It’s been a full two days here at the Text and Context Conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. One of the highlights was hearing my good friend, C.J. Mahaney, preach on Pastoral Care and Loving People from 1 Cor. 1:1-9. He reminded us that although the Corinthian church was filled with problems and sin, Paul didn’t start his letter by correcting them. Instead, he reminded them of God’s calling, God’s grace, and God’s faithfulness. Along the way, CJ provided practical illustrations of how we can follow Paul’s example by highlighting, celebrating, and communicating evidences of grace in the people we lead, rather than simply being aware of their deficiencies.
I spent most of Tuesday with Tim Smith, the lead worship pastor for Mars Hill. Tim is a humble and gracious man. He’s a student of God’s Word and obviously cares for the people in his church. We had breakfast together at this great restaurant called the 5 Spot, where we filled each other in on our histories, talked about Jonathan Edwards, and the Psalms. He also asked me for observations of the workshop he led yesterday. Like I said, he’s a humble man.
We then had lunch (it was a long breakfast…) with a few of the band leaders and production staff of Mars Hill. I answered questions for about an hour and a half. Tim’s first question was a great place to start: “How do you determine if a time of corporate worship has been successful?” I started by saying that only God ultimately knows what’s going on in people’s hearts. But we’re called to be faithful. So I shared that I begin by making sure I have a clear and biblical goal – to magnify the glory of God in Christ. It’s not to have a great musical experience, to pull off a flawless presentation, or to pump people up. We should want people to walk away with a clearer view of the Savior, with more love for him in their hearts, and with a greater desire to obey him in all of life. With a clear goal, I then plan to achieve that goal. So I pick songs that are filled with the gospel and biblical truth and appropriate expressions of response. I plan to say something that will help people understand why we’re singing. I arrange the songs so that the music is a servant to the words and not the main focus. During the meeting, I try to remain aware of how the congregation is engaging with what’s going on. If I sense that people aren’t involved or responding, I do what I can to direct their focus to the works and worthiness of God. If I do all those things, I think I’ve had a “successful” time of corporate worship.
We also talked about the role of music in worship, how to encourage your church in physical expressiveness (teach on it, model it, and don’t idolize it), how God transforms us from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:17-18), and more. From there we went to record a video interview on a number of topics. Tim said that he plans on posting portions of the video on the Resurgence site. I’ll let you know when they become available.
At the end of our time together, I was struck by how open and responsive Tim and the other leaders were. I’m looking forward to more interaction in the days ahead.
At the end of the day, CJ, Eric, and I had dinner at Ray’s BoatHouse. Below is the view we had. God’s creation is truly beautiful.
Bob, thanks for the play-by-play. It’s always good to hear what goes on at conferences in case I have the opportunity to go next year.
You mentioned above that Tim is “a student of God’s Word and that he obviously cares for the people in his church.” What are signs that you saw in him that evidenced both of these things?
Somewhat related question- I desire for the people in my church to know that I care for them, but there is a discontented few in our church that have given various suggestions for songs that we will likely never do at our church (i.e. “I Saw the Light,” “I Thank God for the Lighthouse,” or patriotic songs). It has come back to me that this group has determined that I don’t care about or listen to what they say. Of course I care for them as my brothers and sisters in Christ, and want them to know that, but their view of me caring for them is that we’d sing the songs they want to sing in the style they want them played. I’ve spoken with some pastors (not my own) that have said, “Sometimes you just have to swallow hard and give them what they want.” I don’t think that’s a helpful approach to ministry.
All I really want from church is that they focus more on God.
Too many times I have found it so hard because there are usually so many distractions from the band or the preaching.
I have only been to two churches in my life so I won’t pretend to be an expert or anything and this is only my personal opinion, but I have been longing to share this with someone.
Thanks for the update on the conference. I’ve read a couple of other posts around the blogosphere about Tim’s actual pre-conference session on Missional Worship. I’m really hoping that he’ll upload that talk as a podcast.
Thanks also for posting your response to Tim’s initial question about how to determine if a time of corporate worship has been successful or not? As always, great insight.
For Mike: Can’t wait to read Bob’s response to your question and get his wise perspective on this. I feel for you, and can assure you that you are not alone in this situation! I’ve always wondered what the rationale should be for using or not using a particular style of music. I have my own opinion about what is dated, hokey, sentimental, etc. But sometimes those are the songs that mean so much to some folks! So my question is, WHY will you likely never do the songs you mentioned? (I’m not challenging you; I wouldn’t want to do them either! But just wondering how you explain that.) I’ve heard Bob and others talk about music that’s “good” or “bad” musically. How does one measure this?
Yes – I would also like to hear what Bob has to say in regards to Mike’s question above. People have even commented in the “comments” section of our registration cards…”More songs we like please!” I get so many requests for terrible songs from people who are tearing up just talking about the song. Sometimes you feel like you’d be more loving to kick them in the shins than to say anything remotely disparaging about the song they requested. Sometimes I feel like I am failing to build an appreciation for God-centered, Christ-exalting music in my church when that happens.
My concern with songs like “The Lighthouse” and “I Saw the Light” is purely lyrical. For example- The Lighthouse equates Jesus with a lighthouse that shows the way, keeps him from hitting the rocks, but nothing of his death, burial, or resurrection. Nothing about furthermore, the lighthouse is called old, the “big ships” don’t come around anymore, and it seems to be stuck up on a hill. Some confusing metaphors.
“I Saw the Light” doesn’t have the confusing metaphors, but my main beef with this one is that it comes across as very me-centered.
Regarding patriotic songs, I desire to be very clear regarding the unique claims of Christ and the Gospel in our meetings, and want to avoid any association with a particular nation and God’s blessings. Furthermore, while we are a predominantly Caucasian church we do have believers from Singapore, Korea, Zimbabwe, and other countries that are a constant reminder that people from every nation have been brought near because of the blood of Christ- let’s sing about what He’s done.
Two weeks ago I had someone complain about a song that we sang, and immediately received an email from someone who said it was on of their favorites. So, who do I listen to in that situation? The answer is neither, I think. As Bob stated above, we have a call to be faithful, to have a theological agenda, and a motivation to help people have a clearer picture of the Savior when they leave. I’m thankful for encouragement, and willing to grow through criticism, but these should not be what guide us from week to week.
While we wait for Bob to give us the correct answer, I’d suggest that singing songs the congregation wants can be wise or wicked. Wise if the songs will “magnify the glory of God in Christ” and wicked if reason is to please man. Wicked may be a strong word – but they were both “w”s!)
While a blog comment is too small a place for a full treatment on the subject (and I am not qualified to treat the subject fully), I offer this story.
My father-in-law is a pastor in rural Nebraska at a church of about 80. He had been their pastor for almost 7 years, but still felt like an outsider. Meanwhile, he had pursued a lifelong dream and became a registered Emergency Medical Technician.
Several months later, when he was the first on the scene of a severe car accident, he was instrumental in saving the life of a high-schooler. He told me that the next few weeks were the first time that he felt accepted by the community.
So, a long comment to say there are many ways to love the people.
Mike, great comments, and very helpful. I especially like your reminder, “Let’s sing about what He’s done.” That’s a simple but extremely strong point. Thanks! It does seem that some folks value sentimentality over sound theology. (I receive several email forwards per day that attest to this.) I totally agree with you about patriotic songs as well. Bob, do people at your church ever request songs that are sappy or sentimental? How do (or would) you handle that? And how do you explain about the “shelf life” of a song? I find it difficult to articulate the reasons that some songs should be retired, besides “It’s old and it sounds corny.”
BTW, just received my order of $6 CDs from SG Music. What fun! Thank you guys SO MUCH for having that sale, and now for extending into March. How kind and generous of you!
Nice to see lyrics from Taylor Sorensen onscreen.
That’s a great song- how did it go down in a corporate worship setting?
Hi Bob! about 20 yrs ago you were the worship leader at the church I went to.
You prayed with my brother to recieve the L-rd.
We think about you and Mark often and how blessed we were with worship. i still sing those songs.
I love how the Lord lets me “stumble” my way through the maze of cyberspace and find myself here. In the 80’s I wen t church in a little Jr, High and later a High school in Va. We had a worship leader that had a way of parting the curtains so that we could boldly walk into the Holy of Holies. There are songs that can translate me back to that place and time. (Thanks Bob)
I want to say a little bit about the song “suggesters”. Maybe if you talked to them, told them You pray over the song choices and will take their songs to heart and to the Lord? They may just be enjoying a memory of a time when they walked closer to the Lord and such a song will bring them back to that place again? They may just want a hymn, period, any hymn, so maybe update the music for their hymn? That is done all the time.And Amazing Grace always makes them smile.
Praying for you all dealing with sheep is never easy.
Because of Jesus, Bobbie
Mike I make no claims to be as wise as Bob, but I may can share personal experience that might help.
I face an almost identical situation a couple of years ago at our church. I had been accused of having a “my way or the highway” attitude, because a small group of people in our church wanted songs like “the Lighthouse” and “I Saw the Light”. I didn’t have issues with the Southern Gospel style and tried to occasionally do a few better songs from the same genre. I even offered to come and play and sing some of these with them during their fellowships and bible studies.
Ultimately it wasn’t enough, because they didn’t want to just hear certain songs they wanted to make the church look a certain way. Music was one step in that direction for them. Since I was a servant to the entire congregation I had to be careful to not let the proverbial squeaky wheels dictate what was done for the entire body. Because of that I told them that I and the other Pastors had discussed the direction of the music and were satisfied that what we were doing was Gods will for our body. I was accused again of having a my way or the highway attitude, and we eventually lost 8 families all of them over 70 years of age. I was, however, always gracious and tried other ways to genuinely minister to these people at times other than corporate worship, but it wasn’t enough. Twenty four months later, blessed subtraction in this case fits well. I don’t agree at all with the “sometimes you have to bite the bullet and give the people what they want” mindset. Our job as leaders a lot of the time is to teach people what they need, not give them what they want. That takes, time, patience, persistence, and unfortunately some heavenly sandpaper. Hang in there brother.
Bobbie, some helpful insights. Thanks. It’s almost always a good practice to “ask a few questions.” If nothing else, it may get people to thinking about why they are asking for a particular song and whether or not it’s a sound, biblical reason.
Scott, thanks for your thoughts. Your story sounds sadly familiar and common. While I am not a pastor and not in charge of the music, I am on the worship team, and some of us are in a position where we have the privilege of praying for those in charge and (hopefully) having some kind of godly influence as we gently, patiently, and humbly share what we’re learning. But for those who ARE in a shepherding role, your statement, “Our job as leaders a lot of the time is to teach people what they need, not give them what they want,” hits the nail right on the head. I’m so glad you said that!! AMEN! I think there are many people who don’t view their relationship with their leaders this way, and don’t necessarily think they NEED to be taught what they need. Thank God for pastors like you, Mike, and Bob, who take this call seriously and strive to avoid taking the path of least resistance (for fear-of-man reasons) while truly loving and caring about those you’re called to lead.
Must be really hard to walk in pastor moccasins sometimes… glad I’m a girl!
I came across this comment on CJ Mahaney’s blog today. He was discussing the importance of reading and heeding the call of I Timothy 4:16 to watch your life and watch your doctrine. However, I thought it was a big picture answer to the current discussion of how to let people know you care for them:
“It is the example of a pastor over a period of years and decades that will make a difference in the life of a congregation. And therefore I want to guard my heart from growing familiar with the pastoral world, growing familiar with God’s Word, growing familiar with corporate worship, growing familiar when I am listening to preaching, growing familiar when I am taking communion, growing familiar with God. I want to guard my heart from that. And the best way I can do that is by attending to his Word and applying his Word to my heart on a daily basis. I think that is the most effective way I can serve those I care for and those I have been called to serve and lead.”
That’s good. In the meantime, let’s not let bitterness take root in our hearts (I struggle with that), and remember to deal truthfully, but lovingly with those individuals God has given us to care for (again, a struggle).
Bob talked about patriotic songs