Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

This is an interesting debate in the context of housing schemes. There is a helpful discussion starter to be found here on the topic.

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Just before you watch this very famous clip I would like to make a few points in relation to church planting.

1. As a person who has spoken in churches around the world, I have had hands on experience of the ‘piano lady’. Some of my most painful moments have come at funerals with some wonderful old dear clunking out a few unrecognisable notes that I have had to try and sing along to, whilst struggling to keep my dignity intact. My most bizarre experience came at a church in the south of England when I was preaching and the person in the piano was sleeping (literally) over the keys. As soon as I said ‘Amen’ he was up and awake and clanking out a tune in the style of an ‘electric organ’. I was so freaked out I just froze in place until he had finished!

2. If you have ever had the ‘pleasure’ or working in church ‘revitalisation’ then there is a high probability that you inherited ‘piano lady’ as the ‘lead worshipper’ of your church. Prayer and patience my friends! Prayer and patience.

3. Just enjoy the clip and be thankful it is not you!

4. Pray that the Lord would be gracious and that you don’t have to go through this experience one day! 🙂

Niddrie Community Church sits right in the centre of a housing scheme in the East of Edinburgh. We are too small and not ‘cool’ enough to be student friendly. The odd student type who does come along to our services is usually very focused and dedicated in the Christian faith. We are not a pool that young men can go ‘sharking’ in. There are bigger and better and sexier churches than ours in the city centre who cater for the affections of the many students in the city. We do, however, have a tendency to attract visitors now and again to our services. We can break them down as follows:

1. The church shopper. ‘I am just looking around to find the right fit’.

2. The church hopper who can’t settle anywhere.

3. Those on the run from some sort of discipline issue in their previous church which has a ‘terrible pastor‘ and has real problems with ‘heavy shepherding’. WAKE UP PASTORS!! Are we so desperate for bums on seats that we actually believe this? (yes, it appears we are!)

4. The eager rubbernecker. They have heard about our ministry in Niddrie and have come to have a look.

6. The disappointed rubbernecker. They have been to a Sunday service, concluded that this is the apex of all we do and are about (hymns, prayer, word), and leave broken and/or relieved that we’re just like any other church.

5. The charismatic. ‘God sent me here to help the poor.’ I wish he would have warned me you were coming. As one travelling ‘apostle’ said to me recently, ‘I have come that He might increase and I might decrease.. That’s good,’ I said, ‘so why don’t you just decrease out the door. Tata!’

6. The paternalistic. ‘God sent me here to help the poor.’

7. The patronising. ‘God sent me here to help the poor.’

8. The bandwagon jumper. ‘I heard there were great things happening here and I decided to come and see.’

9. The (troubled) ‘friend bringer’. ‘My friend has has had a hard time and I heard about your church and thought they would be better off here than our place.’ Translation: this person is a fruitcake and we can’t handle them, so here you go. Bye!

I am sure there are others but I can’t be bothered to continue with the list! The danger of having a small congregation is that ‘bums on seats’ becomes a big pressure for us, particularly on a Sunday morning. After all, how many of us measure the success or spiritual vitality of a place by how many are ‘gathered’? Coupled with that, many of the people above may bring problems but they also bring much needed finances. It is so tempting just to accept people and worry about it all later.

There is a paucity of information on church growth and planting statistics in the UK but I am willing to stick my neck on the line and say that much of the growth in many of our congregations is what I call a ‘reshuffling and a re-dealing of the deck’. In other words, just random, disenfranchised believers and/or people with some sort of religious background moving into many of our churches. I think it is dangerous and I think it is going to have a long term damaging effect, particularly on small congregations like ours unless we take a stand. What do I mean by this?

If we truly want to establish a community church in Niddrie that reflects the demographic and cultural nuances of the locality then we need to have the bigger picture in our minds. We need to be fighting against the trend that accepts any old outsider into membership because every extra outsider is putting more distance between us and the culture we are trying to break into. Not only that, each person comes with their own baggage, sins, presuppositions, traditions, ways of doing church and opinions of what a pastor should and shouldn’t be doing. We then get sucked into the babysitting trap and distracted by the care of those who have little or no impact on community life outside of a Sunday meeting. I remember one such individual, amazingly, incandescent with me for being ‘obsessed with Niddrie people’.

That being said, we rely almost totally on the finances of many of our members who still do live outside of the estate. But, I am happy to say that the numbers moving in are rising slowly year on year. As we move on into independence in the coming months these are some of the issues we will need to be grappling with.

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if every Christian in the country decided to go to or form a church within their immediate local? I know, I know. Highly impractical. But it would be interesting wouldn’t it?

Please continue to pray for us and with us.

Is God better than weed?

Posted: June 15, 2011 by mezmcconnell in Apologetics
Tags: , ,

Somebody asked me recently that if God is so powerful and all-knowing and he doesn’t need anybody or anything outside of himself to exist, why does he need us to worship him? Does God have such low self-esteem that he needs to hear from the human race how great he is?

The issue for the human race is that we have been designed to worship. It is built into our DNA. It doesn’t matter how religious we are or whether we believe in God or not, we all have this ‘desire’ within us to worship something greater than ourselves. To search out meaning. And everybody is on that search, particularly in Niddrie. The questions are framed differently but they mean the same thing.

Niddron:Why does such a big God need someone like me to worship him?’

Me: ‘God doesn’t need you to worship Him. Wrong Question. Why should you worship Him? That’s a better question.’

Niddron:Okay, why should I worship him then?’

Me: ‘Well, for a start you are worshipping something all the time. we’re both full-time worshippers.’

Niddron: ‘What? How?‘ (for the uninitiated the word “how” in this context means “why” – don’t ask me how)

Me:You ever had a nice bit of weed? (Cannabis) I mean a beautiful smoke? Smooth and sweet?’

Niddron: ‘Oh Yeh.’

Me: ‘And when you had that smoke did you share it with a pal?’

Niddron: ‘Yeh.’

Me: ‘Why?’

Niddron: Cos it’s good.’

Me:And did he like it?’

Niddron:Yeh.’

Me:And he found it so good he shared it with his pal. And I bet you texted your pals and told them in minute detail how good that smoke was? (he nods in agreement) You didn’t have to tell them. The weed didn’t ask you to. Now, would that weed have changed somehow if you kept your gob shut about it?’

Niddron: (confused look) ‘What do you mean, changed?’

Me: ‘That weed would have been great whether you told somebody it was good or not. Right? You telling your pal how good it was didn’t change the weed did it?’

Niddron:What you on about?’ (wondering at this point if I had been smoking his secret stash of weed)

Me: This is the point. You didn’t tell all your pals how great your weed was just to praise the weed. It was just so good that you HAD to share your experience with someone.’

Niddron: ‘Okay? Still don’t get it’

Me:Your question was, why does God need me to worship Him? Remember? Well, he doesn’t. I am just doing with you what you do with a good bit of weed. That’s what happens when you experience faith in Jesus Christ for yourself. It is so good that you have to get somebody to share it with you and in turn to share it with your friends. Christians don’t worship God because they HAVE to. They do because they MUST. They do it because he is so amazing. God doesn’t NEED us or our worship. He remains the same whether we big Him up or not. But he is so good that we can’t help but tell people about Him. We can’t help worshipping Him. Most of your pals don’t belive the smoke is as good as you say it is until they have tried it for themselves. And then once they have experienced it they join you in praising it. They are worshipping. The same for me and Jesus. You’re not going to believe because I say so. You need to come to Jesus and experience Him for yourself. And trust me baby, once you experience Jesus then there is no turning back. You won’t be able to help yourself.  You interested in getting to know Jesus dude?’

Niddron:Oh absolutely. yes please. Can I do a Bible study with you right now?

Me:Of course you can. Let’s go.’

Okay, I made the last bit up but you get the picture. Not exactly Dawkins & McGrath but not that much different contextually, is it?

The point is that true believers worship God for who He is and not out of some need in Him to have His ego stroked. People are worshipping all the time: a new girlfriend that they tell everybody about, a new car that they lovingly clean, polish and spend all their money on, a bit of weed that hits the spot, their boss who gives them a pay rise and they can’t sing his/her praises highly enough to all who will listen. Christians are not oddities because we worship the creator of the world. Our worship is merely directed in the right place. When we worship God it feels right because that is what we were originally created to do. When we worship other things they let us down and are temporal at best.

God is not a narcissist. He is a holy, loving, merciful, gracious, wrathful, fearsome, just and humble creator. In sending Jesus to die a cruel death he has paved the way to rescue us from our idols. From the ‘things’ that control us and rule over us. From the emptiness of ‘worldly worship’. I don’t worship God because He requires it or needs it or because I am trying to win His favour or appease my guilty conscience: I worship God because He is worth worshipping. He deserves to be worshipped. And nothing is more powerful when we all come together to do that out of grateful, thankful hearts.

An informative and biblical essay by Bob Kauflin on this topic can be found here.

He quotes Gordon MacDonald, “For many young people choosing a church, worship leaders have become a more important factor than preachers. Mediocre preaching may be tolerated, but an inept worship leader can sink things fast.”

Don Carson disputes the whole notion of a ‘worship leader’ as generally understood in most evangelical churches today (in the UK at least). According to Carson, “I would abolish forever the notion of a ‘worship leader’. If you want to have a ’song leader’ who leads part of the worship, just as the preacher leads part of the worship, that’s fine. But to call the person a ‘worship leader’ takes away the idea that by preaching, teaching, listening to and devouring the word of God, and applying it to our lives, we are somehow not worshipping God.”

I am inclined to agree with Carson, although I suspect it is in large part to do with the fact that I don’t have a musical bone in my body! In my experience churches (and plants) tend to develop the attributes and biases of their pastor (however hard they try not to impose them). So, if a man is a great music lover it is a side of the church he will give great effort to, likewise preaching, teaching and evangelism etc. I am not saying that it is right but it does tend to happen.

I do think that there is an over emphasis on ‘worship pastors’ in our culture. I remember being at Bible College with a man who felt that God had called him to be ‘a worship leader in Brazil’ and I remember thinking (having worked there with street gangs): ‘Yeh right. That’s exactly what Brazil needs right now.’

The jury is out for me on this issue. If I had the money to pay for a salary I don’t think I would use it on a worship pastor. Maybe a Community Development Worker or even a Cyber pastor (not really) and possibly a Projects Manager. Much more helpful and beneficial to us as a community.

Anyway, read the article and see what you think.

Visualising Worship

According to Stetzer, worship has become more visual. When we (at his church) sing of blood we show blood. When we sing of Christ, we use art from the ages to show Christ.’ (P140).

I found this fascinating. In the conservative circles in which I was saved it was noticeable that I never found any images, crosses or anything remotely ‘religious’ either in the church building or in the homes of the believers that I visited. Nothing. Not a thing to signify their faith in Christ. Coming from a staunch catholic background this confused me at first. I was looking for some picture of Jesus or Mary, anything to validate the truth of what this ‘born again crew’ were teaching me. I soon learned that, ‘we don’t bow to graven images, young man’. Gulp.

Interestingly, in our midweek ‘Recover’ meeting here at NCC, I found that if I try to get people to sing a Christian song with the guitar they find it awkward and are extremely self-conscious. On the other hand, if I play the same song with a video clip from YouTube, they openly relax and even begin to sing under their breath and engage more with God through what they are seeing.

In the past I have shown clips from Mel Gibson’s film – The Passion of Christ – in Sunday services in order to highlight the great suffering Christ went through on behalf of his sheep. Interestingly, every single ‘Niddrie person’ (believer and unbeliever) identified with it immediately and became very emotional. Yet, nearly every single ‘long-term Christian’ (part of the original plant) was mightily offended and found it ‘distasteful’ or even ‘idolatrous’ to be depicting Christ thus.

So, what is right? Well, surely it can’t be right to offend the weaker brother just to make a point (although I know many who would disagree) but on the other hand it can’t be right to deprive people of something that they feel brings them closer to understanding the full sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. In this case, I have largely stopped showing the clips on Sundays and now only show them in my midweek meetings, where appropriate.

It’s a tough balance pastoring a church that, at the moment, consists largely of middle class Christians with strongly held convictions on just about everything. The hard work comes in getting them to relax in order to engage with a culture largely alien to them. It’s quite another getting Niddrie folk to understand why people may not like something which, in the words of one local,  ‘made me just love Jesus more. He took some heavy **** fer me, hey?’

In essentials unity…in the rest, have a chill pill. I am almost sure I read that somewhere.

Many may argue against it (and do) but for me the rise of this ‘ministry’ is a very modern and ‘large church’ phenomenon. Interestingly, in Ed Stetzer’s book, he says that church plants should not consider opening their doors without having recruited a worship leader. Sorry to disagree Ed, but I just can’t see it as a necessity in the UK. I am not decrying the importance of a person(s) who can lead God’s people well in this area but intrinsic to the success of church planting enterprises! I just don’t know. Maybe in the USA but not here me old mucker.

We are at a stage now in Niddrie where we have several good musicians and some good singers who can help us lead what can only be described as some lukewarm singing. We have tried everything short of forcing people to be more worshipful at gunpoint! We tried introducing one good modern song a month but it didn’t take off. We had a band come in to help us but people just complained about how loud they were (they weren’t!). In Niddrie the only time singing is done with any amount of gusto is when we sing some of the great old hymns. They love that! In my congregation I have those who raise their hands and those who don’t. Those who want modern songs and those who don’t. Those who love hymns and those who don’t. Those who love singing and those who don’t. So, instead of trying to emotionally manipulate people into worshiping the Lord by blasting the drums and a bass guitar out at them, we are just consistently and persistently choosing a blend of biblically intelligent and meaningful hymns (many of them suck) and meaningful modern songs (many of them suck too).

What we don’t have is a ‘worship leader’. Instead, I choose from a pool of about 5 men whose characters and theological/biblical worship preferences come out in the type of songs that they pick. This, hopefully, gives the church some balance and a range of flavours. Some men lead very formally, some not so much, but all do it ‘decently and in order’. I am not sure how a specialised worship leader would improve our community outreach. I have a sneaking suspicion that people on the estate are not ‘not coming’ to worship God because our musical arrangements are not up to scratch! That being said, if somebody did turn up on our doorstep who had an amazing gift of leading in this area, we would consider using him but with the same checks and balances that we currently employ.