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Launching Out Into Deeper Worship

September 5, 2012

The greatest challenges, as well as the greatest returns, will come to those churches that manage to bring both tendencies together (traditional and contemporary worship) in creative ways, that incarnate an ancient future faith.

 Leonard Sweet

Among our ministry’s Five Ships, worship may be the most important. Through life-changing worship we are conditioned for deeper discipleship, faithful stewardship, real fellowship, and say Yes to God’s individual and congregational call to bold, Spirit-led leadership. Worship changes us so that we can by grace change the world through the Gospel.  The Five-Year Strategic Vision adopted by our congregation highlighted the need to enhance our Lord’s Day worship experiences in ways that honored our shared past and positioned us to create an atmosphere that edified a diverse and growing congregation. Most of the reforms requested by the congregation and incorporated into the strategic plan have been implemented and are bearing much fruit. Though met with some initial reluctance, the church has overwhelming embraced these modifications.

It must be noted that the truest measure of our fruitfulness is not the singing of new hymns, but the signaling of changed hearts! It is my prayer that a deepened sense of God’s presence and power motivate awe and obedience in all of us. Worship is truly realized when we can leave the sanctuary transformed, not just touched. Every encounter with God in the Bible testified to real change. In the Gospel of John Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The good news of this event is that Jesus meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us where we are. This woman, who had issues but was able to worship God in Spirit and truth, went back home as an evangelist with a testimony. Worship that impacts our heads and hearts ultimately leads us into a new way of life and service to God’s glory. Worship takes us to the mountain to be transformed and sends us back into the valley of disillusionment, despair, darkness, and death radiating with the Spirit of God. Worship awakens us to God’s glorious Gospel and anoints us to proclaim it in word and works. Worship reorients our desires and redirects our destinies. Only when we are changed from the inside out are we ready and able to bear witness to the Kingdom.

As we continue to launch deeper in worship it is important that we never lose sight of what it’s all about. Every carnal preference bows its knee in the King’s presence. Worship that is Christ-exalting, Spirit-led, and Gospel-centered will ultimately do in and through us what we cannot do in our own wills.

So what does this kind of worship look like? I think it’s fitting to lift up a few elements that should guide us further in our voyage of toward life-changing worship.

Above all worship is about God, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I humbly submit to you that our worship of this changeless God in these changing times must always and in every way be about magnifying God by honoring the past, being relevant in the present, and embodying hope for the future.

Honoring Our Past

Mt Helm was founded in the basement of First Baptist Church Jackson and is named after our benefactor Thomas Helm, a deacon in First Presbyterian Church Jackson. Anyone who watches the television ministries of either or both of these historic Southern Baptist and Southern Presbyterian churches will see how our worship DNA was greatly shaped by them. Our music ministry has long embraced the Euro-American classical hymn and anthem tradition of our spiritual parents. Many of our members were also trained in high school and choral programs that prioritized this tradition. In a time when many historically black churches have forgotten or forsaken anthems and hymns, it is only fitting that we honor the God of our weary years and members past and present through preserving the style and arrangements of such sacred music. There is a biblical precedence for this. The psalms often testify to what the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did for generations past. Our praise and worship must always be connected to a grand memory of what the God of history has done for us in the days when hope unborn had died.

Being Relevant in the Present

Because God is an ever-present God, we should always celebrate what the Lord has done and is doing. God is not dead; he’s yet alive! The Spirit is still inspiring composers and worshipers with new songs. Every generation comes to experience God in different ways and even as we preserve our classical traditions we will continue to promote contemporary ones in blended services. Sometimes ‘contemporary’ means new lyrics and sometimes it means giving an old song freshness through a new arrangement. This is no different from what I do each Sunday when I take an ancient biblical text from another land and language and, through the guidance of the Spirit, lift up a “right now” word to be applied to your everyday life. Music ministry proclaims the Word through rhyme and rhythm and should honor the past while making the past alive and relevant for today’s worshiper.

Embodying Hope for the Future

It must be noted that worship isn’t just about past traditions or new moves of God. Worship is truly biblical when it invites disciples into an eschatological hope. When John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day he got a glimpse into heavenly worship. The old Gospel quartet singers said that what we do “down here” is just a rehearsal. Through a spirit of excellent and with heartfelt devotion, each Sunday should be a glimpse of heaven where we join our voices and visions with the heavenly hosts. It should also anticipate the day when we will join together with that “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) Whereas our worship should honor our historic Afro-Baptist tradition with its Euro-American classical DNA, and speak relevantly to where God’s diverse people are today, it should always turn its intention toward being an earthly anticipation of our Father’s heavenly kingdom.

Therefore… Let us in rich, reverent, and relevant ways worship God in Spirit and in truth for the sake of God’s exaltation, our collective edification, and our mission of evangelism and activism in the city and beyond.  Amen

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