Episode 16, Sunday Sample, 17 December 2017 – “Sing A New Song”

Reflections on Corporate Worship

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Locations: Watford and Bracknell

Special Occasion: Watford ‘Pop-Up’ Nativity Service, and the Bracknell Carol Service

The children had a whale of a time taking part in the Nativity in Watford and the song in Bracknell. Special thanks to Michelle who rehearsed the children for the latter, and to Joe and his team who got the children ready for their performance in Watford. It was noticeable that the young people came to church with greater enthusiasm than usual. And that they were more engaged in the services than normal. Another good reminder to me that we must do all we can to help the children to see this as ‘their’ church, and not their parents’ church.

Question to you: What are you doing, as a leader of worship, to convince the children that they belong in your congregation? Indeed, that it is theirs

The nativity in Watford was recorded. I’ll add the link when it’s been uploaded. Likewise the service in Bracknell.

Speakers

There was no sermon in Watford nor Bracknell because of the service formats.  However, both services contained communion talks. I contribute the outline of mine in Watford below.


  • Question to the children: What was Jesus laid in?

  • MANGER: An animal-feeding trough (Heb. ebus) or stall (Gk. phaétneä) in a stable.

  • Troughs were free-standing stone boxes placed against stable walls or boxes made by hollowing out rocks protruding into the stable area.

    • At Megiddo archaeologists found limestone troughs, measuring 91 cm. (3 ft.) long, 46 cm. (1.5 ft.) wide, and 61 cm. (2 ft.) deep, quite ample for an infant. – PICTURE ON SCREEN

  • Manger – French word for eating

    • Place animals out of

    • Dirty and disgusting – PICTURE OF MODERN ANIMAL FEEDING TROUGH ON SCREEN

  • Jesus not too proud to be associated with animals and dirt

    • Jesus so humble

    • He was laid where animals ate

  • Now we ‘feed’ on him

  • “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”” (John 6:57–58)

  • Communion meal reminds us of this. Let’s pray and eat…


Music Worship

The carols went off well in both services. We lost our guitarist in Watford due to illness (get well soon, Charl). But we adapted and survived! The Bracknell carol service was our best in the three years I’ve been involved. Why might that be? Here’s what I’ve come up with.

  1. Patience pays off. We sang “Ding Dong”. It’s hard for a congregation to pull that off. The first time we did it three years ago it was greeted with almost disbelief. i.e. “We can’t sing that!” Three years later we sound pretty good, and even those for whom it’s too much give it their best shot with joyful abandon. Three years of patience has brought it’s reward.
  2. Expanded talent pool. Three years ago it was the narrow band of usual suspects involved. This year Don played guitar, Rachel played flute, Fabian played keyboard, some teenagers sang, Marianne and others performed a spoken word piece, the Wakefields performed a duet – all people who were not involved three years ago. Surface the talent you have. Find ways to use it.
  3. Variety is the spice of carol services. Reading and carols were pretty much all we had three years ago. This year: carols, readings, spoken word, teenagers singing, children’s’ performance, a duet, an original song, one song accompanied by guitar, some by guitar and bass, some by keyboard, and some a cappella. It’s worth the effort to create as much variety as you can.
  4. Sing a new song. I wrote a song for the occasion. I don’t consider myself a good song writer. And I find it very hard to do. But I have been known to complain about the lack of new songs, so I’m a hypocrite if I don’t give it a go! The recording will go on line soon, and you can tell me what you think (holds breath…). Could you write a song? At least try. Please!

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we’d do the following:

  1. Watford: It’s our “pop-up” Nativity service. I’m going to do a communion with a difference. Done!
  2. Bracknell: It’s the carol service. The best thing I can do is to be calm! That’s my prayer.  Done!

Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Watford: It’s our carol service. My main aim is to be at peace, just like last week in Bracknell!
  2. Bracknell: No services until the New Year. This week I’ll outline the music plans for the January services for Bracknell and Lower Earley.

Please comment on what you’re doing with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

Episode 12, Sunday Sample, 19 November 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

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Locations: Watford and Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

I was involved in services in Watford and Bracknell this last Sunday. Our entry to the building in Watford was delayed due to a misunderstanding about parking, but we got in eventually. Everyone rushed around setting up before taking a deep breath for a pre-service devotional. We needed it. We were all frazzled.

We reflected on Hezekiah’s prayer, then God’s promise of healing, followed by the King’s poem of praise, culminating in this phrase:

“The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:20 NIV11)

He knew why he was singing. His fellow-congregants knew why they were singing. See the “we” word in verse 20?  We also know why we sing. The point is not “what” we are about to do, but “why”. Focussing on the “why” helped us to worship and to lead worship with a clearer mind and heart. It’s an important reminder to me that we need those few moments to pray and remember what it’s all about.

Speakers

Charl gave us a communion talk with a difference in Watford. You may see the table, tablecloth, vase and flower between Barry and Kate in the photo above. He asked for volunteers for a demonstration and then set up Barry and Kate as if on a date in a restaurant. Romantic music played through the PA system. Charl spoke about what makes meals special before going on to describe the extra-special nature of the communion. His points were sound and well-made. But what I especially appreciated was the creative thinking that went into preparing and presenting his talk.

Osagie is in action below preaching in Watford. He is another one never short of a handy way to illustrate his points. His use of children’s play tiles was masterful. You’ll have to click here to see him in action on the YouTube channel.

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Music Worship

We tried a new song-sandwich in Watford. The first three verses of “Soon and very soon” were followed by “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and concluded with the final two verses of “Soon and very”. All in G.It didn’t really work. The problem was that we started too fast and had to slow down for “Shine” and then speed up again for the final part of “Soon”. It wasn’t a disaster, but the effect I was looking for didn’t happen. I’m going to try it again this coming Sunday in Lower Earley. We’ll sing the first half of “Soon” slowly, segue into “Shine” and then speed up for the second half of “Soon”. I’ll let you know how that goes next week.

In Bracknell, the stand-out musical item was a new song by Geraldine Latty, “Lord, you hear the cry“. I thoroughly recommend it. How many songs do we sing about the marginalised and needy? Not many. It goes well with the point in our services when we take a collection for HOPE Worldwide UK. Have a look at the lyrics and chord charts here.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we’d do the following:

  1. Have song sheets for everyone in Watford. Done.
  2. Start the service in Bracknell with a 5-minute countdown video. Done.

Next Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Have a devotional for all the service participants that includes one minute of silence – “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Psalm 62.1, (NRSV)
  2. Have a second bash a the S&S song-sandwich in Lower Earley.

Please comment on what you’re doing with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

Sunday Sample 12 November 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Locations: Watford and Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

I was involved in services in Watford and Lower Earley this last Sunday. Both had their own special and unique characteristics.

I preached in Watford – with a difference. In one of his letters Paul tells Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13 NIV11)

There is more than one way to apply this, but what we did this Sunday in Watford is an interpretation of Paul’s instruction. I printed out the text of the crucifixion account from Luke’s Gospel. Then assigned different people or groups of people to read the parts of characters in the story. On Sunday I asked everybody to stand, and then we read the account for the crucifixion together. It was especially gratifying to see everybody take part wholeheartedly, including one of our teenagers.

After this, we broke into small discussion groups to consider the experience of the crucifixion from the perspectives of the different people involved.  10 minutes later we had sharing about what the groups discovered, and I wrapped up with Romans 5:7, and we took communion.

As usual, the groups came up with very interesting insights. Although it was not a typical sermon, I believe this format helped all of us find a personal connection with the crucifixion of Jesus.

Jonty preached in Lower Early, taking on the tricky subject of humility and pride. What a courageous man! You did a super job, Jonty, preaching with honesty and conviction, but without hubris. Thank you.

Music Worship

The singing in both services was encouraging. In Watford we overcame my mistake of forgetting to print enough song sheets and a ‘pink’ projector! Something wrong with the socket, I think.

In Lower Earley we sang a ‘new’ song for us, “Days of Elijah” – Rynhardt led it very effectively.

We sang “Above all” in both services and it was interesting that both congregations struggled with it to some extent. I love that song, but it’s tricky for the church to sing it well. There’s something about the rhythm of the melody that confuses us. I’m not sure what to do about it. Any ideas?

Other Thoughts

Next Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Have song sheets for everyone in Watford.
  2. Start the service in Bracknell with a 5-minute countdown video. Here is the draft version:

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

Corporate Worship Matters: Trends Part 2: “Test the Trends”

“..everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Corinthians 14.40 (NIV11)

Last time we talked about surfacing the worship music trends around us. Have you done your congregational survey yet? If not, why not make your own version of the survey I posted previously and see what you get back. It might be very illuminating!
Fidget spinners are the latest trendy toy for children (and a few adults!) where I live. Manufacturers and marketers will find a new way to part parents with their money when this trend has run its course.
Many worship trends are neutral. They are neither good nor bad in themselves, only more or less helpful. If we know our local trends, how do we assess if they are good or bad? Whether they should be opposed or embraced? Are they already influencing your congregation? To examine any trend apply these three filters and ask three questions:
  1. Doctrine filter. “Does it offend any Biblical principle or command?”
  2. Distraction filter. “Does it distract people from God?”
  3. Direction filter. “Does it direct people to God?”
In my own part of the world, I have observed a number of trends in churches around me. Some have been introduced to our congregations in whole or part. These include:
  1. Having no ‘main’ song leader, but a group of singers and a band
  2. ‘shushing’ a congregation before starting singing
  3. Emphasising one style over against others – i.e. all hymns / all gospel songs / all chorus songs
Are these practices good or bad? It’s going to depend. It will depend on whether they pass the three filters above, and whether they help people connect with God’s presenceWhat do we do when “it depends”? Three steps should clarify whether to adopt a trend or not.
  1. Pray for insight and that you would not be swayed by your own preferences. We are servants of God and our congregation, not our own preferences.
  2. Discuss the trend with the worship team.
  3. Discuss the trend with the church leadership team.
After this, it’s my guess you will come to a consensus. It’s unlikely any particular trend will lead people astray spiritually. But we shouldn’t adopt something just because it is ‘trendy’. Everything needs to be examined carefully first in case it distracts worshippers from their focus on God.
 
I’m not offering a definitive position on any particular trend but proposing that worship trends must be assessed in our local context.
What are your thoughts on this process? Please leave a comment below. 
Malcolm Cox
 
November 2017

How to be supplied with spiritual strength from the Psalms

Using the Psalms as God intended

Worship is Work

I lead musical worship in Church congregations. It is a privilege, a joy, and hard work! I need spiritual strength to lead worship. Where is the supply coming from?
 

God’s Songbook

Two weeks ago I chatted about this with my friend Dave Eastman. Check him out on lifechangingworship.com. He shared his conviction with me that a worship leader needs to be constantly in the book of Psalms. It is God’s songbook. A hymnal with 150 songs ready for any and all occasions in the Christian life.
 

Regular Devotion

I love the Psalms. I turn to them from time to time. But I’ve not been devoting myself to them regularly. I wonder how many of us use the Psalms in moments of great joy, or deep crisis, but neglect their day-to-day use.
 
What a shame to relegate this amazing resource to special occasions. They are available to supply us with spiritual strength whenever we need it.
 

A Psalmic Pile

Thanks to Dave, I’ve reflected on my use of the Psalms. So far I’ve made two decisions.
 
  1. I’ve opened a tab in my Bible software specially for the Psalms. That tab stays open no matter which other part of the Bible I’m studying.
  2. I’ve pulled my favourite books about the Psalms off the bookshelves and piled them up in one place. Now I see them every day and am reminded to look into them for insights. The books include: “The Psalms and the life of faith” by Walter Brueggemann (more theological). “Music of the heart”, new Psalms in the Celtic tradition by David Allen. “A long obedience in the same direction” by Eugene Peterson (focussed on the Psalms of Ascent). “Prayer, praise and promises” a daily walk through the Psalms by Warren Wiersbe (a devotional focus).

All About You

Here is a thought from Psalm 86 and some insights from Brueggemann. Read this Psalm, and you will hear a desperate David. But notice that his attitude is not one of self-pity. Instead, he is very focused on the qualities of God. This is emphasised by the use of the word, “You”.
 
Quoting selectively from the Psalm, “You are my God…For you, O Lord are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you… For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God… But you, O Lord, are a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… Because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”
 
The force of the Hebrew doesn’t come across in an English translation. But the point does. David knows he must focus on who God is if he is to be supplied with the spiritual strength he needs.
 

Conclusion

I will finish with an old rabbinic prayer quoted in Brueggemann’s book on page 37:
 
Where I wander-You!
Where I ponder-You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You ! You! You!
When I am gladdened-You!
When I am saddened-You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You! Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!

Questions

What is it about the Psalms you find most helpful? Do you use them regularly? What books would you recommend to help us understand them and apply their message?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm 

The Sunday Sample 3rd September 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 3rd September 2017

Location: Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

The service in Bracknell this Sunday was a delight. Most summer wanderers had returned. It was good to see familiar faces again. Many of which had been significantly tanned. 

Speakers

Tim Dannatt preached. I shared the communion talk. Elliot and Emily talked about HOPE worldwide and the Patel family welcomed us. A few notes on what I observed.
Elliot and Emily teased us about a presentation they will be doing about the Zambia HOPE Youth Corp at the beginning of October. They used the technique of repeatedly saying they were going to tell us things then, but not now. This created strong engagement with the congregation through the humour of the repetition. It also meant that there was no way we were going to forget what they were promoting!
I liked the way that Harry and Saroj involved their children by having them read Scripture. We could tell that neither of the children felt pressurised, although, of course, they looked a bit embarrassed. And I especially liked the fact that Saroj clearly had thought carefully about what she was going to pray about and how she was going to pray. In the devotional before we began the service, she asked if there were any prayer needs. Then when she actually prayed, she did so with a good blend of formal and extemporary tone.
  
Videos of Tim’s sermon is here.

Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast.

Music Worship

I mentioned last week that we were going to try something different. Here’s how it went. We did a three song opening set all in the key of G. Beginning with the first two verses of “Amazing Grace”, then moving straight into “Anchor for the soul”, straight into “How great is our God”, and finishing with the final verse of “Amazing grace”. The congregation loved it!  I can’t claim that I originated the idea – heard it somewhere else. Something about the flow helped the congregation get into the spirit of why we were praising God, and connecting with the God whom we were praising.

Other Thoughts

Here’s a pre-service devotional idea I tried this Sunday. Before starting the devotional I handed a small picture to every person involved in the service. It was a photograph I had taken of a cyclist silhouetted against bright sunlight. I used it to symbolise what God has done for us in bringing us out of darkness into light, 1 Peter 2.9. Then I remarked that we are people praising the one and leading the worship in praise of the one who brought us out of darkness into his wonderful night.

Nothing I said was remarkable, but having a photograph in the hand helped people to connect more strongly with the point. Several of those present mentioned how helpful this was. We must never underestimate the value of physical props helping us to communicate our message.

Last week I said I would:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. Done
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell. Done

The focus for next Sunday: I’m on holiday!

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 27 August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 27th August 2017

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

Both Watford and Lower Earley were empty! Seriously think we should consider having house-church on the August bank-holiday weekend. Not only are many away on holiday, but a bunch of Thames Valley folk are off at youth camp. We had a good time anyway, but a more intimate home-based service would be better.
 
The Watford service benefitted by us taking off from the school as soon as the service ended and popping across the road to the park. A new playground opened recently. The children had fun on the equipment while the parents picnicked in the sunshine. We must do that again. It rather looked as if some of the adults had fun too!

Speakers

I spoke in both locations. Not a common practice, but not a problem.
 
My lessons were OK. Not great, but not bad. Let me know what you think. The heat and small numbers made for a less energetic atmosphere than usual. But the engagement was reasonable. I know that my own assessment of my lessons is not always objective. I’ve often found that the lessons I think went well had little impact. The lessons I don’t like sometimes get the best feedback.
 
I aimed for 25 minutes in both locations and went longer. 29 minutes in both. Oh well, not far off. If you have any tips on shortening lessons, please leave a comment. See also this video on my YouTube channel.
 
Videos are here and here. Audio available at the Watford and Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcasts.
 
Johan shared a deceptively simple, but profound communion talk. Here are his main points explaining the purpose of the Lord’s Supper using 1 Cor 10 & 11 as his source texts:
  1. Discernment – make sure we have a correct focus going into the Lord’s Supper
  2. Separation – from idols
  3. Communion – 1 Cor 10.16 – as in sharing together in something
  4. Remembrance – his name, works, life, exaltation
  5. Bond of Christian fellowship – 1 Cor 10.17
  6. Powerful proclamation – vital facts of the gospel
Note to self: keep working on succinctness.

Music Worship

Leon was awesome in Watford! Danny & Charl lead most of our songs, but they were away. Leon stepped in a led with passion and professionalism. He even got a round of applause for his leadership of one song. It’s endearing to see the way congregations warm to people stepping up to serve in faith.

Our song service in Lower Earley was super. Obi was majestic in his role as lead song-leader.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday. Done
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes. Working on it….

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. I’ll explain next week.
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 20th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 20th August 2017

Location: Watford & Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

Speakers

I spoke in Watford. Ben Dannatt preached in Bracknell. The same line-up as last week. A coincidence – not planned that way! Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

In Watford, we had some Q&A as well as a discussion. This helped the congregation’s attentiveness, and I learned from the replies. The congregation were relaxed and we had quite a few laughs when parts of the service did not go to plan. It’s such a help that we’re good friends and can laugh together! My questions were more appropriate this time. It was interesting to use Noah as an example of the kind of faith talked about by Jesus in Luke 21. I don’t often dip into the OT in this way, and it was refreshing.

Ben spoke well in Bracknell. His application of what it means to have spiritual friendships was relevant and imitate-able. The warmth with which he shared about his friends Alex, Elliot and Heinrich was genuine and inspiring. I was reminded how important good friendships are. Luckily I was able to experience that straight away. Reinhardt asked if we could talk over a cup of tea in the cafe after church. Sweet fellowship!

I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: connect OT & NT more often in sermons

Music Worship

Old school: We went old-school this week in Watford and Bracknell. No instruments. Simple is beautiful. The change was refreshing. Maybe we should do that once a quarter or so. The vocal harmonies are clearer, and the songs that work well a capella are uplifting if led well. Talking of leading well, CJ gave us a thoughtful introduction to the service in Bracknell. He read a Psalm before starting the song, “I will call upon the Lord”. I noticed that the congregation started the song with great togetherness, & sang it more heartily. The connection between scripture and the song lyrics helped us to remember what we were singing about and who we were singing about.

We need monitors in Bracknell. The singers sang so much better this week without instruments because we could hear ourselves. We love singing with the instruments too, but we need monitors to help us to be our best.

Note to self: plan some dates for a capella services 

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Bracknell: keep the song service simple. The PA experts are away. – done
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday.
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 13th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

A snippet from Ben’s sermon

 

 

Date:  Sunday 13th August 2017

 

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

Speakers

I spoke in Watford. Ben Dannatt preached in Lower Earley. Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

In Watford, we sat in a circle – lots of people on their holidays. My lesson was on Luke 21.5-19 with discussion and interaction. The situation was a challenge. Lots of interruptions for seeing to the needs of babies, and latecomers. I wonder if we’d have been better off taking the chairs outdoors and sitting in the sun. The weather was good. Next time.

The discussion part of the lesson was helpful, but my questions were not quite on the mark. Next time I need to think through whether the questions are driving to the heart of the issue.

Ben spoke well in Lower Earley. His personal vulnerability was endearing, and his questions to our faith were probing.

I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: think through the questions more carefully

Music Worship

Watford: The depleted numbers gave their best, and Charl was rock-like. He showed a good connection with the congregation when acknowledging that one of the songs was not one we’d taught thoroughly. He led the song with stronger direction as a result which the church appreciated. The song was sung better than usual.

Lower Earley: the new projector is brighter. It lifted the mood of the whole church including those leading worship. Knowing all images and lyrics will be seen clearly was a boost.

We sang the “bread and wine” song seated, with no one up front leading it. A more meditative rendering of the hymn was the result. We’ll do that again.

Feedback was positive about the variety of songs, and the spiritually uplifting way they were led.

Note to self: vary the methods for songs to be led

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Lower Earley: Double-confirm who is leading which song by Friday at the latest – done
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford – not done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Bracknell: keep the song service simple. The PA experts are away.
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm