GCI Update

About worship music

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach

One of the great blessings I’ve enjoyed during my 22 years as GCI President is sharing worship in multiple languages and styles with GCI congregations around the world. At times the worship music was so joyously uplifting that I had a hard time standing still! I always appreciated it when the music was carefully coordinated with the theme of the service and presented at a volume that was just right. I enjoyed it when the worship leader provided fitting short segues from one song to the next, thus facilitating a seamless flow. Yes, there were those times when the music was not well-planned and presented. On a few occasions, members apologized to Tammy or me for music that was of poor quality. I mention this, not to embarrass anyone, but to encourage all who plan, lead and perform worship music to offer their best to God and to their congregation.

A skillful worship team leading worship
in GCI’s Columbus, OH, congregation.

Though we have skilled singers and instrumentalists in many of our congregations (like the one pictured above), not everyone has the skill needed to lead or perform worship music well. This doesn’t mean that to be on a worship team you must be a musical genius like Johann Sebastian Bach. After playing one of Bach’s choral preludes, Felix Mendelssohn said, “If I had lost all my religious faith, this thing alone would be sufficient to restore it.” Though Bach worked various jobs to support himself, his great passion in life was proclaiming the gospel through music. It’s always a delight to be led in worship by people who are both passionate and gifted for this vital ministry.

I know that many of our congregations do not have access to gifted worship leaders or musicians. I join them in praying that God will bring those human resources their way. In the meantime, there are multiple resources they can draw upon in providing worshipful music in their church services each week. Toward that end, let me offer some related observations concerning worship music. These observations come from my own experience and comments I’ve received from many people.

Volume

Tammy and I recently visited the worship service at a medium-size church not far from our home. I was investigating the possibility of being a guest preacher there in the future. As the worship music began, Tammy and I could feel the bones in our chests vibrate and our ears begin to hurt. Tammy went to the back of the hall and an usher asked if he could help. She explained that she was trying to locate a place where it was not so loud. When he offered her earplugs, she thought he was kidding (we discovered that this is how the congregation assists people who feel the music is too loud). To avoid the pain she continued to feel, Tammy remained in the lobby until the music ended.

My point in mentioning this is that worship music need not be painfully loud to be impactful. God is not hard of hearing. The purpose of music in worship is to help people share in Jesus’ worship of the Father, and when the volume creates pain, it causes people to focus on their discomfort rather than on God. Some of the most powerful worship I’ve participated in is when the congregation was singing acapella (without instrumental accompaniment). But no matter how the music is presented, the focus should not be the music itself, but Who the music refers us to—our triune God, celebrating his nature and character.

Commentary between songs

Effective worship leaders avoid mini-sermons between songs. They understand that the goal of worship leading is not to be the star of a great performance, but to be an unobtrusive prompter who helps the congregation focus on our triune God. Though we all enjoy stories, the space between songs is not the time to tell them. Lengthy comments are also unhelpful and distracting, especially when they are theologically unsound. I once heard a worship leader invite Jesus into the service (as though he was absent). Perhaps they were unaware that Jesus, as God, is omnipresent. A better comment would have been, “Let’s join with Jesus, our true worship leader, who promises to be with us, even if only two or three of us are gathered.” Comments introducing a song should relate the song to the theme of the service as reflected in the Scripture readings and sermon. When all elements of the service follow one theme, there are fewer distractions and people are helped to focus on one, central word from the Lord.

Orderly worship

Careful preparation leading to orderliness avoids “worship killers.” Perhaps you’ve been in a church service in which the music was provided using CDs or DVDs. But the operator was unfamiliar with the equipment and the order of songs and so there were multiple, embarrassing starts and stops. Having the song list ahead of time enables the sound crew to make sure the transitions are smooth and the volume is consistent. In that way distractions are minimized and the worship has a harmony and coherence that aligns with who our Triune God is.

Introducing new songs

I’ve been in services where the worship leader introduced several new songs, then lamented the congregation’s lack of participation! It is not helpful to introduce new songs each week. Let your congregation get used to a repertoire so they can sing the worship songs well and thus participate fully without too much effort. When a new song needs to be introduced, a good way to do so is to have it performed during the offering when members can focus on the words and be moved by its message. Please don’t introduce a new song to close a service. It’s best that most of the songs be ones the congregation knows well. This not only helps regular attenders, it helps visitors to be comfortable—imagine what a visitor experiences when they see most of the congregation struggling through a song.

Conclusion

I love visiting GCI congregations and sharing worship with them. I want all our members, as well as our visitors and guests to experience the joy that comes with worshiping our triune God in song. When we worship together, from the heart, we experience part of the communion shared by the Father, Son and Spirit. Enabling and enhancing the congregation’s worship of God in song is a high calling and I hope these thoughts will help those who provide this important ministry week in and week out.

Always worshiping,
Joseph Tkach

Queens outreach

GCI’s Queens, NY, congregation (New Life in Christ) held its annual Back-to-School event on September 8. The congregation served over 100 in their local community, distributing specially designed bags of school supplies, serving lunch, and having special face painting and arts-and-crafts activities. The congregation’s Richmond Hill, Queens community is the most diverse community in the most diverse borough of a very diverse city (New York). As noted by the congregation’s pastor, John Newsom,

We are always faced with the challenges of diverse cultures and languages in conducting outreaches. For this outreach, the need was for Spanish and Mandarin and we were blessed to have these skills among our volunteers. Thus, we were able to translate our gospel message in these languages!

Here are pictures of the event:

Church, Kingdom & Government part 2

Here is part two of The Church, the Kingdom and Human Government—a three-part essay from Grace Communion Seminary President Gary Deddo (click here for part 1, and here for part 3).

The church is called to witness

The Resurrection of Jesus by Coypel
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

As noted in part 1, there is an “already-but-not-yet” aspect of the kingdom of God. Though it has already broken into the world, its fullness is not yet seen. Though Jesus is now Lord of all, it does not yet appear that all things are subject to his rule and reign (Heb. 2:8, ESV). Though Christ’s victory is complete, it is not yet fully apparent—it has yet to be fully uncovered (revealed).[1]

As Christians, our calling (vocation) is to witness to the reality of Christ and his already-but-not-yet rule and reign (i.e., his kingdom). We provide that witness first by living in a worship relationship with God through the gracious mediation of Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, all under the authority of Scripture (Eph. 2:20). We then gather to proclaim the fact that Jesus is King of kings and that his rule and reign is assuredly coming in all its fullness (Acts 1:4-9). In this way, the church becomes a beacon of the hope that will be realized when Jesus returns to earth at the end of this present age (2 Tim. 4:1).[2] Concerning this witness provided by the church, note these three things:

  • The witness of the church is partial, temporary and provisional (more on that below).
  • It serves as a sign (parable or pointer) of the rule and reign of Jesus (Acts 5:12).
  • It points forward to the consummation that is yet to come when Jesus returns (Act 2:22). In that way, the witness of the church is like the earthly ministry of Jesus, which did not set up the fullness of the kingdom. Instead, Jesus pointed forward to a future coming of his kingdom.

Through the earthly ministry of Jesus (including his death, resurrection and ascension), the kingdom was inaugurated, though it has yet to be fully consummated (realized). Because that consummation is yet to come, we wait with expectancy, hope and patience (Rom. 8:25). However, our waiting is not passive, for we are called to the mission of witness—the ministry of declaring Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom, so that others may come in and participate now in his church.

Our mission as the church is to declare the kingdom, not set it up or substitute for it. Nowhere does the New Testament teach that the church’s witness will gradually and inevitably turn into the kingdom. Were that the case, the church would cease being a witness (a sign) and turn into the reality to which the sign points. That the church’s witness will expand in the world is implied in Scripture, even assumed. However, that expansion should not be confused with the full manifestation of the kingdom and the coming of the new heavens and earth.

Don’t confuse the church and the kingdom

It is a mistake to confuse the church and the kingdom. Such confusion sets up unfounded expectations of the church and leads to disillusionment and bitterness concerning either the failure of the church or, even worse, the failure of God to accomplish through the church what we wrongly expect of the church in this current “evil age” (Gal. 1:4; 1 John 2:8).

Scripture teaches that, when he returns, Jesus will bring the kingdom in all its fullness to earth. In the present age, prior to the return of Jesus, God grants to the church the privilege of being a sign that points to the coming kingdom. The fact is that the church fulfills this mission of witness imperfectly. As Jesus indicated in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:25-30, KJV), his church will not be perfectly pure in this age. The book of Acts and the Epistles, along with the record of church history, bear witness to this fact. The imperfection of the church contrasts with the perfection of the kingdom, in which there will be no mixture of good (wheat) and evil (tares). Evil will have no place in the kingdom of God. Indeed, evil has no future. This reality is secured by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, along with Jesus’ promise that he will return with power to put an end to all evil and to vanquish death and all suffering (Rev. 12:10).

The nature of the church’s witness to the kingdom

As a sign (embodiment or parable) of the kingdom of God in the present fallen world, the church’s witness will always be partial, temporary and provisional:

  • The church’s witness is partial. It is unable to display the full range and depth of what God’s kingdom will be like. What the church does and says will only indicate a limited part of what the kingdom is about. The church will not be able to point to every dimension of the kingdom equally well. The  witness of the church, as important as it is, will not bring about the completeness of the kingdom. Instead, it points beyond itself to the fullness yet to come, bringing forth anticipation and hope in the hearts of those who, in faith, look forward to the coming kingdom.
  • The church’s witness is temporary. As the church embodies signs of the kingdom, those signs will often only last a little while then wear out, become degraded, and sometimes even corrupted. As beneficial as this witness is, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.[3] New forms of witness will always be needed as the old ones are forgotten, fall away or become no longer viable or relevant.
  • The church’s witness is provisional. It is not the reality, though it is a sign pointing to the reality—the coming kingdom of God. In that way the church’s witness engenders hope that exceeds what the church can accomplish here and now before Christ returns and evil is vanquished as all things are made new.

Though partial, temporary and provisional, the church’s witness is vital. In obedience to God’s commands, the church bears witness to its King and his coming kingdom, knowing that it is Jesus Christ who has promised that the kingdom of God will come. Sadly, the church has often turned aside from this calling, failing to offer the world partial signs of the kingdom’s coming reality, thus failing to be a provisional beacon of hope to the world. It has settled for becoming much like the surrounding culture. Instead of witnessing to the kingdom, the church has, at times, tried to make itself the kingdom—it has tried in vain to establish the fullness of the kingdom on earth now. In making that mistake, the church has assumed for itself a task that is reserved for Christ, becoming in its own eyes an end in itself, thus falling into the sin of idolatry and often compromising itself in the use of worldly power to achieve an impossible ideal.

The kingdom is not human government

We have seen that the church is not the kingdom. Now we need to see that human government is not the kingdom. Just as the church does not evolve into the kingdom (despite misguided attempts by a few church leaders to bring about that evolution), human government cannot evolve into the kingdom (again, despite attempts in that direction). Scripture makes it clear that God’s kingdom is not a human kingdom.

Human government does have an important, though limited, purpose in God providence. This is seen in Jesus’ teaching regarding distinguishing between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (Mark 12:17). It also is seen in the way the apostles interacted with the Roman government of their day (e.g., Acts 4:19 and Rom. 13:1-7). In this age, human government has a limited purpose defined by God and has been assigned limited authority derived from God. Many don’t recognize that purpose (with its limitations) but the church must.

By God’s decree, the purpose of human government is to maintain fundamental social order and human justice, seeking the common good within the limits defined by God. No human government can rightly regard itself as absolute. Rather, all exist under an absolute that transcends human rule and reign. No human government has absolute rights over any human being, since all human beings belong to God. Humans are creatures of God, not of any human ruler.

It’s also important to understand that human government is limited in the good it can accomplish. Why? Because humans are unable to banish all evil and to prevent evil’s perpetual temptations. Human government cannot heal and transform the human soul, it cannot reconcile alienated human beings, and it cannot undo or redirect the past. No human government can make all things right—they are unable to renew and restore all things, including the past. Therefore, the church must not expect human government to solve all of humanity’s problems. No human government can turn itself into or otherwise bring about the kingdom of God by being the perfect, ideal government on earth before Jesus returns.

Nevertheless, the church should expect some good to come from human government. Keeping in mind the limited responsibility that God gives it, the church should remind civil leaders of the range of authority they should exercise for the common good. The church should also warn leaders to not neglect the responsibilities that go with their authority, and it should speak out if government exceeds the boundaries of those God-given responsibilities, especially when acting as if they have absolute authority and are answerable to no higher authority than themselves—whether that authority be God or, if not God, a moral standard which all governments ought to abide by.

Though human governments often are unaware of their God-given purpose and limited range of responsibilities, that lack of awareness does not eliminate the truth. One of the church’s tasks is to bear witness to human government concerning this truth. That is what we find the church doing in the New Testament (e.g., Acts and Romans). In bearing witness, the church must be realistic in its expectations of human government. In this present evil age, no government will be perfect, and none will establish the ideal human community. All human governments, like the citizens they are called to serve, are endangered by evil. They rise and fall, they come and go.

No human governments (together or individually) will ever be able to bring about the kingdom of God. Christians should not believe that human governments can do that, thereby confusing human government with the kingdom of God. Only God can (or should) be worshipped. Worship of any human leader or government is idolatry. Forgetting this was the huge mistake made by much of the church in Germany during the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s. In that dark time, most of the church in Germany surrendered itself to Hitler, believing that the greater good of God’s kingdom on earth would thereby be created. This happened in large part because these Christians mistakenly believed that Hitler could establish God’s ideal on earth—the kingdom of God. Because they believed that, they also believed that the great end the envisioned justified any means used to bring it about. They were terribly mistaken.

The reverse is also true. The coming of the kingdom of God will not amount to the installation by God of a perfect, ideal human government. God will not raise up a human-led government to serve as his kingdom on earth. Rather, God will reign through the Spirit fully manifested in every human life, and so lived out in gladness and freedom in and through all their relationships and activities. God himself will be their light. God himself will banish evil. God will end all suffering and resolve all regrets of the sinful past. God will reconcile all things and right all wrongs. In God’s kingdom, righteousness (right relationships) will not be legally imposed or socially enforced. Rather, righteousness will flow unimpeded from God through human hearts and minds and (figuratively) out through their hands and feet.

In the kingdom of God, there will be no pride, arrogance or temptation to self-justification. All barriers in the way of fully receiving all from God and passing it on to others will be torn down. The kingdom will be fully manifested, not externally, but from within and among all those who come under God’s rule and reign—all who enter God’s kingdom when invited, leaving behind all other kingdoms, all other loyalties, all other priorities. Citizens of God’s kingdom will be the true children of God who will, for the first time, experience true freedom to the full.

The church should not seek to substitute for human government

The church must not try to turn itself into an earthly government in this time-between-the-times. It also must not try to build the kingdom on earth by human means, through the agency of human government. The church must never seek to displace and take over the vocation of human government. The church is not going to bring in the kingdom, and it is not going to become God’s ideal form of earthly, humanly mediated government.

Neither the church nor the kingdom amounts to the installation of human government. In the kingdom of God, Jesus himself, by the Spirit, will rule and reign in human minds and hearts in a new heaven and earth. It is this renewal of all things that will constitute the coming of the kingdom. Though Jesus will not turn his kingdom rule over to its human citizens, those citizens will share (participate) in his rule and reign, and do so perfectly, by his word and Spirit. At that time (and not before) it will be clearly manifested that Jesus has indeed “overcome the world” (John 16:33). We will reign under and with him, sharing in his kingly victory.

In the meantime, awaiting the coming of the kingdom, the church is called to bear witness to the world, including its various human governments, concerning the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the coming kingdom of God (Col. 2:10; Eph 3:9-11). It is called to do so by being an embodied sign of the hope of the coming kingdom. That hope will not be presented as involving the development of a human government ruling and reigning perfectly. Though the church will bear witness to the limited but good purpose for human government (and speak out when governments fail in that purpose[4]), it will not confuse human government with the kingdom or with the church.

The church, in its witness, will support and respect human government and contribute to its best practices. However, the church, when needed, will also critically engage government when it exceeds its God-given, limited boundaries. In that witness, the church must never abandon its God-given, Christ-founded, Spirit-empowered vocation of worship and witness by which it serves as a beacon of hope in this present evil age. Lord, give us courage to be your witnesses in this world!


Endnotes

[1] In Greek, the first word and title of the book of Revelation is apokalypsis (from which we get the word apocalypse). It means to uncover or reveal.

[2] For the clear understanding that the kingdom of God is the future hope of God’s people, see also: Matt. 13:41-43; 24: 14; 26:29; Luke 19:11; 22:16-18; John 18:36; 1 Cor. 15:24; 2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 11:15.

[3] Even Jesus’ raising of the dead was not permanent. The persons (e.g., Lazarus) that Jesus raised eventually died again. These resurrections (really resuscitations) were signs, and Jesus did not raise everyone from the dead during his earthly incarnate ministry. Jesus’ resurrection, however, is permanent. His death is once (and for all). It is the reality to which the signs point.

[4] See the Barmen Declaration issued by the underground Confessing Church in Germany at the time of the Third Reich of Hitler and the Nazis. That document stands as a modern witness against the abuses of governmental authority and the acquiescence of any church to that abuse, as in the case of the so-called “German Christians” of the Reich Church of the time.

Storm reports

We have been praying for the safety of GCI members and others affected by Hurricane Florence in the Eastern United States, and by Super Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines (now affecting China). We have not received a report from the Philippines, though we know of significant damage from flooding and wind. Concerning the impact of Florence, U.S. Regional Pastor Paul David Kurts sent this report:

Many of our GCI brothers and sisters have inquired about our safety here in the Carolinas, reassuring us that they are praying and stand ready to help in our recovery. It has warmed my heart to see the genuine love and concern for all who have been impacted by this catastrophic event. The current death toll in North and South Carolina now exceeds 30 people. This number will likely grow as flood waters recede and more bodies are recovered. The biggest challenge ahead will be dealing with flood damage and loss of electrical power. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power and have been displaced from their homes. By God’s grace, GCI members here in Hickory, North Carolina dodged a bullet and didn’t get too much wind or rain. This enabled several in our congregation to offer their homes to GCI members displaced from their homes in other areas, though none of us were actually taken up on the offer. I’ve communicated with the pastors in this part of our region and I’m thankful to be able to report that none of our members were injured. Thank you for your prayers and offers of support.

Jim Kissee

Here is an update concerning Pastor Jim Kissee who has been battling cancer for some time. 

We are happy to report that Jim’s recent CT scan showed no change in his condition. He is at home and is doing fairly well. He will have another scan in three months.

Cards may be sent to:

Jim and Kaye Kissee
601 N. 36th St
Nixa, MO
65714-7558

David Sheridan

David Sheridan, pastor of GCI’s congregation in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, had triple coronary artery bypass surgery on September 10. The Sheridan family reports that the surgery used two arteries to bypass 3 vessels, which is both amazing and uncommon.

The surgery was very successful, with no complications. David’s recovery is going well and he is in good spirits as attested by this picture of his ride home from the hospital:

Cards may be sent to:

David Sheridan
101 Cramond Close SE
Calgary, AB T3M 1C1
CANADA

GCI Facebook forums

GCI has two Facebook discussion forums that are moderated by GCI leaders:

If you would like to join either (or both) forums, click on the links above and request to join.

Gardner Kunje

Click on the image below to meet Gardner Kunje, GCI’s National Ministry Leader in the African nation of Malawi.