Burdened for Some Trends in American Church Worship

I have a friend who is writing a research paper about prayers of lament. She is arguing that the lament is a valid, important, missing element in American worship. I agree with her premise overall. From what I’m seeing, the majority of large, urban churches in America that are aggressive towards church growth include joyful praise, pop/rock style, upbeat songs (at least to begin the service), and a lack of somber lament and confession.

American music has been greatly influenced by Europe, Africa and other cultures in the last several hundred years. Joy and praise in worship are not just an American phenomenon. Latino and African culture tend to be quite joyful, passionate and expressive. Asian cultures can often be more reserved and contemplative. There is something to be appreciated in every culture. Each changing generation both gains and loses something.

I’m not that concerned with changes in music style which are to be expected over time, but I am burdened for the lack of prayer and the content of our liturgy and songs. Corporate prayer, laments, and confession of sin seem to be missing aspects of American church worship. My dad travelled to American evangelical churches extensively over the last 5-6 years, and he rarely heard churches pray; he mainly heard songs and sermons. Church worship gatherings should include more than just sermons and songs of praise. There needs to be an emphasis on the ordinances and sacred actions of the New Testament.

The Lord’s Table (communion) in American churches tends to have a somber, serious tone (which is not true of all cultures) and confession of sin. During my time in Africa, communion was experienced as a joyful celebration of the resurrection. So, this aspect of somber confession is often expressed in the American church during communion (about once a month in my circles).

I would encourage the wisdom of incorporating more prayer, laments and confession of sin in corporate worship. It is appropriate to come to God in prayer as we are . . . honest and broken. Early church liturgies included lengthy confession of sin. There is much to be learned from their practice and example. You can explore some early church liturgies at: https://joshberrus.wordpress.com/2007/04/24/early-liturgies/.

All Biblical elements in worship are crucial and important. The early church in Acts 2 was devoted to the apostles’ teaching, prayer, fellowship, breaking of bread, and all Biblical ordinances and practices in corporate worship. Believers should respond with sacrificial devotion in all the Biblical elements. Christians are to worship God with passion and zeal through Scripture reading, prayer, confession, giving, communion, baptism, testimony, music, preaching, serving, and all Biblical practices for the aim of the glory of God.

Here are some suggestions for worship planning:
https://joshberrus.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/worship-planning/

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Good Friday Tenebrae Services

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Here are some scripts & resources for Good Friday Tenebrae services. In 2011 we explored Old Testament passages that predict the cross and New Testament Gospel accounts of fulfillment. In 2010 we used Scriptural highlights from the Gospels tracing the Last Supper through the Garden, continuing with Christ’s trial and crucifixion, and concluding with His death and burial. In 2009 we used devotional readings considering eyewitnesses of Christ’s death at the foot of the cross. In 2008 we used devotional readings considering what Christ has accomplished for us through his life, death, and resurrection. In 2007 we used devotional readings on the seven sayings of Christ from the cross. I pray these will be a resource and blessing to you.

These scripts were prepared by the pastoral staff of ODBC.
© Open Door Baptist Church. Raleigh, NC.

For the 2011 “OT Prophecy” service,
click here: otprophecy-gf11.pdf

For the 2010 “Gospel Highlights” service,
click here: gospelhighlightsgf10.pdf

For the 2009 “Eyewitnesses” service,
click here: eyewitnessesgf091.pdf

For the 2008 “Accomplished” service,
click here: accomplishedgf08.pdf

For the 2007 “Sayings from the Cross” service,
click here: sevensayingsgf07.pdf

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Open Door Baptist Church. Raleigh, NC. Websites: http://www.opendoorlife.com and http://www.joshberrus.com.

Rant About Worship Songs

Below is Jeremy Pierce’s, “Rant About Worship Songs,” from First Things:
http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2010/08/rant-worship/
http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2010/08/rant-worship.html

Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.

2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God”. This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g. a desperate longing for God. Then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.

At this point I’m so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I’m almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn’t sing anything but the psalms. Oh, wait…

Why Is Music Ministry Stressful?

Why is music ministry stressful? According to a 2009 CNN survey of stressful jobs with low pay, a church music director is listed as #5: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2009/pf/0910/gallery.stressful_jobs/5.html. While a church pastor is #10: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2009/pf/0910/gallery.stressful_jobs/10.html.

The weekly job demands, seasonal events, expectations, criticism, complaints, low salary, disrespect, and often poor treatment all play a part in this. Music ministry may be difficult, but it is quite rewarding, fulfilling, and vital to church body life. As Spurgeon said, the local church is imperfect but “the dearest place on earth.”

Eschatology Need Not Divide Us

I would agree with Al Mohler and Mark Dever that our views on end times need not divide us. Any church that would divide over third-order issues such as eschatology or alcohol is in sin.

Al Mohler presents a theological triage in doctrinal discernment. He claims that theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. See Mohler’s article at: http://www.albertmohler.com/?cat=Commentary&cdate=2004-05-20.

Here is a quick overview of the theological triage:
First-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith (among these are doctrines of the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture), and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself. Second-order doctrines (such as meaning and mode of baptism) are distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. Third-order issues (such as eschatology and alcohol) are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.

Mark Dever says that you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular view on end times. He makes a powerful charge regarding end times and church unity.
Listen to the sermon at: http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/audio/2009/07/12/the-end-of-death-revelation-20/
See the quote below from his Rev 20 sermon given on 7/12/09: http://ajgibson.org/blog/2009/07/13/its-a-sin-to-sever-cooperation-with-other-believers-over-eschatological-issues/.

Dever states:
“I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether nearly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation.”