Thinking Out Loud

July 14, 2017

Having Fun With Common Meter

We’ve run this one by you twice already, but I still think you can enjoy this or do things like it, unless of course you’re a follower of Bob Kauflin, the Reformed worship guru who says you don’t mess with the original composition. That’s okay, Bob. You do it your way.

Cornerstone by Hillsong incorporates the lyrics of the old hymn, My Hope is Built, and then adds a chorus, “Cornerstone, Christ alone; weak made strong in the Savior’s love…”

My Hope is Built is based on a rhythmic structure called Long Meter or simply L.M. for short. If you grew up with hymnbooks, you know there was a metrical index in the back and it’s there for a reason. Well, actually it was there mostly for the amusement of musicians since most churches never did switch up tunes or lyrics. But some did, especially on Sunday nights, which wasn’t always taken as seriously as Sunday morning. L.M. is also 8.8.8.8. which means any song with that same meter will work, though I’ve suggested a few that use C.M. or Common Meter which is 8.6.8.6. (though I’ve added words in some cases or you have to stretch in others).

For what it’s worth, I like Cornerstone just the way it is; and I would suggest retaining the first verse as it connects well with the theme. So you would probably only want to choose no more than a couple of these, but I’d strongly recommending the idea of ending with the last one here.

Alternatives

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great redeemer’s matchless praise
The glories of my God and King
The triumphs of His love and grace

He breaks the power of canceled sin
The prisoners are each one set free
His blood can make the worst ones clean
His blood poured out for you and me

Forbid it Lord that I should boast
But for the death of Christ my God
All earthly things I hold so dear
I sacrifice them to His blood.

O God our help in ages past
Our hope for many years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
Our strength and our eternal home

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved someone like you and me
We once were lost but now we’re found
We once were blind but now we see

No condemnation now I dread*
Jesus, and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him, my living head
And clothed in righteousness divine

People and realms of every tongue**
Dwell on His love with sweetest song
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their earthly blessings on His name

Faith of our Fathers, living still
In spite of prison, fire and sword
O, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that great word.

Praise God from Whom all blessing flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
And up above you heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

* All the verse from And Can It Be? work well here.

**I really like Jesus Shall Reign here, I just selected a single verse. Cornerstone is a song of declaration, some of these verses turn the song into an anthem of praise, with Christ as the Cornerstone. You might want to do your own research and find other L.M. songs that work. And yes, the title of this blog post is technically wrong, but I like it better than “Having Fun With Long Meter.” And if you’re British, Australian or Canadian, just change “meter” to “metre” the way the word was intended!

July 13, 2017

6 Areas Where Church Dropouts Miss Out

FellowshipWe are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

Some will argue, “I haven’t wandered from the faith, I’ve simply had it with the local church.” Believe me, I get that; I get that more than you can imagine, even if you’re a regular reader here. But every Sunday I get up and make the trip. Not because I’m obeying the commandment to, or because I’ll feel the Evangelical equivalent to Catholic guilt if I don’t, but rather because the benefits clearly outweigh the cost.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. In that context, as Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world. Giving is an act of worship.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. You might be able to approximate some of these individually, and if circumstances require that, then you certainly should try. But I believe these things were intended to work best collectively.


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

June 25, 2017

Baby Dedication and Gift-Giving

Not being Roman Catholic, I didn’t realize that Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation were gift-giving occasions until I started working in a Christian bookstore. To be honest, I didn’t really know what the latter two sacraments were and at what age they were preformed. I quickly caught up.

Then came the day someone asked for a First Reconciliation gift suggestion. This is the confession which precedes First Communion since, as every good Catholic knows, there is no participation in the Eucharist without confession. But a gift?

I think there can be some appropriateness to presents associated with the sacraments if the gifts are well-chosen, suited to the child, and represent something that will help the child remember the importance of these occasions. However, I also think some of this is an attempt to parallel what happens in the life of a Jewish boy or girl at their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. Let’s face it, there’s nothing particular spiritual about those pen and pencil sets. Or the envelope containing $20. At least Catholic kids get crosses and pictures of those warm and fuzzy Precious Moments characters kneeling.

But now I see that the Evangelical equivalent of Baby Baptism, Baby Dedication is increasingly a gift-giving occasion. I’m not biting the hands that feed me; those purchases certainly do keep our local store open, and it is a great time to offer a new baby gift, I just hate to think that Evangelical friends and family might feel an obligation to bring a gift. That’s not written in stone in any book of social or religious etiquette and I’d like to see it stay that way.

I wrote about this once before in regard to Evangelicals giving teens and adults gifts for their believer’s immersion baptism, and concluded that at the outset of the Christian pilgrimage, you’re needed as a mentor, not a benefactor. That should be first and foremost. Don’t buy something, be there for them.

In an Evangelical setting, it’s as much about the parents dedicating themselves to serving the spiritual needs of the child, and the entire church community vowing to support that nurturing. In that sense, buy yourself a gift! Something to support your own spiritual development and formation so you can be the person who can best support the Christian parents and children in your church family.

June 22, 2017

Christian Leaders Have Feelings, Too

Have you ever received a letter or an email where you could acutely feel the pain of the person writing? It happened to me about a week ago, and not for the usual reasons that people experience hurt. This person had unexpectedly come out on the wrong side of a business dealing some other Christians. Though the letter wasn’t written particularly to evoke an emotional response, but it really affected me and has stayed with me throughout the week.

Interestingly, if I am to be perfectly honest I don’t particularly like this person. Circumstances necessitate a relationship that would not exist otherwise. Really, that’s how it is in the body of Christ. Look around your church on Sunday morning and ask yourself how likely you would otherwise be to interact with this set of people. Would you have another context to make their acquaintance? Would the ones you count as friends have ended up so through some other means?

Meanwhile, all’s fair in love and business, right? Tough luck. Easy come, easy go.

Ruminating on this continually however, I’ve been reminded that people in Christian leadership are not immune to hurt and pain. Years ago I was at a crossroads where I could have gone into pastoral ministry. “Don’t do it;” a mentor advised; “You’re not thick-skinned enough.”

But who is thick-skinned enough? We’re human. We bleed. Electing to choose a ministry that must be, by definition, compassionate means that pastors may be more sensitive than many of us. We all have different degrees of sensitivity, but I think pastors bear the biggest brunt of this. They are particularly vulnerable on Sundays, especially right after the sermon. If you want to bring someone down a notch or two, that’s the perfect time. As an aspiring Bible teacher, I had just finished a Sunday morning sermon at a Christian conference center that was transitioning into a summer camp; so adults from offsite were still in the habit of driving there for services. I don’t remember the topic, but I felt it had gone reasonably well until the director called me into his office immediately after.

“You really think you’re hot stuff, don’t you?”

I stood there not quite sure how to respond. It turned out later that there was a enormous political power struggle going on in this organization, and he didn’t want me feeling in any way empowered.  The rest of that conversation is a bit of a blur.

Christian leaders have feelings. Some no doubt pursue ministry not realizing the emotional price they will have to pay. This undoubtedly leads to the rather high attrition rate in this profession. But heads of missions, parachurch organizations and other Christian charities could be included in this, as well as lay-leaders who may have a role in the life the church which is quite a contrast to their primary vocation.

It’s important for the rest of us to bear that in mind.

Don’t cause hurt. If you need to confront an individual, do it lovingly. If you think something needs to be done differently, make a suggestion, not an order. If you feel someone is going astray, scripture tells us to lead them gently back.

Watch for leaders who are hurting. They’re all around you. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, you can be a pastor’s pastor. They need to talk, too. Remember them in prayer.

Rebuke the person who causes hurt. If you know someone who loves to stir the pot, who loves to be ‘Brother Sandpaper,’ pull them aside and remind them that the Christian leader in question is human just like them.

Bear your own hurts well. If you’ve continued reading this far, perhaps you have some leadership role in the church and need to expect at sometime to have to manage the emotions which arise when the inevitable attack happens, because it probably will.

Make love your rule of life.

 

June 4, 2017

Christian Counseling: A New Paradigm Where Churches Buy Services in Bulk

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:59 pm

One of the local churches my wife and I are involved with is part of a service which may or may not be unique to our part of the world.  The Congregational Assistance Plan (CAP) is one of many services of Shalem Mental Health Network — pronounced ShaLAME — an organization based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Although I’ve never availed myself of this service so far, basically, in exchange for an annual fee, the organization has a list of members and adherents of this church and if someone on the list needs help, they call the number and arrange a meeting. The church receives a total number of the people who used the service that month, but not names. The local church in question is the first in its denomination to sign on for the program.

Here’s how the organization describes it:

CAP enables churches to make short-term professional Christian counselling support available to their members.

  • local professional, Master’s degree-level Christian counsellors
  • available to all church members and adherents
  • up to six sessions per year for each member
  • services are anonymous and strictly confidential
  • provided at no cost to the church member
  • CAP works seamlessly behind the scenes in your congregation.

This is a win-win. I especially like the last point, “CAP works seamlessly behind the scenes.”

Christian counseling can be expensive. This is something we learned as a family a few summers ago. But for some people a listening ear and some direction is much needed. (They also work with at least one Christian university we’re familiar with.

This blog goes all over the U.S., Canada and the world. I hope people of influence can study this model to see if it has application where you live.

May 25, 2017

The Quest for the Holy Grail of Worship Community

Filed under: Christianity, Church, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:21 am

Book Review: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday is the story of Rachel Held Evans and her husband Dan and their meanderings in being sometimes drawn towards and sometimes repelled from a place of weekend worship. Far from the usual oft-seen rant on this subjective, the book is very redemptive in tone and is in part a cautionary tale and in part of celebration of the great things the capital-C Church can do through the ministry of the small-c local church.

This book was actually published in 2015. A copy landed accidentally from the publisher; in other words I was under no requirement to read the book at all, much less write about it. My intention was to read a few chapters and then possibly give the copy away. Instead, I worked my way through eventually missing nothing from the copyright page to footnote #93. And also, it appears, wrote a review.

Rachel Held Evans is often seen as a poster girl for the progressive Evangelical movement. Her name is — and this is to be taken quite literally — used as a swear word on a popular Reformed podcast. Her roots are conservative and she describes her relationship to those days as analogous to someone who has broken up with their boyfriend, but continues to check their Facebook page every few days. She walks a tension between  traditional Evangelicalism and its more modern expressions.

My first exposure to her was on her blog, RachelHeldEvans.com, where she no longer posts as frequently, but back in the day, it was the springboard to my second exposure to her, the book Evolving in Monkey Town, the story of growing up in Dayton, the epicenter of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Searching for Sunday is relatively similar in the weight of its autobiographical content, but is also as informative as Evolving, if not more so. There is a commonality to the personal sections however. The book contains an ever-present tension between her story and my story; or yours.

The book is organized in seven groups of chapters (3-6 per group) each of which could be viable as a stand-alone essay. The groups themselves represent seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. The perspective of the author varies. Sometimes she is a congregant; a parishioner just like many of us. At other times, she finds herself on the platform; the result of speaking engagements brought about through the popularity of her blog, and later her books. So there is another tension here, between disciple, earnestly seeking after God, and church leader, the one at the front of the room holding the microphone.

Finally, her journey represents a constant vacillation — in a good way, mind you — between historical, liturgical denominations and upstart, informal church communities. Personal familiarity with both is helpful here, but not required. Let me rephrase that: Personal familiarity with both is probably recommended here; the book exposes the value of both types of Christian community. 

One last thing: Rachel is an awesome writer, no surprise given she was a literature major. Even if you don’t agree with her take on everything, I think you can still enjoy the reading of it, and come away informed and enriched.


Learn more at ThomasNelson.com

Follow her @rachelheldevans

May 19, 2017

Church Continuity, Summer Shutdowns and the Lake House Mentality

There was a time I thought this was more of Canadian thing, but apparently it happens in various types of churches: Big and small, urban and rural, independent and denominational, established and recently planted. We call it ‘Summer Shutdown.’ Simply put it means that many of the programs of the church start shutting down at the end of April and don’t resume again until after Labor Day (that’s the week after the August Bank Holiday for you Brits.)

The logic in shutting down various children’s programs has to do with competition from evening sports programs, particularly kids baseball and soccer (that’s football for you Brits.)

The logic in shutting down the Thursday morning ladies prayer time totally escapes me (that’s ‘totally escapes me’ for you Brits.)

This phenomenon seems to be more pronounced in North America, but here in Ontario it is coupled with something called ‘the cottage mentality.’ Perhaps where you live the term cabin is more prevalent than cottage. Or the lake house. It means that if it is the weekend in June, July, or August; one is officially at their summer cottage, even if they don’t actually own one. This means that the summer shutdown becomes evident even in the Sunday morning programming of the churches here.

To me, this just leaves a lot of people detached from other people; it leaves them with feelings of isolation and loneliness; it leaves them with more inactivity; and it leaves them increasingly disconnected from their local church. As I wrote recently,

Imagine the greatest institution the world has ever seen suddenly shutting shop. Imagine a movement so powerful that nothing can stop it dispersing its followers for an extended holiday. Imagine the Church of Jesus Christ simply not being there for the hungry, the thirsty, the needy.

It waves the white flag of surrender to the calendar, the school year, football games, and the arrival of hot and humid weather. It gives up because so-called “key leadership” decided to spend weekends at the lake. It broadcasts the message that summer ministry simply isn’t worth the bother. It says, “There’s a big game being televised so probably nobody is going to show up anyway.”

I remember one woman returning to church in September after an absence of at least 90 days, announcing to all nearby that she was back and ready to help “whip this place back into shape.” That did not go over well among those who had been faithful throughout the warmer months. She wanted to pick up the pieces and create a fresh start, when in fact the church had a colorful and vibrant ministry during the weeks she was at the cabin enjoying the sunshine, the barbecue and the swimming.

The loss of continuity here is gigantic. I have however noticed that among some megachurches the programs just become so overarching that it is impossible to curtail them in the summer months. This may actually be a major positive attribute for megachurches at a time when people are so quick to emphasize their negatives. But then these same megachurches will have a weekend where the simply shut down everything altogether. Everything. The doors are locked. For you mainline Protestants, think of it as the non-Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Can you imagine a Roman Catholic church not having the mass the week after Christmas? Or a long weekend? No. Neither can I. Where did this day-off-mentality come from anyway?

Two years ago I wrote on this subject with respect to a church which also shuts down the week after Christmas:

We live at a time when people are taking an extremely casual approach to church attendance. Families with children have already sacrificed weekly continuity on the altar of getting their kids into team sports: Soccer, baseball, three-pitch, t-ball, gymnastics, swim teams, etc. What hasn’t been destroyed by athletics has been decimated by dads working weekend shifts or moms working retail Sunday openings.

These days, if you can get a family out to church 26 out of 52 Sundays, you’re doing well.

So why chop that down to only 50 Sundays? Why create even the most subtle suggestion that taking time off church is perfectly acceptable?

We did attend a local church since moving to this small town where the Sunday School ministry didn’t really miss a beat in the summer. I noted their dedication. It was like they believed in a God that doesn’t take three months off each summer. Last year however, they succumbed to the influence of what other churches are doing.

So here’s to those local churches who provide spiritual nurture at full throttle during the holiday months. Good on ya. People are hungry for more of God’s word and teaching, and also opportunities for fellowship twelve months of the year. I’m willing to bet there are stories of spiritual starvation that take place when ‘spiritual providers’ take off. I’d like to start a crusade to fight on behalf of those who are simply not looking forward to the next few months of meetings suspended until the fall. Some of those are hurting and some are lonely.

The people making the decision to curtail programming or shut down a particular weekend are usually well-connected and have lots of social activity planned for the time they are away.

For many large churches, it’s all or nothing. They can’t do small church anymore. Think about it:

The modern megachurch simply cannot offer an alternative service in a smaller room in the church where Mrs. Trebleclef will play some well known choruses or hymns on the keyboard (or Mr. Coolhair on the guitar), the head of Men’s Ministry will speak, and then we’ll have a coffee time in the atrium. That would be a simple service. It would involve said pianist, the person giving the short devotional message, and the person to make the coffee, as well as someone to unlock the doors and check the restrooms before locking up. But that’s not the brand these churches want to offer. You can’t have a simple, grassroots service like that. Better to have locked doors.

So where do those KidMin, worship and parking volunteers come from on Christmas and holidays? They don’t. You change up the brand image for the sake of one Sunday and using a skeleton staff, offer something for the people who really need to be connected. Maybe not Mrs. T. on the piano. Maybe it’s a film. It might involve a guest speaker or guest musicians. Perhaps it’s a shorter service. 

Sadly however, this is not going to happen. ‘It’s not how we do things.

Wanna buck the trend? Light a candle! Use the summer to invite people over to your home for informal events. Can’t lead a Bible study? Just find a good teaching DVD and set up the machine in the living room; make some coffee and then let whatever is meant to happen next, simply happen. There are sermon DVDs from pastors you’ve heard of available as downloads online, you can purchase some from various ministry organizations, or you can buy them at Christian bookstores.

Can’t lead a Bible study? Don’t do anything fancy. Just pick a short Biblical book, invite people over; make the aforementioned coffee; and start in on chapter one. Don’t even suggest getting together the following week for chapter two; let those who are present suggest that. (Some may offer their home for the following week, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning!)

Counter the summer shutdown mentality with impromptu, informal events in your home this summer. And no, you don’t need your pastor’s permission; in fact, make it a non-church event by inviting some people from a different church. Or if the DVD has good outreach potential, invite some non-churched neighbors.


If you feel like you’ve read this before here, you have. This is a recurring, annual Thinking Out Loud rant. But this time around the rant you’re reading is a mash-up of four previous articles with additional content.

May 4, 2017

Reconnecting With Church Alumni

A friend of ours is trying to give new life to a dying church. Before the new year, the church held a reunion of sorts. They called as many former members as they could track down and invited them to come to a dinner. Just to reconnect. It reminded me of the following, which appeared here in 2013…

My wife received another alumni newsletter from her college in the mail. It’s somewhat of a miracle that it arrived, given what they do to her name. Because I graduated from the University of Toronto, which is a federation of colleges, I get three of these this type of thing regularly, one from the university itself, one from my college, and one from the Department of Philosophy even though I majored in Sociology.

I flip through these, and don’t entirely regard them as junk mail, though I’ve never yet made a donation and frankly, with Christian charities a priority, I’m not ever likely to.

Still, I wondered — minus the glossy magazine part — what it would be like if local churches had some of the mentality of college alumni associations, especially toward people who have either moved on or dropped out. Here’s what I think these higher learning institutions do well:

  • They’re really good at maintaining a data base of former students and knowing what each is doing. In church life we tend to assume that people have simply gone on to another church when that’s not always the case. They have an interest in where life has taken you, and they track you down, even if you move several times and think you’ve lost them! I’m going to guess here that 99% of churches have nothing formal in place to ‘follow’ former adherents and members, and truth be told, a significant number of them did not go on to another church.
  • They’re really excited about sharing their programs. It never occurs to us that if someone liked what we were doing as a church once, they might be interested in connecting again. We basically treat departures as a form of rejection, unless the person moved or was transferred.
  • The door is always open. We have nothing in the church that compares to the concept of ‘homecoming.’ Just think what might be if we created a culture where the welcome mat is always out for former members and participants. Colleges and universities invite you walk the corridors and sit in the classrooms to rekindle memories; why can’t a church do that?
  • They earnestly solicit your financial help to advance their work. Even though I don’t expect to benefit directly from what my alma mater is doing currently — and its entirely possible I may never step on the campus again — they invite me invest in its future. Many people who have stopped going to church have stopped giving to Christian causes even though the latest books tell us they still like Jesus, they still love God. There must a polite way to say, if you’re not giving to anything, the work of this church still goes on without making it sound like, ‘You may be gone but we still want your money.’ I certainly believe I could craft that appeal letter.
  • They share their stories. Related to the above item, they have a better system for hearing back from their ‘graduates,’ and what is being accomplished in and through their lives. In a world of email and Facebook, keeping in touch with former church adherents ought to be a cakewalk. Some are possibly very grateful to share how their time at your church impacted their lives. Everyone else needs to hear those stories.

What do you think? Are there analogies I missed? Can we do better at tracking people who were once part of our church family roll? Is it possible they’re actually waiting to hear from us; to see if we remember; to see if we care?

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

The first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it.

I remembered something from years ago when I was working in Christian television. Unlike radio which used random station logs as representative samples, TV royalties were based on all logs from all stations all the time. When the ministry organization in question received some rather meager royalty checks for some tunes they had written, a situation emerged where (and this is a fairly direct quote from someone close to the process), “People who had never written a song in their entire lives suddenly found songs pouring out of them on a regular basis.” He was highly skeptical.

So economics can indeed be a wonderful motivator. I’m sure that the person who decides to modify an existing hymn or do a fresh arrangement takes time to study the lyrics and I’m not saying that some of these people don’t do this prayerfully, both before and after the process. 

Yes, I’m a cynic when it comes to such things. But you have to admire the ingenuity of finding a way to get royalties from songs heretofore part of Public Domain. A combination of total disdain and ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’

Occasionally these improvements to existing hymns simply don’t work. They involve a change in lyrical theme or rhythm or melody so as to constitute an unwelcome intruder. Like the guy who brings his accordion to worship team practice. Or the guy who wears a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral. 

Other times I fear that a generation of church musicians is being raised up to assume that this is how it’s done, and that adding bridges to existing hymn literature is the modus operandi of worship song composition.

But honestly, sometimes these new hymn versions can be the gift that keeps on giving. If the revenue is being plowed back into ministry, that’s great. Scripture tells us that we shouldn’t “judge the servant of another,” though honestly, I now find the cynicism was, in my case, somewhat contagious. But I’ll continue to “believe the best” that the starting place for adding a bridge or changing the chord structure of a song isn’t motivated by economics.

I hope you’ll do the same.

HCSB Prov 16:2 All a man’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord evaluates the motives.

April 27, 2017

The Courtesy of a Reply

church email etiquette

This a pet peeve of mine. Churches and Christian organizations get many, many e-mails and other types of communication every day, and while this can be overwhelming, the ones that aren’t newsletters, bulk mailings or spam represent an individual who is expecting some type of reply.

I was reminded of this again when I was housecleaning old emails. A guy had shared with me how he and his wife had tried every local church in his town, and had run out of options. So I suggested something more informal: House churches. I did some research for the area where he lived and gave him contact information, but also made some of the contacts myself. A month later, I get this:

Dear Paul,

We have never heard a word from anyone in any of the home groups that you sent your e-mail to. I guess they aren’t interested in having anyone new join their group. The fact that no one even took the time to send an e-mail was very disheartening and made us realize this probably isn’t the type of group we wanted to be associated with anyway.

I can’t imagine if Christ were on this earth that he would ignore anyone who showed an interest….maybe these groups are missing the mark.

Again Paul, thanks for your help. You were very kind and we did appreciate your efforts.

No, no, no! My efforts are useless unless they get results. This couple deserved better.

But honestly, this scene plays out tens of thousands of times per day. I can’t tell you the letters I’ve written to churches, ministry organizations, missions, etc.; letters written on behalf of myself or others; letters that nothing in them to suggest that I would be the kind of person that you would want to simply ignore. And probably there are people reading this who this has happened to as well.

We live in an interconnected world where even local church congregations have to potential to make a global impact. But if you put yourself out there online, you have to be prepared to be approached on a wide variety of issues. You also have to remember that when you ignore a letter written by a fellow-human, you are being less than what Christ intended. Being ignored hurts. Hurting people is just dumb.

Some response is better than no response.

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