Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Temporary “Contemporary” Worship

I recently ran across an article that was very thought provoking, and a much needed discussion about what is often referred to as "Contemporary" Worship. The original article is here ( especially useful if you're not into small print, but I've copied the article below (in small print) just in case the site or the link goes belly up one day.
Recently we were speaking at a large conference on worship, and the speaker that preceded us made a statement that really caught our attention. He said the Church has spent much time, effort and energy creating “contemporary” worship services, but has missed the purpose of contemporary completely by accidentally creating new forms of “traditional” worship. He concluded with these words: “Think about it, folks. The root of contemporary is temporary.”

Those words rang in our ears. If one believes, as we do, that worship should connect with people of this time and space, both believers and unbelievers, then we have to have a “temporary” mindset. Although the presence of God in Christian worship is timeless, the methodologies we use to increase our own awareness of this presence should be ever changing. The Spirit will always be moving in our lives and in our churches, so we have to stay fluid in our methodologies. We should stay true to our core values, while changing our cultural practice. This is the true purpose of “contemporary” worship.

There is irony in much of what is currently known as “contemporary” worship. Many congregations have a vague desire to create “contemporary” worship (that is, a style of worship more contemporary than what they already do) but don’t have a clear direction about what exactly it is that they hope to accomplish. Often what transpires is a specific style of worship that is structured around the tastes of those creating it. The style then grows old with its designers. It becomes fossilized. What is still called “contemporary” is no longer contemporary at all.

We’ve seen this with what is sometimes called Emergent worship, which is a reforming of the “contemporary” worship format for a new generation. The challenge for these worship designers is to not let the new style grow old along with them.

What does it mean, then, to be “temporary” in worship? What is true contemporary worship about, exactly?

To further reflect on the speaker’s words, the root of contemporary is tempus, which is Latin for time. The adjective derivative of this root is temporal. According to Microsoft Encarta, to be described as temporal means, “1. Relating to measured time,” or “4. Lasting only a short time.”

This is not a very apt description of what we often call “contemporary.”

As one aspect of worship, consider musical styles. Contrary to much of what is practiced, worship is far more than just singing, but it can be a good place to start. For many, poor quality music, or even high quality music not of this time, equals an inability to be aware of God’s presence.

Many “contemporary” minded music ministers believe that for the most part, hymns don’t easily connect with or inspire those who haven’t grown up in the church. Even for some that have, it can be a difficult task to connect to God through this type of music. If churches really took the time to research the music their laypeople listened to when outside the church, they would probably find that hymns aren’t high on the list. Or even 4-part harmony. One well known large church in California asked its congregation to write on 3×5 cards what radio stations they listen to on a regular basis. In pouring over all of the cards that were submitted, they found that not one of them listed a station that featured all hymns all the time. There probably aren’t too many of those around!

What some music ministers fail to see, however, is that often, older “contemporary” worship music is to the new generation what hymns were to the generation that first shifted away from hymns. Emergent worship has begun to make use of hymns, recreated in a 21st century beat. (Insert your own comment about skipping generations here.) Choices made by music ministers have to be thought through carefully if the goal is to connect worshippers with a experience that is not stale, but in this time.

Consider Encarta’s second definition of temporal, which has roots in our Christian tradition. Encarta states, “2. Relating to the laity rather than the clergy in the Christian Church.” In other words, to be temporal in worship means to connect with the people in the seats. To speak their language. This unfortunately has often been opposed, historically, to connection with clergy. As Protestants, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. This means our emphasis is on laity—everyday people, and the world in which they live. Unlike our Catholic brethren, there is no clergy class, laity class, or division between the two. There is only the body of believers.

As ministers, we should be as intentional about how we communicate the message as Jesus was. The problem with much of what we call both “traditional” and “contemporary” worship is that it tends to alienate people. If the worshipper, believer or not, doesn’t know the esoteric response lines, or the significance of certain objects, or words, or even the appropriate behavior, then they are lost. We speak a “Christianese” language without even knowing it sometimes. Many hymns and liturgical writings have language that needs significant deconstruction to even begin to understand what is being shared.

Our worship design emphasis, therefore, is not to create esoteric worship that speaks to a ruling class in the Body of Christ, who are privy to the mysterious code of “Christianese,” but to create worship that is an expression of the entire Body of Christ—the everyday person.

Jesus came to Earth to make God and His message of love and forgiveness relatable. He brought the message to everyday people in flesh and blood so that we, as these people, can find a connection with Him and His experience. He exclusively used stories from the culture, and metaphors (parables) from his day to teach. He rejected the rhetorical style taught in the temple. His ministry was to those outside the walls, not the ruling religious class; his language matched that style of ministry. (Mark 4:33-34)

Another aspect of worship is what goes on the screen. As important as music is the way we communicate the message in a visual world. To connect as Jesus did, we have to create and use imagery that speaks the visual language of our present culture. This means a move toward commercial or popular art styles found in magazines, television, movies and on the internet, and a move away from more traditional or fine art pieces created to speak to previous cultures. Fine art often requires as much or more interpretation than the language found in liturgical writings and hymns. The more intentionality we bring to connecting with the cultural art forms expressed in the world around us in this time—the more truly contemporary we are—the more the church and its mission will flourish.

A third definition of temporal is in opposition to eternal—that is, as Encarta states, “3. Connected with life in the world, rather than spiritual life.” In time, rather than out of time. “In this world,” to use Jesus language. As believers, we know that life in Christ is ultimately not of this world. It is timeless. The kingdom of God is both now and forever—the very opposite of temporary! It is often tempting, like the disciples on the mountain at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt 17), for us to want to just build a shelter and live life timelessly, out of this world. To be disconnected with things of this world. This sometimes sounds nice, but it is basically selfish. Jesus calls us to come down off the mountain, go into the world, and preach the Good News (Mark 16:15). The disciples were not allowed to pitch a tent and hang out on top of the mountain. Jesus sent them back down to minister, to proclaim the Gospel in their own time. We must do the same, not being content to live out of time, but living the temporal life for the sake of bringing others along. Even as we follow a Savior not of the world, we must stay connected to life in the world. Which means we must strive to continually design worship that is truly contemporary, or connected to the world.

As the church moves further ahead in time, much of what is now known as “contemporary” will become “traditional” and what is known as “traditional” will no longer exist. This cycle of innovation and institutionalization is typical. To much of the broader culture, worship that becomes institutionalized, or set in stone so to speak, is seen as an attempt to hold on to the past—whether meaningful or not. This form of worship continues to speak to a certain (small) demographic, but its rituals and language often prevent people from experiencing God.

The move from archaic forms of worship to something that is more connectional using present cultural communication forms has to be considered if the church is to move forward in its mission to make disciples. We should strive to create worship environments where our members can feel comfortable inviting everyday people—our neighbors, literally (many of which are very much of this world). Where when they walk out the doors of the church with their guests by their side, significant deconstruction of specific words and rituals are unnecessary. Where the words that they sing, the message they hear, and the images they see connect to their personal experience.

To live this mission means that our understandings of worship should constantly change. We must continually come down off the mountain. We must guard against pitching the tent and exhort each other to keep those at the bottom of the mountain in our hearts. Truly committing to connect with the culture through worship, then, may mean that contemporary 70’s worship with acoustic guitars and “Kum By Yah,” contemporary 80’s with lots of synthesizers, and contemporary 90’s with that familiar grunge sound might need updating. The way the church does worship today should look different than what it did 5 or 10 years ago.

originally posted March 28th, 2006 by The MO Guys (

Monday, March 27, 2006

Check This Choir Out!

This is not new, but I figured some of you may not have seen it yet.

Check this choir out!!
after the initial screen, click on "Watch" and see the commercial and the rehearsal!

Pretty incredible work. Not sure if it's really useable in worship, but fun to see and listen to anyway.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

e-sword - FREE Bible software

Here is a great little FREE Bible software program that I have been using for several years now. If you want a Bible software program that resides on your local hard drive instead of, or in addition to the many web based Bible searches, check this out. Several different versions (KJV, etc) are available for free, as well as several (NASB) that have to be purchased (unlocked) for a small fee.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Offendectomy - Have you had yours?

v. tr.
To cause displeasure, anger, resentment, or wounded feelings in.
To be displeasing or disagreeable to:
Onions offend my sense of smell.
To transgress; violate:
offend all laws of humanity.
To cause to sin.

v. intr.
To result in displeasure:
Bad manners may offend.
To violate a moral or divine law; sin.
To violate a rule or law: offended against the curfew.

-ectomy (suffix)
Surgical removal: tonsillectomy.

Too many people are easily offended. This is a new word we have come to love and use frequently at our church. Offendectomy - to have your negative feelings of offense, anger, displeasure and or resentment removed as a result of being controlled by the Spirit!

Have you had your offendectomy??

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Jumpin' Jack

I have been described as many things over the years, but probably the highest compliment that I have ever been paid was when I was described (in writing - see Aug. '05) as a "jumping jack worship leader". Needless to say, it was not meant as a compliment, but after careful reflection, I feel it is one of the highest compliments I or anyone else could ever receive as a worshipper! You see, I can definitely be described as animated when I worship. I do tend to move freely about whether I'm singing, directing the choir, or leading congregation worship. Some have even described my movement as DANCING! Can you imagine that?? (See 2 Samuel 6:14-23) Seems that King David may have had what we like to call a "don't care anointing" too. Honestly, I'm not really sure you can truly worship unless you really don't care what other people think. Matt Redman puts it this way in his book "The Unquenchable Worshipper" in the "undignified worshipper" section.

...“losing” yourself so publicly in your worship of God and so on fire with praise that it burns right through any inhibitions or pride. True worship always forgets itself. One of the Hebrew words for praise, hallal, means to be clamorously foolish or mad before the Lord. Our Heavenly Father loves us with an extravagant abandon. Passionate, undignified worship is our only reasonable response.

“Love does not stop nicely to calculate the less or more; love does not stop to work out how little it can respectably give. With a kind of divine extravagance, love gives everything and never counts the cost. Calculation is never any part of love.”
- William Barclay
I hope and pray I remain a completely "undignified", "jumping jack worship leader" until the day I die. (And on that day, after initially falling on my face before God, perhaps my jumping will have really just begun.) I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't be the only one there jumping...
think about it...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

South Park - finally too far?

Intersting that it takes Scientology to finally push someone over the edge about South Park. Now, I confess, I've never watched a full episode of South Park, so I can't speak from personal experience, but from what I understand and have seen while passing to another channel, nothing is sacred to South Park. I guess since the Hollywood Scientology crowd thinks they have gone too far, they pay attention. Here's a quote from the Washington Post which pretty much sums it up.

Comedy Central, the allegedly irreverent, testosterone-fueled, take-no-prisoners basic cable network, looks more like a Vertical Integration Sissy Girl after yanking an episode of "South Park" that lampoons Scientology and Tom Cruise.

The cave-in occurred this week, just a couple of days after Isaac Hayes, who has provided the voice of Chef for the edgy animated series since 1997, asked to be let out of his contract because he had just noticed that the cartoon, about four precocious potty-mouthed fourth-graders in South Park, Colo., makes fun of religious groups.

Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, top, belatedly quit the show over a Scientology spoof. Hayes, who is a Scientologist, said it's part of what he sees as a "growing insensitivity toward personal spiritual beliefs" in the media.

"Religious beliefs are sacred to people and at all times should be respected and honored," the R&B musician and actor said Monday, according to news reports.

"As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

Series co-creator Matt Stone understandably wondered why it took Hayes nearly a full decade to figure out that "South Park" pokes fun at, among other things, religions.

"This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology," Stone said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Stone noted in interviews that "in 10 years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Jews," and added, "He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

Well said, Stone! When it's one of "their" religions - a sudden case of religious sensitivity!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Why does it all matter?

Why does all the recent controversy from the IMB / SBC really matter anyway? One word - autonomy - "the autonomy of the local church" has always mattered to Southern Baptists, and it is about to be hijacked if the IMB Board of Trustees has it's way!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

IMB and Baptism

Quick link to an interesting article regarding the IMB's "new" position on Baptism.

click here URL:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

If I went to a church like that...

We left church today and Yvette said, "If I went to a church like that I'd never miss." It's true, and the cool thing is that it's the church we attend and serve! Needless to say, we had a great time of worship, enjoying the presence of the Lord today. At Truth Tabernacle of Praise, you're never exactly sure what's going to happen on any given Sunday - in a good way - even though there is a printed worship order and songlist. It's so refreshing to be part of a church where the Pastor is truly sensitive (not just one who talks about it) and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, even if it means interrupting the printed worship order. Not only that, but the freedom of expression and celebration is unbelievable. Thank you, Lord!!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

More SBC IMB banter...

The saga continues... more interesting banter for your reading pleasure... click here

Jury Duty

Well, I've spent the better part of this week (Tuesday-Friday) serving as a juror in Gwinnett County. It is really no wonder the legal system and court system of this country is in the pitiful shape it is in. We heard a civil case brought by a lawyer against his former clients for payment of $4000 - his final bill to them. Guess what? His attorney's fees totaled almost $15,000, and the defendant's (his former clients) attorney fees totaled over $24,000. So... bring a case against regular people (who do owe the $4K, and should pay it) but cost both sides almost $40,000, and a week of the court's time as well as 12 jurors?? Pitiful, if you ask me. Welcome to the American legal system. Don't get me wrong... very thankful to be an American! I think it's the best country in the world, but we have our share of stuff to be embarassed about too.

Monday, March 06, 2006

100 Years After Azusa Street

Found this article, and thought it was worthy of archiving. Whether you consider yourself Baptist, Charismatic, Pentacostal or whatever, some interesting points to ponder. Give it a read!

100 Years After Azusa Street:Where Are We Going?

Let’s resist nostalgia. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival, we must shift into the new things God is doing.

In April 1906 the Holy Spirit fell on a ragtag group of black, white, and Hispanic Christians who had gathered in the rundown Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. They sang with fervor, testified of God’s sanctifying power and spoke in tongues—in a day when such behavior was considered fanatical. This now-famous revival, led by an unknown black preacher named William Seymour, was a defining moment in the history of Christianity.

Pentecostalism has now spread to every continent and in some cases is fueling the most staggering church growth on the planet. Yet at the same time many sectors of the movement have become musty, stale and painfully irrelevant. Some of us are stuck in a time warp.

The cloud of God’s presence does not stay in one place too long. He is always moving forward. He wants to reach every generation—and He loves to open a bottle of new wine when it’s time for a new season. Meanwhile those who prefer the altars of old-fashioned Pentecostalism have rejected the new wine—and sometimes have persecuted those who drink it.

Last week I addressed a group of Pentecostal scholars who had gathered at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., to celebrate the miracle of Azusa and to envision the future of our movement. I told them bluntly: It is time for us to move on. We must kill our sacred cows, tear down the old monuments and have some funerals. As wonderful as the past was, we can’t live there. God says to us: “‘Behold, I will do a new thing’” (Is. 43:19, ASV).

Here are just a few of the “new things” God is doing:

1. He’s shifting us from buildings to the organic church. Almost all ministry encounters in the book of Acts took place outside of religious buildings. Yet we still hang on to the outdated idea that God wants to live inside a brick-and-mortar temple. He wants to dwell among His people! Many of the people we are called to reach will never go near our buildings (which, by the way, sit empty most of the week). We must take Christ to the marketplace through home churches, workplace Bible studies, campus ministries, street meetings—and into cyberspace.

2. He’s shifting us from pulpits to people. The believers at Azusa Street celebrated the fact that God can use anybody—regardless of class or religious pedigree. But we quickly fell back into the old mind-set that requires a vast chasm between clergy and laity. Every member of the church is a minister. We must equip the saints for the work.

3. He’s shifting us from racism to reconciliation. As much as we talk about our heritage of racial integration, the truth is painful: We are still too separated. (And it’s not just white folks who harbor racist attitudes.) Jesus is serious about having a church that reflects the rainbow colors of heaven. We must think multiculturally. And we must sit at the feet of ethnically diverse leaders—including those from the developing world—and adjust our outdated Western paradigms.

4. He’s shifting us from male-dominated to egalitarian. We must allow full participation of women in ministry, and make room for their leadership gifts. We will never reach modern American culture if we keep our chauvinistic mind-sets. And we will never fulfill the Great Commission if we don’t empower and equip the female half of the church that has been marginalized and neglected.

5. He’s shifting us from hidden sin to healthy holiness. We have congregations full of people who are not whole. A large percentage of Christians struggle continually with addictions, bitterness, life-crippling beliefs systems, wounds from dysfunctional families and even occultism. We must become bondage breakers. We need another holiness movement—but this time it must focus on the heart rather than on a dress code, and it must lead people to an encounter with the Father’s love rather than into paralyzing legalism.

6. He’s shifting us from human ability to supernatural power. We Pentecostals claim to believe in miracles, but we have little to show for it. Has our faith dried up?God wants us to rediscover New Testament, book of Acts-style Christianity. And that won’t happen until we rediscover book of Acts-style prayer.

7. He’s shifting us from poverty to prosperity. I’m not talking about a message that tells every Christian to expect a Lexus in his garage, or that causes preachers to chase after watches, yachts and Botox injections. We must dispense with that foolishness. But we must also reject the Pentecostal poverty mentality of the past so that we can have the faith to fund world evangelism. God wants to give us billions of dollars to feed the poor, plant churches, build hospitals and transform nations.

8. He’s shifting us from escapism to conquest. So many of us have viewed the future with pessimism. We’ve been wimps rather than warriors. We thought everything was getting worse, as if Jesus simply wants us to “hold on” until the rapture. God is calling us to adapt a triumphant view of history. The Bible says we win. We need to start acting like it.

by J. Lee Grady - editor of Charisma and an award-winning journalist.