Thinking Out Loud

December 21, 2019

New Uses for the Hymn Board

After yesterday’s discussion on Twitter prompted by Traci Rhoades, I thought you’d like to see what my wife did when she inherited a hymn board at the church where she now serves.

For Advent it got more complicated! The second line in this board is replaced each week…

…with the lines shown on the right in this picture. And the candle flames on the left……end up on the hymn board on the other side of the church.

 

 

September 12, 2019

The Importance of Cross Pollination in Worship

John Severns photo, Public Domain

The late Robert Webber will be remembered for encouraging worship leaders along the lines of “Ancient-Future” worship, but churches which are determined not to reach back to the hymns of past centuries might do well to at least heed the principle.

This week we discovered a new song being sung at a church we once visited, while the people were receiving communion. The song immediately resonated with us. After the service had played out, I found the proper title, the original recording artists, and some videos online.

I would teach this song in a heartbeat. It probably fits more into the “Modern Hymns” movement than it does “Modern Worship” but it had enough to offer to have been closing in on 3 million views online.

But then last night, we listened to it again, and followed up by clicking on another song from the same worship team.

Same key. Same rhythm. Same lead vocalist. Same lexical set.

By the latter, I mean that in some faith streams, there is a pressure to say certain things and to say them the same way. Each song is supposed to encapsulate not part, of all of the Gospel™.

We listened to a third song.

Same thing.

At this point, I turned to Mrs. W. and announced, “They’re plagiarizing their own music.”

Truly, it was partly that. It was partially an attempt to copy a style made popular by a particular husband-and-wife couple who are also leaders in this same sub-genre of worship. As the late Larry Norman once said comparing the present state of the arts to the Rennaissance, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.” We find things that are working elsewhere while 90% of the creative possibilities lie under-utilized if not undiscovered.

So to return to Dr. Webber, I think I would still teach the first song because it would form part of a set drawn from a larger catalog of available worship.

But if your church worship is all Hillsong, or all Bethel, or all Elevation, then it’s possibly not a healthy mix. In fact, if the trip back to the hymn area is too long a road to travel, I would suggest at least periodically looking to what you were doing ten years ago, and also occasionally revisiting the founding worship streams for the present movement, such as the original Maranatha! Music, Vineyard and Hosanna Integrity compositions.

There’s a value in cross-pollination.

It was getting late, and part way through the third song, my wife said, “I’m bored. I’m leaving now.” Each one of the songs was beautiful and lyrically rich, but as we would say to the kids at the dessert buffet, “You can only choose one.” We’d only heard three songs and we were starting to O.D. on this particular style.

For some reason, three songs from this worship family was two too many.

July 1, 2019

Earlier Modern Worship Songs Which are Still Viable

Long ago, in a time before Hillsong, Jesus Culture and Elevation; in a world uninhabited by Chris Tomlin, there existed another universe of praise and worship…

This list is comprised of songs which are not the most popular from the ’90s, but chosen by a criteria consisting of, “Would these songs work well with today’s congregations?” or, “Are these songs which could be re-introduced?”

Why this matters: There were some substantive songs which people who have been around church remember, but are not currently sung. The songs represent music for a demographic that is not longing for the nostalgia of the Gaither Music years — they aren’t that old yet — but longing for some connection to past songs where there is greater singability. 

This could include things from Maranatha Music, Vineyard Music, etc.

Statistically, the median age of established churches rises over time. The key is to keep this demographic engaged, but present music that doesn’t sound dated to the younger demographic churches are hungry to reach.

This is the list I assembled:

  • You Are the Mighty King
  • The Servant King
  • You Are Worthy of My Praise (I Will Worship With All of My Heart)
  • Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty
  • Above All
  • Glorify Thy Name (Father, I Love You…)
  • You Are My King (with 2nd verse)1
  • Once Again
  • Shout to the North
  • Majesty2
  • All Heaven Declares
  • You Are My All in All
  • Lord I Lift Your Name on High (with 2nd verse)
  • Trading my Sorrows
  • Open the Eyes of My Heart

Related: A History of Modern Worship Music

1 You are My King 2nd Verse
2 Majesty Extra Verses

June 25, 2019

Music Night!

On Sunday night my wife produced a worship evening under the title Stained Glass: We Are the Church. The first part of the title is a reference to the worship team; people from different backgrounds and different churches playing different instruments or singing different parts.

There are a few songs that stuck in my mind 24 hours later, and I thought I’d share them.

This one was new to me. It was a very, very powerful moment. (How had I not heard this? It’s got 97.5 million views!)

Early in the concert — and because I got to choose last — I balanced out our modern worship evening with something more hymn-like. This song is just old enough that some were unfamiliar with it. This arrangement is a little more jazzy than what we did!

Two of our team selected Hillsong compositions:

 

There were 13 songs altogether, plus readings; so there’s no room here for all of them, but these were four of the highlights for me personally.

 

 

May 25, 2019

For Those Whose Church Attendance is Down

Filed under: Christianity, Church, God, worship — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:28 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

Boston was one of our most unique expeditions. Really interesting city, American history machine aside. Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity…

February 4, 2019

People in Your Church — Not Just the Staff — Have Gifts

This concerns a topic that is recurring around our supper table. It was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it all out. Not the first time presenting it here, but I believe it’s still relevant, if not more so than when all this happened.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


January 6, 2019

The Church Today Viewed Through the Lens of Tomorrow

I have strongly come to believe that if Jesus Christ’s second coming does not otherwise interrupt the trajectory of Evangelicalism in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, that something like the following will be written about us in the not-so-distant future:

They allowed music to be an all-important feature of their gatherings to the point where it became a dominant factor in shaping their view of God and His ways and attracting people to their churches. They did so at the expense of songs of testimony, songs of proclamation, songs of commitment, songs of assurance, songs narrating the history of God’s people, and songs after the pattern of the Psalter which reiterate passages from the scriptures.

They created a generation with an incomplete picture of the work of the Church and the purposes of God; trading this to sing platitudes often distant from their hearts.

…At least that’s my opinion.

November 30, 2018

In Christ Alone: 14 Countries and Hundreds of Hours of Editing

Or…

The Choir Whose Members Never Met Each Other

…Several years ago I introduced readers here and here to the music of David Wesley. We go to the same church, and on Sunday, David led worship, this time around playing electric guitar. Is it ironic that a guy who plays so many different instruments is best known for acapella videos? Also, if you read our Wednesday Connect columns, you’ll also know that I’ve linked many times to his NoPro Worship training videos for modern worship leaders.

This is David’s third time putting together one of these virtual choir videos. This time around there were 48 singers — a handy number if you’re putting them all in a single video frame — representing 14 nations. The Stuart Townend and Keith Getty composition is a favorite of David’s and the arrangement is his. You get to hear his instrumental arranging ability (which we get to hear locally during Easter Week when about eight churches combine for a single service) but you’ll also recognize the trademark rhythmic vocals which characterize his acapella performances. [Check out all his videos at this link.]


Support David on Patreon: http://patreon.com.davidwesley
Facebook: http://facebook.com/davidwesleymusic
Twitter: @singdavidwesley
E-mail List: http://eepurl.com/cbc9o9

Sub-headline disclaimer: Some of the choir members have met each other.

September 27, 2018

A Worship Liturgy on Sin and Forgiveness

For the past few months, Ruth has increased her role as a contributor to Christianity 201. For last Sunday, she provided not only text, but two images and two song suggestions. After taking the time to format everything, I decided to share it here as well.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

September 3, 2018

Meditation for Labor Day

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

The Message Romans 12.1 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (italics added)

Jesus touched on the subject of work in an unusual parable of laborers hired at different hours but all receiving the same pay. For a devotional on that subject, click this image.

For several weeks now, Ruth has been more actively contributing to Christianity 201, our devotional blog, and especially our Sunday Worship feature. Many of the pieces are derived from the liturgies she writes for the congregation she leads in worship.

This is the Labor Day Weekend in the U.S. and Canada and she wanted to find some worship content having to do with the theology of work, only to discover that, from a worship leader’s perspective, there isn’t much out there. The second verse below, which some of you know better as, “Do everything as unto the Lord;” is a reminder that our worship life toward God is holistic. We don’t worship only on Sundays or only in song, but we can make elements of what Eugene Peterson (in the quotation above) calls our “everyday, ordinary life” an offering to God.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Labor Day is part of a weekend that historically stands to celebrate and honor workers and those who have worked to humanize working conditions. Part of that celebration, aptly enough, is a day off work. (And all God’s people said, “Woohoo!”)

And while everybody likes a day off, there’s more to work than just obligation born of necessity.

The God who created us modeled us after himself.

This is a God who imagines and designs and builds.

A God who plants and grows and provides.

Who teaches and directs and supervises.

Who looks after animals and cares for people.

And he put within us the same inclinations and capacities as exist in himself.

Whether we’re earning a wage, or just helping a neighbor in need, our work is a gift from the Father who loves us and made us to be like Him.


In the beginning, The LORD put the man in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Then God brought to the man every wild animal and every bird of the sky, so the man could give them all their own names.

In the same way, whatever work you do, do it willingly, with all your heart – working for the Lord, and not only for a human boss.

The soul of the lazy one craves everything and gets nothing…

But the wise one rises early, providing food for her household and jobs for her workers. She studies, and invests, and makes an honest profit;
She wraps herself in strength, because her arms are strong.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She learns her trade and uses her tools.
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out to the needy.
And when winter comes, she’s not afraid for her household.

The soul of the lazy craves everything and gets nothing…
but the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

So let the thief steal no longer, but let him do honest work with his own hands, so he has something to share with anyone in need.


O grant us, God, a little space
from our daily work set free.
To meet within this holy place
we’ve built apart for Thee.

But this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace and blessing you have sewn.

Around us rolls an endless tide –
labor and trade and care.
Today we choose to turn aside
for one brief hour of prayer.

But this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace and blessing you have sewn.

Work can be prayer, if it is wrought
as you want it to be done;
And prayer, by you inspired and taught,
can with our work be one.

For this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace
and blessing you have sewn.

– Scriptures based on Genesis 2, Colossians 3, Proverbs 13, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 4
– Hymn by John Ellerton, 1870, Edited by Ruth Wilkinson


Consecrating our work to God:

I wanted to include Take My Life and Let it Be as a conclusion to Ruth’s liturgy, but searched for a tune different from the traditional one, or the Chris Tomlin one. This one is sung in the UK, and uses the tune Nottingham by Mozart.

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