What Does it Mean to be a Worship Pastor?

I’m going to confess something. There are times when I wonder if I should be a worship pastor. In high school, I started learning acoustic guitar because I wanted to be a part of the high school worship band and hopefully help lead worship. Although my motivations weren’t always selfless, I have always enjoyed using music to give God glory and helping other people connect with God. But now that I am a worship pastor with over ten years of leading worship under my belt, I find myself doubting my career choice.

What does it mean to be a worship pastorI think a lot of my angst over being a worship pastor springs from what I have perceived of its role in the church over the last ten years. The current status of worship ministry is in many ways more like a music and production business than a pastoral church office. The teaching pastors are the “theologians,” whereas the worship “pastors” are the rockstars, the artists, the cheerleaders and glorified karaoke machines who lead people through songs talking about God, (some of the time).

This is a hard reality I have grappled with over my career leading worship. On the one hand, I love creating and writing music. I love the artistic elements and the aesthetic nature of it. On the other hand, I have been disappointed by the lack of “pastoring” present in worship ministry. It’s not expected for worship leaders to know the Bible well or have any training in exegesis and counseling. Outside of Sunday, there really aren’t many responsibilities for worship pastors apart from making sure the program runs smoothly.

This is why I have doubted my career choice lately. Can a worship pastor be more than a song leader? Should there be more expected than a smooth, professional music section on a Sunday morning service?

Over the last few months, I have been working on a paper on the role of worship pastors and I have been unveiling some of that research on the blog. A few weeks ago I discussed the idea of worship ministry as dialectic liturgy. This is really just a fancy way of saying that worship ministry is the unique ministry of dialoguing with God. Whereas preaching is more rhetorical and does not demand interaction, worship ministry is interaction. It is on this point that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. The last ten years of developing as a worship leader may not have been completely in vain.

If worship is dialectic, then worship ministry is the overseeing of dialectic liturgy. The role of the worship pastor, if working from that premise, is so much more than a song leader on Sunday mornings. A worship pastor creates the atmosphere, space, context, and modes for the church to actively interact with God and know Him dialectically.

This does not discount the role of music in the dialectic worship of God. However, effective worship ministry is one that sees music as part of a greater culture of interaction with God and not as the only medium through which people can know and respond to God in a worshipful way. True worship leaders are liturgical architects.

In part two of a theological look at worship pastoring, I discuss four practical ways dialectic liturgy can be lived out.

  • Return to pre-Modern liturgy
  • Contextualize Song with Narrative
  • Use Art as a Deconstructive Aesthetic
  • The Aesthetic of Justice

Am I alone in wrestling through this? If you are a pastor, worshipper, or just interested, I desperately seek your input. The job description for worship pastors must be re-written for the sake of maximum impact. Will you help me re-write it?

The God of Love in 3-D

I was struck by something today.

While working on some homework in the crowded Koine coffeehouse on the DTS campus, I was listening to  John Mark McMillan’s album The Medicine. The final song on the album is one that I have been doing frequently in worship, How He Loves. Although repetition can be the key to learning, it can also be the enemy of profundity. Every night Lauren and I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to our son before he goes to bed. A common mantra in our church is “Jesus loves us.” No doubt, we worship a God of love. But how often do I actually feel it? How often do I affirm the two dimensional phrase “Jesus loves me” and also experience it in 3-D?

Knowing God is a God of love is one thing. Feeling it is something completely different. Today I was struck by how little I let myself feel that God is a God of love.

My wife called me earlier to give me an update on our son. Apparently today he learned how to take his diaper off during nap time. This is one of the many little fears that new parents have. We know it will happen, but we still dread the day. As my wife walked into his room and saw what had happened, she walked right up to Kyler’s half naked little body without hesitation, picked him up and cleaned him. She didn’t close the door and hope he would some how learn how to put his diaper back on. She didn’t put newspaper over him. She didn’t shame him and yell at him. She gently brought him into her arms, braving pee, poop, and any and all of the other disgusting things our cute baby creates, and showed him love.

We tell Kyler that we love him all the time, but today Lauren got the opportunity to show him that love in 3-D. He may not have fully understood it, but in his own way, he felt loved. Just like Lauren entered the mess of a diaper-less nap time, Jesus entered into the mess of our world. He didn’t close the door. He didn’t try to cover us up. He didn’t shame us. He just loved us.

In those moments when I feel distant from the love of God I affirm, I think of Jesus. The God of love is not merely a theological proposition. It is not a tagline in a song, or a meaningless platitude we tell ourselves to assuage the pain of a fallen world. The God of love is 3-D in Jesus. Through him we can feel it, experience it, and know it beyond words.

Do you sometimes have a hard time feeling God’s love? What helps you?

““For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17 ESV)

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Today is Good Friday, a day we celebrate with both sorrow and joy. Sorrow for the suffering Christ endured, but joy for the salvation it accomplished. Many of us today may be going to a church service where we will sing songs about his death, take the Eucharist, sit in quiet meditation, and listen to a sermon. I hope that we can all do something today to remember the great price paid.

I know, for me, the repetition of the traditions surrounding holidays like Good Friday can be important in giving me occasion to think about what God did and remember. However, it can also be easy to do the traditions and remembrance of the events, but forget why it happened in the first place. Too many fear that “why” is the antithesis of faith, but what is faith if we can’t answer “why?”

So here is a list of five reasons Jesus died on the cross that I hope will help us have context for why today is such an important day and why our great God suffered such humiliation for us.

1. God is a God of wrath – This is an unpopular truth about God. I think a lot of people hear God’s wrath and assume it means that God is some hot head who gets upset over petty things and uses his power to exact trite revenge on people who offend him. This is an easy association because in a lot of the other ‘wrathful god’ situations, especially the Greek and Roman mythology, the wrath of gods was petty. But the true God’s wrath is not. When he looks at the injustice of the world, the exploitation of the poor, the violence done to one another, the dishonest and undercutting behavior people have with each other, God gets angry. It is a righteous anger that is violently and justifiably opposed to the evil that exists in our world. The reason Jesus died in the manner of the brutal and humiliating cross instead of dying quietly in his sleep is because the manner of death needed to reflect the measure of God’s wrath towards sin.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV)

2. God is a God of Justice – Not only does the cross reflect God’s wrath, but it also shows God’s justice. The motivation for the wrath of God being poured out on the Son is that justice might be had for the injustice of sin. Not only is God’s justice positively for the weak and oppressed, but it has to be against the wicked. God has to punish wrong, and the consequences for rebelling against God is death, not merely physically, but an eternal separation. So for God’s justice to be satisfied, there needed to be a death. Not because God is unnecessarily cruel, but because he is necessarily just. Jesus’ death was the result of a just God.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)

3. God is a Holy God – Although it is our nature to think of God in terms we can relate with and in fact create God in our image, the truth is that God is something completely and totally other than us. The realm in which he dwells is completely separate from us. This means that God is a God who’s uniqueness does not allow sin into his presence. Even though he has a deep desire to dwell among people and let them dwell with him, his holiness separates him from sin. This is why God can’t just ignore people’s sin and allow everybody to just be with him in heaven. He is holy and separate from a world sin. The only way for someone to stand before God is to be in the same holy state as him, namely, perfect. The holiness of God is the reason the cross had to happen in the first place, because if God was not holy but just as tarnished as we are there would be no requirement of perfection to be in his presence.

“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Peter 1:15–16 ESV)

4. God is a God of Mercy – The violence of the cross is explained by God’s wrath, the death on the cross is explained by God’s justice, the impetus for the cross is God’s holiness, but why was it God in Jesus who suffered all these things? If God is wrathful, just, and holy, the grotesque death of a person on the cross would actually make sense, but why was it Jesus, both God and man, on the cross and not us? This is answered by God’s mercy. Because his wrath needed to be placed somewhere, justice needed to to punish sin, and man become holy to be in God’s presence, God decided to allow all of those things to be placed on a substitute instead of ourselves. In order for ancient Israel to atone for sin and maintain their covenant, God mercifully allowed them to use the substitute of animals to meet the needs of God’s wrath, justice, and holiness. Jesus was the ultimate substitute expressing God’s mercy. The reason it was Jesus and not me on the cross is because God had mercy on me and allowed himself to be the substitute for my sin.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV)

5. God is a God of love – The question still remains, why would God grant mercy on a people who have rebelled against him in all ways? Why would he take our place and endure the consequences of his wrath, justice, and holiness? This is because, despite ourselves, in spite of ourselves, and not because of ourselves, God actually loves us. He, our Creator and Father, loves us with a love that initiates and pursues beyond what we can ever fully comprehend. The exact nature of his death and the presence of Christ on the cross may be answered by the above attributes, but the whole reason God was there in the first place, the reason he even cared to do anything to save humanity from the inevitable death we chose by sinning, was his love! And this is why we humbly, somberly, but joyfully celebrate Good Friday. Because in the cross, the whole nature of God was both manifest and satisfied and as a result, we are now children of God!

Have a great day and remember why Jesus died as we celebrate what he did!

A Prayer for Palm Sunday

“And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”” (Mark 11:7–10 ESV)

Oh God, my great king and redeemer, how often have I praised you and welcomed you gladly only to reject you and scorn you afterwards?

It was my sinful hands that both raised the palm and drove the nails, my sinful mouth screaming both “Hosanna” and “Crucify”. Oh God, you could have silenced our shameful, duplicitous praise and let the rocks, who have no pretensions, praise you whole heartedly. The rocks would have been a better welcome than the fronds.

But you were driven by a love deeper than my sin, a justice greater than my rebellion, a holiness more perfect than my efforts.

My sin, what bitter wells of sorrow! You have replaced with living water.

The unleavened bread of my soul, now rises with the yeast of you kingdom.

You entered on a colt, and exited a cross, descended to the depths, and rose again victorious. I praise you oh God with the same sinful lips that welcomed you with “Hosanna”, but I stand before you on your nail-gorged feet. Thus I stand with confidence!

Thank you for entering and engaging! I love you Lord Jesus!

Amen

Crawling, Corners, and the Dangerous Life of Faith

A few weeks ago, it started. Our sweet, smiley, and immobile son, became mobile. Kyler started crawling. Lauren and I didn’t realize how easy taking care of Kyler was until he started moving. Now everything is fair game for him. Plugs, cords, dog food, toilets, etc. He is no longer content to play with his toys, or sit in our laps and read, or lay on the ground kicking his legs, or practicing rolling over. He just wants to explore. He is addicted to his new found freedom.

It is so much fun to watch Kyler move around and get excited about everyday objects that seem mundane to Lauren and I. He is having more and more fun and is more and more happy the more mobile he becomes. He has also hurt himself more in the last three weeks than he ever has before. Bumps on his head, bit tongues, black eyes, sore knees are all just becoming a part of his daily accomplishments.

As I watch Kyler, I can’t help but think about when I first came to know Jesus. When I was first born into the new life of Christ, although I was a new creation, I was fairly immobile and didn’t know what to do. It took time to figure out how to use my new arms and new legs, to experience different sensations, and to digest the food of my new life. After growing up a bit in my faith, I began crawling and exploring my newfound freedom in Christ. I discovered his daily grace, the depths of his love, the intricacies of his truth. I looked on his mercy the same way my son looks at the fireplace cover we won’t let him play with. There was a constant wonder and intrigue that increased as I stepped out more in faith.

At the same time, I got hurt more. As my freedom in Christ increased, so did the risk of falling down from his grace, of hitting my head on the sharp corners of his holiness, of sticking my finger in the electricity of his power. It would be easy for Lauren and I to not let Kyler explore, keep him in the crib all the time, or just put bumpers and pads on everything (including him). But if Lauren and I don’t allow Kyler the risk of getting hurt, we also deprive him of the joy of the freedom he has in living and moving around.

If we were to protect Kyler from everything and put him in a bubble suit, most people would find that strange, possibly abusive. So why don’t we find it equally strange and abusive when we do that to ourselves and others when it comes to faith? Freedom in Christ not only means unfathomable joy, but also infinite risk. We can run in fear and hide ourselves in the comfort of immature faith. We can try with all our might to convince everyone that we are still infants and immobile, but if we do we are keeping ourself from experiencing the new life God paid his life for us to experience.

So as I watch Kyler both laugh harder and cry harder than he ever has before, I will remember that a life lived by faith is dangerous, but so incredibly worth it.

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Corinthians 5:6–7 ESV)

Reflections on the Lord’s Supper

This last week I have been thinking a lot about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The challenge for the Eternal Footmen this week was to write about the Lord’s Supper. I wanted to repost the poem I wrote for it here:

His body broken
for my ambition
my freedom
my inquisition
my jockeying for position
my constant faith in intuition

His blood shed
for my fears
my overcoming
my failures
my outrunning
my tired eyes and quiet cunning
my overbearing love of money

i break His bread
and break my soul

i drink His cup
and fill the hole

that caused
His body broken
His blood shed

Also, because we will be taking Communion every week leading up to Easter, I wrote an explanation on the Fellowship White Rock blog. Here is an experpt:

Something that I’ve always struggled with growing up in a non-denominational church was the feeling of separation from the greater body of believers. I felt no sense of history or comraderie. In a church like ours, it is easy to forget that we are a part of something even bigger than the Fellowship Bible Church network, even bigger than the Evangelical Church, even bigger than the Protestant Church, even bigger than the Western church. Communion is something that connects us to the Capital-C Church. Christians all over the world, regardless of our differences, take communion. Not only does Communion connect us with all other present believers, but it also connects us with our past. Peter took communion, Augustine, St. Patrick, Anselm, Luther, Pope John Paul, all took communion. What a great way to be the body of Christ!

I hope this morning as many of us go to church and partake in the Eucharist, that it can so much more than a routine. We have life because Jesus gave up his, and that is a truth worth remembering!

What is Our Inheritance?

“But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.” (Joshua 13:33 ESV)

This week I have had the privilege of leading worship at the World Evangelization Conference. It has been an incredible week challenging the students of DTS to be a part of God’s great mission in the world. It has been a busy week, which has made it difficult to blog, but I wanted to share something that struck me today after Afshin Ziafat, the main speaker, preached.

Today Afshin talked about our tendency to treasure the effects of God and miss God altogether. To show what he meant he talked about how the nation of Israel, after being chosen by God and given the land of Canaan, abandoned God and made the land the important thing. When he was sharing that, it reminded me of something I read last week. After Joshua conquered the land, he distributed the land between all the tribes. This was a big deal because this was part of the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17. God’s promise and choosing was attached to the promised land beyond the Jordan.

Now this is one of those sections of the Bible that is easy to gloss over. Descriptions of maps just aren’t that interesting. Somehow though, a verse struck me as I was reading the section talking about the allotment to the tribe of Levi. The Levites, if you remember, were the priests of Israel. As such, they didn’t get any land. At first, I kind of felt bad for them. They fought alongside the rest of the other tribes. They suffered through the wilderness wanderings with the rest of the tribes. If anything, they worked harder and did more for the nation of Israel than any of the other tribes. They seemed the most deserving of the land that they waited so long for.

But then I was struck by Joshua 13:33. The reason they don’t get the land is because their inheritance is the Lord. They get the direct access, the presence, the sacrifice. Their inheritance is that they get to worship God constantly.

As Christians, the inheritance of the Levites is ours as well. We may not get earthly riches, we may not have all our dreams come true. But we get Christ! Our inheritance is confidence in approaching the throne of grace!

I’m ashamed how often I envy the earthly inheritance of people around me. Or even worse, how often I look at God and wonder if this is all I’m get for following him. I’ll be faithful to him, seek him, do my best in ministry, love my family well, sacrifice my time and talents to do full time ministry and get mad that God doesn’t give me the prosperity of other believers around me doing the same thing. I wonder if the Levites felt this way.

As I was thinking about this and chewing on the message given today at the conference, my heart broke for my ingratitude. My heart broke for the vain jealousies I have for the things God can give me. The Lord is my inheritance! That is enough!

I pray that this week we would examine ourselves and our ambitions. If God told you today that you get nothing of this world but him, would that be enough?