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.

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Liturgy: What does it mean?

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Christ the Great High Priest Icon (source)

There has been much talk about liturgy in recent years. The usual “non-structured” format of contemporary worship services is being organized after more ancient and more structured “higher church” services. A good example of this is Robert Webber’s excellent book Ancient Future Worship, a work advocating for contemporary worship services utilizing ancient worship structures.

This usually entails inserting confessions of sin, or the creeds, calls to worship or benedictions; or sometimes it simply means outlining the service and placing it in the bulletins. All of this is very good in my estimation. Ever since the dawn of contemporary worship, liturgy has been seen as stale or stifling, when actually it helps the service flow well. It also allows congregants to better engage the transitions within the service.

But what does liturgy actually mean? And why is it an important aspect to Christian worship? 

The word “liturgy” is a transliteration from the Greek word leitourgía. This word is a combination of two Greek words: leitos, and ergos. Leitos means “public”, while ergos means “work”. Put together, leitourgía means the work of the public, or the work of the people.

It was originally a word the Greeks and Romans used for holding a public office or for enrolling in the military. The “people” would choose from themselves someone to serve. Public office was thus the work of a “liturgist”. Louis Weil explains:

Public works in ancient Greece were regularly undertaken by private citizens, apparently in pace of an orderly and effective system of taxation. For example, to build a bridge for a public road across a stream on one’s private property would constitute a liturgy. Military service at one’s own expense would be a liturgy… Liturgy is work for the people (Liturgy for Living, 13)

Within the earliest Christian context this word has since come to mean the work which the people of God do together to offer God praise and worship. Leitourgía is used several places in the OT Greek Septuagint, and a few places in the NT. In the OT, this word was used to describe the sacrificial cult ministered by the people through the priesthood. Within this context, the ceremonial works and sacrificial works were understood as liturgy.

As one moves into the NT, however, the liturgy takes on a new meaning in the person of Christ. Hebrews 8:6 makes a reference to Christ’s “ministry that is much more excellent than the old”. This word “ministry” is leitourgía in the Greek. Properly, Christ’s work is seen here as a liturgy that surpasses the value of the OT liturgy. But what liturgy does Hebrews reference?

While all of Christ’s life should be seen as a liturgy, it is especially his death that is seen as a liturgy, especially in light of the cultic sacrifices within the OT. Christ’s death, although by all appearances was simply an execution, was a cultic sin-sacrifice. Christ liturgized himself on the cross. He offered himself a single time for the sin of mankind, after which he ascended as the smoke of burnt offerings to the throne room of God. Christ assimilated into himself the numerous sacrifices of the old covenant and perfected them as the true offering. As Louis Weil says: Christ is in himself the true Christian liturgy (ibid, 14).

With this in mind, Paul says that believers themselves are liturgists, not because of their own sufficient obedience or offering, but because of their participation in Christ. By being in Christ, believers now offer themselves as a “spiritual sacrifices” (Rom 12:1-2) to the Father. No longer do Christians offer animals, but instead offer praise to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. In fact, in Philippians 2:17, Paul calls the entire life of believers a “sacrificial offering” (Gk, leitourgía). What this means is that the old covenant offering of animals and blood sacrifices is realized in the praise of Christian believers.

Louis Weil says this about Christian liturgy:

Christ’s life and death is in fact the one liturgy; and Christians whose lives are “in Christ”, formed and shaped in his likeness, constitute a liturgy also. It would be even better to say that they constitute a working out and a making present “in all times and in all places” of the one liturgy… Christian service of worship is a representation or making present of the life and death of Christ. In worship, we appropriate Christ’s liturgy as our own. (pp 14-15)

The Christian liturgy is not so much about the order of worship as it is about the making present the self-offering of Christ within a corporate context. The corporate meeting of the church is the offering of the people through its worship to the Father in Christ. It is about the work of the people “in Christ” offering themselves to the Father.