Thinking Out Loud

March 1, 2015

5 Perspectives for Power Point People

While it’s not listed in the New Testament, assisting the worship leader or worship team by being the computer graphics or Power Point person is definitely a gift, if not a spiritual gift. Here are some things on choosing who serves in this area, or if you are that person, the qualities needed:

1. You need to be really comfortable around a computer.

The goal is to minimize distraction and allow people the freedom to enter wholeheartedly into expressing their worship to God. The last thing you want is for the computer to decide to run updates in the middle of the service, and you need to know how to make sure none of that happens, or what to do if something goes wrong.

2. You don’t get to sing along.

Unfortunately, as much as you may love musical worship, you will eventually run into problems if you decide to sing along with the congregation. While playing various instruments with a worship band there are times I get to sing along, but there are also times I need to focus entirely on a particular instrumental part. Sorry, but you need a certain level of detachment or you get distracted.

3. You need to know the songs.

Most worship leaders I’ve worked with have their weekend set(s) established by noon on Thursday at the latest. Make sure you have the list and then give the songs — especially the new(er) ones — a listen on YouTube, playing each one several times.

4. You need to see yourself as part of the worship team.

That means attending relevant practices and being on time for the sound check. As much as you can track each song fully during the rehearsal process, you’re less likely to make errors during the actual service.

5. People need to form the next word before they sing it.

Your changes between slides need to occur slightly before people actually sing, because the brain needs to be able to tell the mouth to shape the words coming next. You can’t wait for the band to move on to that next line, you need to know exactly where they’re going so that you can get there ahead of time.

Again, this is not everyone’s gift. Placing someone in a position of trust here when they don’t have the necessary aptitude results in a messy slide presentation. I believe God wants excellence in worship. Band practices and rehearsals are a great opportunity for interested volunteers to see if this is a good fit. Otherwise, perhaps there are other areas of service for which they are more suited.

Bonus item:

6. People who do a great job with the worship slides might not do a great job with the sermon slides.

And vice-versa. Furthermore, in most churches the pastor’s sermon notes are often prepared in a different program than the program that runs the worship lyrics. They may even originate from different computers. The person doing the sermon notes need to focus on the sermon and intuit where the pastor is going next, even if the preacher stays somewhat close to a fixed manuscript. At this point in the service, a change in personnel may be the best way to avoid errors. This means your weekly schedule may mean you’ve got two different people working each service. But don’t change people in the case of multiple services; any issues arising in the first service — i.e. worship leaders spontaneously adds an extra chorus — are better resolved in the second service.

Writing about people needing time to form the lyrics reminded me of this video, where guitarists can see the chord that’s coming next.

November 30, 2014

Some High Church Music

I thought the Christian internet could use a little balance today. Our regular playlist of Bethel Worship, Hillsong United, Rend Collective and All Sons and Daughters will resume momentarily. You can thank me later for this:

November 11, 2014

How Things Look From the Platform

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:36 am

aka What the Worship Leader Sees

This is something my wife came up with four years ago. Have you ever wondered what the congregation looks like when you’re standing at the front leading? Fortunately, the ones the team notice most are the people really entering into worship; but if you look more carefully — and it’s not recommended — it probably looks like this:


October 30, 2014

Church Tech Gear: Feeding the Bottomless Pit

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-Design

Who’s up for some adventure?

Your mission Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to get at least 30 church of varying size to grant you access to their budgets for the last 30 years.  Your job is to pinpoint how much churches are spending on tech-related equipment for the worship center, sanctuary, main auditorium or whatever you call the place where people now are led in worship by bands using the latest in-ear monitoring systems, the loudest amplification and the brightest spotlighting and back-lighting that money can buy; all while lyrics, sermon theme teaser videos and message slides project on one or more screens. Don’t forget those broadcast-quality cameras, the licenses to show video clips and words to songs, and the software that allows parishioners to stream the service live or watch later on-demand.

Then, if those churches will allow you, dig deeper than the budgeted amounts and percentage increases over the years, and find out what equipment was purchased, how long it lasted, and how much of it was, by the mutual agreement of all concerned, trashed prematurely because something better came along. Or how much of that gear is still sitting in back rooms and storage closets without even so much as a yard sale or eBay offering that would at least contribute an offset to present spending.

Churches are spending a whole lot of money these days on technology-related stuff, and we haven’t begun to touch what’s being spent on word processing and communications in the church office, or tech spending on the place where children and teens gather. (Fortunately, except for parent paging systems, the nursery has been spared the hi-tech assault, at least I think so, my kids are well past that stage.)

As in government or charity work, everyone’s money is no-one’s money, and waste and inefficiencies abound. My point is that churches are quite capable of screwing up the stewardship process from within, so they don’t need problems coming from outside.

But that’s just what is happening.

For the second time, churches now face a round of having to replace cordless microphones and monitoring system because, for the second time, the FCC is proposing to auction off a section of the UHF spectrum in 2016 in which those devices operate.  This would render more equipment useless; a situation that some churches are still recovering from financially, not to mention community arts groups and private clubs and concert venues.

Are not landfills in the United States already overflowing with television sets rendered obsolete by the conversion to digital TV?

A petition asking the FCC to reconsider this has only two weeks — until November 12th — left to collect signatures.  You can sign the petition, and then forward this, or the article below, to the tech people in your church, your church finance and budget committee, and the musicians on your worship teams.

Read more about this at Technologies for Worship website


Ethics question: Should the winners of the frequency auction, if it happens, be forced to compensate microphone and wireless equipment owners.


Graphic image: From a recent article at Church Stage Design website.

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.

 

September 11, 2014

Veteran Christian Artists Offer Scripture Music Collections

“Wait a minute;” I can hear someone saying, “Isn’t all Christian music supposed to be based on scripture?”

Well, as true as that should be, even today’s vertical worship music is rather subjective in its composition and most CCM simply offers a Christian perspective on life, love and living and even that is often veiled. The two projects we look at today are remarkably different.

Michael Card - CD series based on the Gospels

Michael Card‘s collection of four CDs based on the gospels reflects an entirely different genre lyrically. Released between February, 2011 and July, 2014, the four albums aren’t exactly the old “Scripture in Song” material, either; but rather offer something refreshingly unique. The series is called Biblical Imagination and each has a book which corresponds to it, suggesting that the songs come out of the depth of study necessary to complete the books. Both books and music are distributed by InterVarsity Press (IVP), so if your local Christian music outlet only deals with Provident, or Capitol, or EMI, they might not have access.

For those old enough to remember Michael’s song Known by the Scars, the style is really unchanged. (Card is also the author of Amy Grant’s El Shaddai.)

The album I was given as a sample, Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel includes a very classical performance by Fisk University Jubilee Singers before settling down into more familiar Michael Card territory. Scripture references are provided, though here the texts are used more as springboards for more poetic considerations and impressions from the life and teachings of Christ.

I’ll be reviewing the accompanying book here at a later date, but honestly speaking, owning one of the CDs only makes me want to own the entire set.  If my remarks here don’t accurately convey the nature of this recording, it’s only because the beauty and depth is rather hard to describe.


Brian Doerksen and The Shiyr PoetsThe Shiyr Poets (pronounced ‘sheer’) on the other hand takes a more word-for-word approach, but with a conversion to modern English from the Hebrew and with the addition of recurring choruses as keeping with the structure of modern music. In many ways, bringing these texts into our century captures the heart and anguish of the Psalmist in ways we might miss with a cursory reading of the text.

The band is the latest project from worship leader Brian Doerksen composer of Refiner’s Fire, Come Now Is The Time to Worship, You Shine, and Faithful One. The sound is consistent with past Doerksen albums, a gentle, more intimate sound. (Foreshadowing this project was the song Fortress 144 from a few years back; a song Brian said was written especially to be a song that men could embrace in a corporate worship setting.)

On Songs for the Journey, Volume One the goal is to begin working sequentially through the book of Psalms, hence this album covers the first ten, with two bonus tracks. Yes, this is an ambitious project! The group used crowd-funding to partially underwrite the launch of the first project and probably would need to do that again to create successive volumes, as this has not been produced for a major label.

You can listen to an audio sample from Psalm 3, at the band’s website by clicking here, or watch a video from a Christian television program here and here. The physical album is only available in Canada, but you can download it digitally anywhere from iTunes

Again, there’s a lot going on in the Psalms that we miss, and this project accurately captures both the tension and the wonder.

 

 

July 10, 2014

Creating A Worship Song Set

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Worship moment

Although our friend Laura has been leading worship for a relatively short time, she comes to this from a background in choral music in a more liturgical setting, so many of the modern worship songs and gospel hymns that are familiar to Evangelicals have been to new to her. With that perspective, her approach to leading in our home church is always marked by a careful choosing of songs, crafting original readings, and a most-evident continuity of theme.

She was asked recently to write about the song selection process — the always challenging and even mysterious part of worship leading to those who have never done it — and we got her permission to use this here at Thinking Out Loud. I really appreciated how she was able to cut to the core issues; the things that matter. I hope you’ll copy the link for this and send it to anyone who chooses the music for any sized event at your church.

Planning A Worship Set

by Laura Steen

In scripture, we are instructed to teach “using psalms, hymns and songs from the spirit, and to sing with gratitude in our hearts” (Colossians 3:16). How, then, do we plan a worship set that will set the spirit free, and make hearts thankful and ready to receive God’s word? How do we become organized, yet flow in the spirit? How do we work within the tension of careful preparation and spontaneity?

Prayer – the most important planning element. We enter into prayer as we think about the needs within the congregation and songs that may speak to those needs. We ask ourselves … is there a theme we need to work with, is there something in the message that needs to be reinforced through the music, do people just need to know God’s heart? It is amazing where answers come from … other people, scripture, books we are reading, or messages we have heard. We pray for preparation in our own hearts so that we can enter into worship and connect the hearts of God’s people with Him.

Song Selection – easier said than done. There are so many songs to choose from! Once prayer has given us a clear focus for the set, this process unfolds. We keep in mind several other items; are the words meaningful and scripturally based, are they right for the voices and instruments we have to work with, do they move us from praise to worship of our God?

Transitions – important smaller details. These create a natural flow through the worship set, often assisting in freeing the spirit. Scriptures, prayers, readings, heartfelt words or images are used to offer encouragement. Sometimes, a planned pause can speak volumes! Images, too, can speak a thousand words.

Practice – it isn’t about perfection, but rather to prepare the leader and team to work together and to create an arrangement that works for the songs. It isn’t just about technicalities, it’s a process that frees us to discover what works best for the song – voices, harmonies, instruments. Practice roots us in the purpose of our leadership and prepares us for the unexpected. We want people to feel freed to worship as the spirit moves them.<

And finally, Gratitude – we are grateful to be able to be used by God for the purpose of preparing hearts, freeing the spirit and encouraging others … and, while the planning takes time, there is so much joy in making music for God and his people!

 

June 8, 2014

My Kind of Worship Music (and How I Heard About It)

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

I don’t actually follow every news story that is making the rounds. I pick and choose. So the tectonic activity taking place among the staff and elders of Mars Hill Seattle (i.e. Mark Driscoll’s home base) is on my radar, though I’m not tracking it closely.

Nonetheless, Warren Throckmorton had an article on Friday about the church losing a popular worship director, Zach Bolen.  I clicked the video clip of his band Citzens, and have to say that as a keyboard player, this type of sound is like water to a thirsty man. (Or maybe I just borrowed a similar metaphor from the song.)  Too much of American Christian music is guitar-based, Nashville-rooted and all sounds the same. Well, IMHO anyway.

There’s a great endorsement from the UK Christian music magazine Crossrhythms (which figures because the sound is more aligned with European Christian music):

Clearly Citizens have a bright future ahead of them. As Breathecast commented, “Musically, Citizens have created a patented type of indie rock that flutters with the electronic beat of Switchfoot, yet shimmers with the emotional intensity of Hillsong United. Above all, Bolen sings with a sense of honest gravitas; it is as if leading worship is more than just a day job. Rather, he sings with a deep-seated passion that can only come from a man who knows grace.”

Enjoy!

May 20, 2014

Saving Modern Worship

CCLI

Because there was so much interest in my short post on Sunday about modern worship, we actually got comments! That never happens here, despite a huge daily readership. This means that throughout Monday I was still engaging this topic, and it was then that it occurred to me that something that would have helped greatly this past weekend, and something I wish now I had included in my criteria for a broader, more inclusive song set, would have been to actually have a couple of songs that appear in the current CCLI top 25 list.

For churches that are concerned about copyrights, CCLI is the organization that makes it possible to see that mechanical royalties (not performance royalties) are paid to the appropriate songwriters and publishers for the manufacture of printed or projected lyrics. In so doing, they are party to great amounts of data about what churches in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, etc. actually want to sing.

By using these songs, worship leaders are:

  • using material that has been proven; songs that lead congregations into worship
  • choosing songs that might be reinforced throughout the week on Christian radio
  • selecting compositions known to visitors from other churches

Here is the current list for the U.S.

1 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)
Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
2 How Great Is Our God
Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
3 Mighty To Save
Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan
4 Our God
Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
5 Blessed Be Your Name
Beth Redman, Matt Redman
6 Revelation Song
Jennie Lee Riddle
7 Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Chris Tomlin, John Newton, Louie Giglio
8 Here I Am To Worship
Tim Hughes
9 Everlasting God
Brenton Brown, Ken Riley
10 Forever Reign
Jason Ingram, Reuben Morgan
11 In Christ Alone
Keith Getty, Stuart Townend
12 Jesus Messiah
Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
13 One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)
Brian Johnson, Christa Black Gifford, Jeremy Riddle
14 Your Grace Is Enough
Matt Maher
15 How He Loves
John Mark McMillan
16 Open The Eyes Of My Heart
Paul Baloche
17 Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche
18 Forever
Chris Tomlin
19 You Are My King (Amazing Love)
Billy J. Foote
20 The Stand
Joel Houston
21 Holy Is The Lord
Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio
22 Come Now Is The Time To Worship
Brian Doerksen
23 From The Inside Out
Joel Houston
24 Hosanna
Brooke Ligertwood
25 Shout To The Lord
Darlene Zschech

Here is the current list for Canada which is very similar:

 

1 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)
Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
2 How Great Is Our God
Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
3 Mighty To Save
Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan
4 Here I Am To Worship
Tim Hughes
5 Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche
6 Our God
Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
7 Blessed Be Your Name
Beth Redman, Matt Redman
8 In Christ Alone
Keith Getty, Stuart Townend
9 Everlasting God
Brenton Brown, Ken Riley
10 Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Chris Tomlin, John Newton, Louie Giglio
11 Revelation Song
Jennie Lee Riddle
12 Jesus Messiah
Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
13 How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
Stuart Townend
14 Forever
Chris Tomlin
15 Your Grace Is Enough
Matt Maher
16 Hosanna
Brooke Ligertwood
17 You Are My King (Amazing Love)
Billy J. Foote
18 Open The Eyes Of My Heart
Paul Baloche
19 Come Now Is The Time To Worship
Brian Doerksen
20 One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)
Brian Johnson, Christa Black Gifford, Jeremy Riddle
21 Beautiful One
Tim Hughes
22 Forever Reign
Jason Ingram, Reuben Morgan
23 Happy Day
Ben Cantelon, Tim Hughes
24 Shout To The Lord
Darlene Zschech
25 The Stand
Joel Houston

I’m not sure how recent this UK list is; it seems older. There are a couple of songs here that may be unfamiliar to American churches, although we are aware of them in Canada.

 

1 In Christ Alone
by Getty, Keith\Townend, Stuart
2 Shout To The Lord
by Zschech, Darlene
3 Here I Am To Worship
by Hughes, Tim
4 How Great Is Our God
by Cash, Ed\Reeves, Jesse\Tomlin, Chris
5 Be Still
by Evans, David J.
6 How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
by Townend, Stuart
7 King Of Kings Majesty
by Cooper, Jarrod
8 How Great Thou Art
by Hine, Stuart Wesley Keene
9 Psalm 23
by Townend, Stuart
10 The Servant King
by Kendrick, Graham
11 There Is A Redeemer
by Green, Melody
12 Blessed Be Your Name
by Redman, Beth\Redman, Matt
13 Come Now Is The Time To Worship
by Doerksen, Brian
14 Everlasting God
by Brown, Brenton\Riley, Ken
15 Faithful One
by Doerksen, Brian
16 I Will Offer Up My Life
by Redman, Matt
17 Knowing You
by Kendrick, Graham
18 Great Is Thy Faithfulness
by Chisholm, Thomas Obediah
19 Shine Jesus Shine
by Kendrick, Graham
20 Mighty To Save
by Fielding, Ben\Morgan, Reuben
21 Lord I Lift Your Name On High
by Founds, Rick
22 All Heaven Declares
by Richards, Noel\Richards, Tricia
23 Once Again
by Redman, Matt
24 Forever
by Tomlin, Chris
25 Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
by Baloche, Paul\Brown, Brenton

Despite the cartoon, please restrict comments to the issue of the familiarity and singability of worship songs; this was not a discussion of legal responsibility with respect to copyrights.

May 18, 2014

Modern Worship Movement Dead-Ended

Filed under: ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm

worship_tshirt

As of today, I have seen the future of the modern worship movement, and even now, I am convinced that we are not being well-served.  Today I got to observe the height of performance-oriented worship formatting; songs that were completely unfamiliar pitched in keys that rendered them completely un-singable. I also saw the approach toward casual dress of platform/stage personnel at its worst. I also observed song lyrics that simply cannot be supported theologically. Throughout it all, I was expected to remain standing.

Oddly enough, part of the reason we decided to take our free Sunday at this church was because of its history and reputation for outstanding worship. I really don’t want to be a curmudgeon, but I honestly feel that worship leaders to need to rethink some basics before assembling a worship set.

  • At least one hymn (yes, mostly for demographic reasons, but also for theological ones)
  • At least one modern hymn (as in Townend, Kendrick, Gettys, Sovereign Grace)
  • At least one modern worship composition that proved itself in the ’80s, ’90s or early ’00s.
  • For another two songs, you can have your recent modern worship songs, but try to go with something of substance. (Doerksen or Baloche for at least one would be nice)

There’s a five song worship song list I could live with.

In the meantime, if I were in leadership at the church we attending this morning, I would be convening an emergency meeting early in the week.

Just because your church has achieved success numerically is no reason to assume you’re doing everything right.

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