Growing Worshiping Disciples on Mission for Christ

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“Rabbi” or “Lord”… What is Jesus to you?

Businessman Balancing SomethingWhile they were eating, He said, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me.”

Deeply distressed, each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord.” . . .

Then Judas, His betrayer, replied, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” “You have said it,” He told him.

Matthew 26:20-22,25-26, HCSB

Disciple or betrayer, the difference is found in one small word. The disciples called Jesus “Lord,” but Judas called him “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” Many in the world know information about Jesus. But knowledge alone does not make a disciple. When Jesus is our Lord, he is our master, our spiritual boss, our authority. “To Judas, Jesus was a rabbi he respected, spent time with, and learned from, but Jesus was not lord of his life. Judas never surrendered his will to Jesus. He was informed but never transformed.”1 A disciple’s life is the expression of deep love for our Lord and Savior who transforms us daily through his power.

In previous blog posts, we studied the transformation process Jesus outlined in the Beatitudes. There we discovered how God transforms believers into disciples. How can we partner with God to develop a plan which will lead worship teams through transformation? How can we provide experiences to grow worship teams into missionaries?

Across the next three weeks, I will present a three-step plan to transform your worship team into a missional worship team.

Step One: The Missional Life Retreat.

Step Two: Missional Moments in Rehearsals.

Step Three: Full Circle Groups

Don’t miss it!  I’ll see you here next week.  — Mark Powers

1. Geiger, Kelley, Nation, Transformational Discipleship, 19.


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What Style of Worship Music is Right for Your Church?

Question-MarkOur Missional Music

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.

Acts 17:16–18, NASB

Ethnomusicology is the comparative study of music from different cultures. Ethnomusicologists combine the study of musicology with anthropology to analyze music as a reflection of society and culture. Missional ethnomusicologists encourage the development of indigenous Christian songs produced by the local believers in their own language and music system. Music workshops are presented to native peoples illustrating the value of using local music systems rather than foreign systems, thinking through Scripture passages that might be put to music, composing new Christian songs in their own native style, and recording the new songs. In this way, the gospel becomes incarnate in the musical language of the native people.

A Brazilian missionary reported that a Palikur woman was asked, “Which do you like better, the hymns with non-Indian music, or the ones with the Palikur tunes.”

She replied, “We like them both, but the ones with our music can make us cry.”

Using the heart music of a people connects the gospel with their own legacy. Missionaries have reported that native people, normally apathetic about Christianity, listened with great attention to the words of new Christian songs written by their own musicians in their own style. Putting the biblical message in an indigenous style gives it an authority it would not otherwise have. We, too, must be ethnomusicologists. Worship leaders need to analyze their communities to effectively connect them with God in their indigenous cultures.

Paul was very careful to analyze the surrounding cultural context wherever he went. In the above Scripture, we see him relating to Jews in the synagogue, to Athenian citizens in the marketplace, and to Greek philosophers. In every one of those contexts, Paul saw idolatry alive and well. As a missionary, each of us must analyze our context as well. Who are the people groups in your community/town/city? And what are the idols they have substituted for relationship with almighty God?

The Intercultural Institute for Contextual Ministry offers many resources on its website, http://www.iicm.net, for analyzing the ethno-musical context of our communities. First, we must know the classifications and characteristics of people groups in general before we can analyze who is in our community. IICM identifies these American communities listed below.  Plus, according to Arbitron radio ratings, I have listed the most popular style of music each of these communities were listening to by percentage of radio market. These style preferences are the second thing we must know:

  • Upscale Communities – Affluent families living primarily in suburbia but also in posh neighborhoods in urban settings = ADULT CONTEMPORARY MUSIC.
  • Mainstay Communities – A diverse mix of ethnically mixed singles, couples, and families in established, diverse neighborhoods within small towns and second cities = COUNTRY MUSIC.
  • Working Communities – Racially-mixed, lower middle-class blue-collar households living in older towns = COUNTRY MUSIC.
  • Country Communities – Rural families with outdoor-oriented lifestyles working in agricultural and mining communities = COUNTRY MUSIC.
  • Aspiring Communities – An eclectic group of young, mostly single, ethnically-diverse households living in homes, apartments, and group quarters = URBAN CONTEMPORARY MUSIC.
  • Urban Communities – Ethnically-diverse singles and single-parent renters living in struggling-diverse, inner-city neighborhoods = URBAN CONTEMPORARY.

Obviously, this data is limited because it only includes radio listening habits and does not include data from personal listening devices. But despite those limitations it remains useful for analysis of general music trends in our American communities.

Here’s the kicker… Churches far and wide have started contemporary services using popular musical styles that they suppose will connect their members with God and be attractive to the world. Such Christian writers as Chris Tomlin, Tommy Walker, Laura Storey, and Paul Baloche, as well as a multitude of others, have given us wonderful songs of worship. Their songs are in a pop style that relates to those who listen to Adult Contemporary radio. But that’s where this strategy breaks down, and here’s why. The Arbitron ratings show clearly that the leading radio style is Country music in Mainstay, Working, and Country communities. Urban Contemporary music, which includes rap and hip-hop, is the leading style in two communities —Aspiring and Urban—while Contemporary Hit radio leads only in Upscale communities.

The style of music being used in most contemporary worship services best compares with Adult Contemporary secular radio. If we are going to effectively connect all people with God, we must offer worship in other musical heart languages as well. Yet how many churches do you know that are offering a worship service featuring country, rap and hip-hop, top forty, or the myriad of other styles available? Can we truly think we are connecting all worshippers with God when only contemporary and traditional styles are being offered on any given Sunday?  — Mark Powers


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Combine your Worship Services OR Stylistically Separate Them?

Blessed BeOur task as worship leaders really is simple. We plan God-focused worship in the heart language of our church. We grow them as disciples. Then we lead them on mission to learn the heart language of the target group to whom God sends us. With this understanding, our slavery to attractional thinking can be broken. No longer are we laboring under the mandate that we must get the world into our church to win them for Christ. We are free to connect Christians with God in a style that fits them best so that they can be sent on mission. If this means offering different worship services in different styles, then so be it. Meeting people where they are in their heart language to communicate the gospel is the essence of being missional. And if you are afraid of creating different churches within your church, remember that unity comes from a unifying mission, not simply sitting in the same room at the same hour once a week.

So, the deciding factors in providing multiple worship services in your church to meet multiple needs are:

  1. Spiritual Maturity: If your church’s members are spiritually mature enough to sacrifice their own heart languages for others, you can provide only one worship service. Aim the worship style at the majority, but include the wider spectrum of heart languages from time to time.
  2. Resources: If your church does not have the size or resources to offer more than one service, you can provide only one service and offer as many of your congregation’s heart languages as possible in that service. Constantly teach them to focus on God and call them to sacrifice for each other. But beware, you may discover why blended worship is sometimes referred to as “the equal opportunity offender.”
  3. Missional Intent: If your church has the resources, spiritual maturity and missional intent to offer worship in a variety of heart languages, then, by all means, do so. But don’t just guess at the heart languages of your congregation. Research and poll them to target their heart languages as closely as possible.

I certainly believe that most of our evangelical churches have the ability and resources to offer different services in different styles. But please remember the most important point in all of this. We must know that the goal of worship is to connect us with God so that we grow as disciples who make disciples. Worship can never be about us. If we discern our church’s heart language simply to meet our own needs and keep us happy, we will have missed God’s intent for us as his children.

No more forcing a worship culture on a congregation under the mistaken assumption that it will help win the world for Christ by getting people into church. No more arguing about which style is better. No more worship wars resulting from putting our preference on the throne. What a relief! Simply start where your people are and use their heart language to connect them with God, grow them as disciples, and send them out to join God’s mission.  — Mark Powers



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Response to Last Week’s Post, “For God’s Sake… Don’t Do This”

Question-MarkMy post last week was entitled “For God’s Sake… Don’t Do This!”.  You can read it here: https://goingfullcircleblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/for-gods-sake-please-dont-do-this. On Wednesday of last week the article was read more than 120 times that one day and totaled 153 reads for the week.  There were several excellent comments posted by readers, too, and I encourage you to click above and go back and check them out.

Where did things go wrong in the case study I presented in last week’s article? How can we fit our understanding of worship and culture together in a way that glorifies God and takes us full circle? Let’s start by reviewing what we know so far in this journey of “Going Full Circle in worship, discipleship, and mission.”

  1. First, God created worship for himself. Worship is never about us; instead, worship is “all about” God.
  2. Second, our style preferences are idolatrous when we put them on the throne of worship.
  3. Third, real worship, empowered by spirit and truth, connects us to God to help us fall deeply in love with him. This love ignites us to a lifetime of daily discipleship and mission.
  4. Fourth, culture is a tool from God we can use to connect people with him.

Here is my two-fold conclusion. Read it carefully and think about it. It may shake your pre-conceptions:

  1. IN THE CHURCH: We must use indigenous cultural styles to connect Christians to God in their heart language even if the style they love seems somewhat outdated to others. Regardless of style, worship must be totally focused on God alone. Style in the church exists for no other reason than to connect Christians with God and move them to deeper discipleship and mission – not to keep members happy, giving, or attending. So, in the church, we offer worship in the members’ heart languages to intentionally move them to daily discipleship and mission action.
  2. IN THE WORLD: As Christians are connected with God in worship and discipleship, God sends us to the world to connect others with him in their heart language. Christians must learn the unique cultural expressions and styles of our target group so we can communicate the gospel in their indigenous heart language.

There it is, as simple as that. We first worship in our heart language. Then we go learn the heart language of the target group to whom God sends us. With this understanding, our slavery to attractional thinking can be broken. We are free to connect Christians with God in a style that fits them best so that they can be sent on mission.  — Mark Powers




TowerThen they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves . . .” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth . . .. There the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:4–9, NIV 

This biblical story is commonly referred to as the Tower of Babel. Here are men who decided to try to transcend God by building a monument to their own power and their own ingenuity. Do situations like that ever occur in churches today?

The young worship leader came to his new church assignment with excitement. But he encountered a congregation there that had worshiped basically the same way for the past 30 years. Most of the members were very happy worshiping that way. Nevertheless, they also agreed it might be time to freshen up their song choices with some newer expressions of faith. So they looked forward to the arrival of their new worship leader with guarded anticipation. But what they got was a full frontal assault. He changed everything: the songs, accompaniment, order of worship, volume levels, and everything else that was possibly changeable. A few younger members applauded his assault on the status quo. But the majority of the congregation was shocked and saddened to have their worship turned upside down. Some got angry. Relationships between the worship leader and the people became awkward and forced. Church members reacted with cool nods as they passed him in the church hallways and grocery store aisles. The beleaguered young worship leader sought advice from a pastor who took his own church through such a major change of worship style. The changes this pastor had instigated in his church had come at a high cost, as many had left that church. But the pastor firmly believed that his church was better off without those tired old traditionalists holding them back. He noted that the remnant left behind was worshiping with real feeling, and he was sure many more would be attracted soon to join the church. His attractional rationale, of course, was to win the world for Christ by getting people to come to church. He expected that the remaining remnant would soon see numerical growth since worship was “so much better now”. So when the young worship leader sought out the pastor’s advice it was given authoritatively: “You are the leader; you are in charge; you must make them follow you. And if they fire you, you can always go start a church somewhere else. Don’t let them intimidate you. God is in this.”

Now, please allow me to ask some tough questions:

1.) How is this young worship leader’s approach any different from the missionary who forces his home culture on the native people he is called to serve?

2.) How can this pastor be so misled as to think that the way to grow the body of Christ in spiritual maturity is to run off a large percentage of the membership?

3.) How can either of these men think that their personal preference of worship style is superior to those faithful members who have been there for years?

Our calling as worship leaders – like a missionary – is to discover the worship heart language of those we are called to, use it to grow them as disciples, and lead them on mission to their community.  Like those in Babel, we cannot expect to escape the judgment of God if we are instead building memorials to our own stylistic tastes. The answers seem obvious to me; yet I encounter this situation constantly in my work with churches. I know that a church member who cannot support the stated mission of the pastor is right to find another church. But the notion that we must purify the church of longtime members by forcing a foreign worship culture on them seems ridiculous to me. And I find this especially aggravating if the rationale behind that strategy is: “We’ll win the world by getting the world to come to church.” NO!  The Bible says we will win the world by getting the church to GO to the world.

Disguised in our worship wars is often a far deadlier enemy than stylistic change for the sake of attracting the world. The hidden enemy in many worship wars is our selfish desire to have our own way and be in control. Think about it!

— Mark Powers



Please post your feedback and comments so we can work through this issue together!  Thanks.


What Barriers to the Gospel have YOU BUILT around you?

GFC iconSome men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.” But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy . . . Peter stood up and said . . . “Why, then, are you now testing God by putting on the disciples’ necks a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they are.” Then the whole assembly fell silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describing all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles . . . Then the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, decided to select men from among them and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas . . . For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things.

Acts 15:1–2, 7, 9, 11–12, 22, 28, HCSB

Paul could have had “rock star status” by remaining in the church in Jerusalem after his conversion. But he chose to leave his comfort zone and go share Christ with the world. Back home in Jerusalem, trouble was brewing. There were those in the Jerusalem church who insisted that circumcision should be a requirement for acceptance of Christ. They would require this sign of faithfulness given to Abraham in ancient days not just for Jewish males but for all male converts of any ethnicity. Those who argued for circumcision were proponents of institutionalism, keepers of standards, who would force this external condition on those coming to Christ as Savior. Peter, James, and Simeon were leaders in the Jerusalem church. As original disciples of Jesus who had walked with him on earth, they knew the road to salvation could not be paved with institutional requirements. So their courageous response went against the grain of popular feeling in the church. Peter, James, and Simeon summoned Paul to Jerusalem, listened to the arguments from both sides, and ruled in favor of the unhindered circle of worship-discipleship-mission as the model for relationship with Christ.

A great setback to the spread of the gospel of Christ was averted that day. The mission of God to redeem the whole world, not just the Jewish people, continued to move forward. The three leaders of the church exercised their prophetic voice and re-commissioned Paul to go to the neighboring people groups as a worshiping disciple on mission. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem church was freed to do the same in their own community without the restriction of religious requirements. Things that once were helpful to the gospel can become a hindrance to the gospel when they become ours.

But God used the Jerusalem Council in another way, too, that day. Our all-knowing Father granted Paul and his partners on mission the rare opportunity to share their methodology with the home church. Paul was able to tell how God was using him as a tentmaker to infiltrate communities for Christ. No doubt, the stories Paul shared of his work as a missional artisan inspired and taught the Jerusalem church. The five-fingered-approach-to-handing-someone-the-gospel came alive in Paul’s testimony. In stories like Paul’s, we can catch a glimpse of all God is calling us to be as his missionary. In stories of missional obedience, we too hear the call, “Whom shall I send?” and can confidently respond, “Here am I, send me!”

The concept of culture as a God-given tool to connect people with him has not been taught well in our churches and Christian schools. There have even been times in the history of the Christian mission movement when missionaries themselves did not understand the concepts of cultural context and heart language. They tried to force their own culture on those to whom they were sent. Instead of adopting the native dress, language, diet, music, art, etc., they resolutely demanded that the native people accept western dress, the English language, American food, English hymns, and western architecture. Instead of being God incarnate to those they came to serve, they insisted that the native people incarnate the imported culture of the missionary. The obvious results of this kind of cultural snobbery are barriers to acceptance of Christ and failure to plant churches that are indigenous to native people. We must not force another culture to adopt our culture before they can accept Christ. Can you see how self-centered and egotistical this approach is? It is the height of idolizing my own culture to make my style and tastes a prerequisite for others to know and follow Christ.

But wait a minute. We do this all the time in our own churches. This cultural snobbery is a notorious characteristic of the institutional church. We see it in church-ianity where stylistic peripherals become significant priorities. We think that if new churches are started in our community they should certainly worship in the same style we do. It’s easy for us to idolize our favorite style and demonize others. When will we realize that culture is not a tool with which to beat others over the head until they accept my way of doing things? Culture is a God-given tool to meet people where they are and connect them to him.  — Mark Powers




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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