Growing Worshiping Disciples on Mission for Christ

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“Vital Contextual Worship”: Ditch “contemporary” vs. “traditional” terms!

communion cross pictureI often hear ministerial staff fuss at their church members for not accepting other worship styles. I’ve probably been guilty of fussing like that myself. (Unfortunately, this often occurs when the staff wants to force their favorite style on the congregation and the members are not open to that change.)

Can Christians ever grow up spiritually to the point where they will be able to connect with God in a different heart language? In other words, can spiritual maturity override cultural context? The truth is that we will always connect to God best in our own heart language. It’s how God wired us. Yet as we are transformed in Christ to think more sacrificially, we should become more open to other cultures and their unique styles. Across two or three generations, cultural openness that grows from spiritual maturity will allow similar cultures to become unified as one.

Vital Contextual Worship is a term I use to avoid using the stylistic signifiers such as “contemporary” or “traditional” as our target. Vital Contextual Worship aims at worship that transcends style:

  1. Vital: alive, dynamic, and flowing with energy.
  2. Contextual: accurately reflects the cultural context of your community of believers to powerfully connect them with God and ignite them to discipleship and mission.
  3. Worship: focused primarily on God’s “worth-ship” by glorifying him and calling us to live as his children 24/7.

Vital Contextual Worship gives me a term that encompasses the concepts discussed throughout this book. I hope you will find the term useful as a goal in your worship ministry.

IT’S FEEDBACK TIME! Do you have a good word or phrase to describe what our worship should be other than “contemporary” or “traditional”? Post it in the comments section so we can all see it.  Thanks!  — Mark Powers



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Heart Language: Your Key to Connecting Hearts with God

Resources RecommendationsI have become all things to all people

so that by all possible means I might save some.  – I Corinthians 9:22

On a mission tour to Taiwan, I worshiped in a Chinese-speaking church. Could I truly worship there? Yes, because I brought God my heart, mind, and soul and presented them to him. But I could not sing the songs in Mandarin or understand the pastor’s sermon. I could pray during prayer times, but I could not understand their spoken prayers. So I worshiped God personally, but I could not be taught or convicted by God’s Word because it was presented in another language. To stay in Taiwan and continue to go to this Chinese-speaking church, I would have to learn their language. Otherwise, the language barrier would have caused me to dry up as a disciple and forced me to find an English speaking church. Yet in our own churches, we often accuse those who fail to participate in unfamiliar styles as spiritually immature or narrow. For this reason, many call blended worship the “equal opportunity offender.” The truth is that we must meet church members where they are because most people will remain primarily immersed in the particular culture where God has placed them.

This brings us to the issue of heart language. All of us have a cultural context in which God has placed us. But when life “rocks our world,” we turn to our God-given heart language to express our deepest feelings. For instance, when you lose your job, how do you express your emotions? When a loved one dies, what music do you listen to, what phrases do you say, and what comfort foods do you eat? Those things that express your deepest feelings in moments of deepest emotion are your heart language. If we really want to connect people with God in worship, we must offer them that opportunity in their heart language. It stands to reason that to move people to a change of heart we should communicate the gospel in their heart language. We must learn the heart languages of the people to whom God is sending us.

Many times, leading a worship song and looking across the congregation, I have seen couples standing there looking at me in total bewilderment. They might be wearing jeans and T-shirts in the midst of folks in dresses, coats and ties and singing hymns. Or they might be wearing dresses, coats and ties in the midst of the flip-flop crowd who are rocking along with a praise band. It’s obvious that they have come to church expecting one style of worship but find themselves in a totally different culture. Both are obviously caught in a worship language disconnect. Is the couple to blame? Are they being narrow and spiritually immature? No, they are demonstrating the innate characteristics of cultural context and heart language. Again, we cannot expect people to connect best with God in a cultural language that is not their own. God created cultural variety on purpose, so we need to celebrate it and use it to connect people with him. (See previous post: https://goingfullcircleblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/why-in-the-world-did-god-place-people-in-cultures)

What is your cultural heart language?  How does yours fit with those who are in your church? How does the heart language of your church compare to the heart languages of those who live around your church? Where are the disconnects and what can we do about them? 

If you and your church need our help with *starting new services to reach new people*, please e-mail me at markpowers@scbaptist.org.  — Mark Powers


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How to Find Your Church’s Cultural “Sweet Spot”

Question-MarkJ.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C. wrote on his blog: “God created us to glorify Him in art, and when we do so we fulfill his purpose in creation. However, our desire to produce good art must be balanced with the fact that God has called us to leverage our resources for the spread of the Gospel. Thus, our (a local church’s) desire to produce good art should be balanced with the urgency of the mission.”

It’s time for us to repent of the sin that makes us culture snobs about our favorite language, style, dress, music, architecture, and anything else that we place on the throne of our worship in place of God himself. (A culture snob is one who thinks their own cultural preference should be the standard for everyone. See https://goingfullcircleblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/is-your-style-preference-an-enemy-of-biblical-worship/)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his native language?”

Acts 2:1–8, NIV

Christians must communicate in the cultural languages of the people group to whom they are sent. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached the gospel in his Aramaic language. Yet people from all across the known world who were present that day heard Peter’s message in their own native language. Miraculously, Peter’s words were translated by the Holy Spirit into the language of the listeners. God was at work in Peter that day using language as a cultural tool to communicate the gospel of Christ.

Spoken language is the mode by which we express ourselves and communicate our thoughts verbally. Language is a set of symbols that signify certain realities and convey meaning. We combine the letters t, a, b, l, and e to signify a real object that we can place our dinner on. Similarly, art forms such as music, fashion, visual art, architecture, dance, etc., express life and communicate thought. So, artistic forms truly are cultural languages. Consequently, artistic style, while not inherently good or evil, certainly can convey cultural context and theological meaning. A cathedral communicates God’s majesty and glory while the simple country church communicates God’s accessibility. The “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” often brings the audience to their feet, while a quiet hymn may move us to prayer, then a praise chorus might cause us to clap along or lift our hands heavenward. These are all culturally programmed responses to an artistic style. After Sunday worship, a close friend told me, “I dread singing ‘How Great Thou Art’ because it was sung at my mother’s funeral and it brings back the feeling of grief.” For this lady, this great song of worship does not signify praise but sorrow.

As worship leaders, we must carefully discern our cultural context to understand what certain styles signify. Just as we need to communicate the gospel of Christ in the spoken and written language of the target group, so too must we communicate in their artistic and stylistic languages. The church you serve is not in the same cultural context as any other church. Every church in every community has a unique calling to a unique cultural context. Don’t settle for duplicating a style that is working in another church simply because you assume it will work for your church, too. When we follow the leading of the Spirit of God, guided every step by his Word of Truth, we can forget about following a trend. Missional worship comes through much prayer, studying his Word, studying the community where he has placed us, and leading Christians to grow as disciples and become missionaries to their community. That’s when our worship will come alive. Not because we have the latest technical equipment or a cool new format, but because we have a mission.

Are you working to be the best church “in” your community or to be the best church “for” your community? Baseball players and golfers are always hoping to hit the ball on the “sweet spot” to get the most “carry.” Find the cultural “sweet spot” for your church’s worship and then stay in it to “carry” them full circle as “worshiping disciples on mission.”  — Mark Powers

Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2010/07.