If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

blog highlights

When people are new to a blog, they usually just pick up reading with new posts. But it is my hope that new readers will connect to some of the archived material. I am posting this as an end-of-2009 marker of what has gone before. This "highlight" page attempts to pull together and list some of my favorite posts and series of posts.

Favorite single posts, missional:

God's Refrigerator Door - perspective over worship and worship styles

Don't Waste Your Time - on the primacy of worship as the foundation for mission

Website Outreach Philosophy - the missional vision behind our website design (note: since this post, we have moved to a new site, but the philosophy and major "sections" of the site are the same)

VBS on the Road - story of taking our Vacation Bible School outside the walls

- a missional look at parenting my young daughter

More than Cookies - narrative of two memorable days in ministry that highlight our growing missional mindset along with the mess and the "glory" of being a lighthouse and searchlight church

Significant single posts, denominational:
God on the Move - description of how God used one small-church pastor commissioner to "move" the 2008 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Ichabod or Scribbling on the Wall - one description of my calling to serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA); for those who are struggling...

Favorite series:
Frost Defines Missional - part 1, part 2, part 3 - blogged through Michael Frost's presentation on missional church at the 2007 PGF conference

Missional Identity in the Small Church - this is a seven-part series chronicling the visioning, communication, implementation, etc... of a missional identity at Good Shepherd. This material was compiled for a workshop I taught, but comes from an officer retreat in 2006. This initial link has links to the successive posts.

The Talent Challenge - a real-life missional "parable of the Talents" exercise I gave the congregation while I was on Sabbatical. Links below are to two follow-up reports.
  • Mission Benefit Concert - a $20 talent turned into a fabulous fund-raising concert for our missionaries in Spain; raised $1800!
  • Family Business in Nicaragua - a $20 talent sent to our missionaries in Nicaragua purchased equipment for a start-up sewing classes
Sabbatical - I wrote a summary of what I learned each week of a twelve-week sabbatical; some wonderful lessons.
Wednesdays Night Experiment - initial description and follow-up reports of our "Wednesday night experiment" of pushing the Wednesday night church meeting outside the walls into the neighborhood. Some exciting results!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

of the father's love begotten - christmas eve 2009

Blessed Christmas Eve to you!

This is a rough studio mix of my arrangement of "Of the Father's Love" from the forthcoming The Depth of Worship CD. Marvelous words to ponder in this time of awaiting the celebration of Christ's birth!

Of the Father's love begotten, ere the worlds began to be
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

Love shines with glory, shines with light
Has pierced the sin-dark shroud of night
O come you lost, who long for home
Obey the Son, the faithful One,
Begotten of the Father's love.

O ye heights of heav'n adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Power, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent
Evey voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!

Love shines with glory, shines with light
Has pierced the sin-dark shroud of night
O come you lost, who long for home
Obey the Son, the faithful One,
Begotten of the Father's love.

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be.
Honor, glory, and dominion
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Love shines with glory, shines with light
Has pierced the sin-dark shroud of night
O come you lost, who long for home
Obey the Son, the faithful One,
Begotten of the Father's love.

Text by Aurelius C. Prudentius, 4th century; translated by John M. Neale and Henry W. Baker. Verse melody is 13th century plainsong (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM); arrangement and chorus by Robert Austell, 1999/2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

how can this be?

Some ponderings on Luke 1:34-38, the virgin birth, miracles, and God...

How can this be?

Simply dealing with the declaration of truth (v. 37) is so hard. It requires such faith! God says it is so; the Bible says it is so; the Bible is from God. So much there to take on faith. Better to have some kind of sign.

Yes, a big sign (v. 36), that’s what I need… something unmistakable. But that’s so subjective. Maybe an older woman who never could have a baby COULD have a baby. Is that really a miracle? Jesus did miracles as a sign of who he was and where he came from, but it can be easy to write many of them off. Maybe a sign won’t do it. Better to have more specific proof.

Yes, proof, that’s what I need
(v. 35). I need God to spell out what He wants and how it’s going to happen. Who should I marry? Where should I work? What should I do next? Some kind of angelic, personal text messaging – like a magic 8 ball. Funny that I might trust a magic 8 ball more than God’s Word… hmmm. We do so like specifics. And better yet, scientific proof – regarding creation, dinosaurs, miracles, even God’s existence. That’d do it. Except science is only good for what is natural, not what is supernatural. You can’t dissect a miracle. You can’t reduce God to a program or an experiment or a set of rules – that’s too small for a real God.

I’m not trying to layout some sort of intellectual trap. You know what? I get it. I understand just how hard it is to believe in, much less trust in God. My brain is not wired for the humanities; it is wired for math, programming, and science. But I see how unsatisfying the proof I would demand would be and is. It’s like telling your spouse you will only love them if they document where they are every hour of the day, whom they speak to, and what their intentions are. That doesn’t result in love, though it might satisfy curiosity. Love comes from trust extended – a kind of faith given and received. Likewise, requiring God to document His miraculous and infinite plans to our satisfaction may increasingly satisfy our curiosity, but is self-defeating in terms of faith, trust, and love. While Mary likely did not think in those terms, she heard the angel’s answer and trusted in God’s Word (v. 38). She did not latch on to the specific explanation or the miraculous sign, but responded in faith to the declaration of truth that God could accomplish His Word in her life.

From the Advent sermon: "Nothing Will be Impossible With God" (Luke 1:34-38)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

worship practices survey

One component of my D.Min. degree was a field study related to the topic of my project. I chose to survey fellow pastors and musicians in my presbytery regarding worship practices and planning, as described below. I share the description and conclusion of that study below, with a link to the full report for those interested in the data and more detail. For anyone involved in the planning or implementation of worship, I think this study would be helpful for self-analysis and growth.


The questionnaire, "Worship Philosophy and Planning," was mailed with a cover letter to 134 churches in the Presbytery of Charlotte, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in May of 2007. Most of the questionnaires were returned within six to eight weeks. These churches were selected because the Presbytery of Charlotte is an easily identifiable and reachable audience and the likelihood of response was high.

The Presbytery of Charlotte is the fourth largest presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with 134 churches, approximately 291 ministers, and approximately 41,000 members. It serves seven counties in and around Charlotte, NC: Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Richmond, Stanly, and Union.
Of note, it also has the largest population of predominantly African-American Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches in the denomination.

The target interviewees were senior pastors and musicians. Duplicate surveys were sent to each church, with one addressed to the pastor and one to the music director. The questionnaire was designed to collect basic church information, measure actual patterns of worship planning and practice, and collective subjective responses defining "worship philosophy."

The first part of the questionnaire (questions 1-7) collected basic information, including number and times of worship services, number attending, and a description of worship style. For the latter, four choices were offered: "traditional," "contemporary," "blended," and "other." Data was also collected regarding church membership (active roll), age of church, tenure of person being surveyed, and hours worked. Responses to membership were verified against Presbytery records. Pastors were asked about the degree of musical training. Musicians were asked about the degree of their musical and theological/biblical training.

The second part of the questionnaire (questions 8-15) dealt with worship planning. This part included questions about personnel, frequency, duration, and lead time of their worship planning. One question asked about the pastor’s sermon preparation habits, how far in advance it happened and what tools were used to select the sermon text. There was also a question about worship planning tools, from hymnals to computer software, with several common options listed and room for more to be added. Next the questionnaire sought to measure the
frequency with which music is used in different liturgical locations in the worship service. For example, is music ever used for the "Confession of Sin" or for the "Assurance of Pardon?" Space was provided for a "short description of… worship planning time" in a more narrative form. Finally, a list of potential motivations for selecting hymns or songs was provided, with a five degree scale offered to measure degree of influence. Two "other" choices were also provided. The purpose of this question was to gain some sense of factors guiding music selection.

The third part of the questionnaire (questions 16-18) addressed worship philosophy. This section was purely subjective and narrative, asking for a definition/purpose of worship and an evaluation of whether worship practice matched this ideal. A final question asked if there were any areas where change was desirable.


By way of final remarks on the field research, I would thank the pastors and musicians who responded so quickly and helpfully on the surveys. I am a member of the Presbytery of Charlotte and these churches and pastors are dear to me. I am also passionate about worship and am responsible for the worship life of the presbytery as chair of the Ecclesiastical Affairs committee. The responses have, for the most part, born out some of the presuppositions of early chapters. These presuppositions included the thought that churches are struggling with worship, facing challenges of cultural change, staff conflict, shrinking membership, and lack of teaching about what worship is.

I was encouraged by the degree of thoughtfulness and planning evidenced by some and discouraged by the carelessness and procrastination shown by others. I feel for musicians who are hamstrung by pastors who either will not plan ahead, will not communicate well, or who otherwise hinder these servants of the Lord.

I was surprised at how many pastors had musical training or experience and at how few musicians had biblical or theological training. I was also surprised by the range of qualifications for the musicians, from virtually none to multiple degrees, including several with doctorates. In the musician responses, a staggering number of instruments were listed under proficiencies. I wonder if local churches are hearing accordion, flute, trombone, autoharp, dulcimer, and percussion from these musicians.

I was pleased to discover some of the resources used by the predominantly African-American churches for worship in a blended, Gospel style. I plan to find my own copy of
The African-American Heritage Hymnal.

Finally, I was encouraged to find out how many churches are actually using newer styles and forms of music in worship. What could not be ascertained through this survey was to what degree services really were "blended" or if that word was used to describe minimal use of contemporary music. But, it is the direction of this project to argue that style is not the primary consideration. If the Church can be directed to the true and humble worship of God, style will find its appropriate place.

Link to Field Study Document (pdf): bit.ly/8yX9dz
Interested in the whole book?

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