The Crooked Road

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Exclusive Worship Turns away from the Heart of God.

The Wisdom of the Lord’s Plans

God has a plan.
It is the most comforting of truths and the most discomfiting.

  • When all is in doubt and our highest visions and deepest desires seem about to fade and lose their fire, knowing the plan of God gives us hope that all will turn out in the end.
  • When all is fine and comfort couches us in the repose of the excellent leader we know ourselves to be, some verse of scripture opens a door in our heart, a door that we must enter, leaving forever the comfort of our achievements to follow God, as did Father Abraham, into a land we have never seen. Why?

Because God has a plan.

Yet, we have plans, too. God gave us minds to use so we

  • explore the unknown,
  • measure the potential,
  • judge the possibilities,
  • formulate our plans,
  • implement our plans and
  • ruthlessly evaluate them after the fact.

We write books and articles about our successes so that others can shorten their planning process as they put their/our plans into action.

Along the way, it is easy to forget the Lord’s plan. We may think that we know His will so thoroughly that there is no need to do more than research the plans of others.

Yet I show you a more excellent way:

  • explore the unknown regions of the heart of God,
  • measure the potential of the power of the Holy Spirit,
  • judge the possibilities unchanging principles,
  • formulate plans based on the best research available in the light of the Word of God,
  • implement plans built on the Word, structured in principle, and soaked in intercession, and
  • prayerfully evaluate them after the fact for signs of God’s pleasure.

We may share our testimony of the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises and His revealed plan, but this provides no shortcut for anyone else. Each leader must do the work for his/her ministry.

Today I see two crooked roads diverging from the plan of God.

Exclusive Worship Is a Crooked Road.
The Word of God makes one aspect of worship very clear: the worship of the church should be for the whole family of God, not just for a generation or two.

  • The Psalter (the prayer book for the New Testament church) demands that all generations worship together. (Psalms 48:12-14; 71:17-18; 78:4-7 “Tell…the next generation…;” Psalms 79:13; 145:4“Generation to generation…
  • The High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17, records his plan for the church—“that they be one….” (v. 3) The testimony of Paul concerning the church at Ephesus was that Jesus had made both Jew and Gentile into one worshiping family. (Ephesians 2:11-22)4. Unity triggered the move of the Holy Spirit on two historical days of worship:
  • The Dedication of Solomon’s Temple: “…when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound … the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud…for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14 NKJV)
  • The Day of Pentecost: “…they were all with one accord in one place. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:1-4 NKJV)

It is prophesied that someday the intentional unity of ensemble and spirit will bring an unprecedented visitation from God.

Psalm 102:18-22 NIV
Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD … So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the LORD.”

Important Questions

  • Why do we persist in designing and leading worship that deliberately excludes whole generations from the service?
  • Why does the prayer of Jesus not move our hearts to share His passion?
  • How does the testimony of Paul lead us to build the walls of hostility between the cultures higher and stronger when Jesus wants to tear them down?Do the commands of the Psalms have meaning today?

Warning! These questions and others like them will open that door in your heart.

Minimal Worship Teams Is a Crooked Road.
I am not talking about small churches. If you have only a few singers and players available and that is all your ever plan to have, this does not apply to you. However, if in your heart you see yourself leading worship in a church with lots of people and resources, this is for you.

Expansive Leadership
One of the many positive things about the Praise and Worship Renewal that began about 1980 was the expansion of worship leadership. While choirs had been in style for most of the 20th century, they were usually performance choirs accompanied by piano and organ. Within just a few years,

  • other instruments were added,
  •  singers were put on microphones as praise teams, and
  • piano/organ expanded to become rhythm sections and then worship bands.
  • The Music Minister became the Worship Pastor as worship leaders were finding and using more and more people.
  • Performing choirs became Worship Choirs, shedding their robes (so to speak) and identifying with congregation as a united family of worshipers.

The contemporary worship team in the larger church began to take on biblical proportions with scores of singers and substantial orchestras with instruments from every family of instruments. The Book of Psalms was instructing us in how to properly worship God.

Diminishing Leadership
Then something happened. Public worship began to be evaluated as a church growth tool and the marketplace took on a stronger influence. Because they were not a significant part of pop music, choirs and orchestras were often dismissed from the ministry as no longer relevant or needed. Leaders reinterpreted the “one sound” heard at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple to mean “one style.” Instead of the unison of heart and spirit with a diversity of sound, “one style” meant a mono-dimensional, stylistically limited representation of the Creator.

The office of the “Chief Musician” who was trained to understand and use many styles and instrumentations to more fully represent the Lord was no longer needed. Leaders were appointed who only had the musical and pastoral skills required by a minimum number of artists and instruments.

There were several practical reasons for these tactics:

  • Minimal worship teams are in vogue.
  • “One style” makes fewer, more manageable musical and pastoral demands.
  • Dealing with smaller numbers of artists is easier.
  • You can even hire them (and fire them!)
  • Minimal teams work great for multiple services.
  • You don’t have to counsel them or visit them in the hospital or sing at their families’ funerals and weddings.
  • Working with the minimal worship team is much easier and cheaper than working with a whole lot of people.

Short Term Success, Long Term Loss
Because marketing works, and because the Lord honors His Word, exclusive worship works. Sincere leaders see growth in numbers of the targeted demographic group. I commend worship leaders on their short term successes and rejoice for souls born into the Kingdom of God. I also challenge them to look at the long term. The church lost more than choir robes and French horns.

The truth is this: choirs and orchestras are really trans-generational discipleship programs.

  • Without inclusive, multi-generational music groups how will the next generation of worship singers and players learn to sing and play?
  • They can learn music in schools, garages and clubs but they will never learn how to be worshipers in those places.
  • Without this discipleship program, singers and players bring the pride and the star-syndrome that mark the world’s systems.
  • Humility, the essence of the heart of praise, is only learned by worshiping with others. It is only hand delivered from one generation to the next.

Without maximum, trans-generational teams the church fails to disciple young artists and fails to provide ministry outlets for most of the artists of the church. These precious gifts from God are squandered.

The Future Generation
I believe the “future generation” referred to in Psalm 102 is today’s generation. When “the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord,” there will be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit like the world has never seen. The worship of the church will gain the attention of heaven and God will “… hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” (Psalm 102:19-20) The revival predicted in these verses is the destination of the straight path. Exclusive worship and minimal worship leadership are crooked paths leading somewhere else. This will be a ministry beyond marketing.

Prescriptive or Descriptive?
There is an important question to ask. The Bible describes large music groups and multi-generational, inclusive worship, but does that mean we should try to have large groups and whole-family worship?

The theological question is this: Are these passages descriptive, meaning they simply describe what happened, or are they prescriptive, meaning they tell us what we should try to do?

We will leave these questions in your hands. Read the Bible for yourself. Do the work. See if the Holy Spirit leads you to form your temporary plans with eternal truths in mind. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

The Challenge of Scripture
It is abundantly clear the inclusion of some and the elimination others is a sharp turn away from the heart of God.  To follow the signs in pop culture, there are too many arrows pointing in too many directions.  Why not make the Lord’s road through our worship smooth and straight!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

For Further Reading…

Interested in being a Road-builder?  I have compiled a collection of articles called “The Road: Building God’s Highway through Your Desert.”  Send an email requesting a PDF of these articles to

The Crooked Road

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