Hired Cars and attending Worship services

close-up of car start and stop buttonLast night I delivered the first session of the course ‘What on Earth do we think we are doing: Crafting Worship for our Neighbourhood.

To get to Stevens Road Baptist Church, Dartmouth where I was delivering the course I had a hired car. This was probably about the seventh different hire car I have driven in the last three months.

This is good – because they have all been better cars than I have ever owned!!


(One of my favourites)

Yet I have never been able to fully enjoy these cars  – because I have not had a clue about how half the things work or where they are. Several times I have had to dig out the manual to find out how to open the petrol/gas flap (indeed I may have to do so again in half an hour as the latest goes back)

Oh all the stuff is there in these cars… windscreen wipers, heaters, lights, and more…GPS, heated seats…and more …audio systems, reverse parking aids, parking brakes (on the floor)…and more …special controls for four wheel, snow driving – last night I noticed a little light came on on the side mirror whenever a car entered the ‘blind spot’. Oh yes it is all there and more, but as I said, I have not had the full enjoyment because I have not fully understood where everything was or how it worked. last night I found the heated seat switch quickly because it was already on but it took me some time to realize that the light on the dashboard did not mean, as I thought it meant, that I had actually turned on my headlights!

In the past few months I have also visited a number of churches for their worship services. I have had something of a similar experience. Most of the stuff – more or less and sometimes more is all there …preaching, singing, offering, community time, prayer, communion…and more …expressive dance, drama, choral and individual singing…but I have not always known how they worked or how I am meant to work them and respond to them. See this earlier post.

This got me on to 1 Corinthians 14:23 and the ‘outsider or unbeliever’ (working on basis I am former rather than latter!!!) and the importance of their perspective in Paul’s thinking for shaping what happens. The perspective of the outsider is an argument given with respect to what takes place and its ‘order’.

Whether I am what Paul was talking about or not, I think in many ways it has been this posture of the newcomer, outsider, or stranger that has raised for me questions I reckon I should have been asking before: ‘why do we do what we do in worship, why here, why in this way, and what does this mean, and how do we articulate that to the insiders and outsiders in such a way as to enhance its meaning.

My status will change and soon I will be an ‘insider’, I will find my way about that dashboard for the essentials (lights) and the treats (heated seats) with ease – so in the waiting, with this temporary posture I will continue as I can to press on with tenacity concerning these questions offering I hope not simply a critical but constructive and creative voice as people seek to craft worship for their congregations and ‘neighbours’.

Crafting Worship 2018


Stop seeking resources instead of discernment

Diverse People Luncheon Outdoors Food Concept

I drop past a number of social media sites. On one Baptist site I often see people ask questions about knowledge and available resources such as small group material, audio visual materials etc. In many ways this is good. It shows a healthy level of support and collaboration that speaks to Baptist interdependency rather than autonomy.

The above notwithstanding some of the requests trouble me. For these at times, these resource requests, seem to be ‘how to’ questions regarding the worship and mission activity of congregations.

Oh to be sure the Church in the Global North is facing many challenges. My whole life of ministry and mission has been done in the context of numerical decline. This fact shapes the way in which we are doing theology (maybe the subject of another post). This hits the road at a congregational and local level where a week by week the challenge is to maintain engaging worship and meaningful witness in the face of many challenges and expectations. My goodness, do we not indeed need to find things that ‘work’ (whatever we decide that means)?. Many times, however, I worry about the sort of pressure this puts on leaders and pastors. This is NOT the same situation anticipated in many older books on such things as pastoral care and some newer ones deny the fact offering images and advice that simply no longer relates to context.

Yet surely, when it comes to matters of the nature of our congregational worship and witness what we actually need more than resources is ‘discernment’. The discernment of the way and will, the ‘mind’, of Jesus Christ for our congregation.

Oh I know that congregations need leadership. Leaders expect to give it and often congregations expect them to. Indeed. We need leaders that will lead. Coming up with resources that will ‘work’ is surely part of leadership?  Well, yes maybe. But at times this act represents the taking by leaders and the abdication by congregations of what is the corporate responsibility of seeking what it is that Jesus Christ is saying to us about our life and witness.

To push this further. There are many Church flavours where the pastor, leader, minister, priest has considerable authority to act and lead ‘freely’ (although that sometimes means in keeping with quite a strict external hierarchy above them). Yes, these types of leadership exist in many forms but this is not actually the Baptist type of Church which is my focus here. Indeed it seems to me that part of leadership in a Baptist congregation is precisely to enable a congregation to learn how to discern what the living Jesus Christ is saying to us about the nature of our worship and mission. Here the task of leadership becomes teaching, and enabling a congregation to mature in its discipleship which involves the members coming to know ‘the will of God – what is good acceptable and perfect’ so that they in the model of Jesus Christ can together offer their ‘bodies’ as ‘a living sacrifice’ (Rom. 12:1-2).

When I have discussed this with pastors and leaders they have at times seemed excited by the prospect that at the heart of Baptist ecclesiology is the opportunity to discern through the Spirit, with the congregation, what the living Jesus Christ who we claim is the Head of the Church, is actually saying to ‘us’ here and now -in this place about what we should be doing in our life together. In practice, however, very little of this happens. Oh yes we have meetings in which we discuss (discern? really!) the colour of the new kitchen – (I do not think Jesus cares) but we apparently do not think that this approach to discerning can deal with the big issues of mission and ministry  – there on important issues we need resources that will work.

Our practice often displays a theology other than we claim we hold and misses an opportunity to be led by the Head of the Church. In this I think we are making the major critical mis-step of the post-Christendom missional situation. We are failing to invest in discerning at a local and congregational level what the resurrected Jesus Christ is saying to us about what he wants for and from us in this context. We are trading in discernment for resources.

In saying this I absolutely agree that we need to ‘shatter’ the image of such discernment being rows of seats in a dull Church hall on a cold February evening locked in the style of ‘business’. Instead: gather, eat, talk, disagree, listen, laugh, read, pray, break bread, drink wine, and dare to believe that the living Jesus sits there and in this context and through this people now or next week but at least in part through this process, he reveals his mind and will and way. Strange you read some stuff like this in Acts … ‘and day by day the Lord added to their number show who were being saved’ … but yes as an alternative I am sure there are some good resources out there.

(Some of the above expands upon a chapter I contributed to this book)





Epiphany or Mothering Sunday

Three kings or three wise men with Christmas star. Christmas nativity abstract artistic illustration.There are a whole range of special foci outside the big two of Christmas and Easter that can be included as part of regular ‘worship events’. Epiphany, Mothering Sunday, Remembrance Day, Baptist World Alliance Human Right’s Sunday name but four.

I know congregations who variously observe some or none, and maybe all of these. To be sure sometimes it is a grudging acknowledgement in a ‘children’s talk’ or a more serious reflection in a ‘prayer’, but issue makes it in or not. So it is that one way or another choices are made to include and to exclude.

What I am not clear on is the basis for the decisions to include or exclude such foci from congregational worship? I also suspect (I am perhaps necessarily suspicious) that if pressed those responsible for making the choices may not always have necessarily thought this through (I do not mean you of course!). Or if they have, they may not necessarily be confident of the validity of the answer they would have to give ….’people expect it’!? – may be true but maybe does not feel as though the answer we should be giving.

I do think that various arguments can be made for the inclusion or exclusion of all or any of these as expressions of Christian worship services including no doubt ‘we don’t do that Church calendar malarky’ or even ‘I did not know that there was a human right’s Sunday’. This notwithstanding why those who regularly include ‘Remembrance Sunday’ but do not mention ‘Human Right’s Sunday’ (as part of Christian worship) maybe poses a fascinating question?

I know that there can be huge pressure on the limited time of gathered congregational worship. I am not sure that any choices are more right than wrong although I would like people to be able to articulate the reasons so that these could be examined. For while the choices made may not necessarily be right or wrong the reasons may be more or less biblically and theologically responsible.

Greg Scheer writes…’Who wouldn’t want their worship to be biblical? That’s something we can all agree on, right?’ I certainly belong in a context where ‘biblical’ carries a lot of weight and rightly so. It is, however, at times stated as a mantra that implies that all things are thus obvious. So, okay, what are the ‘biblical’ reasons for including or excluding these various foci.

Scheer, actually helpfully explores in relationship to worship what it may mean to say that something is ‘biblical’.9780801008283

Moreover, if our practices not least our worship practices reveal the ‘operant theology’ (Cameron et al.) or the ‘primary theology’ (McClendon) of our congregations what does the presence or absence of such and other foci say about understanding of God and God’s nature in relation to the world?

PrintGoing another step further, if our worship services are in some ways ‘formative’ (so among others James K. A. Smith), what are our liturgies and rituals (in the sense of the regular things we do together) forming people into by the inclusion or exclusion of these different opportunities?


Of course consideration of the above will enable not simply informed choices about what is or is not included in our worship services, but actually as importantly how we deal with them as we respond to our varying contexts. Perhaps some of these foci need to be included but critically with a simultaneous acceptance and rejection, deconstruction and construction of what they stand for in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? So for example Epiphany Sunday traditionally invites some reflection on the Baptism of Jesus a topic which is strangely seldom preached on in Baptist Churches other than when there is a baptism!

Oh it may indeed be important as to whether we prefer Hillsong or Bethel, or Wesley songs in our singing  but these are not the only questions in town – or again why are these questions considered more important than the others? See Worship is not just about music and singing

In throwing this all out there – I am really interested, I do want to know, and yes I am more than a bit suspicious, but certainly I think we need to be thinking about these things if we are interested in the nature of our worship events at their ‘substantive’ levels of biblical, theological, and formative natures.

Crafting Worship 2018

This course begins on Thursday 11th January 2018.

Sacraments and mission…

wine and bread 2 12-10

Sitting in my post Christmas ‘rest’ I noticed the Canadian Baptists Tweet ‘Are sacraments for those coming in or going out? Can something that’s not a sacrament be sacramental? Holsclaw and Fitch give us some perspective on their podcast. So I thought I would listen in.

It was an interesting conversation. It took a while, however, for the rubber to hit the actual road about what was meant to be the key question: ‘Are the Sacraments for Mission?’, and indeed for a lot of the earlier friendly discussion to get to the point that ‘baptists’ (neo-Anabaptists) and Anglicans (neo?) were operating with different definitions of what constitutes a ‘Sacrament’. The difference between these definitions was not resolved in the conversation.

This difference I think boiled down to the difference on the one hand between what is seen as a ‘Sacrament’ in the sense that it has been specifically ordained by Jesus Christ  for ‘liturgical’ practice (Lord’s Supper and Baptism)…over and against, on the other hand, an activity which can be ‘sacramental’ in that it mediates the gracious presence of Jesus Christ e.g. a meal in a fast food restaurant.

I absolutely think that there are a variety of acts and activities such as the sharing of food at table which can give a material, tangible, visual, and experiential (yes indeed I agree sacramental) focus to the already presence of Jesus Christ in all places. I do not think that such acts and actions make him present – I think Jesus already is present – but they do give his presence a material manifestation – bearing witness to his presence in tangible ways in that place.

We need to do so much more of the above – putting ourselves in ‘non-typical for us’ places to act in a way that bears witness to the gracious liberating presence of Jesus Christ. If we cannot get over the hurdle of our careful distancing, our selective avoidance of people and places, like we would a walk in clinic filled with people with the flu, afraid we might catch something, then all of our talk and conferencing about mission is truly to be pitied.

Yet, I do think that the distinction that the Anglican contributors made between the ‘Sacraments’ as acts and activities with some specific particularity as to their form and the ‘sacramental’ has some validity. (I say this not sure that the large ‘S’ and small ‘s’ is best way to do this, and as someone who came from a tradition that tended to prefer ‘ordinances’).

This being the case, however, I was still let pondering the question of the relationship between what we ‘traditionally’ know as the ‘Sacraments’ (whatever and how many we wish to name but going with the Lord’s Supper and Baptism) and mission.

I guess one obvious connection is that the social practices of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be helping to shape the gathered community so that when it scatters it does so with the faith and resources required of those ‘sent’ to be grace bearing agents in the world. This would be a link between the Sacraments and the sacramental. This would be an extension of the ‘sacraments’ beyond the ‘closed’ or ‘close’ community. There is plenty of work to be done on this alone, however, if these acts are to be so socially formative as it will not simply happen by people turning up.

Another connection is that both baptism and the Lord’s Supper can constantly, albeit in different ways, be offered to ‘all’ inviting participation not simply as an ‘act of belonging’ but as an ‘act of beginning to belong’.

Encouraging people to be ‘Baptized’ as a sign of coming to faith holds more biblical water (did you see what I did there?) rather than asking people to raise a hand or sign a card. A bit more emphasis on ‘believe and be baptized’ might be a good starting point for making the missional connection! It would be good to see more baptismal tanks filled with water rather than acting as extra cupboards or places for floral displays as an expression of our missional commitment and activity! We need to make more of ‘believer’s baptism’ in its ‘social’, ‘political’ and ‘sacramental’ missional dimensions.

Following on from the above people can be ‘invited’ to participate in the Lord’s Supper as a sign and act of faith. In contexts when and where the Lord’s Supper has been practiced among non defined congregations (that is gatherings in which there may have been those who have indicated belief and those who have not) I have invited all people to participate in taking the bread and wine either because they ‘love the Lord Jesus Christ and are trusting him for salvation’ or because they are ‘coming, perhaps for the first time, to confess that Jesus is Lord’. The criticism I received was that I had invited non-believers to take communion. I did not. I invited all to participate as a sign of their being or indeed ‘becoming believers’. I have known people ‘come to’ and first ‘express’ faith in this way. (you need to be an open-communion sort of person to do this). If the bread and wine preaches to the senses (paraphrase Cranmer) then eating and drinking confesses with lips!

Yet perhaps we can push the connection between the ‘Sacraments’ and the ‘sacramental’ in mission further. This is when and where we carry out acts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in non-traditional public locations. I know that this has become more common to use a public pool or river or take a portable pool into some non typical place. But what about the Lord’s Supper? With a group of students I have celebrated the Lord’s Supper in a public street in Glasgow. In a restaurant, indeed as part of a meal, with others we have not simply expressed the ‘sacramental’ but the ‘Sacrament’ in that bread and wine was deliberately lifted, offered, shared. What was the purpose of this – nothing other than to express the presence of Jesus Christ as it were ‘out there’.

The practice of obviously ‘liturgical acts’ in non liturgical contexts brings a completely new sacramental … maybe prophetic …dimension to their nature.

I think the discussion of this podcast is an important one – not least because it brings together themes related to ‘worship’ and themes related to mission – not treating them as belonging to separate spheres of activity but united aspects of living under the prior ‘rule’ of the living Jesus Christ.







Worship is not just about music and singing

Angels: singing and making music in stained glass

In preparing and advertising courses on ‘worship’ not least ‘Crafting worship for our local neighbourhood’ – I have really appreciated the comments and conversations that I have been having with people – face to face, on social media, and by e-mail.

In many ways these have highlighted for me that some of what we will actually cover in such a course is not simply necessary but maybe has to be also made clear at the point of advertising because the term ‘worship’ clearly means different things to different people.

One thing that has emerged from this is the need to say that ‘worship’ is too important to be left as a topic of importance to ‘worship leaders’ but is rather something that should be given significant attention and understanding by at least all of the leaders in a church and then in turn the congregation as whole. I tried to say something about this in an earlier post entitled:Is ‘worship’ too important to be left just to leaders?’. This was intended to be a rhetorical question with the hoped response of ‘yes’.

In my wound up moments I want to shout – ‘c’mon people all of us need to understand, own and participate in this thing!” – but it would be inappropriate for me to express myself so ‘loudly’.

So one issue has been – who are these courses for.

A separate but related question is the question of what people understand by the term ‘worship’. In this respect it is clear that for some there can be an immediate association of the word ‘worship’ almost exclusively with ‘music and singing’. In some ways we are encouraged to think this when and where about 15 minutes into a ‘service’ which has had prayer and Scripture and maybe even a hymn we are encouraged ‘Let us now just worship God in these songs‘ – ‘now just‘? . I think a ‘continue‘ in there, without the ‘just‘ would be far better!

Getting wound up again…

One of the things I really like about the book by Greg Scheer, Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders is his helpful discussion on the common meanings of the term worship. Adapting what he says a little…the following different definitions are possible:

Worship as the whole of life

Worship as a congregational gathering such as on a Sunday for a ‘worship’ service

Worship as the bits of a service in which people respond with awe to God

Worship as singing and music

It might actually be a bit of a teaser with respect to the last point to say that if we are to take what the New Testament explicitly describes as happening in the gathering of Christians as a guide for what we do then there is no real explicit evidence of the use of musical instruments!!! For some traditions this has meant that they do not use musical accompaniment in their services!!! Just saying it is not all about the music…

…though I think music can be a deeply significant part of enabling encounter with God.

This said…I am not really a musician unless you count this:12094791_10156648877361789_2680129353405202101_o

Playing for Breakfast





In the courses being offered we will be looking at the connections between these different meanings and how what we do in a worship event/service relates to the understanding of the whole of our lives as an act of worship (Romans 12:1).

But for the rest – well you need to sign up.

Crafting Worship 2018

Those who wish to attend this course not for credits should sign to ‘audit’ on the Acadia Divinity College website: Go to Audit Button

More generally – Sunday by Sunday we attend events into which a large number of our congregational resources are poured and so these questions: what do we think we are doing in them, how can we do what we do in the most meaningful way possible in our own contexts, seem like pretty important questions for all of us concerned in the life of the church.

Theology, theory, training, and improvisation.


Music street performers with girl violinist

In my short time in Canada I have visited four nearby Baptist churches. They are all very different from one another in size and style. In terms of worship some more liturgical some more folksy, some more classical, some more contemporary.

One of the important dimensions of College and Seminary theological education is ‘training’ – preparing people for leadership in ministry and mission in local congregations. This involves attention to the ‘practices’ of ministry and mission.

In the present, however, and increasingly in the future the contexts in which practices are to be exercised will vary – so how do you so ‘train’…I think with attention to:

Theology – Christian practices if they are such have theological meaning behind them and operant in them. This is the critical WHY we do what we do stuff? In turn this shapes HOW we do what what we do. Theology explicitly and implicitly shapes many practices in our worship: preaching, communion, baptism, singing, music. Training in a practice can never, should never, simply be ‘this is how you do a thing’ separate from the ‘this is WHY we do what we do in the way that we do it’. The exposure to theology is also never a one way street for exploring the theology of a practice and the practice of theology allows a rightful necessary critique in the light of Scripture and indeed experience. Education should allow the development of a theological understanding of what our practices ‘mean’.

Theory – the necessary attendant understandings required for conducting a practice in a certain way. Preaching and worship for example requires attention to at least communication and performance theory and their attendant and sub companions. The fact is that much of what we do in Church is to invest theological meaning in what are yet human acts and actions and require attention to a large number of theories and thinking related to human life, culture, and behaviour. These theories result in some of the essential mechanics and techniques of actually carrying out the acts and actions of mission and ministry.

Training – providing opportunities to engage and receive feedback on the mechanics and techniques of actually doing ministry and mission with attention to theological meaning. This can include practicing a baptism, a sermon, a pastoral conversation, etc. etc. etc. In this respect there are often very necessary basic things that can make the difference between a good or bad ‘performance’ of a practice e.g. mumbling usually does not lead to good public speech.

Yet the latter aspect of training takes us back to the challenge – for what a thing may actually look like and need to be in practice apart from the basics of the thing as a thing, preaching as preaching, Lord’s Supper as Lord’s Supper, appropriate worship songs etc. can necessarily vary very much from context to context.

For me this means that part of theological education needs to be about encouraging, actively encouraging, creativity and the ability of people to take a practice with due attention to its necessary theoretical nature and give it life through the expression of its theological meaning as appropriate to context.

It may be that training can play a part in this as people are exposed to a variety of contexts and actively encouraged to develop practices beyond the norm. Maybe, however, what I am writing about here is more about the nurturing of a character and indeed a ‘spirit’ that can improvise – taking what has been learned in theology, theory, and training and making it new and fresh in a variety of contexts…including those not yet imagined.

Perhaps not everyone will manage to learn this. Perhaps some will simply be more suited psychologically or in terms of temperament or indeed theology to a particular form or style of practice. Such will always be required. Be this as it may, it seems to me that we urgently need also to develop those who can take the theology, the tradition, the theory and land this practice firmly into the earth of different contexts where meaning can find new expression.

Those, however, who can do this are likely to be a bit edgy, colorful, non-conventional, dis-contented. Theological education should not seek to train that out of them but to educate them theologically and theoretically to do what they do well for the sake of the church and the ministry and mission that they are called to. For this they will require friends and mentors who can see the future and not simply the present, in them, and in the nature of ministry and mission.

Is ‘worship’ too important to be left just to leaders?

Crafting Worship 2018

From January onwards I will be delivering two courses which in different ways will have ‘worship’ in the sense of what happens in a ‘worship service’ or ‘worship event’ (this will be part of the discussion in both) as their focus.

One of these is a core and introductory course: ‘Effective Preaching and Engaging Worship’ (yes indeed what ‘effective’ and ‘engaging’ means will be part of the discussion). The other a more focussed course on thinking about what it means to ‘craft’ such events with attention to contexts. Both courses are expressions of practical theology which is concerned not only with the practice of theology but also with the theology of practice  – or in other words – both will pay attention to ‘why’ we do what we do and evaluate not simply our doing but our thinking about what we do and the intersection between them.

Who are these courses for?

Well to be sure they are for people who might plan and lead worship services. For we hope that we who perform that role are at least taking the time to think about why we do what we do in the way that we do it.

These courses, however, also for people involved in the leadership of congregations regardless of whether or not they are musicians or lead worship. It seems strange to have to say this. Yet it seems to me that what has happened in many cases is that those who are responsible for the leadership of congregations – both at times ‘ministers’ ‘pastors’ as well as non ordained leaders (elders, deacons, boards – whatever your flavour) often ‘delegate’ responsibility for the ‘worship bit’ to other ‘choir’, ‘music’, ‘worship’ leaders – as long as they leave enough time for the ‘sermon’ (a concern for the preaching leaders) and do not cause to many complaints (the concern of other leaders).

What this means, therefore, is that the nature, conduct, and content of worship services, one of, if not the main, gathering events for the congregation is simply delegated (should that be abdicated) to others. In my opinion, given the claimed importance of our Sunday worship services, the nature, content, practice, the ‘what on earth do we think we are doing’ should be a concern for all those involved in a congregations leadership whether or not they can play an instrument and whether or not they have the gifts of worship leadership themselves. It should matter to all who lead in a congregation because normally at least we claim that such events are important if not central in congregational life. This is all the more critical if we think that such worship events not simply represent but also form the faith and witness life of these congregations. This is not about the micro interference of all leaders in tasks delegated to a few but the participation of all in leadership in understanding the theology and practice of regular Sunday services. In turn this should prevent those who actually shape and lead the services from being isolated as the ones who become the target of criticism from other leaders on the basis of ‘people are saying’!

But I want to push harder and further with this. What on earth we think we are doing, why we do what we do in the way that we do it, should be the concern of every one of us who is part of that congregation…for it is us who are meant to be doing it and are expected to turn up and participate – but in what and why? What is happening in worship and why are not meant to be the ‘dark arts’ whose secrets are only known to a few. Rather why we do what we do, and why we do it in the way we do it should be knowledge open to all so that it can be discussed, owned, and participated in as meaningfully as possible.

Does this mean that all are leaders in a congregation and there is no distinction of gifting, training, responsibility – no. Does this name that all leaders in a congregation should be able to create, craft and lead a worship service – again – no. But we are all ‘worshippers’ and our participation should be informed and meaningful. In this sense worship is certainly far too important to be let to only a few leaders.

To be sure, one of the ways in which a congregation becomes informed is through an informed leadership who are able to articulate what they understand is being done in worship and why. It is indeed one of the intended earning outcomes of the ‘Crafting Worship’ course that participants should be able to: ‘State for purposes of enhanced congregational understanding and participation what is happening in worship and why.’ With respect to this I do think that it makes sense to argue that one of the functions of a regular preaching ministry in a congregation, at least in its ‘teaching voice’ should be to ‘remind’ people ‘why we do what we do’. I say this with the understanding that this very defining and defending of course invites congregational discussion and discernment. I for one think that it is a quite fair question for a congregation and members therein to ask: – ‘how does this actually sustain us as followers of Jesus in the world?’ Why – because it matters, it matters to us all.