Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Sunset - Mark BattersonThis is another photograph in a continuing series by people known to readers here; this sunset was taken Monday night by author and pastor Mark Batterson.

 

On Monday I raked leaves and collected links; you could call it my own little feast of ingathering.

Paul Wilkinson’s wisdom and Christian multi-level business opportunities — “just drop by our house tomorrow night, we have something wonderful we’d like to share with you” — can be gleaned the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and in the Twitterverse

From the archives:
The problem with out-of-office email notifications:


Lost in translation: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers – but the Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” …Read the whole 2008 BBC News story here.

October 13, 2014

Megachurch Musicians

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

Warning: Run-on sentence follows:

I think if I joined a mega-church and aspired to be part of the worship team, and then jumped through all the hoops of auditioning and qualifying, when the moment finally came where I was actually on that stage, I would be so concerned about doing well and making a good impression, I actually wouldn’t really be worshiping God at that moment. 

Human nature is human nature. If you read the tags, I’ve tagged this post “ecclesiastical ambition.” It certainly describes pastors, but musicians have a more natural affinity to wanting acceptance; of wanting to be liked.

Today's post was written by this guy.

Today’s post was written by this guy.

So here’s what I’ve concluded: Everybody who gets up on a large (or mega) church platform should be forced to wear a mask so that nobody knows who they are. Yes, a mask. Think of what a motive-purifying thing this would be. Think of how this would respond to the church culture that sees the people on the platform as performers

If this goes against the grain, you could consider having the musicians (and people who do announcements) stand with their backs to the audience. Or they could present the worship set from the back of the auditorium the way many church choirs once stood in a balcony at the back; the manner in which the church organist (the only church musician at the time) once performed from the back, or with his or her back to the congregation. 

In the life of service to God through public ministry, there’s no room for ego. 


Update 10:30 AM: I had no idea when I posted this that the same day Talbot Davis would post a sermon text with the repeated refrain, “God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.” Take the time to read it by clicking this link


Somewhat related: “There is no limit on what can be done for God if it does not matter who is getting the earthly credit.”  Read that blog post here.

October 4, 2014

Who Says Youth Groups Won’t Sing?

…and How Running The Internet Rabbit Trails Led Me to New Discoveries

…and The Theology of Acapella Worship

Rural Hill Church Camp

So it all started on Monday night when I was wrapping up the link list. A visit to The Christian Chronicle, a news page of the Churches of Christ revealed that they had started a new feature, Voices Only Wednesday on September 17th. Kicking it off was what appeared to be an eight-minute camp music video from Rural Hill Church of Christ. It reminded me of a couple of Young Life Clubs I attended at another high school many years ago.

There’s a moment in this video near the end (about 6:18) where they go into a James Cleveland song, Get Right Church. (You want to play this loud.) There’s a lot going on in this song. A lot of fun. A lot of energy. A lot of passion. But also a lot of musical complexity. Who says you can’t get youth groups to sing? They call this part of the facility The Singing Porch (see photo above). I’ll bet a lot of audio memories are made there. (You really want to click the link, okay?)

I fired off the link to people I know who work with choirs, with camps, and with youth groups. But found myself wanting to look a little closer. So I checked out the Facebook page for the church. Many more videos from summer camp were waiting. But by this point, I wanted to learn more. 

The church website is visitor-friendly. Remarkably so. On the About Us page there is a notation:

We  do not use instruments in worship. We simply use our voices and our hearts. If  you have never experienced this type of worship, you may be surprised at how  heartfelt and uplifting it can be! We sing a mixture of traditional and  contemporary songs – reflective of the diverse age range and preferences in our  congregation.

So that’s where the kids get this. This musical paradigm is caught at an early age. It’s part of the worship style they’ve grown up with. Yes, there’s Power Point and microphones, but no keyboards, no drums, no guitars.

Days later I checked out the denomination’s description at Wikipedia and learned more:

The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church’s worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.

The use of musical instruments in worship was a divisive topic within the Stone-Campbell Movement from its earliest years, when some adherents opposed the practice on scriptural grounds, while others may have relied on a cappella simply because they lacked access to musical instruments. Alexander Campbell opposed the use of instruments in worship. As early as 1855, some Restoration Movement churches were using organs or pianos, ultimately leading the Churches of Christ to separate from the groups that condoned instrumental music.

(See the link for footnotes.)

Finally I went to YouTube in search of more songs. You can search under Church of Christ acapella, or Church of Christ singing. I used Church of Christ music and ended up listening to a 30-minute teaching from Mountain Creek Church of Christ on why they don’t use ‘mechanical instruments.’ The pastor takes a very easy-going approach on this, and while I would disagree with his hermeneutics, or even the logic by which the conclusion is reached, there’s no denying his hardline conviction. I just don’t think you should take a minority reading of a passage and then argue it quiet so dogmatically.

As an aside, several years ago I met with the lay-leader of a small congregation in our neighborhood, that I knew used only the King James Version. I asked him if there was a theological underpinning for this, and he quickly cut in and said, “No it’s a preference and only a preference. Our people can read anything they want, and many do.” That was refreshing. Rather than preach about the doctrine of acapella music, I would love it if this person simply talked about the rich musical heritage of the capital ‘C’ church — Christianity is a singing faith — and said the acapella thing is just a preference, just the way they do things.

Bottom line? I didn’t find anything on YouTube that grabbed me the way Get Right Church did that first day, but if I were ever in Antioch, Tennessee, I would definitely want to experience what Rural Hill offers first-hand. It would beat spending the Sunday at just another generic megachurch. And I wouldn’t let the reasons they may have for their music stop me from enjoying the rest of the worship service, especially when the music would be the reason I was there at all!


Photo: Ironically, the video from which this was taken (click the image to link) has background music which included a full instrumental background.

 

October 1, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Gospel Van

Photo: Drew Dyck

A fresh crop of October links! Mind you, they’re all dated September. But they’re new to you.

Yes! The links are still also at Parse, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today. Click here to read there!

For our closing graphic we return to TwentyOneHundred Productions’ Facebook page, the gift that keeps on giving. 2100 is the media division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  (We poached another one from them for tomorrow…I feel like I should make a donation to my local IVCF chapter…) Click the image to link, or follow them at this page.

Books of the Bible

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 20, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Christian Coke

Time for your midweek break and some news and opinion pieces you may have missed:

Paul Wilkinson is available to speak or sing on any dates you had previously booked with Mark Driscoll, Vicky Beeching or Gungor and may be contacted through his blogs, Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

July 30, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Amish Gone Wild T-Shirt Design from Kaboodle dot com

By the look of it, this “internet” thing could be really big someday. Here’s this week’s highlights:

Remember, every time you share the link list on Twitter or Facebook, an angel gets its wings.

Paul Wilkinson hunts for devotional writing each day at C201, rants at Thinking Out Loud and tweets to a vast army of followers. (They keep leaving the “K” out after the number.)

July 27, 2014

Church Music: When to Get out of the Way

So there I was last week, sitting in the large auditorium on the grounds of a denominational campground. We were just coming up to the message, and the person chairing the service remarked about the great acoustics in the place and suggested we stand and sing the simple, one-word chorus, “Hallelujah” acapella.

He started us off, but then, instead of going off-microphone, like you do in these situations, he just kept wailing into the mic, with the result that while we got to hear a bit of what it might sound like if it was just the sound of our voices, we mostly got to hear the sound of his voice.

leading acapella in churchDoing this correctly is a worship-leading technique that is basic. I would have thought everybody knows this.

In light of what follows, I should say that this a very, very personality-driven denomination, and one in which the parishioners play into the leader-driven culture by not doing anything unless their pastor tells them to do it. So while it’s a bit of a stretch, it’s entirely possible that the second he appeared to stop singing, they would have all stopped. That would be funny.

(The solution to that, by the way involves leading with your arms. The rhythmic one-two-three-four type of hand waving you often see done in older churches is actually orchestral conducting, what you really want to do is accent the sung syllables, which is closer to choral conducting.)

Anyway, I told all this to my wife a few days later — this actually happened several times, involving How Great is Our God and one other song — and she very accurately said, “that is so very dumb and so totally self-centered.”

Self-centered. Ah, there’s the problem. The secret of church leadership, no matter what your role, is knowing when to get out of the way. By that I don’t mean knowing when to retire (although that’s important, too) but knowing when not to take center stage, when to let things just take place organically; when to let things be congregation-led and not top-down.

In a modern church culture that is saturated with rhythm sections (drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards, etc.) singing acapella is a refreshing change. But the entire point of the exercise is to allow the congregation to hear the sound of their own voices in a single blend. The smallest measure of musical instincts would tell you to drop the microphone at your side and if absolutely necessary, lead with your hands only.

July 19, 2014

When We All Get To Heaven

Rapture art

If someone were to ask me if there are any paradigm shifts I’ve noticed in Christian perspectives on various issues, I would have to say that among my peers and those with whom I converse online, three things might quickly spring to mind:

  • A rethinking of the afterlife as ‘New Earth,’ rather than a ‘heaven’ that’s up there as opposed to down here. (For this, see the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.)
  • A reconsideration of the ‘rapture theology’ that has dominated Evangelicalism for the past several decades. (See End Time Delusions by Steve Wohlberg.)
  • A reassuming of our social justice responsibilities as opposed to placing the weight of our emphasis on doctrinal proclamation. (See Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma.)

However, the songs that we sing in our churches today — and by ‘our’ I mean those of us who have moved toward modern worship as opposed to gospel and classical hymns — do not reflect this change in thinking.

The hymns and gospel songs were consistent with things being preached in the pulpit and for many of us, these doctrines were ingrained through exposure to the music. Consider:

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away

That’s rapture theology pure and simple. When We All Get to Heaven does talk about seeing Jesus and being in His presence, but implies that we are going to get to heaven, some place that’s out there.  Onward Christian Soldiers talks about taking the cross to the world, but our crusade doesn’t appear to include demonstrating compassion or there being servant leaders among the soldiers.

I’m not opposed to those songs entirely; they shaped who I am today. It’s just that in today’s vertical worship environment, we don’t have songs that tell our story and describe more of the thinking that is currently being taught in our churches.  Let me conclude with an illustration.

Last weekend we visited the anchor store in a large chain of musical instrument dealerships. I was telling the manager how my son, recently graduated in electrical engineering, has an interest in designing mixers, keyboards and especially synthesizers. I asked him if the store, when it hires people, is looking for product specialists or people who are good at sales.

He said basically that the product knowledge is a given. Nobody is going to apply who isn’t already a customer and very familiar with what’s in the store. So it’s the sales aptitude that they look for and develop in their staff.

Similarly, if I were asked to speak at a Christian songwriting conference, I wouldn’t talk about the basics of musical composition, I would, like the store manager, take that as a given. Instead, it’s a knowledge of the the lyrical foundation in the writing process that I would want to cultivate. I would want to encourage young Christian musicians to craft pieces that express where the church is today, the things that are central to us in 2014-15, and the things for which presently no songs exist.


We found today’s graphic image along with a very thorough article at this website

For an entirely unique view on this, here’s an old post I wrote about how a particular sect expresses their story in song.

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