Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
What does it mean for congregational worship to be Spirit-filled? We received this question from a leader wanting to better understand why some members of his church left because they said his leading wasn’t Spirit-filled enough. We talk about the importance of planning, the purpose of spiritual gifts, how a leader can grow in spontaneity, and more.
Referenced in this episode:
How Do We Grow in Physical Expressiveness Pt 1-5
Have a question about this episode? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
David: Hey, welcome to your Sound Plus Doctrine. I am David.
Bob: I’m Bob.
David: Bob, ask me how I’m doing.
Bob: David, how are you doing?
David: Happy, happy, happy.
Bob: Those who are just listening to this can’t see that you just held up your coffee mug.
David: Yeah, and also, these are streamed on our YouTube channel, if you ever want to watch us speak.
Bob: Yeah, I think more people listen… Watch on YouTube than other platforms.
David: That’s wild. But also…
Bob: They like to look at us, probably.
David: Yeah, okay. I don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s just great to have you tuning in to this podcast. Not you, Bob, the general public.
Bob: Thank you. Oh, I’m sorry.
David: It’s great to actually be with you though.
Bob: It is! It is. To be doing this.
David: So, we actually received an awesome email, which was a question for our Sound Plus Doctrine podcast, which… I guess you could submit questions. We haven’t said… We haven’t talked about that.
Bob: Somebody emailed me… A guy named Bob, great name. And… Yeah, I emailed him back and said, “Hey, could we just talk about this on the Sound Plus Doctrine podcast?” He said, “That’d be great.”
Bob: So here we are!
David: Yes, and… Yeah, and I read it too and I love this, so we’re gonna jump right in ’cause I’m sure it’s gonna take some time to just process it, but… Here’s what he says in the beginning. “In my worship leading, several times, I have had people leave our church because they want a more ‘Spirit-filled worship time.” And then he goes on to say, “Usually I try not to take offense and help guide them to other faithful gospel center churches that might fit their criteria, which I just… I appreciate that.
Bob: Such a great… That’s a great attitude to have.
David: But then he goes on to say, “But theologically, I admit I’m troubled when I hear this, and I wonder if people listening to this podcast would feel the same way, what do I do about… If someone says, “It’s not Spirit-filled.” You know, the worship time or… ” So I think that’s a great topic to talk about. And what would you… What would you say to that, Bob? Like, where do you even start with that?
Bob: Well, I appreciate that he went on to describe what he actually does because… And let me say the whole way he’s approaching this is so honoring to the Lord, because he said, “Yeah, I’m tempted to take offense,” but he doesn’t. He says, “You know what? Maybe I can learn from this.” And that’s always the attitude we should have when someone comes up with some criticism. Even if they leave, he’s recommending other churches that he thinks might serve them better, so just such a great heart. But he went on to list the things he’s doing…
Bob: Which I thought was so helpful. He said, “Here are the principles I use to guide me when I lead our church’s worship.” He focuses on the Glory of God and the Proclamation of Christ. He encourages the church body to respond through fitting expressions… Joy, fear of God, shouts of joy, clapping, other expressions you see in the Psalms. Their lyrics are saturated with scripture, they’re doctrinally sound, they use a mixture of different kinds of songs, they guide people throughout the service with pastoral encouragement, which is… Keeps liturgies from becoming lifeless. You pastor people as you walk them through it. They seek to complement the singing with skillful musicianship that is beautiful, and it doesn’t become the main focus, but supports the singing and they faithfully pray for their times of congregational worship and during those times. Now, the first thing I thought about as I read that…
David: It’s a pretty good list.
Bob: That’s a really good list! That is Spirit-filled worship. You talk about, “What did the Spirit come… What has the Spirit come to do?” Well, he’s come to exalt Christ. Why did the Father and the Son send the spirit to exalt Christ? To make much of him. To remind us of what Christ has said. To shed abroad in our hearts the love of God… Romans 5. Paul says in Philippians 3 that, “We are those who worship by the Spirit of God,” and then he says, “In glory, in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.” So Spirit-filled… A Spirit-filled time of worship… Is that… Which does that glories in Christ and puts no confidence in the flesh. And then we think, “Well, where does the Bible come from?” Well, the Spirit breathe the Word of God. So he’s trying to lead meetings that are filled with the Word of God, which was breathed out by the Spirit of God, so that is a Spirit-filled time of congregational worship. So what are people saying?
Bob: When he goes on to describe what he think they mean, he says, “As I’m aiming at these things, I have a hard time thinking, theologically at least, that I’m not at least aiming at our church having a Spirit-filled worship time.” And I’d agree. And so when I ask people why they’re leaving, he says, “They have a hard time articulating with clarity what they mean.” But then he says this, “They sometimes say they want me to be better at sensing the moment of the Spirit in our time and being guided by Him in a spontaneous way.” And he says, “I admit that I am probably not great at that.” So I think before we get into the conversation, ’cause I think you have some stuff to add to this as well… I just wanna say that… Yeah, that is one aspect of a Spirit-filled meeting that’s not what it means for a meeting to be Spirit-filled.
Bob: And I think we have a lot of examples right now in churches, on YouTube of churches that are really spontaneous and we’re thinking, Oh, that’s what being Spirit-filled means.
Bob: But if your meeting is not Word-filled, it’s not Spirit-filled.
Bob: If you are not leading people to a greater appreciation for and submission to and love for the Word of God, you’re not being led by the Spirit, because the Spirit leads us to… To what he wrote and what he gave us in his word.
Bob: And he leads us to an exaltation of Jesus, not just in our experiences, not even primarily in our experiences, but through his word… Now, he does lead us to Christ, and that’s what he’s come to do. But for someone who is focusing on all the things that Bob has said, the other Bob, that he’s doing… He is leading a Spirit-filled meeting. Now, does that mean that he’s maybe taking advantage of all that the Spirit wants to do? Yeah. Well, maybe we could talk about that. What would be your…
David: The first time I read this, and then when I scrolled down and saw, I appreciate that he gave how they articulate them wanting to leave, he makes that clear and it’s very much, what I took out of it It was very much like, it seems maybe what you’re doing is too rigid, we want something that’s a little bit looser and freer and it’s… You don’t even have to look very far, you can get on to YouTube and you can see sort of “Spirit-filled” experiences and 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20, 30 minutes, and it’s just… It’s meditation, repetition, and sort of… And I’m wondering if it’s, why don’t we have that? Why do we have five songs and then we’re done.
David: So it was actually really great to hear the reason they gave to him, but…
Bob: You’re saying someone’s saying, Why don’t we have that 15 minutes of meditation?
David: Yeah, why don’t we have more space or time?
Bob: Yeah, yeah, yeah which is not an illegitimate question…
Bob: Because obviously, people are experiencing something there, we just can’t… I think it’s unwise to make these blanket statements that.
Bob: Because someone is singing something repeatedly.
Bob: Or because people see me emotionally engaged, that it must be wrong.
David: Yeah, that’s just right it off.
Bob: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that’s one of the reasons those kinds of meetings, those kinds of churches are so appealing. Because they are saying if you’re gonna have an encounter with God in Jesus, it should mean something. Something should happen. Do we go to our meetings expecting that… I think we talked about this in God encounters. Do we go to our meetings expecting nothing…
Bob: Nothing to go on.
David: I’m gonna fill my head, and then I’m gonna leave.
Bob: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bob: Yeah, I think he’s asking a great question, he goes on to ask some questions, he says, “Am I missing something of the Spirit, because I try to be intentional with our services and how I plan them?”
David: That’s a great question.
Bob: It is a great question, and I’ve done this… This seminar teaching on planning and spontaneity, in which I thought… I tried to think through this, and I would answer that question, am I missing something in the Spirit, because I try to be intentional with our service and how I plan them? Maybe, but are you asking… Is planning like anti-Spirit? I said No.
Bob: Planning is something that God has ordained Isaiah 32:8, “he who is noble, plans noble things, and on noble things, he stands.” Psalm 20:4, “may he grant you, your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.” It’s not wrong to plan, there are lots of benefits to planning, it helps us, it makes us more aware of our need before the meeting.
Bob: We recognize, I need to ask God about what I’m gonna be doing. It helps to serve people with undistracting excellence, it helps us to be more intentional about our theological diet, someone, a leader who wants to be Spirit-led in the sense we’re talking about in a spontaneous way, ends up saying a lot of the same things. Repeating a lot of the same things. Planning can clarify our goals and how we’re gonna meet them, planning can prepare those who are gonna serve for their contributions, planning can make us less likely to lead by our emotions or experience. We can say, well, this is what God wants us to get for this meeting, and it’s not just, Oh, I feel like this, this weak…
Bob: That kind of thing.
David: An intentionality.
Bob: Yeah, it can help us engage in meetings more intentionally, so if I read through the lyrics of my song, if I think through how the progressions, the progression is going, I’m more prepared when I get there to lead.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Bob: So they’re all kinds of benefits of planning, so don’t think that you’re not being moved by the Spirit, because you’re planning. CJ, my senior pastor is always said… Said to me numerous times, the Holy Spirit helps us plan, but our plans are not the Holy Spirit. I think that’s where he’s getting at.
Bob: Our plans are not the Holy Spirit. Are there ways I can grow? It’s another question he asks. I can grow in spontaneous nature in my worship leading, and I would say, “Yeah, there.” I remember when we first met, and it was the resolve conference. You were playing in the band infield, and I was leading and I was much more used to that kind of flow.
Bob: You know, “Hey, we’re gonna repeat this course and you guys were not… ”
Bob: Remember, how did you work through songs at that time?
David: Yeah, well, I think… We happen to be professional musicians that we’re serving at our church in a sort of a non-professional sense, so we weren’t getting paid to play at our church but we were constantly in professional settings where you’re in a studio and you’re playing a song a certain way every single time. And even in a corporate setting, I think maybe that some of that transferred over where it was like, we’re gonna repeat the course twice, and then the song will end and then… So to be with you and to learn from you gave us, I guess, the freedom to actually be more intentional about the lyrics, about the song, and actually being able to spend more time developing a chorus or a song or it’s not completely rigid to the arrangement so that was one huge way that we benefited from just your input. I think when I process what he’s saying, it seems like it’s less about his planning and more about a misunderstanding of what the Spirit is actually doing, which we’ve talked a lot about in this podcast, but even you’re just saying, saying the statement that the Spirit is directing us to the Word, again, it’s like I’m arrested by that of like, “Oh, oh yeah, how do we forget that it’s not just a “experience.”
Bob: Yeah, yeah, and I think that’s the tension of planning in spontaneity, the Spirit helping us in our planning and our Spirit leading us as we’re in the context of the meeting.
David: Right,’cause you can swing.
Bob: It’s so easy. So there are churches that are faithful to preach the Word, faithful to sing the Word, faithful to proclaim the Word, pray the Word, see the Word in baptism, Lord’s supper, but you go and you don’t get the sense that anybody’s really thinking we’re interacting with God right now. It’s more like we’re doing our thing, we’re doing what God has told us to do, what Jesus told us to do, and we’re getting it done, and it’s not like a tick the boxes mentality but it’s kind of that, it’s like…
David: Well, it’s not a forced… You want you… It’s not like we’re gonna force affection but we want some affection.
David: We want some response.
Bob: Yes, well, we want… Yeah, we want the right kind of affection, we want the right kind of response, so we’re I think like Bob is talking about, he’s recognizing, okay, maybe people are sensing something lacking, and I wanna know what it is so that’s what he’s asking, I wanna know what it is so I’m gonna… He actually, he goes on offers us some more questions. He says, “Should I use songs to talk more about a response or emotion in experiencing God?” Which I really didn’t answer the last question, are there ways I can grow in spontaneous nature? Let me talk about that a little bit.
Bob: Yeah, we can grow in spontaneous nature. I think part of that is planning in such a way that you leave a little time like the extra time… Like we have a 90-minute meeting every Sunday. I plan for 88 minutes, that’s just about 87, 88 minutes because I want a little extra time in there, if something I feel I should pray or we’re gonna repeat a song or say something, those kind of things, so always I allow a little extra time for planning. And I said be listening while you’re leading so I’m gonna share an odd experience or it maybe… It’ll be odd for some people listening for sure but this past Sunday, we were singing the song The Power of the Cross. People were singing their hearts out, and we go through the liturgy, our liturgy, we have a call to worship and we had two songs and we had a scripture reading and then we were singing The Power of the Cross by the Gettys. And even during that song, as we were singing that song, I’ve been doing a lot of pastoring this week, and I just…
Bob: Certain people came to mind, certain situations came to mind, and then just a sense that, you know, there are people here who are afraid to reveal what they have done because of their concern for what people will think of them because they feel so much shame. And so the line came to my mind, why are you hiding, why do need… Why do you think you need to hide? And as the song ended, it was we stand forgiven at the cross and I shared… This is all spontaneous, I shared, you know, I think some of you here sing those words and you don’t feel like you’re forgiven, you’re not experiencing that, you’re not living in the good of that. I think God wants to impress upon you the reality of that so I’m gonna sing a spontaneous song. Don’t practice this in public, if you’ve never done it before, and I think this is just gonna express God’s heart, we would call this a prophetic song. Now it’s not scripture, it’s not authoritative, it’s not innerent, it’s not infallible, it’s just one of the spiritual gifts we believe that communicates God’s care. It reveals to people… It reminds people, I should say, that no, God is present with us. Now is God present with us? Yes.
Bob: He’s promised He would be but His promised presence is different from His experienced presence. We don’t always experience His presence, it’s always there. He promised to be with us when the church gathers, when the Word is preached, when we share the Lord’s supper, when we sing but 1st Corinthians 14:3 says, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their up-building and encouragement and consolation.” So I said, this isn’t scripture but I believe it expresses something of God’s heart, so I sang a song, it’s about two minutes long that communicates something of that you can improve. I think one of the lines was you can improve upon my mercy, why do you hide? The only place to hide is me, so I had this… And then we finished, I prayed for people and we sang the next song.
Bob: I had a girl come up to me afterwards and she waited to talk to me and said, “You know, I just want you to know how much that meant to me. I have been struggling with God’s forgiveness for the last year, year and a half, about different things, and as you sang, I was able to experience the Lord’s forgiveness through what Jesus has done. So thank you for being faithful.” That’s the Holy Spirit. Now, is that the only way the Spirit leads? Absolutely not. And am I thinking, “I gotta do this every Sunday or the Spirit won’t be here? No, no, absolutely not. But is that one way the Spirit can lead? Yeah. Now, it could have been. So to Bob’s question, it could have been, “You know what, I have this impression… I’m gonna pray for people right now. I just had the sense that some of you may not be living in the good of God’s forgiveness, let me pray for you right now.” And if that week you had been thinking, “God, I just don’t… I know Jesus died for me, but I don’t experience the goodness of that.” And someone on Sunday says, “Some of you have been thinking, you’re not living the good of God’s forgiveness. I’m gonna pray for you right now.” What do you think that I would say to them?
Bob: Well, it’s just coincidence? Maybe, but why not say, “You know what, I think that’s the Holy Spirit.” It could be, “You know, we’re gonna sing that last chorus one more time because I think that some of us need to sing that one more time.” We stand forgiven at the cross. That means every sin, every act of lust, every act of anger, every act of impatience, every act of materialism, every act of racism, every act of greed, every act… It’s forgiven at the cross. If you own that sin and you’ve trusted in Christ, it’s forgiven. Let’s sing that again. That’s what I mean by just listening to an impression, which again, you wanna be careful, those aren’t authoritative. And you’d wanna ask your pastor, you wanna ask others, “Was that helpful? Was that… ”
David: Yeah, I think two things to note for that, because that was new to me coming into Sovereign Grace Ministries, but I think two things that I just wanna note as sort of an outsider now, a part of Sovereign Grace, is that there’s a sensitivity to those who are leading. It’s a sensitivity to, “I wanna encourage, I wanna share this, I want to for the building up, for the encouragement.”
Bob: Well, yeah, that’s what it is, up-building encouragement and consolation.
David: Yeah, and so I just think as, “How do I grow in this spontaneity?” There’s a sensitivity that says, “This is laid on my heart, I wanna share this.” And then secondly, I think it’s not because, “Hey, I’m important, this came to me, here it is.”
Bob: Absolutely not.
David: It’s, “I want to… This is to build up your faith, this is to encourage you.” It brings conviction as the Holy Spirit does, but I just appreciate that it’s not the platform to say, “This is what you need right now, but it’s… For the building up of this body, I wanna share this for the glory of Christ.”
Bob: Amen, amen.
David: So I just… I know that’s not making points, but just adding…
Bob: Well, those are great points and I think it’s really crucial because it highlights the purpose of all the gifts, any gift, administration, mercy, teaching, helps, hospitality, faith, they’re all to point to Christ. That’s what they’re for. I think it’s one of the reasons that the charismatic movement gets such a bad rap is, well, there are good reasons for it.
Bob: But it’s because people… They might have a gift, a particular gift, but they use it in a way that draws attention to themselves. And that goes exactly opposite to the purpose that God gives, the Holy Spirit gives gifts, is to point to Christ. And so when we are operating in gifts in a way that honors Christ, well, that builds up the body the way it’s supposed to.
David: Absolutely, absolutely.
Bob: So he asks again, “Should I use songs to talk more about our response or emotions in experiencing God?” A lot of contemporary songs, he says, focus too much on this. Agreed. But when you look at the Psalms, there’s an emphasis on our responses to God, maybe using more songs about that might help. I think that’s a great point. When we sing songs that only talk about God’s nature, his attributes, his character, and never allow room for us to respond in some way, I think we’re robbing people that opportunity to experience what the Spirit wants to do in their hearts. You get in the Psalms, things like, “My tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long. My mouth is filled with your praise and your glory all the day long. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day.” I will tell these things, I’m gonna respond, Psalm 108, how it begins, “My heart is steadfast, Oh God, I will sing and make melody with all my being.” It’s like, “What is he doing? Is he saying anything about the Lord?” No, other than, “The Lord’s so good, I’m gonna be excited. My whole being is gonna participate in this.” And the Psalms are just filled with phrases like that.
Bob: Psalm 145, Verse 3. I can’t find Psalms in my Bible, this is a new Bible, it’s not the one I normally use, but I know that Psalms is in the middle. Psalm 145, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.” Then he says, “His greatness is unsearchable.” So there’s a reason, but he’s greatly to be praised.
Bob: Psalm 147, “It is good to sing praises to our God, for it is pleasant. A song of praise is fitting. Sing to him a new song. Play skillfully on the strings. With loud shouts… Those are all descriptions of what we’re doing.
Bob: They’re all over the Psalms.
David: Yeah, yeah.
Bob: So we just wanna be careful that we don’t get on the… What do you call it, the doctrine train wagon that… Which of course we want theologically rich…
David: Yeah, yeah.
Bob: Theologically-driven songs…
Bob: That we… That’s the fuel for what we do.
Bob: But there’s heat produced by that.
Bob: You don’t just throw a bunch of logs on the fire. You know, we need doctrinal fuel for our emotional fire. If you throw too many logs on there, it goes out. Yeah, so I think that… And I’m not a part of his church, I’ve never seen his leadership, but it’s at least worth thinking about, “Should I look for songs that have some of those phrases in them?” I’d say, yeah. Yeah, do.
David: I mean, this topic is so widely discussed because of that tension. You have doctrine and truth, but you also have like you said…
Bob: Passion and emotion.
David: Passion. Yeah, yeah.
Bob: And response.
David: And so I think that’s why it would be so hard to stop here because…
Bob: Well, can I say one more thing before we stop?
David: Yes, you can so as long as that you’re…
Bob: I’ll say really fast. I mean really quick, ’cause you had one more question, should I focus on these expressions and responses more? Let me give a brief plug for my blog, which my son says, I always do, if you look up physical expressiveness on worshipmatters.com, I did a five-part series on this. Like should we… How do we think about physical expressiveness?
David: Oh, okay.
Bob: I would say, don’t focus on those physical expressions, focus on Christ. Focus on what the Psalms say about what are natural responses, but don’t say to people you know, “Sing like you mean it. Let’s see everybody clap…
Bob: Let’s give a praise offering. Let’s…
Bob: No, give them reasons to do that.
David: Yeah, wonderful.
Bob: So I could just speak from our church…
Bob: Sovereign Grace of Louisville when we were first got here, we’d end a song, song would end. As we’ve grown over the years, I think in our understanding of how our hearts are meant to be engaged when we sing, we’ll end an encouraging song now, and people will just spontaneously applaud. In fact even this past Sunday, when we sang, Is He Worthy? By Andrew Peterson and and Ben Shive, which is just… It’s so good at reminding us of the glory of the crucified and risen Christ. And so at the end, we did it twice, we had did it after the meeting and before the meeting. That’s another spontaneous moment.
David: I love that.
Bob: But when we finished, it was, “Is He worthy? He is, He is, He is.” And it was… You don’t just finish that and go, “Okay, we’re done. Great.”
Bob: Yeah, I don’t think anybody who watched the Super Bowl and was rooting for the team that won the Buccs…
David: We wouldn’t know.
David: I mean, seriously?
Bob: I don’t think anybody when their team won, just sat there going, “Okay.”
David: No, they didn’t. Great… Great job.
Bob: No, it was like, “Yes, it was so… It’s so great.” Well, that’s what our church should do when they’ve been so filled with the glory of Christ. So don’t focus on the expressions. Certainly give people permission… Model it.
Bob: But focus on how God has sent His son to live the life we could never live, to die the death we deserve and rose from the dead, so that we could be forgiven and know the Father. Focus on that and people will respond.
David: Excellent, wonderful. Well, thank… Bob, thank you for submitting this question. I just think it brought up so much helpful dialogue. And…
Bob: We hope it was helpful.
David: I hope it… It was helpful for me.
Bob: Okay, good.
David: I even just loved including the points at the end, the questions that we could dialogue. So thanks for submitting this. And thank you for listening. I hope you have a great day and we will tune in later.
Bob: We’ll see you then.