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Missional Millennials (part 2): Discipleship through worship

In the first post of this series, I suggested that our identity forms what we worship. Now I’m proposing that what we worship will inevitably form discipleship in our lives and in others around us.

My mom used to say “You are what you eat,” as a euphemism for healthy nutrition. In other words, you become like what you digest. It’s not much different for making disciples and being discipled. You are who you hang around, and most communities gather around a common purpose. Something which both parties share a mutual interest in.

You will become like who you hang around.

You will hang around people you have something deeply in common with—your social circles will revolve around the things that you adore. In a nutshell, you will be discipled in accordance to what you most value. Further, you will also influence others in the same sphere of shared desires. Take bowling, for example. If your identity is shaped by your desire to become the best bowler in the world, the practice of bowling will feed your obsession; you will go bowling all the time. You will also surround yourself around a natural community that gravitates towards the same passion, and in so doing will unavoidably become like them, as they become like you. Mutual discipleship. You are what you eat, and you eat bowling.

This can get really interesting for the Christian. We immediately have an open door of evangelism with many people based on shared interests.

  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. Who else likes to do that?
  3. Share with them this common purpose, and build a community around it.

The reason this is usually problematic, is because many Christian’s don’t like hanging outside of their usual church culture.

We like to spend time with other Christians, and remove ourselves from the big bad world. In doing so, we disciple other Christians, and only influence them. Yet if you scan the New Testament, you will see that all people are disciples of something or someone, because we all have an inherent sense of identity, that leads us to seek out communities of worship centered around a common purpose. But dozens of people in your social stream are being naturally discipled by everyone else but you. If it’s true that God shares common grace on the wicked and the righteous alike, then shouldn’t we learn how to enjoy the finer things in life with the non-believer, if for no other reason, than for friendship?

It seems these days, the only time we will ever spend with a non-believer is for the split second it takes to convert them to Christianity. And even supposing that strategy works, they will convert to Christianity without any hope of godly discipleship. Oh but they will be discipled. The question is who?

The conversion lie.

Worship and Community: Singing

I was once given tickets to a Los Angeles Lakers’ game at the Staples Center, in the middle of their championship season. Brianna and I had good seats too, right behind the basket, about twenty rows away. I had never been that close to a professional basketball player before. They look like sticks galloping across the TV screen, but in person they look more like NFL linebackers, but with better muscle tone.

I’ll never forget the anticipation upon entering that stadium.

To my right was a girl wearing high heels and a scarf, seemingly unaware that she was at a sports arena about to watch a bunch of sweaty guys hurl their bodies across the air like gladiators. To my left were a pair of slightly drunk men, convinced that they could start a wave across countless rows of waiting fans who seemed content with eating popcorn and overpriced churros. It worked! A two-tier wave rippled halfway across the stadium, and why not? There was this buzz of anticipation in the air that would make a crazed fan do almost anything. At this point, the crowd was pulsating in a restrained manner, as if it were waiting for an excuse to enter into a frenzy. That excuse came as soon as the starting line-up for L.A. entered the home court under a spray of purple lighting. In the wake of this event, I learned more about worship than many books on worship have offered.

Sports fans can be crazy with how they interact with one another.

And when Kobe made a classic, game-winning clutch shot in the fourth quarter, I lost control, too. I started screaming at strangers! The stadium erupted in excitement, as people toasted their $10 beers, and jumped up and down.

But we weren’t applauding each other. We were reflecting the fame of the team off of each other, and back on to our beloved sports franchise.

This is how Paul portrays the singing aspect of corporate worship.

He says we are to come together in order to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, NASB. emphasis mine). Notice two directional elements to corporate worship,

  1. to one another
  2. to the Lord

Is it possible that our Christian singing is not designed to be as personal as we would like it to be?—at least, not as the New Testament depicts it. What Paul has in mind is more akin to an arena, in which elated fans cheer with each other, yet not for each other. This happens on Sunday mornings, when buildings are crowded with people who have gathered in droves to be in corporate awe of a famous person.

Are you engaged in what is unraveling before your eyes, namely, the beauty of Jesus? Or are you the one with high-heels, oblivious to what’s going on?

Worship and Community: Scripture

What imagery does “bible-study” conjure up for you?

An uncomfortably intimate group of five or six people gathered around a semi-circle of plastic fold-up chairs, eating brownies and feigning accountability while the extroverted person in the group asks probing questions from a bible verse that seem to careen into a wall of silence before dying expectedly. Was this what they meant when they told me they were “going deep”?

A college lake trip (if you’ve gone with us) conjures up a different scene.

It brings thoughts of wake-boarding, tri-tip, laughing with people who make things worth laughing about, late nights, transformation, early mornings, renewal, coffee by the waterfront, suntans, new friends, watermelon games, the presence of Jesus, the only time you’ll ever get 70 of your friends to an In-N-Out, community meals, worship, pancakes, new friends, baptisms, finding new ways to patch up Sea Doo wounds, turning ordinary things into extraordinary experiences, finding God in a different way than you did back at home, crying and smiling at the same time, mixing the best of both worlds, eternal and material. Plainly, you come back home with a story.

A “college lake trip,” then, conjures  a story from the archives that is forever sealed in your memory because it’s one you never want to forget.

Our problem with Bible study is that we lack imagination. We don’t get pulled into the story enough to live the story.

The difference between the first example and the last example I gave are both staggering and depressing, if only because the former is often how we view and treat any written revelation of knowing God.

Our concept of “Scripture” is often rigid, uncreative, and uninvolved.

Do not forget that the Scriptures are a divinely authored testimony of the living Word, Jesus Christ.

Both of them are dynamic, especially when applied to life shared in community. Consider Paul’s famous exhortation on corporate worship to the Colossian church,

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts (Colossians 3:16, NLT).

Paul sounds like he’s describing a college lake trip more than a cheesy semi-circle. It’s a scene that’s dynamic, real, and applied. The scriptures are a story, after all; and the best stories engage you. They animate your thought life, and perforate your normal conversations, while causing you to empathize with its main characters in all the subtle, yet meaningful details of your life. They transform you via supernatural revelation from God to mere human being.

Must the Word of God be so uneventful unless spoken of on a Sunday morning?

Is the Word of God transforming your life?

Missional Millennials: Worship through Identity (Part 1)

Millennials are the ambitious generation of movers and shakers, distinguished as those born between 1980-2000. Several hundred of them congregate at a weekly gathering called Adorn, in Carpinteria, CA., seeking an overlapping encounter with Jesus, his community, and the world.

This is our story.

Our identity forms what we worship.

We’ve discovered that our beliefs about ourself have a profound influence on how and what we worship. The power of the gospel can widen our capacity to worship God with relative ease, since the gospel—with its outlandish teachings of an alien validation wrought in Jesus—manhandles what we end up thinking about ourselves.

The gospel transforms our identities, and with it, our worship.

We exchange our identities for Christ’s. This is why I spent the first year of Adorn focusing on one section of our vision: Jesus must be our highest joy. It occurred to me that there was no real output (mission) in our first year of gathering, and I often fought with the pressure to create programs, outreach, and missional opportunities for this rambunctious group of millennials. But the God and time would prove my stress unfounded. After a year, a culture had developed where people’s identities were being transformed into the image of Jesus, and the outflow that resulted from inward change would yield far more motivation and opportunity than any program I could contrive or manufacture. Without warning, we had a gathering of young people who were ready to change the world, yet firmly grounded in the unchanging identity of Jesus. It wasn’t “callings” that I was supposed to dish out, but rather, a clear, direct route to the person and work of the mighty Son of God.

Find your identity before you find your calling.

If we do not shape our identity around Jesus, we will quickly default, wrapping our individuality around what we can carry out because we are a generation that is driven to make a difference in the world.

Consider these two scenarios…

  • You’re hired in the field of your choice, but only to a cut-throat corporation where those with the lowest performance record are routinely fired. The culture that will likely develop there is one of performance. Performance is determined by your own success or failure, and should you get hired, will be at the center of your identity.
  • Or, you’re hired by a corporation that only picks the best in the field, yet puts tremendous value on their employees as well as their contributions. The culture that will likely develop here is based on trust, and will be at the center of your identity.

In the first scene, your passion determines your identity; in the following scene, your identity determines your passion. Since our identity forms our worship, we must be exceedingly careful not to develop our identity (who we are) around our calling (what we do). These things must stay separate! An identity formed in Christ will create the motivation to succeed, without the fear of failure. But an identity formed by calling will relegate worship from God’s performance to ours, and will set us up for heartache when we fail miserably to match his impossible standards in every way. This generation must understand that our primary goal in this season of life is not in figuring out what we are supposed to do, but who we are supposed to be.

Effective millennials who want to be on mission with God must first have their identities rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Choosing a worship setlist

These are a few questions I ask myself when putting together a song list for Sunday morning.

  1. Trinitarian (is it about the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?)
  2. Congregational (can it be sung by many people, or only an individual?)
  3. Truthful (does it say right things about God?)
  4. Affectionate (Can people express themselves through the song? FYI, this may include my grief)
  5. Catchy (see #2)
  6. Narrative (does the entire setlist tell a story?)
  7. Unifying (does it work with the sermon?)
  8. Prophetic (is it for our local gathering?)
  9. Dynamic (is it boring, tedious, or mundane? In other words, will it MELT YOUR FACE OFF!)
  10. Rich (is the content befitting a King?)

(The ones in italics are variable)

Any thoughts on song choice for worship gatherings? I hear from worship leaders on this, but rarely from the congregation themselves (or preachers, for that matter).

Worship and Community [beware of tangents]

all images ©

I love worshipping my God!

Especially with other worshippers. There is something very special about being with others who have this common agenda. We all have our own way of expression, too. Some dance, others lift their hands, some sit and contemplate. I usually sing in a corner of the room in private isolation, I take communion by myself (or with my wife on occasion), and I quietly reflect on the Scriptures as the music plays. In fact, I frequently encourage others to “be intimate with Jesus” in this same way, by finding a quiet isolated place “away from distractions” so they can pursue personal space with the Lord. It’s a wonderful time of introspection.

But is this right?

Is worship an individual’s sport?

Can you think of a single passage in the New Testament that involves worshiping as an individualI can’t either. (hence the term corporate worship). In fact, almost every instance of worship in the New Testament involves the community. We don’t congregate so that we can worship alone. Yet, this is a far cry from how I normally experience worship in a gathered setting when I retreat in my aloneness with the Lord. Consider some of the most popular passages on corporate worship in the NT, as when Paul encourages us to be “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, emphasis mine). Recall his glad exhortation for the church to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16, emphasis mine). Worship has a deeply communal aspect. Again I ask, is there ANY passage in the New Testament that promotes worship in isolation? Some would imply that communal worship is actually embedded in our DNA as Christians…

It is no accident that to follow [Christ]  meant cleaving to him bodily. That was the natural consequence of the Incarnation. Had he merely been a prophet or a teacher, he would not have needed followers, but only pupils and hearers. But since he is the incarnate Son of God who came in human flesh, he needs a community of followers, who will participate not merely in his teaching, but also in his Body. The disciples have communion and fellowship in the body of Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

Worship is the flame, but community is the furnace.

Worship does not just consist in the singing of lyrics either. Consider sacraments which the church has in place as deeply significant experiences of worship, that being baptism and the Lord’s supper. All of those happened in New Testament communities too, never in isolation. I mean…what good would a baptism by yourself have for anyone if no one was there to experience it with you?

I’m just processing. No, I’m not going to refashion the way we do worship at our gatherings next Sunday. But I do hope I have your attention. Because here comes the double-jeopardy question.

Are there ways we can renew a sense of community around these aspects of our worship…

  1. Lord’s supper
  2. Baptism
  3. Singing
  4. Scripture
Fire away.

I’ve been obsessing over what God thinks about worship.

In my search, I recently opened the New Testament to look for some of the more blatant passages on worship. What follows is a thumbnail shortlist of some the intricacies our corporate worship should involve. I would love your thoughtful reflection on this.

  • Let doctrine lead to worship (Col.3:15-17)
  • Let truth lead to worship (John 4:23)
  • Let His glory lead to worship (Rev. 4:11)
  • Let his power lead to worship (Rev. 4:11)
  • Let awe for Him accompany worship (Heb. 12:28)
  • Let reverence for Him accompany worship (Heb. 12:28; Eph. 5:18-21)
  • Our worship must be acceptable (Heb. 12:28-29)
  • Jesus makes our worship acceptable by ransoming us with his blood (Rev. 5:9)
  • Let our worship be Christ-centered (Col. 3:17)
  • Let our worship be authorized and made possible in Christ (Eph. 5:20)
  • Let our worship be authentic (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)
  • Let our worship come from thankfulness (Heb. 12:28; Col.3:15b,16; Eph.5:20)
  • Let our worship have feeling (John 4:23)
  • Let our unity be through the worship of God in Christ (Rev. 7:9-10; Col.3:15-16)
  • Let us honor and submit to one another in our worship of God (Eph. 5:21)
  • Let our worship of God edify each other (Col. 3:16)
  • Let our worship of God in Christ be filled by the Spirit (Eph. 5:18)
Do we experience these things together? What other profound ways do you experience God with other people?

Worshiping rightly

Last night I spoke on worship from the viewpoint of John 4:13-26. From there I alluded to the “right way” and “wrong way” to worship God, but I wasn’t able to expound further on that, so, I’ll just continue the conversation here.

In a nutshell, here is how Jesus explained worship

  • We must find satisfaction in God, that consists of spirit and truth

This means that a holistic worship of God must involve,

  1. knowing who we are worshiping (truth), and
  2. engaging our entire being in that worship (spirit).

So not only do we know who God is, but our hearts should LEAP in response to this knowledge! Sam Storms puts it this way,

If you are wondering what the difference is between “rationally” believing that God is glorious and having a “sense of the excellency” of God’s glory, it is the difference between knowing that God is holy and having a “sense of the loveliness” of God’s holiness. (quoting Jonathan Edwards, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ.)

Of course, this kind of worship has other implications tooobedience

According to the full scope of the Bible, the fruit of worshiping in spirit and in truth is always obedience. (“If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments” – Jesus). So that rules out “singing loud on Sunday, but doing my thing on Monday.”

This also takes the pressure off our infatuation with outward worshiping. True worship is not defined by what we do with our bodies or voices. Rather, what we do with our bodies and voices are simply a manifestation of what’s going on in our hearts (satisfaction in spirit and in truth). In fact, whether you raise your hands in worship or not has no bearing on how much God approves your worship, since he already approves of you perfectly through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. So, another way of looking at it is that your worship is already made perfect throughout Jesus Christ.

However, your engagement in that perfected worship depends on you.

You see, I love my wife Brianna. But I don’t just text her “I love you.” I come home excited to see her! But I’m not just excited, I’m so in love with her, that I’ll do the dishes, fold some shirts, and listen to her, so that she knows my heart for her. My love for her moves beyond words, to affections, then action towards her. In the same way, a person who is so taken by the Good News of Jesus Christ will not just mouth words, or lift their hands, but be moved in the entirety of their life to do anything that Jesus asks, not out of obligation, but out of adoration (worship). For this reason, immerse yourself in the Gospel and find out for yourself!

Of course, if you think long enough about the Gospel, it may just move you to raise your hands, dance, bow, weep, etc.

Just let it happen!


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