From Glory to Glory—
Leading Change in Public Worship
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Change is a process, not an event. Part Two of this study sheds light on this process. It is biblical and dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. The process is also joyful and exciting. The church moves from “glory to glory.”
Understanding the Process of Transformation
All change in the church should spring from scriptural principles. Rather than using the Bible to rationalize our personal desires, leaders need to let the Bible guide them. The Word of God has the power to help us see the difference between our desires and those of God. The writer to the Hebrews calls the Word a sharp, sharp sword, sharp enough to divide our thoughts from our intentions, even our soul from our spirit. (Hebrews 4:12) Our souls house our desires, pleasures, and pains. Our spirit hosts the Spirit of God. Human desires dwell in the soul and the desires of God are expressed to our spirit. The Sword of the Spirit is the only blade sharp enough to divide soul from spirit.
How does the Holy Spirit bring about change in our hearts and in the church? He does so in complete agreement with the Bible. When planning worship renewal, it is incumbent upon the leader to know the teachings of Jesus and Apostles and the instructions in the book of Psalms. These sources tell us how the Holy Spirit does things. These principles reveal the heart of God. Our plans and methods need to be in agreement with the Word of God. What are some of those principles?
The Biblical Leadership Principles
Principle Number One: Avoid culture clashes with an appeal to Scripture.
Jesus refused to play the culture game. The woman at the well presented Him with a classic culture clash. “”Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-24) This was an innovation vs. tradition clash of cultures. The Samaritans had prepared a mountain for worship. The Jews in Jerusalem had Herod’s Temple. What do you say, Jesus? Who is right? The innovators or those who hold to older traditions? Neither. Jesus’ answer is the right one. Jesus revealed the heart of God.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
He told her there would be a New Covenant under which worship would be no longer be tied to physical places, neither this mountain nor that city. True Worshipers would worship in a place and a condition described as “spirit and truth.” Just as God was not a mountain or a temple but was spirit, so must the worship of Him be spiritual not material. New Covenant worship is congruent with the nature of God who is its object and its subject. It is not a matter of innovation or tradition. Worship in spirit and truth will sometimes be entirely new and original and other times it will cling to the oldest and most revered of traditions. New Covenant worship is a continuing quest for the power and presence of God. Paul said it this way,
Colossians 3:1-2 NIV
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Instead of exalting tradition over innovation or visa versa, leaders can avoid culture clashes by promoting this spiritual quest. When we begin to pursue the presence of God, we are in agreement with the desires of the Holy Spirit for the church. Paul echoes this in the first chapter of Ephesians in his prayer for the church.(Ephesians 1:15-23)
Principle Number Two: Teach and model the self-evaluation of the heart.
For worship renewal to succeed, each worshiper needs to know how to examine his/her own heart. People tend to feel about music and worship issues rather than think about them. Leaders must know how to think about these emotional issues. This is everyone’s work, not just that of the leader. Leaders must help everyone know how to question his/her strong feelings. Strong feelings are not always based in the spirit and fueled by the Spirit of God. Sometimes they come from a wounded soul or a neglected or uninformed heart.
Three questions assist us as we evaluate any aspect of worship and worship leading:
- Will I worship to please myself?
- Will I worship to please others?
- Will worship to please God?
The Word of God will reveal both the wounded soul and the principles of the Holy Spirit so that we can see the differences between them. Everyone must test his/her heart by the standard of the Word. The momentary popularity or unpopularity of a biblical mode of worship may not be the deciding factor. How do we go about testing something by the Word? We ask ourselves questions:
Why do we feel strongly about worship?
- Our music is extremely important to us.
- It often carries more than musical meaning.
- We feel that acceptance or rejection of our music is really acceptance or rejection of us.
If all of the hearts desires do not come from delighting in the Lord, how do we examine the desires of our hearts?
Strong feelings come from three sources.
- Our personalities
- Our cultural preferences and
- The Word of God.
Personality and culture affect us involuntarily. The Word of God shapes us by our choice. Remember the three questions: Does it please me? Does it please others? Does it please God? We must all submit to the surgery of the sword. I love the words of Isaiah:
Isaiah 66:1-2 NIV
This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD.” This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
If all of the church is “humble and contrite in spirit” while “trembling at God’s Word,” the church is on its way to worship renewal.
Principle Number Three: Identify the negotiable and the non-negotiable.
The writer to the Hebrews predicts a time when society will be shaken so that what cannot be shaken can be clearly seen.
“Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” … the removing of what can be shaken-that is, created things-so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
The “shakable” things are the negotiable things—things ripe for change. The “unshakable” things are the non-negotiable things—the Kingdom of God—things that must not change. Conflicts come when people cling to “shakable” things as if they should not change or leaders attempt to eliminate “unshakable” things as if they could be changed.
1 Corinthians 2:10-11/ 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NIV
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? / Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Only those who have the courage to “test everything,” both tradition and innovation, will be able to “hold on to the good.”
An Eight Step Method for Spiritual Transformation
Let’s pull all of this together into a method.
Step One—Find the leadership of the Spirit.
For everything from the grand vision for the church, to the departmental roles for staff and lay leadership, to the relationship building and discipleship aspects of worship renewal—find the will of God! Everything counts. All leaders are worship leaders; they are either with the program or against it. Worship renewal is an all-church ministry as everyone is led by the Spirit.
Step Two—Learn and Teach the Ways of the Spirit.
There is only one playbook for this sport—the ways of the Holy Spirit. We must learn what the foolish Galatians did not learn: “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”(Galatians 3:3)
What are the ways of the Spirit? He moves among us by three ever-present principles:
- He exalts Jesus. (John 14:16-18; 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:13-15)
- He edifies the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
- He moves decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14: 40)
All services and structures must be consistent with the nature of the Holy Spirit: centered on Jesus, of benefit to the church, and full of order and decency.
Step Three—Love the people. Never strive with them or be quarrelsome.
Quarrels are not a part of renewal. Strife is not a spiritual weapon of our warfare. The Holy Spirit will not bless such things. Leaders must insist on civil discussions based on objective truth, not petty personality displays. Leaders must not lead through intimidation but gently in a Christ-like manner. We cannot lead people in True Worship if we do not love them.
Step Four—Invite the Congregation to Join the Quest for the Presence of God.
Seeking God’s face together is a unifying thing. Unity of the spirit does not happen by accident and it probably won’t happen quickly. Who knows how many rehearsals it took for the “trumpeters and singers, to be one o make one sound” at the dedication of the Temple? But when they did, the glory fell. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14) Invite the people to join their leaders in the process of becoming One in Jesus and One in heart. Who can say what part of the ten days between the ascension and the Day of Pentecost was spent in reconciliation of issues among the followers of Jesus? But when they were finally in “one mind and one accord,” the Holy Spirit fell on all of them. (Acts 2:1-4) This unifying quest is essential for worship renewal.
Step Five—Preach and Teach for Worship Renewal in Biblical Terms
The old time Pentecostals had a saying: “You get what you preach for.” I believe it is still true. There is so much Bible to preach on worship! Most of it never gets preached. The senior pastor sets the context of the worship service.
- His/her participation in worship has to be unquestioned and fully observed by the congregation.
- He/she must not let worship be confused with the personal style of the worship leader.
- The preaching should be done with biblical, not cultural terms. For example, “hymn” has a biblical meaning that is practically unknown in the church (“a song of praise addressed to God.”)
To use any term undefined is to use a term that is loaded with negative and positive emotions among the congregation. Biblical language rather cultural language will bring the cultures within the church together.
Step Six—Plan and Lead Worship Services that are Renewal Services
It is time to have great confidence in the things of God. If recent worship trends have made us doubt the impact of New Covenant worship, it is time to re-examine those things. I am convinced that New Covenant worship fascinates the seeker rather than repels him.
- For instance, let’s think about the Lord’s Table. If we do communion like we were conducting Jesus’ funeral, it is confusing to the un-churched. But, if we learn from the church Fathers and celebrate the Lord’s Supper as “the Great Thanksgiving” it is intended to be, the whole story of God’s redemptive acts in history and in Jesus are presented as the only hope for today’s world.
- When we anoint the sick and pray for them, expecting the “prayer of faith to raise up the sick,” this demonstrates the presence and mercy of Jesus.
- If we minister to the Lord with our whole hearts through congregational song, not only the excellent music, but the presence of the Lord in our worship will draw the seeker’s heart.
- If we pray, together, for the world, for the nation, for the community, it demonstrates our citizenship in heaven and our responsibilities on earth.
If we can let the excellence of the essentials of New Covenant worship rise above our personalities and pride, the non-essentials will pale in comparison.
Expand the repertoire of the church instead of contracting it.
- Add new songs and new styles as you affirm the validity of old ones. Learn “convergence” techniques instead of “blended” techniques.
- “Blended” song selection techniques place old and new music in sequence: first one, then the other, etc. This is inherently weak, artistically and spiritually.
- “Convergence” techniques merge the old with the new and the new with the old into a new genre that is neither old nor new, but is current, full of the Spirit’s power. This is inherently strong, artistically and spiritually.
- The song set should be seen as the liturgy of the church—the work of the people—as they minister to the Lord, rather than a set of songs to please the people.
- Worship songs should be selected to engage the people as singers, not perform for them as for an audience. A “congregation” should never be demoted to the status of an “audience.”
Convergence music can become the tool of Christ-centered worship rather than the focus of the worship service.
Step Seven—Lead Private Worship
For most of the 20th century the great assumption of the evangelical pastorate was that people will pray and read their Bibles every day. The result of this assumption has been a largely neglected Secret Place. (Matthew 6:5-13 NKJV) The lack of effective private worship is one of the causes of the lack of maturity in the laity and in the ministry that produces the cultural and personal conflicts that block worship renewal. How can leadership lead private worship?
- We can use contemporary media to expand the appreciation of the congregation for worship through the sale of worship music and books on spiritual issues. for sale in the church.
- Private worship can be coordinated through the use of corporate prayers of agreement, corporate scripture reading plans and the connection of these private worship elements with the public worship experience.
- The Christian Year in which worshipers walk through the life of Christ from Advent through Pentecost each year is just such a plan that coordinates private and public worship.
Step Eight—Expand the Generations of Worship Leaders
Barriers between worshipers are nothing new. The apostles faced them wherever they sought to establish the church. Paul brings us the most encouraging word in his letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:14-15 NLT
For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us.
It is the devil’s business to build walls of hostility between groups of people: young folks and old folks, poor folks and rich folks, and so on. It is Messiah’s business to tear down those walls. Pragmatic leaders, in an effort to win specific groups of people, have acted in an unintended collusion with the enemy. Cultural division is a successful marketing tool. We must not allow ourselves to be tools of the merchants. We must be a holy counter-culture with real unity among the generations. It is time to intentionally undo the enemy’s work and put the emphasis on Jesus. He will then do for us what he did at Ephesus—take disparate groups and make one people out of them. The prophet Malachi predicted that the reconstruction of whole families would be a sign of the Messiah.
Malachi 4:5-6 NIV
“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
We can see all around us the curse of divided homes and churches and communities. The renewal of True Worship will be marked by generational unity as worshipers experience a turning of their hearts back to family members. What could be more attractive to a postmodern world fractured and broken by every imaginable fissure?
How can leaders bring this about?
- Involve youth in worship and especially in worship leading. Skillfully introduce young worshipers to the songs of history and skillfully use the songs of the day to enrich the lives of older worshipers. Use young singers and players in the main services.
- Expand the opportunities for singers and instrumentalists. Choirs and orchestra may temporarily be out of fashion, but they will still unite the generations if we are smart enough to let them.
- Put Jesus in the center, not the music, and He will tears down the walls of hostility between the generations. He still brings people together.
- Forego the replication of recordings of arrangements from influential churches which often employ musicians who are not there. Make the Lord’s music the people He has sent you. If you need more–pray them in!
I led worship for five years in an “International” church in the Washington, D.C. area where people from almost one hundred nations gathered to worship each week. Songs and sermons were translated into several languages during the services. When we left that church, an African worshiper told me that no one had “made us one in worship” the way we had. All I did was use as many people as I could and keep everything in worship centered on Jesus. In Christ-centered unity the church can celebrate its amazing diversity.
Demagnetizing the Hull
My wife and I took a boat tour of the naval base at Virginia Beach. For someone who loves warships, this was a feast. We saw giant fleet carriers and equally impressive helicopter carriers. We saw the famous destroyers the USS Cole and the USS Arleigh Burke and more ships than I could count. One ship had just been re-fitted. A host of sailors were lined up on her decks demagnetizing the hull with electrical wire. It seems an unneeded electrical charge builds up in the hull and has to be neutralized for all the new and old sensitive equipment to work properly.
I believe the “Ship of Zion” is being re-fitted with new weapons for a new season of spiritual victory. The church doesn’t need to be scrapped, though many seemed bent on this. We just need to let the power of the Holy Spirit sweep us from the bow to the fantail to neutralize the world’s influence. Her weapons, new and old, are mighty through God to the completion of the mission God has for her.
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved (revised March 2021)