Archives For Worship

Check up Pastors ConferenceThe 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference will kick off Nov. 7 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur with a focus on the spiritual health of leaders, their families, and their churches. The conference, held prior to the IBSA Annual Meeting, is based on the qualities the Apostle Paul set out for church leadership in Titus 1:5-9.

The theme for the conference, “Time for a Check-Up,” is something pastors are familiar with when it comes to their congregations, said Brian Smith, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Granite City and president of this year’s Pastors’ Conference. Pastors provide spiritual check-ups for their people every week through preaching and teaching, but who’s doing the same for the pastor?

“That is what this conference is for, to provide pastors and staff with a spiritual health check-up and scriptural prescriptions for better spiritual health for them and ultimately their families and churches,” Smith said.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines is among the preachers who will fill the pulpit at Tabernacle Nov. 7-8. Joining him are Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism; Curtis Gilbert, lead pastor of the Belleville campus of The Journey; and Joe Valenti, associate pastor of youth and missions at Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

The Pastors’ Conference also will include breakout sessions led by the speakers and other Illinois leaders:

  • Valenti will lead a session on healthy churches reaching UPG’s (unreached people groups), and also a breakout on healthy youth ministry.
  • Gilbert will lead pastors in developing healthy church elders and building a healthy multi-site ministry.
  • Rayden Hollis, pastor of Red Hill Church in Edwardsville, will lead a session on healing from an unhealthy ministry, and also will facilitate a church planting round table discussion.
  • A trio of IBSA staff members will also lead breakout sessions, which will be offered at both breakout times on Tuesday. Pat Pajak, associate executive director of evangelism, will encourage pastors with ways to make their churches more evangelistic; Mark Emerson, associate executive director of the Church Resources Team, will speak on healthy small groups and Sunday school; and Steve Hamrick, director of worship ministries, will lead a session on developing and leading healthy worship teams.
  • On Wednesday morning at 8:30, Gaines will speak to Pastors’ Conference attenders and participate in a Q&A session.

A pizza dinner will be offered onsite Tuesday evening for $10 per person. To purchase dinner tickets and for more Pastors’ Conference info, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org.

Interior of airplane with people inside

Boarding a small airplane recently, I immediately noticed the cheerful, positive demeanor of the lone flight attendant. It was early in the morning, and amidst the crowd of bleary-eyed passengers shuffling onto the plane, she beamed like a ray of sunshine.

After welcoming us on board and making sure we were all buckled in and our carry-on luggage stowed, she proceeded to give us the prescribed safety instructions that anyone who has flown often could probably recite from memory. But instead of monotonously reading from a script about emergency exits and unlikely water landings, she delivered the entire speech from memory, yet with great personal warmth and conviction.

I was impressed, even inspired. But what I have not yet forgotten about this exceptional young lady are her spontaneous words after delivering that mandatory safety speech. She paused, and then with the most childlike wonder and enthusiasm you can imagine, she said, her eyes twinkling, “And now—it’s time to fly!”

Oh, I wish I could better convey in writing the way she bade us to the heavens with that one well-delivered phrase. As many times as she had undoubtedly endured the routines of stowing luggage, delivering safety speeches, and serving soft drinks and peanuts, she had not yet lost the wonder of getting to fly.

A few days later, I heard a comedian on a talk show describing his own recent experience on an airplane. As he awaited takeoff, he said he was contemplating the miracle that he would soon be sitting in a cylindrical tube 30,000 feet in the air, hurling through the atmosphere at 500 miles-per-hour to arrive cross country in less than four hours, a trip that used to take early pioneers a lifetime. Just then the flight attendant announced that wireless internet would not be available on that flight, and the man sitting next to the comedian flew into a fit of profanity. How quickly, he observed, we turn miracles into entitlements, and entitlements into opportunities for criticism.

How quickly indeed.

The word “miracles,” of course, turned my thoughts to the many spiritual blessings that I too often take for granted, or consider entitlements. Every week, I gather freely with other believers and have fresh opportunity to celebrate the resurrected Lord Jesus and the transformational difference he has made and is still making in my life. Every week I sing, along with people I call brother and sister, the songs of our deliverance from sin, our new life purpose, and eternity in heaven. Every week, I hear from God’s word a new, relevant message that applies to me personally.

With all that being true, it seems that every week, every worship leader in every local church should stand and tell us, “And now—it’s time to fly!” Yet it may be more common for us to settle into familiar weekly routines and even rituals. It may be more common for us to take for granted the gathering for corporate worship, and consider it an entitlement. It may be more common for us to complain about what programs or services didn’t meet our standards, or what people disappointed us.

That cheerful, positive flight attendant reminded me that it only takes one sincerely excited and grateful worshiper to call other sleepy souls out of their routines and criticisms. One person who recaptures the wonder and miracle of the church assembling together in God’s presence can rekindle that wonder in others. This Sunday, I will not be a presumptuous passenger who feels entitled to the miracle of access to God that cost Jesus so much. This Sunday, my worship will say to any on board with me, “And now—it’s time to fly!”

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Worship w video projectorImagine this: There was a rule passed in your church business meeting that only the trained worship staff or musically auditioned laity of your church was permitted to sing in worship. It sounds preposterous, but it actually happened.

Let’s rewind the calendar about 1,650 years to the Council of Laodicea (363-364). The leaders of the church who sought for quality and reverence in worship were troubled because the untrained congregation sang loudly and so badly that something had to be done to restore beauty. A canon (practice) was adopted in the Catholic religion that continued until 1903 which left congregational participation to a minimum.

There were serious penalties for those who disagreed. Jon Hus, Czech theologian and hymn writer (1369-1415) was martyred for his views on congregational participation. The focus on who is singing was changing.

It was not always that way. In Jewish worship and early Christian worship, the congregation was biblicaly mandated to joyfully participate. Psalm 149:1 says “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. (See also Psalm 33:1, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

The restoration of congregational participation in worship was one of the radical reforms of Luther and later Calvin, and not without controversy.

Gains of the Reformation may be endangered by current musical trends

Luther wrote hymns with instrumental accompaniment. Calvin only allowed metrical psalmody set to a cappella tunes. Isaac Watts dared to write humanly composed hymns for churches that previously sung only psalms. Fanny Crosby was criticized for writing subjective songs that dealt with human emotions.

The praise and worship movement added the element of personal devotional singing to the Lord and not just about him. Despite these disagreements over the content of songs, post-Reformation congregations held common: participation by the people was paramount. The focus of what we sing was changing—until now.

Charles Finney (1792-1875) is the one credited with being the father of modern Revivalism. The music and congregational singing in Finney’s revival services were purposely intended as a spiritual warm-up so the congregant would be ready to receive the Word. It was very effective as many people were converted.

Many Baptist and protestant denominations adopted this design of worship which is still very common in churches today. Their rationale is that good, energetic music will prepare the attender to receive the sermon. The return to the professional leader had begun. The focus of why we sing was changing.

The seeker movement of the 1990’s unintentionally fostered the pre-Laodicean model that worship should be well done and presented to the audience. Many aspects of current worship trends contribute to a lack of participation.

Because of the digital age, there are now not just a few hundred songs in the hymnal, but hundreds of thousands from which to choose. Therefore, many people are unfamiliar with the music selection. Cover songs from well-known recording artists, often in keys which are too high for the average congregant, are regularly chosen. The bright lights of the stage combined with dim seating discourages involvement. The concert style of worship where the worshiper receives more than they give discourages participation. The focus on how we sing is changing.

In an interview with The Gospel Coalition (Feb. 2017), theologian and hymn writer Keith Getty said, “I would dare to say less than five percent of our reformed churches are taking congregational singing as seriously as any of these guys [reformation fathers] did. I’ve heard Ligon Duncan say, ‘There is no part of the worship life more in need of reformation than congregational singing.’”

If most agree that congregational singing needs to be reformed, what can be done?

Getty says, “The biggest challenge is for pastors to actually take the lead. Period… The churches with great congregational singing are the churches with the pastor who really, really cares. Music can be contemporary, traditional, black gospel, unaccompanied psalm singing, with or without choirs, leaders, sound systems or hymn books. It doesn’t matter.

“Luther prioritized choosing the hymns his churches would sing,” Getty said, “explaining why they should sing, and then setting to work on teaching and encouraging his people. That’s the single thing that needs to change most.” Getty notes that “worship should begin with the holy act of God’s people singing as the center of the musical experience, and then work out from there.”

Is congregational singing dead? “Congregational singing is far from dead,” Getty concluded, “mainly because it’s connected to a source of life higher than cultural trends or modern comparisons.

–Steve Hamrick is IBSA Director of Worship and Technology

Walking

One thing I love about summer is the opportunity for long walks. Beth and I have a three-mile circuit that takes us from our house down to a nearby lake and back. Usually we walk it after dinner, but before dark, with our blind dog Willy. Our nest of three sons is empty now, and so we have just this one furry kid to follow us around.

It’s not really the walk itself that I value, though. It’s what happens there. By the time we walk, Beth and I have usually taken dinnertime to catch up with one another on the day’s events, and what arrived in the mail, and what we each heard from friends or family that day.

The walk is for deeper talk. That’s when we tend to discuss longer term plans for the future, or longer view reflections on where we’ve been. We talk not just about our kids’ activities, but about their well-being and their life decisions. We talk not just about short-term purchases, but about long-term investments. We talk not just about our church routines, but about our spiritual lives.

It usually takes a while to get past perfunctory, obligatory prayers I tend to settle for when time is short.

Sometimes our local son, Caleb, and his wife, Laura, walk with us. Those are rich times. Often Laura will walk alongside Beth and engage in one conversation, while Caleb and I will pair up a few steps behind them. Sometimes the two conversations will blend, and mix, and then separate again. We all like to hear as much as possible.

But these aren’t the 10- or 20-word texts we exchange with our kids during the day. These are often significant conversations about problems, and dreams, and life decisions, and dilemmas. Long walks encourage deeper talks.

And then there are the long walks I take by myself, to have deeper talks with God. Sometimes I make time for them during the regular routine of life. But often I need a vacation or a few days off or a different setting in order to pull away.

During the regular rhythms and busyness of life, my prayer times can grow so brief, so repetitive, so lightweight. Like the chitchat of a dinner conversation or the insufficiency of a text, I can settle for such trivial communication with God. But when I walk for a while with him it’s easier to remember that he really knows and loves me in my deepest, innermost parts, and that he longs to meet me there too, and not just in the shallows of a busy life.

Over a few recent days of long walks and deep talks this summer, I remembered again that it usually takes a while just to get past the perfunctory, obligatory prayers that I tend to settle for when time is short. I know there’s nothing wrong with those prayers, just like there’s nothing wrong with catching up over dinner on the day’s activities. It’s just that there are so many more significant things to talk about. But you only seem to get there when you take the time.

This past week I walked and talked to places of deep confession, and pleading, and worship, and peace. Once the lighter weight stuff was off my chest, there were several minutes and miles of silence as I looked for the right words to tell God things I then remembered that he knows already. Yet when those words came, they were cathartic and soothing to my soul.

Long walks can lead to deep talks, with our spouses, our kids, and yes, our God. May you find time for the long walks you need this summer.

– Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

50518 BIG pic

After their Lord’s Supper implements were destroyed in an April 25 earthquake, church attenders in Nepal used a dinner plate for bread and a bowl and spoon for the grape juice. IMB photo by Chris Carter

Kathmandu | When journalist Susie Rain (name changed) visited a small Nepali congregation after a catastrophic earthquake, they were singing the same song as one week before, when the walls in their meeting room began to shake. Rain, a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, described the worship service:

Twenty-five voices gain momentum, clapping hands, dancing and raising their faces to heaven in song, “Still I will love You and spread Your love to the people.” Spontaneously, the congregation breaks into prayer. This is the exact spot the song was interrupted a week ago, on April 25, by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

In the days after the quake, the death toll continued to rise, eventually topping 7,000. Thousands more were injured. Baptist Global Response, a ministry partner of the IMB, has begun assessing the damage and delivering supplies.

In Kathmandu, the church Rain visited celebrated the Lord’s Supper, even during an aftershock. Their dishes had been destroyed the week before. “They improvised with a bowl and spoon,” Rain posted on social media. “Wish you could have been there with me. You would have had tears in your eyes, too.”

International Mission Board President David Platt has written about how Christians can respond to the crisis in Nepal. Read his column here.

Fanny_CrosbyHEARTLAND | Steve Hamrick

February marked the 100th anniversary of the death of one of America’s greatest hymn writers and poets, Fanny J. Crosby. Frances Jane van Alstyne (née Crosby), lived nearly 95 years, from March 24, 1820, to February 12, 1915.

At six weeks old, young Francis developed an inflammation in her eyes that was treated with a mustard poultice, a common treatment of the 19th century. Whether because of the mustard or a congenital condition, blindness resulted. But it rarely affected her attitude. She was known in early years as the “happy little blind girl.”

Her first attempt at verse at age eight shows her outlook.

Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be

The attitude of God’s gratefulness continued as a theme throughout her life. “When I get to heaven,” she once said, “the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

It is estimated that Crosby wrote more than 8,000 hymns, with over 100,000,000 (that’s one hundred million) copies in print. Many of her hymns include references to sight and light. Notice the insight of one of her most well known songs, “Blessed Assurance”:

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

In addition to her hymns, Crosby published more than 1,000 secular poems, four books of poetry and two best-selling autobiographies. Most don’t know that she also wrote a number of popular and patriotic songs of her day.

During her long life she had the honor of reading her works in front of the U.S. Senate, Congress, and before many U.S. presidents, including John Q. Adams and James Polk; she also was dear friends with Grover Cleveland.

Despite being one of the most popular personalities of the 19th century, Crosby’s most rewarding work during her lifetime was her service to rescue missions. She dedicated her life in serving the poor, immigrants and less fortunate. During her years as a mission worker she wrote, “Pass Me not O Gentle Savior,” “More Like Jesus,” and “Rescue the Perishing.”

Her songs are still sung by churches around the world. Thousands of arrangements have been set for choirs, orchestras and praise teams. The band Caedmon’s Call recently recorded “Draw Me Nearer” (I am Thine O Lord) using one of Mrs. Crosby’s best texts. The words tell her story well:

I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice,
And it told thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to thee.

Steve Hamrick is IBSA’s director of worship and technology.

Rob (left) and Mona Payne (center) lead worship during "Pop Up Church" for Downtown Phoenix Church, also known as DTPHX Church. Photo by Shawn Hendricks/BP

Rob (left) and Mona Payne (center) lead worship during “Pop Up Church” in Phoenix. Photo by Shawn Hendricks/BP

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Young adults in downtown Phoenix “don’t think about going to church on Sunday morning any more than you and I think about going to bingo on Friday nights,” says Pastor Jim Helman. To reach Millennials, his Downtown Phoenix Church “pops up” every other week at a coffee shop or in a park, and uses the other weeks to serve the community. Read more at BPNews.net.


His Seattle Seahawks may have lost the Super Bowl in stunning fashion (that second down call!), but quarterback Russell Wilson seems to already be bouncing back via Twitter. After the game, the outspoken Christian posted motivational messages and Psalm 18:1–“I will love You, O LORD, my strength.”


Imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini thanked President Obama for meeting with his wife and children last week, and for assuring the couple’s young son that he will try to secure his father’s release by March (when Jacob Abedini will celebrate his 7th birthday). “I know that as a father you can truly understand the pain and anguish of my children living without their father and the burden that is on my wife as a single mother,” Abedini wrote to Obama from Rajaee Shahr prison in Iran.

In the letter, provided online by the American Center for Law and Justice, Abedini also thanked Obama “for standing up for my family and I and for thousands of Christians across the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.”


The American Bible Society will relocate to Philadelphia after selling its Manhattan building for $300 million, reports The Christian Post. The 12-story facility on Broadway, which has housed ABS since 1966, is about 10 blocks from another ministry: the offices of the Metro New York Baptist Association.


Religion writer Cathy Lyn Grossman reports on the “post-seculars,” a group defined in a new study as falling between “traditional” and “modern” views of science and religion. Said study co-author Timothy O’Brien, “We were surprised to find this pretty big group (21 percent) who are pretty knowledgeable and appreciative about science and technology but who are also very religious and who reject certain scientific theories.”


Democrats feel more warmly toward Muslims than do Republicans, Pew reports in a study on how ideology and age affect American “temperatures” about Muslims and Islam.


As Boko Haram continues to wage a war of terror in Nigeria, “…God has raised up believers who have remained steadfast and bold in the midst of applied pressures to silence them,” said one Christian worker, according to this Baptist Press story.