What are we doing up there on Sunday? A conversation with young worship leaders

Can I let you in on a fun leadership conversation I had yesterday?

I enjoyed an hour with some young leaders, preparing to lead singing on Sunday during our worship gathering with the Erickson Covenant Church. It was so much fun, as anyone who’s worked with grade 5 girls knows! And yes, there was a lot of giggling! ūüôā

When we were done practicing the songs, I asked them what we were doing up there on Sunday.

Their answer: “Worshiping Jesus.” Good answer.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we love him. Because he loves us. Because he’s worth singing for.” Amazing answers.

preparing-to-lead-worship“What’s the other reason we are up there singing on Sunday?” I asked.¬†They weren’t too sure. And I didn’t expect them to have an answer, because the question is a little trickier.

“We are up there helping other people worship Jesus, too.” Ahh, yes–you could see they got it. And then we went on to talk about what that means and how we don’t just get up and sing for ourselves–we sing and worship Jesus in a way that helps others do the same. As worship leaders, we have a responsibility to practice and prepare, and then lead and sing so that others will be drawn to give praise to the Father, also.

Which means we practice. Which means we make sure that everything we do points to Jesus and doesn’t draw attention to ourselves. Which means that we are conscious of our role as leaders even while we are singing.

The girls loved it. And so we teased out some more implications of what that might mean.

At the end, I asked: “But even with all of that in mind, what’s the most important thing we do to help others worship Jesus on Sunday?”

They knew the answer. “We worship Jesus. We sing our hearts out. We sing for him.”

Yep. Because at the end of the day, the climax of the song, or the close of the gathering, he’s the one we’ve been singing for all along. And he’s the one we’ll keep singing for through the week.

It’s a privilege to lead others in worship, and it’s an honor to lead with these young leaders. ¬†And above all, to gather and worship the One who loves us.

I’m looking forward to Sunday.

 

We gather AS the church, not AT the church.

  • Let’s meet at the church.
  • Welcome to the house of the Lord this morning.
  • Are you going to church this weekend?

What’s the problem with these three statements? The assumption that “church” is a location for gathering rather than the gathering itself.

The fact is, we never¬†gather AT the church–we only gather AS the church.¬†

Let me confess something to you: I don’t like it when people call the church’s building “the house of God.” In fact, I despise it. I know–it’s an ole’ school way to refer to the church’s building, but by externalizing the “house” we lose something essential. The “house of God” is not made of brick or wood–it’s the people in which God lives by his Spirit.¬†

The actual house of God (the people) may own a building, or we¬†may meet in a rented storefront. ¬†The house of God may meet in a living room, or gather in a school gym. God’s house is mobile, gathering wherever we¬†can fit.

Where we gather isn’t the point: that we gather is. Streaming in from our stressful weeks and our demanding work, often unfocused and frazzled, to re-connect with each other and worship Jesus together–that is what it means to gather as the church.

Where the Erickson Covenant Church gathers.
Is this a church? No, but it is where our church meets.

So go ahead and steward the church’s building, make beautiful and functional spaces, maximize the resources for the kingdom, honor the gifts given–but don’t make the mistake of referring to a location or a building or a space as “the church.” And furthermore, don’t let the physical space distract us from the real building God is concerned about–let’s make sure we are putting our biggest investment, our greatest concern, the bulk of our energy and priority on the actual house of God–the men and women and children in whom God lives and to whom God is calling us to go.

On Monday morning, Jesus-followers are¬†out there, working and witnessing and serving¬†in their communities, families, schools and work, loving others in the mix of life. And throughout the week, Jesus-followers look forward to the privilege and necessity of gathering again¬†as the church to worship Jesus, to serve one another, to hear¬†God’s Word, to be reoriented around the purpose of the Father for us, and to be sent back out into our world for another week of witness.

Being built up by the Holy Spirit into God’s living house AS we gather is what matters–where we gather was never the point.

Why I Won’t Sing “I’ll Fly Away” (so I re-wrote it)

I’ll Fly Away ranks top among beloved Christian songs. And I can see why. It’s incredibly fun and catchy, speaking to people of hope beyond present¬†struggles. When the banjos start up, the feet start stomping and we all join the rousing chorus, our spirits are lifted high with smiles all around. It feels great.¬†I'll Fly Away Country

But feeling great doesn’t make it great.

And lest you think I’m one of those nit-picky types, hair-splitting on every theological difference across Christian song and hymnody, I’m not. I usually leave things well enough alone, allowing for theological diversity, even singing songs with which I don’t entirely concur in the spirit of Christian unity and generosity.

But not this one. I haven’t sung I’ll Fly Away in years (though I confess my foot may have tapped a time or two . . . the flesh is weak, my friends).

What is wrong with it? Three things come to mind.

  1. “Flying away” is not Christian hope–rising again from the dead is. Rather than looking forward to a time of escape, we long for the resurrection of our bodies in the context of a renewed creation (Romans 8:20-23). It is critical that we recapture this basic truth and hope, because it effects everything else we do, say or pray.
  2. Creation is good, God said so. The idea of “flying” from these prison walls like a bird presents a foul view of humanity: that we are spirits trapped inside bodies, and that our only hope is to someday escape from this evil flesh. Hatched from the ancient Greeks, this “dualism” divides
    Very Good
    “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31a)

    reality into the good, spiritual things and the bad, physical things. But the Bible never taught this: God’s creation is good, though it has been “subject to frustration” (Romans 8) due to human sin. Until when? The time humans are resurrected, because the future of the earth and the future of the earthlings are bound up together. Human bodies won’t¬†be scrapped for a more “spiritual” existence–they will be raised to life incorruptible in a new body, just like Jesus. ¬†The same is true of God’s earth; God’s plan is not to scrap it but to renew it. ¬†We’ll be singing¬†on God’s terrestrial, not celestial, shore.

  3. We pray “Thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.”¬†Practically, this is where it hits home.¬†I’ll Fly Away¬†distracts us from praying and imagining God’s kingdom come in our world, in our time. Songs like this place Christian hope in another world, another time, rather than announcing the kingdom come in Christ, here. Christians have been accused of being “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”, but this is only true if what we mean by “heaven” is a bastardized, Platonic view of a non-earthly, “spiritual” existence, rather than the biblically robust, fully recreated, resurrection reality of the new heavens and the new earth joining together as one in the end (Revelation 22:1-5).

bluegrass_old_faceThere’s more I could say, but let’s cue¬†the party music. These guys are ready to play.

After years of stony resistance to the siren song of¬†I’ll Fly Away,¬†I re-wrote the lyrics.¬†Sacred cows make great BBQ’s, and I got a hankerin’ for this one. I’m not expecting to overturn the deep-seated love for the old song–too many memories, too many banjos. But maybe, just maybe, if a few of us started singing of our true hope, our eyes would rise toward God’s kingdom come and coming to us through resurrection, rather than flying away to an imaginary never-never land.

So, here it is,¬†I’ll Rise Again. I’ve included my original video post, from August of 2015, below. It’s a rough cut, but at least you can hear me singing the song.

 

I’ll rise again, oh glory
I’ll rise again
When I die, hallelujah, by and by
I’ll rise again
_____________________________
1. Some glad morning, when this life is o’er
I’ll rise again
Jesus conquered death forevermore
I’ll rise again
______________________________
2. When the Father calls me I will come,
I’ll rise again
Jesus welcomes me into his home,
I’ll rise again
______________________________
3. Give us strength to serve you where you send,
I’ll rise again
Then we’ll join the worship without end,
I’ll rise again

You can watch a video of me singing it here.

 

Be honest: What do you think? What do you like, or not like, about this re-write?

Will you sing it?