Monday, August 30, 2010

Why I Love Presbytery Meetings

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
Psalm 98:1,4-6

I don’t know that you’ll hear many people say that they love presbytery meetings. Most people think of them as a long, boring succession of committee reports peppered with the occasional congregational response a la Roberts Rules of Order: Those in favor, say aye? Aye. Those opposed? Motion carries. But the part I love comes before we get to all that, because presbytery meetings start where everything ought to start, with worship. Sometimes this is worship done exactly like traditional worship is always done, and sometimes the leaders get creative, which is nice, but that’s not what I love about it. I love the singing. Music has always been my favorite part of worship, especially now with contemporary worship and words that speak to my heart much more accessibly than most hymns. Presbytery meetings don’t usually have contemporary music, although some do, but it doesn’t matter what kind of music it is because at presbytery meetings everybody sings. Loudly. The volume level greatly exceeds the average volume level of the average congregation, so much so that you couldn’t possibly miss the difference between this group and your typical church. What’s the difference? Are there more people? Sometimes. But that’s not why it’s louder. These are pastors and elders, people who are not timid about their faith and not in the least timid about singing. That’s why Psalm 98 made me think of presbytery meetings today. The exhortation to “shout” and to “burst into jubilant song” reminds me of what it feels like to be in the midst of people who are putting their all into song.

Now I suppose it’s possible that these pastors are having a bit of pissing contest, if you’ll pardon the idiom, trying to show off their grand voices and see who can sing loudest, but I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. The very first time I experienced this loud-singing phenomenon was nearly 20 years ago when contemporary worship with electric guitars and drums was still new and unusual. Our worship team was asked to play for a presbytery meeting so that those assembled could see what our church was doing. We were the renegades of the presbytery, the outlaws, and we weren’t quite sure how our worship leading would be received. We needn’t have worried. We were used to our amplified offerings drowning out the congregation’s voices, for the most part, but when we played for presbytery, we found that this congregation held its own. These were no shirkers. They were not put off by new songs or new instruments. They sang their hearts out. They filled the room with jubilant song as much or more than our instruments did. And we were amazed. We didn’t expect this from stuffy pastors and presbyters. This was as good as leading teenagers—a little more orderly, of course, but no less energetic. They sang with us. It made me smile (after I got over my surprise), and it still does today. And I like to think that God smiles, too, and that’s the very best part. For he has done marvelous things and he deserves our loudest praises.

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