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Letters to the Editor (Run to Win, Hymnals, Worship, and Preaching versus Bible Study)

I get letters! In fact, I get quite a number of letters in response to the articles I write. Here are some of the best Letters to the Editor from the past couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them.

Letters on Run to Win!

I need to tell you that the series run to win is disheartening to me as it seems to be written for men only. Am I reading it correctly? Have I missed some piece of explanation that tells us why you are writing to men only? I only write this as every single part of the series I have clicked on with anticipation to read then see in paragraph two that it is advice for men. Am I right then to consider this as ‘not written for me’? Or can it be considered as advice for Godly men and women? To be honest as soon as it is stated in the article that you are talking to men I click off and go elsewhere. Or do you anticipate women read this and tell their husbands what it says? Or perhaps your demographic is 99% male? Also I hope this doesn’t read like a complaint or criticism I genuinely get a lot from reading your blog.

—Nicola, Belfast, IE

Tim: The series is directed at men, though I’m sure there’s benefit to women as well. Why is it written for men? Simply to define an audience and to allow me to speak specifically as a man to men. It allows me to be more specific and less general in the teaching, exhortation, and application.

Letters on The Mark of the Most Successful Worship Leaders

As a church worship leader I find myself wrestling with the issues you disccused in the article. I was surprised to read in the last few lines of your article that you thought a worship leader ought to prioritise the singability of a song over its ‘theological density’..Surely it is more important to sing songs which are packed with Christ-exalting truth rather than simply to sing songs which have simple melodies? I’d rather sing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling than Kumbaya in spite of the more challenging tune!

—Ben H, Canterbury, UK

Tim: Well, if those were the only two options, I suppose the former would be more appropriate than the latter. But, as it happens, we have a lot of great options. What I mean to point out is that we may place too low a value on singability—we will sing poor-quality songs if they contain good-quality theology. But there is no benefit to merely mouthing sound doctrine if the song isn’t actually singable.

Thanks for your overall good article. I do think it is important, however, to not reduce the term worship leader to someone who picks the songs. Worship, of course, has several elements. I am afraid that many modern evangelicals as a result of this unfortunate reduction, think they are worshipping only when they are singing – although I think that they would give the right answer if quizzed and pressed on the matter! Also, the singability, while important, has to have equal importance with the “fit” of the tune with the sense and import of the words. This is somewhat subjective, but for example, songs or psalms of lament should normally have a tune written in a minor key, etc.

—Dave M, Newport News, VA

I wholeheartedly agree with you about performance and skill and facilitating congregational worship. I am a musician in our local church and there is sometimes no appreciation of what is suitable for congregational singing with regard to singing range and musical technicality. Once we have gotten past the very obvious (i.e. is it scriptural and does it make musical sense?). I am fed up with songs that have just 4 notes in them and no scope to harmonise or develop the music. That aside, two points I have noticed in getting rid of hymnals/hymn books is that we now cannot guide our children through the songs as they learn to read since the words are up on a screen. We also disable the congregation when it comes to them choosing a song because they now have to choose from memory rather than thumb through and think, “wow, we’ve not sung that for a while, I really love that song, let’s sing this one.” The final comment is, I teach our church youth songs and I am committed to them learning the words without the aid of written words. I want these Biblical/Scriptural songs to be imprinted into their long-term memory so that when they get old, face life challenges or stray from the Lord then they have a reservoir in their minds of God’s Word to carry them through.

—Jane G, Cornwall UK

Letters on What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals

I’m curious why you believe a trend toward hymnals “is too late to go back?” Maybe that’s not what you really mean. When you define that you have lost something that it is “valuable” why wouldn’t you trend toward the singing of hymns? You didn’t mention that hymns teach doctrine. Much of the music sung today is not so thought provoking as it is emotional. Along with the hymns most churches have booted their choir to the curb as well, settling for a few younger singers to lead worship. If singing hymns was valuable then it should be re-thought as a part of valuable worship. Congregations need to learn to sing again and not just listen to the band.

—James J, Springfield, MO

Tim: I simply meant that it’s unlikely the majority of churches will return to using hymnals. I hope they continue to sing hymns, though, even if they sing them off a song sheet or a Powerpoint screen.

Letters on Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church

There are many people who feel this way. I am not singing either and I am an active church member. Not just the visitors but people in my congregation. I call the new worship “Performance Worship”. I am not performing or participating with them like I have in the past. I am watching, like in a concert. When I was a young adult, I used to lead singing in Sunday school, Young Life and in evening services. I felt blessed and I know people who would thank me for my leading and picking many of their favorites.

Today I feel like I am trying to learn a new song a week. I am kind of left out. I also see others standing and not participating. I miss the choruses and a lot of the hymns. I used to and still do have them home in my mind and hum them. A lot them are still in my heart. The people in the congregations today are not taking the new music to their hearts. This is where we are missing it today, in our hearts. I think God wants us to have a song of praise and real worship in our hearts when we leave a service, not just watching someone else perform. I hope this short letter encourages you to write more about this subject, I wish the church today could touch the hearts of it disciples in music, I do not think the church today with “Performance Worship” is doing it. I hope there is a solution.

—Lou B, Riverside, CA

Letters on One Way To Make Sure You’re Preaching a Sermon, Not Leading a Bible Study

Like you, I find it much easier to discover the facts, explore the text, explain the meaning, and so on. In short, teaching. Preaching—application and reaching the heart—is much more difficult for me. My wife helps me a lot in this regard; we go over my Sunday message on Thursday or Friday, and she always has great insights on application ideas, which I incorporate. I’d recommend this to any pastor who struggles with application.

This morning, I took the advice of your friend, Paul, for my upcoming sermon on Matthew 24. Instead of main points like these: Warning Against Deception, Beginning Birth Pains, Tribulation, False Prophets, etc., I’ve changed them to imperatives: Don’t Be Deceived, Prepare for Persecution, Preach the Gospel, Know Your Bible, Only Follow Jesus. This little tip you shared will be extremely helpful!

—Gary V, Aurora, IN

Tim: That looks great! I love how you’ve now turned the outline toward the listener even while maintaining the passage’s structure.

My fancy was grabbed by your attempt to distinguish between sermons and Bible studies, but unfortunately, my sensibilities were a shade less than satisfied with the results. The difference you laid out was not so much a difference between sermons and Bible studies (or between preaching and teaching), but a difference between observation and interpretation on the one hand and application on the other. Should not both preaching and teaching—both Bible studies and sermons—contain all three components (observation, interpretation, and application)? A failure to observe or interpret would make for a poor sermon, and a failure to apply would make for a poor Bible study. Both formats should aim at both head and heart. Both formats should increase both knowledge and holiness.

I suggest the primary difference between sermons and Bible studies has little to do with content and much to do with delivery. One takes advantage of the lecture format, while the other takes advantage of the discussion format. Both are biblical, and both have their place. Certainly, they may have different frames or outlines. But both should speak to the whole person, helping people both to know what the passage says and to live in light of it. Glad to have you as a teacher (but not quite a preacher?)!

—Peter K, State College, PA

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