Thinking Out Loud

February 1, 2016

Know Where You Believe

 

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-DesignYesterday I got to visit a church in our community which offers a contemporary and a traditional service which run concurrently, with the contemporary service getting a video feed of the sermon when it begins. It was my second visit.

Opinions on music in the local church can often divide people, but this church found a way to satisfy both groups at once. Yes, the one auditorium demographic skews much younger and the other much older, but there is considerable overlap. I spoke to many people after the service; one was a couple (she’s turning 80) who much prefer the more modern service. The other was a guy half their age who much prefers the hymns and the organ.

hymnboardThere is a value to inter-generational worship, and much has been and is being written about this elsewhere on the internet. But both of these worship settings provide that accomplish this, even the demographics are more pronounced in each one.

The thing that got me however was one comment that certain people in the traditional service hold to an opinion that you aren’t truly able to worship God in the modern service, and look down on the younger worshipers condescendingly.

No, it’s not about the music.

The contemporary service meets in a gym.

Therein lies the problem. There are still a number of people who feel that you can’t truly worship God in a civic center, a community hall or a gymnasium; you need a sanctuary that has been set apart for this purpose.

(Given the choice I had when I walked into their building, I chose the gym because I felt I could make a better connection there; that the overall tenor of that service would resonate with me much, much more. I don’t mind the hymns so much, but to listen to the organ would have proved counter-productive and even a bit of a distraction.)

The story of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 is more than simply Jesus encountering a woman with a bad reputation; it raises theological issues as well.

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

She was raising one of the Samaritan distinctives: Where should one worship? She’s really choosing to enter into a debate on the thing that separates Jews and Samaritans instead of focusing on the things with which they agree. She’s not looking for a basis of agreement, but looking to argue doctrine. (She’d love the internet!)

But Jesus sidesteps the question entirely.

Stephen, in his one and only recorded sermon, reiterates this:

48  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?

I just couldn’t believe that the person described in my conversation yesterday seriously believed you can’t worship in a gym, but this mentality still exists in 2016.

If you agree with me that it doesn’t matter, take a moment to prove it. Turn away from your computer or mobile device, or close your eyes, and take a moment to worship God right where you are.

January 30, 2016

When Worship Leaders Actually Minister

This week, we had much discussion about a pivotal event in my wife’s worship leading career, that came about after I rediscovered this blog post in the archives. Even then, 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.


• • • 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.


November 28, 2015

A Lesson in Songwriting

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

Graham Kendrick

And a Lesson in Humility

A guy I don’t actually follow* got my attention on Twitter yesterday and I knew I had to share this today…

Graham Kendrick songwriting

Learn more about Graham Kendrick at this link.

*click anywhere on the quotation to link to Tim Lucas

November 14, 2015

The Pastor and the Worship Leader Need to Be Best Friends

Note to readers: Because we were away all day Friday, this post was scheduled before we learned of the tragic events in Paris, France yesterday. For that, we have no words.

I came across the article in the spring of 2007 in Worship Leader magazine, never realizing how it was about to change my life. They interviewed a number of worship leaders in the U.S. — magazines like WL are usually unaware that anything exists outside the U.S. — on the subject of their relationship with their senior pastor.

worship-leaderMany mentioned the need for friendship, the need to be doing things together outside the office. As someone who was involved in a weekly worship activity that resulted in a senior pastor relationship which was entirely “task related,” I suddenly figured out why I had the nagging feeling that something was missing. The WL magazine article very clearly articulated the disconnect I was feeling, and realizing that was not about to change, I quit doing that job at that particular church. 

Basically, I realized that I was a utility, an implement; and while he was willing to listen to my opinions about a variety of subjects, I was really there because I knew how to play the piano. Nothing more. But what to do with the extra time and creative juices?

I knew that I made the right decision each morning when I would log in to the internet. Both the readers of this blog and the writers at the vast number of other blogs I monitor each week have gave me a new ministry life that far exceeded the boundaries of anything I was doing previously. And it wasn’t a cold turkey ending to my music life: I occasionally still got to do a few things musically, but also reached an age where I was actually consulting with other worship leaders and getting to give all kinds of advice, some of which was actually respected.

But I often consider the question of the relationship between pastor and worship-person, and here is what I have concluded:

(1) It’s not enough to know where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding you and your congregation in the worship element of the service; you need to also have a sense of where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding the senior pastor in the teaching element of the service, and the other participants leading the service, too. You need to work, no make that minister well together.

(2) While the Holy Spirit is able to impart all kinds of information like this to you supernaturally, and while the Holy Spirit is hopefully leading both pastor and worship leader in the same direction, this aspect of ministry can only work well if the pastor and worship person know each other well as humans, as people, as friends. It’s only when I know the natural impulses and responses that a person manifests on a human level that I can truly appreciate when God is doing something unique on a given day on a supernatural level. You need to know each other well.

Worship leaders and pastors should be good, good friends. Maybe not BFF friends, but they should have both a good working relationship, and a good off-task relationship.

September 7, 2015

Labor Day Monday Music

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 am

It’s Labor Day, or as we call it Canada, Labour Day. Today I want to feature some worship songs that have appeared at Christianity 201. These aren’t necessarily the newest — many are >5 years old — but may be unfamiliar to some of you…

Apologies to those of you still on dial-up








Bonus track: Relevant magazine featured this song on a post last week, it’s been stuck in my head ever since…

Breaking new music: This is the song I mentioned on Wednesday’s link list. In future we’ll do a compilation like this of the various tracks that have been Video of the Week on past lists…

August 11, 2015

David Wesley’s Music Crosses Demographic Lines

Basement PraiseAs of last night, he had 27,629 YouTube subscribers. Four million views. Not too shabby. He performs and records and posts YouTube videos under the name David Wesley and we’ve had numerous contacts since he moved into our neighborhood a couple of years ago. I’ve linked to his videos before, but today I want to fully feature a couple of the more recent ones.

His album is titled Basement Praise and it’s available through the various channels listed below. And yes, he wears a different hoodie for each part and somehow manages to keep track of them!  These are new tracks that aren’t on the album, but the quality is consistent to the a cappella sound you’ll hear on Basement Praise.


Physical CD: Collide Media
iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/…
CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/david…
Amazon: (pending)
Google Play: https://play.google.com/sto…

YouTube: DavidWesley on YouTube

Facebook: David Wesley Music

August 4, 2015

An Alternative Worship Menu

Filed under: Christianity, Church, music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

I don’t get to lead worship now as often as I once did, but enjoy writing on the subject from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the platform. Recently Worship Links contacted me about doing a guest post for them, which ran last week. (I told they they’d have the first chance to run it.) Now it’s time for y’all to have a look at it here.


article for Worship Links

The Hidden Menu

The Roland keyboard our church bought more than twenty years ago had 32 basic sounds, but if you held the “A” bank key down at the same time as you turned on the power, a larger, 128-sound hidden menu unfolded. While we didn’t use them all, we used them frequently, though most of the time Piano-1 was the default setting, as I suspect it is at most churches.

In our family, the term “hidden menu” became synonymous with a whole lot of things. When the car CD player quit on a road trip, we were forced to scan the FM dial from top to bottom, and finding nothing to our liking, I said, “Where’s the hidden menu?” We don’t have cable or satellite and don’t watch a lot of television, but on one search throughout a rather large number of broadcast signals, my wife turned and said, “Try the hidden menu.”

Sometimes I find myself in a worship service where I keep thinking there’s something else we should be doing with that time. As someone who has spent years leading worship myself, I think I approach this time with a positive attitude, but there are days when I consider the possibility that just listening to the original recordings of the compositions and singing along might be an improvement on what the worship team is attempting. Or doing a morning of classic Christian camp and retreat songs. Or rediscovering some obscure hymns. Or getting all liturgical and mixing readings with chorus or bridge sections of songs for which we don’t need projected lyrics.

Then, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that perhaps I had already found the hidden menu.

About a year ago I wrote a blog post titled Who Says Youth Groups Won’t Sing? It centered around an eight-minute video posted by the Rural Hill Church of Christ, who operate a summer camp, which has a section at the front of one of their buildings called The Singing Porch. With no musical instruments, these kids were singing with a passion and energy that would be foreign to many churches, especially those small to medium churches trying to do today’s modern worship songs but without the luxury of Hillsong’s or North Point’s band, and thereby forced into a situation where the audience stands politely but is afraid to truly sing out.

I did some further exploration of the Church of Christ, and particularly their a capella music tradition. I listened to YouTube videos for hours. I kept coming back to the above mentioned video, especially “Let it Rise” and the part at the six-minute mark where they show a few seconds of “Get Right Church.” I know I might not be able to sell this at your church, but I kept wishing I could bottle some of this and take it to my church. Honestly, our relationship to many of the songs we sing on Sunday morning can only be described as passive. These kids were engaged.

Another way is possible.

That got me thinking about another experience we had, visiting an alternative service in an Episcopalian church and being introduced to the music of Taizé. This form involves taking very short lyrical fragments and building them into short pieces which are then sung in very easy-to-learn parts. It’s what we call a round in children’s ministry, but it wasn’t so long ago — recall “Father, I Adore You” — that this was part of weekend service sets. Taizé is more liturgical and more meditative. Call it soaking music for Anglicans. You can learn more at the movement’s website, or through a simple YouTube search.

Both the a capella style of the Church of Christ and the liturgical-flavored form of Taizé may seem too traditional for you, but studies over the past year seem to indicate that Millennials are looking for something more than what our Top-40 worship songs and bland contemporary Church architecture have on offer. The late Robert Webber proposed a model of blended worship that gave rise to the term ancient/future, but some of the surveys suggest some twenty-somethings are willing to just explore ancient.

I would wager to say that some of them are looking for the hidden menu, and I think you can consider other musical options without sacrificing the relevance of your preaching or the programs and ministries that everyone assumes are provide a younger demographic appeal.

July 25, 2015

Worship Moments

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

Last week we attended an outdoor Sunday service in which the focus was honoring and respecting God’s creation. Toward the end, I was reminded of a poem I thought we had posted here, only to learn I had done so on a different website. On Friday’s post at Internet Monk, there was a statement that “American readers will refuse to read poetry.” Reading the poem there, I was reminded again of the one below.  I know nothing of the author of this poem, which I had memorized when I was much younger; in fact I had always thought it was written by Tennyson. Some conservative Christians will bristle at the phrase “Mother Earth,” but I love the premise of the first verse and last verse especially.

IN THE WOODS

Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
   ceiling,
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
   feet,
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more
   sweet.

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
   lying
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs
   above.

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
   drawn,
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill
   dawn.

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
   pleasure,
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.

July 10, 2015

Hillsong and the Common Meter

If your church does modern worship, odds are that in the last few years you’ve been doing the song Cornerstone by Hillsong. This song 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. 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 recommend the very last one especially.

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 verses 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. 

Of course, one prominent, Calvinist worship guru would shut this down very quickly, saying you don’t tamper with worship compositions. I reserve the right to sharply disagree with him.

June 16, 2015

Finding Blog Topics in the Middle of Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 am

Applegate Christian Fellowship

On Sunday our church had its annual “Church In The Park” service. Since we normally meet at two different service times, it’s nice to have everyone altogether.

During the worship time, I couldn’t help but look around and see families and individuals in the unique out-of-doors context. There was one family that I’ve known for years, but their one child seemed troubled during the singing time. Another family that I’ve known a long time is new to this church and it was great to see them entering in wholeheartedly as we we worshiped. I saw a number of people who were by themselves and as this particular service especially caters to families with kids, I made a point to speak to one of them.

I also wondered how the four of us looked to others.

Every picture tells a story; each person is an unfolding story.

“Paul;” some will be thinking, “It was the worship time, and you should have been focused on the attributes of God, his love and majesty, and expressing your thanksgiving and praise to him.”

I guess I allowed myself this different track because of something my wife said to my youngest son earlier in the week about how she is experiencing that time in our weekend services. I asked her to explain:

As an introvert with eclectic music tastes, I find the ‘modern worship’ pool at the churches we attend growing increasingly shallow and, to be honest, uninteresting.  As we stand and sit and stand again during the ‘worship time’, I am less and less engaged in the singing, so I look around. 

I see a man who I remember going through a dark time several years ago and recall how God brought him through.  I see a woman still healing from her surgery, hands raised, eyes closed and a smile on her face.  I see a family, faithful attenders, working to stay close to each other despite disappointments and pain.  I see a woman trusting God for an answer in the middle of her weakness and anxiety.   And the weight, the power, the joy of what God has done in their lives, of what he is continuing to do, hook themselves into my heart. 

In looking into those lives I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness, love, healing and hope deeply and irresistibly.  In that, and in silence, I worship. 

This all got me thinking as well about how some of my fellow-bloggers say they have a tough time coming up with topics; that they never know what to write about.

Look around you.

There are many, many stories. If they are ‘too close to home’ then change up the names, locations and situations, but keep the essence of what you see. If you’re not a good storyteller, then generalize what you feel are the important themes that come to mind. (‘I’ve been thinking lately about…’) 

Summing this up, I think the making of a good writer involves (a) being out and about in the real world, and (b) being observant; having one’s eyes open. Even in the middle of worship when everyone else’s eyes are closed.


Photo: Applegate Christian Fellowship in Oregon. They don’t have to go to the park, they have this on their property.

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