Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Worship Wars and Baptist Theological Distinctives

Historically, Baptist worship is simple, not elaborate

In the worship wars, so little has been said regarding what kinds of worship might flow out of a distinctively Baptist theology. This fact is strikingly incredible.

A distinctively Baptist theology entails 1) a Believers’ church; 2) Priesthood of Every Believer; 3) Soul Competency (a corollary of the Priesthood of Every Believer; and 4) church autonomy AND associationalism.

These four points should inform worship services of any given Baptist church. Unfortunately, however, I never ever hear these issues raised in the context of worship wars. Instead, we only discuss issues such what do our church members like and how can we use worship to appeal to new people. This article discusses how two of these doctrinal distinctives might impact Baptist worship.

In the days when church and state were co-extensive, people were regularly baptized as infants and attended worship with the rest of the members of the community at the parish church. (Given its Catholic background, it’s no coincidence that the Louisiana’s civil districts are called parishes, rather than counties.) Baptists opposed this sort of cultural Christianity, and formed congregations based upon profession of the individual’s faith.
Baptists baptize those who profess faith

This emphasis on the Believers’ Church recognized that some people who attended worship were professing believers, but some were not. Such a distinction was hardly possible in those churches where all the town’s people were ordinarily baptized as infants. The distinction then allowed Baptist worship services to have a special opportunity to respond to the gospel. Thus, Baptist preachers would often preach persuasively and extend an invitation to make a public profession of faith.
The invitation after the sermon, in Baptist worship then, arises out of Baptist theology.

Baptists gave increasing emphasis to Priesthood of Every Believer. While this doctrinal emphasis is often noted in connection with church governance and the autonomy of the local church, it has also had a huge impact historically on Baptist worship. This doctrine prompted Baptists to give up vestments that distinguish clergy from laity. It also gives room to congregational participation in worship—even the “least maidservant” is welcome to speak a word to the church.

From this doctrinal distinctive has flowed the Baptist worship tendency to include non-professionals in worship leading. For high church musical performances, one might attend a Lutheran, Anglican, or Presbyterian church. Baptists, however, usually feature their own congregants. One scholar likened Baptist worship as akin to hanging up your kids’ artwork on the refrigerator: no one else would frame the colorful scribbles to display in a great hall, but it is precious and meaningful to you. Moreover, Baptist worship ministry is about equipping congregants to lead in worship; in effect, we train musicians. Accordingly, we would rather have someone leading us in worship who has a vibrant Christian testimony than someone who is an expert musician.

For these reasons, Baptists are inclined toward a simpler hymnody. They do enjoy higher church hymns with complex chordal sequences such as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” but simpler hymns such as “I Must Tell Jesus” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” are favorite staples of Baptist hymnody. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Neither Traditional nor Contemporary, but Engagement

My understanding of worship styles does not assume the typical terminology of traditional vs. contemporary. For me, the issue is whether the worshiper is characteristically a participant or a spectator. More precisely, do we engage our congregation in worship? This approach of engagement affects the way we welcome the congregation, how we present our announcements, how we receive and respond to praises and prayer requests, how we order our services, and how we include others in worship leading. 

In my present position, I meet with two other pastoral staff two hours a week to critique the previous week’s service, and to plan the upcoming week’s service, allowing healthy discussion of worship issues. I personally invest at least five hours weekly into our worship services, striving to hear the voice of God through worship planning, through interaction with our pastoral staff, and through congregational feedback. 

Thus, worship planning is not a matter of filling out a template and printing the bulletin. Rather, we aspire to engage our congregants in meaningful worship that is 
Baptists singing to one another in Sacred Harp style
  • biblically sound; 
  • attuned to Baptist theological urgencies, especially the indwelling of the Spirit and soul competency; 
  • personally transformative; 
  • culturally relevant; 
  • reflecting a continuity with the historic communion of the saints.
Really, it's not about the composition date of the music. Besides, Amazing Grace was at one time one of those hymns that people hated to have to learn.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Three Things Every Pastor Should Do on Monday

Monday is the traditional day of rest for the typical pastor. Still, the pastoral task and the health of your church requires these three tasks to be done, with all diligence.

  1. Listen to your sermon. For the Western church, technology is so abundant that there really is no excuse for not reviewing an audio of your sermon--better still, a video. You will learn a great deal from playing it back. In many cases, you'll discover areas for improvement. You might even discover that you have speech habits that come across as slightly annoying to your congregation. Playing back the audio allows you to become a more effective communicator.
  2. Look at your membership/attendance roll. Effective pastoral care requires that you know who was in attendance and who was not. Some church members, who are otherwise regular, can easily miss two or even three Sundays without others in the congregation realizing it. You should have someone discretely record who is absent and who is present. On Monday, you need to review the attendance, making note of cards, phone calls, or visits that might be needed. 
  3. The review of attendance should be done prayerfully. I suggest that you review the attendance roll quietly, by yourself, in the sanctuary itself. As you read through the names, walk toward the pews where your congregants typically sit, and pray for each one, as the Spirit leads. This is good, basic pastoral care. It reminds you of the individual needs of your members. It also keeps their names fresh in your mind, so that you struggle less with remembering their names. I find prayer in an empty church sanctuary particularly moving.
After you do these three things, you can kick your shoes off and relax for the rest of the day.