Ask the Pastor: What’s a Members’ Meeting?

 

What’s a Members’ Meeting like at Poquoson Baptist Church? 


Great question! One of my favorite times as a pastor is gathering with our church membership for a monthly Members’ Meeting. We used to call these meetings “Business Meetings,” but we changed the name last year to emphasize (1) the family feel we hope the meetings have (instead of a stodgy business-y feel) and (2) to encourage this to be an intentional gathering of the PBC membership. So what do we do at these meetings?

First, we generally eat a meal together. It’s a great, informal time of food and fellowship.

Second, we sing together. Everything we do in our Members’ Meetings is meant to be an expression of our worship to King Jesus, so it’s fitting that we begin the more formal time of our gathering by expressing our love to Jesus through song.

Third, we walk through the church calendar. Since many events in a church’s life don’t affect a lot of regular attenders, we strive to keep Sunday morning announcements as brief as possible. That said, there’s always something going on in church life that we want people to be informed about, so we devote about 5-10 minutes to walk through everything on the church calendar for the next few months.

Next, we occasionally hear special reports from various teams and ministries in PBC life. For example, at our last Members’ Meeting our VBS Directors showed a slideshow and gave us a report about VBS. This coming Members’ Meeting our Student Director and some students will share about their recent experience at camp.

Next, I spend about 20 minutes teaching on big-picture vision issues for the church. These are usually nitty-gritty local church issues that wouldn’t be helpful or appropriate to address when we have a lot of guests present. For example, I’ve spent the past 8 months using this time to teach about the importance of Meaningful Membership.

Then we transition to the “business meeting” portion of the night where we discuss the church budget, formally welcome people into membership, vote on major issues as a church, etc.

Finally, we conclude in prayer.

If you’re a member at PBC, we strongly encourage you to make Members’ Meeting attendance a top priority. These meetings are fun and highly profitable for the life and health of the local church. But don’t take my word for it! See for yourself what some of our members have to say about these meetings…

 

Have a question for Pastor Hopson? Email him at pastorhopson@poquosonbaptist.org.

 

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Character Matters for Church Musicians

Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 25 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Character Matters for Church Musicians

We recently discussed some basic truths about leadership in the local church and made specific application for those who would lead in music ministry. But what about everybody else involved in music ministry? To some extent, every local church has a large team of musicians involved in leadership as we sing–whether you’re a drummer, a pianist, or a choir member. What should be true of each of you? I want to suggest four areas where you should concentrate.

Your Heart

First, every individual on the music team should consider his or her heart. What do you love? What does it matter if you get that complex rhythm down pat but the whole time your heart is filled with pride, envy, worry, or bitterness? If you’re on the worship team or in the choir, I want you to think about how much time you spend practicing every week. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe two. Sometimes even more. Now ask yourself, how much time you spend preparing your own heart to worship King Jesus. When we spend hours and hours practicing and preparing—not a bad thing!—but we don’t prepare our own hearts, we’re acting as if the art of worship matters more than the heart of worship. Nothing could be further from the truth! Isaac Watts put it this way:

“The Great God values not the service of men, if the heart be not in it: The Lord sees and judges the heart; he has no regard to outward forms of worship, if there be no inward adoration, if no devout affection be employed therein. It is therefore a matter of infinite importance, to have the whole heart engaged steadfastly for God.”[i]

The old hymnwriter wrote “tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” But how can we do this practically? Here’s a few suggestions. First, pray. Before and after you practice. Before and during each worship gathering. Second, prioritize. If you really believe your heart in worship matters more than the art of worship, you should prioritize many things before music practice. Maybe for you it’s Sunday School and you need to prioritize a small group gathering with other believers. Maybe for you it’s personal Bible study. You rarely miss a practice but you regularly miss time in God’s Word. Maybe it’s your church attendance. You’re faithful whenever you’re scheduled to sing, but your attendance is spotty everywhere else. If any of those things are true for you, I want to encourage you to check your priorities. Third, confess. In Matthew 5:24 Jesus talks about being reconciled with your brother before you sacrifice your gift at the altar. How much sweeter would our worship be if we confessed to one another before we sang? Fourth, arrive early. Few things disrupt my own spirit of worship more than arriving right on time or late.  Fifth, read. Read the lyrics to the songs for Sunday. Read the text for Sunday’s sermon. Sixth, preach.  Preach the Gospel to yourself. Are you tempted towards pride? Remind yourself that you apart from Christ you are dead. Remind yourself that any good in you is what He has worked in you. Are you tempted towards envy? Remind yourself that in Christ the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Think about the words as you sing them or play your instrument. Meditate on the Gospel!

Now before we move on, let me just say as an aside that I believe those who serve on a worship team should be believers in Jesus Christ. After all, you’re leading us in worship, not performing a piece of music.

Your Head

Second, every individual on the music team should consider his or her head. What do you know? Do you know the truth about God? Can you clearly articulate the gospel? Do you understand what that lyric means in Sunday’s song? Have you even read or thought about those lyrics? Do you have discernment to catch that phrase that’s unhelpful, untrue or unbiblical? Whether you like it or not, because of your role you are a part of the public face of Poquoson Baptist Church. If a guest came up to you after service on Sunday and asked you how they could have a relationship with Jesus, what would you say? Could you lead them to Jesus or would you need to find somebody else for help? The sad truth is that many Christian musicians have spent far more time sharpening their skill than they have spent sharpening their minds.

So I want to encourage you as a music team to strive to grow in your knowledge of the truth. One of the best ways we can do this is reading good Christian books together. Maybe you’ll read a book on worship together as a team. Maybe you’ll read a book on the holiness of God or healthy churches or the Gospel. Maybe you’re not much of a book person. In 2 Timothy 4:13 the great Apostle Paul asked Timothy to bring him books in prison. Charles Spurgeon said this about that passage:

“He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He has wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He has written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! . . . He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves he has no brains of his own.”[ii]

If you’re on the music team, I would strongly encourage you to develop a love for good Christian books.

Your Hands

Third, every individual on the music team should consider his or her hands. How is your skill? Skill matters. It’s not everything, but it does matter. Moses didn’t pass around a sign-up sheet when he was looking for people to construct the tabernacle. He chose craftsmen blessed with “skill and intelligence” (Exodus 36:1). When David was looking for a song leader he chose Kenaniah “because he was skillful at it” (1 Chronicles 15:22). The Holy Spirit led David to encourage us to “play skillfully on the strings” in Psalm 33:3. Skill matters to God, and it should matter to us too.

Bob Kauflin suggest five things to remember about skill in his book Worship Matters.[iii] First, skill is a gift from God, for His glory. If you have musical skill, it’s because God gave it to you. Use your skill as a reason to praise God, not as a reason to praise yourself. If you don’t have musical skill, it’s not because God loved you any less. He’s just gifted you in different ways.

Second, skill must be developed. In 1 Chronicles 25:7 we read that the tabernacle singers “were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful.” In other words, these individuals had skill, but they also developed their skill. They cultivated it. And you should do the same with whatever skill you’ve been given.

Third, skill doesn’t make worship more acceptable to God. As Kauflin writes, “God values our skill, but He doesn’t accept our worship on the basis of it.”[iv] God accepts our feeble offerings because of the perfect offering of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

Fourth, skill should be evaluated by others. You may feel that you have a great deal of skill. But if your skill hasn’t been objectively evaluated by others, you may be sadly mistaken. So don’t be afraid to receive feedback from others on your team. Listen to them. Welcome their critique. Use it to grow.

Fifth, skill is not an end in itself. If we value skill too highly, we will become in danger of worshiping worship. As one pastor put it, “God is not interested in something brilliant; He’s looking for something broken.” One thing this means practically is we should not evaluate someone for music ministry on skill alone. It’s part of the picture, but not the whole picture.

Your Honor

Finally, every individual on the music team should consider his or her honor. How is your life? Are you marked by Christian character? Bob Kauflin writes this in hiw book: “It’s wise to have standards for our musicians that spell out responsibilities and expectations. Worship isn’t a gig. It’s the overflow of a life devoted to the glory of Jesus Christ. If standards aren’t written down, they should be clearly communicated before someone joins the team.”[v]

What standards should be put forth? Kauflin encourages the worship team members to attest that:

  1. I am a member of our church and actively involved in a small group.
  2. I am in agreement with the doctrines and practices of our church.
  3. I will grow in my knowledge of and love for God through prayer and Bible study.
  4. I will pursue humility and servanthood.
  5. I will be faithful and punctual in attending required meetings and rehearsals.
  6. I will strive to grow in my musical skill.
  7. I will communicate to the appropriate pastor any circumstances that might affect the integrity of my participation on the team.[vi]

Whether our standards are implicit or explicit, specific or general, we should have standards. The hymnwriter was right: we really are prone to wander. And one of the ways we fight that temptation to leave the God we love is to cling to Christ together.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

 

[i] As quoted in Kaufflin, 26.

[ii] As quoted in Kaufflin, 29.

[iii] Kauflin, 34-37.

[iv] Kauflin, 35.

[v] Kauflin, 230.

[vi] Adapted from Kauflin, 231.

 

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Music and Local Church Leadership

Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 24 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Music and Local Church Leadership

In the last article in this series we discussed some general truths about leadership in the local church. But what does any of this have to do with music? Let’s go back to the roles within the church. What role should the music leader play? Think about what a music leader does. He oversees the congregational singing of the church by selecting songs, planning services, etc. He shepherds the entire congregation by helping them to sing the right songs in the right way. He also shepherds those on his team by helping them to use their gifts and talents faithfully. He should be spiritually mature, someone with the character of an elder. For these reasons I think that it is best for the music leader in a local church to be seen as a pastoral position.

Just to be clear, this does not mean that the music leader needs to be able to preach. One of the qualifications for pastors in the New Testament is that he be “able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24). I think this means that he is able to explain sound doctrine clearly, not necessarily that he is able to stand up and preach a sermon.

This also does not mean that a music leader needs to be full-time. While we would certainly love to be able to afford a full-time music leader, the reality is we’re not there right now as a church. But once again, the New Testament anticipates that not every pastoral-type position is the same. Some pastors may be volunteers. Others may be paid part-time. Others may be supported full-time because they devote so much of their time to preaching and teaching. 1 Timothy 5:17 puts it this way: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

What I am saying is that I believe in our search for a permanent music leader, we must consider more than musical skill. We should look for someone with the confidence of an overseer, the heart of a shepherd, and the character of an elder. In other words, we should be looking for a Worship Pastor, not just a Music Leader. What this means practically for our search team is that as we screen an individual we will examine four areas of his life:

Callingis he really called to serve in this capacity?

Character—does his personal and family life comply with the qualifications for ministry leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9

Competence—does he have the gifts, talents and capabilities required for this position?

Chemistry—does he have the relational chemistry to work in partnership with the Lead Pastor, the staff, and the church as a whole?

In summary, since the music leader in most local churches functions as an overseer and a shepherd (and since he should demonstrate the character of an elder), we believe there is great wisdom in viewing the music leader as a pastor position.

But what about everyone else involved in music leadership in the local church? From choir singers to drummers and guitarists, most churches have a whole team of individuals devoted to some form of music leadership. How should we think about people serving in these roles? Stay tuned.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

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Leadership in the Local Church

Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 23 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Leadership in the Local Church

The world is replete with different models of leadership. Monarchy, where complete authority rests in the oldest member of a particular family. There’s autocracy, where an individual like a dictator has absolute unquestioned authority. There’s anarchy, which really isn’t leadership at all. Nobody has authority or control and everybody does whatever they want. There’s aristocracy, where those with privilege rule over those less privileged. There’s oligarchy, where a few rule over the many. And there’s democracy, where the people govern themselves either directly or indirectly through representatives. This study is not about what is best for nations, but what is best for the local church. So which of these methods of leadership best fits the local church?

I’ve seen churches with something like a monarchy—one influential family rules over the entire congregation with one individual leading the pack. I’ve seen churches with an autocracy, where one individual (often a pastor) making all the decisions without any accountability, feedback or limits on his authority. I’ve seen churches with anarchy, where nobody has any authority or control and everybody does whatever they want. I’ve seen churches with something like an aristocracy, where those with privilege (often it’s the privilege of having been in the church longer) rule over those without privilege. I’ve seen churches with something like an oligarchy, where a smaller group of individuals like a board or a committee rules over the congregation. And I’ve seen churches with something like a democracy, where everyone has an equal say and an equal voice and the majority vote dictates the direction of the church.

I want to suggest to you that none of these approaches are a biblical approach to church leadership, even though we’ve probably seen real-life examples of most of these. The biblical approach to church leadership is laid out for us in Colossians 1:15-18:

15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.

The biblical model for church leadership could be called a Christocracy, meaning that the local church is ruled by Christ. Or, to put it another way, Jesus is the Lead Pastor of every local church.

How can that work practically? Jesus isn’t physically present to tell us what to do. He doesn’t hire and fire for us. He doesn’t tell us how to vote in members’ meetings. He didn’t write our constitution. He doesn’t pick out songs for Sunday. He doesn’t preach the sermon or pick out VBS curriculum. So how does a Christocracy work? It works when we understand and obey what Jesus’ teaches us in His Word. When it comes to leadership in the local church, nothing is more pertinent than understanding specifically what Scripture teaches us about our unique roles in the local church.

Most of us understand that we have different roles in the home. Moms are different than dads who are (or should be) different from kids. Neither is better than the other, but they have different God-ordained roles to fulfill in the house. The local church is similar. Philippians 1:1-2 briefly mentions these different roles in the local church:

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What roles do we see in this text? First, Jesus is Lord. Only Jesus is sovereign over the local church. Second, Paul is an Apostle. Now, the text doesn’t explicitly say that Paul is an Apostle, but a cursory reading through Paul’s other letters makes this abundantly clear. Paul has authority to speak to the church as an Apostle commissioned by Jesus Christ. We believe that the formal office of Apostle no longer exists in the local church. So there’s nobody like the Apostle Paul who can speak authoritatively to local churches today. But we can still submit to apostolic authority by submitting to the teaching of the New Testament. I believe this is what Ephesians 2:20 means when it says the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.”

Third, all Christians are saints. All of us are on equal footing in Christ. We’re all equally made in the image of God, equally fallen in sin, and equally redeemed by the Gospel. With three exceptions, all of Paul’s letters are written to local churches—to all of the saints. If you’re a member of this church, you’re responsible to help advance the gospel, guard our doctrine, promote unity, discipline members, and even make decisions as a congregation. All of us are saints.

But you’ll also notice two subgroups within the local church: some are pastors and some are deacons. Let’s start with overseers, what we usually call pastors. There are three words in the original language used to describe the pastor in a local church. Sometimes they’re called overseers, emphasizing the call to exercise oversight in the local church. For example, 1 Timothy 3:1 says “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Sometimes they’re called shepherds, emphasizing the call to care and feed the church as God’s flock. For instance, 1 Peter 5:2 says “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” Sometimes they’re called elders, emphasizing the spiritual maturity required to lead a local church. For example, James 5:14 says “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church.” Or Titus 1:5 says, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”

Some of our friends in different denominations will say that those three words “overseer,” “shepherd,” and “elder” actually refer to three different positions. I think that’s a wrong understanding of the New Testament. Consider how 1 Peter 5:1-3 combines all three terms into one office:

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”

Notice that this isn’t meant to be a dictatorship. Pastors shouldn’t drag their people, but lead them humbly and lovingly. Notice also that Peter exhorts the elders among you. The overwhelming biblical evidence seems to indicate that one of the ways churches avoid autocratic pastors is by appointing a team of pastors to shepherd the flock together. So pastors are the spiritually mature men who lead and feed the local church. What then is a deacon? The word simply means “servant.” And the biblical evidence suggests that the role of a deacon is simply to come alongside the pastor or pastors to enable them to concentrate on their primary ministry, which is feeding, leading, guiding, and guarding.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

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Martin Luther on the Simplicity of Sin

Martin Luther was right: “nothing is easier than sinning.” Sin is simple. So simple, in fact, that sin corrupts nearly everything we do.

We sin by doing things we shouldn’t do. We lie, steal, murder, and commit adultery.

We sin by feeling things we shouldn’t feel. Cherishing our idols more than Christ, feeling bitterness or greed, rejoicing in evil and feeling bored by truth.

We sin by thinking thoughts we shouldn’t think. We’re proud, lustful, selfish, and covetous.

We sin by not doing the things we should do. We don’t pray like we should, we don’t share the gospel faithfully, we don’t lead our families well, we don’t read our Bibles like we ought, and we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves.

We sin by doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Like the Pharisees who gave to showcase their generosity. Jesus said they had their reward.

We sin by doing the right things without faith. After all, Hebrews 11:6 is clear: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

There is nothing in your life more simple than sin.

Which is why the gospel is such good news.

You see, God is holy. He cannot look upon our evil. And He will not simply forgive us, any more than a judge will “forgive” the convicted murderer just because he said he’s sorry. A penalty must be paid.

But the Scriptures teach us that Christ has paid the penalty for our sin. This is what His life was all about. Jesus lived in order that He might die. Not as a hapless victim, but as a willing sacrifice to pay for the overwhelming sins of His people.

2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it this way: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

Now that’s good news.

 

 

 

 

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Gospel-Dominated Preaching

This series of articles is adapted from a recent lecture presented at Concordia Theological Seminary entitled How Did Luther Preach?: A Plea for Gospel-Dominated Preaching.

My contention is that Martin Luther’s preaching of imperatives in Scripture is vastly underrated. Contrary to popular opinion, Luther frequently used the pulpit to tell people what to do, not merely to tell them what Christ had done (although he certainly did that frequently and faithfully). In other words, Luther preached the law.

After investigating Luther’s practice of preaching the law in his pulpit, what can we surmise in conclusion from the Reformer’s practices?

 

Gospel-Dominated Preaching

In a noble effort to avoid works-righteousness and maximize the gospel, too many contemporary sermons feature castrated imperatives, heavily bandaged in a host of gospel caveats. Such impotent imperatives are largely absent from Luther’s preaching. While Luther did articulate gospel indicatives, he apparently saw no need to follow every proclamation of law with a gospel caveat.

Although Luther’s preaching was not consistently gospel-centered the way the term is often employed in popular literature today, it was gospel-dominated even when it featured a preponderance of law. In other words, even when Luther’s exposition did not center on the gospel, it remained dominated by it. Edward Engelbrecht explains the concept of gospel-dominance as characteristic of Luther’s preaching:

By dominance of the Gospel, I do not mean simply that a message contains more Gospel than Law. Some preachers might adopt that as a goal but it is not always what we see in the Scriptures, Luther’s sermons, or the messages of other faithful teachers. The proclamation of the Law often takes more space, depending on the state of the hearers. . . . By dominance, I mean that the proclamation of the Law serves the purpose of the Gospel: our forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ alone. This requires sensitivity to the hearers, addressing their sins appropriately with the Law so that the Gospel may do its life-giving work. It also means proclaiming the Gospel vigorously as our only hope and comfort.[1]

An isolated glance at individual sermons may paint Luther as sometimes Antinomian and other times legalistic. But Luther is no homiletical schizophrenic. His strategy was to ground his people in the beauty of Christ’s gospel, but that foundation was not built in a single sermon. Even when Luther preached the law unabashedly, he still allowed his imperatives to be dominated by the gospel.

In his fourth Invocavit sermon, Luther brilliantly rejected the radical reformers’ tendencies to throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater. His sarcastic rebuke is still relevant today:

We must, therefore, be on our guard, for the devil, through his apostles, is after us with all his craft and cunning. Now, although it is true and no one can deny that the images are evil because they are abused, nevertheless we must not on that account reject them, nor condemn anything because it is abused. This would result in utter confusion. God has commanded us in Deut. 4 not to lift up our eyes to the sun, etc., that we may not worship them, for they are created to serve all nations. But there are many people who worship the sun and the stars. Therefore we propose to rush in and pull the sun and stars from the skies. No, we had better let it be. Again, wine and women bring many a man to misery and make a fool out of him; so we kill all the women and pour out all the wine. Again, gold and silver cause much evil, so we condemn them. Indeed, if we want to drive away our worst enemy, the one who does us the most harm, we shall have to kill ourselves, for we have no greater enemy than our own heart.[2]

Christian history is replete with preachers who have damaged the pulpit with the Christ-denying evils of moralism and legalism. It is true that preachers can abuse the imperatives of Scripture, turning Christianity into a legalistic system of salvation by works. However, Martin Luther was not such a preacher, nor are the countless others who follow in his tradition. The recurring tendency to cure moralism in the pulpit by minimizing the law is not a legitimate remedy. Instead, let us embrace Luther’s example of gospel-dominated preaching.

[1]Edward A. Engelbrecht, Friends of the Law: Luther’s Use of the Law for Christian Life (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), 244-45.

[2]Luther, LW, 51: 85.

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Church Music Should Be Relevant

Worship Wars is Pastor Hopson’s current teaching series on Wednesday nights at 6:30 at Poquoson Baptist Church. Join us to learn more about worship and music from a Christian worldview. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 23 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Important Note: Everything you read below is based on key foundational truths established in previous lessons. If anything concerns or confuses you, go back and read the other articles in this series or listen to the recordings.

Church Music Should Be Relevant

Finally, church music should be relevant. In other words, music should do everything we’ve said above through the unique cultural lens of those singing. By God’s grace I’ve been able to sing songs with Christians in many different contexts. Jesus can be glorified by the traditional hymns sung in rural Ohio, the Christ-centered hip hop in the inner-city of Atlanta, the tattooed indie rock in Louisville’s Highlands district, the excited dancing in the slums of Port au Prince, and everything in between. We’re foolish and arrogant to assume that faithful musical style is that which looks like our style.

So what principles should guide us? First, we should consider the culture around us. What’s our mission field look like? What musical styles do they sing? It would make little sense to cultivate a hip hop style in the city of Poquoson, but that style fits very well at The Midtown Bridge Church in urban Atlanta. A pipe organ and choir robes might make sense when targeting traditional, educated Americans or Brits, but it would be far less effective in sub-Saharan Africa. So if we’re trying to be relevant, we should look at the music and culture of the world around us.

Some might object that our church gatherings are not for the lost, but for Christians. This much is true. But in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul clearly expects that unbelievers may enter our church gatherings, something that should affect the way the Corinthians use their supernatural gifts. He puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25:

Even so, if unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy. But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.”

If the presence of unbelievers in our church gatherings should have affected the way the early church thought about supernatural gifts, shouldn’t it affect the way we think about music? Shouldn’t we strive to structure our gatherings in such a way that they pose as little a stumbling block as possible? We know the gospel will cause unbelievers to stumble. Do we really need them to stumble over anything else on their way to the biggest stumbling block of all?

So what does this mean practically? I believe our worship gatherings, including the music we sing, should not be seeker-centered, but seeker-sensible. In other words, we shouldn’t structure everything we do around the unbeliever, but we should be sensible about it by minimizing non-essential distractions. Often this is as simple as refreshing dated decor and singing more modern styles of music. But in all of this we must never compromise the gospel that we’re called to proclaim.

But there’s one more principle that should guide us in our consideration of relevance. We must remember that relevance is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. In other words, the pursuit of relevance is never primary. Our primary goal is to glorify God in Christ with humble expressions of sacrificial delight, not to be relevant. Os Guinness warned us well: “By our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance. Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant.”[i]

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

 

[i] As quoted in Kauflin, 192-93.

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Church Music Should be Undistracting

Worship Wars is Pastor Hopson’s current teaching series on Wednesday nights at 6:30 at Poquoson Baptist Church. Join us to learn more about worship and music from a Christian worldview. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 22 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Important Note: Everything you read below is based on key foundational truths established in previous lessons. If anything concerns or confuses you, go back and read the other articles in this series or listen to the recordings.

Church Music Should Be Skilled

Fourth, to expand our thoughts on skill a little wider, church music should be undistracting. In other words, church music should not distract from the point of church music, which is to worship God. Imagine you’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime to visit the Grand Canyon. There you are confronted with an incredible vista unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your life. But instead of soaking in the glory in front of you, you become fascinated with the signs and the railings. You’ve missed the point. And yet that’s what many of us are tempted to do with church music. We’re tempted to get so infatuated with lesser things, like the music itself, that we forget to become enamored with the God we’re supposed to be singing about.

The average church attender suffers from spiritual attentional deficit disorder; we’re readily tempted to spiritual distraction. One of our goals in the selection and execution of church music should be to minimize those distractions. And those distractions are legion.

Music that is more memorable than its lyrics can be distracting. Instead of focusing on the God we’re meant to be worshiping, we can become overly concerned with tune. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing good music, but it does mean we shouldn’t sing good music with bad lyrics. Our criteria for church music should be more in-depth than just picking the songs with great tunes.

Music that doesn’t match its lyrics can be distracting. Joyful lyrics should be accompanied by joyful tunes, and somber lyrics should be paired with somber tunes. Unfortunately, many famous hymns were set to music years later by somebody else. For example, Fanny Crosby’s hymn Rescue the Perishing highlights our call to take the gospel to those who are dying apart from Christ. It’s a somber song that should serve as a wake-up call to Christians everywhere. But the tune, composed by W. Howard Doane, doesn’t match the sober tone of the song in the least. When this happens the tune distracts from the song’s desired effect.

Music that can’t be played with skill can be distracting. I still remember the well-meaning guitar player who occasionally performed “special music” at my home church. Inevitably at some point in his song he would miss a beat or play the wrong chord and have to start his song over. A lack of skill in a public setting like this can actually serve to distract from our purpose.

Music that excessively showcases skill can distract. Some churches have such spectacular musicians that the temptation can be to highlight and showcase individual skill. But if you leave the service more impressed with a killer guitar riff than the God that you’re here to worship you’ve lost your focus.

Music with poorly chose lyrics distracts. Some Christian bands and musicians have begun using profanity in their songs in order to provocatively make a point. But your feelings on language aside, such a tactic actually distracts from the main point of the song. But you don’t have to use a four-letter-word to distract with poorly chosen lyrics. In John Mark McMillan’s song How He Loves, the song talks about heaven meeting earth “like a sloppy wet kiss.” Thankfully, David Crowder recognized the distracting nature of that line and changed it to “an unforeseen kiss” in his version that popularized the song.

The bottom line is simple. In church music, we should strive to focus on what matters most by avoiding anything that distracts us from the glory of God in Christ.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

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Preach the Law Boldly

This series of articles is adapted from my recent lecture presented at Concordia Theological Seminary entitled How Did Luther Preach?: A Plea for Gospel-Dominated Preaching.

My contention is that Martin Luther’s preaching of imperatives in Scripture is vastly underrated. Contrary to popular opinion, Luther frequently used the pulpit to tell people what to do, not merely to tell them what Christ had done (although he certainly did that frequently and faithfully). In other words, Luther preached the law.

 

We’ve already discussed several points about Luther’s preaching, but what else can we learn about his use of the law?

Preach the Law Boldly

One of the central claims of redemptive-historical preaching is the plea for gospel exceptionalism. The Christian sermon is not Christian if the unique and exceptional claims of the gospel remain implicit. In other words, the Christian sermon must be distinctively different from the sermon preached in a synagogue, a mosque, or a kingdom hall. Every sermon must articulate clearly and carefully the central, unique claims of Christianity. Few were more passionate about Christian doctrine than Luther. Few held the gospel in higher esteem than he did. After all, how many preachers or theologians today would walk away from Marburg questioning Zwingli’s salvation the way Luther did? Nevertheless, despite this indomitable passion for the priority of the gospel, he apparently did not find it necessary to explicate the uniqueness of the Christian gospel in every individual sermon.

In his 1545 sermon on Hebrews 13:4, he carefully and clearly presented a Christian theology of marriage. None should disregard holy matrimony, not the marriage-forbidding legalists on the right or the sexually licentious on the left. The legalists should abandon their legalism and pursue marriage. The licentious should repent. Those who are faithfully married must labor to remain faithful, while properly raising the children from that union. Yet Luther did not hold a gospel-less view of marriage. His entire theology of marriage was resultant from and consistent with his theology of justification by faith. The gospel is not absent from this sermon, it is merely implicit. Therein lies the problem; many popular ideas of Gospel-centered preaching provide little room for theological implicitness.

Luther’s approach to gospel-centered sermons was different. My analysis found a frequent failure to articulate the gospel explicitly in every sermon. Some might contend that Luther’s gospel is too small. After all, would not a hearty view of the gospel compel the preacher to explicate its truths at every opportunity? Luther saw things differently. He preached this way, not because his gospel was too small, but because his gospel was infinitely big—so big, in fact, that it is able to do its work even when its claims are implicit. Furthermore, it was not a low view of Scripture that led Luther to preach in this way. On the contrary, he valued the Word of God so highly that he was thoroughly content to preach the text and trust God to do the work. In other words, Luther’s total confidence in the gospel enabled him to preach the law boldly.

Luther firmly believed that the Evangel was powerless until the Cacangelium—the bad news—had done its work. The law must be preached or the gospel will have no effect. Luther’s view of the gospel was so expansive that even when its truths were implied, its power remained undiminished. For Luther, the goal of the sermon was not merely to speak accurate words for God but to speak in an accurate manner. If God speaks through the languages of law and gospel, the preacher must rightly employ those languages in the pulpit.

The expositional imbalance of gospel exceptionalism finds remedy in Luther’s gospel expansiveness. For Luther, preaching the law was essential because it clarified the gospel. The preacher can preach the law boldly because faithfully and effectively preaching the law is preaching Christ. Regardless of which use of the law is employed, Christ is preached when the law is preached because Christ fulfilled the law and died for the sinner who is helpless to meet its demands. Luther made this connection in his words to Agricola in the First Antinomian Disputation:

How can one know what sin is without the law and conscience? And how will we learn what Christ is, what he did for us, if we do not know what the law is that he fulfilled for us and what sin is, for which he made satisfaction? And even if we did not require the law for ourselves, or if we could tear it out of our hearts (which is impossible), we would have to preach it for Christ’s sake, as is done and as has to be done, so that we might know what he did and what he suffered for us. For who could know what and why Christ suffered for us without knowing what sin or law is? Therefore the law must be preached wherever Christ is to be preached, even if the word “law” is not mentioned, so that the conscience is nevertheless frightened by the law when it hears that Christ had to fulfill the law for us at so great a price. Why, then, should one wish to abolish the law, which cannot be abolished, yes, which is only intensified by such an attempt? For the law terrifies me more when I hear that Christ, the Son of God, had to fulfill it for me than it would were it preached to me without the mention of Christ and of such great torment suffered by God’s Son, but were accompanied only by threats. For in the Son of God I behold the wrath of God in action, while the law of God shows it to me with words and with lesser deeds.[1]

 

Luther’s logic is clear. First, the law clarifies the gospel by highlighting the wretchedness of sin. Without clearly preaching the law to reveal man’s incompleteness, God’s provision in Christ to make man complete will lose its power. Believers and unbelievers alike must hear God’s standard preached if they would understand how drastically they fall short. Second, the law clarifies the gospel by highlighting the work of Christ. [2] Luther addressed both Christ’s obedience and his sacrifice. Lawless preaching drains Christ’s obedience to the law of its meaning. Furthermore, lawless preaching diminishes Christ’s sacrifice to pay for man’s disobedience. Third, the law clarifies the gospel by explaining the wrath of God. Luther stated, “In the Son of God I behold the wrath of God in action, while the law of God shows it to me with words and with lesser deeds.”[3] The cross illustrates the wrath of God and the law describes why that wrath is necessary.

Finally, Luther argued, “even if we did not require the law for ourselves . . . we would have to preach it for Christ’s sake.”[4] Luther’s remarks imply that Christians do “require the law” for themselves. Luther reiterated that the function of the law is not restricted to revealing man’s incompleteness to satisfy God’s standard of righteousness. The law also reveals man’s incompleteness by commanding him to change his beliefs or behaviors. In some sense, the law still binds the Christian. How does this function of the law clarify the gospel? The law clarifies the gospel by revealing how gospel people should live.

Luther preached the law to clarify the gospel. He rightly understood that without the law the good news of the gospel is not good at all. Lohse encapsulates the crux of this argument, “The law can only fulfill its God-intended function when seen in constant contrast with the gospel, just as the gospel is properly preached only in constant contrast to the law.”[5]

Preachers today should not be afraid or ashamed to preach the law of God. After all, faithfully preaching the law is one of the ways the preacher faithfully preaches Christ. Luther believed that law and gospel are the two languages with which God speaks to his people, which testify of Christ, the Eternal Word. Many homileticians have unwittingly clamped one side of God’s mouth shut while holding up a megaphone to the other. However, the preacher is free to proclaim the law in a robust manner, unlike this one-dimensional approach. If God speaks in the two languages of law and gospel, preachers must painstakingly strive for fluency in both languages.

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

[1]Luther, LW, 47: 113. Emphasis added.

[2]Luther considered the minimization of Christ’s saving work as the tragic failure of antinomianism: “It is apparent from this that the devil’s purpose in this fanaticism is not to remove the law but to remove Christ, the fulfiller of the law.” Luther, LW, 47: 110.

[3]Ibid., 113.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology, 269.

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Church Music Should Be Skilled

Worship Wars is Pastor Hopson’s current teaching series on Wednesday nights at 6:30 at Poquoson Baptist Church. Join us to learn more about worship and music from a Christian worldview. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 21 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Important Note: Everything you read below is based on key foundational truths established in previous lessons. If anything concerns or confuses you, go back and read the other articles in this series or listen to the recordings.

Church Music Should Be Skilled

What are the important marks of music sung in the local church? First, we said that church music should be Christ-centered. Second, church music should be cross-centered. Third, church music should be skilled. Skill is not the most important ingredient of church music, but it does matter. Consider the following Scriptures:

  • Psalm 33:3“Sing a new song of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.”
  • 1 Chronicles 15:22Kenaniah, the head Levite, was chosen as the choir leader because of his skill
  • 2 Chronicles 30:21-22“So the people of Israel who were present in Jerusalem joyously celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days. Each day the Levites and the priests sang to the LORD, accompanied by loud instruments. Hezekiah encouraged all the Levites regarding the skill they displayed as they served the LORD.”

Skill matters to God, so it should matter to us.

As important as skill is, it is a dangerous beast. There are at least two pitfalls we could fall into when we think about skill. On the one hand, we could overemphasize skill to the point that our music is more about production and excellence than truly engaging our hearts. Reggie Kidd in his book on music puts it this way:

“In some churches the quest for ‘excellence’ is an idol, regardless of whether ‘excellence’ is defined by standards of so-called ‘classical’ culture or of ‘pop’ culture. Such ‘excellentism’ needs to be replaced with the quest to pursue the likeness of Christ crucified and him alone. As good as it gets this side of Christ’s return, we’re never going to get it completely right. There will always be a flat tenor, a broken guitar string, an overly loud organ, or a poorly placed hymn. But it’s okay. The cross means it’s covered.”[i]

God, protect us from the idolatry of “excellentism.” But before we swing the pendulum to the other extreme and embrace mediocrity, we must consider another pitfall. It’s possible to underemphasize skill to the point that it’s a hindrance to genuine worship.

In one of the churches I served the Sunday morning music selection went something like this. Our pianist would show up about 15 minutes before the main worship gathering in order to run through the songs before the service. About 5 minutes later the song leader would arrive, and ask the pianist “What are we going to sing today?” Sadly, many churches have so underemphasized skill in church music that little or no effort is ever exerted in prayerfully and carefully preparing a song service that glorifies Christ and edifies the body.

Imagine you’ve been given an original painting that’s of incredible value. Something like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or can Gogh’s The Starry Night. Now you know better than to simply thumbtack that canvas to your wall. It needs a frame. But the frame you choose really matters. If you put that painting in a cheap, shabby frame from the dollar store, what does that say about the picture? The average person would see the frame surrounding your original painting and feel certain that it wasn’t that valuable. After all, who would put anything of value in a frame like that? A frame like that wouldn’t highlight the picture’s value at all, it would diminish it. On the other hand, you could put that painting in a bejeweled, golden frame that’s hilariously gaudy. Better yet, how about a flashing neon frame that also functions as a nightlight? A frame like this wouldn’t highlight the picture’s value either, it would distract from it.

Music in the local church should function in the same way. Let our music not be like a cheap frame that diminishes the value of the God we’re singing about. And let it not be a gaudy show that distracts from Him. Rather, let us cultivate God-honoring skill without idolizing skill; what John Piper calls “undistracting excellence.” How do we move in this direction? Allen Ross suggests this in his book on worship: “There is no reason for individual churches to change everything they have been doing; but there is every reason for all congregations to evaluate everything they are doing to see how they can do it better.”[ii] Amen.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

[i] As quoted in Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters, 196

[ii] As quoted in Kauflin, 157.

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