Why We Project the Scripture Readings

FullSizeRender 5Earlier this year, my church began projecting the text of our scripture readings on Sundays. In our Anglican service, we have at least two readings from Scripture at each service. There are Bibles in the pews, and most people can now access a Bible on their own phone/tablet, so why project the Scripture text too?

We have at least four reasons:

1. Our international/English-as-a-second-language community has asked for it. Those who don’t speak English as their first language still really want to follow along and be engaged in our services, in English. The readings are difficult for them, because by the time they find/turn to the scripture that’s being read, it’s over! Seeing the scriptures read while they’re being projected is an immense help to those for whom the English language is still new.

2. We want people to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures as much as possible. The Bible is the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). The more we can get people hearing and reading the Word of God, the better. There is power in actually reading the scriptures together. Hearing them is absolutely essential. We think reading them is essential too. Besides, getting the scriptures to be readable by lay people (in their homes, much less in church services) was a pretty big part of the reformation, and we think that it’s still important today.

3. We project almost everything else in our services, except for some of the liturgy the pastor prays before communion (since it’s printed in our Liturgy Books in the pews). By not projecting the Scriptures, we might inadvertently send the signal that they’re not as important as the song lyrics, creeds, prayers, responses, etc., when, in fact, they’re more important than all of those things combined.

4. We consistently attract non-believers, or new believers. We hear reports every week of people coming to church who have never been to church before, or haven’t been in decades. Through the Alpha course, and through relationships, we are regularly seeing a smattering of people in our services every Sunday who are non-Christians and/or non-churched. They don’t know what the big numbers mean (i.e. a chapter), what the little superscript numbers mean (i.e. the verses), or when Jesus is talking, or when he’s telling a parable, or whether “the Word of the Lord” is in the Bible, or just an extra thing we add. They are complete newbies to the Bible. How wonderful! Projecting Scripture makes it accessible, more follow-along-able, and less intimidating.

We want to encourage our congregation to read along on Sundays, either in the Bibles in the pews, or on their phones/tablets, or on the screens. Or all of the above!

In the words of Thomas Cranmer:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

The Gospel Works

1A worship leader can never go wrong having his congregation proclaim the gospel in song. In our weekly quest to find something that “works”, we quite simply don’t have to look any further than to Jesus, to what he accomplished for us, and to what he has secured for us. Regardless of your church’s setting, demographics, traditions, worship style, successes, failures, attendance numbers, and whatever buzzword is floating around at the moment, singing songs grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ always – always – “works”.

The gospel works on the slow summer Sundays. It works on Easter. And it works when a snowstorm cuts your attendance by 80%.

The gospel works when your church votes to leave a denomination. It works when your church wins a lawsuit. And it works when your church loses a lawsuit.

The gospel works when you welcome a new pastor. It works when you lose a pastor. And it works when you’re in between pastors.

The gospel works with organs. It works with electric guitars. And it works with a iPod plugged into a sound system when that’s the best you can do.

The gospel works when your church is growing. It works when your church is stagnant. And it works when your church is dying.

The gospel works when the sermon is bad. It works when the music is bad. It works when the sound system is bad.

The gospel works when you have a lot to celebrate. It works when you’re full of sorrow. And it works when you aren’t sure what in the world to sing.

The gospel works when people are singing with gusto. It works when they look bored to tears. And it works on the high school boys who are too cool to sing.

The gospel works in a packed mega church. It works in a half-full 7:30am service. And it works in a small group of 8 in a living room.

The gospel works when a nation celebrates a holiday. The gospel works when a nation is approaching election day. And the gospel works when a nation is grieving yet another tragedy.

We are not called to be more and more creative each Sunday – finding a new spin or incorporating the newest song or writing a new liturgy or saying a new thing. We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to help people sing the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are called to be doggedly persistent and consistent, in the face of whatever ups and downs our church and/or our culture is riding, and point people to the unchanging and uncompromising gospel. It always – yes always – works.

The Three Cs of Worship Leading

1There are so many different kinds of churches, with different expressions of worship, using different musical styles, in different parts of the world, with different histories, different emphases, and different callings. The worship leaders at these churches have different callings and have to discern how to serve their congregations most effectively, taking into account all of the uniqueness about their setting.

But taking into account all of the differences between churches (even churches across the street from one another!), can there be a shared calling amongst worship leaders who serve churches with a massively broad array of worship expressions?

I believe that ALL worship leaders – regardless of their setting – are called to maintain the three Cs in order to be an effective worship leader.

Christ-centeredness
Regardless of all of your church’s distinctions, the people in your congregation are fundamentally no different from anyone else in the world: they need Jesus. Effective worship leaders are doggedly persistent in pointing their congregations to Jesus week after week, month after month, and year after year. We never move on, we never assume people have “gotten it”, and we never muddle up the clarity of the gospel with layers and layers of figurative or literal fogginess. Every person in every seat of every church, from ancient cathedrals to hipster coffee shops, need Jesus. So every worship leader has a responsibility to exalt him above all things. Every Sunday. We’ll be doing it for all eternity so let’s set the pattern now (Revelation 5:9-10).

Congregational accessibility
From high-church to low-church, from rock-and-roll to smells-and-bells, from full-time production teams to volunteer worship teams, from rock star worship leaders to a sleep deprived young mother who told her pastor she’d lead this Sunday… We have a shared responsibility: to help people articulate praise to God in unity. It takes some creative theological hop-scotch for worship leaders of any variety to convince themselves that it’s OK if people in their congregations aren’t actively engaged, or at the very least, being invited to engage. We have to do all we can to help people sing along. While we can’t make anyone worship God, we can certainly do things (in our various and different contexts) to actually help people, not hinder people. Effective worship leaders take this responsibility seriously: to help their congregations exalt God in worship (Psalm 34:3).

Consistency
Over time, any congregation in any part of the world with any kind of worship expression will respond positively to worship leadership that consistently points to Christ in a way that helps people respond to him. How can I say this? Because this is what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit points to Christ (John 16:14) and the Holy Spirit is honored when we worship “orderly” (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). Consistency not only ensures that we’re pointing in the right direction and sending the right message, but it builds trust with our congregations. When a congregation trusts its worship leader, it will follow that worship leader, and if that worship leader is pointing that congregation to Jesus, then a beautiful thing takes place.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to worship leading. What I do in my Anglican church on Main Street in Fairfax, VA wouldn’t work at a store-front church in Daytona Beach, FL. And what you do in your bible church in Brighton, England wouldn’t work at a Cathedral in Sydney. So the practicalities of how we apply our principles will differ wildly from church to church. But those principles must guide the practicalities. And the principles of Christ-centeredness, congregational accessibility, and consistency will help us remain faithful to our shared calling as ministers of the gospel.

You Really Don’t Need To Talk That Much

1Good news for worship leaders all over the world: there’s no reason for you to do much talking. Seriously. You really don’t need to talk that much.

Ask yourself: how many times per month/per Sunday/per service do I interrupt the flow of songs to talk for more than 5 seconds? Like the game of golf, the lower your score, the better. If you get a high number when you ask that question, may I kindly suggest that you reconsider your approach?

There are many good reasons you should talk when you’re leading worship:
– To introduce a new song
– To read Scripture
– To give instruction (ask people to stand/sit/turn and greet neighbors)
– To transition (to a different element of the service, to a different theme in the singing)
– To explain (why are we singing an obscure hymn, what national tragedy are we responding to, why do you want them to just listen to the verses, etc.)

But there are many good reasons you shouldn’t talk when you lead worship:
– It places you front and center in the consciousness of everyone in the room
– Your songs should connect well enough (most of the time) that you don’t need to say anything
– It runs the risk of you usurping the responsibility of your pastor
– When you talk too much you become like the boy who cried wolf. When you really have something important to say, no one will listen because they’re tired of you talking so much
– It can make you unnecessarily nervous. If talking in between songs makes you anxious, then there’s an easy solution: don’t do it
– It places you in a professorial role (i.e. that of a professor to his students), as opposed to a familial role (i.e. that of a fellow brother or sister)

Think carefully about whether or not your congregation would be better served by you speaking or by you letting things speak for yourself. Most of the time, go with the latter option.

The Useless Sound of an Indistinct Bugle

1My almost 2-year-old, Emma, is starting to talk. It’s super cute and fun, and we are loving it. The only problem is that no one else can understand what in the world she’s actually saying.

For example: “goke” can mean “milk” or “broken”. Or “shah” means “straw”. Or “gang gang” means “candy cane”.

She’s talking alright. But it’s indistinct. What she’s saying isn’t clear enough for most people to understand.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends some time giving them instructions on corporate worship. Apparently some of them are getting together and having a wonderful time using the gifts of the Spirit, but no one else who walks into the room has any idea what’s going on.

He says to them, in one of his more wonderfully pointed moments:

…if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Corinthians 14:8-9)

The specific thing he’s talking about is the use of the gift of tongues, but the principle applies much more broadly. The principle is this: when you get together as Christians, make sure what’s going on is as clear as possible.

Imagine the uselessness of an indistinct bugle. You hear it off in the distance and you think it’s calling you to battle. But the person next to you disagrees completely. He says it’s announcing the arrival of royalty. Someone behind you speaks up and says you both have it wrong. It’s the sound of a musician playing a ballad for his lover.

Total confusion.

So imagine the uselessness of indistinct message in our songs. You hear it and you think it’s talking about Jesus’ second coming. Your friend hears it and says it’s about the trials we face. You get an email from someone thanking you for that very same song that she says is talking about her loved one who’s in heaven.

Huh?

It’s comforting that God knows our hearts completely, regardless of whether we use the right words. We don’t have to articulate ourselves to him perfectly for him to get the picture.

But if the Apostle Paul were to walk into your service this Sunday and sing the songs you pick, would he say you were “uttering speech that was not intelligible” or that you were “speaking into the air”? That wouldn’t be a good thing.

As worship leaders we should aim for clarity and distinction in our proclamation of the good news of the Gospel so that everyone who comes in, and who has ears to hear, can hear. And understand what in the world you’re actually saying.

Advertising One Service By Insulting Another

I’m always amazed when I visit a church in person or check out a church’s website and see that they advertise certain services by insulting other ones. Maybe a church is starting an evening service and trying to market it. Or maybe across campus in the gym the church offers a contemporary service and they need to advertise it. Sometimes in a quest to describe what one service is like, they end up insulting another service at the same church.

These aren’t exact quotes – but I think you’ll be able to think of some churches (maybe your own) who use similar phrasing:

Come to the 7:00pm Sunday evening service and experience relevant preaching and Spirit-led worship.

Does this mean the 10:30am service’s preaching isn’t relevant and the worship isn’t Spirit-led?

Sunday mornings at 10:00am in the Fellowship Hall: a place to encounter God without all the formality.

In other words: you can’t encounter God in the Sanctuary where it’s more formal.

Our Saturday service features a message you can relate to and music the kids will enjoy.

So I can’t relate to the message on Sunday mornings and the music is terrible?

You get the point. In our quest to describe services in our church’s brochures and write pithy little blurbs on the website we often run the risk of, intentionally or unintentionally, insulting other services at our church. We imply that they aren’t as good, you might want to try this other one instead, and the people who go to those services are missing out.

One obvious way to display that “…in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13) is to go out of our way to honor one another. It’s dishonoring to insult other services, worship styles, liturgies, or approaches to corporate worship. And it’s really tacky to put those insults in writing for the whole world to see. Listing the time, place, and general flavor of the service is enough. Be careful not to add in commentary while you’re at it.

The Pre-Service Distraction

On each of the last three Sundays, about 15 minutes before the service was supposed to start, I was faced with out-of-the-blue things that had the potential of completely throwing and/or my worship team off for the whole service.

One Sunday as I walked into our back room to put my guitar cases away, I overhead a member of the congregation calling the service at which I lead the music the “shake your booty service”.

The next Sunday we wasted 10 of the 15 minutes we had for a sound check by trying to find those adaptors that let you plug a little headphone connector into a larger jack. Oh, and the sound guy couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t getting the bass guitar at the board. He finally figured it out but this meant we pretty much had no time to get a mix or our monitors settled.

The following Sunday we were rehearsing before the service and when we finished rehearsing one chorus of a song, I heard my drummer say, “there’s a mouse in here!” Sure enough, there were two mice running around inside the drum booth (or as we affectionately refer to it, the “space pod”), and when my drummer felt something underneath his foot, he looked down to discover a mouse. Lovely. Oh, and my singer that morning happened to have a phobia of rodents and was doing her best not to have a panic attack right then and there.

One Sunday it’s a critical comment. The next it’s an AV issue. And the following it’s something completely random like mice in the drum cage. They get me frustrated, tempt me to say short-tempered things, and make me feel tense and anxious. What’s going on here?

Well, some of it is just the way things go. People aren’t perfect and those imperfect people sometimes say hurtful things at bad times. Sound systems do funny things and adaptors disappear. And, I suppose if I was a mouse living in a church, the drum space pod would be a nice quiet place six and a half days out of the week.

But there’s a spiritual dynamic to it also. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that on the day that God’s people are gathering to glorify him, Satan will be actively seeking to steal that glory away. He has a history of that.

Whenever you lead worship, watch out for pre-service distractions (or even mid and post-service too!) since they can easily throw you off your game. You’ll need to keep your cool (I wrote some thoughts on this a while ago) and keep your focus. Don’t be surprised when they come up. Just deal with them humbly, prayerfully and light-heartedly and try to stay focused on the glory of God and the congregation that has gathered. Unless you feel a mice under your foot, in which case a scream might be appropriate.