Thrive
Podcast

Overview

Dr. Jonathan Powers, Asbury Seminary and Asbury University alum and Assistant Professor of Worship Studies at Asbury Seminary, joins me on the podcast today. We have a great conversation about the intersection of faith, art and worship and how our stories intersect with God’s creative story.

Let’s listen!

 

Dr. Jonathan Powers, Assistant Professor of Worship

Dr. Jonathan A. Powers is the Assistant Professor of Worship at Asbury Theological Seminary and joined the Asbury Seminary faculty in the summer of 2017.

He graduated from Asbury University in 2003 with a B.A. in English, from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2009 with a M.A. in Christian Ministries – worship studies emphasis, and holds the Doctor of Worship Studies from The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, Florida. He is currently writing a Ph.D. dissertation through The London School of Theology on the worship theology of Robert E. Webber.

Dr. Powers has a passion for the intersection of liturgy and spiritual formation in the life of the church. He has authored and co-authored several articles and books, including Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Christian Tradition, The 12 Days of Christmas Sermons, and Watchnight: John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service, all published by Seedbed. In 2009, he was awarded the Hoyt Hickman Award by the Order of St. Luke at Asbury Seminary for excellence in liturgical scholarship and leading public worship. He also serves on the board of the Charles Wesley Society.

In 2017, Dr. Powers was awarded the Vital Worship Grant by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship with a concentration on connecting the public worship of churches with worshipers’ personal grief by studying historical and biblical liturgies of lament.

Dr. Powers and his wife, Faith, have two daughters.

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of The Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast. This week on the podcast we’re talking with Dr. Jonathan Powers, assistant professor of worship studies at Asbury Seminary. In this episode we have a great conversation about the intersection of faith, art, and worship, and how our stories intersect with God’s creative story. In addition to being a professor, Jonathan is a singer, songwriter, and hosts a songwriting group for students on campus. Let’s listen. But I want to talk a little bit first of all about how you came to Asbury Seminary.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
As a student or as a faculty?

Heidi Wilcox:
Well both kind of because I saw that you were an English major at Asbury College, and I took some literature classes over there because I was creative writing, and journalism. And the joke in my English classes was, “Well, don’t tell your parents you’re an English major because you’re not going to get a job”, but you obviously have a job, so tells us about that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
What I would always respond, because people would always say that like, “What are you going to do with an English major?” And I said, “What can I not do with an English major?” I’d usually come back with law schools a lot of times would English majors were a lot of times the second most major after pre law or political science, something like that, to go into law school because you learn how to read documents, think analytically, create arguments about what you’re reading, and stuff like that, so there’s a lot of opportunity. But when I was in university, or at the colleges, Asbury college at the time, so I was an English major, and a Bible minor, and I started off taking Bible classes first because I was really interested in learning more about scriptures in a more formal, academic way. And I did Hebrew for four semesters there as well.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow!

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So, yeah. Yeah. And I loved it. I really enjoyed all the biblical studies that I did, but I’ve always just been a big reader. I love reading. I’ve loved poetry. I like to write poetry. I used to write short stories as a kid.

Heidi Wilcox:
Really?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, it was just kind of my fun little killing time. This morning, actually it’s real funny that we’re talking about this. This morning I was talking to my wife because we were talking about Asbury University got their first internet computer set up in 1996, and this was the anniversary the throw back today to 1996, and I was like, “Oh, that was only three years before I was a student there.” Because I started 1999 but my dad, and when we were talking about when our families got their first computers, and my wife said she remembers it in middle school.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And I said, “I don’t remember when we got our first computer, but I do remember”, I think I was like seventh grade maybe. Our family got our first computer, and my dad had a typewriter before that, and since he had a computer he gave me his typewriter, and I would just sit my room just in free time, spare time, and I would write poems, or I would write short stories on that typewriter. So yeah, I just loved it. I loved the creative writing part of it. I loved thinking through stories, and character, and things like that. And coming into college I hadn’t done so much of the creative writing part in high school. Well I did a little bit in high school but it kind of tapered off at the end of high school, and I wasn’t doing much in college, and I really loved the biblical studies I was doing.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But I was also in a band that played around a lot different places, open for different folks. So, we’d done a lot of different things, and I was doing a lot of the lyrical writing for that, and just loved the songwriting. But because it was a Christian band. Yeah, it was, how does faith, how does biblical studies, and how does songwriting and all this come together? And I wanted to think more about the language arts, and my first year I did not take any English classes. I actually tested out of all of them because of AP, and ACT scores. I didn’t have to take any English classes coming in, which showed that that was a strength of mine, and it took until my second semester, sophomore year, I finally took an English class and I was like, I’ve missed this so much.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And I decided right then and there that I wanted to be an English major. I don’t want to stop doing this. And especially as much as I want to encourage my own, develop my own poetical skills, language arts skills and things like that. And seeing how Bible, and English really came together in a significant way. Saying, I think these two can work together and going into ministry. My dad actually told me, when I said I was becoming an English major, I wanted to do Bible minor. He told me, and I believe that’s true, but this is what he told me at the time, Ellsworth Kalas was an English major.

Heidi Wilcox:
Really? I didn’t know that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, yeah. He said, and see what he does in terms of his preaching, and all of that. So he said this is a great skill to have for ministry, really. So I was like, “I agree.”

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah for sure! So is college the first time that you started thinking about the relationship between art, and faith, or did the happen before then?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, a little bit in high school, as a teenager growing up in the church, growing up in youth group, and things like that, definitely thinking on faith matters, and all that, but it’s not as nuanced and deep. But there was some of that I loved church art and architecture. So, my family lived in England for a short period of time.

Heidi Wilcox:
No way. That’s awesome!

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. It was really cool. And that really fed a lot for me in terms of even worship, talking about worship. Because my dad, it was a pulpit exchange, so he was preaching in the circuit. They had more than one church in England, as Methodist pastor, you had multiple churches they would preach at.

Heidi Wilcox:
…John Wesley, like here.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you’d have four or five churches or three churches that you’d be pastoring. And I mean, a lot of times, no matter what the size, here, a lot of times you get to a certain size, and you don’t have to do that anymore. You only have one. But there you could still have multiple churches. So, he had three Methodist churches and one Anglican church that he pastored in while we were there. But while we were there, we would go visit a lot of castles, and a lot of cathedrals and in a lot of other churches, parish churches, but significant parish churches that were so beautiful, the architecture, it was gorgeous. And seeing the art displayed, and walking into that space, and being overwhelmed by these images, by the symbols, by the space itself, and feeling like I’m walking into something beautiful.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And that beauty really struck me. And with all that I really started thinking through, I mean, in a very minimal kind of way then like there’s something to this, but I didn’t go too far with it. But as I kept going in college and in seminary, really thinking, “Okay, what is the relationship between all of this stuff?” As we think about worship, as we think about God, and God’s presence with us in worship, as we think about just our creative expression, even, that reflects God’s own creativity, and all of this. It started to spring a lot of those thoughts it’s like the seeds were planted there in high school, but it was really in college and the English major really did do that. Looking at some of my English classes saying, what does it mean to be a sub creator of the creator, and how do the arts really embody that in an incarnational kind of way? So it was theology and art coming together. I was like, “Oh, I love this.”

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. So how have you found, or how are you finding the way the art does inform our faith, like musically, through literature, and things like that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. There’s so much the storytelling, just thinking through literature there’s something about the narrative quality of our lives. Recognizing our stories, and how they’re brought up into God’s story and seeing this grand story, this grand narrative that we’re part of, and that God has invited us into. And knowing how do we proclaim that well. So, some kind of integration there. Music, God just made us for some reason with this capacity that music just hits us, and moves us, and stirs us. It’s an embodied thing, but it’s emotional. But our bodies are involved in music too. We want to move, or clap, we get all of us involved, our brains, our hearts, our bodies are all working together in music. And there’s something amazing about that, that our whole selves can be wrapped up in that as an expression of worship. And as a means of grace, that God is somehow inviting us into his life through music. There’s, I mean I can’t verify this with much I’ve thought in my head, but there’s some scholarship out there that believes that when God speaks, it’s actually in song.

Heidi Wilcox:
Really? Okay.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, so it wouldn’t be like we talk necessarily, but when God speaks, and breathes creation into being, it’s like Aslan with Narnia, it’s sung into being, or Tolkien with Middle Earth, it’s sung, you see this sung into being, and so this creative expression of God, our art reflects it even in our music because it is a reflection of maybe his own character in his own voice in that, again, that you can’t really pull it out biblically, exactly, but I think there’s something to it theologically to think about it. I think there’s something beautiful to it, and something to at least contemplate.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right. I think it’s really interesting to talk about us as sub-creators, because not everybody would identify themselves as a creative person. But I think in some ways we all are, have some capacity for the creative, even if it doesn’t get expressed in art or music or…

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
That’s so true, and it’s funny, because a lot of times I’ll talk to people, or talk to my classes I’ll say, so let’s think about the arts in worship. What arts can be employed in worship? Some people will say language arts, writing liturgies, writing prayers, crafting a sermon, especially in kind of a narrative style sermon. Music, poetry, spoken word poetry, poetry, in terms of the lyrics in music. And then music itself, some musical arts there. Visual arts, I think of sculptures like Michelangelo, and people like that, Caravaggio these beautiful sculptures that they’ve done, and paintings as well. Visual arts. And so a lot of times it’s those things that we think of very typically as art, the things that maybe were special things we did in middle school, the classroom, and say, “Oh, we sang once one day, then we went to art class. And then we did something else.”

Heidi Wilcox:
Right. And our mom hung it on the refrigerator, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But I tell people like, “Okay, those are great. And a lot of those do take skill”, but on the one hand my five year old daughter is a really fine artist, she really draws great, and especially for five-year-old. She does wonderful drawings. My two year old daughter has a piece of paper and she drew like two green lines on it, and says, here daddy a picture. But for me it’s like the most wonderful thing, and so it’s because she’s bringing that to me.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Now, if she did that when she was 25, and had studied art for 10 years, I’d be like, I don’t think this…did you really give me your best?” Yeah. So there’s something to say like, “Okay, maybe we don’t have the same kind of talents as other people”, but it’s giving what we can give to God, and whatever that is in art. But also not living the arts to those things that we usually see on display like that. So, say an important aspect of worship, and when we think of worship being done in word, and table as my church does, as we celebrate here at Asbury weekly and at daily Eucharist. I say an important art form that we don’t think of is culinary arts.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So, part of being a sub-creator of the creator is maybe God has gifted you in cooking, or in a design, home design, things like that, and say, “How is all of this still pointing towards God, giving God glory, doxological, in that sense, and the glorifying God?” In whatever those creative things that you have are, whatever they may be or an engineer that knows how to put together mechanical stuff that I would never be able to do. I think of a friend of mine who’s a geological engineer and he understands dirt in such a way that I’m never going to understand it, but it’s beautiful, to hear him talk about it.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
He gets so excited about it, and knows how to drill into these places, and do it so carefully. Or a friend of mine that’s in Chicago, there’s a certain alloy that he’s a welder for, he does welding, and there’s a certain alloy that he does, and he’s one of a handful two, or three people in the nation that can do that particular alloy. And I think like something about that, like that is showing God has given you this capacity, and okay maybe it’s not some mind blowing painting, or some soul stirring song that’s on display in the church. But this is still you being a sub-creator of the creator.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. And your work reflects the glory of God. I was talking to somebody the other day and he was quoting somebody, and I can’t remember who he was quoting. I wish I could because I’d like to credit them, but he was saying that when you study something like what you were talking about, because you have to study that to being good at it. But as you study stuff, if you go deep enough, what you find, it will reflect God. Even if it’s not Christian settings or something like that. As you give yourself over to something, you will find God’s truth in the midst of that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I think of how many astronomers that’s the case for. They go out trying to seek answers in the universe, and all of these different theories that they have out there, and everything, and then a number of them, and even if they don’t become what we would consider to be like a solid Christian believer that at least become theists. So there’s got to be something else out there, a God out there, in charge of all this or that set off some or whatever. It’s very difficult for them to fully immerse themselves, and to fully study it, like you said, give themselves over to it, and not come to this place of saying this is reflecting the glory of something. And so that means there has to be something for it to reflect.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, right. Yeah, yeah yeah. So, as we’re talking about that, how would you define worship then?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Right. Oh, that’s good. Yeah. Yeah. And thinking about the heavens declare the glory of God in this. Yeah, and that’s really it. The problem with terms like, and I talk about this with students a lot, problems with terms like worship or grace or righteousness or love, is that they’re so simple. And it’s like we understand them in our hearts heads, excuse me, in our hearts, and heads and things like that. But then our tongue has to articulate it. It’s like, “Oh, gosh, how do I…?”

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, because I think worship is much bigger than what I’m about to say. So, when I think of worship, I think of it as the beginning part of the service where you sing, but I know that it’s so much more than that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and I think a reason for that, and not saying this for you in particular, but a large in the church, there has been that sense of music being correlated to worship that these two, or are relegated that worship is relegated to the musical components of the service. And I think the reason for that is because of that has tended to be in a lot of practices, and a lot of churches. That has been the only time that the congregation is very participatory in worship. And so all of worship should be a participation by the congregation, in some way, we can be participative listeners to a sermon and things like that. But to realize, first of all that worship is a meeting with God, and not a meeting about God. And I think we understand that in our heads a lot of times as church leaders. But there’s many times when I go to services, and I think maybe you could articulate that, but you’re not planning worship as such, you know?

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Because it seems like there’s, do we believe that God is actually in the room with us? Because if we did, wouldn’t we treat this a little differently? What is God saying to us? How does the reading of scripture, not just a setup for the sermon, but it’s God speaking to us, you’re actually giving attention to God saying, here’s your word being spoken, and proclaimed to us. The sermon, again, this is God now having a word for us. Just as you and I sitting down here, it’s like we’re sitting in the room with God, and he’s speaking to us now rather than like, “Okay, this is just a time of education”, or about God, or God’s speaking to us.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So, worship as a meeting with God, not a meeting about God, and worship as a participatory event, and worship as it’s a loving response to our loving God. God’s first love has come towards us as has been given to us, poured out for us, and shown to us, revealed to us. And we are responding to that love, and we are glorifying God. We are celebrating God. So, if I was to put it in a very, what is worship, and in a very clean and simple definition, I would say it’s simply celebrating God, celebrating the mighty acts of God and God’s character, so celebrating God.

Heidi Wilcox:
On Sunday, but not, I guess with that definition, it wouldn’t have to always be when you go to your church service.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. So, the Sunday one would be the regular gathered communal time as the church to come together, and we carry that with us out into our lives. And so I usually say that the Sunday morning or whatever time, I’m just going to say Sunday morning as a default time.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, right, right. Yeah. I realized I was like, people meet at different times. I just arbitrarily picked Sunday.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
No, no, no, no I’m with you. I’d say it all the time, and I’m like, “Wait, let me back track.” I mean that we’re just going to use that as a standard. Yeah. So, that Sunday morning time coming together, I see that as it’s fitting us for our life of worship.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, because I was just thinking about that. So go on, because I want to ask you, how do we, I want you to finish what you’re saying, but then I’m going to come back to ask you, how to build a lifestyle of worship.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Oh, sure, sure. Yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, but go ahead.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So, we come into that communal gathering and there’s an assured sense of God’s presence here. We are coming into the presence of God. But I think a lot of times we don’t come in with that mindset, or expectation. We come in distracted by other things, or focused on each other, and sometimes the first words we say in worship are even reflective of that like, “Hi, good morning. How y’all doing? Did you see the game last night?”, or things like that rather than in more traditional, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, and blessed to be his kingdom now and forever. And that’s a pretty formalized acclamation. But even as simple as God is here, God is with us. We have come to glorify him. We welcome you today, or even the grace and peace of our Lord, and savior Jesus Christ be with you. Something like that. Just to acknowledge the reason we are here, the person we’re here for.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. It sets the tone.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It does. It does. And so what we come to worship a lot of times, there’s these polls saying, “Why is it that you choose a church. Why is it that you go to church?” And a lot of times those are like very high percentages, like 80%, plus, or minus 80% but just barely plus, or minus 80%…

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
-that people choose a church because of the preaching, which I can understand, we’ll get preaching. But I think we come to church a lot of times and innocently so because I think people either haven’t helped us. Our culture shapes us. We’re in a consumeristic culture so it’s about what we get. It’s about-

Heidi Wilcox:
How much were entertained, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
-how much we’re entertained. Yes, yes. And so we wanted to say, “What can I come away with in this? How does it impact me?” And we’re also a very pragmatic culture in the West. And so it usually is like, “What is this producing? What is the result?” Rather than simply a more Eastern mindset, an ancient, I should even just say this, an ancient mindset of worship is how are we joining with heaven, participating with them in the glorifying of God.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So like Revelation, the book of Revelation. How are we stepping into those heavenly liturgies and joining with the church across space and time and glorifying God and giving praise for all of his mighty works and his character?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And so a way that I’ll talk to my classes about it is my… see I think of it this way, if we’re thinking about it in terms of events and things coming together for an event, we’re coming together for God, we’re coming together before God and we’re coming together to celebrate God. I say it’s kind of like a birthday party.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So let’s say my dad’s birthday is coming up in just a week actually, a little over a week and so of the time of the recording, right?

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. But so my dad’s birthday is coming up here soon and so we’re going to gather together. So my family, my daughters and I and my wife go to the birthday party and we’re there and then we’re driving home afterwards and my wife asks me like, “Oh, wasn’t that,” or says, “Wasn’t that a wonderful time? Didn’t you enjoy this? This was so good. How’d you feel?” And if I told her like, “I don’t know, I just wasn’t fed by it. I didn’t get much out of it. We sang happy birthday to guitar and I can only sing happy birthday, it’s only meaningful to me if I sing happy birthday this way or with this instrumentation or they didn’t have the cake that I liked and I don’t know, it just wasn’t that entertaining to me. I didn’t get any gifts. I didn’t really come away with anything.”

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I think she would tell me like, “Jonathan, you’re a jerk. This wasn’t about you. This was about coming to celebrate your dad and be thankful for his life.” So I think when you come to worship, what are we coming to do? We’re coming to celebrate God then the focus on God, but we use that language walking away from worship so many times.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. You have just changed my mind how I think about worship because I have not been thinking about it. I come in and I’m like, “Well I’m kind of bored,” and I don’t come in with the right mindset either. So I’m not saying anything about the church that I go to, but I’m coming in expecting to be uplifted and you can be-

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. And those are natural-

Heidi Wilcox:
But you have to repair your heart too and-

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Right, right.

Heidi Wilcox:
-and it’s not necessarily all about me either, which I have not been thinking about it that way. So I appreciate that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Oh no problem. No problem. The emotional impact, the education that we received, the formation that happens are going to be natural byproducts of good and right worship, but those aren’t the purpose of worship. But we make those the purpose, we kind of get the order mixed up, and when we’re making those the purpose of worship, then we’re making worship something that’s not supposed to be. It’s not meant to be.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right. Like your dad’s birthday party. It’s not your party.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Right. Yes, yes. And I say a lot of times churches feel the pressure of worship has to do evangelism and discipleship and worship and a lot of times promoting events. So all of these things simultaneously rather than worship is the celebration of God. It’s our love of God. Our appreciation of God, our glorifying God.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And again, formation will happen. But if I walk away I wasn’t, if I reduce it to saying it’s only about the emotional impact I get or the education that I receive in it, it challenged me or stirred me in some way, then first of all, making it about me and second of all, that is a very consumeristic approach to worship rather than I am coming to glorify God to focus on God. God is here and yeah, giving myself over and then through that, meeting with God.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So there’s a pattern of worship, a flow or the narrative of worship is God calls us to himself. We gather in his presence and we have these acts of gathering together and focusing on God and proclaiming his character through song, through liturgies, whatever, but singing to God and praising God for the things he has done and just the way he is. The things befitting of his own character.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And then we hear from God in the scriptures, in the sermon and we speak to God too in this meeting. We’re offering prayers and stuff, so I don’t mean to ignore those things, just kind of generalized. We come together and proclaim God’s goodness and proclaim God’s works. Then we hear from God and then we have this act of more kind of intimate committing to God.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And typically that’s been done in the history of the church on Sunday morning gathering at the table in communion Eucharist and this God giving of himself to us, feeding us by grace and offering something to us and us making a commitment to God. So then we are sent forth empowered by God. We have met with God, we have heard from God. God has given his grace to us that we might be sent forth to continue this lifestyle of worship. And we take it with us as we go forth and say we have fit for if this is stepping into the kingdom in a sense, joining in this heavenly worship. We have been fit for life in the kingdom so that we can go forth and carry that worship, that adoration and that mission of joining Christ in his work of building the kingdom on Earth.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, for sure. So do you lead worship at your church? Because I know you do sometimes at seminary, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I do. Yes, yes. So I’m one of our regulars-

Heidi Wilcox:
Do you lead the-

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Music. Yeah, yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
-music? Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But in larger sense worship and I’m part of our worship design team, so we’ll talk through the various elements of service. Sometimes I’m doing music, sometimes I’m doing more liturgical acts, might do some of the prayers and kind of guiding through more spoken parts of the songs and things. So yeah, I think in a broader sense, worship, yes. But the more standard part of that for me is the musical part, yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
Is the music, yeah. So as you’re on the worship design team, what are some ways that you have found builds, can I call it a meaningful service or a meaningful way for people to engage with God?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. As much as I talked about all of those things I mentioned just a few moments ago of which are all crucial and very important. Another part of it that we cannot ignore is that there is a personal element to it. I say worships never meant to be individual. So it’s not just me. And I mean really we can never be, because if we are united in Christ, we are always connected to the communion of saints. We’re never individuals in Christ.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So it’s not individual, but it should be personal, so there is a personal element to it and when we’re thinking through how do we craft worship, how do we invite people in, part of what we’re thinking. And so to go back to our discussions a few moments ago on music where I see in a lot of churches, music’s the only place that people are really participating.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
We’re always trying to think through how can we help people participate in the service through calls and responses through music, through prayer, so that’s one of the things that we really keep in front of us all the time is how do we foster participation?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And sometimes participation isn’t just the act itself because we can say like, “Oh well yeah they’re just saying things but it seems kind of dead and rote.” The reason for that I think a lot of times because people don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, so just a little bit of education sometimes can help, and again, not to turn worship into education, but just give a little prompt say like, “As we come to do this,” so what we’re really doing is yes, educating, but really what we’re doing is inviting them into the practice.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So where are those moments? And this is where it’s helpful. Sometimes I’m forced to say we need to get new people on our worship design team because we need to know where… We’ve done this for five years and we taught about it three years, but now somebody new who’s coming on that’s just started coming to our church in the last two years can say like, “Yeah I have no clue why you do that.”

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Okay. So we need to teach on it again. We need to invite people in again. And so here at chapels we tried to do that every once in a while for different practices that we do. Because as we invite people into those practices, whatever they might be, then they take on meaning for us. And so we’re thinking, those are the things we think through. What are practices we can do that help foster participation and kind of add a personal element to it, a personal engagement.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Where are places that we need to invite people in? We need to be mindful and intentional and regular about inviting people into a practice. And then how do we allow that space? The other side of it is how do we allow space to remember that God is active in worship. And so it’s not us just doing things the whole time, but also being mindful that God is here and God is with us and meeting with us and speaking and doing things as well.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And so those are some of the things. And then, then we use things like church calendar and-

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, yeah, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
Talk to me a little bit about liturgy and formation.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah. So, things like the church calendar and that structure that I talked about that four-fold, that four movement kind of narrative of gathering together God’s word being spoken and proclaimed, God speaking to us, coming to the table and then sending us out. That fourfold structure is a broad liturgical structure, a broad liturgy that we come regularly to. And it reminds us of our own salvation narrative.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It’s Israel, God called Israel to himself. He spoke to them at Mount Sinai. He fed them in the wilderness and brought them into the promised land and sent them out as a nation to be a light to other nations. Christ brought the disciples to himself. He taught them by his word, he gathers with them at the last supper and then at the end he sends them out to be his witnesses all over to the ends of the Earth.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
In our own lives, God has called to us and has revealed himself to us and brought himself to us, has spoken to us, and then he feeds us by his grace that we might continue as his witness.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So that’s a liturgy. Really liturgy just means the work of the people.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. I never knew that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Yeah. So I mean that’s the liturgy, the Greek for, it’s just work of the people, the activity of the people. And so when we talk about liturgy and worship, really it’s just whatever we’re doing, so your liturgy might be formalized and very high church, your liturgy can be very low church and a more free, spontaneous liturgy or whatever. But all of that would be your liturgy depending on what it is, because that is what you do and how you’re doing things together as the people, the congregation and worship.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s really cool. I didn’t know that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So yeah, yeah. So for the normative pattern of liturgy has followed that four movement narrative that I was talking about, because we continue to say that this is the narrative that shapes our lives and this is the narrative that we live in, this is the narrative of God at work with us, in us, and in this world.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. And I like that word narrative because it goes back to our story interacting with God’s story, Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and that’s so key, is to say that God’s story is the ultimate story and we find our place in it rather than sometimes I think there’s pressure to feel like we’ve got to fit God into our story somehow. But rather we are being brought into God’s story and there’s something beautiful about that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And so yeah, so the liturgy, the different things that we do in worship. Then as we come together as a church, the activities that we do as the people of God are formative to us. They’re going to teach us about God. The things that we say in worship are going to tell us about God’s character and they’re going to tell us about God’s actions in the world and they’re going to help give us responses to God.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So there is that formative element to it in worship, but liturgy through all those things, we are embodying worship, acts of worship and carrying those with us as we go out into the world. And so I think all the time, I was thinking about music in particular, I think all the time going on social media and things like that where I see people post lyrics of songs that they sing, or they’re facing a hard time or they see a beautiful sunrise, and just went to say something about it and they’ll post lyrics to a song, a hymn or a chorus or whatever.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And it’s that content of worship that is seeped into them that they’re using to express prayer and praise to God. And so it shows that whatever we’re inputting in worship is going to have output in other places. And so it is formative. So the content itself, as well as the patterns of what we do and live into. So even the church calendar saying there’s certain seasons where we do certain things and focus on certain aspects of Christ’s life.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And for us as a church, we say, so during lent, as we’re journeying with Christ to the cross, we’re actually going to take time to lament because we don’t need to wait for some huge disaster to come up just to lament. And we’re not prepared to lament. Instead, we want to season where we are very focused upon lament and crying out to God.

Heidi Wilcox:
What do you mean by we’re not prepared to lament?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, that’s a great question. We’re not prepared to lament. Somebody…again, social media, I think of this when maybe when we’re upset about something that’s happened culturally. If a political cycle doesn’t go the way that we’d like it to or certain things in the news come out or whatever, I find that there’s a lot of outrage, there’s a lot of kind of immediate maybe anger, things like that, but it doesn’t have a direction. It’s just kind of put out there.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And so I don’t think we know. What does it mean to give these things to God, to come to God first and proclaim them to God and to offer our sorrows and our hurts or confusion or anger to God? And I mean, knowing he can take it. He’s big enough. Yeah. And I think in our churches, because where I say worship is celebrating God, it’s glorifying God. Part of that is to say, it also acknowledges, it’s saying, God, this is your character. God, this is your activity in the world.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And as we come to prayer now we acknowledge things are not right in this world. There are things that are against your will that go against your will. There are things that do not line up with your character. And we are just, we are angry about them, we are saddened by them. But I think do our hearts break over those things or do we just get really angry?

Heidi Wilcox:
Right. Having a space what to do with all those emotion.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yes, yes.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. And I think lament, we don’t talk about lament very much.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
We don’t. Even the songs. You think of the songs that we sing, they’re either very majestic and celebratory or very upbeat and peppy, thinking like hymns and choruses or they tend to be a little bit more intimate and soothing and things like that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
There’s some great hymns. One that comes to mind immediately is Charles Wesley’s, Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose. It’s just such a good line for English majors. Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose. When he wrote it, when he and John were facing all of these troubles in their ministry, they were going out and preaching and they were in very hostile environments. And Charles just writes that line, Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose and to come to God with that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But and so there’s that sense, like a comfort, the soothing sense. But there’s also just the sense of when we look at the Psalms, so many times they are just expressing it to God and giving that lament over and, and I think people need that. And so we can talk about that in terms of social media and politics and whatever, cultural wars and stuff.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But the greatest grief that we tend to face is the grief associated with death. And these other griefs are very real and impact us. But the grief of death is just has a different dynamic to it. And sometimes we don’t give space in the church for that. It’s okay. We acknowledge it for a short time and now it’s like you’ve just got to kind of get back into the normative-

Heidi Wilcox:
Pray.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Put on the face that-

Heidi Wilcox:
Because you come to church to be happy.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Exactly. Exactly.

Heidi Wilcox:
We don’t have… Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But to say in Lent, let’s just say Lent, we’re trying… My church last few years said how do we invite people into lament? We’ve tried to create space for that in prayers and prompting prayers and allowing place to do some tangible things, like write something on a rock and put it into a box to kind of be held there during the season of lent.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And then they’re all taken away at Easter. Things like that to give those moments of expressing lament to God and in worship to acknowledge these things. Advent, another time for that. Say like, we are awaiting Christ’s second coming, just as those who waited his first coming. We’re looking for the time that Christ comes and establishes peace and justice and his kingdom comes in and takes over this earth. But in between time we acknowledge things are not right with this world.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And so we pray against violence, we pray against injustice, we pray against whatever it might be and we offer these to God. And too many times we don’t do that. We don’t create that space in our churches for that. And so learning how to lament to say not everything in worship has to be happy and peppy and upbeat and all that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
We can actually take time to do this and express it to God. It’s biblical. I mean-

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, it’s okay to mourn.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So many Psalms. Yeah. And use the Psalms. I mean sometimes how do we do that? Well, we don’t know how to do it. There’s not many much material there. I just think just use the Psalm. Walk a congregation through the Psalm. Take times to pause and let people reflect or just start reading the Psalms or singing them. And so like at this time we’re just going to let this be our cry we’re going to take a moment of silence to let it just kind of sit before we move on to whatever else.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But it’s always acknowledged with lament too that there is hope in God, hope in Christ.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. That is so important.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So yeah, there’s always that turning point to say we don’t just leave it there. We say, but in Christ there is redemption, but in Christ there’s hope. God, we look to your character in the past to give meaning to our present and hope for the future.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes, for sure. Yeah, David never stays in the pit of despair. He goes there, which I love his honesty because I’m like, “Yeah.” But yeah, to come back out of it too. He comes back out sometimes pretty quickly. It’s kind of-

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
He does, yeah. And sometimes it feels like there’s a moment. It’s like you have one or two lines and it just goes right back into the pit. It’s like, okay, that moment’s still there, but it also shows that it’s okay if you’re not like fully coming out of the pit. And like you said, with grief associated with death, we talk about stages of grief, and I know there’s some merit to that, but also a grief just doesn’t hit it

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
… stages of grief. I know there’s some merit to that, but also grief just doesn’t hit us. It’s not a systematic thing that we walk through.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It just hits us in waves. We could be walking down the street one day and something just hit us and all of a sudden it overwhelms us. Just because we’ve moved through all this other stuff doesn’t mean that that’s not going to happen.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
We can prepare people well to face those things with worship, with liturgy, and to say, “We want to teach you liturgies of lament so that when you go forth from this place, you can know how to lament. We’ve established a narrative for you to enter into, that this is the story and it’s okay to proclaim these things as you face them out in the world, but the way that you’re telling the story now might look different on social media than it has in the past.”

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Just to use that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, yeah. No, that’s a big one. How do we then go on to build a lifestyle of worship so it’s not just on Sunday mornings or whenever we get together to meet in community? How do we build a lifestyle of worship?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. That’s such a good question and such an important thing to consider. It’s hard to answer in the sense of … I think sometimes we feel like we just have to muster up. To pray without ceasing or worship without ceasing, how can I somehow … It’s like, “Oh my gosh, I just started thinking about a grocery list. Was that worship?” Or these practical things we have to do and just say …

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Well, what this is is us living our lives, doing what God has made us to do out in the world, and to reflect his glory is a big part of it, but the only way we can do that is by his grace. That’s why I love this grace-filled life series that we’re doing this year.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes, so good.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, and just saying that is the only way we can do it, as we are transformed by his grace more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. His grace empowers us, and to think of grace as empowerment, not just forgiveness and washing away or unmerited favor, but no, grace is empowerment, empowerment for us to live like Christ and to say, as we go forth in all that we do, it’s worship not because we have some kind of emotional feeling all the time or cognitive reflection all the time on higher spiritual things, but to say our lives just become this expression of glory to God, glorifying God as we are made more in the image of Christ.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It is. We find ourselves committing time to the word and in prayer and all these things. It’s been a conviction for me in more recent days to say I don’t believe in works-based righteousness or that we can earn God’s favor, or we earn our own salvation through works, that it’s only … I say this stuff, it’s only by the grace of God and God empowering us and God doing these things. Then I realize, oh, I say that, but I don’t live it based on how little I pray.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, that’s a good word. Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It was like, I think I can do these things on my own. I think that I have the strength to accomplish the things that God wants to accomplish, because I pray so little about them. It just hit me and I was like, oh, my goodness, no. If I truly believe that it’s by the grace of God that I’m able to do this, then what does it mean to commit myself more to prayer? Again, not saying, so somehow I have to try to think in my head, how am I praying all the time so everything’s a prayer, but just to say how am I intentional in times throughout the day, or at points, to pray and trying to incorporate more breath prayers in my life, just even as simple as … there’s the breath prayers of, “God, have mercy on me,” things like that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes, yes.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
To just like, “God, you got this.”

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It’s a breath prayer. Anything like that can be a breath prayer. Just say, how can I incorporate that more into my life so it helps me focus a little bit more on God throughout the day, or just, “God, be with me. Holy Spirit, I need you,” just that, like, “Holy Spirit, only you can do this. Even as much as I know I’ve done this without giving these prayers to you in the past, I think it’s by your grace that it happened in the first place, and that I did not recognize. Forgive me for that, and in this time, help me.” To rely on God in that, but to say the empowerment of God … I think our lives, as we change from glory into glory, as we continue in the sanctification process, I think that’s part of what happens is our lives take on more and more of a reflection of Christ, and through that of worship without ceasing, a lifestyle of worship.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It’s not something I have to figure out how do I do it, how do I make it happen? No, of course, being intentional, saying there’s a responsibility to cultivate this, but not a pressure to say I have to muster it up from within me somehow.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, right. It’s letting the Holy Spirit work in you and the means of grace of worship, combined with other things too.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, and other means. Yeah, means of grace of worship, the means of grace of the Eucharist, the means grace of script … Continually submitting ourselves to these means of grace, practicing these means of grace. The more we practice them, the more our lives begin to take on the lifestyle of worship. Yeah, that’s great. Thank you.

Heidi Wilcox:
No problem. You write your own songs, is that right too?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I do, yes. In more recent years it’s taken on more liturgical. Talking about liturgy, I’ve had this real interest in … For a long period of the church and even in Eastern Orthodox and in some Catholic or Anglo Catholic parishes today, almost the entire liturgy is sung. There’s chants, there’s things like that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, okay.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
In more Protestant and evangelical circles where we have more formalized liturgical acts, we tend to speak them.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay, yeah. If I can interrupt you with a question?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, please. Yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
Why do we sing?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Oh, why do we sing? Yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
I don’t know. If that’s taking a different direction, you can finish up, but …

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
No, no, no, no. Yeah, that’s good. There’s a lot to that. That’s another one that’s a great question and so many answers to.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay, so then let’s … Yeah, we can go there and then we’ll come back to your songwriting.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Perfect, perfect. Yeah. I guess my short answer would be, and this is the cop out answer that academics tend to always give, I wrote something on this so you can read it on Seedbed’s blog or in the front of the Asbury hymnal, but that doesn’t do much good for a podcast.

Heidi Wilcox:
Well, we can link to stuff in the show notes, so yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Okay, cool. Great, great. Those things, but just to sum it up, we sing because there is some … like I said earlier, it involves our entire selves, our minds, our bodies, our hearts, our most … everything is active. There’s something about that that’s beautiful and there’s something about all coming together in one voice and singing. There’s something powerful about that, something about the way God has just made us music for music. I know that’s not everybody. I know some people where they say, “I’m just not a very musical person. Music doesn’t do much for me.” Then that’s okay. That’s just the way that they’re wired and they’re made, but for the huge majority of people, music is something very important and very crucial to just part of who we are.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
God has just wired us that way. We sing because we are proclaiming praise. We’re proclaiming prayer to God. We’re giving glory to God through those things. We sing because it is a participatory act. We are engaging in worship. We are combining our voices. Here’s what’s really cool. Talk about this mystical union of the church. How can we be one? How can we be the body of Christ and somehow singular but also made up of people, of individuals? When you think about music, when you hear a congregation singing, you’re hearing one sound, but you’re also hearing multiple sounds.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s only one thing you’re hearing, but you’re also hearing lots of different things come together to make that one thing. That’s where people like Jeremy Begbie talk about the Trinity, we can’t use visual and spatial aspects to talk about the Trinity, but you can use music because a chord has to have three notes. A root and then a third and fifth usually is the chord. Those three notes come together. You only hear one sound, but they never lose their distinction and activity within what makes that chord.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, so even music and singing and all that is even a reflection of theology and of the Trinity, the nature of the Trinity and all that itself. All of these things come together. It’s a means of grace, as I said. God is glorified, but we are coming together and receiving grace from God in this in some strange way, that he is feeding our hearts through the words and the music and the emotion and all that, of drawing us nearer to himself and empowering us by his grace and his love. All of these are part of it. There’s something extra to the act of singing. We can speak it, but something about suddenly singing it just takes on a different nature.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Augustine, Saint Augustine of Hippo, wrote in one of his expositions on the Psalms, I think it was Psalm 73, it’s this whole paragraph, but it’s been pared down in more recent years to, whenever we pray, we sing twice. Something about singing is it’s a prayerful act when we sing to God. We’re entering in worship. It’s a prayerful act, but there’s an extra utterance to it somehow by doing this, by singing it. There’s something more to it. All that’s part of it.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
When it comes to songwriting, that means … we think about liturgy formation, the importance of singing, bringing all of that together. I have a passion for songwriting and the musical side of it, but especially the lyrical side of it because we’re putting prayer and praise on the lips of the congregation.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
We’re giving them things to say. We’re giving them the Facebook material for later in the month.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, right, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Those types of things that are very important, as they say things about God and the church and the world and who we are as Christians and all that.

Heidi Wilcox:
You’re learning to sing your theology and what you believe.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yes, yes, exactly. That’s a common axiom in lyrical theology, the study of lyrics and song and liturgy, is show me what you sing and I’ll tell you what you believe.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
These are the things that are going to shape your idea of God, of who God is and what God does in the world. With songwriting, more recently I’ve been focused on writing … I’ve written a lot of different things. I’ve written songs that obviously are more devotional songs. That just means they’re not meant for congregational worship, so Christian-

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay, personal …

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Personal stuff, yeah, yeah. Great stuff out there by many people that do that type of songwriting. Then there’s songs for congregational worship, the way that they can invite people in to sing them and the structure of the song is different. It just makes it easier for the congregation to join in and sing. I’ve written some of those, I’ve written some of the more personal songs, devotional songs, but I’ve also written … More recently it’s been taking liturgies of the church. One was an absolution. We hear an absolution, we confess our sins and then we hear something like, “Blessed is the one whose sins are forgiven, who’s covered by the blood of the lamb. Hear the good news, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. This proves God’s love for us in the name of Jesus Christ. You are forgiven or we are forgiven.”

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Thinking of those things and saying like, what would it be to sing some of that, or a prayer of confession, and what would it be to sing the prayer of confession together rather than just speak it? I’ve been focused on that a little bit more recently.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, that’s lovely.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, it’s been fun. It was a different kind of challenge for me, but that doesn’t negate some of the other. Some of it’s just with teaching and other things. That’s what I’ve had time to do, not other things.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, it’s what you’re doing right now. Yeah. When you start writing, what is your creative process like?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Oh, yeah. It just depends. Sometimes out of the blue, I’ll be in the shower and I’m just singing or something comes to mind, it just happens, so then I sit down and work through something. Sometimes it’s I want to write. I don’t sit down in the shower and write. I like to get out real quick and …

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. I was just going to ask, do you think, because I’ve heard about people who stuff just comes to them. I’m not one of those people.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Sure.

Heidi Wilcox:
Do you think it’s because you’ve honed that voice and listening to that voice, or is it just how you’re wired? Is that-

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
There may be something to both of those, actually. I think that is, in a way, that’s how I’m wired because I like expressing myself in poetry and thinking in lyrical form. Someone like Charles Wesley did that, Fanny Crosby did that. I’m not like them, but they did it to the extent that it’s almost like they just spoke in poetry. They did it all the time. They wrote so much. That’s how they just thought, but I find for me, some of it could be honed. I think songwriting, any kind of creative art in general, is kind of like training for a marathon. Maybe there are those people that can wake up one day and they’ve never run a marathon in their life, then they go to Boston and just run the whole Boston Marathon.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, most people aren’t those people.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But most people are not those people. Yeah. Yeah. You’ve got to do some conditioning. You’ve got to do some training. You’ve got to learn what are the skills, what are some of the practices is what I should say, that you need to do to prepare yourself well for this. Jon Foreman, the lead singer and main songwriter for Switchfoot, he writes a song a day or writes lyrics a day, I should say. Every day he sits down and he just works on some lyrics. Some of those end up being full songs. Some of them end up maybe later becoming songs. Some of them are just him saying it’s like conditioning.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, making space for the practice that will lead to something.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Yeah, so when something hits he’s been in that practice. Thinking through metaphor and imagery and rhyme and meter and whatever is helpful. Not waiting just for that moment of inspiration to come, but saying there’s a discipline to it and that’s important. When those moments do come, sometimes it’s easier to get through things, but another part of it for me that I’m really big on is the editing process.

Heidi Wilcox:
Really? Okay.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. I think for songwriting in particular, I mean, it could be someone like Mozart who can just sit down and write a perfect song in one sitting and it’s there, and we’re singing it for hundreds of years, but I think, again, most of us aren’t Mozart.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
There’s only been one Mozart. For a lot of us, I think coming back to it … interestingly enough, I just went back to a hymn I wrote in 2009. This is 10 years ago. I went back to it and I was never satisfied with one verse of it. I went back to it just within the last few days because the hymn was in my head. I was thinking about it and I was like, I’m just not happy with this. I came back to it and ended up editing some lyrics and now I think it’s a lot stronger. It was like that line there was not a great line but now it’s really hitting on what I wanted to say there.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow, that’s amazing.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
That was a 10 year gap between it, but I think sharing with other people, getting some feedback, I think the collaborative work is really important. Writing with other people, you get to learn from them, hear from them.

Heidi Wilcox:
Do you have a group that you participate with that in?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. I used to do it more in college. There was a few of us in the band and the group that I was part of, where we all did that together in that way. That was really good. Then out of that, there were just some individuals that I’d get with, but here at the seminary, we’ve really tried to create space for songwriters. I have a monthly gathering of people coming together to share stuff they’ve written, or for me to give a prompt. We’ll talk about theology. Really seeing … A friend of mine, Glenn Packiam, wrote something up not too long ago about how a lot of people see theology as a gate in songwriting and song lyrics. It’s like, “Okay, we’re going to write this. Is it theologically correct? Did we get through all the gates?”

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
He said, “We don’t see it as a doorway.” Let’s look at theological topics and try to write something on it. Where are the places that we’re not talking about these theological ideas? Let that be a doorway into some new practice. With this group, that’s what I’ve really been trying to do over the last two years. I do a class in this as well. It’s a way to say, well, let this be a doorway that we’re opening up to think about new songs. I prompt them and then we’ll break off into groups and work on some stuff. Maybe it’s only a verse that somebody came up with, but then we come back and share them and give some feedback and all that. There’s a really good group. It’s a large group of people that are interested in it and really have been part of it at different time, but we’ve got a real good solid core of about eight of us that are getting together regularly to talk about things, to share things.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s cool.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Some really neat opportunities coming up. We’re trying to connect … or, well, we have actually connected with New Room and Seedbed to think through opportunities for the future and how can we encourage more songwriters within the Wesleyan tradition? How can we produce more songs for congregational worship? How can we feed into one another? How can we collaborate with one another? How can we encourage one another? How can we resource the church ultimately for our worship?

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, for sure. Talk to me again about the theology being a gateway versus a doorway, because you’re not saying that theological correctness in songs, isn’t important?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Oh, right, yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Yes. I’m saying that’s very important, but I think … I’ve felt this way and I thought Glenn articulated it very well. He said, “It’s almost like can we come to theology with some fear and trepidation.”

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
“Here’s my song and now I have to match it up to make sure it’s all correct there,” which is good and important and we need to do, and he wouldn’t deny that either. He says, “Yes, that is necessary. That is needed.” Receive that correction. We need to be able to do that. Art is so personal. It’s hard sometimes to let it into other people’s hands and to allow that critique and things.

Heidi Wilcox:
It’s very hard.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It really is, but we grow through … That’s part of the means of grace, the Christian conferencing, working together on these things, to spur one another towards holiness. That can even work in increasing the theological content of our songs and things, but yeah, for us to come and to allow that theological input, I guess, and to say there needs to be a good fence around, a theological fence that keeps things within a proper theological framework. Maybe framework is better than a fence. That just seems like such negative language.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
There is a framework of theology that has to stay within, but to say … It tends to be-

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But to say it tends to be, a lot of people that I’ve talked to and when I work with songwriters and things, there does seem to be this piece of, I’m going to write a song and then I’m going to come back and see if it’s theologically correct. A lot of songwriters too, aren’t getting theological education.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right. Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. So there’s a lay theology being put out there that could have been formed well by the church or may not have been formed all by the church. It might be very emotionally or impulse based, or it might be very thoughtful in going through the scriptures and things like that. It might be, I’m simply trying to write something… I’m studying some hymns and Hillsong songs, and trying to write something like that. Or it might be, I’m simply doing a emotional journaling of something.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And with all of that to say, there are all kinds of approaches and direction there. But I think there’s need for pastors and songwriters to work more together, theologians and songwriters to work together to help one another. The beautiful thing is, looking at a group like Hillsong right now, their lyrical content just keeps getting better and better.

Heidi Wilcox:
Absolutely.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
It is so robust. It is amazing. If you look at their last 15 years, what they’ve done. It just blows me away. I love it. Then you have modern hymn writers like Matt Redmond and Keith and Kristen Geddy and Stuart Townend. This amazing content. And then to go back to the old hymns as well and this is all really good stuff.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
But all of that is just to say that the collaborative work is important and it’s good and I think we need to see more of it. And I also think that songwriters, if they are wishing to resource the church for congregational worship, they need to be willing to open themselves up to theological education, whether that’s the songs they’ve written to submit them and say, okay, do please critique this and let me know are there places that are off somewhat theologically and we need to consider it, but also to say study theology. Read some theological books, read people, come to seminary. I think it would be great to say like, no, you don’t have to get a degree in songwriting, get a degree in Bible, an M.Div., or Theological Studies. But someone like Michael card, he got his master’s in biblical studies so that he could be a better songwriter.

Heidi Wilcox:
Interesting.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. He didn’t study songwriting. He studied the Bible so that he could bring that into songwriting. So this is like me talking across the street at the university when I was a sophomore in college, thinking I’ve got all this biblical studies and I want to connect it now all to… I want to bring these things together.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So seminary for me to go back to I think, our very first question.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, I’m thinking like, yeah, yeah. We’ve come full circle.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah, that’s good. So coming into seminary, I originally wanted to do theological studies. I came in to do the MATS, Theologian Studies. And my thought with it was I wanted to look at worship. I had served in churches, I had done some music and things like that. And what really got me into worship was my youth pastor in high school. I had a baseball injury that did not allow me to play sports in high school. And so my legs were out and I could not-

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. That’s hard.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. So it was out. I loved baseball. I wanted to play baseball in college.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah. Well the World Series will not even be anywhere close to happening, but we’re recording the day after the World Series. So yeah, it was very exciting.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Very exciting. Yeah. Yeah. And so I loved baseball and that’s what I wanted to do. And that was not going to happen in high school, which meant it would be really hard to do it in college. So in high school I decided, well, I can’t use my legs, I can’t do a lot of physical activity and all this while my legs are healing from this injury, or my leg in particular, one leg in particular. So I wanted to learn guitar and the reason I wanted to learn guitar was to play campfire songs… I grew up going to Aldersgate Camp in Eastern Kentucky.

Heidi Wilcox:
No way.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. Yeah. And I loved campfires. Because we sang songs around campfires every night. And so I told my youth pastor, that’s all I want to do. And so he taught me some of those songs. He started teaching me songs for youth group. I started leading in youth group, then he had me leading with him at church and then he had him leading with me at church. And then eventually, he stepped away and I was leading and he was doing other things.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s a beautiful mentoring opportunity. Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Beautiful. That has been the model that I’ve tried to emulate. Because I just thought that was so good. So we did all that. And then coming to college, doing all this with songwriting and everything and leading at a church, Southern Hills United Methodist Church in Lexington, I did music there the whole time I was in college and just had this real interest in worship, then served overseas as a missionary for a little bit and then worked at a church in North Carolina and came to seminary.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And I thought, I want to study worship, but I want to look a lot more into history of worship and I want to look into theology in general and how all these things really relate together. And then after I had started here, I found out Lester Ruth, who was the professor of worship at the time when I was here, had just started a track or concentration or degree, whatever it was at the time, in worship. And so I switched over to that.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And so that’s what I did. I had focused on worship studies here and so, yeah, it was perfect. It was so good. But the emphasis within that, that I did in worship studies was lyrical theology.

Heidi Wilcox:
Interesting. Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So I did independent studies. A lot of my professors, I would talk to them and I would say, “Would you mind if I looked at,” I think of a class I did with Ruth Anne Reese and I said, “Would you care if my final paper, if I looked at liturgy and songs.” Like this topic in terms of the liturgy in song, and other professors too look at Charles Wesley’s writings in relation, an Augustan Seminar. Can I look at this writing of Augustan and draw some parallels and how that, not influences, but how that illumines some things that Charles Wesley has been doing in his writings here.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So I was trying to bring those into the classes I was doing already, apart from the concentration that I had. But then of course in the concentration, I did independent studies and took classes on lyrical theology, worship in the arts, songwriting and theology, things like that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, that’s cool. So you’ve been teaching at the seminary since 2017 is that right?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yes, this is my third full year.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. What classes do you teach?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So the normal ones that I teach are… normal ones, regular ones I should say. The standard classes I teach, WO510 worship leadership in the church. That’s required for all endives that come through. And that’s offered multiple times every year in different formats. So hybrid, online, on campus and intensives usually too. And I teach multiple sections of that class. So I’m really hanging on that one a lot throughout the year. And then I usually, once a year I’ll teach a sacramental theology class and I really enjoy that. My first doctoral degree focused on baptism and baptism spirituality and catechesis.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh cool. And you’re working on another one now.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I am. Yeah, at the London School of Theology, focusing on the worship theology of Robert Weber, who is a prominent worship theologian. Speaking specifically to the evangelical church, trying to mature worship apart from these things that we’ve talked about, consumerist education focused.

Heidi Wilcox:
Did you say you finished that or you are finishing it?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Am finishing it. It should be within this year. Not 2019, well, this will be-

Heidi Wilcox:
2020.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
2020. Should be finished with that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Congratulations. That’s awesome.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. So-

Heidi Wilcox:
You were talking about sacramental theology.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Thank you. Yes. Sacramental theology. So I teach sacramental theology and I really enjoy that class. That’s a very fun one to teach and I usually do that as an intensive at some point throughout the year. And those two are being offered before I got here. Those were already classes as part of the catalog. And then I had done a class, I think it was as a tutorial with Lester Ruth when he was here on songwriting and theology. And I thought it was a great class but it disappeared. It went in the catalog and all that. So I brought it back in the catalog and so I do that one. I don’t do it every year. At least right now, I’m not doing it every year. I did do it last year, last fall and I’ll do it next spring. But it just depends on the interest, try to get numbers and stuff for the class to make.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I think we’re going to try to do it every three to four semesters. That’s a very fun class. All the students, I think we had 12 students in it last year and I think all of them said it felt more like just a fun gathering than a class. There is working on some papers and stuff as well. But a lot of songwriting and stuff we’ve talked about here that we try to work on.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And then a couple other that I do, chapel band is always offered as a course. So you can just volunteer and audition for chapel band. But if you’d like to receive credit for it, you can always do that too. So I would work with you a little bit more individually on whatever, if you want to play bass and chapel, we would talk about some goals to set and then number of times that you would play in chapel and work through some things just in terms of worship and all that preparation. And of course worship leaders, those have been the main ones that have taken as class. Those are actually leading the music and selecting music and leading the bands and all that. So I teach that one.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And then independent studies, this is a really stupid thing to be proud of, but since before I started… So I adjuncted for the seminary for, I can’t remember if it was two or three years before I started full time. So I’ve been doing that three years. But the year before I started, so the year that I was an adjunct, I did an independent study every term that we had that year before I started. And then the semester I started, somebody signed up for an independent study with me as soon as I started here, my very first semester. And so I have a streak going now where I have had somebody do an independent study with me every term since a year before I started full time here.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s awesome.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. And I already have two independent studies lined up for next semester, so the streak continues. It’s a really stupid thing to be proud of but it’s just something fun to attribute.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s great. That’s awesome. So as we wrap up the podcast, it’s called Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast. So what’s a practice, it can be spiritual or otherwise that is helping you thrive in your life right now?

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
That is a fantastic question. Fitting for the podcast and yeah. Wow. I love that you’re asking that. For me right now, I feel like I go through seasons of disciplines, like fasting or something. I’m not fasting right now, doing a regular time of fasting right now. But usually during advent and lent I really try to do intentional fasting and stuff. And I say that just to show that there’s seasons that are very meaningful and very impactful for me.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I’ve been in this season recently of really setting aside time for prayer on Sunday mornings before anything is going on in terms of, like I’m waking up early, I’m waking up very early and I’m really not trying to say this in any way in a prideful sense and all that, but I’m waking up really early so I can go and spend time at my church’s sanctuary in prayer.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And this is what’s been a big part of it for me, is to not pray just for me, but to pray for our congregation, to pray for our worship, to pray for the sense of God’s abiding presence with us, to pray for the things that are in my heart and the people that I love and care about and know about, things in their lives as well. But to get up and just do it. Almost every Saturday night I think, oh, this week I could not do this. But I’ve just decided every week I’m doing it. And there’s been something so special about it and I even hesitate to even talk about it because it’s not… but it’s something about just showing up even and sometimes I’m there for 30, 45 minutes just to spend time in prayer for that 30, 45 minutes.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
And I find myself starting to think about lunch, so it’s just good for me, redirect myself and try to spend that time in prayer and sometimes thinking like, oh gosh, that was a great time of prayer. I feel like I gave so much to God and this was such a meaningful and robust time of prayer. That was a good 30 minutes. I’ll look at my watch like, oh, that was five. Okay, let’s keep going.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
So it’s disciplining me. It’s orienting me. But I have found myself entering into worship these last few months that I’ve been doing that, I have been coming into those times of worship completely different. There’s something about coming and just preparing myself and doing that. Of course I know everybody can’t do that and I’m usually going in early anyway. I’m just trying to get earlier and my wife and I both couldn’t do that because somebody’s got to be with the kids. There are practical concerns there. So I’m not in any way saying that’s what everybody should do to have good worship.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. It’s just working for you in this season of your life right now.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yes. And it’s just been beautiful. And if nothing else, there’s a greater sense of that whole time I’m in worship that God is here. God’s presence here. God is here. Because I spent that time there and also just the prayer part of it as we were talking about just a little bit ago to say very first thing, God, I need you. I can’t even sit here in this prayer time on my own. Holy Spirit, I need you to help me do this next half hour or 40 minutes, whatever. And I think that’s where it started actually was realizing, okay, I just decided once I’m going to do this. I did it. And the very first thing, I was like, oh my gosh, this is going to be so hard. My first prayer was, Holy Spirit, you’ve got to help me with this. And I think that started making me realize like, oh, I don’t pray that and other things.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
I just said I’m going to spend 30, 45 minutes in prayer.

Heidi Wilcox:
I’m going to do it.

Dr. Jonathan Powers:
Yeah. I’m going to do it. Yeah. I can’t do it. Like, Holy Spirit, you’ve got to help me do this. And then I started realizing like, oh, it’s not just that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. That’s a good word. That’s beautiful. So thank you so much, Jonathan, for being on the podcast today. You have given me and us so much to think about, so thank you very much.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey y’all. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Jonathan. Our conversation expanded my view of worship is more than meeting together and community, but as a lifestyle that reflects God as creator in our daily rhythms. So grateful for the conversation and the reminder that worship is a meeting with God, and I’m challenged to find ways to practice that. I hope you enjoyed the conversation too.

Heidi Wilcox:
You can follow us in all the places on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @asburyseminary. So have a great day y’all. And go do something that helps you thrive.