Friday, March 24, 2006

Guest Blog: Finding Our Voice in Worship (Part 3) Ken Puls

This is the third in a series of guest blogs on "Finding Our Voice in Worship." Once you have found music that is doctrinally sound and structurally sound, there is still one more test to consider:

III. Music must be Congregationally Sound -- authenticity

We must sing music that is sound in doctrine and well-composed, but our music must also be an authentic expression of the church body.

When we select music for worship, we are choosing music that will be sung by the people. And so we must ask of what we sing--

Will this be understood by the congregation? Can they comprehend this?
Can they sing this? Can they say this? Can they express this well?

Does the level of difficulty, instrumentation and musical style fit the congregation? Can the song be embraced by the people? Not just can they learn the notes and sing the right words--Can they sing it from their hearts?

The music we sing should be an authentic voice of our people!

So how do we determine our voice? Maybe we should first ask:

What shapes the voice of a church?

1. The voice of the church is shaped largely by its gifts. . .

Its leaders
Its musicians
Its people

Everyone whom God brings together in a local church contributes to the voice of that church.

We have One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of us all--
We share a common faith and should hold to the same truth, the same Word.

But churches are also each unique, each with unique experiences and gifts.
Though we must speak as one, no two voices will sound exactly alike.

A song that works well in one church may fall flat in another. A small church that has only one member who can play the piano will have a different voice than a large church where God in His providence has assembled several accomplished musicians. A church where the music is primarily led by a pipe organ will have a different sound than a church led by piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, flute and trumpet. The musical gifts in the congregation, the leadership gifts of those who plan and teach and oversee the ministry of the church--all help determine a church's voice.

2. The voice of the church is also shaped by its purpose.

As the leadership and the congregation work through priorities and ask the important question: What are we doing here? -- Their answer will in part shape their voice.

What do we see as our highest calling as the body of Christ gathered together as a covenanted body of believers? What is our primary purpose?

Teaching people the Word of God
Evangelizing the lost and reaching them with the gospel
Bringing people into close intimate communion with God
Motivating people to love and obedience to God
Helping people grow through meaningful relationships
Glorifying God as the majestic Almighty One in worship
Bearing witness that the Christian faith is relevant to our age

The congregation must have a clear understanding of its purpose--why the people of God gather together each Lord's Day and why God has united them together as one body. The order, emphasis and balance (or lack thereof) that each church brings to these good and necessary purposes will largely determine its form of worship, the choice of its songs and the shape of its voice.

3. The voice of the church is shaped by its heritage.

Our time and place in history will have a part in God's providence in determining our voice. What musical instruments are available to us? In what language will we sing? What songs from past generations have we inherited and learned? What songs are being written in our own day?

As a church we should desire to sanctify the best of our musical traditions available to us in the time and place in which we live. We should also remember the best contributions to church music of past generations. We should continue to embrace great hymns of the faith such as "Holy, Holy, Holy" and the Doxology.

We must remember that we are only a part of God's great redemptive work through the ages. The Kingdom of God is much larger than our own fellowship, our own associations and our own comfort zones.

4. The voice of the church is shaped by its joys and trials.

As God is providentially at work in the life of the church, He will shape its voice. Sometimes He will do extraordinary things in His providence that will embed a song into the voice of the church.

In the summer of 2004 we sent our young people from Grace Baptist Church to youth camp in Panama City Beach, Florida. There they learned the song "Made Me Glad." Part of the words to that song declare to God:

"You are my Shield, my Strength, my Portion, Deliverer,
My Shelter, Strong Tower, My very present help in time of need."

When our young people returned from camp we introduced the song to our congregation. A few weeks later, Hurricane Charley hit Southwest Florida. Because the song was fresh in our memory, many sang that song while riding out the storm. When we met for the first time after the hurricane, we sang that song together--in a dark, hot building, no light, no air-conditioning, but sweet and precious fellowship as we rejoiced together at God's mercy and kindness in keeping us safe.

Now when we sing those words together in worship as a one body, they are not only theological truths, but we can remember place and time and event where God showed Himself strong for us as a church. He was our "Shield, our Strength, our Portion, Deliverer, our Shelter, Strong Tower, our very present help in time of need." And He continues to be so. The providence of God can be powerful in shaping the voice of His people.

5. The voice of the church is shaped by its expectations.

If we do not expect God to continue to shape and mold us--
If we are not growing and maturing together in love and unity, our voice will grow stagnant and dim.

We must help the church find its voice in our day and add its voice to the praise of God through the ages.

In my next and final guest post in this series, I will suggest some ways to help a church find its voice.

Ken Puls

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