- Worship is personal. Worship is a Who—relationship, conversation—not a What. We must remember that.
We usually think of our call as Christians in huge and expansive ways: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” That’s a pretty good marriage of the call to worship and mission. That’s the macro, but the micro of my personal mission in worship begins with one word, a word shared with me by Robert Webber, one of the past century’s leading scholars in the theology of worship. That word is “remember.” The irony is right now I am wrestling with a disease called dementia, where capturing thoughts is like getting a knock on the door at midnight, catching a glimpse of something or someone through the window and by the time you wake up to respond, they are gone; the thought is gone.
Stepping Into Living Memory
Remembering has been part of my stewardship, assembling teachers to look at the past of worship to understand and participate with the Holy Spirit to discover, rediscover and form the present and future. In unearthing the Odes of Solomon, in The Odes Project produced with John Schreiner, our goal was that we as a Church would never forget the power of intimacy, poetry, and passion that is part of every Jesus Movement. So we don’t think we invented worship, but rather we step into the worship that has been going on for millennia on earth and in heaven, so we see how wide and deep the expanse of worship is: its themes, its styles, it’s Holy substance. And so we build from a Scriptural foundation with biblical imagination connected to history and the great cloud of witnesses that surround us.
I’ve worked alongside many people; they all have stories that connect to my life. Our stories together and projects launched and finished span many decades. We often think we remember by ourselves, but to remember well, you need others…even when you’re not struggling with this robber of memories, dementia.
Words, Music, Motion, and Emotion
We need others and their words and actions to help us remember God’s faithfulness, his deliverance HOSANNA. We need brothers and sisters to remember that God is good, that He is glorious, that He is worthy of all praise HALLELUJAH; that He calls us to communion, community and family as our ABBA Father; that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the exclamation point on God’s rescue plan AMEN, and that Jesus has come, is coming and will come in triumph again MARANATHA!
What do we do in those moments—such as the ones we are living in—where a virus is seemingly depriving us of our purpose, our jobs, our financial wellbeing? Or in the times when we can’t get to the door fast enough to catch a thought or idea, or we need help in our recall of where our help comes from? Then, we remember through music, through rituals, through bending knees, and raising hands. Our bodies remember for us. And our families and friends remember with us. We remember that God is working all of this to the good, because we “love Him and are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). My mission has been and is to help you remember.
Keeping It Personal
I remember through my cell phone. I’ve relied a lot on my hand-held. Once you get separated from your network—the network of the Church, the community built around the living Word experienced and remembered—it’s like grasping for water. So much of my remembering is done by reaching out and touching someone in person, by phone, reaching out and bringing them into the network, the family, the song.
I think of the exchange in You’ve Got Mail: Joe Fox/Tom Hanks tells Kathleen Kelly/Meg Ryan that putting a mega bookstore next to her intimate neighborhood bookstore—that was built and thrived on relationships— “wasn’t personal,” even though it resulted in her store’s closure. Kathleen responds, “Whatever anything else is, it ought to begin by being personal.” Worship is personal. Worship is a Who—relationship, conversation—not a What. We must remember that.
As I reflect on my mission in worship, I’d like to leave you with two more important “remembers”:
Remember that worship and ministry and mission begin with God, it is the Lord’s Church and unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain (Ps 127:1).
Remember why you are worshiping. We do this always in remembrance of Him (Lk 22:29; 1 Cor 11:24).
Remembering isn’t just focusing on something that happened long ago, vague nostalgia, but journeying to where and to whom the remembrance leads. It’s talking to our souls when circumstance crowds out the truth. It is saying, “I will bless the Lord. I will not forget that He is Immanuel; He is with me. That feelings are ever so important, but truth trumps what I see and what I feel (Heb 11:1).” It’s letting hands and knees, hearts and voices remember when we cannot—and helping others to do the same.
Remember To Pray
I’m praying for complete healing in my mind so I can continue to fulfill my call, my mission. And I’m asking you to pray with me. I want to speak to you from my heart and tell you that whatever your myriad calls are as worship leaders, one of them will always be to help others remember, which begins with “re-member” (to assemble the body of Christ), and to be open to receiving their help when you are struggling to do the same.
You are the Name where we hide
When the world’s gone mad
And we’re crumbling inside
You are our hope, when hope grows old
Lord, you are the hope that we hold
You are the memory that heals
When we cannot recall
The good or the real
You are the Word when other words fade
Lord you are the Name that still saves
— Excerpt from “The Name” (Andrea C. Hunter)
CEO/Publisher of Worship Leader magazine, Song Discovery, and National Worship Leader Conferences