Six Keys to Worship Renewal
Renewal and Revival
Worship Renewal is an ever-present goal in our individual lives and in our churches. I want to present a series of strategies the people of God can use to reach this goal. In my denomination, we tend to use the term “revival” more than “renewal.” Are these two words synonymous or are they complimentary terms, two parts of a single process?
- Revival means to bring something dead to life.
- Renewal means to make something old new again.
We speak of revivals as specific events: the Welch Revival of 1904-1905, the Azusa Street Revival of 1906-1909, or the Brownsville Revival of 1995. Histories of these momentous events are written around the personalities of the leaders, the doctrines upon which the revivals are based, and the influence of the revivals on the world.
Richard M. Riss, in his book, 20th Century Revival Movements in North America, describes several characteristics of revivals:
- ministry in word and music in the power of the Holy Spirit that pierces the heart,
- a deep thirst for the Word of God resulting in increased sales of Bibles and related books,
- an increased demand on evangelists,
- a return to the orthodoxy of the group experiencing revival,
- and a renewed stress upon the Jesus story, especially the atoning death and resurrection of the Savior.
In each revival, something dead (the church) was revived to new life and people made pilgrimage from around the world, spreading the influence of that moment in time and space.
If revivals are time, place and personality related events, renewal is a more community-based, doctrinal process.
- Revivals are evangelistic events, sweeping multitudes into the Kingdom.
- Renewals are processes of reformation, bringing believers back to true spirituality.
- Evangelists lead revivals; pastor-teachers lead renewals.
Obviously the Lord is working through the events and processes of the church; revival and renewal are related.
One might even see a progression in words quite familiar to us.
- Revival in a community leads to renewal in the hearts of believers, which leads to reformation in the church which can lead to the restoration of Apostolic Christianity.
- Or perhaps a different sequence: Renewal and reformation in the church leads to the revival of Christianity in the culture.
- Perhaps it isn’t linear at all, and is really happening all at once.
A pastor sees this swirl of events and processes in his local church. Each Sunday someone experiences revival and the person next to them has a renewal, all within the context of the reformation of the last days as Apostolic power and ministry are restored.
If not a swirl, we observe at least a matrix of causes and results, stimuli and responses which is the current move of the Holy Spirit. This article will present worship renewal as a starting place, an entry point for this holy cycle of blessing.
Key #1 The One Who Makes Us One: Center Worship on the Lord Jesus
The One Who Makes Us One
The first obstacle to be overcome in the process of worship renewal in the local church is division. Too often, worship wars are waged in the local church and in denominational communities. These are culture clashes. Ideally a local church has several identifiable cultures within: generational cultures and ethnic or aesthetic groups. Each group is defined by the particular music and public ceremony it prefers. If the members of each group see their preferences as the central aspect of public worship, worship wars ensue.
This, of course, is nothing new. A culture clash is the basis of the question posed to Jesus by the woman at the Samaritan well. “The Jews say…our fathers say…,” said the woman as she described the dilemma many worship leaders find themselves in today. How does one please all the groups within the church in order to lead them all in worship? Jesus’ answer to her is his answer to us, “The Father is seeking true worshipers.”
Worship leaders (pastors and musicians) cannot meet the contradictory demands of the groups within the church if those demands are at the center of the worship service. However, if the worship service is centered upon the desires of the Father, what he is seeking rather than what the people are seeking, worship leaders can readily succeed. With the help of the Holy Spirit and informed by the Word of God (in spirit and truth) leading worship is a delight, not an impossible task.
Each of the six keys to worship renewal will be an aspect of what it means to worship in spirit and truth. The first is the one we must always keep and the one most easily lost—keep worship centered on Jesus!
- The ministry of the Holy Spirit is centered on Jesus.
- Paul says that Jesus has torn down the walls of hostility between the cultures within the church.
With amazing stealth, our personalities and preferences, our music and our methods can steal the center of our thinking, planning and presentation of public worship. Worship renewal begins and is maintained by keeping Jesus at the center.
Key #2 Called to be with Him: Build a Base of Private Worship
Jesus chose twelve men to carry on his work when he was gone. Eleven of them did exactly that, taking his message to the world. All but one suffered martyrdom for the cause. The gospel of Mark says,
“He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and have the authority to drive out demons.”
We marvel at their exploits and at their transformations from timid fishermen and men of mixed motivations into single-minded missionaries and astounding communicators. We know the Holy Spirit is the one who fostered this amazing metamorphosis. What were the processes involved?
- Have we expected to have power and authority in the spirit-realm without taking time to “be with him?”
- How can we open ourselves to the transforming influence of the Holy Spirit as he seeks to conform us to the image of Christ?
- How different would church life be if more Christians were more Christ-like?
These are central questions to the understanding of worship renewal.
- Struggles in public worship take place on the church platform but they are not rooted there.
- Power struggles in the boardroom do not begin there.
- Dysfunction in the church family is rooted in the hearts of our people, both leaders and parishioners.
A powerful routine of public worship is based on effective practices of private worship.
In the Secret Place of prayer the Refiner’s Fire and Launderers’ Soap do their purifying, cleansing work so that we might offer acceptable worship to the Lord. (Malachi 3:1-4) The Public Place is empowered by the Secret Place. In the Sermon of the Mount Jesus said it would be so.
“Your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
When the Secret Place is empty and unattended, the hearts of worshipers on Sunday in the Public Place are likewise barren and neglected. Much of our time together is spent trying to “ascend the hill of the Lord” rather than “standing in the Holy Place.” (Psalm 24) Thus we spend more time in praise than in worship, more time getting there than being there.
A Metaphor from Naval Warfare
The submarine gives us a material world example of the underlying support private worship is to public worship. The reason this ship can dive and travel the seas at great depths is a double hull construction. The outer hull resists the tremendous pressure of the water surrounding the ship far beneath the surface of the sea. The inner hull protects the occupants of the craft from those pressures. The space between the two hulls can be flooded or emptied with seawater as needed to counter the pressure on the outer hull and to dive or surface at the will of the captain. Private worship is to the church like the inner hull of the submarine, unseen from the outside but super strong on the inside, the real strength of the great weapon beneath the sea.
Worship leaders (pastors and musicians) need to help the people they lead form effective structures and disciplines of private worship. The components of powerful private worship are the same as those of public worship: scriptures read and confessed, songs, prayers of praise, worship and petition, and times of waiting on God, listening for the voice of the Spirit. We need the Secret Place. Like the apostles, he has called us to be with him.
Key #3 Worship with Passion and Reason: Teach Biblical Principles of Worship
At a well in a Samaritan village Jesus spoke to a woman whose life was in turmoil. Their conversation that day included an exchange about worship. She presented the Lord with a clash of cultures. To paraphrase their words, “The Jews say worship at the temple, our leaders say worship at this mountain. What do you say?” His answer is perhaps His most important teaching on worship. “The Father is seeking worshipers, those who would worship Him in spirit and truth.”
Worship isn’t about temples and mountains—it is about God, not us. My examination of the original language reveals no hidden meanings: spirit means spirit and truth means truth. To determine their meaning we must ask questions: Whose spirit? What truth? When we do the meanings become clear.
- We must worship from our spirits as led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
- At the same time we must worship with our truth—with true hearts, and according to God’s truth—in obedience to the Word of God.
I have found synonyms useful in understanding these terms. I think of worship in spirit and truth as worship with passion and reason.
- The passion of the spirit involves the whole person.
- The reasoning of the worshiping heart is a cycle of revelation and response that takes us deeper and deeper into the heart of God.
Passion and reason demand honesty and integrity. Worship must be focused on Jesus, not us. It must be powered by the eternal not the temporal. A vital key to worship renewal is the restoration of these dual characteristics of worship.
Jesus, Move Over Please
It is easy to lose this focus.
- If leaders think of worship as a church growth tool and worshipers consider it a service to them, Jesus is no longer at the center; the people are.
- Service planning is market-driven not principle-powered: “What do the people want? What music do they like? What will really get them going? We need to do it this way to attract these particular people.”
- Leaders have violated the first principle of worship before they make a single decision about what to sing or when to receive communion or what to preach or how to do an altar call.
Worshipers come through the doors of the church with an astounding array of expectations. They may have much passion but little reason or they may be well informed but passive. The role of leadership is to consolidate these competing expectations into a single vision for worship. Where can we find such a vision that transcends culture and unifies the church? The answer is the Word of God. To see worship renewal we must shift the focus from us back to Jesus. We must be inspired by the eternal not impressed by the timely.
When the thirsty people in our villages, their lives in turmoil, come to our wells, they need more than a public parade of our personal preferences.
- They need the living water that only Jesus can give.
- Biblical elements of worship are Christ-centered: prayer, praise, adoration, the Lord’s Table, the anointing with oil, the gifts of the Spirit, the Lord’s story and His teaching, the astounding witness of Jesus found in the New Testament writers and anticipated in the Old Testament record, and the presence of Jesus Himself.
- This is the living water that satisfies the thirsting soul.
Key #4 The Power of Agreement: Standardize the Goals of Public Worship
Jesus himself couldn’t win the people-pleasing game.
I will paraphrase His vivid rebuke, “To what shall I compare this generation? You are like children playing in the marketplace. I played wedding music and you wouldn’t dance. I played funeral music and you wouldn’t mourn.”
Many worship leaders are trying to win a game Jesus wouldn’t even play.
- A large group of their people wants a jig and another powerful group wants a dirge.
- Perhaps the disagreement is more substantial: some want stirring songs of testimony while others want informative songs of tradition while still others want exciting songs of praise, prayer and waiting on God.
With these contradictory demands, corporate praise and worship limps along like a man on crutches: fast then slow, old then new, shouting then weeping, all compiled around a checklist—old songs for the old folks and new songs for the young folks.
Behold the crippling power of disagreement.
It is time to agree. Public worship isn’t a wedding or a funeral and it certainly isn’t a game. It is its own event, different from every other public ceremony. The role of leadership is to standardize the goals of the service and reduce the competing demands of the congregation to one agreed upon goal.
- To many, this goal is evangelism. Worship services have become presentational events, focused on the un-churched.
- To others the goal is discipleship, the building up of the saints.
- To still others, worship itself is the goal; services are intended to be an encounter with the Living God.
Where can we get an idea of the Lord’s priorities so we can make those priorities our own? What does the Bible say?
To me, the most complete biblical statement of the goals of public worship is
“Let us continually offer to the Lord the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name and do not forget to do good and to share with others for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
This passage speaks volumes to me. I see the three-fold mission of the church here:
- Worship (the sacrifice of praise)
- Discipleship (to do good) and
- Evangelism (to share with others.)
It is this totality of mission that pleases the Lord. If we sacrifice any of the three in favor of the one or two, we do not please the Lord. This is one mission is in three essential dimensions:
- Worship—loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind and strength,
- Discipleship—let all things be done to the building up of the church till we all come into the fullness of the character of God and
- Evangelism—love your neighbor as yourself. It is time to embrace the priorities of the Holy Spirit.
How does this work itself out in the selection of worship methods? I see three goals for the worship service upon which we can all agree:
- worship must celebrate our heritage,
- worship must be an encounter with the Living Lord Jesus, and
- worship must take the church a step closer to her future.
In other words, our worship needs to be
- biblically based and connected to those who have gone before us.
- It must be contemporary, speaking to those who stand before us, and
- it must be prophetic, showing the way to those who will follow after us.
“Do not forget,” says the writer to Hebrews. Forget what? any one of these three. The presence of the Lord is so exciting, we can easily forget our heritage and the lost people outside our circle.
Let me paraphrase three verses into a biblical vision for worship that can unite the church as never before, if we all agree.“I implore you to present yourselves as living sacrifices of praise to the Lord. This is your reasonable service of worship. Let one generation declare His works to another and do not forget to do good and to share with others. With such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Can we agree? If so, worship wars can cease and our energies can be better spent on fulfilling our mission.
Key #5 A Whole Worshiping Family: Be Inclusive of All Cultures
The Lord Jesus didn’t like exclusive worship. He went to great links to demonstrate the Father’s interest in all people, those who formed the “in crowd” of His day, those who were outcasts, and all those in between. This was not inconsistent with the heart of God in the Old Testament. God intended the whole nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests to the whole world. The corrupted worship of the golden calf made Him resort to plan B—the tribe of Levi would be priests to the nation of Israel. We must realize that what God intended at Mt. Sinai He accomplished at Mt.Calvary. The church is a kingdom priests bringing the presence of Jesus to a lost world.
A Faith for All
The mind of man has seldom been that large. Most people, it seems, are not by nature inclusive of others unlike themselves. We keep trying to pare the church down and divide it up into small, more manageable, measurable and malleable groups. The disciples were just like us. As Jews, they could not imagine that Gentiles wouldn’t have to become Jews before they could become Christians. The first crisis and the first church conference were on this issue. From Peter’s housetop vision, to the Acts 15 Jerusalem conference, to the missionary journeys of the early evangelists, to the persuasive writings of the apostles, the New Testament reports the lengths to which the Holy Spirit went to change these exclusive attitudes.
Some people never did get it but enough people did that within less than three hundred years, there was a strong church in every nation of the Roman Empire. Each ethnic group held Christian truths in common but expressed them in ways consistent with their own cultures. This unity of belief and diversity of expression must be the Lord’s plan for the church. We certainly see it in the Revelation as we get those tantalizing glimpses of heaven where worshipers are seen from every tribe and tongue and nation.
History records societal changes from the small, like the record of births and deaths recorded in a county courthouse to the huge, like the procession of historical periods: the ancient world, the medieval ages, the renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the industrial revolution, the enlightenment, the modern world and now the post-modern world. The world changes but since the establishment of the New Covenant, the church has found a way to be Christian in each of these ages of man. In the world today, the church has found a home in western nations, the eastern cultures, and in the emerging third-world cultures. The Lord’s plan seems to be working.
Why Are We Many and not One?
If this is all so clearly God’s plan, why do we have inter-generational or inter-cultural strife over worship? God wants us to be one whole worshiping family with children and youth and young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens all worshiping together. While language barriers (remember that music is also a language) might make it more convenient for ethnic groups to meet together in homogeneous groups, where common languages of text and music exist, the church should be as multicultural today as it was in the days of Paul.
Paul reported that Jesus tore down the walls of hostility between the cultures in the church at Ephesus. He and his colleagues built one church, “one holy nation,” to use Peter’s words, out of Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, rich and poor, ignorant and learned, slave and free. When we abandon inclusive worship in favor of style-specific worship (traditional services at one time and contemporary at another) we are being driven by the culture.
Our true calling is to be a holy counter-culture speaking the truth of Jesus in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit.
A vital strategy for worship renewal must include everyone. We need more than a children’s revival or a youth revival, or a praise and worship revival or even an evangelistic crusade. We need renewal, rebirth from top to bottom, stem to stern, from the officer’s corps to the rank and file or any cliché you can think of, if we are to be the church Jesus wants us to be. Can we look at the cross and then look to any definable group of people and deliberately exclude them from our plans for worship renewal?
Key#6 The Truth the Spirit Wants: Find the Mind of God for Each Service
Many of us are of the “free church” tradition. This means that we do not follow a liturgical calendar calling for certain scriptures and themes on certain days. Our worship leaders are free to select scriptures and themes as they feel each week. The Lord has a ready pipeline for issuing truth to us as we worship. The great challenge is to make sure that large sections of the Bible and much of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles do not get left out because we seldom feel led to those passages and themes.
The Truth the Spirit Wants
We expect the pastor/preacher to have a fresh word from the Lord each time he or she enters the pulpit. Likewise the worship leader needs to find the mind of the Lord for each time of worship he or she leads. We need to present and celebrate the Truth the Spirit wants for each service. The mind of Christ is ours, says the Apostle, (Psalm 24) and we need to depend on this intuition deep in our spirits. The Holy Spirit of God dwells within the heart of the worship leader. We have spent our lives studying the Word of God. We know the ways of the Spirit. We know the repertoire of the congregation. Our job is to find the mind of Christ for each service. I call this theme the Truth the Spirit wants for that service.
The worship leader must then compile a liturgy (congregational songs) for each service that follows the theme the Lord wants. I use the term “liturgy” for its literal meaning, “the work of the people,” in other words, the words and actions of the people in public worship. In our churches, the liturgy is formed largely by the traditional and contemporary songs the congregation sings. Leaders need to see these songs for the functions they perform in the service: calls to worship, expressions of thanksgiving, proclamations of praise, and prayers of adoration, commitment and intercession. When we begin to see our songs as our liturgy, we are beginning to understand the role of the song in public worship and how to plan a worship service.
Parts of the Service
Worship planners need to see the whole worship service and not just a series of smaller events. I believe the Evangelical worship structure is Worship / Word / Altar. Each of these three sections can be also broken down into components.
We believe that each of these parts of the service is a “means of grace,” in other words, God’s grace flows to us as we worship, as we honor the Word and as we respond in prayer.
Congregational Songs Serve
Congregational songs can serve each of these portions of the service, especially in Worship and Altar. When we have found the Truth the Spirit wants for a service, we can then choose songs to engage every ethnic and generational culture within the congregation.
There is an old Pentecostal axiom, “The anointing breaks the yoke.” (Isaiah 10:27) The presence of the anointing (the power of the Spirit) upon the selected songs proves the integrity of the choices of the leader and breaks down the resistance of those who truly want to enter into the worship. The manifest presence of Jesus is the proof of the plan of worship.
When we have found the Truth the Spirit wants for a service and carefully crafted a liturgy to express and develop that truth and when we have faithfully led the people in their sincere presentation of this sacrifice to the Lord, He responds with His manifest presence. As the writer to the Hebrews encourages us,
“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 KJV)
His presence is our reward, and our renewal.
SUMMARY of KEY STRATEGIES
Strategy Number One –Keep Jesus at the Center of the Worship.
Strategy Number Two –Build Public Worship on Private Worship.
Strategy Number Three –Teach Biblical Principles of Worship.
Strategy Number Four –Teach a United Vision for Worship.
Strategy Number Five –Be Inclusive—Don’t Leave Anyone Out!
Strategy Number Six –Find and Follow the Mind of God Every Week
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
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