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Worship is War


Worship is war.  The great battle of all time is the battle for worship—thwarworshipe battle to win the adoration and service of earth and heaven.  And when we gather for corporate worship, part of what we’re doing is fighting in this battle.  So we must be serious about our task.  We must be serious about being unified in our task.  We must be serious about being steadfast in our task.  And if we are to be serious, unified, and steadfast, we must above all be focused only on Christ.  He is the object of our worship, and He is the reason we can worship rightly.  So fix your eyes on Him, continuing to come together week in and week out to fight so that Christ will be exalted in His church and in the world.

Andrew Sheffield is Pastor for Worship and Community at Rocky Bayou Baptist Church in Niceville, Georgia.

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In Spirit and Truth: What Does that Mean, Exactly?

spirit and truthtBy Andrew Sheffield

In Spirit and Truth:  What does that mean, exactly?

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23-24)

In the “worship wars” (read: style wars) of the past two or three decades, this passage has played a central role.  On all sides people use these verses to make their cases—some argue that the “spirit” component of worship is missing from services that use only traditional hymns, and therefore contemporary music must come in to rescue the church from dead worship; others claim that Jesus’ statement endorses charismatic practices; still others argue that “truth” is missing from contemporary praise and worship music, directing us back to hymns as the answer for our worship woes.

Obviously, not all of these perspectives can be true.  And in fact, I would argue that all of them miss Jesus’ point and thereby miss an essential truth about worship.  Recall the occasion for these words:  the Samaritan woman has put to Jesus the issue of where right worship of God should take place—in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim.  And in His own infinitely wise way, Jesus thwarts her expectations, and, rather than answering her directly, He makes a much, much larger point.  He tells the woman that physical location no longer matters in worshiping the Father; rather, spiritual orientation matters.  And in fact, Jesus’ point here goes even further than issues of location; it touches on the very definition of worship.  For, up to this point in the history of Israel, worship has been centered around the physical acts of sacrifice and offering, in the physical place of the temple.  But Jesus says here that physical places and even physical acts are not the heart of worship:  rather, spiritual, unseen realities define true worship.

Without delving any deeper into this text (there are volumes of truth here), think about just this point:  the governing realities of true worship are spiritual, not physical.  To put this another way:  God looks not at the outward appearance, but at the heart.  Or, another way:  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”  Sound familiar?  These are all ways of stating the truth that worship is more about unseen realities than about seen realities.  The unseen realities—who God is and who we are in light of Him—should be our consuming focus.

Be sure that I’m not saying that physical realities are completely meaningless or that there is some great divide between physical and spiritual—because we humans are both physical and spiritual, so any spiritual realities we experience are mediated through our bodies.

But if our chief focus is on the things we can see or touch or feel—the aesthetics of the place where we meet, the style of music, or even our emotional state, for example—then we will miss altogether the spiritual realities of true worship.  The battle we must fight in our worship (and indeed in our entire Christian life) is the battle to fix our eyes on the unseen things.

So the next time we gather—and every time we gather—remind yourself that your physical experience is not the ultimate judge of whether your worship is spiritual and true; rather, the orientation of your heart is what will make your worship genuine.



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Still More on Why it Matters What We Sing

By Andrew Sheffield

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-wrote the Hymnal is a forthcoming book by T. David Gordon, a follow-up to his 2009 book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, which addresses the (detrimental) reshaping of preaching by modern media.  I came across an interview with the author in which he comments on the transformations that occurred in America’s music culture within the past century, and I thought his comments were worth sharing with you:

“In the last 70 years, substantial changes happened to music in American culture:

* music moved from being participatory to passive (folk music, performed by average people, has all but disappeared, and has been replaced by pop music)

* music went from being communal to being, largely, individual (began with the Sony Walkman, [and] music is now heard solitarily)

* because of the commercial interests, pop music has replaced sacred music, classical music, and folk music. For the vast majority of Americans, the only music that SOUNDS like music is pop music, because they are surrounded by it. It is in the “background” when shopping, putting gas in the car, dining in restaurants, on TV and film. So nothing else registers as music. The consequence is that many churches have effectively abandoned the church’s rich history of hymnody for trifling contemporary stuff.”  (emphasis mine)

In relation to these comments, the thought has struck me that much of today’s church music is not actually produced by the church, for the church:  it is produced by producers, for consumers.  In other words, church music has become market-driven (just as much of church practice in other areas).  I don’t mean to condemn free markets; but just as preachers should preach with consideration only for what God has to say to His people—not what will sell well or attract a crowd—so church music should be produced with the sole considerations of how to edify the people of God and how to help them make the praise of God glorious.

This is just one more reason I’m so picky when it comes to the songs we sing.  It’s also yet another reason I gravitate more toward older rather than newer:  because by and large, hymns from the era of Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross were written by the church, for the church—often by pastors for their own congregations to sing.  They became popular because they were used so widely in the church—rather than being used widely in the church because they were popular.  (In the same way, many of the newer songs we use in corporate worship are not necessarily songs you’ll hear on the radio but come from people seeking to edify the local church rather than to sell records.  Not that selling records is wrong, but again, when it comes to corporate worship, market success should never enter our thinking.)

I hope this helps you sharpen your thinking about church music, and I hope it helps you see just a little more clearly my desires for us as a church in the area of singing.

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