Practical Steps in Praise
Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Now, let’s assume prayer is happening and the people are working toward evangelizing the lost. The last Communiqu began working through the process of establishing a consistent atmosphere of praise. Some passed it on to their service leaders. To get back into the flow of that discussion, let me offer a review:
* “Growing churches are always praising churches.” (Jack Cunningham)
* Praise components cannot be stereotyped. Those who lead the music must see their role as leading people . . . to Christ Jesus.
* Praise should focus on creating a climate for a sovereign work of God to be accomplished. An exhibition of talent is never the intent of good church.
* As Sis. Coon observed, praise leading begins with prayer commitment. Finding God’s mind for a service and preparing to be adaptable to the pastor’s directives are imperative.
In ongoing conversation with my wife, who served as our music director/praise leader and then trained others to step into the role, several practical things came to light.
Life is messy. Think about the stuff your people are dealing with.
* John just came from the hospital. His mother’s condition is terminal, but when he gets to church I want him to praise the Lord.
* The Smiths’ home has been foreclosed on, but I want them to clap.
* Tom’s daughter is back in a drug rehab clinic, but I want him to leap for joy.
You get the picture! I just described your people; they walk in heavy-laden. That is not to say that such conditions are to be the prevailing factor. They are not, but one has to give consideration to where people are at in life.
An evangelist, pastor, or praise leader who feels everybody should always be high energy has never been a bi-vocational pastor. Spend eight hours working beside some of your people and you may better understand why they are not quick to leap for joy they have spent all day leaping to the boss’s orders!
How do we move beyond reality? People have to be transitioned from life to Lord and work to Word. It is your job to make sure there is a path on which that transition can occur. This need to transition people is not new. Read Psalms 120-134. In the titles of the psalms, these are noted as songs of degrees. Other translations called them songs of ascent. These particular types of psalms were sung as people were on the way to the temple in Jerusalem. What did they sing? Let me excerpt enough to give you a sense of the songs of ascent:
“In my distress I cried unto the Lord . . ., Woe is me, that I sojurn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar” (Psalm 120:1, 5).
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).
“They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed. . .” (Psalm 125:1).
Read them all they’d make a great preaching series. I’ve included enough to give you their tenor. The songs of ascent were songs of transition. It moved people from the “woe is me” of Mesech to “I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord.” In the transition, God’s place began to loom larger than whatever they had been dealing with. The songs of ascent moved people from the busyness of life to being people ready to serve the Lord.
You can rarely move people directly from the accounting office or truck straight to the holy place, much less the Holy of Holies. Leaders have to transition them toward the things of God. These days, you are not likely to get people to sing songs of ascent as they drive to church. The transition will happen after people arrive at the church gathering. The need to transition is an added reason for a strong emphasis on pre-service prayer. It helps prepare people for God’s presence. Even with that emphasis, those who lead praise must understand how distant people are likely to be from the things of God.
1. Think about where people are coming from. You don’t have to like that they are not immediately burning red-hot, but understand it.
2. Starting in over-drive does not allow people to make the journey from their life to God’s presence. It is ok to allow a service to build. Start low, go slow, and end high! The altar experience should not be anti-climactic to the praise time.
Gather the People
There is also a “gathering of people.” Gathering diverse people into a symphony of praise is its own challenge. Not only do people have distinct lives, but each person has a different temperament.
Bringing people together requires moving each of them to something bigger than themselves. In the songs of ascent, the focus was on God, God’s house, God’s place, and God’s permanence. Those joining the throng moving together toward God’s house got their individual and then collective mind on something bigger than they were.
At times, my dad owned cattle. Every cow Dad ever owned was different, but at feeding time a common interest brought the cattle to the feed trough. Gathering people is helping them find something bigger than their differences a thing to celebrate together. How can we gather people? Sometimes the physical act of bringing them together near the altar accomplishes this.
In “gathering” don’t ignore reality. Sis. Coon observed, “If we had just buried a saint, the first song in the next service was likely to be something having to do with heaven. Then we’d get around to a chorus that brought us back to the here and now.”
Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper churches will often have new people visit. Become comfortable with coaching newcomers about praise. Your instructions don’t have to be different every service; mine were not. Several things were said over and over. Creating a comfort zone through this instruction can go something like this:
* “I note that to some of you the things happening around you are a bit different. Let me take a minute and increase your comfort. First, nobody is going to insist that you clap your hands or lift your hands. If you’d like to join us, you are welcome. Second, what you are seeing is all Biblical. If it is in the Bible, is must be ok. Let me validate this from the Bible.”
* “The Bible says, ‘Clap your hands all ye people.”
* “The Bible says, ‘Shout to the Lord with a voice of triumph.’
* “On three occasions, the Bible speaks of, ‘Lifting holy hands . . . .'”
* “The Bible speaks of leaping for joy and praising Him with a dance.”
* “These things are in the Bible. If it is in the Bible, it must be alright to do in church.”
What happens with those few sentences? Newcomers have been instructed, and I’ve made clear my expectation to those I pastor. Saying it creates a comfort zone.
Focus and Flow
At times we pinball our way through church. We jump from one service element to the next, determined to cover a program. There is no flow. If God is moving, move with Him regardless of what the next song or item on the schedule calls for. Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper kind of church will often get you off your program.
Focus on HIM! Make praise a real conversation about His excellence. It interests me how different David’s praise was to what I often hear. David’s praise was in complete sentences our praise is more often phrases or a single word. The danger of “phrase-praise” is that it requires little thought we can open our mouth and the same words habitually roll out. It takes time, but you can teach your saints to flow into a Book of Psalms level of praise where we praise God in complete sentences to extol His greatness.
Putting It to Work for You
No one will argue that praise is important. We all want a praising church, and we can lead our churches there. After last issue’s challenge to review the level of praise at your church, now implementation begins. Here are practical take-away points:
* Meet with the praise leaders each quarter to share your vision and re-energize them. Whether it’s a lone keyboard player and you as the worship leader or a full team including sound and media crew, emphasize the importance of every service and how necessary each person’s role is.
* Review the service agenda of your last three services. Do any of the service elements need to be re-ordered to help the service flow and to maintain a focused atmosphere of praise?
* Talk to your worship/music leader about starting service with songs of ascent to transition the people.
* Make it a point to instruct people in praise at least once every service so they understand the value you place on it.
* If your church meets in your living room, a hotel or some other rented space regularly remind the church God’s spirit is present. Lead the church in focused prayer that the space would become a temple of praise.
* Consider new ways you can emphasize praise such as:
* Ask a newly discipled and enthusiastic believer to read a passage of Scripture (you’ve pre-selected) to start a service.
* Teach a series on praise and how to move beyond “phrase-praise.”
* If technology permits, play a pre-recorded video testimony (that you have previewed and approved) of a saint who briefly testifies about God’s faithfulness and how praise brought them through a trial.
Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper comes to a church who knows how to touch God through prayer and praise. Lead your people in being a church that gets God’s attention.
This article Practical Steps in Praise by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. was excerpted from: Director s Communique newsletter. April 2011. It may be used for study & research purposes only.