The Communion Liturgy at New Life Downtown

Every once awhile, I am asked what our liturgy is at New Life Downtown. Our service flow (in general) can be found HERE. But the most ‘liturgical’ part of the service– i.e. the part that uses the ancient prayers, practices and sequence– is when we come to the Lord’s Table.

While I am an ordained Anglican priest, I serve as a pastor at New Life Church, a non-denominational, charismatic church, where I have been on staff for over 14 years. Fortunately, a trademark of Anglican worship is its adaptability to different contexts.

Almost all these words are from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The only tweak I’ve made is in the way I announce forgiveness in the ‘absolution’ section. We have the band on stage during all of the below, providing a soft, worshipful bed of music. Once the invitation is given (the last section of the communion liturgy), the worship leader begins the song she has chosen for that week. From Easter to Advent, this is the longer section of musical worship, where we sing 4 songs.

Below, the bold are the ‘movements’ or sections of the Eucharist liturgy; the italics are an abbreviated version of the instructions I give.

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CONFESSION (All):
Take a moment and let the Holy Spirit nudge you about ways that you can surrender, ways that you can turn away from self-reliance and toward a dependence on God. Now, let us pray this prayer together:

Most merciful God,
We confess that we have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved You with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your Name.

Amen.

[UPDATE] WORDS OF ABSOLUTION/FORGIVENESS (Me):
May the Father of all mercies cleanse you from your sins and restore you in His image to the praise and glory of His name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[UPDATE] THE PEACE:
The peace of the Lord be with you! Now turn to one another, and pass on the Lord’s peace, speak His life and His love to one another.

EUCHARIST PRAYER:
Me:             The Lord is here
All:              His Spirit is with us.

Me:             Lift up your hearts.
All:              We lift them to the Lord.

Me:             Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All:              It is right to give Him thanks and praise

WORDS OF INSTITUTION (Me):
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

MEMORIAL ACCLAMATION (All):
Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again.

THE EPICLESIS– ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ (Me)
Stretch your hands forwards as a Kingdom of priests:
“We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant.”

Lift your hands up in surrender:
“Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.”

THE INVITATION (Me):
“The gifts of God, given for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

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Five Marks of a Good Liturgy
The Liturgy: What the Community Builds Together
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What We Sing About When We Sing About God

Ever wonder what we sing about?

Lester Ruth, Research Professor of Christian Worship at Duke Divinity School, decided to find out. Ruth examined the CCLI Top 25 lists for North America since those lists first appeared in 1989. He discovered that in the almost 25 years since, 100 songs had appeared in those lists.

He then indexed the nouns and verbs in those songs for a comparative study he was doing between contemproary worship songs and evangelical hymns. You can read his paper (with this appendix) HERE.

I offer four observations, listed here with no comment:

NOUNS: We address God generically– with no name– TWICE (8% of the songs) as often as we reference the Trinity (4% of the songs).

VERBS: We sing about human action roughly 1.5 times more (562 times) than we sing about divine action (380 times).

Our favorite verb for God? Save.

Our favorite verb for us? Praise.

But lest we get nostaligic about the “old hymns”, Ruth’s research was a comparative study of contemporary worship songs with Evangelical hymns, and the hymns (about 200 years old or so) don’t fare too much better. See his slides comparing verbs HERE and comparing nouns HERE.

 

Proclaiming our Faith in Worship: How the Creed Tethers Us to Our Story

One of the main reasons we gather as the people of God is to remind ourselves of who God is, what He has done to make us His people, and what it means to live as the people of God here and now. One of the key ways we do this is by proclaiming things that the Church has proclaimed throughout the centuries. When we rehearse these truths about God together, we remembed that we aren’t the first ones to travel thie Way, and that we aren’t the only ones who are following Christ now. In making these proclamations part of our worship, we keep ourselves tethered to the Story of God and His people.

Watch this 2-minute first:

Excerpt #1 from Chapter 3 of “Discover the Mystery of Faith”:

        The object of our faith is a Person, not a proposition. We do not place our lives in an idea or a doctrine or a system or a set of values. We place ourselves in the personal God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Proclaiming the creed, then, is an act of worship, not a recitation of doctrine. Faith, after all, is not simple agreement or the acknowledgment of certain propositions or hypotheses. Faith is the placing of your whole life within God, the only One who is faithful enough to hold your life, redeem it, and save it.

        There is no worship without faith, and there is no faith without worship. It is faith that leads us to worship and worship that enlarges our faith. Why should our greatest, most central and unifying profession of faith, the Nicene Creed, not be part of our congregational worship?

        …Early Christians spoke these words of worship and belief in the face of ridicule and scorn, confessed and clung to these words even when they knew that they could lead to their death. The creed, after all, didn’t form out of thin air at the Council of Nicaea. The words and phrases show up early in the Church’s life, early enough for Paul to say that he himself was only passing on what had been given to him.

        The question we must ask is this: “What sort of faith will we hand down to our children?”

        If the rope is no longer tethered to the house, how will we find our way home as we wander about in the snow? And how will we lead our children there? What will keep their faith? Unless we remain tied to our Story, our faith is sure to flounder. Worse yet, it may die with us.

Excert #2 from Chapter 3 of “Discover the Mystery of Faith”:

        Proclamations like the Nicene Creed remind us that we are not the first and we are not the only. It is also important to remember that the Creed is not the only proclamation that does this for us. There is also “The Lord’s Prayer” and many of the aforementioned creedal formulas or statements in Paul’s New Testament letters. There are the old Hebrew prayers and the Psalms, as we explored last chapter. There are also the early Christian songs—songs based on Mary’s song (the Magnificat), Zecharias’ song (the Benedictus), and Simeon’s song (the Nunc Dimittis).

        All of these are old, well-worn words, prayed by mothers and fathers and sons and daughters in times of trial and on occasions of joy. These words form paths, a trail to walk on. When we say them, sing them, or pray them with worship and faith in our hearts we can remember how many others have prayed these words before us. We can think of the great church fathers, the Bishops and theologians, the peasants and farmers, the missionaries and martyrs. We can imagine all the saints around the world who gather each week on the Lord’s Day and say these very same words and sing them and pray them with one voice.

        All of a sudden, we are no longer alone. We are caught up in the great company of saints, praying alongside David and Jeremiah and Paul. We realize that we are not the first to face despair or hunger or fear. We are not the only ones desperate for mercy and redemption. Our joy of being found by God’s grace is multiplied in the praise of all the saints, in heaven and on earth.

        We are not walking up this mountain alone.

        The beauty of this truth came to me not in a Gothic cathedral or a remote monastery, but in a dusty cement building in the middle of an African village. I was on a trip to Swaziland—a country with the highest rate of HIV infection in the world—when we visited a community of orphaned and vulnerable children that our church supports through a partnership with Children’s Hope Chest. We greeted the local pastor who visited these children several times a week. We met the women who cooked them meals with the money that came in from our sponsorship.

        And then came the children. Singing. Dancing. Playing. Thrilled with stickers and face paint and games and songs and stories and lessons, they made the afternoon pass like a heavenly moment. When one of the local ministers stood to conclude our time, she told the children that it was time to pray together.

        I closed my eyes, waiting for a short, sincere prayer. Instead, in stumbling unison, their voices rose.

        Our Father, who art in heaven,

        Hallowed be Thy name.

        Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

        My eyes opened, blurring with tears. I caught the eyes of the others on our team. We gently shook our heads, all of us thinking the same thing: We pray this prayer…almost every Sunday!

        Give us this day our daily bread.

        Oh…what this simple, biblical phrase meant for these children. I could never say these words the same way again.

        Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

        Like the parents who abandoned them? Like the family members who chose a life that led to disease and ultimately to their demise, leaving these children to fend for themselves?

        For Thine is the Kingdom,

        the power and the glory,
        forever and ever,
Amen.

        Amen. There is a rope to ties us to our Story; it is the same rope that binds us to each other. It reminds us that even in the most fearsome storm, when faith is all we have to guide us for our sight has gone, we will not falter.

        Others have come this Way before.

        Others walk it even now.

        The Creed, the prayers, the Psalms, and the Scriptures…all of these bind us to the Story, tether us to the narrative of God’s redemption.

        May we all find our way home.

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What Makes A Worship Song Uniquely Christian?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A few posts ago, I started the conversation about what our worship songs communicate about God and why that matters. Then, earlier this week, I was asked to write down some thoughts on songwriting for a booklet that will be distributed at a certain conference coming up in Australia. While I can’t be certain what bits of what I sent will make it and what won’t (it was rather lengthy!), here is an excerpt that I thought might be a nice follow-up to my earlier post of what is at stake in our worship lyrics.]

What do our songs and prayers say about God? If we were to construct our church’s theology solely based on the lyrics we sang, what kind of “God” would that be? And more to the point, could our lyrics be applied to a generic deity or is there anything uniquely Christian about the God they depict?

It is not enough to simply say “God” in our songs. Which “God”? The one Oprah describes, the one Deepak Chopra worships? People in America are filling in the blanks in their own minds of the “God” we’re talking about and the picture of God is often disfigured as a result. I can’t speak for what the view of “God” is in other countries and cultures, but one would think that in countries where many distinct religions abound—like in Malaysia, the country I grew up in—it only becomes more important that we are saying and singing things that are uniquely Christian.

So, what makes a song uniquely Christian?

1.    Christo-centric
This is a fancy way of saying our songs should focus on Jesus the Messiah. We need to sing about His pre-eminence, how He co-created the world with the Father, how He left His throne in heaven and became a man, how He suffered death and was buried, how he rose again conquering sin and defeating the evil that has infected the cosmos, how He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, how He will return in glory to judge the world and set it right and make all things new. (There. I have summarized what the creeds have said about Jesus!)

And in saying all these things we should name Him. We can do better than a generic “You.” His name is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the rightful King of the World.

2.    Trinitarian
The Trinity is not a concept to be understood; they are Persons to be worshipped. But we are not helping that cause by not naming Them in our worship. And we make things worse when we get muddle “Who is doing what.” The early apostles went to great lengths to help us assign the right roles and functions to the right Persons of the Trinity (The Father as Creator, the Son as Savior, the Spirit as Life-Giver, etc). We would do well to pay attention to that in our writing.

This mysterious belief in God as three Persons is uniquely Christian. We are not praying to, singing to, or following an amorphous, monolithic Hero-God. We are drawn up into the Divine dance, the communion of the Tri-Personal God. If we’re looking for help in understanding the distinct roles, we can, once again, turn to the Nicene Creed—the only statement of Christian faith accepted by every stream of the Body of Christ, both Eastern and Western, Catholic and Protestant (and rejected by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other cults and religions that would like to be called “Christian”).

As I wrestle with this, I am not yet convinced that every song needs to be overtly Trinitarian by acknowledging all three Persons. A song could be aimed at one Person of the Trinity. (Think of a song about Yahweh as Creator-God, the Almighty Father, or about Jesus the Redeemer and King, or about the Holy Spirit as the Comforter or God’s “empowering presence” with us.) But even in doing this we are acknowledging the God we worship as three-in-one.

If you were to comb through the catalog of my songs (you might first need a powerful search engine to find them!), you would discover that many of my songs simply address “God” or “You”.  Many of them are not Christo-centric or Trinitarian, and some, worse yet, are not even uniquely Christian. Much of that I regret. This journey for me is only a year or so old. But I want to write songs that are uniquely Christian and that help people live our truly Christian lives as a result. Would you join me on the journey and embrace the challenge?

Are Worship Pastors Becoming Extinct?

MCP5151792  Over the past seven years, I have served as the Director of the New Life School of Worship, a 9-month program designed to train worship leaders for local churches. We believe that to effectively prepare our students for local church worship ministry they need to be trained in more than music. They need to be grounded in theology, familiar with church history, and responsible with their handling of the Scriptures. Moreover, they need to learn what it means to be a pastor: to shepherd the people under their care. 

But it seems that some churches aren't looking for that. They would prefer a musician who can lead the "singing", oversee the tech team, and produce recordings of their original songs. None of these are bad expectations, of course. But are we looking for these trade skills at the expense of other, more essential pastoral qualities? Are worship leaders simply highly skilled technicians who have a "steady gig" at a church? 

Today's worship leader may spend more time with his Macbook than with a real book. She may be more familiar with GarageBand than the people in her band. He may be better versed with directing the choir than providing spiritual direction. 

Of course, the trade side of being a worship leader and the pastoral side are not mutually exclusive. A person can be good at Pro Tools and at pastoring the people on his team. The trouble is we've lost the sacredness of the pastoral vocation. Any person who says their core role is to pray, study, and provide spiritual direction is not as "useful" to the corporation we call church. What else can you do? we ask. Then we proceed to fill so much of their time time with scheduling bands, arranging music, and working with the latest recording software that they are no longer doing any pastoral work. Musicians and singers become cogs in a wheel, things we use to fill slots. True, the administration needs to be done. And yes, musical excellence is valuable. But at what price?

Ross Parsley, the long-time worship pastor here at New Life, is fond of saying that music ministry is not about music; it's about people. Worship ministry is first a sort of a "helps" ministry that serves the Body of Christ. But more to the point, it is an excuse for us to connect with one another. Music is the table we gather around, the place where we see each other face to face, and then learn how to walk alongside one another in this life of faith.

Perhaps the question every church who hires a worship pastor– and every aspiring worship pastor– should answer is this: What will Jesus ask us about: the music we produced, the services we programmed? Or the people we pastored, the sheep we fed?

Take time today and think about the people on your team. Pray for them. Pick up the phone and call them. Break bread with them. Talk to them about more than the setlist. Remember your calling as a worship pastor, not a music program manager. Clear some of the clutter from your week. Maybe it's time to appoint others to do the tasks that are keeping you from your role as a shepherd. You have never met a mere mortal. Our music will not last forever; these people will.

What Creative People Never Tell You About Creativity

Paint-Palette-PROF1005-de There is a myth about creativity that will surface in almost every conversation about the subject. It may not be expressed in quite the same way; it isn't even always said. But at the bottom of almost every discussion on creativity is the belief that creativity is about authenticity, it is about being unique, being different, being an individual. When a person does "what no one has ever done before", she is being creative. When a person copies or incorporates ideas or methods that have been used before, he is being dull and uncreative. 

But here are three things that every artist knows but is reluctant to admit…three reasons why the confusion of creativity with authenticity is misleading:

1. Only God Creates Out Of Nothing
Ex nihilo is the Latin phrase the Church used to explain that when God made the world, He didn't have any starting materials. He made it all from scratch. Out of nothing.

Every creative person thereafter has been building with His lumber. We are, as it were, painting with a fixed palette. All our so-called inventors are not making new things; they are taking existing things and combining them in such a way as to bring new possibilities to our world. A musician is working with a finite amount of notes. In Western composition, 12 to be exact. In Eastern melodies, intervals "within the cracks of the piano keys" are acceptable, but even then, the possibilities run out. Every dye ever made reflects a color God first sprayed in our universe. Even in our most creative work, when we join with God to co-create life, we are not creating something out of nothing. The building blocks of art are ancient.

2. Imitation is an important part of creativity.
OK, so not much room for disagreement on the first point. But here's is where things get a little dicey. No one who truly aspires to be creative cares to admit the amount of imitation they've engaged in. I recently went with my wife and Rob and Sarah Stennett to hear the award-winning short story writer Tobias Wolff do some readings at Colorado College. He talked about how in virtually every field of art imitation was an acceptable form of learning. Painters might begin by sitting in front of a Monet and trying to recreate it. Musicians will mimic riffs from Hendrix or Armstrong or Coltrain. But writers are somehow disdained for writing stories that imitate Hemingway or Fitzgerald. 

Why the double standard? Why not come out and admit that imitation is how we learn to create, in all fields? Imitation places us inside the head of an artist, making us see the notes they chose and the ones they ignored, the colors they blended and the combinations they used. It lets us peer at the world through their eyes as we try to re-create their "creation". Since none of us are making new "materials", we can learn about how to rightly combine these materials from the works of others. We learn to talk, to put words together, by being spoken to; we learn to pray by praying the prayers of Scripture; and we learn to create by re-creating the works of others.

3. Creativity is a combination of "theme" and "variation".
OK, so if we're not creating ex nihilo, and if imitation is part of the creative process, then where is the individuality, the uniqueness? It is in the way we reference the "theme" and the way we vary from it. What this means, then, is that the unwillingness to include any part of "theme" or a norm in our work means that we've lost any point of reference for others. It may be "creative", but it is isolated and esoteric. Let's think of it this way: a language that is truly unique is also utterly useless; it is a language known and understood only by you. It is gibberish. So, any art that refuses the inclusion of "theme" or even fragments of a template is an art that is individualized to the extreme. No one else can participate in it or benefit from it or be inspired by it. But if what we create is to have some sort of "public service" to it (the word "liturgy" comes from a Greek word that means a civic or public service)– and not all art has to– it must be willing to submit to "theme and variation."

If you think about it, human beings are unique not in an absolute sense, but we are unique in the way themes and variations of those themes combine in us. We all have themes of God's image in us; we are sullied by the familiar stains of sin. Yet there are infinite (?) variations of God's nature and sin's defacement in each of us. And it is those combinations that make us unique. This may be disappointing to have to admit that we are more like each other than we had supposed, that no one is truly all that different. Even more deflating is the realization that if we all sought to be "extraordinary", no one would be extraordinary since extraordinary would then be the new "ordinary." We find ourselves, then, pursuing creativity like a teenager wanting to be different: we want to be different, just like everyone else. And so we are forced finally to admit that we are all more similar than different. We are living displays of theme and variation. And so is everything we make.