The Value of a Paper Bible

Instrumental in my life for answering the call to pastoral ministry was inheriting my grandfather’s Bible after he passed away. It was an old red-letter King James, tattered and falling apart at the seams from being stuffed with church bulletins and sermon outlines. The leather was perfectly smooth from weathering the elements. The pages were wrinkled from constant use and note-taking. There were highlights and markings on almost every page. In the blank pages before the laminate maps, he kept a small diary of his care for my grandmother as she battled and eventually succumbed to dementia. He wrote Scripture references to turn to when he was experiencing grief, pain, or trouble.

As I flipped through the pages, I thought back on the legacy he left behind, how the gospel had gripped his life, how God sustained him through trial, and how his most treasured possession was the Word of God. Reflecting on my own life at the time, the Lord helped me realize that this was the legacy I needed to leave, not a selfish pursuit of the American dream or fame in my profession. Soon after, I quit my accelerated master’s program in biology and shipped off to seminary.

In today’s world of digital media, screens, and always-connected internet, I’ve come to recognize the value of paper Bibles - yes, the ones made from dead trees and cows. In the past few years of pastoring and shepherding congregations in worship and youth in Bible study, I’ve noticed a few advantages of using hard copies of the text.

1.   Distractions - Smartphones are amazing pieces of technology. They keep us up to date on the news and what our friends are up to, connect us to our jobs, help us track our diets and exercise, and thousands of other useful things. But, they can also be a source of great distraction. There is great convenience in having the entire Word of God in a 20 MB app to reference and search whenever you need it. But how many times has your quiet time been interrupted and derailed by a simple notification drop-down or text message? (Speaking of which, who in the world needs to be texting at 6:00 a.m.?) Or, when you’re sitting in the pew listening to the sermon, how tempting is it to just minimize your note-taking or Bible app for just a quick peek at Instagram, or even to tweet something great the pastor said, only to find yourself lost in distraction or struggling to regain focus? Paper Bibles can help us overcome these distractions by removing the media, the blips, bings, and boops that so easily lure us away from what God is saying to us.

2.   An Air of Authority - I love, let’s say… “forceful” preachers. The ones that aren’t afraid to physically emote to dangerous levels when they preach. Our pastor carries his Bible around on the platform as he walks, and when he emphasizes a Biblical truth, he’s smacking his Bible on every word or holding it up in the air. The theatrics help drive the point home. There’s no screen to worry about breaking. There’s no clunky tablet to balance. Furthermore (and this is going to sound as untheologically based as it is), there’s just an air of authority that a paper Bible produces. I can’t explain it. When someone reads from a paper Bible, people seem to focus in more.

3.   Context - Most Bible apps break chapters for easy searching and navigating. This is wonderful for glancing over chapters when searching for something. For example, if you can’t remember if the parable of the two sons is in Luke 14 or 15 the search functions on a digital device are great. But the advantages of hand-held electronic Bibles can also lead to two abuses. The first is that breaking up the text by book, chapter and verse can create the pitfall of reading out of context. When we hone in on a verse without its proper context, we take our first step towards doctrinal error. Having the surrounding text of a paper Bible can help remind us to read passages in context. Furthermore, paper Bibles remind us that the Bible is one book comprised of many parts. We should be reading the Scriptures in their canonical context. This corrects the second abuse.

I remember as a child going to “Bible Drill” on Sunday nights where we learned how to memorize the books in order, their categories (like Pentateuch, Major Prophets, Gospels, etc.), writers, and how to look up passages quickly. But all of this was contained in one volume. We can’t read the end of Malachi that speaks of the Lord’s coming in vengeance if his people don’t repent without then turning the page to Matthew 1 and beholding Immanuel, God With Us, who shows mercy in Christ. With a little bit of training as a child, I can now find references faster in a paper Bible than the time it takes to search on my phone.

4.   Legacy - As I mentioned earlier, a paper Bible is something to leave to your children. The notes you’ve taken, the verses you’ve highlighted, even the wear and tear on the tome speaks volumes to the next generation. It shows where your priorities were, what you valued, and the desperate need you had for the Scriptures. It’s not that easy to hand down your software. When you die, your passwords and logins probably go with you. Your subscription might expire and your notes, highlights, and bookmarks can digitally evaporate. A quality paper Bible is a true “Buy It for Life” product (in more ways than one!)

Hear me out. I’m not saying we need to toss our smartphones and laptops in the trash and start living like Puritans again. No, software like Logos and Accordance have massively aided scholarship and sermon preparation over the past couple of decades. We don’t have to spend hours rifling through commentaries, lexicons, and other text to help us get one more nugget of information. We can look these things up in seconds now. What a gift God has given us to allow us to be alive in the Information Age!

But with every new advancement in technology, the devil will always find new ways to do spiritual battle with us. We need to be careful with how we use technology and the dangers it can pose to our spiritual lives.

What I’m saying is, the next time you walk into the pulpit, consider what you carry with you.


What do you think? How have you used a paper Bible in your ministry?

Austin Collins serves as the Ortega Campus Worship Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He graduated from Southern Seminary in 2018 with a Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership.

New ORIGINAL SONG from Norton Hall!

Be A Lamp is Norton Hall's first original song and we are proud to share it with you today! We are grateful to partner with Southern Productions in producing videos that will help you and your ministry.

 Be A Lamp is part of Norton Hall's newest album, Crown Him: Hymns Project Vol. III. This album will be available everywhere on August 29, 2018.

Watch more videos from Norton Hall below.

Far then Near – Worshipping the Transcendent then Immanent God of Wonder(s)

          Worship pastors and worship leaders have the unique privilege of placing the very words of worship into the mouths, hearts, and minds of the people we lead—an enormous assignment carrying with it profound implications.  We have the responsibility not only of providing the words for the worshiper in the dialogue of worship but also, and more profoundly, of representing God, his words, his actions, his character, and his nature in the dialogue of worship.  We must faithfully represent both sides of the worship conversation—the overtures, character, and nature of the Creator and the responses of the creature.  The very idea that we are called upon to represent God in the discourse of worship should bring us to our knees in humble submission to God and to God’s word.  

            The Christian worship service is spiritually formational; therefore, it is a vitally important event in a believer’s life perhaps only trumped by his or her daily devotional life with God.  Because the worship event is so important and formational, the worship service requires our thoughtful care and attention to the meticulous details of planning and preparing the drama of the worship dialogue that will be played out Sunday by Sunday in churches throughout the globe. 

            To tell the story of God well, order and sequence matter.  God was transcendent first before he was immanent.  Convey God’s transcendence first in your worship service, either through song, through Scripture, through prayer, or through a brief reflection about God in his transcendent otherness.  Where you start matters.  Where you start can affect your final destination.  Use the biblical models as your scriptural mandate to provide a theological substructure to your worship that incorporates the rhythm of transcendence then immanence throughout your worship service, but especially at its beginning.

            As we lead our congregations to celebrate God’s amazing work of grace through Christ’s great redemptive act on the cross, we must remember that the cross and the gospel can only be most clearly understood against the backdrop of God’s holiness and his sovereignty, both of which represent profound transcendent attributes of God.  As we tell the story of the gospel, reenact its profound passion, and celebrate the wonder of redemption, we must always remember that the gospel does not begin at the cross but begins squarely with this foundational truth: “God is holy”—arguably the most profound representation of the transcendent nature of God.  The cross of redemption must always be considered through the lens of God’s transcendent wholly otherness in order for the gospel to be most clearly communicated. With transcendence in full view first, the starting point of the gospel becomes God and God’s holiness rather than man and man’s corruption by sin.  As a result, the transcendence of God and the immanence of God in Christ will both be magnified to their appropriate levels of significance.

            God’s transcendence singularly provides the appropriate context for understanding most fully and completely God’s immanence. We must fight modern culture’s propensity to casually bypass the transcendence of God while running ill-equipped to embrace God’s nearness, God’s provision, God’s care, and God’s works on our behalf—all of which will be misunderstood (or incompletely discerned) without the appropriate transcendent contextualization.  How often do we sidestep the mysterious, fearful, awe-full, righteous transcendence of God to embrace him primarily as the one from whom all blessings flow?  Praising God for what he has done is not wrong; in fact we are commanded to praise him for his magnificent work on our behalf.  However, it is a mistake to praise God for his work without establishing first who God is.  Without transcendence perpetually operating in the foreground of religious thought, both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence are diminished leaving incomplete and malformed thoughts about the character and nature of God. Transcendence unlocks the full meaning of immanence and uniquely provides the answer to the question, “who is this God who draws near?”  Immanence prior to or to the exclusion of God’s transcendence weakens the church, diminishes a believer’s capacity to worship rightly, and ultimately creates a picture of God in the minds of Christians that is incomplete, inaccurate, and dangerous.  Likewise, transcendence without immanence renders a believer’s thoughts about God as distorted and his knowledge of God truncated.              

            To reverse the “rush to immanence” propensity of modern times will require effort and intentionality.  We must fight our own acculturated tendencies and inclinations and, as worship pastors, establish the transcendent otherness of God as we call our people to come in fear and trembling before a God who is above, beyond, and other than we are.  Worship pastors, we must ensure that believers understand the God they worship, the wholly other, transcendent God for whom their transcendence-starved souls hunger.  Then, the work of God and the blessings of God (expressions of his immanent care and concern) may be all the more valued and appreciated.

This article is written by Chuck T. Lewis, Ph.D.  Dr. Lewis serves as Associate Professor of Church Music and Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Lewis is also currently serving as Worship Pastor at Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and has formerly served as Worship Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.

New Music from Norton Hall!

Our Norton Hall band has been working on their newest album, Crown Him, and you can watch the first video today! This is the first of many videos featuring the band with their new hymn arrangements.

Tom and the Psalms: Using the Psalms in Corporate Worship

Meet Tom. Tom has been leading worship at his home church for several years now.

Tom doesn’t always have a ton of time to dedicate to what some higher-ups would call “professional development,” but Tom does his best to read articles, listen to podcasts, keep up with new music, and stay informed on new ideas as much as he can. He really takes his job as worship leader serious.

If you were to follow Tom around for a couple of weeks you would usually find him on Wednesday or Thursday night scouring and hunting the internet, blogs, Spotify, and whatever else he can get his hands. He tries hard to find resources to help him plan ahead. Like I said, Tom takes his job as worship leader serious. Tom has even read some of the how-to books about worship leadership and is currently working his way through one of those big, tough-to-read theology books because he knows stuff like that will just help him serve his church better.

Tom probably wouldn’t be able to explain this fully, but he does all of this because he wants his church to know the truth about who God is and how they should respond to Him. Tom totally realizes that his church doesn’t primarily need him to be a pro on the new lighting system that looks more confusing than rocket science, but rather that his church needs him to understand the Bible.

I’m sure you, like Tom, search, hunt, and do your best to be the worship leader your church needs. You care about what your people say, what they sing, and what they learn about God. Tom is a pretty good example. I mean, he wouldn’t claim to have it all figured out, but really, who does.

Have you ever thought about how a worship leader in the Old Testament would have led? What about a worship leader in Jesus’ day? What about the ones who led worship at the apostles’ churches? Have you ever thought about what the corporate worship service would have looked like for all of human history before, I don’t know, 200 AD?

It must have been hard to lead in those times. Think about it, how in the world did they even know what songs to pick before the internet!? And since the times were so different, can we even assume Tom’s job is the same job those guys had forever ago?

I think so. There is a whole group of people talked about in the Old Testament called the psalmists who wrote songs and poems and led the people of God in worship. The modern worship leader’s job is the same as the psalmists’ job— that is to form the people of God around the story of God’s creation and redemption. The psalmists have been leading the people of God to respond to God in service, artful expression, and obedience in a corporate setting since the beginning of the Torah. So, back to the question, how did these Old Testament worship leaders lead and what can we learn from them?

Well, lucky for us, we have a curated, collected record of what Hebrew worship looked like right in the middle of the Old Testament. In fact, that record shows what it looked like AND some of the actual words, stories, prayers, and poems they used! You probably know where I’m going, but God has preserved for us a record of Hebrew worship that I think should be pulled back out and used by Tom, and every other modern worship leader—the book of Psalms.

As God showed himself to the Hebrews, they responded in the prayers, poems, and songs found in the Psalms. Even the structure of the book is in such a way that teaches the worshiper more about who God is, who we are, and how we relate to God and each other.

These are just two ways that the modern worship leader can use the Book of Psalms.

1. Use the Psalms as your guide for what you teach your church about who God is and how we respond to him. Really take a look at what the Psalms say and the story they tell. See if the words you put in the mouths of your people lines up with what the Psalms say.

See what the Hebrews were learning about God through the Psalms and compare that with what your church is learning about God through your songs and prayers. No, this is not easy. Yes, this will take some real work and require you to try and understand the structure and message of the Psalms. But folks, this is what God Himself gave us to lead with!

2. Use the Psalms as your tools to structure your corporate worship service. There are so many ways to do this, but at its most fundamental level it would look like your church saying, singing, praying, etc. exactly what a specific psalm or group of psalms would be saying.

The psalmist is telling the people of God to rejoice because of God’s steadfast love in Psalm 117? Tell your people to rejoice because of God’s steadfast love. Is the psalmist telling the people of God to put away foreign idols and serve God only or else destruction will come in Psalm 99? Use Psalm 99 to encourage your people to have no idols in their own lives and to serve God alone.

Using the Psalms in your corporate worship will shape your church’s thinking about God, man, the world, and how we respond to it all. It really is kind of simple when you think about it.

So, like Tom, keep working, keep searching for the best resources, and keep taking your job serious. And on a foundational level, see your job as similar to the psalmists. Use your influence to form the people of God around the story of God by using the Psalms.

Now Tom can go out there and know he is jumping in on a multi-millennia task of leading the people of God in worship. Tom and the psalmists are partners now—co-workers if you will. Tom is teaching his generation what the psalmists taught their generations about who God is and how we respond to him. Tom is not alone—and you are not alone. Let’s join together and worship with the Psalms.

Keith Willis serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Amanda currently serve at Sojourn Community Church while he pursues his Master of Divinity at Southern Seminary.

Worship Leaders, Get Rid of Your Green Room

Performers on stage, whether actors or musicians, usually have a “Green Room” designated for them to use when they are not on stage. In this room there are comfortable chairs, food and water. It is a place they can escape and be separate from the audience. Many larger churches today have green rooms for their worship musicians. Between multiple services church musicians can relax and have conversations with others on the team. Sometimes it is a place a worship team goes during the sermon portion of the service. This particular arrangement sets a poor model for how a worship ministry should operate. The worship leader and team are servants to Jesus and to the church and should carry out their roles with great humility among the congregation. Using a green room can cause your congregation to see the team as a separate, elite group of performers instead of a team that is serving Jesus and the people.

Yes, the worship team often does need a place to leave their things, check on equipment and seek refreshment, but it is not a place the team should camp out. Even though a worship team member may not be the main worship leader, he or she is still considered a worship leader because they are on the platform in front of the congregation assisting with the worship music.

Worship has a vertical and horizontal aspect to it.  Through our corporate worship we offer a sacrifice of praise to our great God.  We strive to bring him glory for who he is and what he has done for us. Our services should also have a horizontal aspect where people are genuinely encouraged in their walk with Christ. Hopefully, we are doing well bringing glory to God, but how are we doing in the building up of our people? Focus on the congregation should go beyond what happens on the platform.

What is a worship leader to do with a team that has a green room philosophy on Sunday mornings? Here are a few suggestions on helping your worship team see their role at the church:

1.  The worship leader leads by example. If you want your team to see how they should use their “off-platform” time on Sunday morning, you must model that behavior for them.

2. The worship leader should get involved in a small group ministry on Sunday morning if possible. It may mean only being in the study time for 30 minutes or less, but there is a connection with people. Expect your worship team members to be involved in a small group (Sunday school, weekly home Bible studies). Here is where they can build relationships beyond the worship team.

3. The worship leader should organize the rehearsal time on Sunday morning so that there is extra time available before the worship service or between the services. This will allow the worship team to be in the congregation prior to the service to greet and encourage people who are arriving for the service.

4. The worship leader should encourage the team to move out to the congregation once they have finished the musical portion of the service. Rather than going off the platform into a back room, have the team walk out into the congregation and find a place to listen to the remaining of the service. Some may think this is distracting but it shows support for the preaching portion of the service and acknowledges the team’s need for spiritual nourishment just like the rest of the congregation. If your church has multiple services on Sunday, I am not advocating that the worship team should sit in the congregation for all services.

5. Worship leaders should teach their teams the meaning of biblical worship and the team’s role in the worship service. The musical portion of the service is not a performance.  I would encourage worship leaders to not use the term “stage” with their teams.  It is a platform. Semantics, I know, but it could help with the team’s view of their role.

6. Worship leaders should lead with a great amount of humility, show servant leadership, and teach their teams to do the same.

7. Worship team members should strive to build relationships with many in the congregation on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes the worship leader has to strongly encourage their team members to pursue relationships with those in the congregations. Musicians in general can be introverted and often this is displayed the minute they move off the platform. 

8. The worship team’s effectiveness in ministry is not limited to their leadership on the platform. Sometimes they are much more effective in encouraging the congregation with conversations they may have before or after a service than in their platform leadership.

Worship leaders, if you currently have a green room, don’t make it comfortable. Take out the chairs and make it a “stopping off place” rather than a “camping out” place. In fact, don’t call the room a green room. Much of worship leadership is about influence. Each week we strive to encourage, edify and admonish the saints through our worship leadership, and this happens on the platform and in the congregation before and after the service.

Dr. Greg Brewton is a professor and chair of the Department of Biblical Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.