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Pushing back against performance worship…

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Performance is not the same thing as excitement, and showmanship is not the thing same as celebration.

18th-century, New England revivalist Jonathan Edwards said,

“There is doubtless true religion in heaven, and true religion in its utmost purity and perfection. But according to the Scripture representation of the heavenly state, the religion of heaven consists chiefly in holy and mighty love and joy, and the expression of these in most fervent and exalted praises.” [The Religious Affections]

Edwards teaches us to seek worship at its purest and most perfect and that worship is the worship of Heaven. The Angels around the throne are ridiculously loud, they are completely undignified and they are totally Jesus centred. This however, is not performance.

“A performance by its very nature separates people into two categories: the participants and the spectators. There can be no spectators in worship.”

When we gather together to worship God we should imitate and emulate the gathering of heaven which is full of excitement and celebration, adoration and praise. We should use every tool in our belt, every ounce of our creativity and all the energy that we can muster.

This however is not performance.

What’s The Difference?

This year I have read three articles and heard two speakers claim that performance worship is ok. The problem of course is definition.

A performance by its very nature separates people into two categories: the participants and the spectators. There can be no spectators in worship.

A performance by its very nature and draws all eyes to the stage. In worship all of our focus should be drawn onto Jesus.

A performance by its very nature is about consuming entertainment. Worship, by its very nature is about authentic self-sacrifice.

“It is absolutely right when seeking God to use everything you have available to you in order to draw people relevantly into the celebration of who God is what he’s done.”

The articles that I’ve read and the speakers that I’ve heard are right if you substitute the word performance for something like celebration. It is absolutely right when seeking God to use everything you have available to you in order to draw people relevantly into the celebration of who God is and what He has done.

This however is not performance.

Performance Worship Is A Contradiction In Terms

I’m increasingly bugged by performance worship. That is a mutually exclusive term, an oxymoron. There can be no such thing as a non-sacrificing sacrifice. There can be no such thing as performance worship.

I am all about using technology, lights, sound and amplified instruments. But this doesn’t have to be performance.

I lead worship every week at a youth gathering. About thirty of us get together, we put music and chords on the screen, we sit on couches and drink hot chocolate. The band is distributed amongst the young people – whoever decided to bring instruments on any given week. I lead but I do not perform.

At other times we use large screens, lights, camera, sound and action. But we seek the same heart of authenticity and seek the same focus that is Jesus.

Sometimes we muster quite fervent celebration – however it is not performance.

Flat Packed Worship

A really interesting ‘parody(?)’ of contemporary worship events and services.

This brings up some very interesting points. Is there anything necessarily wrong in this video? No – but I believe worship services and events should flow out of value conversations and content talks, not be constructed flat packed from Ikea-styled copycat methods. This is how the world does it: start with the flash and work your way down to the content. We must start from needs and content and drive the style from what we find.

The flat pack may have worked over the last couple of decades where the church just started getting enough umpth to compete with secular market styles. Young people today however, are searching for authenticity – not flash. They can smell a rat. They can see right through the flash, and anything we give them like this can be gotten from a million other places.

I have no problem at all with services or events that look like this, I’ve run a fair few! As long as they follow on naturally from the values, aims, and authentic needs of the people they are serving.

I’ve got another post on this somewhere – will post the link when I find it.

Lunchbox driven worship

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I’ve spoken maybe five or six times this year on the passage where Jesus feeds 5000 blokes. (one here)

Every time I’ve been blown away by it’s implications.

The hero of the feeding the 5000 isn’t the disciples, it’s not the 5000 people, it’s not the bread, and it’s not even Jesus. The hero is the little boy and his little lunchbox.

The moral of the story of course is that Jesus can multiply small things into big things, He can take little things and make them huge, take ordinary things and make them extraordinary. Jesus always abundantly provides even when he hasn’t much to work with.

That raises the question though: What was it that Jesus had to work with? We tend to think it was the lunchbox itself, so at family services we bring in a Tupperware container with burger buns and tinned sardines and we get the young people to break the bread up and distribute it around the room. While the bread is making it’s journey we say, “isn’t it amazing how Jesus can take something so small and makes it so big! He can take 5 burger buns and feed a whole room” It’s true at one level, but something in me says that we kind of missed the point. It’s hard to not hear that like a rejected moto for £-stretcher.

Jesus already had several things to work with you: He is God afterall so could have commanded manna down from heaven again. He could’ve turned rocks from the ground into pizza. He had his disciples as a resource, although admittedly they turned out to be a bit rubbish here. He also had the people; maybe they could have checked their pockets and pitched in for a subway platter. Finally, Jesus could have grabbed the mic and aid “it’s getting late folks, time to head home for a curry.”

What he decided to work with however was a small offering from a small willing boy.

There’s two ways of reading this: Either a young boy had a lunch box and the disciples nicked it, or the young boy came away from his family unit towards Jesus and his disciples and said “I have something, it’s not much, but I would like Jesus to have it.” I opt for the second reading.

What Jesus multiplied was not the bread and the fish – it was the worshipful and sacrificial offering of all that a small boy had to give. This is the children’s equivalent of the elderly lady giving her two copper coins.

This young boy demonstrated an astounding level of faith, a passionate level of worship, and a sacrificial level of giving that we can do well to learn from.

Throughout the whole Bible worship has been presented hand-in-hand with sacrifice. Worship was always costly. To worship the Lord was to bring an offering of a goat, or crop, or bull, or something that would cost the worshiper and his family – something that would make them depend on God to sustain them. This young boy bought an offering that would cost him. He gave all that he had to live on that day. This boy gave a sacrificial offering of worship to Jesus.

We make a mistake in today’s church culture when we think that worship is a consumer activity; something we just purely gain from. A time of worship is becoming synonymous with a time you can get from God. However, I wonder how our most satisfying experience of worship can compare to the experience the young boy had when he saw his lunch box explode with life just like Mary Poppin’s bag.

Jesus will always meet us. Wherever we draw the lines-in-the-sand around our “times of worship,” Jesus will always, always come and help us experience him. That said, how much more beautiful would it be if we followed the Bible’s wholistic example of worship and we made it costly, made it sacrificial, and made it a two way giving experience.

If we truly sought to give our all – not in metaphor or simple verbal exuberance, but in actuality, in how we live our lives – how much more worthwhile would our worship be to Jesus and how much more experience and friendship with Him would we gain?

The hero of the story is the heart of worship in a small boy who trusted Jesus enough to give him all that he had.

Jesus does huge, extraordinary things with small, ordinary offerings. When we come to Jesus with a heart of worship, and a sacrificial way of living He will do incredible things with our lives and the lives of those we know.

Let’s be the hero of this story. Let’s take a moment to consider our lives and the contents of our lunchboxes and ask ourselves how we can bring our all to Jesus.

A Driving Passion for the Gospel in a land of Famine.

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What is it that you’re most passionate about? What is it that drives you? What makes you overflow in love and submission before God? What gives you most joy? Is it music, acting, writing, kids, wife, husband, dog, cat, goldfish, xbox, p&j sandwiches? What is your under-girding, foundational, driving passion?

I think it should probably be the Gospel; the truth that God came to earth in Jesus, lived a sinless life, died in your place for your forgiveness and justification, and rose again from the dead sealing His authority and your absolute hope in eternal life.

I think every Christian’s fundamental passion should be that they are a saved-sinner, deserving hell but receiving heaven, adoption, and even a kingdom from the servant-saviour, our Lord Jesus.

I often wonder what the driving passions are of people who are involved in ministry. I spent some time today looking over some popular Christian blogs and there’s so much good stuff in there about purpose, identity, God’s passion for us, poverty, etc. Great stuff! But there’s just so little about what God has accomplished for us in Jesus, and even less about our natural rubbishness before this all-perfect God. What is the popular Christian blog-world’s driving passion? Is it the gospel?

It’s not just the blog-world. I’ve been involved in a few reasonably large events now, and I’ve attended my fair share of conferences too – and in the midst of all the amazing stuff that happens at these places I can’t help but lament the lack of central passion for the Gospel. There’s passion for God’s name, for the eradication of poverty, for taking delight in who we’re made to be – again, great stuff – but very little directed delight in the very capstone and foundation of our faith.

Perfect Jesus died for me a lousy sinner. That’s it isn’t it? Jesus died and rose again. I’m saved because He did it. There’s nothing in me that’s good apart from Him and apart form this. The Gospel makes everything we are.

Even those passions that do come out in many blogs and events (identity, purpose, plans, love, name, fame, freedom from poverty etc.) have little bearing without the Gospel – they have no umph! Our identity is in the Christ, our purpose is wrapped up in our redeemed lives, His love was shown pivotally on the cross, His name was solidified and magnified at Calvary, His fame is as the risen Lord, and the greatest freedom from poverty is freedom from self-destructive, hell-bound sin. Isn’t it?

I think when we have a clear driving passion for the Gospel, all that we are and talk about becomes grounded and united. My observation isn’t just that the Gospel message isn’t clear and foremost, it’s also that these other passions without a Gospel centre makes the people behind them seem disjointed and disperse. We look fragmented without a driving Gospel passion.

I wish we could do something to really refocus our popular passions around the Gospel again. We need our hearts recaptured by the magnificence of His risen Glory, overwhelmed by His sacrifice on the cross, and humbled by the extent of the depths we had fallen to. We need Jesus at the centre again.

This is striking me acutely at the moment in the many songs we sing that focus on good things but miss this best thing. I have the greatest of respect for authors like Getty and Townsend who are seeking to refocus us on the Gospel and the Word through their music. I also have great respect for my friend Ben Slee who is a growing songwriter who chooses to focus much of his song-energy on making the Gospel and the Word clear too (slee.org.uk).

There’s nothing wrong with our passions, but I strongly feel that the UK is in a season of famine of the Word, and Poverty of the Gospel. Many Christian’s are trying to fix this through working on how we do church, or do music, or do mission – but these are simply patch jobs. These are not getting to the root problem which is a move away from Gospel passion. What we need is simply an intense season of refocus on the Gospel and refocus on the Glory of God in Jesus. We can think about how to do stuff later, for now lets drive home our mission to remember and refocus on the Gospel.

There’s nothing wrong with our passions, but let us long together for a driving passion to steer all our other passions. Let’s renew our love for the Gospel and let it strengthen the paths of all our other passions.

What are you passionate about? I pray your answer will aways first be ‘Jesus died for me an unworthy sinner. I’m passionate about Him and what He did for me.’

Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 with thoughts for Worship Leaders and Service Planners

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[edited from a post I put up in 2007 during my first year working in a South London church. What’s important here is I’m really trying to be unbiasedly Biblical and leave my church preferences on the side. The conclusion that I think 1 Cor. 12-14 leads us to is that we need a degree of structure, order, and clarity in our public worship. The  discussion of the practical outworking of this not withstanding, those three things should be always close to the path of designing worship gatherings of any sort.]

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In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul moves to the specifics of the discussion that began in chapter 12 regarding clarity and intelligibility in worship. Chapter 14 builds on two contrasts; the first is between prophecy and tongues and the second is between individual and corporate worship.

Here is a basic stepping-stones/wade-though structure to navigate this conclusion of the Paul’s three-chapter argument.

vv.1-25 focus on the issue of intelligibility and vv.26-40 on the regulation of both orderly public and private worship.

  • vv.1-5 Paul takes us back to the central themes of the section, namely tongues which builds the individual, and prophecy (the greater gift from v.5) which builds the community.(*1)
  • vv.6-12 Intelligible speech in public worship is better than unintelligible. Paul builds on his music metaphor from Ch.13:7, however the particular instruments here are able to play with purposeful clarity unlike the gongs and cymbals from earlier. In much the same way that clear instruments help us understand the tune played, intelligible messages helps listeners to act in ways unintelligible messages don’t.
  • vv.13-19 Paul applies these metaphors directly to the Church (see also v.9) to encourage mature worship. He also renews emphasis on the Spirit (vv.15-16), focuses in again on God, and takes our focus off the individual.
  • vv.20-25 By encouraging them onto maturity, Paul continues with his contrasts emphasising the church-building nature of Prophecy over personal-building uninterpreted tongues. He then continues his plea for public intelligibility in vv.22ff by helping us think how outsiders respond to intelligibility over chaos.(*2)
  • vv.26-40(*3) Both tongues and prophecy must be discerned and regulated in the assembly (vv.27-32). Orderly worship is key to mature worship (v.33). Gender distinctions is again part of this ordering and must also be regulated in worship (vv.34-35).

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Notes.

(*1) It is not (contrary to popular opinion) greater and tongues lesser in and of themselves, but in what best builds the community.
(*2) v.22 is considerably difficult to exegete, however a chiastic structure of vv.20-25 (with v.22 central)  leads us to interpret this verse with focus on intelligibility.
(*3) Key manuscript issue with vv.34-35, that they are excluded from many manuscripts. Consult commentaries – G. Fee & A. Thiselton are best on this issue.

Can everyone sing in tongues?

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[This is an edit of a post first published on my old blog in 2006 – therefore read the first word with a grain of contextual salt.]

Recently I took my youth group to a conference for ‘worshipers’ & musicians at a famous thriving Central London church. Much of the conference was enormously refreshing; beautiful, passionate, Spirit-open, and reflective of God’s heart. However there was an area that gave me some squirmy-styled difficulty – so much so that I had to chat afterwards with my youth group about it. My difficulty was that the music leader tried to get everyone all together to sing in tongues at the same time, stating that anyone can, and possibly should.

Let me just take a breather here to outline my view of tongues. Yes I do believe in it, I believe in its continuance, its use, its power, its passion, and its theocentricity. I feel Christians should actively and longingly pursue this gift in Godliness and with expectancy. It’s a gift which I personally use to pray to and praise God with privately. However this gift is not available to everybody and it has some solid Biblical guidelines which rule out the idea that everyone should sing in tongues at the same time.

So why did the music leader try to get us to do it? Well being generous, I guess in Corinthians, praying in the Spirit can refer to praying in ‘tongues,’ so when we get to the verse that reads ‘sing in the spirit’ you could carry the logic through and say; ‘hey, this must mean sing in tongues too, great!’

A basic look at 1 Corinthians 14 would readily and easily contradict this interpretation though. Here’s a few bits n’ pieces from that verse:

v.2He who speaks in a tongue speaks to God, not to men.

It is a personal and private relational gift used one-on-one between you and God. Paul makes this clear throughout vv.1-4 when he contrasts tongues with prophecy which is to be used openly in the congregation – suggesting that unlike prophecy, tongues is private, not public. I’m assuming there’s a few things you’d do privately that you wouldn’t do in public!

vv.5-6 – Unless someone interprets.

Tongues can sometimes be openly used in church but only when it is interpreted. I’m guessing that once you’ve got the 500 people in the room to sing in tongues, you’re not going to seek the interpretation of each one?

vv.7-9Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?

Tongues is worthless in the congregation without interpretation. Everyone speaking or singing in tongues together is exactly the indistinguishable, unintelligible worship Paul is discouraging!

v.12Be eager for spiritual manifestations which build up the church.

Paul has just said that tongues only builds others up if it is interpreted, thus intelligible. So unless tongues is going to be interpreted, don’t do it.

vv.15-17 Since they [an outsider] do not know what you are saying.

What if an outsider walks in? How can they hear the gospel and say ‘Amen’ to something they don’t understand? Surely asking him to just jump on the bandwagon is dangerous and irresponsible? That’s what happy hour is for.

vv.18-19But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

There are different priorities in public worship than private worship. Public worship is to be mutually edifying which necessitates that it is in some way intelligible. That’s the core of Paul’s whole argument.

vv.23-25So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

Open, free-for-all uninterpreted tongues in Church does not only fail to edify the church, it also fails to bring outsiders to Christ; in fact, quite the opposite! (See vv.15-17 above).

v.26Each of you has a … tongue … Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Let all be done for building up, thus interpreted, inteligible, and in some way ordered (See vv. 1-5).

vv.27-28Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

Obviously when tongue is interpreted it’s in the prophetic arena. When it says let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret’ it again is taking us on a road to intelligible and ordered worship; not chaotic, unintelligible. There is no way a free-for-all communal singing in tongues obeys this command.

Short Summary
So let’s enjoy the gifts God gives us. If we seek the active manifestation of the Spirit’s gifts in our churches and submit to the Bible’s teaching regarding them, we can truly honor and glorify God through them and have a ball doing it!

Communal singing in tongues is disobedience to the instructions given the church by Paul in 1 Cor. 14. Not pursuing the gifts at all is equally as disobedient. Let’s seek these gifts in the body of Christ, and seek His instruction in how to glorify His name through them!