Vision for RMPC Worship Ministry (Part 1)

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Vision:

The vision of Rincon Mountain Presbyterian Church’s worship ministry is to lead God’s people, as a team, in the corporate discipline of the worship of God. 

Notice these key words:

Worship as leadership. (right now)

Worship as team (second post)

Worship as a discipline. (third post)

Worship as corporate. (fourth post)

Worship as leadership:

First, we will focus on worship as leadership. What does it mean to lead in worship? It means (at least) two important things:

First, (and shortly) it means that worship is not a show.

 Very often, contemporary worship is either accused of being or perceived as being a “show”, or a spectator sport. The band performs while the congregation observes. This is entirely problematic. Worship is something that all Christians are called to, and in fact, the entire body is called to participate in.

This means is that the worship service is not about the people on stage performing, and the people in the chairs observing.

It is about the people “on stage” leading “the congregation” in the worship of God.

Both are doing the same work. Both are worshipping. And, this means the worship service is as much the peoples’ work as it is the pastors’/ministers work. Strictly speaking, the “audience” (which is not the right term, because God is at work in worship as well!) is God himself, and the congregation is “the band”.

This means the worship service is as much the peoples’ work as it is the pastors’ work. The worship team is simply the leadership of the worshipping congregation. This means the band is filled with “spiritual leaders”!

Second point: if the worship team is involved is spiritual leadership, this implies we are actually leading people somewhere.

We are leading people into a practice; an experience; an end goal: into fellowship with the Triune God. Jesus said to his disciples, when they asked where he was going, “come and see”. He didn’t say, “go and see”; He was on his way to the Father, and he told the disciples: “come [with me to the Father] and you will see”. When he ascended, he led his people to, as Paul says, his “right hand”. Spiritual leadership is saying the same: come with me and see the glory of God. John says in his first epistle,

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 1:3)

Notice the order: that which we have seen, we now proclaim to you, so that you too may see it too! Jesus leads us to the Father through his death and resurrection, and spiritual leaders in turn, lead people to Jesus, who is the presence of the Father.

Therefore, worship leadership involves creating and cultivating and culture of worship. It means leading people into the excellencies of Jesus who is the face of the Father.

Of course, strictly speaking, the worship team cannot create worship within the congregants’ hearts: that responsibility the Holy Spirit’s; he alone is able to produce worship. However, the worship ministry can lead in creating an atmosphere that best assists the people in their worship. And, part of that leadership involves having a of worship on our own part. If we aren’t worshipping, we certainly cannot expect others to worship!

However, another part of that leadership is maintaining a standard of musical excellence that best glorifies God and displays the beauty of his goodness.

Put another way, spiritual leadership involves setting a high standard for the worship service, because that best glorifies God and leads God’s people to worship him.

Now, I realize at first read that sounds shallow: isn’t worship about the heart of the worshipper, and not the quality of the music? According the Bible, the answer to that is no! Notice Psalm 33:3:

Sing a new song to the Lord, play skillfully before Him, and shout for joy.

Notice how this verse holds together joyful singing and skillful playing. God is pleased both with skillful playing and joyful shouting. He is, in fact glorified by beautiful playing.

God makes this point in the Old Testament while giving instruction to the priests on how to build the tabernacle and vestmests. Notice the adjectives such as “skilled”, “able”, etc, that God says about the builders:

 (Exodus 31) The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.” 

Notice just from this passage that God cares about ability, skill, and even more, about the appearance of what he plans to build. He is particular about the quality of each element in the tabernacle, from the utensils to the lampstand. God takes joy in beauty!

Another way to think about excellence in music is to think about God’s own excellence, and how God’s excellence in turn deserves excellent worship. Psalm 150 makes this striking connection:

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his excellent greatness! (therefore)

Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

 I inserted the “therefore”, but I think the Psalmist implies this connection: because God is excellent, therefore let us praise him with excellent music: with strings, tambourines, loud cymbals etc.

 In other words, we are, however feebly, making an attempt to say something God’s beauty with the beauty of our music.

Excellent music makes a statement about God himself: he is worthy of excellent music because he himself is supremely excellent!

God loves it when our guitars are well tuned, when our voices are beautiful, when each person knows his or her part, because it makes a statement about his worthiness.

A take home:

What all of this leads to is my encouragement to see yourself as a spiritual leader. You aren’t a filler. You aren’t simply a musician or a singer. You’re an (small “a”) apostle (a “sent one”) who seeks to show people what you have seen and heard. You have seen the risen Lord, and now you have been sent by Christ to lead people into his presence so that they might know the Father and have fellowship with the Triune God.

Second, I want to encourage you to practice at least a 2-3 hours each week. Take an evening to get on Planning Center and acclimate yourself with each song. Listen to the audio tracks (or the Multitracks) and listen in for your part. In addition, to assist us in this, we may begin midweek practices in the Fall. Make sure you know your part so that each week we can strive for excellence and thereby point to the excellencies of Christ!

The next post will examine the worship ministry as a team.

An argument for youth ministry

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Is youth ministry that important? Do we even need it? I wanted to give a few points on why I think youth ministry is in fact important and needed:

There are some who feel that the biblical mandate for discipling children is a relegated only to the parents. Now, you certainly won’t find me downplaying that importance, the centrality even, of the family. Paul tells parents to bring their children up in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Parents are held responsible to God to do this. Parents are the first and foremost disciplers of their children. No denying. However, what I want to argue is that the responsibility of the family doesn’t leave out the importance, the need even, of the church community. Ideally, the two should go hand in hand.

Just to give an example, why do churches have men’s and women’s ministries? There isn’t a biblical command to have them. In fact, Paul commands husbands and wives to grow together in the Lord in their respective roles (Eph 5). So what rationale do churches have for women’s Bible studies, men’s breakfasts, retreats, etc? The logic is simple: men’s ministries are there to help men in their respective roles: husband, father, son, worker, etc. Same with the women’s ministry. The point of those ministries is to serve men and women in their roles, not to detract from them.

What I want to argue here is that the same goes with youth ministry. The point of youth ministry is to strengthen teenagers in their respective roles, not to detract from the responsibility of parents or families etc. Teenagers are commanded to be godly students, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, disciples, leaders etc. The end goal is that they would be better in all those areas by being involved in a youth ministry.

In addition to this, I also want to say that there are some biblical commands which are darn near impossible without the presence of some sort of youth ministry. Here are a few examples:

  • John 13:34-35 — Love one another
  • James 5:16 — Confess your sins to one another
  • Ephesians 4:32 — Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another…
  • Romans 12:10 — Be devoted to one another
  • Galatians 6:2 — Bear one another’s burdens

Now, no one is going to deny that these verses apply to teenagers as much as adults. These are communal commands and disciplines that all Christians, not just adults, should grow in. That’s not up for debate. What is up for debate is this: how can students grow in their love for one another? Where can students confess their sins to one another? In what context can teenagers bear one another’s burdens? Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. There must be a communal context for teenagers to apply these commands. My vote is for a youth group.

I want to consider one last thing. The Bible assumes that older Christians should disciple and counsel younger Christians. This assumption is all over the scriptures. Just to give you an example from Titus 2:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled,pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled

Now, I realize that the passage commands older women to train younger women to love their husbands and children. That makes these “young women” a bit older than teenagers! But the overall point here is that within the church there is a context of older women, who are not biological parents, discipling and teaching younger women. We can assume that Paul would urge the same of older men and younger men. Now where does this teaching and discipling take place? Well, it could take place really anywhere and in any context. But youth ministry sure is a good context for it!

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but I hope you can see the rationale behind why we do youth ministry.

 

 

 

 

Taking a Systems Approach to Student Ministry

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Mark Devries says in his book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, that far too often, churches place the focus of youth ministries on finding the “super star” youth pastor who will fix all the problems of their youth ministry:

Too many churches are looking for a dynamic, top notch, committed, magnetic, relational, creative [etc] … 22 year old who can present powerful, life-changing messages and will gratefully work for $23,000 a year (p 44)

This one person is hired and expected to grow the ministry, to attract young families, to in essence, fix all woes.

Devries’ thesis in this book is that the focus is placed on the person or the problems, when it should instead be placed on maintainable systems.

In other words, Devries encourages us to step back from the super star stud, from the issues, and first ask: am I creating a system in and through which students can grow? Am I fostering a system where leaders can increasingly plug in and lead? Devries says: if these systems are not put in place first, any hip youth pastor will burn out; all fixes will be botched; and all forward movements will be brought back to square one. In essence, youth ministries that focus on what Devries calls “content issues” (who can be the dynamic leader, what cool things can we put in place to draw students) will always be patch-work ministries.

Mark Devries explains:

I [want to] invite you into seeing (and doing) youth ministry with a systems perspective. More and more, we are discovering that sustainable youth ministries are led by systems leaders. The day of the camp counselor youth minister who focuses only on students is over.

Sustainable youth ministries make the leap from a short-term, patchwork ministry to ones based on established systems that last long after the current leadership team has moved on. (p. 53)

Devries goes on to explain that there are two ways to do youth ministry (really any ministry!!): you can focus on content problems, or focus on sustainable systems.

He explains:

As I have tried to get my head around the power of a systems approach to initiating strategic change, family systems theory has been immensely helpful, particularly in its distinction between “content issues” and “system issues.”

A content issue involves a specific topic, usually a topic of conflict. In youth ministry, typical content issues can be anything from a problem with cliques to a problem with the seventh-grade curriculum. System issues, on the other hand, are those processes that take place beneath, around and within the particular topics of concern, things like trust among the leadership, clarity of expectations for staff and volunteers, or ownership of the ministry beyond the staff.

Trying to initiate change while staying solely focused on content issues is like sprinting up and down the aisle of a speeding jet, believing that the sheer force of effort will speed up the plane. Too many youth workers are wearing themselves out, completely unaware of the fact that they are a part of a system that is carrying them (and their ministries) in a direction that may be completely independent of their exhausting labor. (p 53-54)

Put another way, reactionary planning will exhaust the ministry and the leaders. Focusing on processes that initiate students on the path of discipleship are best.

[D]ramatic, sustainable change happens in youth ministries only when we take our focus off the ‘presenting issues’—the obvious concerns that seem to be creating so much anxiousness—and put our focus on the system patterns that keep us locked into unproductive ways of doing things (p 54).

Notice Devries says to focus on the systems that keep us locked into “unproductive ways of doing things”. Very often we focus on what is deficient in the youth pastor, the unsatisfactory teachings, the gossip between students. Devries says to step back and ask: is this system serving us best? Is this manner of doing things most effective? Are all the moving parts serving one another best? These are big picture questions, and not instead: what did Jenny say about Sally at youth group?

Devries encourages youth pastors to focus on 5 things in building an effective ministry:

  1. Directories: lists of students and volunteers, who’s going, who’s not etc
  2. Annual events calendar: “There’s no reason for a youth ministry not to have its major-events calendar mapped out at least a year in advance, except laziness. Every September, parents should be able to plan around events, including trips, for the upcoming summer (nine months away). Too many youth ministers complain about the lack of committed volunteers and youth who don’t sign up for programs, when those programs are announced less than six weeks before they happen. It’s almost impossible to recruit volunteers to take load-bearing responsibility for programs less than six weeks away” (p 61)
  3. Job descriptions: Who’s who and what’s what of leadership and volunteers
  4. Recruitment list: who is a potential volunteer/leader?
  5. Curriculum Template: “We call the final control document a curriculum template, a six- or seven-year game plan of how the teachings in the youth ministry will be structured” (p 62)

Beyond this, Devries suggests having a vision, mission, and values statement through which to evaluate calendar, events, teaching, etc.

The Value of Work (Sermon)

Here is a sermon I gave the on the purpose and value of work, from Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville AR. I gave two points from Genesis 1:26-31:

Work is imitation — God created us in his image, and calls us to be and act like him. Part of what it means to be like God is to work. The Genesis creation narrative presents God working 6 days, and taking a sabbath day. He calls us to imitate him in that

Work is participation — When God created mankind, he gave us the earth to tend. The animals, plants, everything therein. What this meant, was that God wanted to include mankind in his creation project. He didn’t want to do all the work himself. He wants to bless his creation through mankind. Through farmers, cooks, artists, musicians, gardeners, et al. God wants to use every profession for the flourishing of his creation!

Planned Parenthood and the 3% Abortion Statistic

So I have had multiple conversations about the 3% statistic that Planned Parenthood (PP) publicized about their abortion services. According to their calculations, only 3% of all of their services is abortion. This would mean that PP is not mainly a place to receive abortions, but mainly a place that offers pregnancy tests, pap smears, STD tests, et al.

But is that 3% stat true? That statistic is confusing at best, and misleading at worst. Why?

The reason is because that 3% stat considers all services rendered in general; it does not consider the patients who receive those services.

The problem is that each patient that goes to PP receives multiple (3-4) “services” per visit. So in one year, PP might perform 11 million services, but ONLY on 3 million patients. This immediately makes the 3% statistic misleading. Because while the abortion might be 3% of the services, the percentage of patients who receive abortions is much higher. If we take into consideration the actual patients rather than the services, about 1 in 9 patients receive abortion (source).

Even worse, if you take into consideration ONLY the pregnant women who receive services from PP, 93% of pregnant women get an abortion (video below). PP is purposely conflating the statistics to make abortion look like one of the “many services” offered. When in fact, abortion is the MAIN thing that PP does for their pregnant patients. And we now know they are profiting off of these abortions.

To get a visual glimpse into how PP conflates their stats, what the video below:

The Work of the Pastor

Eugene Peterson gives us a good glimpse into the work and duties of the pastor, in his Working the Angles. Word and Sacrament, in a wreck of a world. How are we to do this?

Peterson explains:

The definition that pastors start out with, given to us in our ordination, is that pastoral work is a ministry of word and sacrament.

Word.

But in the wreckage [of life] all words sound like “mere words.”

Sacrament.

But in the wreckage what difference can a little water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine make?

Yet century after century Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set them apart, and say, “We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us. We believe that God’s Spirit continues to hover over the chaos of the world’s evil and our sin, shaping a new creation and new creatures. We believe that God is not a spectator in turn amused and alarmed at the wreckage of world history but a participant in it. We believe that everything, especially everything that looks like wreckage, is material that God is using to make a praising life. We believe all this, but we don’t see it. We see, like Ezekiel, dismembered skeletons whitened under a pitiless Babylonian sun. We see a lot of bones that once were laughing and dancing children, of adults who once made love and plans, of believers who once brought their doubts and sang their praises in church – and sinned. We don’t see the dancers or the lovers or the singers – at best we see only fleeting glimpses of them. What we see are bones. Dry bones. We see sin and judgment on the sin. That is what it looks like. It looked that way to Ezekiel; it looks that way to anyone with eyes to see and a brain to think; and it looks that way to us.

“But we believe something else. We believe in the coming together of these bones into connected, sinewed, muscled human beings who speak and sing and laugh and work and believe and bless their God. We believe that it happened the way Ezekiel preached it and we believe that it still happens. We believe it happened in Israel and that it happens in the church. We believe that we are part of the happening as we sing our praises, listen believingly to God’s word, receive the new life of Christ in the sacraments. We believe that the most significant thing that happens or can happen is that we are no longer dismembered but are remembered into the resurrection body of Christ.

Eugene H. Peterson. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Kindle Locations 217-231). Kindle Edition.

What I want my students to know about gay marriage

So SCOTUS ruled last week that gay marriage will now be accepted by the government. And I’ve stayed off social media about it for several reasons. But I did want to write something about it from the perspective of a youth pastor (which I am), because I believe it’s incredibly important for students to have a biblical and loving stance toward this issue. With that said, here are a few things I want my students to know about gay marriage:

First of all, I believe the Bible is incredibly clear on issues of sexuality and marriage. What the scriptures say is that God was the one who invented marriage, and he designed it to (1) be between a man and a woman (Mark 10:7-8, Eph 5:31, Gen 2:24), and to (2) be a life-long relationship of sacrificial love that images the gospel of Jesus (Eph 5:25-31). Biblically, marriage is not just about love. It includes gender. It includes the gospel. Man and woman together, imaging Christ and his bride. The Bible is clear on this point. What this means is that anything outside of those boundaries is inherently not biblical. This includes gay marriage, but it also includes sex outside of marriage, live-in relationships, pornography, prostitution, etc.

Second, the ruling from our government in no way changes this definition of marriage. While the government may have redefined marriage in their eyes, it’s not changed in God’s. God has spoken, and no man can change that ruling. For this reason, we shouldn’t react as if it has changed the biblical definition. That’s impossible.

Third, our attitude toward this bill should be nuanced. Why? Well, first, the bill is not a threat to the biblical definition of marriage. And so we shouldn’t fear, or panic, or worry. In many ways, the game has not changed. Christians are on the same mission and plan: go make disciples of all nations. But at the same time, this doesn’t mean we should be indifferent. We live in a relativistic society: “Whatever works for you” is the mindset in America. And it would be easy to say to this bill: “whatever works for them. Just don’t take away my religion”. The massive problem with this, is we worship a Man who not only rose from the dead, but now reigns over the universe at God the Father’s right hand. And he calls all men to worship him or perish. Psalm 2:10-12 says this

 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Philippians 2:8-10 says this:

Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus calls kings and rulers and men from all nations, “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish”. “Confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. This applies to everyone. And as America whole-sale enables people their sin, we should grieve. Relativism or indifference is not an option (much less celebration!). Jesus is the risen King, and he calls everyone to allegiance to him.

Lastly, and most importantly, we must remember that homosexual practice is not a special sin. It certainly is a sort of the taboo topic right now, especially with all the media buzz. And we are forced to address it for that reason. But let’s not forget the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 

Notice the sins that Paul lists along with homosexuality. And, notice that all of them are equally condemnable. The “greedy” are no better than “idolaters”. “Revilers” are no better than “men who practice homosexuality”. The point here is that all sin is grievous in God’s eyes. Homosexuality is not any worse than the rest. Every type of sinner is on equal ground. The trouble is that it is often our temptation to “tame” sin. Greed is bad, but it’s not as bad as that sin over there. Stealing is pretty bad, but at least I’m not that guy over there. The Bible simply doesn’t allow us to rank our sins. All sin condemns. And Christ redeems every type of sinner. This is the humbling power of the gospel. And so, as we are forced to look at this issue of homosexuality and marriage, we simply cannot forget that God loves every type of sinner. And we are called to love them as well.