Growing Worshiping Disciples on Mission for Christ

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A Meditation on “Amazing Grace” for Holy Week

3CrossesAmazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

The distant image of three people drifts through my mind: a Samaritan woman, a slave ship captain, and a college student. The woman was blind to her destructive circle of self-abuse called adultery. The captain was blind to his own enslavement to money made from human cargo. The college student was blind to the addictions sneaking through the back entrance of life.

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis grace hath bro’t me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

Unknown to them, Christ had set an appointment with each of the three. Jesus looks into their eyes and hearts, revealing the dangers, toils, and snares he sees deep inside. With incredible grace, he offers unconditional love. The snare is crushed and his children come home to him forever.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

The Samaritan woman runs to her village. “Come see the man who told me everything I have ever done,” she shouts graciously to those who had no grace for her. John Newton, the slave ship captain, abandons ship to write the most poignant and popular lyric of grace in the history of the world, “Amazing Grace.” As a college student, face-down on my den floor, I receive grace and fall deeply in love with God. The song of grace continues to be written at the cross. Let the song fill your life too.  — Mark Powers

Newton, “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound,” Public Domain.




Eight Simple Principles of Worship Planning

communion cross picture“But I enter your house by the abundance of your faithful love;

I bow down toward your temple in reverential awe of You!”  – Psalm 5:7 HSCB

How can worship leaders enable others to fall deeply in love with God? Here are eight principles that can enable a vertical vortex of Spirit and Truth:

1. Gather God’s family. Whatever your worship tradition or style, liturgical or free, we must allow our people to re-establish their identity as God’s family, either through fellowship or liturgy. Whether with greetings and laughter, or through meditation with quiet music, we become once again a family gathered to worship our Father. Embrace the joy, love, and acceptance of being family. Cultivate and maintain that closeness throughout the worship gathering. Worship leaders can express the warmth and joy of encouragement and love in their words, tone of voice, and posture.

2. Proclaim and celebrate God’s revelation. Begin the service with a powerful proclamation that reveals who God is and what he is doing in the world. Throughout the Bible, God bursts into our mundane lives to announce his power and presence. Refuse to let your worship service get off to a “lame” start. Powerfully celebrate God’s coming to us.

3. Include the Biblical elements of worship through revelation and response. Isaiah 6 models God’s revelation and our response. Build drama and flow throughout worship by reenacting revelation and response. Then analyze carefully your weekly worship to make sure it includes each of these four Biblical elements: God gathers His family; God reminds us of his mighty acts and the gift of Christ; We respond to God’s love in Christ through praise, confession, repentance, and surrender; and God sends us out as his missionaries to our world. These four elements do not have to be compartmentalized into sections. Allow them to flow freely and be repeated as needed within the worship gathering. Create dramatic flow throughout to facilitate the powerful portrayal of the gospel.

4. Focus totally on God and the gospel throughout the service. Teach and remind worshipers constantly that God first revealed himself in love. Our response should be surrendering all we are and have, not demanding something for ourselves. Encourage your worshipers continually to sing to God and not just about God. Help them understand the necessity of engaging intentionally with God every minute during worship. Can they hear his voice speaking directly to them in the songs, the Scripture readings, prayers, sermon, and other expressions? Are they responding in confession, repentance, and surrender? Make a date with God to connect with him in every service. Analyze your worship to see if there are distractions or interruptions to the vertical vortex. Technical system checks are a must to make sure sound, video, lights, etc do not become a distraction.

5. Celebrate God transforming lives instead of promoting your church. Turn church stories into God stories. Help church members fall deeply in love with God rather than with you and your church. If they see God at work in your church, your church will be attractive without having to be attractional.

6. Promote participation. Avoid “performance mode” and “spectator-ism.” Creatively include Scripture, prayer, and testimony led by many different worship participants. Including choirs to facilitate congregational worship will get more people participating regardless of your musical style. Do reach for excellence as an extravagant gift to God, our unblemished lamb given in sacrifice.

7. Discover resources to best convey the message to a modern congregation in their cultural context. Study the demographics of your community and determine what your church members are reading and listening to in their daily lives. Poll your congregation to discover their heart languages. Then intentionally design worship in their heart language to connect them with God, his kingdom, and his mission.

8. Send them out: Place announcements and recognitions at the close of worship to avoid interrupting the focus on God. They will remember best the last thing they hear. Include no more than three announcements and be sure they apply to the whole church. Finally, commission them to be “the church” in the world, actively joining God on mission where he has placed you every day. Transform the benediction into a commissioning. Say something to this effect: “We are God’s people, let’s go live like it!” or “God has been revealed to us today; let’s respond by joining him on mission every day this week.”

We must understand that while God uses the elements of worship, he is not the elements of worship. We must not mistake our worship activity for God. No single methodology holds the key to unlocking powerful worship. Again, Christ-powered worship happens when the power of God’s spirit is present and unhindered and God’s word of truth, the gospel message, is presented in all its power. Regardless of whether our favorite form of worship is contemporary or traditional, free or liturgical, if we do not find the power of God’s spirit and truth, it will all be an empty show.   — Mark Powers


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Worship: Falling Deeply in Love with God

Jesus5The third time he (Jesus) said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” — John 21:17, NIV

My calling as a worship leader is to help people fall deeply in love with God. Almost 25 years ago, I heard Ken Hemphill say, “Most issues of church growth resolve themselves when church members fall deeply in love with God.” This statement led to an important revelation for me. My calling as a worship leader is to help people fall in love with God. And I don’t mean ‘sentimental romantic’ love, but ‘surrender in total obedience’ kind of love.

The vertical vortex of spirit and truth compels us to fall deeply in love with God. A deep love for God is at the heart of the circle of missional living. That love is demonstrated in worship through personal lifestyle and corporate acts. Worship is to Christian life what going on a date with your spouse is to marriage. The time spent together is a celebration and expression of total commitment. It reminds me that “I Only Have Eyes for You,” as the pop song says. I express my own incompleteness and the need I have for my spouse. Our hearts affirm our growing unity in each other. These elements of a date with our spouse are present in authentic worship as well. Yet I continually see churches stop worshiping to sing a birthday song, make announcements, or talk about yesterday’s sports event. This interrupts the energy driving the vortex, like taking a phone call in the middle of a dinner date with your spouse.

In his book Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God, Gary Thomas wrote: “When I die, I hope that I will have been able to love God with everything I am: I will have worked to turn my mind over to his wisdom and truth, my hands over to his service, my sight over to his beauty, and my entire being over to enjoying his presence.”1

Jesus called his disciples to share the gospel with the world. Why were these men chosen for such an important task? The four gospels present a clear picture of them in their weakness and humanity. We see their lack of spiritual perception; we know their naïve ambition; we empathize with their fears and doubts. The truth is that they were a lot like you and me. Yet God worked through them to change the world, and he is ready to work through us too. The disciples had encountered the resurrected Christ and fallen deeply in love with God. Worship in spirit and truth produces such love. Before we ever grow to become a “worshiping disciple on mission” we must fall deeply in love with God in Christ!   –  Mark Powers

1. Thomas, Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God, 68.


What’s the Only Thing That Empowers True Worship?

nature 20How does God empower a vertical vortex in our corporate worship?

In last week’s blog, we looked at the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. In that story, Jesus was passing through Samaria with his disciples. At midday they passed Jacob’s well. He instructed his disciples to go into town so he could talk to a woman who had come to draw water from the well. She was at the well in the hottest part of the day to avoid contact with her neighbors. Jesus looked into her life and told her the sin he saw there. She immediately tried to distract him with something controversial—worship. Her question might read like this in today’s language: “My people worship on Mount Gerizim. Our worship is contemporary and appeals to the senses. Your people worship at Jerusalem. Your worship is traditional and orderly, appealing to the mind. Which is right?”

Her tactic should be very familiar to us. Jesus is looking deep into our hearts to identify sin, but we are picking fights about worship style: “Your people like orderly traditional worship, but my people like exciting contemporary worship.” Does that sound familiar? Starting a worship war is a devious way to deflect attention when Jesus starts convicting us of our sin. We do it all the time.

But Jesus countered the woman’s question with a simple yet profound statement: “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, NIV). Jesus’ arrival on earth was the sunrise for a new era of worship dawning on mankind. The full sunlight would not be revealed until Jesus’ mission was complete.

First, worship would become fully empowered by Christ’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection—the gospel. Second, worship would be fully consummated by the gift of God’s Spirit. When these two epic events were fulfilled, worship was no longer contained in temples. Worship is now expressed through the lives of disciples who drink the water of life. We become God’s temple. God’s spirit has replaced sensationalism, and the truth of the gospel has replaced traditionalism.

Where can we find the most basic model of worship in spirit and truth? Come to the dark pathways in oppressive places where believers wear black and slip through the night to small, dimly-lit rooms. There, they worship, pray, and study the Bible. They are outlaws because of their faith in Christ. They could be arrested and killed at any minute; yet they live to follow Jesus. These courageous believers are multiplying disciples at an astounding rate. They are winning others to Christ, training them, and sending them out faster than church growth experts can comprehend. How are they doing such amazing things under such trying circumstances? What is their source of power? They dare to believe that the work of Christ can be done with nothing more than his Word and his Spirit. Nothing has the power to ignite our lives as do God’s Spirit and Truth.

We assume that pianos, guitars, drums, an organ, and a comfortable building equipped with the latest technology are required for real worship. We think we need to present a particular style of music with correct instrumentation and the best players. Yet Jesus tells us that spirit and truth empower real worship. God’s Holy Spirit, the engine for true worship, is empowered by his Word. Throughout the Bible, we see the power of God’s Word. When prophets spoke on behalf of God, people were healed or cursed, and nations arose and fell. When Jesus’ disciples spoke, demons were banished and hearts were opened to salvation. John 1 states that God’s Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and dwelt among us full of power and grace. Paul testified to the power of the gospel in Romans 1:16a (HCSB): “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes.”

The gospel is God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. What is more powerful than the gospel of Jesus presented in Spirit and Truth? Absolutely nothing! It truly is a vortex that draws everything surrounding it into its powerful current.  Go ahead and make your announcements and do your “churchy stuff” . But if you don’t unleash God’s Spirit and make the Gospel of Jesus central to the greater part of your worship, your worship will be lifeless and powerless!

– Mark Powers