Our guest blogger for this month is Paul Magyar. Paul is one of our respected choral directors, having served in both academic and church settings. From concert halls to sanctuaries, his music has resounded with both artistry and ministry. His personal blog site, pmagyar.blogspot.com , is a treasury of inspiration for sacred musicians.
In September of 2016, our church, Central Baptist Bearden (Knoxville), launched a discussion regarding our congregation’s direction and vision. Ultimately, that discussion led to the creation of a Vision Lay Team (VLT). Throughout much of 2017, this congregation-elected team met most Monday evenings for 1.5 – 2 hours praying over and discussing our church’s direction and vision. Following much prayer, many discussions and meetings, this team (of which the author remains a member ex officio) created four dreams around the general topics of worship, discipleship, community, and evangelism. Rightly so, worship is the first dream among the four.
Worship is the church’s first priority.
Bruce H. Leafblad is the person I respectfully call my worship mentor. Dr. Leafblad joined the music faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1983, the beginning of the second year into my master of music degree at Southwestern. Leafblad poured deeply into his students, and, gratefully, I was among the first of those disciples. I vividly recall the day Dr. Leafblad wrote on the chalkboard (yes, it was that long ago) the words: Worship is Priority One in the Church. As a true product of the Southern Baptist Convention, (I am the son of SBC missionaries, and I completed degrees from two SBC institutions of higher learning), I had heard all my life that evangelism was the priority of the church. Dr. Leafblad’s words opened my mind and confirmed my understanding of God’s word regarding the true priority, and first purpose of the church.
The primacy of worship.
In an earlier blog, I sought to explain why we should not refer to worship as an experience, for, in so doing, we make worship about ourselves, the created and redeemed, and not the One for and to whom worship is to be offered.
What is worship? Worship is … communion with God in which believers, by grace, center their mind’s affection and heart’s affection on the Lord, humbly glorifying God in response to his greatness and his word. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: What is the chief end of man? The answer is: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-1944, defined worship as follows: To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.
The first of the ten commandments identify God as the one true God, who commands his people to worship him alone, to reverence his name, and set aside a day of rest in his sacred honor. Worship is God’s first priority for those who would follow him. (Exodus 20:1-11)
Jesus confirmed this truth when he was asked to identify the greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)
When Central Bearden’s Vision Lay Team boldly decided that we should worship as one body, and in one singular format/style, forsaking our personal preferences, they confirmed their mutual – and biblical – conviction that to follow Jesus is to deny self, take up our respective crosses, and follow. (Luke 9:23)
Over the past decades, evangelical congregations across this country have diminished worship to a matter of personal preference. In so doing, the church has removed its eyes from the Savior who died for her, and focused, instead, on people, breaking the second commandment. The reasons offered in defense of this paradigm have ranged from misguided eisegesis of 1 Corinthians 9:22, to conjecture that, if we (the congregation) worship in a particular music style, they (non or pre-believers) will come. As a result, the church, which should find its foundation in unity, has become, in some cases, very divided. Instead of demonstrating for the world the meaning of true Christlikeness, the church has shamed the Christ she purports to follow.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. (Psalm 133:1)
Dinnertime at my mother’s table was a daily joy. As missionaries, some meals were leaner than others, but there was always enough for all eight Magyars to enjoy; and, more often than not, dessert to top off the meal. Every morning at the breakfast table mom announced what she was planning for dinner, tantalizing our taste buds in happy anticipation. While some of those meals were not our favorites, we would never have imagined requesting to eat something other than what had been carefully and lovingly planned and prepared. Instead, we accepted mom’s meals as a gracious gift, and enjoyed every one together as a family around the table. Furthermore, we would never have asked our mom to prepare a special meal … just for our personal enjoyment. Such would have been ludicrous!
When a person – or group of people complain to their church’s leadership regarding music, demanding a different music to suit their own tastes, or what they perceive to be the tastes of non church members (i.e., prospects), they are far removed from the Gospel and from true discipleship.
I once heard of a church member who told their pastor that, if the church did not add a worship service with a particular (different) style of music, then their family would leave that church. Sadly, that pastor was inclined to satisfy this selfish request.
I am grateful to God for the privilege of serving a congregation that endeavors to deny personal music tastes, and bring their respective gifts as offerings unto the Lord, regardless of the music that is placed before them.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)
I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow. No turning back.
The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.
My cross I’ll carry ‘till I see Jesus. No turning back.
May our worship reflect the One who left the throne of heaven, forsaking all that we might live – and worship selflessly together in spirit and in truth.
Soli Deo Gloria.
© Paul R. Magyar, DMA, 2018
Paul Magyar has served congregations as music minister/worship pastor nearly forty years. His love of music began in his family of eight in Cali, Colombia, where his parents were career SBC missionaries. Paul holds two degrees in church music/worship, and completed his DMA in choral conducting at Louisiana State University. Currently, he serves Central Baptist Church Bearden in Knoxville, Tennessee as Associate Pastor/Music and Worship. He and his wife, Mary, have two grown children, Stephen (married to Linnae), and Anna, and one grandchild, Micah.