Worship I: vertical

A long-held premise:
There is no more familial, encouraged, edified state than that which comes from any group’s having worshipped God authentically and deeply together.

Put more succinctly, if less poetically:  genuinely fulfilling horizontal expressions emanate from authentic vertical expressions.

Stated negatively:  the group that makes edification and encouragement its chief goal will fail.  Moreover, the church that puts all its worship eggs in a basket labeled “celebration” will, over the long haul, also fail.

Framed institutionally, for the sake of any who might have difficulty seeing outside the bonds of what happens in church buildings on Sunday mornings:

  1. Edification (horizontal) occurs when people in church gatherings sing, speak to, or somehow communicate with others.  It is associated with serving and encouraging others but also may involve less “positive” activities.
  2. Worship (vertical) occurs when people are involved in communication directly to/from God—including, but not limited to, collective thoughts of adoration or gratitude, and participating in the singing of bona fide hymns (see definition here) with a congregation.

Caveat lector:  neither edification nor worship is confined to what happens in church buildings, but both are regularly experienced in such buildings.  Neither is worship confined to any group experience, no matter the group size or venue; in fact, worship may more readily occur in private for many of us.

The next posts will deal with the semantic domains of words translated “worship” in English Bibles.  This will be the somewhat “heady” material, but I am earnest, believing that those who will dig into this kind of thing will emerge with a better founded, and more useful, approach to worship.


Concentrating on worship (Preface C)

Preface, Part C:  the philosophical and scholarly aspects

Historically, the significance of worship and worship leadership may readily be seen in my life, but my focus has shifted in recent years:  I was for a while more of a practitioner who philosophized and studied a little, but I am now more of a student who wishes his soul would find ways to practice more.

During the years since graduate study in music and conducting at the University of Northern Colorado, whatever scholarly inclinations I possess have been directed more into scripture and the things of the Lord than into music.  At present, avenues for music scholarship and praxis are rather dry, whereas the biblical studies area is fertile ground for me.  Sometimes it seems as though I am an impostor among true biblical scholars, but I have been affirmed a few times, and I have had the opportunity to respond to a few works of those trained in biblical research.  Moreover, graduate schooling in any field can provide one with general principles that support scholarly pursuits in another field . . . so I press on with serious work in biblical studies.

To sum up the above:  while my conceptualizations of worship have been forged in real life, anything I intentionally offer to others these days is likely to be rooted securely in what I understand as bona fide scriptural “worship-ology.”  Anything else risks being disingenuous.

Honestly, at times I think it’s a curse to have learned from a few trained biblical scholars.  It’s difficult to sit in on run-of-the-mill “Bible studies” these days as so many people play so fast and loose with precious, ancient texts.  Then, when I begin to get my own feet wet in GkHermBookspursuits for which I have no academic credentials, I may be overconfident or even brash.  On the other hand, I’ve seen enough people who do have credentials who are either ignoring their training or abusing it that I simply must use what I have been given, regardless of my lack of pedigree.

With a sense, then, of where I’ve been and where I am, and with trepidation, I intend now, again, to write something worthwhile about worship.  For a bit, it will be “heady,” because I think it is most likely in the lexical and exegetically interpretive veins that an appropriate foundation can be laid.  I won’t by any means be attempting to lay out an entire theology of worship, but I will reiterate in general terms, and from a strict-definition vantage point, what is and what isn’t worship.  Toward this end, I will offer insights from (and commentary on) Karen Jobes’s eminently applicable word study, found as an appendix to Moisés Silva’s 1983 book Biblical Words and Their Meaning:  An Introduction to Lexical Semantics.

These worship blogs will be forthright and, I hope, salient.  If there are things I say that surprise, shock, or seem to counter popular “wisdom,” that part is not by design, but it is without apology.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up after completing this entire series.  After attempting to deal with words & semantics, a few practicalities, and inspirations during the next 8 or 10 posts on worship, I don’t intend to write about it in any focused way until some new dawn occurs (although I’ll surely mention it from time to time in the course of general meditations).  Frankly, I expect that new dawn to coincide with the end of this life and the beginning of the next, but time will tell.

In any event, these words will be for those who, like me, have yearned to worship but have neither a) regularly been fulfilled nor b) lastingly been effectual in their worship or leadership.

Concentrating on worship (Preface B)

Preface, Part B:  personal leadership aspects, and prioritization of the vertical

Worship has for many years been a special area of calling for me.  Its significance in my life may be seen in my literary and musical outputs, in my print and audio libraries, and in my experiences.wpid-img_20150905_131041_265.jpg

Starting in my teens at the Cedars Church in Wilmington, DE, and continuing with opportunities at Camp Manatawny, Harding University, and beyond, I was[1] a worship leader.  The most regular, significant worship leading opportunities came in three related venues:

  • Cedars congregational assemblies, youth group devotionals, and retreats
  • Sr. High II week hymn sings at Camp Manatawny, 1998-2001
  • LIGHTS vocal band performances

Certainly not always, but often, I felt I was effective in those roles, bearing kingdom fruit.

For the last ten years, though, I have had only a few opportunities[2] to lead others in worship.  My own private worship veins have simultaneously been developing a severe case of sclerosis (which begs a chicken-egg question).  Wondering some days whether I still have something to offer, I feel somewhat like a dying man trying to do something worthwhile, to set things straight before things change more drastically.

Please don’t mistake the import of the above paragraph for me as an individual:  the words you just read were not at all easy to type.  They have undergone no material change since I first typed them.  In other words, I wish I could look back and moderate the words, realizing I had been dramatic in overstating the case, but I can’t do that honestly.  The words above speak truth wrestled from my wincing soul.  What I am attempting to do here is to process things deeply held and experienced . . . all the while realizing that I am not living as a devoted, worshipping being at this juncture.

In this blog series, I will revisit some concepts, some vocabulary, some texts, and some quotations and sayings, in order to refine my philosophy and practice—and in order to try once again to do something for the sake of God’s reign in human hearts, in spite of my own lack.

While worship is related to human life and to the horizontal connecting of humans one to another, it is the vertical expression of humble adoration and homage to the Lord that appears prioritized—both in scripture and in self-evident existential reality.

To the first point:  Jesus said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Mark 12, ISV).

Hebrews 13:15-16 appears to echo this prioritization.

And to the second point, a quotation:

Any explanation of why men worship should probably begin with the simple idea that they just do, that they are made to worship.  It appears undeniably true that one of the hardest jobs which could be undertaken would be to find either on the contemporary scene or in the archeological records of antiquity any race or civilization devoid of worship. . . .  This homage-paying has often been from those who deny that they do worship; but be their object of reverence God or gods, crocodiles or cows, man himself, money or science, all men, with but few exceptions, worship something.   In his book Ascent to Zion, S. Arthur Devan says, “. . .  Worship remains, because the impulse to worship is elemental and universal.”

– Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., “The Objectives of Worship,” from Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God, © 1969 Firm Foundation

Next:  philosophical and scholarly aspects of this current worship pursuit

[1] I struggled with the tense here.  “Was”?  “Have been”?  “Once functioned as”?  This type of question transcends the grammatical for me.

[2] Perhaps more responsibility for the last decade falls to me, i.e., I could have made a few more opportunities.

Concentrating on worship (Preface A)

With this post I embark on a voyage that could be my last on this particular ship.  I’m going to write about worship.

It’s not that I’m vowing never to speak or write about it again, but, in this series, I’m going to try to articulate more clearly and with more authority a few things I have been thinking and saying for more than 30 years.  After that, I plan to fall silent on this topic until another ship moves through the water toward a new continent or vista, probably mentioning worship only in passing.

It is my habit to write well in advance of making it public.  In this case, I will have structured and written most of the material before any of it is posted.  But I’m obsessive enough to spend a lot of time proofing, re-reading, refining each installment, so I will see all the material several times before publishing.  If only I were as obsessive these days about worship itself. . . .

Preface, Part A:  historical and personal aspects

Worship has for many years been a special area of calling for me.  Its significance is reflected in my print and audio libraries (e.g., 4800+ “contemporary” titles and several dozen hymnals), 300+ musical arrangements and compositions, conversations, and writings.  While in my 20s and 30s, I often corresponded copiously with others about worship.  I led congregations, impassioned teenagers, and a vocal performance group.  I made it a point to attend several large-scale worship conferences and concerts.  Pre-dating the ubiquity of the terms “worship team” and “praise team,” I started a group called “Worship Team” for the express purpose of considering, studying, and doing worship in a smallish group—toward the end that what was experienced might bleed over into the full congregation’s life.  Roughly during that same period, I edited and published a bi-monthly newsletter “digest” called Principally Proskuneo, offering worship material to more than 200 households by the end of the newsletter’s five-year run.  In addition to others’ material, PP contained articles of my own on such topics as these:

Coming into God’s presence Visual symbols Meditation
Free offering of worship John 4, Isaiah 6 Characterizations of God
Change Trials and melancholy Prayer
Searching and seeking Worship as worth-ship Acts and actions
Attention on Jesus in the Lord’s Supper Personal effort and the will to worship Another look at Nadab and Abihu
Worship and service Lamentation and confession Contemporary styles

During the subsequent decade, I worked for three or four years on a self-published book (The Christian Assembly:  Concepts, Trends, and Leadership with Purpose) in which worship figured prominently.  I have no way of knowing how many copies were downloaded, but I know I only sold one copy and only printed it in final form two or three times.  Its value, I gather, was severely limited by a general lack of demand, not to mention my lack of marketing prowess.

Boiling all that down:  I have read; I have pondered and studied; I have written; I have led; I have yearned . . . and I have periodically been fulfilled in pursuit of the Almighty.  But it has not been enough, nor am I content with the amount of lasting change (inward or outward, in me or in those I have led) that has resulted.

Next:  worship leadership as a formative influence; prioritization of worship

songbooks CDs


MWM: A tale of two strugglers

Subtitle:  Take a Journi-gan, then Take a Knapp

This is a rather unusual entry in the Monday (Worship) Music quasi-series (which can be accessed by following this link).  This post focuses on the relationship of worship, worship leadership, and life—particularly, sexual aspects of life.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget a travesty seen in the cowardice of a pastor—a preaching minister who excused a woman who was living/sleeping with her fiancé while she was involved in leading worship.   He didn’t want to “judge.”  But, moving on. . . .

Chapter One
Christian songwriter and worship leader Dennis Jernigan (brief website testimonial here) struggled with same-sex attraction early in his life and made an about-face.  He married (a woman) and had several children.  He has been very public about the course of his life and has effectively been an advocate for Christians who struggle in this way.  I have no way of knowing whether Jernigan continues to deal with some measure of homosexual attraction, but I suspect he does, although he does not act on it.

His worship songs (the ones I’ve heard and known) are of mixed quality, in my estimation.  (This assessment is no slam:  Beethoven wrote some mediocre music, too!)  I don’t claim to know all that many Jernigan songs, but he has been prolific, and the songs I’ve experienced are sometimes right on, sometimes predictable, sometimes almost giddy . . . and mostly in a style no longer supported by the multitudes.  However, there are some very powerful expressions contained within:

“I belong to Jesus.  I belong to Him!  … free from sin!!”

“Great is the Lord Almighty.  He is Lord; He is God indeed.”

“You are my strength when I am weak.  You are the Treasure that I seek.  You are my all in all.”

Although not one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, Dennis Jernigan is surely one who has endeavored to live life patterns that do not result in dissonance  with biblically grounded, Christian faith.

Chapter Two
Jennifer Knapp’s inaugural album Kansas was an instant favorite of mine back in 1997, and theKnappKansas songs still move me.   As I was listening again just the other day, I was struck by how genuine they seem, in comparison to some other songs laced with Christianese and expressions the public buys.  Knapp’s creative work does not fall into the “praise and worship” category, yet some of the words are imbued with notions of humble worship.

Jennifer Knapp “came out” as a lesbian in 2003, quit Christian music, and moved across the globe with her partner.  She continues to live an openly homosexual life and has also been public and about her avowed choices—choices which have been quite different from those of Dennis Jernigan.

My assumption is that, as a young singer/songwriter, Jennifer was struggling with same-sex attraction and (perhaps subconsciously) allowing her struggles to emerge through music.  Lyrics lines like these from 1997-8 would seem to support my supposition:

“Am I lost in some illusion?  Am I what You thought I’d be?  Now it seems I find myself in need to be forgiven.  If I give my life, if I lay it down, can You turn this life around?”

“Papa, I think I messed up again. . . .  It’s just this way of human nature. . . .  Sister, I know I let you down.  . . .  Lord, undo me.”

“In this search for Christ-like perfection, I’m convinced I’ve only left my God ashamed.”

“I don’t have to be condemned.  Jesus saved me from the laws of sin.  If I fail, I’ll try again.”

“I come into this place, burning to receive Your peace.  I come with my own chains. . . .  Lord, come with Your fire.  Burn my desire.”

I knew I wanted to type in some lyrics, but I didn’t know just how easy it would be to find expressions that manifest what I take as guilt and deep need of the Lord’s deliverance.  (Each separate paragraph above is from a different song.)  In observing here, I may be indulging in heterosexual, psychological “projection,” but it seems clear to me that Knapp was in those early songs dealing with some very serious, soul-threatening struggles, viz. homosexual attractions and actions.  Her 2001 album title seems prophetically revealing, too:  The Way I Am.

Chapter Three
One assessment of the relationship of the respective Christian commitments of Knapp and Jernigan might be that hers was the shallower, the less mature; whereas his is the more energetic and committed over the long term.  It’s likely not that simple, but one might size it up that way.

My assessment of their respective musics includes the observations that Knapp’s appealed to younger believers and strugglers, and is more believable and compelling on the whole, although now shelved by most Christians.  Jernigan’s music, on the other hand, appeals to a now-older set, wasn’t always very believable, and yet includes several songs that I suspect were written, in part, out of gratitude for an effective deliverance from homosexual attraction.  “You are my Strength when I am weak. . . .  Taking my sin, my cross, my shame. . . .”

This Tale of Two Strugglers was a shorter read than Dickens, wasn’t it?  The stories behind the Knapp and Jernigan stories are doubtless very lengthy, but I’d be out of the realm of what I should be writing about, so … that’s all Forrest Gump and I got to say ‘bout dat.

Order and organization (3 of 3)

[Continued from 9/2 post, found here]

Church leadership structure may not be a particularly crucial area of Christian doctrine, but it is worthy of consideration as a practical matter.  In my personal history, most churches have had deacons.  This last installment will deal a bit with these church servants.

The word “deacon” is a transliteration of a Greek antecedent—a word that may also be translated “minister” or “servant,” depending on context.  Sometimes, a designate-role seems implied; other times, not so much.  It might well be deduced that, in terms of function within the Body, a staff minister such as a youth minister is the same as a deacon who isn’t paid but who, say, takes care of the building and grounds:

One has one job; the other has another.
One gets paid; the other doesn’t.

I suggested this idea once and lost a friend and (staff minister) collaborator soon after.  Not that my assertion was the only cause of the separation, but the professional hierarchy of an institutional church does have its pitfalls.

Where churches have elders and deacons (and also where one or both of those subsets don’t exist), there is most almost always a man who stands and preaches sermons, along with various other roles assigned to him.  This man may be called “preacher” or “minister” or “evangelist.”  The last term, evangelist, while perhaps somewhat more intentionally biblical, rarely corresponds to actual evangelization in the biblical sense.

A few churches, including one whose website I recently browsed, have “ministry leaders” that include Christians of both genders.  Never have I known personally of a church who used the word “deaconess” to refer to someone within its midst, but the case against doing so is not strong.  If one is designated as a mere “ministry leader,” s/he is probably not paid and probably will not be respected as much as a staff person would be, yet there is much to be said for authentic ministry that is unfettered by denominational dogma, employment agreements, and the need for a salary.

Sometimes, after a few years of languishing with less ept leaders, the well-meaning preaching minister—and there are many like this—will begin to conclude that, after all, I have a gift with administration and spiritual leadership, and, yeah, I also have a degree in ministry, so doesn’t it make sense that I can serve this church better if I am recognized as an elder, too (or [muffled choking sounds from this writer] “senior pastor”)?  After all, Timothy and Titus did this kind of thing in the 1st century, sort of, so it’s justifiable, isn’t it?

It’s not entirely fair to find fault with the staff minister/preacher who reasons this way.  It’s more the people’s fault than his; they have abdicated their kingly, priestly roles in deference to a dubiously authorized high priest, a/k/a “pastor.”

The above is not by any stretch a thorough treatment of the organizational roles in churches.  It has been a mere glimpse into roles in a subset or two within Christendom.  Additional time could be spent on the nature of “membership” in an “organization,” but even using those words sours my stomach a bit.  I renounced the practice of “placing membership” a couple decades ago, preferring to let my intentions be made known by action rather than registration.

I might just mention the curiosity of being “in” but not “of” a congregation:  one relatively small denomination, an Ohio nondenominational church I visited once, and a larger denomination that friends attend in Missouri, all have at least two “levels” of membership:

First level
“covenant members” who buy in to everything

Second level
“community members” who attend and generally support but who take exception to one or more tenets and/or who aren’t as committed to the whole program

On the one hand, having two levels of membership begs the question of why one would choose to be a second-level member if s/he doesn’t buy in to the whole she-bang.  On the other hand, with all the superimposed dogma to which one is subjected in an institutional church, having a less committal version of membership may be the only way for said churches to survive.

When it comes down to it, I’m not sure that patterns of church organization seen (or hinted at) in the scant records of the primitive church were intended to be standardized.  Whatever organizational structure exists, or doesn’t exist, within a local church, I’d say two things, in order of increasing importance:

  1. A local church should use whatever organization and identified roles work for it, regardless of any larger denominational structure.  For the moment, and only for a moment, let us accede to the perverse reality that churches are businesses.  I would assert this truth for any business:  there is little validity to be found in people’s making decisions from four levels up in the off-white tower, unless they live where the people live on a regular basis.
  2. A local church should manifest the clear knowledge that no believers are in any sense to be set above any other believers.  All Christians are ministers; all Christians are priests; all Christians are saints.  There is no place for positional hierarchy within a church.  The subtle effects of the blind acceptance of de facto clergy/laity systems (on the part of blurry-visioned, lame sheep) may be more insidious in this regard than de jure hierarchies boldly emblazoned on signs and imprinted on letterhead.

Order and organization (2 of 3)

[Continued from 8/31 post, found here]

Church leadership structure may not be a particularly crucial area of Christian doctrine, but it is worthy of consideration as a practical matter.  In my personal history, all churches but one have had elders (and a few other roles designated for serving, leading, or accomplishing tasks).  This installment will deal a bit with the role designated by the word “elder.”

An elder might also be called “shepherd.”  An even less common appellation in modern and postmodern times is “bishop.”  Each of these three words has been derived from a corresponding Greek word, and each suggests a different aspect of what one of these men might do and/or be.

Carrying the above a little further . . . I sometimes wonder whether there might be a practical separation of roles and responsibilities, according to the ranges of meaning of the terms elder, shepherd, and bishop.  In other words, maybe there could be distinct groups or individuals, delineated something like this:

  • the oldest, most respected in the church, perhaps dispensing general life wisdom and helping with life situations (elders?)
  • those who primarily cared spiritually and physically for sheep (shepherds, not necessarily the oldest wise ones in a church?)
  • tasked with decision-making and executing plans (bishops, perhaps businesspeople, but not necessarily as wise in terms of individual life or things of the Lord?)

The above, which would probably add hierarchy instead of enhancing function, is probably of little value.  One can sometimes observe that the “slate” of elders/shepherds includes one or more from each of the above types, though.  Elder and bishop are not as distinct from one another in NT usage as both of those are from shepherd.

Personally, as a teenager, I aspired to be a church elder/shepherd.  I’ve decidedly lost that desire through the years, having observed what elders are actually called on to do in most churches.  (It’s not enough for me that there are good groups of elder-shepherds who regularly use meeting time to pray together for people.  Through no particular fault of any individuals, the working model is off kilter in pretty much every church I’ve been a part of.)

Speaking pragmatically, most congregations’ institutional needs require a bunch of folks to make decisions—usually by group vote or consensus.  That bunch of folks is usually the group of elders/shepherds, although there is little to no biblical precedent for elders’ functioning as a group.  Yes, fiscal decisions must be made, and program decisions may arguably fall within the realm of spiritual shepherding, but it’s not necessary that either of those fall to elders.  It’s a shame when deacons and other “ministry leaders”—not to mention Jane and Joseph Pewpacker—aren’t empowered more often to do these things.  If there were less organizational hierarchy and less of a business model, the elders/shepherds could care more for individual sheep and for the flock as a whole.

Next:  Deacon/deaconess/minister, member, and a couple of bold summary statements