A Question of Accessibility

Back in Nov., I got an insightful email from a congregant about a phrase we sang in a song during our weekend church services.  The song was "Give Us Clean Hands" by Charlie Hall. 

See if you can find the phrase in question.  Here are the lyrics:

Give Us Clean Hands
Charlie Hall

We bow our hearts we bend our knees
Oh Spirit come make us humble
We turn our eyes from evil things
Oh Lord we cast down our idols

Give us clean hands give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
Give us clean hands give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
And oh God let us be a generation that seeks
That seeks Your face oh God of Jacob
And oh God let us be a generation that seeks
That seeks Your face oh God of Jacob

©2000 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing); sixsteps Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

What was the phrase in question?

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Thanksgiving - Tried and True, Fresh and New

840400 On Thanksgiving Day many churches offer a very traditional worship service: Psalm 100, a litany of thanksgiving, “Come, You Thankful People, Come.” On a day when we look back with gratitude at God’s good gifts to us, it makes sense to make use of the work and wisdom of our forebears and to worship using that which is tried and true. Other congregations seek innovation: pilgrim puppets behind the pulpit, prayers of thanks colored (not written) in crayon on scraps of paper and dropped in the offering plate.

Our culture craves novelty, which may explain—but doesn’t necessarily commend—our thirst for it. A more laudable urge is to offer in our worship not a stale tradition, repeated out of habit, but something original: our creative expression, our prayers and words and music, our very selves. We want to offer something fresh and new. But must it be an either/or choice?  Many congregations are very successful in their efforts to examine the tried and true traditions (often more true than actually tried), identify the best in them, and then freshen them in ways sensitive to their contexts.  Here are a few ideas...

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7 Worship Leading Principles from Bono

B000bnxdeg01_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_ Dr. Steven Taylor is the founding pastor of Graceway Baptist Church in Ellerslie, New Zealand. He has a PhD on the Emerging Church and a Masters in Theology in communicating the cross in a postmodern world. Steve recently did a course at Fuller Seminary entitled “Communicating the Biblical Text in a PostModern Culture” in July.

He argues that to communicate the biblical text for today’s context requires one to “incarnate, indwell, our culture.”  Taylor goes on to use the phrase “DJing” with respect to the community.  A record DJ learns the historical stories (old records) and uses them authentically in contemporary culture and integrates them into the community's stories.  There is too much to summarize here, but do look for his book “The Out of Bounds Church: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change” from Zondervan.

Taylor cites Bono of U2 as a person who effectively DJs today.  According to Taylor, Bono is in fact a worship leader for over 40,000 people; Bono recontextualizes the biblical text and leads concert goers into a time of community worship and prayer. Taylor plays the “Vertigo ‘05” DVD and shows us how Bono is leading worship.  This intrigued me to the point that  Dr. Taylor and I discussed this further after the workshop. The following is from Steve’s article “7 Things I learnt from Bono about Worship Leading.”

1.    Connect uniquely. In the Vertigo DVD, Bono speaks about Chicago and his memories of Chicago. He makes a unique connection with context, day, and time.
2.    Engage through familiarity. Bono includes songs that resonate with previous experiences and previous encounters.
3.    Use repetition to call forth prayer. Bono uses the repetitive “Hallelujah.” It is easy to sing. The simple repetition enables the audience to sing with the band.
4.    Secure a 5th (visual) band member. U2 now has a 5th member of the band to add a visual layer to the experience. A wise worship leader will look to add not just singers or musicians, but a “visual” person to their team.
5.    Create hope by drawing the best from the past. Bono tells the audience in the Vertigo DVD, “We as a band are looking to the future. We’re taking the best of the past and moving forward with hope.”
6.    Plan participation. Bono can draw one boy from the audience to sing to, one woman from the audience to dance with. He uses repetition to call forth prayer and encourage congregational singing.
7.    Invoke passionate practices. Bono invites the audience to hall out their cell phones and to text “Make Poverty History campaign.”  A worship leader turns singing into action. He turns entertainment into justice.


You_make_blessing_1 A chapel service I helped plan recently juxtaposed the dominant community calendar (the academic one) with the church's liturgical calendar.  So the chapel service the week before Ascension Day was entitled "The Blessing of Week Nine." 

One of the neat features of the service was a skit composed and improvised by seminarians that illustrated the contrast between the flippant way we use the word "blessing" and the powerful way the word is understood in scripture. 

They did this by juxtaposing funny 3-4 line sketches with longer scriptural or other readings.  Examples of both after the jump.

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An Experiment in "Cross-Cultural" Worship

Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) is substantially different from any of his other sermons. While his other sermons are identifiably Pharisaical and present the gospel in a way that would be accessible to a predominantly Jewish audience, the Athenian sermon employs patterns and concepts which were common to first century Athens. It is a significant and noteworthy accomplishment on Paul’s part and it may be taken as a mandate to subsequent Christians always to be prepared to articulate the gospel message using new and distinct cultural patterns. While the content of the Gospel is always consistent, the form in which the good news of Jesus Christ is presented should always be flexible. What follows are excerpts from a somewhat playful worship service that was designed to illustrate to a worshiping community the issues and possibilities involved in attempting to articulate a Christian worship service in a particular context.   College students, youth, and children are often engaged by this way of distinguishing between what is essential and what is negotiable in worship.   Read the liturgy after the jump.

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Easter Alleluia

Butterfly In a class I'm teaching on Crafting Language for Worship, we recently had a discussion about the value of significant words and repeated phrases in worship.  Some of my students from evangelical and free-church traditions reported with delight the value they have discovered in the the persistent Easter season call-and-response "Christ is risen!  Alleluia!/He is risen indeed, Alleluia!"   They report that using this refrain now is profoundly formative, reminding them of the catholicity of the church, and connecting them with the faithful of so many times and places.

All of this reminded me of a time when my congregation practiced a fast from the use of the word "Alleluia" throughout the season of Lent in anticipation of its exuberant reintroduction to worship on Easter Sunday.  Throughout the forty days, we still sang songs with "alleluia" in the lyrics, but self-consciously hummed "mm-mm-MM-mm" instead. 

Meanwhile, the young children of the church spent one of their education hours creating colorful construction paper butterflies, decorated abundantly with the word "Alleluia."   These were then crafted into a beautiful mobile, which debuted on Easter morning hanging high over the communion table, pointing to new life in Christ.  Alleluia!  He is risen!

Deck the Walls with Praise

I've been using a tool for small group worship that has helped bring a fresh twist to 'plain ol' strumming and singing.

I print out twently-four, 8.5 x 11 sheets that each have an artfully fonted, black and white excerpt from the Psalms or some other praise text.  If the room is large, I print out double-copies.  Before leading, I hang these sheets on the walls of the worship space using scotch tape.  Some I hang low on the wall, some eye-level, and some higher.  Some sheets, I scatter on the floor.  It is best to have the sheets three to five feet apart from each other.


Typically, as I did early this morning for a Fuller D.Min. class, I begin with one song of declaratory praise, sung together.  After that song is finished, I play quietly as I explain the worship excercise, saying:

1. Notice the words of praise from the scriptures scattered throughout the room.
2. As the music continues quietly, feel free to wander about, reading these verses.
3. You may read in silence.  However, as a particular verse, phrase, or word impacts your soul, you are invited to read it aloud, spontaneously.
4. There is no hurry.  We will allow several minutes to praise God through his Word in this way.

After the groups seems to have made it through most of the scriptures, I seemlessly lead into a final few songs.  When this ritual is unfamiliar to the group at hand, it never fails to prompt a sincere and engaging worship response.

Free "Scripture Posts" can be downloaded   here  (these were created by Aaron Klinefelter)