Growing Worshiping Disciples on Mission for Christ

1 Comment

How to Stop Worship Wars Before They Start

Businessman Balancing SomethingThough I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, NIV

When a classically trained singer hears a pop singer’s signature style featuring light resonance, breathiness, de-emphasized consonants, and overdone diphthongs they usually respond, “How strange and contrived that singer sounds.” When a pop singer hears a classically trained singer’s signature style featuring full support and resonance, over-enunciated consonants, and pure vowels with full vibrato they usually respond, “How strange and contrived that singer sounds.” Of course, the same would be true for a country singer, an urban music artist, an oriental vocalist, or a jazz singer. Our reactions are based on our cultural context which informs and determines our personal taste. If Christian singers want to target a specific audience with the message of Christ, then they must learn the musical style that speaks to that audience. Like a Nashville studio artist who makes a living by learning to manipulate their voice to sing all styles, a missional artist must adapt. To do anything less is to be a culture snob. Culture snobs are not just limited to classical music. They are fans of any style who deify their favorite and demonize others—country, gospel, rap, jazz, pop, hip-hop, you name it.

The above Scripture indicates that God wants us to understand that culture is a tool to connect people with him in their real-life context. This scriptural principle also applies to other cultural signifiers such as personal fashion, hairstyle, jewelry, interior decorations, architecture, etc.

A Christian newsletter recently became a forum for a fiery month-long debate between fine Christian people over whether appropriate dress for church is a tie and jacket or jeans and a golf shirt. I have heard heated arguments over whether appropriate architecture for a Christian church is a large warehouse with portable seating and a stage, or a traditional church sanctuary with pews, choir loft, stained glass windows, and a pulpit. I have tried to explain lovingly to someone as mad as a hornet why the youth choir was not wearing neckties or dresses when they sang in resort areas. 1 Corinthians 9:22–23 tells us that appropriateness must be determined by the cultural context of those we are trying to reach. Of course, we are never to deem appropriate anything that is sinful or wrong by biblical standards or could be a stumbling block to others coming to faith in Christ.

My father-in-law is a classy businessman from the old school of suits and ties, and my bearded son is a nouveau hippy. Both of them love God and have served him faithfully in their contexts. It’s fun to watch them poke fun at each other about what is appropriate in facial hair and fashion. After attending a large regional conference involving young church leaders, my father-in-law asked me what the conference was like. I told him that it was like worshiping with 15,000 young church leaders who look just like my son.

He exclaimed, “How could you stand to be with that many people who look like that and worship like that?”

I replied, “Because we were focused on worshiping God together.”

“Oh, okay,” he relented, “I hadn’t thought about that.”

Worship wars result when we decide that our own style is preferred by God. Worship wars result when we become the self-appointed keeper of standards and try to force our preference on others. Worship wars result when we forget that God created worship for himself and gave us lots of different cultural styles to connect others with him.  — Mark Powers



Is Your Style Preference an Enemy of Biblical Worship?

GFC iconGod in Christ took on the context of culture to communicate his love, and now he is calling his church to do the same.  See my blogpost from two weeks ago to understand the role of culture in God’s plan: http://wp.me/p4ybbl-8B

Of course, the most obvious calling card of culture is style. “Indigenous,” a term meaning “natural or inborn,” is helpful in understanding the concept of native culture. Indigenous style most easily identifies who we are in the context of our own culture. But again, just as with culture, we sinful humans tend to condemn any style that is not our own. Whether musical style, architectural style, dress and fashion, or a myriad of other things, our sinful nature aspires to put our favorite style on the worship throne and condemn other styles. Dwayne Moore, in his Bible study on worship entitled Pure Praise, noted: “The Bible simply makes no reference to a preferred style . . . So, if God’s Word is apparently not concerned with style, why should we be so up in arms about it?”

When we deify our personal preferences, we stop using culture as a tool and put ourselves on the throne. Again, this is idolatry. Christians must join God as he uses culture and style to connect both Christians and non-Christians to himself.

While on a mission project to a Latin American country, we worked with a local pastor in our host country. Upon arrival, we asked him if our singing group could sing a gospel song for their worship service that was written in the salsa style. He graciously explained that he would prefer that we not sing songs in that style. He shared that he and his wife had accepted Christ in their adult years. In their younger pre-Christian years, the two of them frequented bars and dance halls where salsa style prevailed. For him, this style of music represented his former life before accepting Christ. So our group politely agreed to omit the salsa style praise song from our concert there. After spending a week working shoulder-to-shoulder for Christ in his town, the pastor came back to me before our final concert. He wanted me to know that he had changed his mind and wanted us to sing the salsa style praise song for our final concert. I asked him what brought him to this change of heart. He shared with me that his two college-age sons had pulled him aside and talked with him. They explained that salsa style did not have sinful connotations for them. The sons said that the exciting salsa rhythms actually captured for them and their generation the joy of loving and serving God. So the pastor relented. He said that it was time he stopped being the keeper of standards based on his prejudice from the past. He said he was ready to give God the salsa style to use for his glory.

While we are the gospel incarnate to a culture, the church must never stoop to embrace popular fads as a means of fitting comfortably into secular culture. Beth Moore, expressed this concept well in her study of Daniel: “They (Daniel and his friends) learned the language, literature, and customs all right, but only so God could use them in the midst of it. They read the language of their culture with the lens of God. Thereby, they became culturally relevant without becoming spiritually irrelevant.”

Let’s follow Paul’s instruction when putting style preferences in their proper Biblical place: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”

— Mark Powers 

Moore, Dwayne – Pure Praise, 110.

Moore, Beth – Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy, 26.

Leave a comment

Time Out: You Gotta See This Video!

Massive-Flooding-in-Columbia-SCWhen I posted last week’s blog, I was sitting in my son’s apartment in Raleigh visiting our grandkids, and it was raining. Little did we know that the rain would lead to historic flood levels in our hometown of Columbia as we traveled home Saturday night. Sunday morning brought flooded homes, broken dams, rescues by boat and helicopter, along with roads and the cars traveling on them tragically washed away. My home was safe and dry but destruction visited many around us.

One hundred children in my wife’s school, Seven Oaks Elementary, were left displaced while losing not only their homes but most of their possessions. So we rolled up our sleeves and got involved and started serving wherever God led. Kay led her faculty and staff to serve meals, clean out flooded homes, and provide clothes and water for those displaced families. I worked from our SC Baptist Convention offices to help Disaster Relief efforts and helped serve meals at Kay’s school. Together we handed out Flood Buckets and New Testaments provided by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. We were GOING FULL CIRCLE!

In our Wednesday chapel service at the SC Baptist Convention offices, my friend Ron Barker, showed a video. That video spoke deeply to us who were serving flood victims, as well as to those whose own homes had been damaged by flood waters.  I want YOU to see that video.  Set aside twenty minutes and watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxBQLFLei70.

This is the one of the greatest speeches I’ve ever heard. It’s from Adm. William McRaven, Commander of U.S. Special Forces who masterminded the Osama Bin Laden raid. If you’ve been through the floods in your life, you’ve got to see this.

I think you’ll be glad you saw it!  It will speak to all of us who have made it through catastrophe and hardship in our lives.  Blessings, Mark



1 Comment

Why In the World Did God Place People in Cultures?

GFC iconAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  — John 1:24, KJV

Previously we discovered the Great Cultural Mandate from God. In the cultural mandate, found in Genesis 1:8, God commanded us to subdue and have dominion over the earth. Culture grows out of the variety of ways in which mankind fulfills this command to organize the earth. Are you having questions about this concept and how culture impacts worship, discipleship, and mission? Don’t feel alone. I had many questions about that same thing as God brought me through my pilgrimage from attractional thinking to a missional mindset across these past few years. Let’s call a “time-out” and discuss culture.

When Jesus came into the world, he didn’t come as just any man. God gave Jesus a cultural identity because everything in the world exists in the context of culture. Again, culture results from humankind’s efforts to organize the earth as God commanded in the cultural mandate. So culture is not an evil thing. Culture is a “given” whenever we talk about life on earth. Jesus himself was not just a man but a Jewish man. He was not just a Jewish man, but a first-century-native-of-Palestine, born-in-Bethlehem, son-of-Joseph-and-Mary, living-in-Nazareth, working-as-a-carpenter, unmarried Jewish man. All of those elements of his identity on earth are cultural. Obviously, God does not despise culture or see it as an enemy of his mission because when Jesus became a man, he came into the full cultural context God had chosen for him.

How do we know that the cultural context of Jesus was no accident? We know this because Jesus’ cultural characteristics fulfilled many ancient prophecies foretold across centuries by spokesmen of God. In other words, God had been preparing a specific cultural context for Jesus from before the foundation of the earth. God created culture and then used it as a tool to place his Son just where he wanted him!

Cultural context is a powerful force for all of us. This truth is well-illustrated in a funny story told to me by Larry Rice, retired missionary to Venezuela: Larry recounted how an American guest speaker came to the Venezuelan college where Larry was teaching. Since Larry was to be the translator for the guest American, the speaker told him that he planned to begin his address with a joke and shared it with him. Apologetically, Larry pointed out to the speaker that the college students would not understand the joke because the humor did not translate into Venezuelan culture. But the American speaker insisted that his joke was understandable by all and assured Larry that the students would find it funny. So the guest began his speech with Larry translating. Sure enough, when the speaker told the joke, the college students laughed loudly.

“See there,” whispered the American triumphantly to Larry, “I told you the students would get my joke.”

What the speaker did not know was that in his introduction of the speaker, Larry had told the students that the American was going to start by telling a joke. The guest, not understanding the Venezuelan language, was unaware as Larry told the students, “His joke will not make sense to you because it is from American culture. So when I tell you to laugh, just laugh real loud, and we will help this man feel at home.”

As instructed, their fake laughter made the joke appear to be a great hit, though the students could not understand it in their cultural context.

Again, culture is a tool from God to be used to connect people with him. Culture is not a natural enemy of God. Of course, it can be used for evil or good, but it has no inherent quality of good or evil. Francis Shaeffer wrote: “Let me say firmly that there is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style. The more one tries to make such a distinction, the more confusing it becomes.”1

Instead of declaring culture as our enemy, the church needs to understand that the gospel can embody cultural context as a means of identification and communication. Christ embodied this truth in his incarnation. He become a man in a specific cultural context so that we could identify with him.

My favorite quote about Christ’s incarnation is from Dorothy Sayers, writing in Christian Letters to a Post Christian World: “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”2

God in Christ took on the context of culture to communicate his love. Now he is calling his church to do the same. Culture is NOT inherently evil. We must learn to express the gospel through our local culture, whatever that culture is, and whatever it takes.

— Mark Powers

  1. Shaeffer, Art and the Bible, 76.
  2. Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post Christian World, page unknown.

Leave a comment

Worship Team Meditation: The Old Rugged Cross

 3CrossesOn a hill faraway stood an old rugged cross,

the emblem of suffering and shame;

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world

of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

till my glories at last I lay down.

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

and exchange it someday for a crown.

The perfect Savior of the world died on a criminal’s cross. At the foot of the cross, watching her son’s blood and breath drain away, stood Jesus’ mother. Grieving alongside her were her best friends. We don’t know how many of Jesus’ 12 disciples stayed throughout that horrible day of agony. At least one disciple remained, the one whom Jesus loved, probably John, the writer of this account in John 19. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,

such a wonderful beauty I see;

For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died

to pardon and sanctify me.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

till my glories at last I lay down.

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

and exchange it someday for a crown.

The word of God made flesh takes our sin into his flesh to pay our debt. The all-powerful son of the eternal God became a caring son to his earthly mother. The one who calls all to be his disciples assigned a single disciple to care for a single person. So many amazing paradoxes converge at the cross of Christ. Is there room at the cross for one more? See Jesus looking from the cross into your eyes. Who in this world has he assigned to your care? Will you take them into your heart, your home, your heaven?  — Mark Powers

Bennard, “The Old Rugged Cross,” Public Domain.