Tag Archives: Lord’s Supper

Book Review: Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church

Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, teamed up with his associate pastor Jason Adkins who leads and plans ABC’s worship. This is the sixth book review I have done for Pastor Croft’s works, all of which are wonderful resources for new or even seasoned pastors. You can read my other reviews here: The Pastor’s Family, The Pastor’s Ministry, The Pastor’s Soul, Caring for Widows, and Pray for the Flock.

That being saidGather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church, published by Zondervan in 2014, is a pretty good book. I know that isn’t the best language to use when reviewing a book. It’s very non-committal. Let me explain why, and perhaps you can forgive me for such a review. Having read five other books by Pastor Croft, most of which were co-authored, Gather God’s People simply had an altogether different feel or vibe to it. I should have expected it, since the first words of the introduction are, “I (Brian) have a confession to make. Jason, my coauthor, is really the one who wrote this book,” (p. 13). Pastor Croft does directly contribute to portions of the book, but by and large this is Jason Adkin’s book, with Jason Adkin’s thinking and writing style.  I have often read that we are not to review the book that we wish we had read, but the book in which we actually read. And for that reason, I want to say that outside of the writing style that I’m used to from a Brian Croft book, this book was well-written and wonderfully practical, as I have come to expect from Practical Shepherding books.

The premise of the book is simple and doable. While giving examples from their own experience and their own worship planning and services, the author’s readily admit that this is not the only way, but it is a biblical model for worship. After all, “Through the Old Testament, Christians learn that God cares deeply how he is worshiped. In the New Testament, God explicitly teaches believers how he is to be worshiped,” (p. 19). Thus by chapter 2, Pastor Adkins laid out the five-part objective to worship: Preach the Word, Read the Word, Pray the Word, Sing the Word, and See the Word. This is not a new understanding, but simply a clarification and a practicum of how and why these objectives are biblical and right.  These five objectives make up the book.  However, I would not recommend simply taking these five objectives to memory and ignoring the actual reading of the Croft/Adkins material. There is wisdom to be found in these pages. Wisdom such as “Do no hermeneutical harm to your congregation’s understanding of Scripture,” (p. 60), and

The task of planning worship songs for a weekly gather is not about perpetuating perceptions about your church. Worship planners ought to equip believers to carry out the commands to edify one another through “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and to address their praises to God with a heartfelt melody (Ephesians 5:19, ESV).

p. 73.

Gather God’s People is laid out into three sections rather than two like many of these practical guides. Normally the layout tends to be the why and the how. In this particular book it is more of the why, the how, and the do. After all, “Ministers must prepare to present the various elements in the service in a way that aids the worship of the congregation rather than hinders it,” (p. 86). The first part is written to help us “Understand Worship.” Its chapters are about the biblical theology, elements, and spirituality of worship. It is a crash course in worship which quickly goes through what many worship books deal with as a whole. The second part is showing one how to actually “Plan Worship.” This was the most helpful part of the book for me. It is made up of three chapters as well. Interestingly enough, there is not much on “preaching the word,” though it is the first element or objective. I would venture to say that the reason is that this is not a book on hermeneutics, but worship as a whole. Pastor Croft’s book on The Pastor’s Ministry would deal more with that, as well as many other books on preaching. The three chapters deal with the reading, praying, and singing of the Word. Pastor Adkins details how to plan each of these aspects and does not shy away from the fact that emotions (though not emotionalism) are involved in worship. There is a feeling that is invoked as we worship, and leaders/planners need to be mindful of that. “Acknowledge the emotional and spiritual condition of your congregation in your planning. Furthermore, intended emotional responses should play a role in planning,” (p. 77).  The final part is about leading the congregation in these areas. The final three chapters (not including the Conclusion or appendices) are in this section. It is there that the authors deal with the actual worship service and the implementation of what has been planned. It is also here that the ordinances (the “seeing the word”) aspect of worship is brought up.

A quick note on the appendices: they are mostly showing how the Psalms can be incorporated into the music aspects of congregational worship. There are arguments for doing so along with examples of them set to familiar tunes.

All in all, this was a helpful and practical book. It is probably the most practical book on worship I have read. Much of what I tend to read is theoretical or theological, but rarely do authors have the gumption to get down to the nitty-gritty details of planning and executing the worship service. While it took me a little longer to read this work, coming in at only 143 pages, due to the writing style and the holidays, I appreciated the contents of it. I readily give it 4 stars on Good Reads, and readily commend it to every pastor and/or worship leader.

The Blessing of the King

As we continue on with the Genesis of the Gospel, I want us to see that the gospel deals with more than just Jesus lived, died, and rose again.  The gospel affects our entire lives.  It affects our entire being.  It propels us to action.  It strengthens us in weariness.  It brings a joy that cannot be expressed.  So we see these displayed in this passage: the battle, the bread, and the blessing.

Abram heard the news that his nephew Lot was taken in the battle.

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people, (Genesis 14.14-16, ESV)

There are three lessons that this passage teaches us this morning.

  1. Don’t give up on family when they fail you.  In the case of Abram and Lot, we are talking about actual family.  Lot was Abram’s nephew, but this also happens in churches.  Church family, Christian family will fail you.  It is our duty as Christians to go after our brothers and sisters in Christ if we see them in sin. We are to restore them. Paul wrote, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, let you too be tempted,” (Galatians 6.1, ESV).  Abram pursued those who captured Lot.  In many ways, it was Lot’s fault.  If he hadn’t been so selfish and prideful, he wouldn’t have ended up in Sodom and never would have been captured, but he was selfish and he did get captured.  Abram went after him anyway.  May God give us such a heart.
  2. You can’t do this alone. Abram wasn’t foolish enough to go against the king who defeated five kings alone. He had help: 318 people in fact. Notice that in Galatians 6.1, Paul addresses the “brothers.”  When he said, “You who are spiritual” that is a plural pronoun, “You all who are spiritual.”  Do we realize that when a brother or sister goes astray that they went astray because of some spiritual conflict in their life?  They need those who are spiritual to come and help him or her in this battle.
  3. Care must be taken. Abram and his men were careful.  They didn’t fight them in the midday sun.  They went at night.  They didn’t all take them head-on, but they divided their forces.  So often we are not careful.  We have not bathed our confrontations in prayer.  We have not set up a strategy of war.  You better believe that the enemy has a strategy.  Do you?

Abram and his men were victorious.  They came back with the people and all the goods.  They had fought all night.  They chased the armies back.  Now they were headed home.  It had been a long night.

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.), (Genesis 14.17-18, ESV).

Two quick observations:

  1. Remember that Sodom was full of wicked men, and the king is no different. Wicked men, wicked thoughts, wickedness itself will seek to take advantage of us in our times of weariness.
  2. Before the king of Sodom can sink his teeth into Abram, Melchizedek allows Abram to sink his teeth into bread. He brought him bread and wine. Bread to sustain and wine to restore. Jesus does the same. I love what Spurgeon said on this: “When we are weary with fighting the Lord’s battles, we may expect Jesus will appear to our refreshment.”[1]

Melchizedek in bringing out the bread and the wine actually prepared Abram to fight a different, albeit smaller fight.  Having eaten, and receiving the blessing (we’ll get to in a moment), the king of Sodom has had enough.

And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share,” (Genesis 14.21-24, ESV).

The king of Sodom was willing to give all the money and possessions that Abram had attained from the battle to Abram.  What a wonderful deal!  All the king wanted was his citizens back.  How nice of the king!  But here’s the thing: Abram already was in possession of the money.  It was his.  It wasn’t the king’s to give away.

But Abram said no.  In fact, he went further and said that the king should keep it all. He would be beholden to nobody.  We may never know, but I wonder if he had not received the bread and wine, but faced the king hungry, tired, and weary if he would have given the same answer.  If Melchizedek had not restored Abram’s strength would he have thought so clearly and been prepared once again to fight off the evil before him.

In Christ, we have refuge.  In fact, Christ has given us a spot at His table.  He offers us bread and wine.  He gives us the physical which symbolize the spiritual.  As the bread and wine revived and renewed Abram and his men, so the bread and wine revive and renew us.  Though it is not the food and drink itself, but what the bread and wine stand for.  The bread stands for the body of Christ.  It is by His strength that we press on.  The wine stands of the blood of Christ.  It is because of His shed blood that we rejoice over our salvation.  As Calvin wrote, “Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to him, that, refreshed by communion with him, we may ever and anon gather new vigour until we reach the heavenly immortality.”[2]

The gospel propels us to action: a battle for our brothers and sisters.  It strengthens our weariness: the bread and wine that is offered us.  But it also brings a joy inexpressible.  As Abram finished his meal, Melchizedek blessed him.

And he blessed him and said,
            “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
      Possessor of heaven and earth;
            and blessed be God Most High,
      who has delivered your enemies into your hand!
(Genesis 14.19-20, ESV)

Allow me to give you three more observations about this blessing:

  1. The blessing spoken by Melchizedek is bestowed by God Most High.
  2. He is El Elyon—the God Most High. He is the possessor of heaven and earth. Some translations will say Creator, but the word carries the idea of receiving or possessing.  The God who possesses heaven and earth is the God who delivered the enemies into Abram’s hand.  Abram and his 318 men did not go out there and gain the victory just because they were really skilled at what they were doing. God gives us victory; we are helpless without Him.
  3. The blessing to Abram and the blessing to God are different types of blessings. To Abram it is a joy that comes from God. To God is the praise that comes from Abram.

 

 

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 21.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).