Category Archives: theology

A Brief Theology of Worship Leadership

This is obviously a work that will stay in progress…

1. What is worship?

In its simplest essence worship takes two forms: ascribing worth and obedience.

As we recognize the echoes of God in life and then start to interact with Him we realize the enormous worth He has. The weight of this understanding of who He is brings the fruit of ascribing worth to Him. We can do this personally in many ways. Because we are image bearers (made in His likeness), we are creative and so we naturally create in our expressions of ascribing worth.

Having made it that far – realizing that God loves us and echoing back our love for Him naturally drives us to a desire to please Him. So we search out His desire for us and attempt to be obedient.

I think it is important to make the distinction between worship (what is happening inside us) and “expressions of worship” which are the outwardly visible acts we perform to express our worship.

God speaks in Isaiah 29:13 “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” [1] A worship act that is not coming from the heart is not authentic worship.

2. What does music and creativity have to do with it?

Bono wrote: “Show-business is Shamanism: Music is Worship; whether it’s worship of women or their designer, the world or its destroyer, whether it comes from that ancient place we call soul or simply the spinal cortex, whether the prayers are on fire with a dumb rage or dove-like desire … the smoke goes upwards … to God or something you replace God with … usually yourself.” [2]

People must worship. We ascribe worth all day every day. Music allows us to express worship as a community. N.T Wright said that our worship voices creation’s praise. [3]

Music is a powerful tool and can change people’s life and affect the way they walk it out. It can act to center us back to what we believe is important and keep us grounded in truth or take us far away from it. Thus the songwriter has a big responsibility.

3. How does worship further the Kingdom Story in the world?

Dan Wilt wrote: “… our primary mission is to tell the story of salvation, from original creation, to fall from relationship, to restoration through cross and resurrection, to complete and universal new creation.” [4]

To do this in the Church community we have created cyclic celebrations and rememberances that tell specific stories and remind us of what God has done, what He is doing and what will be. This again points to the gathering as a place of focus and the content of that gathering being very important. We must be intentional in our story telling.

4. How should all of the above affect how we lead worship as worship leaders?

Knowing that we are the point man or woman in the act of storytelling and that our decisions can affect dramatic change in the lives of another’s soul is a huge thought. Nonetheless it is true. Nowhere like in a worship gathering do we have the opportunity to take on the huge challenge of:
a. Reflecting the echoes of the world around us and bringing that echo back around to a facet of who God is.
b. Bringing reminders of the stories of God and inviting others to retell it.
c. Ascribing worth directly to God and creating those liminal spaces [5] (a threshold or door into the heavenly realm) where a worshipper can commune corporately with God.

That is a lot to do in the 20 minutes generally given it in a worship service. To me this means that we must make an impact on our congregation not only of what we are doing, which is huge in itself, but also that they should continue with their expressions throughout the week. We should also make time for specific, non-seeker sensitive (someone seeking God out who may come on a Sunday morning but need the acts of worship explained to them) worship times where the worship can flow and the exchange can be untethered from the rigors of some Sunday morning schedules.

It is more than we can do alone and to do it right boils down to one thing: The act of planning a worship “set” must be an act of worship itself. We must try and create a liminal space of our own to interact with God and hear what He has to say about the time we have allotted us. It is the only way we can lead: by asking our leader for guidance.

[1] “The Blue Note: Can Your Faith Face The Music?” Jan./Feb. Vol. 14 No. 1 2005 Pages 32-35
[2] Isaiah 29:13 The Bible, New International Version
[3] Dan Wilt, What Is Worship? (Houston: Vineyard Music USA, 2006), DVD
[4] Wilt, Dan, “Essentials In Worship Theology”, p.32
[5] Wilt, Dan, “Essentials In Worship Theology”, p.42

For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

Re: Moving From Mercy To Justice


Steve Conrad wrote about a recent trip to Africa. On his trip he saw that showing just mercy and giving gifts to help the poor sometimes shortchanges their ability to live on their own. It creates dependence on the giver instead of healthy interdependence. The giver must pay attention to justice by thinking past the gift and into the end result that giving that gift will have.

Steve really hit a target here. Until I read this I hadn’t thought about the repercussions of simply throwing something “over the wall” as we say in the software development world. Not thinking about the effects we have on the people we help is a huge error. This article is definitely worth the read.

Amy’s thoughts (in the comments) helped focus this on relationships. That is an important part of being truly effective especially in areas where corruption may be a factor and what assistance we bring may simply end up in someone’s pocket. So there must be relationships and trust to be effective. No surprise there once we think about the whole picture. Of course as Steve mentions, this takes a lot more time and probably gives the investor less immediate gratification. You would have to be in it for the long haul.

Thanks Steve, for the insightful post.

For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

My Worldview

For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

Tony Green, who played bass with Kevin Prosch in several bands best sums up my world view. Once when talking to him about outreach combined with playing at worship conferences, he said:

“It’s all worship…”

Once we have really seen Creator God and understood His loving plan, as NT Wright has said in many passages that we have read, worship is not an issue of compulsion, but the only reasonable response to God.

And so getting up (God what do You want to do today?), brushing our teeth (I take care of this body in honor of the One who gave it to me and to stay useful in my life and the Kingdom), etc. Paul’s “living sacrifice” is taking an “It’s all worship” view into every part of life and applying it. [1]

God, desiring voluntary relationship created us in His image with the ability to choose Him or not, yet with a purposeful makeup that is incomplete without Him. His genius design made us to be fulfilled doing the very thing He desires of us: to know Him, to love Him, to commune with Him.

What Happened?
Being the independent sort, we lost our communion nearly as soon as we were given it. This created a need for justice. Consequently, because God is committed to love us, it also created the first human need for mercy and grace.

Our disobedience brought separation and created a break in our relationship with God and so God in His Son stepped into time bringing together Heaven and Earth with His presence here as a human. He took our disobedience and missing the mark and paid the price that justice demanded by giving His life and declared forgiveness.

In this sacrifice and resurrection, Jesus made a bridge back to communion with God. And He sent us the Holy Spirit. This was a gift of great proportion allowing us to become the temple of God’s presence, no longer a building where we would meet, but carried in our human hearts. [2]

What is the Kingdom of God?
Now, by guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can listen to God’s voice, fully expectant to hear Him, and respond to how God directs us in obedience. Obedience is the primary evidence of worship throughout history, and is our first calling of worship.

Our obedience to show mercy, to declare God’s goodness, and to speak out for those who have no voice bring the Kingdom of God to the world. Our open arms to others, making space and time for their needs, and gathering to declare our love for God and one another, expresses the Kingdom of God in the human family. Our identity that we take on to reflect to others as it reflects God’s character, expresses the Kingdom of God by the Church. [3]

Our delightful ending is when God makes all things new and the Kingdom of God comes in completion. The thin places that we sought will now be replaced by God presence. Our faith “replaced” by “face to face.” It will no longer be an unseen world in which we trust, but a seen redeemed world in which we live and thrive. [4][5]

We will have a new name, a new heaven and earth where God reigns and we govern under His Lordship. All of our senses, every fruit, vegetable, and coffee bean will be truly “organic!” The physical world renewed is a joyous thought.

Maranatha, Lord! Come Lord Jesus!

1. Rom 12:1-2
2. 1 Cor 3:16
3. Isa 58:6-12
4. 1 Cor 13:10-12, Rev 21:1-5
5. NT Wright, IW Worship All, pg. 316-318

Unclogging our streams…

For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

Dan Wilt in Essentials in Worship Theology wrote in his text,

“We are always flowing in some way and are at our best when creative inlets and outlets are occurring simultaneously in our lives. It is vital that our understanding of the nature of worship never leave it devoid of an ongoing creative flow from and for our local communities.” [1]

The lack of an inlet in a stream dries up the river. The lack of an outlet ends in flooding and the stream going outside of its banks. If both are not moving, then the result is stagnation and a place where once clean water becomes diseased and dangerous.

As artists, it is important to remember to keep the flow moving in our lives. As leaders, it is important to encourage that flow in others and to nurture it when it is in our power to do so.

For the last 5 years though I have been fairly active in ministry, I have felt “clogged” in fulfilling my calling. I was taking some flow in, but not really immersing myself like I had in the past. And while I was playing, serving and leading worship, I still was not stepping out like I felt God had directed me to. I have become complacent.

Being a person who firmly believes that the physical in our lives map to our spiritual condition, I am not surprised that I was recently diagnosed with and am currently being treated for a bunch of blood clots in my leg. I am walking out getting them cleared up and dissolved and at the same time trying to make changes in life that walk out my calling and thus get the life flow, spiritual and physical, moving again.

It was a breath of fresh air to realize that our creativity is important and even more than that a reflection of Him. To ignore it is to ignore His work in us.

Nonetheless it is sometimes difficult to make time for these things that make the life flow. For me it has been some simple changes that have already made a difference. A few set times to pursue fellowship with those who I can give and receive encouragement and sharpening, and a plan and target to focus creativity on. These are helping me make the turn, and will stick, God willing.

May God give us the insight to see how and where we can find that fulfilling activity that both brings Him pleasure and makes the life flow in and out of us.

1. Dan Wilt, Essentials In Worship Theology, p. 43-44

As Long As It Takes

This is not the homework but a longer discussion I am inviting input to on the side. So if you don’t have time and need to see my homework just skip down a couple posts…

It was hard picking something to write about this time. I had several but felt like I would have to write and research a lot more to really get it said. One that really eats at me is this one. So many people in our congregation only end up worshipping at the Sunday service, but that is somewhat geared down compared to what it could be because we are sensitive to time. I felt that NT Wright’s indictment against much contemporary worship and not taking time to really read and dig into scripture [1] rang true, but we watch our service with a stopwatch (the schedule runs 2 minutes for this, 1 minute for that) – what to do?

Many worship services that ran a lot longer just seemed richer. Sometimes they had some moments that were not as refined as something more concise, but the assumption was that we would worship as long as it takes. I miss that.

Maybe the real key is to be engaged during the week. The Sunday morning service really does act as a catalyst for people and if we can engage them then maybe they will engage in deeper times of intimacy.

But times of large corporate worship gatherings are powerful times. I have seen God do amazing things in these sort of times. Not that God is limited to them, but I feel like Morphew said about the festivals that God really wants and enjoys these times with us. [2] For us to leave them out of our regular cycles of gathering I feel causes us to live less fully.

So I think – how about Sunday or Saturday night? Make it clear that this is an “as long as it takes” meeting. But the issues of time still come up. What if the guitarist needs childcare in order to play – you have limits.

What do you think?

1. NT Wright, The Word In Worship, Inside Worship (collection)
2. Derek Morphew, The Restoration of Celebration, Inside Worship (collection)

Ryan Delmore Interview Comments


For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

Ryan Delmore recently wrote a song included on his new CD “The Spirit the Water and the Blood.” The song is called “Falling Down.” It was in response to issues some friends had. So often our writing has this sort of personal value. When we are able to capture in musical essence a hurdle that people in our congregation are facing, it brings a much-needed outlet.

I once was talking with various members of a congregation I led worship for and shared that I would welcome their input. While I was sharing that I said, “I don’t want to always tell you what to do.” To my surprise one of them said “I like that you tell us what to do.”

Some people have a great idea of what to do and how to worship, but some need help to express the things in their heart. It is our privilege and responsibility to find out what God is saying through scripture and song and bring it as a servant as an offering that all can participate meaningfully in.

This is no small task, and when you add to that the expectation that you need to cover folks who may be visiting and may not “get” worship at all, the task becomes impossible to do without seeking guidance from God so that you go in the right direction.

Ryan’s song has the chorus “and I’m falling down…” it’s the response to God when we are faced with a situation and He’s the only one who can give us what we need. May we fall down before the One who can shed light on the next worship set, our life decisions, and our most passion driven dreams.

I Can’t Dance

For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

In an article by Derek Morphew named The Restoration of Celebration, he writes about the loss of celebration in the church over the years and how important it is to bring it back. He focuses specifically on dance, and says that it reflects the state of celebration in the Church. I agree and I think we often fall short.

Morphew writes that we are commanded to rejoice by scripture. This is quite a refreshing and relieving view for this conservatively raised boy. When I started college I had to sign a paper that said that while I was a student at this Christian college I would not dance.

I questioned this point of view then and a few years later joined a community that encouraged dance as part of worship. I have since been in congregations that in turn embrace, condemn, avoid, and have heated elders meetings over the subject.

When God called me to lead worship, I did a lot of thinking about worship and concluded that if a person could dance for joy over a touchdown, then they had no right objecting to someone offering exuberent thanks to the One who is all powerful and eternal. If our emotions and expressions are given to us for anything they are for giving God glory.

But generally I don’t dance.

There is one notable exception in my past that changed my life and my view of worshippers. I was prompted by my wife (who I believe in turn had God’s prompting) to dance in the middle of a worship time. In the middle of my awkwardness in stepping out to do that, God told me that He liked to dance with His children just like I enjoyed dancing with my (then) little girls. It was not about getting things perfect, and certainly not a show. We want to please each other — it was about enjoying and valuing each other.

These days I usually leave the dancing to someone else, but that time with God is one I will never forget.

Morphew writes:

“… a saying of the Mishna, which captures the Jewish concept
of God. According to this saying, when God finally judges His people, He will not only judge them for the things they have done, but for the good things which He gave them to do which they failed to enjoy. He will want to know four things:
Did you ever find yourself playing with little children?
Did you ever enjoy a fine wine?
Did you court in the springtime?
Did you ever find yourself dancing for joy, without knowing why you were dancing? [1]

It seems that we sometimes get so serious that we forget that this journey we are on is about life and love and living out the one-anothers not just between us but also to include God in our acts of celebration.

Morphew later concludes by quoting Richard Foster, in his Celebration Of Discipline:

“Far and away the most important benefit of celebration is that it saves us from taking ourselves too seriously. That is a desperately needed grace for all those who are earnest about the Spiritual Disciplines.
It is the occupational hazard of devout folk to become stuffy bores. That should not be. Of all people we should be the most free, live and interesting. Celebration adds a note of gaiety, festivity, and hilarity to our lives. After all Jesus rejoiced so fully in life that He was accused of being a wine bibber and a glutton. Many of us lead such sour lives that we couldn’t possibly be accused of such things.” [2]

There is a lot to break free of while still holding on to the important stuff. Christian life can be hard but should also be a life of celebration of all God has done as we reflect the attributes of the God of heaven here on earth.

1. Derek Morphew, The Restoration of Celebration, Inside Worship (collection)
2. Richard Foster, Celebration Of Discipline, Hodder, London, 1985.

Re: WHEN YOUR CALL IS ON HOLD by Scott Phillips


For: The Institute Of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

In Response to the article linked above…

Hi Scott,

Thanks for the word. It apparently rings true for many that feel “put on hold.”

You wrote: …ideas many young pastors bring to the table will only be wasted on traditional “old boy’s club” churches. Better to take our ministry to the streets, to the people, a sort of grass roots movement. There are artists, musicians, rappers, dancers, preachers, evangelists, graphic designers, writers, and others with many gifts God wants to unleash on this world to make an impact.” [1]

I think this is key. It may be that we should not direct traffic as you conclude in your article, but take the step to see if our vision and calling can live in the street. Maybe fulfillment in our calling lies in taking our vision outside the walls and meeting the huge need that is out there.

I recently attended an Alpha training conference. One of the striking truths that I learned there was that many people who have no experience in the church have no idea who we are, and are intimidated by the thought of “church.” But if we bring the “Church” (capitalization intentional) to them, then they have opportunity to find out that:

1. We really do care.
2. We're normal folk.
3. There really is hope!

Blessings and fulfillment in your journey!


1. Scott Phillips, WHEN YOUR CALL IS ON HOLD

Transitioning to Love The Old


Transitioning to love the old.

In another post referring to old and older Dan wrote:

“For me, it’s like the teenager who can’t hear the Dad, but will listen to the grandfather. Then we mature, and the Dad starts to make sense – just when our teenagers are starting to disdain us…”

For me history has been like that, except taken a step further. Hymns and gospel songs were attached to the folks who were telling me that my musical leanings and expressions were not just invalid, but sinful based on style. This gave the music they loved an association that took me many years to overcome. Even now most gospel music as much as I may believe the writers truly love the Lord and wrote worship from their hearts stir the wrong response in me.

But time went on and I grew. Eventually I let those who could not get past a particular form of expression be left to their own arguments, since it neither enlightened them nor encouraged me to engage in the discussion. I guess I just walked out on it. Since then I have seen those who originally thought poorly of the style I loved embrace it. Now they stick to that style and reject the next one. I learned an important thing:

Change is hard for most people.

Fighting for acceptance of a style is inconsequential compared to Martin Luther’s Wittenburg Door posting, where he challenged the way the church was selling forgiveness to the highest bidders. This was an issue of heresy, and to stick with his beliefs cost him. Yet he purchased for us a new foundation to stand on, and we have benefited from it.

So I learned to let the small stuff be small stuff. I started looking again at the hymns and found that there was a richness in them. The writers of the time knew that many in their congregation could not read or did not have a bible. So the songs they learned defined their theology. Many songs had numerous verses that were whittled down to fit into today’s hymnals.

This engaged me as I had begun to write worship songs myself. I found that the typical verse / chorus / bridge / repeat verse / chorus / chorus format didn’t fit, because I wanted to make a more complete statement than that.

The I learned from one of Dan’s teachings about the Celts and how they integrated worship into life. Every part of life could become an acknowledgment of God. This was huge to me because I could see how my life and all of those around me became so swallowed up in tasks and work and chores that spiritual life got choked out.

So now this part of the old has become very important to me. It is a battle to pursue it, but my hunger is to get into a pattern of a life of acknowledging worship woven into all of my movements of the day.

Recently a friend wrote a new melody to an old tune: “Just as I Am” written by Charlotte Elliott. The hymn had not meant much to me growing up, because I always associated it with the Billy Graham meetings, and while I thought Billy Graham was doing a great thing, it was just part of that scenery for me and didn’t feel very relevant to life.

Then Robin (my friend) played this song with a new melody. I was in a place of being overwhelmed by life and had many things crashing in at the time. Those words sung in a new way, swept me into a time of surrender to the Lord.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

This was where I was at. It hit me and helped me to find that place of surrender.

And so the old has become precious. Not all of it, but some parts that cause me to resonate in my life.

“Time tested” is a phrase we sometimes use and can use in this context. Much of the old has been established and tested by time, and found to have merit. We need not start making the wheel from scratch. It as been done before. It is worth looking to see what they have done, even if some of the wheel makers are not trustworthy. It is worth diggin for. There’s gold to be mined. There are others who can show us the way.