry world through me.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Text © 1981 Gaither Music Company.
Music © Breitkopf & Hartel (Outside U.S.only). All rights reserved.

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