We as believers love verses like the one above because they are so clear and concise! What does God command? Easy. Believe in Jesus His Son and love others. It's a feeling of being able to ace a test question without a problem. The Lord makes things rather simple for us, doesn't he?
Here's the catch: Loving others is simple to understand, but it's not easy to do in our flesh. And because we're so filled with the flesh, we often don't recognize when we're more consumed with ourselves and hurting others.
Being in Worship Ministry for so many years, the evidence of how much self was in me and also evident in others became more and more apparent. When I was asked to give up my instrument that I had worked years to master so that I could serve the Lord, help my family, and edify others, I struggled with the Lord's calling and the cost of it for quite some time. Giving up so much of myself in order to be used by the Lord seemed a little harsh and unfair. Honestly, that's again the case as various injustices happen throughout life.
Certainly the Lord wouldn't require so much of me for His glory!? Wasn't I so valuable to Him already with all of my wonderful gifts, years of study and credentials?
Over time, though, the Lord Jesus did something greater still! He helps us see our pride and He gave me the joy of getting to see others grow and thrive in the Lord according to their gifts. The reality of the tremendous power of love within the Body of Christ became so visible and enticing to me. I was seeing what happens when we live in obedience to Him and love others more than ourselves. Beautiful lives came forth and together the Bride of Christ increasingly displayed a purified love that had been refined through years of practice.
Context for Consideration
If you're willing, come with me into a few details of worship ministry at a church. When people begin to talk about worship at a church, we often start with "When are your services?" Then, quite quickly it's important to know "What kind of music do you have?" "Is your church traditional or contemporary?" "Do you have a choir or a band?" And then "How do you like your pastor?" "Is the Worship Leader cool?" "Do you have a fun youth group?"
Recently I suggested to a church leader that discussions about worship and the role of music in it should begin with "What does the Lord desire?" "What blesses Him?" After all, aren't we there FOR Him? Not ourselves? It's a very different starting point than the music portion of the services.
I realize many people don't think about what the Lord desires for corporate worship, but shouldn't we be encouraging one another to be a little deeper than who we've become as believers? We go to worship every week, but do we know why we do what we do and what the Lord is seeking? When we see love of God and love of others, do we have any idea what sacrifices have been required in order to form that Love? Most of us simply like to come to church to get something out of it, and we rarely think any more about what the Lord may desire from us, whether we're a congregant or a leader that morning.
In the discussion we began to consider what the scriptures have to say about how we live and interact together as believers as we worship the Lord. I brought up what Jesus said about Loving God and Loving our Neighbors as ourselves - His summary of the law. I suggested that when we honor God and hear from His Word, we should do so together in love with one another as a family of faith. Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord assumes we would be living and honoring Him together. He is the Glorious Head of the church holding all things together, so why would the body split underneath Him and intentionally disregard each other as we seek to Love and Learn from our Lord? Good question. And maybe the humorous, twisted mental picture here will make us think. :)
During the discussion, the church leader admitted he had never thought about corporate worship in these terms. He had been making decisions about worship at the church without ever having considered questions like "What does the Lord desire in our services, and how do we live that out as a body of believers." For him, he casually said I just like the music and let's just make it sound like the radio. At that point, he did not have a thoughtful theology of worship except, "Let's do what everybody else does."
Another church leader was very familiar with these points as he and I had served alongside one another for many years. Often times there had been discussions about making sure we focused on growing disciples of Jesus in the Worship Ministry. We treasured the opportunity to ask each potential worship leader, "Do you know the Lord Jesus as your Savior and are you seeking to grow in His ways?" Any musical notes had to first come from hearts dedicated to and growing in Christ Jesus by His Spirit.
Just like the Israelites
The true reality on the ground suddenly hit me hard when these discussions resurfaced. For you see, we the people of God are so like the Israelites: we always want something new and different, like all the other nations. We also don't want to do any hard work in following Christ. Like myself years earlier, counting the cost of doing things the Lord's way just doesn't seem worth it most of the time. All too often, we personally and corporately give in to what is easiest, regardless of what the Lord asks of us. Also, just like the Israelites, we often make demands upon our leaders to have them give us everything we want.
So here was the new reality. The leader said to me, "Your passion for worship and your approach are likely too pure for this place."
Had I just heard this correctly? A church leader was telling me that pure desires for worship, a ministry built on love as the foundation, was too much at the church? Seeking to operate according to what the Lord prioritizes in His Word could put my life's work and calling on the line in the Church? Exactly. Welcome to the modern American, seeker-sensitive church.
For twelve years helping with worship had been an immense joy and privilege with a tremendous team of capable, humble, godly, growing individuals who really understood and loved being able to serve the Lord and His people together. They loved testifying about the Lord! Most of the congregation had grown in love for the Lord and One Another...though not all of them. A few remained who were disgruntled and they knew powerful people. Furthermore, "revamping Sunday mornings" was the new prescribed way to grow the church.
Now suddenly, as the culture was very intentionally shifting in that congregation to attract growth, what had been right and good, was now too right and too good for the Lord and His people there. Worship was now, very intentionally being designed for reasons other than Love of the Lord and Love within the body. When such bold, direct statements come from a leader, it's hard to disregard any other attempt from the church to suggest "Oh, nothing's changing...."
At that moment, I knew something was most definitely wrong. Nevertheless, I prayed and hoped that perhaps the Lord would work in the hearts and minds of those in authority. I still pray for that every day. The theology of our corporate worship is so vital to the health and calling of the Church.
As an important side note: as corporate worship in America is more and more designed to attract unbelievers, I do believe it has lost its ability to speak with credibility into the culture around us. Worship Ministries now prioritize looks and the performance components above the spiritual fruit of love amongst the church members or of grace lived out. I couldn't portray certain parts of the music ministry online because it didn't have the "right look" for who we wanted to be in the public sphere.
Here's the tremendous irony about the recent world events. The Church wants to be able to speak into the culture about social justice issues and to promote love for others. Inside our church body, however, we're not fully and consistently living out the Love commanded in I John 3:23. We want to declare Love, but are not living it. We insist on dividing ourselves up according to what we personally like, and are seemingly unwilling to look at our lack of love inside our own hearts.
Repentance and Renewal
The course can always change! That's the glory and beauty of Jesus' work and ministry for us, in us and through us.
Dear musicians, and me too: it's time to be honest with ourselves. We have to be willing to admit when we've been selfish and have destroyed the body of Christ so that we could get the positions we've wanted in our churches. The awful stories are too numerous of church members and staff persons being destroyed by those inside the church. I've watched so many persons quietly, yet very deliberately, lobby for certain preferred worship elements and programming. Friends talk to people in high places and go around the person they don't want to be accountable to. To us as musicians, we feel so entitled to cry about our need for our musical fulfillment. Let's lessen our self-importance a little bit.
It's time to repent, ask for forgiveness and change our ways. The body of Christ is a place of forgiveness and Jesus can help churches heal. But we must deal with our inner hearts and reform our ways. The church needs a worship reformation from within ourselves as musicians.
Additionally, dear church leaders, and me too: we have to be willing to admit when we've taken the building of the church into our own hands and not asked the Lord "What do you desire from our worship, O God, and what blesses you?" Let's make sure we're following the basics of worship and fellowship in the Scriptures. Let's trust the Lord to supply what we need to keep the ministries going and also make sure Love of the whole body is in us. We're supposed to be ministering to one another. Cutting off a leg of the congregation should never be accepted as okay when there is not sin.
Also, let's be quick to ask forgiveness from one another, whether fellow congregants or fellow leaders. No one leads perfectly and no one follows perfectly; but, Jesus and His ways must be the foundation of our ministries. That is how we live in love and refinement of one another. Why build a kingdom on man's wisdom. It will not last. But building on the Lord does last, and Love is more appealing than any musical piece I've ever heard. The music fades, but Love feeds and brings real growth! Let's practice loving all people, not just ones we're trying to get in the door.
As church leaders, when we understand that love is the foundation of who we are in Christ, it makes the work of worshiping Jesus all together that much more exciting and perhaps a little harder. Please know this, however, the Lord has given us the calling, and I would propose the command, to #worshiptogether as a family, a body, a holy temple in #multigenerationalworship.
Lastly, dear fellow congregants, how blessed we are to worship and love the Lord all together. The Lord moves so mightily when His people come together in worship. He's blessed and poured out blessings each time! As worship of the Lord is our first and main task, let's do so in Love. Let's focus on the basics of Ministry 101 and watch what the Lord will do through His Kingdom ways and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Over the years, I've watched people mature in their love for others as they've worshiped and served the Lord together. I've watched broken people heal spiritually and emotionally as they've entered into loving bodies of people. I've watched young people grow in confidence and ability as they learned from those next to them. I've seen older people get a sparkle in their eye when the young person next to them sings out. Love lived out is Jesus in the flesh!
Jesus' Call for Countercultural Living
Loving others is not always easy, because it requires sacrifices from each of us. Parts of ourselves will need to die, but more of us comes alive as we commit to living in Christ-likeness. It's a fuller, richer life, which is what Jesus came to bring!
If I may share for a moment longer, so many times over the years when we as believers are not content while living within the body, we begin to demand things our way. The tongues and the wills of a few can destroy people and families. We are so crafty and sly sometimes in bringing about the destruction of God's own people. We'll say we love each other, but really underneath the surface, our solo, or our musical style and preference, matter much more to us than unity and fellowship within the church. Our love of self is far greater than our love for one another.
Over and over we have made music the defining criteria of our love and fellowship. The Apostle Paul says to keep the unity of the body and sing together (Col. 3:12-17). The modern church thinks it's okay to disregard something so direct. We think we're entitled to be special in our enlightened age and give each person what they want in order for them to finally be able to worship the Lord and enter our doors.
At this point, I'd like to propose something very countercultural. And I believe we should be countercultural. I believe the American Church has so often missed the opportunity to be the Church for the glory of God in its day. We've set aside the basics of being the Body of Christ, of living out Love, that our Worship has become a Worship of our own making, unto ourselves and for our own feelings. This isn't the case in every congregation certainly, or every week, but it's the trend and prescription followed by so many church leaders who feel a need to have more people in their buildings to keep the lights on and the staff paid.
I believe the American church has an opportunity to repent to the Lord and ask Him to be our true Head. It's time for a Church Reformation and a Worship Reformation so that we get back to the basics of being the Church - glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. Thus, when the Lord is lifted up, He draws all peoples to Himself to Worship Him.
Let's stop asking "What kind of music does your church have?" Rather, let's ask "Is your congregation filled with love for one another and does your worship reflect that Love?"
Believers, why would we make music the criteria of whether we will worship the Lord or not; or whether or not we will worship alongside other believers? Believers, why would we so discreetly and maliciously destroy other believer's lives and families? Why do we think that slandering or working against others is okay? Where's the honoring of one another? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others?
Let's put our focus back on Christ! Let's help our leaders put their focus back on Christ. Let's build one another up and hold one another accountable to the ways and commands of the Lord. Those of us who say we believe in the Name of Jesus, let's live out Jesus' command to "Love One Another!"
Jesus' ways are clear. They're simple. They're not easy, but the Holy Spirit is here to equip us and guide us. Let's ask Him to help us for the glory of God and for our good.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says "A new command I give you: Love One Another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." What words to hear! Does the world know we're Jesus' disciples by our love and thus calling to worship Him together as His Bride with Him as our Head? I pray so, and I pray for a marvelous testimony of restoration and renewal in the Church and in the Worship we bring the Lord Jesus as His people. In Jesus' name, Amen.