After Tom had a week away at seminary for Winterim with Keith Essex and Steve Lawson, I got to take a once in a lifetime trip to Atlanta for the G3 Conference. It was the first time I had traveled alone in over 20 years. When you’re used to crossing the Pacific every summer with 5 kids in tow, you’d think this would be a piece of cake but I was pretty much lost and pathetic the whole time. But I did more than survive the adventure. I came home with a ton of sound teaching, glorious worship, and edifying conversations ringing in my ears (and more free books in my carryon!).
Going to a G3 Conference is like attending a family reunion. Only it’s the kind of family where everyone gets along and is really excited to see each other. And it’s the kind of family that has an inordinate number of extremely gifted Bible expositors, prolific authors, powerful preachers, qualified shepherds, dedicated missionaries, and a host of general doers of the Word. I can’t even begin to describe the caliber of teaching, heights of worship, and warmth of fellowship I experienced there.
After hearing some of Tom’s take-away from his Essex class on Ezra and Nehemiah the week before, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing at the conference some of what is played out in those two books. Ezra 7:10 tells us that “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.” The fruit of this determination blooms gloriously in Nehemiah 8 and 9 when
“all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard… And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground… They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
One of the points John MacArthur made at G3 was that “The guy with the guitar is not the worship leader. The pastor is.” Which is why according to Paul Washer, “The problems with our worship go back to the preaching.” This makes sense in light of Washer’s definition of worship as “the outward expression of the inward estimation of God.” If people are not taught who God is directly from the source of His own revelation concerning Himself–His own Word–how can they worship Him in truth? As Steve Lawson pointed out, “Our worship will rise no higher than our theology.” At the same time our worship needs to be as truth-full as our teaching. Costi Hinn remarked that “Accepting false lyrics but demanding true teaching is hypocrisy.”
The people of Ezra’s day heard the Word of God, they understood His character through its exposition, and they worshiped Him through their ‘Amen’ to the truth.
Popular worship today seems to fall so short of ‘Amen.’ There is too little of God’s holy, triune nature being proclaimed in preaching or in song to demand such a response.
There was a lot of talk at the conference about making the expository preaching of the Word of God the central tenant of our worship and bringing back doctrinally robust hymnody (and Psalmody!) as a means of singing out our ‘Amen’ to the Word preached.
This was a huge encouragement to me. I grew up singing hymns and spent 7 years in a church dedicated to exclusive Psalmody. I’ve also been a part of churches that were devoid of both. While living in Hawaii we attended a traditional service in which we were the only young family. I had the incredible privilege of singing in a choir made up of older saints. It was the highlight of my week to gather with them to sing the great hymns of the faith, all through the months of expecting our fifth son, and then with him in my arms, and then with him being passed around the choir, and then with him crawling all over and under the pews. And then the announcement came that in an effort to “breathe life into a dead service” and attract a younger crowd we would no longer be singing hymns.
It was devastating. Both to the older folks and to our young family. I wrote the following letter to the pastor expressing our sorrow.
Thus says the Lord:“Stand by the roads, and look, ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is;and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not walk in it.” Jeremiah 6:16
I’m just a mom with a bunch of little kids.I can’t write out big tithe checks or traverse the globe on mission trips. I’m not what you would call a “mover and shaker” in the church. Most of the time you wouldn’t even know I’m there and if it weren’t for my toddler running up and down the aisles I wouldn’t get noticed at all. But I’m there almost every Sunday, not at the contemporary family service, but at the traditional one. The one with all the old people in it. The one that’s been described as “dead” or “on it’s way out.” The one with “not much going on.” Most of the time my kids are the only ones in that service and it’s true that most of the time it IS pretty quiet.
But one thing I’ve learned from spending a bit of time with older folks is that one should never mistake “quiet” for “dead.” In an age of sensationalism we tend to forget the God of the Whisper. The God who commands us to be still. The God of Order. The God who finds great worth in “a gentle and quiet spirit.” I am perfectly aware how hardly anyone looking at all those white heads sitting silently in the pews would ever describe that service as “Spirit filled.” But that’s not quite fair, either to these gloried saints or the Spirit that indwells them. In fact, I would venture to guess that the hunched over ninety year old who seems to be dozing in the pew knows quite a bit more of the Holy Spirit than your average thirty-something worship leader does. You see, the Holy Spirit’s been her constant companion for nearly a century and since her husband died twenty years ago, He’s been her only companion. And she’s learned a lot from Him. For one thing, she’s learned to listen. To be still. And God in His amazing wisdom has equipped the elderly body to do that better than anyone else.
The thing is, I know just how much these quiet folks are filled with the Spirit because I’ve been the constant beneficiary of the gentle overflow. Every smile, every pat on the back, every shaky squeeze of the hand, every time they stop to interact with my children, every word of encouragement they offer is a Spirit-led act that in a faster-paced, noisier setting might go completely unnoticed. But for an hour each Sunday, there’s this pause in my crazy, hectic life. And wrapped in the warmth of tradition and the richness of the well-ordered-Word I look up to see an older saint nod an affirming “Good job, mom” and it’s just the encouragement I need to make it through another week.
Please, in your quest to fill the church with young people, don’t neglect our older saints. They have more to offer than you might think.
And so does their music. Music which I’ve heard disregarded as “archaic, boring, and irrelevant.” Because apparently to be acceptable to God, church-music must be modern, entertaining and germane. Maybe it’s time to rethink the standards by which we regard church-music and repent of the flippancy with which we’ve thrown generations of rich, meaningful, God-honoring, Gospel-centered, deeply instructive worship material out the door simply because it didn’t have the right beat. Maybe it’s time to return to those ancient paths that Jeremiah 6:16 encourages God’s people to seek out and walk in.Paths for which our older saints make the very best kind of guides.
“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32
After a hard fought battle the church decided to allow the hymn singing to continue until that generation had passed on. They didn’t have to wait long. I wrote the following poem in honor of that triumphant day.
We are the church who killed the hymn –hurrah!
Who shook off our fetters, went out on a limb –hurrah! Who took what was sacred and dear to the heart
Of the elders among us whom we’d like to depart
And take all their creeds and their stained glass art, Their potlucks and organs and dreary old songs,
And be Gone! Gone! Gone!
We’ve adopted a tune heard in any saloon
And added a beat picked up right from the street.
In the name of progress and the modern age
We’ve looked to the seeker and made them our gauge. We’ll no longer be bound like a bird in a cage
To traditions or standards or words on a page!
Yes, we are the church who killed the hymn!
Hurrah! And Hurrah! And Hurrah!
To see how one member of our family is working hard to keep hymns alive in his generation click on this link.
5 thoughts on “On Worship”
Oh, Julie! I am amazed at how you are able to put in print how my heart feels! This is such a good reminder of the importance of right theology and worship, as well as valuing the resources God has given us in the darling elderly in our church(es). Thank you for your voice that honors them and God. 🙂
We feel this way about hymns too. My husband complains every Sunday about it. Our current church has two hours, but in order to go to youth group, which is the 2nd hour, you have to go to church the first hour because there is no other option. you can’t be in two places at once. The second hour has the hymns. The first has the new stuff.
Your poem is so good, I scrolled back up to see who wrote it, and realized oh she said she wrote it. So good! Your son does a great job on guitar too.
Also, I had no idea what G3 conference was. I had to Google it.
Oh, Julie, Carrie and I were just “going off” about the lack of hymns and the torture of modern “church” music. You say it how we believe it: emphatically and clearly and with sorrow. Your comments about the elderly and the scriptures used were so good. Come visit us; we love to sing hymns. I know you work at a camp, so you are busy in the summer, but you would love to join the 800-900 (I an not counting the really little ones) or so voices raised in praise to our God, singing the old hymns at our family camp! It is thrilling! Keep speaking the truth, dear Julie!
Julie, my dear, how much I appreciate your thoughts and words as spoken in this particular post.
I should! I’m there! And I’m the beneficiary of the love, the joy, the blessings, you and your family have brought my way. After reading your words, I’m content with where I am in the body of Christ.