Gospel Storytellers | My Story

By Paxson Jeancake

BEING VULNERABLE AND BUILDING TRUST 

Telling aspects of my own, personal story in worship is part of what keeps things real for me, and hopefully, for my congregation as well. While I don't think that leaders should work out their issues with their congregation as a form of therapy, I do think that everyone with the privilege of regularly leading some aspect of corporate worship should consider how vulnerable and transparent he or she is being from week to week.

When our congregation hears us describing our failures as well as our victories, I truly believe we are building genuine trust with our people. We shouldn't come across as ministry professionals who have everything all together. We should convey, humbly and wisely, some of the ways we wrestle with things like fear, shame, pride, and self-centeredness. We, too, are in a progressive journey of sanctification.

Usually, for me, I try to refrain from sharing something personal and transparent every week; however, I do seek to regularly share from my heart about something real in my everyday life. This may come as I transition from the sermon into the closing song; it may be a brief word before leading into a prayer of confession or renewal; or it may be as I'm responding to a song we just sang or a creed we just affirmed together. There is no particular formula, but I do try to listen to and follow the Spirit's leading as well as my own intuition.

CONNECTING WORSHIP WITH EVERYDAY LIFE

Part of the power and purpose of being vulnerable is to keep worship from becoming disconnected from everyday life. Hopefully, people find themselves saying "Me too!" as I share. In addition, sharing from our personal lives is a way of reminding our people that God is living and active. He is doing things in my life that reveal to me, on a daily basis, how desperate I am for his guidance and protection; how grateful I am for his sustaining power, advocacy, and intercession; how amazed I am at his beauty in the regular cycles of his creation; and how in awe I am of his grace, love, mercy and intimate presence in my life.

I am so grateful for the decision I made twenty years ago to serve as a worship leader in the local church. Though she is flawed, she is the hope of the world. I count it a privilege to plan and lead worship each week - to tell God's Story, to celebrate Our Story, and to share a bit of My Story with the body of Christ.

*Previous articles in this series: Introduction, God's Story, Our Story

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Gospel Storytellers | Our Story

By Paxson Jeancake

Celebrating the Story God is Writing in Each Local Church

During my years in vocational ministry I have served in four different local churches, spanning the east and west coasts of the United States. Each one has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Each one has a unique role to play in God's kingdom and economy.

I love the local church. Each and every weekend, it is my job to help tell not only God's Story, but also Our Story, the story of our local church. As worship planners and leaders we do this, from week to week, in a variety of ways:

  • Commissioning a team going on a mission trip
  • Interviewing artists about their work in a church art exhibit
  • Showing the pictures of a recent, city-wide outreach event
  • Administering the sacrament of baptism to new believers
  • Having students share about their growth in Christ
  • Sharing video testimonies about people's faith journeys
  • Spending time in prayer for our city, community, and loved ones
  • Hearing the stories from recovering addicts and alcoholics
  • Celebrating the new babies born in the past year
  • Recognizing the various graduates among us in May

We celebrate these various wins in our congregation - the places where we see God at work, bringing his kingdom through the different ministry areas of our church.

PLANNING WORSHIP that ExpressES Our Story


sermon series themes

One way a church expresses the unique story God is writing is through the various sermon series topics that are preached on throughout a given ministry year. Each year our leadership focuses on a theme for the upcoming ministry year (September - May). As we discern where God is leading us as a church, we develop a collection of sermon series that we feel will flesh out that theme.

This past year we focused on Kingdom Renewal and studied key passages from the Gospel of Matthew. We emphasized Kingdom Attitudes (The Beatitudes), Kingdom Prayer (The Lord's Prayer), and Kingdom Parables, for example. Two years ago we focused on being a Healthy Disciple, highlighting emotional and spiritual health as vital characteristics of being a follower of Christ.

Each local church must discern from week to week, month to month, and year to year what God is saying and where God is leading his people.

Prayers of the People

Another aspect of the worship service where Our Story is expressed is through the "Prayers of the People." We engage in this type of intercessory prayer about once a month. The way I have led this recently is to guide our people through a litany of prayers for the church, the world, our community, and loved ones. I utilize a printed prayer and guide us through these petitions while leaving room for pause, silent prayers, and extemporaneous prayers as well. I believe this is helping our congregation think beyond just our own personal lives and consumeristic tendencies. We are being given eyes to see a bigger story that includes global and local concerns and a heart that cares for the city and the kingdom of God. 

Ministry Highlights

We will regularly highlight a given ministry or event in our worship service as a way to celebrate what God is doing among us and/or to encourage people to participate. This is another great way to tell the story God is writing in the local church. For example, we recently started a recovery group for women who have experienced sexual abuse. We recognize that, as a body, we have a number of people who have been sexually abused and need a safe place to find hope and healing. To highlight this new ministry we had one of our own staff members (a female who experienced sexual abuse as a young girl and as a teenager) share her testimony and then offer information on the new group - providing very sensitive and confidential ways for those interested to get involved and be a part of this new restorative community. 

We have other ongoing events throughout the year that we highlight: the LoveBrevard initiative where we partner with other churches to provide days and weeks of focused deeds of love and mercy throughout Brevard County; our Global Missions Weekend, highlighting the various ministry partners we support around the world; Lockmar Lights, a neighborhood-focused outreach event to kick off the Christmas season; Come Together events during the summer as a way to stay connected, enjoy a meal, and experience fellowship, worship, and testimonies as a church body.

Celebrating these events and initiatives in worship is a very intentional way to share what God is doing among us - a way to tell Our Story as a local church.

Congregational Singing

The songs that we sing as a congregation tell part of Our Story. The various psalms, hymns, and modern worship songs that we sing from week to week reflect and shape who we are becoming. I feel strongly about embracing treasures old and new in worship. Thus, we join our story with those from centuries ago as we sing classic hymns such as Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners, All Creatures of Our God and King, and Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

We also join our story with the global church of today singing the popular modern songs and hymns of our current time such as In Christ Alone, Everlasting God, 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), The Lion and the Lamb, O Praise the Name, and Good Good Father. Though these modern songs may not be around as long as some of the classic hymns above (though some will!), they are no less powerful expressions of Our Story as we shout aloud these new songs of praise and adoration in our current day.

Finally, we celebrate Our Story by singing original songs and hymns that come forth from our own local community of songwriters. In addition to embracing treasures old and new, cultivating the songwriters in our own congregation is another passion of mine. The Bible exhorts us over and over again to "sing a new song unto the Lord." The songs that are birthed within our church - as a response to God's Word and as an expression of a songwriter's own faith journey - are a special gift.

We find many hymn fragments from the early church scattered throughout the New Testament (e.g., Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16). The church has always expressed its faith through song. From the Old Testament psalms, to the New Testament hymns, to the new songs of today, the church was, is, and will always be a singing people. Music is a powerful gift that God has instilled in his people. It is an ancient and affective way to tell Our Story as a local expression of the Body of Christ.

Video Testimonies

As a final example, we share the story God is writing in the local church through the testimonies of our people. Currently, we are in a series entitled, Summer in the Psalms. Each of our teaching pastors have chosen different psalms to preach on throughout the summer. To complement this series we issued a call to our congregation to share their favorite psalms. We have heard the stories of our own people interacting with a given psalm and how it helped them through a hard season and also how it continues to shape and inform their lives to the present day. Cultivating a culture of storytelling in this way edifies us all and also brings glory to our faithful God.

The Formative Character of Worship

All of the above examples emphasize the idea of lex orandi lex credendi (mentioned in the Introduction to this series) and how the things we pray, preach, sing, and share together in worship help form and shape our perspective and our worldview.

God is writing a unique story in every local church. We do not need to compete with the mega church down the street or the hip church across town. We do not need to reproduce the story God is writing somewhere else. We should be concerned and engaged with the story God is writing in our local context and congregation. Part of our corporate worship should be about recognizing, celebrating, and telling our unique story.

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Gospel Storytellers | God's Story

By Paxson Jeancake

As a worship leader I am often asked, "Do you plan everything around the sermon theme?" Though the paradigm that I use to guide my worship planning includes the sermon theme, it goes much broader and deeper in scope than just that one factor. I briefly articulated my approach last week in the Introduction to this four-part series. When I plan each week I think in terms of God's Story, Our Story, and My Story. This week I will focus on God's Story, beginning with a discussion on the annual rhythm of the Christian Year.

Celebrating the Annual Rhythm of the Christian Year

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This liturgical art is by Rini Simon, a talented young adult from our church. It is an ink drawing which depicts the life of Christ - his role in creation, his birth, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and future return and reign. This is the heart of God's Story. In worship we remember, recall, and appropriate these events and realities. We do this, in part, by following the cycles and seasons of the Christian Year.

Part of my passion for telling God's Story comes from the narrative found in 2 Kings 23:1-3 (ESV):

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

The context for this narrative is that the high priest, Hilkiah, found the Book of the Covenant (likely, the book of Deuteronomy). We do not know how long it had been lost, but the people had fallen away from the Lord. Finding and restoring the Word of the Lord sparked a revival and ushered in a number of reforms through King Josiah. As a worship pastor, I feel a responsibility to steward God's Story so that it is not lost in my generation. The message of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 likely motivated Josiah in his day. It is part of my own motivation to serve as a Gospel Storyteller for my local church and my family:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

We are to immerse ourselves in God's Story, passing it on at home, at work, and in worship. The psalmists functioned as storytellers in the Old Testament. They often retold all or portions of the story of redemption in their songs, spurred on by this motivation:

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts. - Psalm 145:4 (ESV)

Finally, in the New Testament we receive this exhortation from the apostle Paul:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. - Colossians 3:16 (ESV)

It is for these reasons that I feel compelled as a worship leader to tell God's Story of redemption through the annual rhythm of the Christian Year. I am not motivated or compelled by mere tradition; I am fueled by a passion to pass this story on, one generation to the next.

The liturgical calendar below was created by my artist friend Barbara Lyon. It is a wonderful and creative way to visualize the seasons of the Christian year. 

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During Advent and Christmas we retell and reorient ourselves around the reality that God put on flesh and walked among us. Throughout Epiphany we tell about his manifestation to the world. We recall the Magi who came to see him, his baptism in the Jordan River, and his transfiguration.

On Palm Sunday we sing and shout "Hosanna!" to the King of kings; however, we also remember the irony of this day as Jesus wept over Jerusalem for her blindness and hardness of heart. We walk through the sobering events of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion on Good Friday. We rise on Easter Sunday to celebrate Christ's resurrection and the hope of new life.

Though it is definitely the forgotten festival among many evangelicals, many congregations recognize the Ascension (either on a Thursday or the following Sunday) and the reality that Christ is now at the right hand of the Father interceding and advocating for his people. We remember the day of Pentecost, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit in power to the church. Pentecost is a time to remember the third person of the Trinity who empowers, comforts, fills, and guides us, the people of God. As we tell God's Story we are formed and transformed, year after year, by the spiritual realities of a living, sanctifying God.

Rediscovering the Ascension as a Major Festival and Doctrine of Our Faith

Before discussing the weekly rhythm of the Lectionary, I would like to focus on the Ascension in an effort to rediscover the riches of this neglected doctrine and festival. I have devoted a page on our website for Ascension Resources where you can read and discover even more on this topic.

Since 2005 I have been intentional about celebrating the Ascension at the churches where I have served. In Augustine's day the Ascension was seen as the crown of all Christian festivals. Augustine declared that it was:

"that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Saviour had ascended into heaven, His Nativity would have come to nothing... and His Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and His most holy Resurrection would have been useless." 1

Our recognition and understanding of the Ascension is much different in our present time. Today, the Ascension goes by virtually ignored in the evangelical world. I think this is really unfortunate. In his book He Ascended into Heaven, Davies writes: 

"There are those who claim that the Cross is the heart of the Gospel; others that the Resurrection should occupy this position. It is not my intention to seek to displace either of these two by the Ascension, but to add the Ascension to them, so that this triad in unity is recognized as forming the heart of the Gospel." 2

I resonate with this statement wholeheartedly and long for the day when the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension (this "triad in unity") are recognized as forming the heart of the Gospel.

Engaging our Artists During Ascension and Pentecost

In hopes of gaining a more robust celebration of both the Ascension and Pentecost at my current church in Florida, I issued a Call to Artists in 2016 on the theme, God Is For Us: The Ascension and the Outpouring.

The purpose was to invite the artists among us to engage with the event or the present realities of Christ's Ascension or the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In doing so, my hope was that all of our hearts would be encouraged and edified, and that our imaginations would be stirred by the advocacy of our ascended Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Once the deadline for submission arrived, we had just over a dozen artists who participated and twenty different works that were on display for the two weekends of Ascension and Pentecost that Spring. The exhibit exceeded my expectations and was a successful event for our congregation through the means of community and creativity. I hope the Church will, once again, recognize the Ascension as a major festival and vital doctrine of our faith. 

Celebrating the Weekly Rhythm of the Lectionary

In addition to the annual rhythm of the Christian Year, I also seek to tell God's Story through the weekly rhythm of the Revised Common Lectionary (henceforth, the Lectionary). 3 Over the years, I have utilized many of the Lectionary-based resources available through books, journals, and liturgical planning calendars. I have found it creative and edifying to incorporate Lectionary readings and prayers within the flow of a worship service. Utilizing these resources throughout the Christian Year is a way to tell God's Story and offer our people a healthy diet of Word and prayer.

Most recently, I have been inspired by a book by F. Russell Mitman entitled, Worship in the Shape of Scripture. In this book Mitman describes an organic liturgy - one in which the sermon and liturgy organically arise out of the shapes and forms inherent in the Scriptures themselves so that the whole worship service aims, through the Holy Spirit, at becoming an event of the Word of God. Mitman's basic paradigm is "from lectionary to liturgy."

This idea has deepened my appreciation for the Lectionary at multiple levels and has motivated me to begin to craft my own prayers, affirmations of faith, and other elements as they organically flow out of engaging with the Scriptures for that week. (Mitman's book was a major impetus for creating The Lectionary Journey).

My church is not one that follows the Lectionary in its preaching. However, I have found that by engaging with the Lectionary readings each week, personally and as a family, I usually find one or two texts that I can weave into the flow of worship in a natural and intentional way. Typically, after singing a couple of opening songs, I (or a vocalist on the worship team) will read one of the Lectionary passages. Then, we will have a worship element that flows out of the reading (e.g., a prayer of confession or renewal followed by an assurance of forgiveness, a prayer of intercession, an affirmation of faith, etc.). That element is often followed by an appropriate song of response. All of this is part of the Gathering portion of the traditional four-fold pattern of worship which I have followed for years: Gathering, Word, Table/Response, Sending. 4

Incorporating Lectionary readings and original or readily available Lectionary-based resources has become a natural and intentional way to follow the seasons of the Christian Year and incorporate Scripture and other worship elements throughout the service. In remembering these cycles and seasons, we tell the whole Gospel story (God's Story), stirring our hearts, minds, and imaginations around the realities of our triune God. In doing so we are heeding the call, mentioned earlier, to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.

Notes:
1. J.G. Davies, He Ascended into Heaven (Cambridge: James Clarke and Company, 1958) 170.
2. Ibid.
3. The Revised Common Lectionary is a collection of readings from the Bible for use in Christian worship, making provision for the liturgical year with its pattern of observances of festivals and seasons. The Lectionary is organized into three-year cycles of readings. The years are designated A, B, or C. Each yearly cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent (the last Sunday of November or first Sunday of December).
4. I plan to write about the four-fold pattern of worship in another series of articles.

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Gospel Storytellers | Introduction

Introduction

By Paxson Jeancake

I have been planning and leading worship in a full-time capacity for twenty years now. It is an honor and a privilege. Personally, I want to steward my planning and leading well so that in worship our people are bringing honor and glory to God; connecting with one another as the body of Christ; and growing in their desire to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. It is my hope that this post will offer a paradigm for those who lead and plan worship each week - those who steward the story God is writing in the local church.

Because of the cherished influence of John Frame, I often think in triads. Frame's technical vocabulary of the normative, existential, and situational perspectives has shaped how I think and process so many different facets of life and ministry. Thus, I have a number of triads that serve as paradigms for me as I think about and share different aspects of worship.

In my book, The Art of Worship: Opening Our Eyes to the Beauty of the GospelI describe a triad that deals with the various roles of the worship leader. I discuss how a worship leader should be able to think like a theologian, labor like an artist, and shepherd like a pastor. As I lead seminars and workshops with churches or at conferences, I often share another triad as I discuss a philosophy of worship that includes leadership, theology, and context.

In recent years I have begun to articulate a new triad that guides some of the various aspects of planning and leading worship. In this paradigm I see the role of worship leaders and worship planners as Gospel storytellers, and on any given Sunday there are, at least, three stories to tell: God's Story, Our Story, and My Story.

Building upon Frame's perspectives, God's Story would be the normative perspective of this paradigm, focusing on the events of the life of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit as past, present, and future realities. At the macro level, worship tells God's story throughout the course of the Christian Year. The rhythms and seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost tell the grand narrative of redemption each and every year. These seasons and celebrations form and transform us as we are re-oriented into the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all of its implications for us - past, present, and future.

Our Story is the situational perspective that declares and processes what God is doing among us in our local context and congregation. At the micro level, worship tells the story of each unique congregation of believers. Each local expression of the church lives in a unique culture and setting; studies various topics and books of the Bible; witnesses its own joys and sorrows; navigates its own path in spreading the gospel and making disciples. At a more personal level, worship tells the collective testimonies of redemption and restoration - the various journeys of faith represented by the congregation.

Finally, My Story is the unique way in which God is at work in each of our lives, as leaders, bringing about sanctification and restoration. This is the story we tell as wounded healers. It is our opportunity to make ourselves vulnerable before those we serve. While leading I will, at times, share about a personal struggle, choosing to be transparent before our people to encourage them and let them know they are not alone in whatever challenge they may be facing.

There is an old Latin phrase championed by our Anglican brothers and sisters, lex orandi lex credendi. It is loosely translated as, "the law of praying is the law of believing," or that "liturgy leads to theology." Whatever your particular view of this phrase may be, it is true that the Scriptures we read, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and the testimonies we share are all highly formative, shaping our faith and our beliefs. Thus, as worship leaders and worship planners, we need to make sure we are serving our people and stewarding our times of corporate worship well.

I want to take some time over the next several weeks to unpack this particular triad (God's Story, Our Story, My Story) and offer some reasons why it brings balance and richness to our worship services. Next week we'll dive deeper and discuss God's Story.

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