Posted 2 years 23 days ago ago by Jody Pendleton 0 Comments
by Jody Pendelton
Worship is the Chemotherapy for the Soul
Cancer. There is no more terrifying word to hear in a medical diagnosis. According to the website of the American Cancer Society, over eleven million people have invasive forms of cancer at a given time in the United States. I was one of those people just a few years ago, and the experience allowed me to compare the task of the medical oncologist treating my cancer to my career role as a worship leader and service planner.
When I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1999, I had a series of conversations with Dr. Robert W. Burns, a specialist in Hematology (diseases of the blood) and Oncology (cancer), about my treatments and prognosis. Our conversations are the basis of this article, and the inspiration behind the comparison of our respective fields.
Evaluation of a new cancer patient involves creating a treatment plan that best addresses the needs of the patient and yields the best results. Oncologists have an arsenal of treatments for multiple forms of cancer, and the treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease especially involves chemotherapy. Prior to the mid-1960s, Hodgkin’s lymphoma was treated chemically with a single drug with poor results and a high fatality rate. Following the discovery of multi-chemical treatment combinations, oncologists now have the option of combining drugs for greater results with less harsh side effects.
These treatments are often named acrostically for the medicines contained within the prescribed “cocktail.” Doctors could choose from MOPP, CHOPP, ABVD, FOLFIRI, ICE and dozens of other combinations. Dr. Burns selected ABVD for my treatment, which combined the drugs Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, and Dacarbazine. Some combinations are more effective on one form of cancer than another, but each combination has been found to be effective on at least one form of cancer.
Chemotherapy is not without its risks, however. Sports Illustrated reported in 1999 that Lance Armstrong was treated for his testicular cancer without the drug bleomycin because of lung inflammation side effects, and without radiation because of a balance issue side effect. There are always risks in trying to accomplish something great, whether finding the right cancer treatment or assembling the perfect order for a worship service.
Worship is the chemotherapy for the soul. As such, the worship leader selects hymns, songs, readings, prayers and sermons in much the same way the oncologist selects the best drug combination to confront the cancer. Doctors claim that they “practice” medicine, because it is an art just as music, sculpture, poetry or drama. It is a gift; more discovery than technique, and realization over calculation. Our “practice” is finding the right choices and combinations to maximize our encounter with God in worship, for ourselves and our congregation.
We must ask ourselves questions in our planning thoughts such as “What does the congregation need to hear, or read, or sing?” and “How does this worship act create a line of linear thought to the next act?” as we choose an order for worship. However, these questions of function raise a larger philosophical question about our role in worship planning – what is acceptable to include in worship with the current paradigm shifts happening in service planning?
In the Free Church tradition, worship services are constructed mostly from scratch on a weekly basis. Each service may include similar items from the week before, but are perhaps organized differently, or led by other persons. It is the task of the worship leader to formulate the order these items, or worship acts, will follow. These are not always loose or casual requirements, or strict formalities that must be followed but are somewhere in between the two extremes. There is a certain customization that must take place in the service similar to what the oncologist orders as chemotherapy. I call worship “sin chemo” for that reason.
Just as the oncologist must eradicate the cancer from our bodies, our task as worship leaders is to eradicate the sin, lack of faith, and unbelief in our souls. We “treat” the congregation with the combinations of worship acts, such as prayer, scripture reading, sermons and congregational singing. These may be combined in multiple ways, and in multiple orders, but the desired result is the same; remove the “cancer” to draw us closer to God.
Imagine the worship service as a “treatment” for our “sickness” and the perspective for planning worship changes from pedantic to missionary. In addition, the congregation is corporately dependent on you as the worship leader just as the cancer patient is dependent upon the oncologist. They depend on you to stay current with the latest worship movements, ideas and songs to be relevant, and to formulate a worship experience rich with expressions of tradition and practical faith. This is a task full of responsibility and honor.
Three Schools of Thought
Further in my conversations with Dr. Burns we discussed the adoption of new treatments into his practice and patient care. He indicated that in Oncology there are three general schools of thought as far as medical advances are concerned. The first group is comprised of the ones that must be on the cutting edge, accepting as proven the newest and latest treatment alternatives for their patients. The fallacy of that group is that some of the newest treatments have not achieved a high success rate, or at least as high as an older proven treatment. They are nonetheless in love with the “new” treatments.
The second group is the standard, tried-and-true practitioners who use the same treatments for decades. This group chooses to do what they have always done whether it is benefitting the patient or not. The downfall here is that some newer treatments are more effective with fewer side effects than older methods, and can be more successful if the doctor will stay current in their readings and evaluation.
The final group is the one with whom Dr. Burns agrees. This group waits to see what works before adopting a new treatment. No need to be on the forefront if the treatment is ineffective, and they do not stay locked in to an older treatment when new treatments are successful and less toxic. These groups are reflected in worship leadership as well.
There are churches and worship leaders who say “I must have the latest chorus hot off the composer’s printer” to give the impression that they are current, or “now.” These worship leaders are like the physicians in the first group above, who skip over examining the new song for theological problems, difficult to sing melodies, or poor range choices that may exist. Every song writer cannot possibly author the perfect song with every stroke of a pencil, so take time to pray over a song before you give it to your “patients.”
In other churches there is no desire to move beyond where their worship has been for decades, or generations. I do not mean churches using a liturgy that has deep traditional roots across centuries that God has honored. I mean Free Church congregations who have sung the same songs for so long the meaning becomes lost in the rote. “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God,” (Psalm 40:3 NIV). There is no need to abandon what you love, but incorporate songs that express what God is doing in your life yesterday, today AND tomorrow.
The third group represents churches who are seeking to meet the needs of the congregation in the best way they can find, with songs that have staying power; they are churches looking to minister to a diverse congregation – perhaps multi-ethnic, multi-generational, or even from different faith backgrounds. As the worship leader, it is our task to plan the most effective worship for our congregation that meets the most needs.
In your prayers to begin your worship planning in coming days, consider where you and your ministry fall in these three categories. You have a God-honoring responsibility to create an atmosphere conducive to worship for the members of your congregation. You have the ability to prayerfully choose what acts of worship will best prepare them to worship. You have the task of eradicating the spiritual cancers through worship. Best of all, you are an ambassador of God to promote good spiritual health and to foster the desire to be in His presence.
Advertisement/Your Ad Could Be Here
by Bob Burroughs
Attitudes of the