Blogs written by Shane Veinot for PurposeCity.

Gospel

What is the Gospel?

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first recorded words are a command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel, when translated from the Greek, literally means “good news” and is obviously an important and central teaching of the Christian faith. But do you know what it is?

For most of my life, I would have answered that question the same way almost anyone else who grew up in the modern Church would have answered it. The gospel is about the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Right?

Let’s examine the scriptures to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Many Gospels?

Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where you will see the word “gospel” accompanied by a descriptor. Some of the examples we see are “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1), “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), and “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Does this mean there are many different gospels? And if there is no descriptor included, how can we know which gospel is being referenced?

In general, our culture has done a good job of proclaiming a gospel of salvation. The problem is that the Bible depicts the gospel as something more than just our own personal salvation, as evidenced above. Yet, we often miss the full gospel because we tend to focus on just one aspect of it. While there is certainly only one gospel, it manifests itself in many different ways.

Perhaps the best question we should ask is, “Which gospel did Jesus preach?”

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God

If we go back again to the first recorded words of Jesus, we see Him speaking about the coming “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). In Matthew 9:35, we also see that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” In Luke 4:43, Jesus even goes so far as to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.”

Have you ever truly noticed that before? Jesus is saying the very purpose He was sent to Earth was to preach the gospel, or the “good news,” of the kingdom of God. But did the focus of the gospel change after Jesus’ death and resurrection? According to Acts 1:3, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to speak about the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul preached the very same gospel. While living for two years in Rome, Acts 28:23 tells us that “from morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”

Paul wasn’t the only apostle preaching this message either. In Acts 8, we’re told that the Apostle Philip “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

What’s interesting is that both the good news (the “gospel”) of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus were preached. This indicates that the message of the gospel and the message of the person of Jesus are not the same message. The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of your salvation, the gospel of peace – these are all the same gospel, because they all point to the same thing: the coming kingdom of God. When Christ comes again, ushering in his Kingdom to begin his millennial reign here on Earth, the good news is that those of us counted among the righteous will be there with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

You can’t remove Jesus from the gospel. Without Him, there is no gospel. But if we only preach a gospel of salvation, then we reduce the gospel to merely a benefit. We may currently understand the gospel in relation to how it affects our lives today, but Jesus wants us to know how the gospel impacts us after we die. Salvation is our entry point into the Kingdom of God, but salvation is only a one time event. The Kingdom of God is forever.

Resurrection

Does the Bible say the Resurrection was on Sunday?

If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Mark before, you’ve probably noticed a curious note that appears at the end of chapter 16, following verse eight, that goes something like this: “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.”

Have you ever wondered about the significance of those twelve verses not appearing in early manuscripts, or how their inclusion could potentially impact your beliefs? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. But if you’re looking for Exhibit A, I would suggest you look no further than the article I wrote about Good Friday. In that article I argued against traditional Church beliefs by concluding that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, and rose again on Saturday.

But doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which is Sunday? Let’s read the first of those twelve verses I referenced:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)

It would appear that it doesn’t get much clearer than that. Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. Case closed.

Or is it? One of the first lessons in biblical interpretation is to let scripture interpret scripture. So let’s take a look at the other bible verses that talk about Jesus rising on the first day of the week. I’ll wait while you look.

What’s curious is that you won’t find anything. There’s not one other verse that states Jesus rose on the first day of the week. That should serve as our first warning signal. Our second warning signal should be the note that appears after Mark 16:8. I would be hesitant to base my beliefs about the resurrection on a verse that can’t be cross-referenced, and which wasn’t included in some of our earliest manuscripts.

Before some of you get up in arms, let me make clear that I’m not questioning the inerrancy of the Bible in its original text. Even though many New Testament scholars have concluded that Mark 16:9-20 is “non-marcan,” meaning it’s likely this ending to Mark was a later addition by scribes, that does not necessarily mean the verses are not authentic or inspired.

However, if we assume the verses belong as part of biblical canon, doesn’t that leave us with the same problem about the timing of Jesus’ resurrection? Before jumping to conclusions, let’s first read Mark 16:9 from the King James Version:

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”

In this translation, the past tense is used. As a result, it leads to what may be a more natural reading of the text. The meaning of this verse is derived entirely from the placement of the punctuation. It’s important to note that the original Greek text had no punctuation. It was added hundreds of years later, and even then it was added based on human interpretation. So what if the comma was placed elsewhere in the verse?

“Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…”

So by simply moving one piece of punctuation, our entire understanding of the timing of Jesus’ resurrection can be altered. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus was crucified on Friday; and with a proper understanding of Mark 16:9, there’s nowhere that says He was raised from the dead on Sunday morning either.

In the end, does it matter? As I stated when I wrote about Good Friday, the message of why Jesus died is far more important than when He died. But consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

When the Pharisees asked for one sign from Jesus proving that He was the Son of God as He claimed, He chose to use the example of Jonah. His one sign was that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then it is vital that we consider the sign He gave us proving His deity. That sign disproves a Friday crucifixion, and in turn – along with what we’ve studied about Mark 16:9 – disproves a Sunday resurrection as well.

Ultimately, what’s most important is that the resurrection did take place, just as Jesus predicted. And we can forever be confident that we serve a living God, because Jesus Himself gave us a sign to prove it.

Good Friday

Good Friday?

As millions of people flock to churches all across North America this weekend, the message that will be proclaimed is one of salvation, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross is certainly the primary message that must be preached, I want to focus solely on the most solemn part of this weekend: Good Friday.

While all four Gospel accounts tell the story of how Jesus died, there tend to be parts of the story that we overlook. Part of the reason for this, as I’ve written about before, is that we sometimes don’t let scripture interpret scripture, or understand the cultural context of what we’re reading. As a result, I’d like to focus on two topics in particular: Passover and the Sabbath.

Passover

If you’ve ever read the Old Testament, one word you’ll see repeated a lot is “Passover.” The tradition began during the Jewish captivity in Egypt, as the people of Israel were instructed by God to select a year-old male lamb without defect so they could observe the Passover Feast as a memorial.

“This Day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12:14)

They were to kill the lamb, ensuring none of its bones were broken, and spread its blood across the top and sides of the doorposts. By doing so, they would be saved from the last plague that God brought upon the Egyptians. Following this final plague, the Jewish people were released from captivity.

Jesus, who is often referred to as the Lamb of God, fulfills Passover by being the final Passover lamb. He was a lamb without defects from sin, whose bones were not broken on the cross, and whose blood saves us and releases us from the captivity of sin.

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The Sabbath

When we think of the Sabbath, we tend to think of the weekly Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. However, this was only one of many Sabbaths that the Jewish people observed. Throughout the year, there were seven feasts that were celebrated, and the first and last day of each of these feasts was a special Sabbath. These Sabbath days were observed just as a seventh day Sabbath.

The week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion was a Passover week. As such, there were potentially two Sabbath days being observed. So when we read that Jesus was crucified on the day of Preparation (John 19:31), which is the day before a Sabbath, we make an assumption that leads to the traditional belief that Jesus was crucified on “Good Friday.” However, if we read again from John 19:31, we see that the Sabbath being prepared for was a “high day,” or an annual Sabbath, such as the first day of Passover (or first day of Unleavened Bread).

Additionally, since Jesus is the Passover Lamb, it is important that he be “sacrificed” prior to a Passover Sabbath, not simply a seventh day Sabbath.

Three Days and Three Nights

A common belief when Jesus lived was that the soul lingered above the body for three days after someone’s death. That meant that for someone to be declared officially dead, they had to be lifeless for three full days. With that context in mind, let’s take a look at a verse in Matthew:

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)

It doesn’t take a mathematician to read that verse in Matthew, count the number of days and nights from Friday to Sunday, and discover something doesn’t quite add up. No matter how you twist it, you can’t get three days and three nights out of a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection. And based on beliefs held at that time, many wouldn’t have accepted Jesus’ death until he had been in the tomb for three full days.

Furthermore, let’s read from a passage in Luke, as we pick up the account of Joseph of Arimathea:

“This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:52-56)

The passage above is expanded upon with a verse from Mark:

“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.” (Mark 16:1)

Luke tells us that the spices and ointments were prepared before the Sabbath, but Mark tells us that the spices weren’t even bought until after the Sabbath. Is this a contradiction? Not if there are two separate Sabbath days being referenced.

Based on what we’ve uncovered above, let’s run through the order of events with the assumption that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday instead of Friday. Following the death of Jesus, the women followed Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb where Jesus was laid. By this time the Sabbath was about to begin, which commenced at sunset (Jewish days begin and end at sunset, not at midnight). Since Mark indicates that the women bought and prepared spices after the Sabbath was past, this would have taken place on Friday, a regular work day. Luke then tells us that the women rested on the Sabbath after preparing the spices and ointments. This would have been the regular seventh day Sabbath. By this time, Jesus would have already spent three days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) and three nights (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) in the tomb.

Which leads us to our last question: What about Saturday night? Matthew says that Jesus will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, not three days and four nights. Jesus had also predicted to his disciples that he would die and rise again on the third day.

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21)

If Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday morning, that would mean He rose on the fourth day, not the third – contradicting Scripture and His own prophecy. To help reconcile this and understand the teaching of Scripture, we need to return to Genesis:

“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5b)

Because of this creation account from God, the Jewish day begins with the evening and ends with the daytime. A full day is sunset to sunset, as alluded to earlier. The Bible account doesn’t tell us exactly when Jesus rose from the grave; we only know that when His tomb was visited on Sunday morning, He had already risen. So based on the Scripture we’ve studied, and the requirement for Jesus to rise on the third day, the most likely answer is that Jesus rose from the dead prior to sunset on Saturday. Otherwise, He would have risen on the fourth day.

So what does this all mean? Should we celebrate Good Wednesday and Easter Saturday? While I believe biblical scholarship is important, the “when” of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not nearly as important as the “why.” It is the message of “why” that has the power to impact and change lives this weekend, not the message of “when.”

But it is my desire that each of us would root our beliefs and practices firmly in the teachings of the Bible. That means looking to Scripture to form and develop our beliefs, not blindly accepting religious traditions. When we begin to lean on biblical truths, rather than human traditions, we will better understand the God who sent His Son to die for us. In other words, we will better understand the message of “why.”

Church

How Does the Bible Describe the Church?

Imagine for a moment that you’ve never stepped foot inside a church building before in your life. You’ve never opened up a Bible, never heard a sermon preached. Maybe you’ve never even heard the name of Jesus spoken before.

But then one day someone gives you a Bible, and you begin to read it. Cover to cover. You read about the beginning of all things in Genesis, and discover a God that is larger than life. You read about Noah’s flood, and discover a God who demands righteousness and punishes sin. You read about Moses and the Exodus, and discover a God who will rescue His people from the bondage that enslaves them. You read about King David, and discover a God who loves us despite our glaring imperfections. You read about Jesus, and discover a God who would send His Son to die, so we could live eternally with Him. You read the New Testament, and discover a God who wants to spread the message of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth, that none might perish.

Now imagine after reading about this God, you stepped foot inside a church building for the first time. What would you expect? Any expectations that you enter with would have been born solely out of what you’ve read in God’s Word. Your expectations would not be tainted by centuries of church rituals and tradition. There would be no influence of past observations and experiences. No expectations based on what you’ve been taught since you were a child. Just the teachings of the Word of God.

I’ve written in the past about our common modern day church experience, but my aim here is not to observe and critique our church experiences of the past. It’s to begin to consider what the gathered Church might look like if we stripped away any preconceived ideas of what we believe the Church is supposed to be.

If we look to the Book of Acts, where the New Testament Church begins, we see that the Church is built around four defining features: the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  (Acts 2:42)

Let’s take a closer look into the first three of these four features, to learn more about how they impacted the daily lives of the first century believers, and how they should impact our lives today.

The Apostles’ Teaching

Teaching has always been a central focus of Christian gatherings. Early Church gatherings provided an opportunity for believers to receive instruction from the apostles’ teaching, as they submitted themselves to the authority of the Scriptures. In Acts 20, we even see an example of Paul preaching from early evening until daybreak, probably a timeframe of 10 to 12 hours! While this was a special occasion, we see that the Apostle Paul believed the teaching of the Word of God was so important that he filled an entire night with it. The same should be true today. While a good sermon lasting 60 minutes isn’t necessarily any better than a sermon lasting 20 minutes, we should always hunger for more teaching and preaching of God’s Word.

Fellowship

As we continue on in Acts 2, we read the following:

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2: 44-45)

Here we see that the early believers didn’t view the Church as a place where they gathered together on Sunday morning, they viewed themselves as the embodiment of the Church. As a fellowship of believers, they would live as one community sharing everything they owned. We see further example of this in Acts 4:

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35)

This is where we seem to miss the mark most often today. Most likely, this is a result of the focus we’ve placed on Sunday morning in our culture. We’ve made Sunday morning the central focus of our Christian lives, while we live out our own lives Monday through Saturday. But what if we placed a greater focus on gathering together in groups throughout the week, living our lives together as the early Church did? Sunday morning still has an important role to play – its role simply needs to be refocused.

The Breaking of Bread

In Acts 20:7, we read a curious statement indicating that the early believers were gathering together not for the apostles’ teaching, or for prayer, but for the purpose of breaking bread together. Sometimes this meant sharing a meal together, and other times it meant partaking in the Lord’s Supper. But what is apparent is not only did they break bread every time they gathered together, they considered this to be a foundational practice.

As we continue to read further into Acts 2, we learn more about this practice of the early Church:

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2:46)

Here we read that the early believers would break bread together daily and attend the temple together. But while the early believers did meet together often at the temple in Jerusalem, the primary meeting place for the Church in the New Testament is in people’s homes. They would go from home to home, breaking bread and teaching the Word.

So ask yourself a question: Is that something you’ve ever done? Today, is it enough to simply observe communion once a month, or does the Bible call for the Lord’s Supper to be more than that? You be the judge.

In the end, Christianity is not simply about our individual relationship with God. It’s about a community of believers living out their lives together in obedience to the teachings of the Scriptures and in spreading the message of the Gospel. When we look back at Acts 2:42, the verse states that “they devoted themselves” – it wasn’t an individual thing, it was something they did together.

When we begin to live like this, I believe a funny thing will begin to happen: Others will take notice and want to be a part. And what better way to teach the world what it means to follow Jesus, than by following His directions for how to live our lives.

The Church Experience

The Church Experience

Have you ever read about the early church in Acts, then sat through a modern day church service and observed an obvious disconnect? What originally began as a fellowship of believers focused on relational discipleship and spreading the message of the Gospel, seems to have, in many places, evolved over the course of 2000 years into a model of “doing church” for which we have very little biblical basis. Sam Pascoe, a 19th century American scholar, described that transformation like this:

“Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.”

That’s a disconcerting observation on the progression of Christianity throughout history. But from where I’m sitting, his assessment is alarmingly accurate in many cases.

As Christians, how have we watched the church get to this point and somehow acted like nothing is wrong?

Simply put, centuries of church tradition have conditioned us into believing that we’re actively living out the Great Commission by merely sitting in a pew for an hour once a week. We’ve created a “cookie cutter” Christianity by teaching people that salvation comes through praying a prayer and “accepting Jesus into your heart” – a concept you won’t find anywhere in your Bible, no matter which version you read. The “American Dream” has permeated Christian culture to the point where many churches are a better reflection of a Fortune 500 company than the body of Christ.

That last point in particular is a troubling one, and should cause all professing Christians to examine themselves and their church experience. When we plant churches, is it because we want to impact our local communities with the message of the Gospel? Or is because it will enable us to build whatever version of the church we’re most comfortable with? When we make the decision to become part of a church family, is it because we want to live as Disciples of Christ within a community of believers, or is it because we grew up in the church and attending is merely a tradition? Or is it simply because going to church is a more attractive option than our perceived ramification of going to hell instead?

If your experience with today’s church looks anything like the assessment above, the question must then become: What are we going to do about it?

To begin with, we need to recognize that we’ve created a church culture that is ostracizing to unbelievers. Many of today’s churches have essentially created a bubble world within four walls. The focus is placed on the traditional way of “doing” church and utilizing church resources to build a bigger building or buy a better sound system, with the goal of establishing high quality internal programs and creating a church environment that will make people feel comfortable. We’ve created a church culture that is inwardly focused, not outwardly focused. As a result, church growth often does not come from converting the unchurched, but from “church hopping” Christians looking for a comfortable church experience where they feel their needs will be met. And ultimately, isn’t that the problem? While part of any church’s mission is to shepherd their flock, the greater mission is to grow that flock. Instead, we seem to be fostering a generation of believers that is inwardly focused on their own needs, rather than outwardly focused on the lost, and meeting the needs of the widows and orphans of the world.

In reality, the opposite must be true. We need to grow the church outside four walls and take Jesus to the world. Being a Christian is about more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. It’s about serving soup to the homeless on Wednesday night. It’s about being a witness in your workplace every day of the week. It’s about making Christianity more than an enterprise, a culture, an institution, a philosophy … it’s about making it a fellowship of believers once again, living life together with one eternal purpose:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20b, ESV)

While I believe deeply in the power of the church, many churches around the world today weaken that power by missing the true purpose of the Church described in the Bible. Once we return to living out that purpose, the disconnect between the modern day church and the early church in Acts will begin to disappear and we will become the true fellowship of disciples that God intended us to be.

 

How to Lead Worship

How to Lead Worship

As someone who has lead corporate worship in the Church for the past ten years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the importance that music plays in people’s lives. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” So it should come as no surprise that the songs we sing on Sunday morning can, and should, have a profound impact on the gathered Church.

That’s why, as a Worship Pastor, I take the task of planning a worship service very seriously. While worship is about so much more than music, there’s no avoiding the fact that music has a vital role to play in our worship. God Himself commands us to sing His praises all throughout Scripture (Psalm 96:1-3, Psalm 47:6-7, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), and we ought to do so to the best of our ability (Psalm 33:3).

I need to be careful, however, to always ensure the spotlight is on God, not me. After all he’s the one we gather together to glorify, not the worship band. So, I can focus on choosing songs that will allow me to show off my voice, or I can focus on choosing songs that the congregation can easily learn and sing along to. I can focus on choosing the latest and greatest songs that may lack theological content, or I can focus on choosing songs that proclaim the character of God and the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. I can get caught up in my own little world while leading worship, concerning myself more with my own worship time rather than the congregation’s ability to worship, or I can focus on helping people encounter God through the songs that we sing. While it seems obvious where our focus should be, how many times have you sat through a church service where the opposite was true?

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the outline I use when planning a worship service that helps me keep God as the focus above all else. If you’re a worship leader, my hope is that while reading this “how to lead worship” you’ll prayerfully take these thoughts to heart:

1. Live a Life of Worship

Does your life throughout the week reflect the image you project on Sunday morning? As a worship leader, the greatest impact you’ll have on the lives of your congregation is the example you set with your lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how great a musician you are, or how well planned and executed your worship set was on Sunday morning if your life outside of church isn’t a reflection of the One that you lead people to worship every week. That doesn’t mean we need to be perfect. Far from it. But we can’t lead people in true worship if we don’t experience it in our own daily lives.

2. Is God the Center?

When we sing, the purpose should be to bring glory to God. Whether we sing songs about His holiness, His love, His righteousness, or the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, our songs should always be firmly focused on God. But so many modern worship songs today focus on us, rather than God. Other songs, while having a great melody that’s easy to learn and which may elicit an emotional response, offer little theological content. Do songs like this bring glory to God, or glory to us? Our focus must always be on singing songs that bring glory and praise to God alone.

3. Traditional vs. Contemporary

There was a time when I refused to lead my congregation in the singing of hymns. Because I grew up in a traditional Baptist church that sang only hymns and choruses (with as much liveliness as you’d find in a morgue) I associated hymns with that negative concept of church. I doubt I’m alone in experience. But because of that kind of experience, I believe many of us pit traditional hymns against contemporary worship songs as if they’re adversaries, when in reality the opposite is true. I now have a deep appreciation for hymns because of the rich theological content they contain, and I love how their more complex lyrics can so nicely complement the simpler lyrics of many modern worship songs. So I don’t advocate singing only traditional hymns or only contemporary worship songs in your worship service. Instead, the ideal scenario is a healthy combination of the two.

4. Balancing Complexity and Simplicity

Poet William Cowper once wrote that “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe that’s true of the music in our worship services. If we sang only hymns we may gain a strong theological foundation for our worship, but we might lack modern worship music’s ability to emotionally stir our affections toward God. But if we sang only modern worship songs, we might make worship more about the way we feel than about who God is. So it’s not a matter of focusing on how complex hymns can be, or how simple modern worship songs can be, but rather it’s a matter of balancing the two together. Personally, I incorporate at least one hymn into every worship service, and often it’s more than that. The real goal should be to ensure that your worship service has a nice mixture of more complex, theologically rich songs (hymns or otherwise) and simpler worship songs that enables everyone to worship God with both their hearts and their minds.

5. Avoid Mindless Worship

Mindless worship creeps into our worship services more than we realize. If we sing the same songs often enough, eventually we stop thinking about what we’re singing, and the words can lose all meaning to us. That’s one reason why I like to introduce a new song at least once or twice a month. A fresh song can often give us a fresh perspective. It’s also the reason I don’t force songs on my congregation if they clearly don’t connect with them after a couple attempts. It doesn’t matter how much I love a song, if it’s not connecting with the congregation then there’s no value in singing it. But we can’t always do new songs, so it’s important to help the congregation connect, or re-connect, with the old faithful songs. That might mean incorporating a personal story with the song, reading Scripture that ties in to the message of the song, or simply reading some of the song’s lyrics before to let the meaning sink in. Whatever method you choose, remember that the end goal is to help people encounter God.

6. The Twenty-Year Rule

A few years ago I read a book by Bob Kauflin titled, “Worship Matters.” It’s a must-read book for every worship leader. But if there was one teaching from the book that stuck with me above all else, it was Kauflin’s concept of the Twenty-Year Rule, which he describes as follows:

“If someone was born in our church and grew up singing our songs over the course of twenty years, how well would they know God? Would these songs give them a biblical and comprehensive view of God, or would they be exposed only to certain aspects of his nature and works? Would they learn that God is holy, wise, omnipotent, and sovereign? Would they know God as Creator and Sustainer? Would they understand the glory and centrality of the Gospel? Or would they think worship is about music, and not much more?”

The Twenty-Year Rule is at the forefront of my mind when picking songs for Sunday morning. While every song I pick isn’t going to be a complex breakdown of the character of God, as we’ve already discussed, I do want to make certain that the songs we sing paint a picture of who God is. That might mean I focus on His holiness one week, His love the next week, etc., but in the end I want to ensure my congregation is getting a comprehensive view of who God is.

7. Tell the Story

In the end, it all comes down to telling a story. Years ago, when leading worship was still very new to me, I picked songs without much rhyme or reason. All I did was follow the standard worship service model: start with a few fast songs and work your way towards ending with a few slower songs. I’d make sure a lot of these songs were done in the same key as well, because naturally that meant they fit together better.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m still very concerned with songs fitting together, but in a much different way. I realize now that the songs I choose need to tell a story. A big factor in being able to do that effectively is working with your pastor to know the sermon topic and Scripture he’s going to be teaching on each week. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to more effectively select songs around a particular theme that will complement and enhance the message being preached. If the theme is about the holiness of God, then tell that story with your song choices. If the theme is about Jesus as our Savior, then tell the story of our trespasses with sin and the Amazing Grace that God offers us. People connect with stories. And if your songs tell a story, then your congregation will experience a greater connection with God through singing them.

Remember that in the end your primary role as a worship leader is to be a teacher. If you’re telling a story, it’s for the purpose of teaching people the meaning of that story. Through the songs that you sing, you’re teaching people who God is and what He has done. And that’s a great story to tell.