May 7, 2021

One of the problems endemic to Christian worship today is the assumption that forms don’t matter as long as the substance is unchanging. “It’s not the style that matters.” I get comments like this all the time. The same is said in every church growth book ever written. Here’s one cool pastor’s take. You heard it. The guacamole is the important part, it just needs effective packaging. “THE GOSPEL IS THE GUACAMOLE!” But the gospel is not guacamole. The form… Read more

April 30, 2021

Christians who have grown up in evangelical churches, like I did, often have a great misunderstanding of the proper direction of liturgy. I was taught that the point was for the congregation to express its worship toward God. In this idea, congregants are the performers, and God is the “audience.” “We are singing today for an audience of one,” many a charismatic, snappily-dressed worship leader told us, eliciting a multitude of amens. This is not a Christian view of worship…. Read more

January 27, 2021

I’ve written before about the tragedy of allowing screens into our sanctuaries, but a conversation with a liturgically-minded colleague brought up another problem with jesusy jumbotrons in worship. It’s a rather glaring reason, actually, and it should have occurred to me years ago. Think about what liturgy is, and what it is for. What are we actually engaging in as worshipers? Prayer. Historically, postures have been an important part of worship. I’m ashamed at how unaware of this I was… Read more

January 25, 2021

When I begin a new church post, I like to ask my new colleagues what their favorite hymns are. I’ve been serving churches professionally in one way or another since I was 17, I grew up in the church, and I’m something of an amateur hymnologist, so I’m not often stumped by their answers. But the most recent time I asked this question, my senior pastor threw me a curveball. “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee” was his answer. I… Read more

January 6, 2021

Here’s a delightful little Epiphany hymn for you. The text is by Reginald Heber, the same critter who gave us “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” and “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” Says J.R. Watson: “Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology tells us that ‘few hymns of merit have troubled compilers more than this.’ The problem seems to have been that ‘its use involved the worshipping of a star,’ and that its metre was ‘too suggestive of a solemn dance.’ It was perhaps… Read more

January 4, 2021

Poet Christopher Wordsworth on his own text: “[It is a] recapitulation of the successive manifestations of Christ, which have already been presented in the services of the former weeks throughout the season of Epiphany; and anticipation of that future great and glorious Epiphany, at which Christ will be manifest to all, when he will appear again to judge the world.” I’d love to share some videos from other churches, but time and time again during this season, it’s St. John’s… Read more

January 3, 2021

Here’s a little gem for the upcoming Epiphany. According to J.R. Watson: “Its simplicity of stanza form and its predictable rhymes and rhythms conceal an art which is unobtrusive and economical: the first three verses all begin with an extended simile, “As,’ then inviting the singer to transfer the episode of the wise men into his or her own life, using the word “So.” There is then a graceful transition from earthly things to heavenly ones, following the pattern of… Read more

January 2, 2021

Here’s a friendly PSA from Ponder Anew: It’s still Christmas. It’s Christmas all the way to Epiphany on January 6, and then it’s still technically the Christmas season until Candlemas on February 2. So feel free to procrastinate away if you’ve yet to take down your Christmas decorations. Actually, it isn’t really procrastinating until St. Valentine’s Day in my book. This well-loved Christmas hymn has unfortunately been butchered by many modern hymnals and most commercial recordings. The second half of… Read more

January 1, 2021

Here’s an inspired text by Timothy Dudley-Smith that reinforces the faithfulness of God in spite of our sin and failure, and teaches us to pray for the world and for ourselves, that we might resolve to walk in God’s ways. It’s a wonderful hymn for New Year’s Day. It’s also time this hymn found wider acceptance in the U.S. Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way, sought us… Read more

December 31, 2020

Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts     that peoples labor only for fire,     and nations weary themselves for nought?     For the earth will be filled     with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,     as the waters cover the sea. – Habakkuk 2:13-14 (RSV) The time is drawing nearer and nearer, y’all. Here’s a hymn for today, in fact, more for this day than any previous one. This hymn doesn’t get much airtime these days, what with… Read more

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