Vertical/horizontal redux

Yesterday’s guest post clearly identified two “umbrella” aspects of the Christian Assembly.  The “vertical” is the worship, while the “horizontal” aspect consists not in God-oriented worship but in people-oriented activity.  


This essential delineation seems so clear, so true … and yet elusive for so many.  Check out this excerpt from an article by a recognized religionist/theologian in Worship Leader magazine:

Our worship should have a diaconal concern, a ministry to the sick, the poor, and the suffering (Acts 6:4).  It should have a teaching ministry for children, and the teaching ministry for mature theologians.  – Hughes Oliphant Old

Dr. Old speaks of good things, of worthy things.  He’s right to speak of serving, or “diaconal” work, fleshing out engagement with those with special needs.  He’s also right to point to Acts 6 as a kind of charter for some of this activity.

But he is not right in assuming those things fall in the category of “worship,” and he may, like so many others, have a concept that everything that occurs during the announced Sunday morning hour constitutes worship.  (No, it does not, and it should not.)  I am led again to believe that one reason for confusion in various spheres has to do with institutional investment in the status quo.   If we didn’t have such institutional needs to have our various programs, we might just understand that worship is worship, and service is service, and the two are distinct.

The breaking of bread, that is, the celebration of holy communion, should be a regular part of our worship (Acts 2:42).  – H.O.O.

Dr. Old is on target in encouraging communion/the Lord’s Supper, although not as thoroughly accurate with his proof-text use.  The “breaking of bread” in Acts appears to have little connection with what we think of as communion today; the expression “breaking bread” appears to have been related to basic table “fellowship” at a meal.

Now, if we go the whole distance and realize that the Jesus-memorial of “communion” was not originally an official, church-program ceremony but probably was more often a part of table fellowship, well, then, we’re onto something again in terms of worship.  It is highly advisable to remember the Lord’s sacrifice while fleshing out some of its implications in the second “body” — those siblings who are with you around the table.  Communion can function as a bidirectional aspect of the Christian gathering:  it is at once vertically and horizontally oriented.


Now from Worship Leader columnist Phil Sillas comes a mention of Loop Community.  (Boy, am I out of it, apparently.)

If you thought it was just a) bad song leaders and b) pianos and organs and c) preachers who say “thanks for those great songs” (as if the worship were all about warming the audience up for him), … just look here to see what else is distracting people from worshipping God these days.

“Everybody’s doing it.”  They’re even including loops on the bi-monthly Song DISCovery releases now.  Apparently we “all need to start somewhere” with using loops in worship.  I have some idea what “loop” means in the world of electronic sound, but it’s not even explained on the site — at least, not in plain sight.  I’m pretty sure it has little to do with roller coasters or Chicago.

I detect an inherent assumption that every church needs to use loops at some point.  Not only is this assumption provincial within the current contemporary-church scene, but it is downright arrogant when one considers Christian gatherings in Kenya, Albania, Appalachia, the 1950s, the 1830s, and the year 48 A.D. Of course there is no overt intent to be all-inclusive, but the language is still very narrow.

Some folks clearly drool over loops, exploring various developing technologies ostensibly for the sake of their Christian communities, but I prefer simplicity.  “Learn more about enhancing your worship team through loops and song elements”?  No thanks, Worship Leader and other loop proponents.  I’m not really interested.  I crave content over mechanisms, and I’m persuaded that most of us don’t need any more distractions.

Organic isn’t everything

It drowns out congregational singing.

It causes us to shut down or at least move in subconscious realms instead of quickened-spirit, aware ones.

It smacks of liturgy and high-church nonsense.

It has an overblown ego to match its pipes and its use of electricity:  it tends to think everyone should follow it, regardless of phrasing, text, tempo, etc.

Organic is often best in the food arena (when it’s affordable).  But organic is not best in the church arena.

Quote without comment

Looking through historical files or old books, I like finding things that deserve another hearing.  This comment from a cherished “old friend” is not all that historical—meaning it’s something he wrote only 6 months ago—but I think these comments are worth posting here.

The value of a “worship leader” far exceeds that of a preacher. The reason I say that is because our time together in assembly is “family time” — more of encouraging than learning.  More of “praising, thanking, mourning and remembering” than “knowing.”

. . .  Hearty worship as a family of God is magnetic to the community.  It is when Christ died that he said He would “draw” men…. the emotional aspect of that event is vital to remembering!

The eyes as communicators

I once read this:  Avoid extended periods of leading with your eyes closed. To be frank, I am not sure whether the advice is a valid advice nugget or just a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Since reading it, I have been hyper-aware of this issue, and perhaps it is just because I had been preconditioned to notice it.

One issue here is personal worshipping on the part of the leader.  For our purposes, let us leave out the possibility of insincere performism.  I would rather assume sincere, personal investment and involvement on the part of the leader.  Most of the time, when I am being led by someone with his eyes closed, I try to assume that he is personally involved and charged—perhaps contemplating the holiness of God, seeing in his mind’s eyes the infinite majesty of heaven’s throne room, or at least endeavoring to focus more within his own human spirit.

But the eyes are communicators, and while I believe in the notion of lead worshipper over song leader or even worship leader—meaning the leader is responsible, foremost, for his own heart’s consummate involvement in worship—it is important to communicate with those being led.  So I recommend that leaders not make a habit of becoming involved in their own spirits to the neglect of the sheep in the pen.[1] For one thing, it is difficult to effect even simple leadership—in such aspects as tempo and dynamics—when your eyes are closed.  If those in the pews are accustomed to leaders constantly in their own worship worlds, i.e., not connected through the eyes to the rest of the congregation, it is nigh unto impossible for people in the pews to be roused when musical leadership is called for.

Closed eyes can be authentically expressive.  Closed eyes can be indicative of the truly engaged heart of a lead worshipper (or any worshipper, for that matter!), and I greatly appreciate seeing a worship leader “obviously worshipping,” as a friend put it.  But if you are leading from a position at the front of a group of worshipping saints, I recommend avoiding lengthy periods of eyes-closed, internal focus.

[1] This “conflict of interest” that sometimes arises (between the leader’s own spiritual needs and those of the group he is leading) makes one case for not using the same leader all the time.  Leaders need regular opportunities to worship without the pressing concerns of leading others.

MM: Rich Mullins post-mortem

I’ve called attention to Twila Paris before as a non-scandalized, constant voice in Christian music.  From what I know of the late Rich Mullins, he was in a similar category, although not nearly as widely sung in churches.  The familiar “Step By Step” is a product of his band–presumably more the creative work of the bandmate known as “Beaker,” and “Awesome God” is well known, but very little of Mullins’s music seems congregationally singable.  Still, I’d like to share this review I wrote once for Worship Leader magazine:

The Jesus Record

Rich Mullins and a Ragamuffin Band


Drawn to the notion of listening to Rich Mullins’s pre-tragedy boom box demos, I rushed to the headphones and heard these honest-hearted offerings to the Lord.  The band’s fully developed renditions of the songs, just as pleasing, are on the second CD in the set.

In leading worship, we come to know the feeling of lonely distance from God as well as astounding intimacy.  The laments in “Hard To Get” turn toward God in open inquiry:  Is He is purposefully keeping His distance?  I may be “only lashing out at the one who loves me most,” but my soul needs answers sometimes:  “You who live in radiance, hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin. . . .”

The hit single “My Deliverer,” like other cuts, has undergone an effective ‘Muffin metamorphosis.  And though “That Where I Am, There You . . .” isn’t a creative pinnacle, anyone can sing along with it.

The pleading, hauntingly beautiful “Jesus . . .” and “Nothing Is Beyond You” are extraordinary solo worship pieces.  Amy Grant’s earnest, engaging vocals on the latter make me wish it were more geared for the average congregational worshipper.  “All the Way to Kingdom Come” is a praise tribute in a southern rock milieu.

This album’s earthy warmth — characteristic of Mullins — glows brightly amid the sometimes-mechanized expressions of today’s worship music.  Though the meandering lyrics of several songs are inspired reflections of the artistry of Rich Mullins, not many are likely to be widely used in congregational worship.  Nevertheless, get this album to nourish your own spirit.

– Brian Casey, 1998

Didactic worship leading

Bill, an old friend, upon participating in a worship session I led at Camp Manatawny, observed that I tend to be a “didactic worship leader.” By that I think he meant that I utilized opportunities, while standing in front of a group of 120 teenagers and misc. adults, to infuse teachings on important worship concepts. I didn’t even realize I was doing it as much as I was.

It depends on the setting and the nature of what I’m doing when I lead, but I still do this “teaching while leading worship” thing. On first consideration, it might seem inappropriate, because when worship is supposed to be occurring, a teaching “dynamic” might conflict with the more central goals of attending to the Lord.

Just thinking out loud here, having done this sort of “didactic worship leading” earlier on the very day I’m writing this. It seems to me that it is quite possible to impart valuable concepts . . . to share Kingdom truths . . . to communicate teachings about worship while leading worship. Transitions from more of a teaching statement to a worship call may (should?) be effected seamlessly. And at times, I’m convinced that there is no need for transition at all.

Sunday, I said things like this:

  • Immediately after John interprets Psalm 111, in which we see ample reason to praise, we’ll encourage one another to praise by speaking to one another. Then in the following song, we’ll move into worship, speaking to God directly.
  • Worship is about two: 1) God and 2) me (or us). The next song isn’t typically thought of as a worship song, but really, it is, because it expresses awareness of me and my need as I humbly approach the Source of fulfillment.

Although some stick-in-the-muds in my experience (basically, the ones who say things like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”–an expression that strikes me as a veil for the fact that it really was “broke” to begin with) don’t like song or worship leaders talking much, I think these types of comments can help to focus the hearts and minds of the gathered saints.

First-day Adventists?

Last month sometime, I read Worship Leader editor Chuck Fromm’s column. He commented, in passing, on worship leaders “across the world [who] serve weary travelers with living water every Sabbath.”

A Christian college’s community covenant statement refers to the Sabbath similarly, saying the statement’s adherents “should set aside the Sabbath as a time for worship, meditation, rest, renewal, . . .”

In neither of these literary pieces was there so much as a mention, e.g., that “we all presume that Sunday is now the Sabbath.” It’s just unspoken. “The Sabbath” is supposedly Sunday.

I’m no Seventh-Day Adventist, either, but doesn’t anyone even acknowledge anymore that the Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday? The Sabbath principle may be freely applied, with Romans 14 supporting us, and I’m persuaded that Sabbath-rests are a good idea (see here) … but the New Covenant writings do not tell Christians to observe a day as “Sabbath” per se, as the Jewish believers observed it. Sabbath observance wasn’t one of the Acts 15 Jerusalem conference resolutions, and, as far as I know, it hasn’t been later enjoined on us by divine proclamation, either.

It’s not that we’re now required to observe a Sunday Sabbath; it’s that the requirement is not written in! Again, the principle is a good one, but the law is not there, and Christendom should be more careful in its resolutions these days.

Click here for a letter I wrote a year ago about Sabbath.

Aside:  Tomorrow night, at the close of the Sabbath, we shall commence what we hope is a distinctly edifying, instructive, devotional study of the gospel of Mark.  Several are planning to meet in our home for this study, and we’re excited.