Thinking Out Loud

August 30, 2014

Methodology for Music Ministry

Yesterday we looked at some very superficial reasons which draw people into the larger music business with a hope that church musicians can understand their own music-personality type. Today we want to stay somewhat shallow in looking at the raw practicalities of drafting the music for Sunday morning.

treble clefFinding the recipe

If you look at a recipe, it’s always divided into two sections. First you have a list of ingredients, and then you have the instructions as to how you wish to use them. Worship planning is very similar. There’s a list of songs you want to use, but how do you blend and mix them? Perhaps there’s a song that is going to occur at the beginning and the end of the service. Possibly two songs might play off each other (i.e. How Great Thou Art and How Great is Our God). Some might stand alone, while others might combine into medleys.

Ingredients are key

You want to choose your ingredients carefully. Just as in baking, some elements might conflict. Some choices might be too spicy. Others might be too bland. In a salad, you go for color and music is no different. A seasoned worship leader will have about 5,000 songs in their head at any one time. Unless you get to plan a worship night, you’re probably only going to do about five songs. You have 4,995 songs to leave out.

What people are hungry for

Your job is to give people the means by which they can respond to God for his greatness and goodness, his holiness and majesty, his love and compassion; just to name a few. The songs should resonate with young and old, and therein lies a challenge. With different strains of ingredients (classic hymns, 20th century gospel hymns, Maranatha! Music, Vineyard, modern worship leaders, modern hymns, soaking music, Hillsong, UK-based songs, etc.) you can appeal to different demographics, or you can choose to present a more musically-unified selection. If you want to see a younger demographic, you also have to skew your choices to people who perhaps aren’t there yet. That’s risky, but some churches do this.

Appetizer or main course?

Some Evangelicals see the worship time as preparing the hearts of people for the teaching of the word. Some Evangelicals see the praise time more liturgically as valid on its own. I personally lean more to the second position. Still you want to know what the sermon topic is so your two selections don’t conflict.

Toppings

A worship time will be rather uneventful if it is just straight singing. You want to intersperse related quotations, read one of the verses before or after singing it, include quotations, or even do a “story behind the song” type of introduction. Many leaders default to Psalms, but some congregants tune them out. But there are exceptions; last week in our church the readings were all from the same Psalm and the songs chosen around that.

A shared meal

One of the values of corporate worship is that there are things we can do together that we can’t do alone (i.e. just listening or singing along with an album or Christian radio station at home.) The music should somewhat exploit the congregational dynamics. There should be some lively songs (by whatever parameter you measure that in your style of church) and there should be some songs where the beauty of blended voices can be both heard and felt.

When people like the recipe, don’t take credit

It’s very humble to say, “God gave me these songs this week;” but better to deflect the credit to the creators of the songs, or best, God Himself. “This is a new song, written by a musician who God is really using to stir us to deeper worship.” Or, “This song really focuses on God’s knowledge and wisdom and helps us consider how the ways of the Lord are so much beyond anything we could understand.” With opening statements like that it takes the focus away from you; you’re seen rather as a hunter and gatherer of worship that’s already out there.

We’re part of a much larger banquet

Occasionally, I would remind our congregation of the vast number of churches that were joining us in worship across our city, across our denomination, and in our nation; and then I would remind them that in North America, we occupy a place at the end of the timezones, joining a worship service that has been taking place around the world that weekend. Just thinking about that now, I am reminded of its potential to reshape how we approach worship.

So those are the superficial factors. But there are also some very spiritual considerations. That would make a great third part to this weekend series, but Laura covered that for us so well six weeks ago, I’m going to invite you to simply click here.

August 29, 2014

Motivation for Music Ministry

So what attracts people to work in the music industry? I’ve listed a few things below that I think apply both within and outside the church context, and one, at the end of the list, that I believe is more common only within Christian experience. Worship leaders: Perhaps finding what attracts you to music in the first place will help you understand your personality type as a musician.

treble clefPerformance

Some people just want to play. They live to gig. If you’re a drummer and you can’t sing, you’re never going to be center stage, and people might not even know your name, but that’s okay, right? The idea is to simply make music, either in a live context or in a studio. The busier the schedule, the better.

Profile

For others, being center stage is really important. They are attracted by the idea of being a name you would know. They might already have their own web domain. Or an agent.

Product

The goal for some people is just to make an album. They aren’t looking for bookings and they aren’t looking for fame. They just want to have that physical CD in a plastic case that they can give to their friends, and show to their kids some day. (“That’s neat, Mom. Too bad we can’t play it on anything.”) Sales in retail stores would be an added bonus.

Publishing

The nice thing about this as a goal is you don’t have to give a single concert or even be able to carry a tune. But if you can compose meaningful songs and get others to perform them your music can travel to places you can’t. For people who are happy behind the scenes, this is an achievable goal, though usually the singer/songwriter usually has their own material. For people who do perform, the goal here is getting their songs covered by other groups or solo artists.

Production

Just as there are frequencies that only dogs can hear, there is a smell in recording studios that only some people detect.  To most of us, a 48-channel recording console looks intimidating, like the cockpit of a jet plane, but to them, the lights and dials are all in a day’s work. Their job demands that they live to serve the needs of others, but we know the names of many producers who have never recorded a single note themselves.

Profit

Although this can apply to any of the areas listed above, if we’re dealing with the area of motivation, then money can be a driving force. If you’re competent at publishing, performance, production, etc. and you need to pay the bills, you do what you’re good at.

Proclamation

This is the one I feel is more common to Christian musicians, though it’s not entirely unique since it applies to anyone who feels they have a message to communicate, whether it’s 60s hippies protesting the Vietnam War, or 80s rockers crusading for environmentalism. Today the message might still be anti-war, or racial equality, or perhaps gay rights. It is in this milieu that Christian artists raise their voices to express their faith or tell their story, though in the last dozen years, Christian music has been dominated by vertical worship — we could have had another P-word, Praise — which lessens the number of testimony or teaching songs being heard. We have, as Randy Stonehill put it many, many years ago, “the hottest news on the rack,” and so that motivates Christian musicians to make music which reflects their core faith beliefs. 

…Of course, playing because you want to have a message to share is a noble ideal, but many musicians also fall into one of the other categories as well. They want to make an album, or achieve popularity, or be able to make a living from their art. That’s okay, right? 

Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the practical ingredients of worship, comparing it to a recipe that worship leaders bake each week!

 

August 28, 2014

MEV Bible Marketing is Confusing, Misleading

Another new Bible translation hits the bookstores next month. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; do we really need another translation? Personally, while I love the variety of options available and feel they bring much clarity and understanding, I would say there are dangers in over-saturating — or more accurately over-fragmenting — the market.

MEVThe MEV is the latest arrival. It stands for Modern English Version, but that name must somewhat frustrate the creators, who wish all the KJV-related names — NKJV, KJV21, etc — weren’t already taken; as this is the market they are going after. They describe it as “the most modern of the KJV.” What does that even mean?

There’s nothing wrong with seeking to present a new translation to people who have been stuck on a particular version for a long period. The CEB (Common English Bible) has been marketed to the same demographic that currently uses the NRSV. I have no problem with that. But the people stuck on the KJV are really, really stuck. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Anyway, amid the hype was six consecutive pages in the September, 2014 issue of Christian Retailing magazine, a book industry trade publication. The first two were really an advertisement, and the next four pages were an attempt to convince bookstore owners and managers to buy in, both literally and figuratively, to the MEV.

I should say here that Christian Retailing is owned by the same company producing the MEV, Strang Publishing. This conflict-of-interest is rather old news however, as the company’s books, most published under the Charisma House banner, always get inordinate space in the trade magazine. I suppose any of us would do the same.

Still, the four page article contains a number of assumptions that lead to a type of flawed logic as to where the MEV fits in and how retailers can expect it to perform in term of sales.

The MEV is a direct successor to the KJV

The marketing strategy here is clearly to target conservative Evangelicals and convince them it’s time for a change, so you can’t read much about the MEV without encountering the words “King James Version” in the advertising. The home page refers to the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) as producing it, but that group’s website clearly indicates their association is with the NIV. The MEV landing page also says that the group used the KJV as its base manuscript. Does that mean it was not translated directly from original languages? If that’s the case, this is really no different a situation than Ken Taylor restating passages from the American Standard Version to read to his kids at night, and thereby creating The Living Bible which was roundly dismissed by many Evangelicals as a ‘paraphrase’ a term used derisively with no direct equivalent in linguistics.  (If you restate something written to make it understood by another group, you are in effect translating.) 

One writer took it this far:

This fall, the torch of the KJV tradition will be passed to a new version of the Bible: the Modern English Version (MEV). 

Obviously, it makes sense to him.

First, I would argue that each and every English translation since 1611 (or if you prefer, 1789) is a successor to the KJV.

Second, I think that, in the past 400 years, if anyone deserves the credit for having worked within the KJV tradition, that would belong to The Voice Bible. Think about it:

  • high respect for the KJV translation process (see The Story of The Voice, Thomas Nelson)
  • similar use of poets, playwriters and songwriters (i.e. stylists) working alongside theologians
  • use of italics to represent short phrases added to the text to bring about clarity of meaning

Appeal to the popularity of the KJV

Three times the article refers to an American Bible Society study that states that 34% of “church leaders” favor the KJV. Church leaders over age 60? Church leaders in rural churches in the deep south? (I am setting aside discussion of the references to “America” in the article; the publishers apparently had no vision for this reaching outside the 50 States.)

This also begs the question, if the KJV is that popular then what hope does anyone have in breaking into that market? Or to put it another way, if the KJV is adequately serving the needs of over a third of U.S. church leaders, for a 400-year-old publication, it’s doing really, really well. So why bother?

The enemy we face

Several times the article talked about the decline in morals, church attendance, etc., and the increase of skepticism. This is a common approach used mostly by televangelists. We identify a common enemy and then we stress the need to do something. If we can only get this particular Bible into the hands of the unsaved and unchurched, then we can reverse the trend toward agnosticism and atheism, right?

In a way, this is a form of checkbook evangelism. Social decay is all around us, therefore we need to print more Bibles. Wait; no, we need to print new Bibles. And maybe you personally don’t need this, but obviously you need to support what’s happening.

Recognition of the challenge faced in introducing the translation

The article stressed to booksellers that this isn’t a commodity that can simply be put on a shelf and expected to perform. It derided the “point and shoot” mentality that has taken over Bible departments, where if you want a particular version, you’re simply told, ‘Aisle three, left side, bottom shelf.’

The publishers are clearly looking for more engagement with customers on the part of the bookstore staff on the front lines. The industry term for this is hand-selling. It means basically, ‘This is going to take some extra effort on your part to get this product noticed and understood.’

But this comes at a time when stores face mammoth challenges to stay afloat. The trend is toward self-serve, and favors products which outline their purpose and features in the blurb on the back. Furthermore, I would argue that Charisma Media is asking retailers to do what every single book, Bible and music publisher would like to see. They all want their products to get more attention.

Show me the money

As you can expect, the article much hypes the MEV’s potential, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure much is gained. For example:

MEV passage comparison - John 3 16I really can’t judge the motivation of the creators of this project, but I do know it’s a matter of pride among Christian publishing conglomerates to have a Bible in their stable of products. Tyndale has the NLT, NavPress has The Message, Baker Books has God’s Word, Crossway has the ESV, Broadman has the HCSB, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing has the NIV, NKJV, NCV and The Voice

A reader comment at one article looked at this less in terms of publishing companies and more in terms of denominations:

…Now, after reading who is behind this particular translation I’m a little concerned. Are we getting to the point where every domination will now have their very own bible translation such as, HCSB for Baptists and now MEV for the Assemblies of God?

Either way, I guess that’s what you do.

Now we wait to see if the marketing works out the way Strang/Charisma is hoping.  Time will tell.

August 27, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Wonderful the matchless

You know, that thing where you take a bucket of links and pour them over your head…

So there you have it! Not a single link about the social media story of the week, unless you count the sideways reference in that last item. To submit a link, send it by noon on Monday, except for next week, which is a holiday Monday.

 

August 26, 2014

This Book is Certainly not Overrated

I’ve been aware of Eugene Cho for several years though his blog and the charity he founded, One Day’s Wages.  As I opened the cover of his book Overrated, with the Superman-esque cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he had me right from the first chapter as his family embarked on a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is adventure in social concern.

As the video trailer above so clearly expresses, many of us are more enamored with the idea of changing the world than we are with actually doing anything. As you read this, it’s probably one of many blogs you will peruse today where writers like myself might present you with a variety of topics. But making the decision to indulge 2-3 minutes on a subject that challenges our generation to respond is not the same as actually getting our feet wet or even making a donation.

Overrated - Eugene ChoThe subtitle is long enough to deserve a paragraph of its own: Are We More in Love With The Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

The book’s premise is that by talking loud but doing nothing, we are completely overrated in terms of our response to social injustice. I find it interesting that the medium that seems to lend itself most to our schizophrenic response also contains the word social as in social media. Like other issues — the problems in the local church come to mind — we’re very good at articulating the problem of global poverty, very adept at critique.

Much awareness has created the illusion of progress on this front.

So the book begins with Eugene and his family evacuating their home so they can lease it out to a tourist in order to meet a goal they had set for themselves to give one year’s wages. This meant camping out at friends’ houses, a vision that is a little more difficult to explain to your children.

As the best books are, this is one part biographical and one part teaching. The biographical narratives include the perspective of an Asian American, as well as his adventures as a church planter. 

So as to best prod us into action, Eugene Cho leads by example, and he share stories where others are picking up the torch and running with it. His personal ethic is not to ask anyone to do anything that you’re not prepared or willing to do yourself.  

That’s advice that applies not only to our response to the needs of the world, but to other areas as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch a video preview of the book

August 25, 2014

Love Well Reads Well

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 am

A book is always a journey. My hope is that in the exchange of writing, reading and reflecting, we can journey together. My deep desire is that the tone of this book is not one of proving that I am right. My hope is that in my story and in my brokenness and redemption, Truth might be revealed.  ~Jamie George

As I mentioned a few days ago when I embedded a video clip with the author, I wasn’t going to review this book and then, having had the exposure through the interview, I knew I had to read this book.

Love Well - Jamie GeorgeLove Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck is part biography, part Christian living title.  Jamie George’s personal story is so much a part of what he teaches here that in many respects, the book belongs in a genre of its own. Though it doesn’t purport to be a marriage title, the story of the first twenty years in Jamie and Angie’s marriage is packed with anecdotes that will resonate with some couples. The writing style also mirrors Rob Bell, though with far more answers than questions.

A series of questions for self-examination ends each chapter, and the questions reiterate at the end of each chapter, with a new one added each time. The personal nature of this format lends itself more to personal development, but you could definitely use this in a group setting, especially with young married couples.

The book also contains several examples of the storytelling gift that Journey Church attendees say is the mark of Jamie George’s preaching; most evident in the retelling of scripture stories and parables, my favorite being his take on Joseph and his brothers.

But what is Live Well really about? Although he doesn’t use the term, the book is a type of 12-step program in dealing with hurt and brokenness. It’s about transparency and honesty to a degree that means the story doesn’t always reflect well of Jamie or his wife. The reference to being unstuck (and I wondered if this might have been the book’s original title) means that we can’t move on until we resolve certain issues.

Jamie George is the pastor of Journey Church south of Nashville, a church which attracts the people that Nashville itself attracts. Among his parishioners is author Karen Kingsbury who also wrote the foreword to the book.

Note: Because of the typeface and spacing, this 300-page book can be read in half the time you might imagine. For that reason, I give this a hearty recommendation for male readers!

We used a short excerpt from the book a few days ago at C201, it comprises the second half of this devotional.


A copy of Love Well was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Martin Smith at David C. Cook Canada. A series of messages based on the book is currently running at Journey Church; click here to listen or watch.

August 24, 2014

The Lord’s Prayer Becomes a Chart Topper

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

This is the third and final in our look this weekend at some “Christian” songs that appeared in the days that even predate the Jesus Music era. There are some things that don’t need to be mentioned here because they are still part of our modern consciousness: Put Your Hand in the Hand by Ocean, and Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum being but two examples. But The Lord’s Prayer by Sister Janet Mead was a Top 40 Chart phenomenon that surprised everyone, probably including Janet Mead.   Here’s what Wikipedia says about this one:

  • The Lord’s Prayeris a rock setting of the Lord’s Prayer with music by Arnold Strals recorded in 1973 by the Australian nun Sister Janet Mead. Mead was known for pioneering the use of contemporary rock music in celebrating the Roman Catholic Mass and for her weekly radio programs.
  • This recording could be considered one of the links in the development of what would become known as contemporary Christian music.
  • After reaching number three on the charts in Australia, it went on to become an international smash, selling nearly three million copies worldwide and making the upper reaches of the pop charts in territories as diverse as Canada, Japan, Brazil, Germany, and the United States.
  • It made Sister Janet the first Roman Catholic nun to have a hit record in the United States since Jeanine Deckers, the Singing Nun, hit #1 with “Dominique” in late 1963.
  • It also became the only song to hit the Top 10, whose entire lyrical content originated from the words of the Bible. More specifically, it is the only Top 10 hit whose lyrics were attributed to Jesus Christ.
  • Mead was nominated for a Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance (although she lost to Elvis Presley’s How Great Thou Art)
  • [she] became the first Australian artist to sell one million U.S. copies of a record produced in Australia

In many ways the song was a study in contrasts with the almost acid-rock intro giving way to the choir-like clarity of her voice. Youth groups, both Catholic and non-Catholic, suddenly had a new friend on the charts.

I tried to find a YouTube version with more interesting visuals, but decided to stick with this one.  And no, I don’t feel the need to publish the lyrics!

August 23, 2014

There’s a Place That’s Called Heaven, Don’t You Ever Forget

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

We continue our weekend with the oldies.

In the late 1960s, in a pre-CCM environment, songs expressing some type of spiritual sentiment were usually a surprise. The closing song on Freedom Suite in 1969 by The Rascals (aka The Young Rascals) was such a song. This was the same band that recorded People Got to be Free, which could be described lyrically as inspirational with a hint of gospel. So this song, Heaven, wasn’t alone in their repertoire.

Sometimes, baby, when you’re really down
There just don’t seem to be a ray of hope around
And everybody that you meet kind of wears a frown
It’s cold and lonely in the heart of town
Got to tell you all that

There’s a place that’s called heaven
Don’t you ever forget
Now, once I heard about heaven, yeah
I’m gonna get there yet

Some days you laugh and some days you cry
Sometimes it feels like the world has passed you right by
But everybody’s got to find a peaceful place to hide
If you’re out looking, take a look inside
And I think you’ll find that

There’s a place that’s called heaven
You might think that’s kind of square, oh oh yeah
If you don’t believe in heaven, yeah
You ain’t never been there

They’ll try to bring you down to their way of thinking, yeah
But don’t you do it, no no, don’t you let it get by (don’t let it by)
A little voice inside will tell you
Exactly what you’re gonna do
Don’t be a fool
Ooh yeah

You don’t have to go looking near or far
‘Cause you can find happiness standing right where you are
Just open up the windows that are in your heart
And let the light shine, then your life will start
Please believe it that

There’s a place that’s called heaven
It’s filled with joy and peace, whoa oh yeah
And once you get a look at heaven, yeah
You’ll find the love that you seek
When all the world is falling down
You’ll find a world filled with peace and love and joy
For every girl and boy
And all your troubles will cease

You know, somebody said to keep on pushing
‘Cause there’s a change that’s got to come
She said, “Thank the Lord”
And every day I thank you, Lord
For all the stars and all the seas
And all the birds and all the bees

August 22, 2014

Who Will Answer? Relevant Today as it was in 1967

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:56 am

This is a really quirky song you don’t hear on your local radio station’s ‘oldies weekend.’ Here are some details from Wikipedia:

  • released as a single in November 1967, is the title track of the 1968 album Who Will Answer? by the adult contemporary singer Ed Ames
  • originally written as the Spanish song “Aleluya No. 1″ by the Philippines-born Spanish singer-songwriter, poet and painter Luis Eduardo Aute, it was adapted into an English-language version with new lyrics
  • It was Ames’ fourth charting single that year, following “My Cup Runneth Over” [and 2 others]
  • Billboard magazine, naming the song its “Record of the Week”, praised the topical lyrics and the unusual musical combination of “Gregorian-like chant … Johann Sebastian Bach and … hard rock”, saying the song “expresses the urgent feelings of our times and deals with such meaningful subjects as nuclear war, apathy, religious discontent and the underlying confusion of today’s generation.”

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

From the canyons of the mind,
We wander on and stumble blindly
Through the often-tangled maze
Of starless nights and sunless days,
While asking for some kind of clue
Or road to lead us to the truth,
But who will answer?

Side by side two people stand,
Together vowing, hand-in-hand
That love’s imbedded in their hearts,
But soon an empty feeling starts
To overwhelm their hollow lives,
And when they seek the hows and whys,
Who will answer?

On a strange and distant hill,
A young man’s lying very still.
His arms will never hold his child,
Because a bullet running wild
Has struck him down. And now we cry,
“Dear God, Oh, why, oh, why?”
But who will answer?

High upon a lonely ledge,
a figure teeters near the edge,
And jeering crowds collect below
To egg him on with, “Go, man, go!”
But who will ask what led him
To his private day of doom,
And who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

In the rooms of dark and shades,
The scent of sandalwood pervades.
The colored thoughts in muddled heads
Reclining in the rumpled beds
Of unmade dreams that can’t come true,
And when we ask what we should do,
Who… Who will answer?

‘Neath the spreading mushroom tree,
The world revolves in apathy
As overhead, a row of specks
Roars on, drowned out by discotheques,
And if a secret button’s pressed
Because one man has been outguessed,
Who will answer?

Is our hope in walnut shells
Worn ’round the neck with temple bells,
Or deep within some cloistered walls
Where hooded figures pray in halls?
Or crumbled books on dusty shelves,
Or in our stars, or in ourselves,
Who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

August 21, 2014

Sidebar to the Kent Brantly Story

Filed under: current events, missions — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

A part of the story you may not have heard…

Kent Brantley

Breaking Christian News adapted this story from Assist News Service, but made the headline something that Assist had buried in the final two paragraphs:

The website stated that The JPS Foundation is now accepting donations for Brantly and his family, who lost all of their earthly possessions when he contracted the Ebola virus and was returned to the United States for treatment. After his symptoms appeared, Brantly was isolated and was never able to return to their home. According to JPS, everything is considered contaminated by Ebola and will be destroyed.

“No date has been announced for his release from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, but when he is well enough to join his family, they will face the challenge of replacing everything from household items and clothing to computers and children’s toys,” said JPS in a statement Friday. “All funds will be held in a separate account within the JPS Foundation for the financial support of Dr. Brantly and his family during his recovery.

After all they’ve been through, they face the same loss as would a family whose home was destroyed by fire. But better to have Kent alive, right? 


Related:  

“I’m sorry I’ve got to take this call, it’s Kent Brantly.”

This article is a must-read. It puts Kent Brantly in perspective in a way that will challenge you to the core.  Click to read Scot McKnight’s article:
Kent Brantly: Every Now and Then a Disciple Breaks Out

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.