Words of Wisdom to a Young Minister of Music

As Pastor of Music at Bethany Baptist Church, I think a good bit about issues of form and function in corporate worship. The New Testament outlines the elements that are to be included in our services. However, there are many questions that pastors must answer, for which we are not given clear Scriptural prescriptions. Still, the principles that can be derived from Scriptural models/practices of worship, as well as other teaching presented in the Old and New Testaments can help us find such answers. Such questions include but are certainly not limited to the following: How should the overall structure (arc) of the service be designed? Should it be Gospel-shaped in theme, or should content be based entirely upon the sermon? Can it be both? How should historical patterns for worship guide what we do today, and how can we apply these in our setting? These questions then spur on other questions: What should the specific content of the service entail? What styles of verbal presentation should be used in preaching or in praying? What styles of music should be used? How many “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16-17) should be sung each week? What instruments should we use, if any? How do service elements work together so that there is a sense of flow (theologically and musically)? Should we use screens or simply use hymnals? How should we use screens, if we use them? How should the worship space be designed? You get the idea. The answers that we give for these and other questions affect the excellence of our corporate worship including its discipleship impact each week.

Developing concise ways to think about biblical worship is certainly no easy task. Dr. Thomas Bolton, former Dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a mentor to me during my years of study there. He inscribed the following poem in a book, The Renewal of Sunday Worship from Robert Webber’s multi-volume set, The Complete Library of Christian Worship, which he gave me upon finishing my master’s degree. These are wise words—based upon Scriptural principles—from a godly man who taught and ministered with his head and his heart. Consider memorizing this brief verse and applying it as part of your philosophy of worship:

Technique without form is useless.

Form without function is meaningless.

Function without mission is mindless.

Mission without vision is aimless.

Vision without values is heartless.

Donald Whitney on “Serving . . . for the Purpose of Godliness”


Ministering hearts are disciplined to labor,

for they regularly move beyond their comfort zones,

they put themselves in vulnerable spots, they make

commitments which cost, they get tired for Christ’s sake,

they pay the price, they encounter rough seas.

But their sails billow full of God’s Spirit.

Kent Hughes (141).

This is the sixth article in my series on Dr. Donald Whitney’s acclaimed classic, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. If you missed the earlier articles in this series, please follow this link and scroll to read them. Today I will provide a brief summary of Whitney’s chapter on the spiritual discipline of service, serving as a primer his excellent work. All of the quotations and pages references here are from the book.

Do you believe that Christian service should be glamorous? Back when I was first called to full-time ministry, I had a rather glossy vision of the Music Pastor’s role. If you are having similar thoughts regarding your calling to ministry, Hughes’ quotation above should help you understand the reality of pain and pleasure that accompanies godly service. As Whitney teaches:

To have served Jesus by walking with Him during His three-year ministry would have been a glorious adventure; to have served Him three years earlier as His sweeper and saw-sharpener in the carpenter’s shop wouldn’t have been as appealing . . . . That’s why serving must become a Spiritual Discipline (143).

True service, taking in the myriad of menial tasks that it often requires, means disciplining ourselves to overcome sloth and pride. We must battle our flesh in order to accomplish it (143). So what is most effective in vanquishing the flesh for this purpose? Whitney suggests there is a way to redirect our affections so that we aren’t always functioning from the standpoint of rigorous discipline: “Most of the time our service should spring simply from our love for God and love for others.” However, as the Spirit is always working against our flesh to transform us more into the image of Christ, discipline is often the means God uses to grow us in dependence upon Him (144).


None of God’s elect are given an invitation to laziness. Christ sacrificed himself, to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Psalm 100:2 commands us to “serve the LORD with gladness” (144). As Deuteronomy 13:4 teaches, we should be moved to service flowing from a sincere desire to obey God. Therefore Whitney correctly asserts, “We sin when we refuse to serve God.” (145)

What else is expected to motivate us to serve God? We should be motivated by gratitude. Whitney cites I Samuel 12:24: “Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (145). We should also be motivated by gladness. Our glad service has multiple implications,

In the courts of ancient kings, servants were often executed for nothing more than looking sad in the service of the king . . . . That’s because you don’t mope or sulk when you serve a king. Not only does it give the appearance that you serve reluctantly, it also reveals your dissatisfaction with the way he’s running things (146-47).

When we serve with a sour attitude, we may honor the king with our lips, but we dishonor him with our heart (147). But Whitney doesn’t stop here. He instructs that we should also be motivated to serve God because we have received grace and forgiveness for sin (rather than serving from guilt); and we should serve out of humility. He encourages us to contemplate the prophet’s response in Isaiah 6, where we see him so urgently moved by God’s grace that he answers the Lord’s call with the cry, “Here I am! Send me” (147-48). Whitney cites the foot washing of John 13:12-16 as evidence of Jesus’s great humility in serving his friends. Paul calls the heart of service love, as “Christ’s love controls or constrains” us (Galatians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15) (150).


When we come to Christ for salvation, we are given at least one spiritual gift with which to serve. Whitney encourages us to learn what our gifts are by trying various avenues of service. But this process comes in addition to the study of Scripture. Passages us as Romans 12:4-8; I Corinthians 12:5-11, 27-31; and I Corinthians 14 help us in the process of discovery. Whitney reminds us that our innate talents will often line up with our set of spiritual gifts (151-52).

Using our gifts in service is work. We should note as Whitney teaches that “if for no other reason, serving God is hard work because it means serving people.” But we should be encouraged with this truth: “Service that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” The good news is that our service to God “is the most fulfilling and rewarding kind of work” available to us (154). Nothing satisfies like it. This is in part because it is “the most enduring kind of work” (155). Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” This is the only kind of work that will last forever (155-56).


As Whitney says, “Worship empowers serving” and “serving expresses worship.” If we are to serve or worship authentically, then the other of the two will always be present. And the order of these matters: “worship, then worship-empowered service.” Whitney highlights the clear pattern in Isaiah 6. It was Isaiah’s worship of God that prompted and fueled his service. True worship of God will always lead us to serve, and true service cannot be maintained in the Spirit without knowing God’s presence in worship—private and public (156).


In Luke 22:27 Jesus affirms his purpose as a servant. Joyfully, it is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that “transforms sinners against God into servants of God.” One of the most reliable forms of evidence of true belief in the gospel is “that a new, Christ-like desire to serve begins to overcome the selfish desire to be served” (158). Indeed this is the glorious work of the gospel. We are not only saved from sin—we are saved to a new life realized in loving service. Don Whitney’s excellent book offers the tools you need to put yourself in the most favorable path for the Holy Spirit to move in and through your service—via practicing the spiritual disciplines.


Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Rev. Ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.

Dennis, Lane T.; and Grudem, Wayne, eds. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Psalm 96

Marva Dawn’s short yet exceptional book, How Shall We Worship? Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars, outlines Psalm 96. This Psalm has much to teach us about what God desires from us in our worship of Him. I encourage you to meditate on this today. The ESV Study Bible gives insight regarding the opening line in its notes on Psalm 33:1-3: “New song (cf. 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa. 42:10; Rev. 5:9; 14:3) need not imply a freshly composed song; instead it may mean singing this song as a response to a fresh experience of God’s grace” (pp. 977).

96 Oh sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the earth!

 Sing to the LORD, bless his name;

tell of his salvation from day to day.

 Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among all the peoples!

 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;

he is to be feared above all gods.

 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,

but the LORD made the heavens.

 Splendor and majesty are before him;

strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!

 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

bring an offering, and come into his courts!

 Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;

tremble before him, all the earth!

10  Say among the nations,  “The LORD reigns!

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11  Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar, and all that fills it;.

12  let the field exult, and everything in it!

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

13  before the LORD, for he comes,

for he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness,

and the peoples in his faithfulness (ESV).


Dawn, Marva J. How Shall We Worship? Biblical Guidelines for the Worship WarsCarol Stream: Tyndale, 2003.

Dennis, Lane T.; and Grudem, Wayne, eds. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.


Finding True Self-Worth: Made in the Image of God

Genesis 1:26-28 teaches us that we are made in the image of God. This is the most important feature that distinguishes humans from all other life. As God’s image bearers we are created to reflect his image, reigning over the earth. The theology and practical applications encompassing this doctrine are astoundingly profound. Supernaturally, God’s image is perfected in us through Jesus Christ, as we are transformed from one degree of glory into another (Hebrews 1:3, 2 Corinthians 3:18). Indeed, this is God’s plan for humankind—and believing this secures the formation of our self-worth. PhD candidate Dallas Vandiver teaches that we should see ourselves as, “little kings and queens”—mirrors of God. Embracing this doctrine within the context of Holy Scripture, we can begin to realize our purpose in all of life. I highly recommend listening to Vandiver’s sermon, The Image of God, given at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Just follow this link to listen.

Source:  Vandiver, Dallas. “The Image of God.” Bethany Baptist Church, audio file, 39:35. Accessed January 20, 2017. Available from http://www.bethanylouisville.com/past-sermons/the-image-of-god/; Internet.

Systematic Theology Professor Teaches, “Why Pastors Should Be Learned in Worship and Music”

The role of the preaching pastor, or senior pastor, is fundamentally joined to the role of the music pastor. Not only does the senior pastor most often have supervisory authority over the music pastor, but the functions of these pastors crucially complement one another in the cultivation of God-centered worship. Last week I pointed to David Toledo’s foundational article for music pastors, “Why Worship Leaders Should Study Theology.” This article was written to work in tandem with today’s focus article—Dr. Kevin Bauder’s (PhD), “Why Pastors Should Be Learned in Worship and Music,” published in Artistic Theologian.

Citing words of Paul regarding profitable instruction from Acts 20:17-35, Dr. Bauder instructs that pastors should teach the entirety of the Christian faith (4). He emphases the greatest commandment, Mark 12:28, as central to the Christian faith and the worship of God (5). Related to worship are affection, imagination, expression, and the biblical commands to produce poetry and music (6-14). In relation to affection (love), Bauder explains that there is a critical difference in attributing to things “instrumental value” versus “absolute value.” To assign something instrumental value means that it serves as a means to an end. To assign something absolute value means we value it as its own end. Things to which we attribute absolute value are things we worship (6-7). God reserves this place for only himself. Bauder teaches,

The Shema states that the Lord alone is God. In other words, in all the universe only one Being exists who deserves to be treated as an end rather than as a means. Only one being can rightly be recognized as a center of value from which all other things derive their values. Only one being is capable of bearing the weight of the human soul in its anxious search for a center of delight, pleasure, and satisfaction. Only one being has the right to tell people who they really are, and he requires them to find their identity in him. Only one being merits unconditioned loyalty and absolute trust. Only one being is worthy of worship, and he is the Lord (7).

If this is true, and it is, then we need to understand, as Augustine taught, that our loves must be ordered rightly. They must be ordered so that our worship is duly expressed unto God (7-11). This means that art forms must be discerned for their place in aiding in the enterprise of worship (11-14). Encompassing the teaching of right belief, right practice, and right affection—Dr. Bauder’s article offers excellent instruction. If you are a pastor I highly recommend this article to you.


Source:    Kevin Bauder, “Why Pastors Should Be Learned in Worship and Music.” Artistic Theologian: Journal of Worship and Ministry Arts 1 (2012): 1-14. Accessed January 12, 2017. Available from http://artistictheologian.com/journal/at-volume-1-2012/. Kevin Bauder is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.


Theological Study is Essential for Worship Leaders

Today I want to point you to David M. Toledo’s (Ph.D.) foundational article for worship leaders published in Artistic Theologian, “Why Worship Leaders Should Study Theology.” This article enlightens the mind and stirs the heart regarding the incredible importance of the worship leader’s role and the knowledge of theology that it takes to fulfill it. Toledo teaches that the “Scriptures Connect Doxology with Theology.” He demonstrates this critical connection by teaching key passages such as John 4:21-24, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Peter 2:9, and Colossians 3:16 (pp. 18-19). Toledo’s article emphasizes the disciple-shaping function of worship. Toledo explains, “Worship pastors bear the responsibility to foster spiritual formation and maturity in the lives of their congregants (Heb. 13:17)” (p. 20). He asserts,

The goal of doxology is not to receive insight, blessing, or understanding of the Word; rather, it is the total transformation of the person into the image of Christ through the means of private and corporate worship. The true measure of any worship is not the form or outward actions, but the inward transformation “from glory to glory” into the image of Christ (21).

If you are a Pastor of Music, a worship leader by another name, or a Senior Pastor, I recommend this rich and insightful resource to you.


David M. Toledo, “Why Worship Leaders Should Study Theology.” Artistic Theologian: Journal of Worship and Ministry Arts 2 (2013): 17-25. Accessed January 3, 2017. Avaialble from http://artistictheologian.com/journal/at-volume-2-2013/. David M. Toledo, PhD, serves as Assistant Professor of Music Ministry and Assistant Dean of the Performance Division in the School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Matt Capps Teaches “5 Reasons Christians Neglect Beauty in Theology”

Today I want point to a July article on The Gospel Coalition site that I think is spot-on: “5 Reasons Christians Avoid Beauty in Theology,” by Matt Capps. For several sinuous reasons that Matt quickly names for us, the evangelical Church has avoided pursuing a theology of beauty and aesthetics. Such a pursuit would include how beauty correlates with the other two transcendentals, truth and goodness. Capps encourages Christians to lead in such studies. Capps says, “A distinctly Christian vision of beauty and aesthetics. . . could enable us to better discern and understand the God-intended purpose for sensory pleasures. For unless our affections are grounded and guided by biblical parameters, they’re spurious and ungenuine.” Capps short article is an excellent and important read. Since beauty is a wondrous gift from God referenced by Scripture in many and varied situations, certainly not the least of which relate to God-centered worship, it is incumbent upon Christians to understand its meaning and purpose.


Capps, Matt. “5 Reasons Christians Avoid Beauty in Theology.” The Gospel Coalition. Accessed December 25, 2016. Available from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-reasons-christians-neglect-beauty-in-theology; Interntet.

Matt Capps is senior pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, North Carolina. He holds an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a DMin candidate at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Matt blogs at mattcapps.wordpress.com.

Dr. James K.A. Smith, “You Are What You Love: Worship at the Heart of Discipleship”

James K.A. Smith is on a quest to help us rediscover something the ancient Christian Church understood. There is a very real connection between what we really want or love and who we are (see Matthew 6:21). Three of Smith’s recent books (Desiring the Kingdom (2009), Imagining the Kingdom (2013), and his newest book, You Are What You Love (2016) deal with what he calls “secular liturgies,” the practices and habits in culture that—similar to historical worship liturgies—work to form us as persons. Smith is professor of philosophy (Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview) at Calvin College, and has published articles in Christianity Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reformed Worship, among other notable periodicals. In March of last year, he spoke at Berry College giving a stunning presentation I would highly recommend watching, “You Are What You Love: Worship at the Heart of Discipleship.” Smith’s presentation encourages a more historical approach to discipleship than what we have seen in the evangelical church in recent decades. I see this as a welcome corrective. Here I will briefly outline key aspects of his presentation and include direct quotations.

Our worldview is what defines us, right?   Smith begins his talk exposing a significant hole in what has defaulted as the defining substance of evangelical discipleship the last several decades—worldview. He explains that today’s Protestants today typically look to their beliefs as that which most essentially defines them as persons. There are problems with this, Smith says, one of which is that we may fall into a simplistic rationalism, thinking that simply “right information” is enough. Smith is not saying that our beliefs and our worldview are not important. What he is saying is we are more than this because we are more than containers of information. There is a difference between our worldview (what we think) and what we really “want. . . long for. . . crave. . . desire.” Thus the biblical language of the heart has much to do with who we really are. Smith offers the gap between what we know and how we live as proof of the inadequacy of the belief-equals-being mentality.

“We are what we love”:  Smith explains that we are essentially beings that love. Thus it is “what . . . you want” that provides the most telling description of who you are. Humans are intentional beings, and “the most fundamental mode in which we aim at something . . . is love.” The gap mentioned above plays out here. The effects of sin and the fall result in love not “turned off” but rather wrongly aimed. Smith’s teaching recalls Augustine’s understanding of the affections—that our loves must be rightly ordered [thus rightly aimed]. In The Confessions Augustine addresses God with these words, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Smith teaches that whether or not our loves actually represent Christian or unhealthy secular ends, they form our practices, and these practices form habits. What you love is a product of cultural formation of habits that train your affections. This process trains us on a level “that sometimes almost intentionally bypasses the intellect.” Therefore, Smith says—

More hangs in the balance regarding our cultural immersion than we may understand:  Cultural practices are not neutral or benign. These may work upon us according to their ends at a subconscious level. Smith gives the stinging example of the mall, a place that his son jokingly refers to as “the temple.” In all reality though, according to Smith, this is a prime place to observe secular liturgies at work. He explains that when he talked to an architectural historian at UVA, he explained to him that there are “intentional historic echoes between malls and medieval cathedrals.” When you enter, you cannot see the outside world anymore, so time has the effect of standing still. Malls even have their own liturgical colors (decorations changing according to season), and saints lining the walls (manikins sporting the latest style). Rather than informing our minds, consumerism prompts our imaginations or longings, “and once it captures your imagination, it captures your loves—which means its got you.” All of this is to form in us the vision that the mall management wants us to have of “the good life”—their version of “flourishing.” Of course this has huge implications upon worship—we are shaped by what we worship or love. I would add here that Matthew 6:21 makes this clear: “Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Conclusion—“You are what you love, but you might not love what you think”:  So regarding cultural habits, customs, or conventions we should ask, as Smith suggests, “What does this institution want me to become? . . . What does it want me to love?” Thinking through the answer to this question in regard to various aspects of our society will then enlighten our understanding regarding cultural, not to mention Christian, formation. Worldview is important but not enough. Actions and habits as an outgrowth of our loves are key to who we really are. I’m enthusiastic about these rich insights informing us of the deep connections between worship and discipleship. There is one critique I would make of Smith’s presentation. As Scott Aniol points out in his review of Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom, in the Berry College video Smith does not clearly distinguish between the ancient Church’s understanding of the passions and the affections. To learn about this distinction, I would point you to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man or David De Bruyn’s The Conservative Church.

Following are links to an interview with James Smith and some thoughtful reviews of Smith’s books on the topic of worship:

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos, 2016): https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2016/04/05/you-are-what-you-love-a-conversation-with-james-k-a-smith/

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker Academic, 2013): http://artistictheologian.com/journal/at-volume-2-2013/gospel-shaped-worship-a-review-of-recent-literature/ Follow this link and scroll for Scott Aniol’s review of Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.


Desiring the Kingdom: Worldview, Worship, and Culture (Baker Academic, 2009): http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/28.55.html


Source:  Smith, David K.A. “You Are What You Love: Worship at the Heart of Discipleship.” You Tube , video file, 103:36. Accessed December 19, 2016. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4QXTR_Toa8. This video was made at Berry College.


Scott Aniol Teaches “How to Plan a Gospel-Shaped Worship Service”

In 2009, Baker Academic published Bryan Chapell’s widely acclaimed book, Christ-Centered Worship, Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice. Central to the book is that although the bible doesn’t prescribe an order of worship, the patterns of worship in Scripture and as held by the major historic liturgies display the gospel message in their shape. Following this pattern allows churches to proclaim the gospel message each week no matter what other themes are present. Aligning with this perspective, Scott Aniol recently published an excellent video in which he clearly illustrates how pastors may plan “Gospel-Shaped Worship Service[s]” with variety each week. The video walks the viewer through the computer planning and organizational tools that Aniol uses. It gives you an open window to what Aniol sees on his computer as he plans. Although there are many ways to plan services, how we plan is important because as Aniol says, worship shapes us. Just follow this link to see the video: http://religiousaffections.org/news-reviews/how-to-plan-a-gospel-shaped-worship-service/


Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Aniol, Scott. “How to Plan a Gospel Shaped Worship Service.” Religious Affections Ministries. Accessed November 30, 2009. Available from http://religiousaffections.org/news-reviews/how-to-plan-a-gospel-shaped-worship-service/; Internet.



What? Liturgy in My Church?— Never! What is Liturgy, and How Should Preaching Shape it?

Preaching 1

What is liturgy and how should it relate to preaching? Since the term liturgy is coming back into use for evangelicals, it is important to understand what it truly is. Many in the evangelical tradition assume that liturgy is a “stiff” and “fixed” set of congregational prayers and responsive readings marking “liturgical” churches. However, the term actually refers to the ritual and service of worship and to the order or form that service assumes. Therefore, every church has a liturgy: the order and form that shapes their worship on a given Sunday. The liturgy is composed of the prayers, hymns, songs, instrumental music, choral or other vocal music, Scriptural readings/responses, preaching, and offertory, as well as the ordinances or sacraments. How the church plans liturgies is a critical aspect in ensuring that corporate worship forms disciples. Planning that considers the relationship between preaching and the other elements of liturgy facilitates authentic and rich worship that trains us as true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Steve Thomas’s essay, “How Preaching Shapes Liturgy,” addresses key elements involved in this planning. Thomas states:

. . . [W]e must learn to treat both preaching and liturgy as essential to corporate worship; that they exist in a relationship of mutual dependence. Assuming the priority of preaching in symbiotic relationship, biblical exposition shapes liturgy in several important ways.

Major themes in Thomas’s article include:

1) “Preaching gives content to liturgical rites.”

2) “Preaching harmonizes the elements of the liturgy.”

3) “Preaching preserves the liturgy from undue extremes regarding form.”

4) “Preaching grounds affective elements of liturgy in objective truth.”

Our liturgies should never be cold and dead (mindless repetition), disconnected from expositional preaching, or bent toward the overly emotional or intellectual. Instead, they should be biblically spiritual, marked by an ordered vitality (I Cor. 14, Col. 3:16-17) that engages all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30) and is steeped in the majesty of God and the wondrous transforming truth of the gospel.

Source: “How Preaching Shapes Liturgy”–Religious Affections Ministries