Thinking Out Loud

July 15, 2018

Worship Planning is both Simple and Complex

I write a lot about the worship part of our church services because that is the area where I have served most frequently and consistently. If I had spent a lifetime serving in the church nursery, perhaps that would be the focus!

Years ago, when my wife was putting together worship sets, she encountered people who saw her work has very specialized and perhaps a bit mysterious. They viewed her adeptness at this with awe, often saying things like, “I don’t know how you do that each week;” or “I could never do that.”

The point is, at the basic level, they could do it. They could pick 5 songs and put together a worship set just as easily as anyone reading this could.

But in the modern worship environment, if you’re having to supply chord charts for band members, prepare presentation files for projection, deal with sound volunteers, and organize rehearsals; the job can get quite complex.

There are certain songs which just don’t follow other songs, usually for reasons of the pitch or key of each, but often for rhythmic or lyrical reasons. There are songs some churches don’t know and others that used far too frequently. A handful of popular ones today would go against the grain of the doctrinal position of certain churches.

Trying to be helpful to my wife, and as an occasional member of her team (I play keyboards, bass, incidental percussion and occasional guitar) I created the above document. It was a recognition of several things we were dealing with at the time.

First, it’s easy in rehearsals to under-communicate introductions and endings. Second, we sometimes feel instrumentalist on stage needs to be playing on every song, when in fact, the instrumentation would work better if some people took a song out to just sing. Third, it helped me personally visualize where some of the spoken readings fit into the larger set list, especially if I was only given a song set list, and the readings weren’t actually introduced until the actual service. Lastly, she was often run off her feet and I thought she’d appreciate the use of an organizing tool where churches didn’t have a budget for anything more sophisticated or personnel were still dependent on print resources.

Feel free to borrow it.

Yes, there is some complexity to all this, but again, if the demands are less complicated, this is something anyone can learn how to do.

Advertisements

July 5, 2018

Theology for which we Don’t Have Songs

This post originally appeared under the title,

When We All Get to Heaven

Rapture art

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

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

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

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

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

That’s rapture theology pure and simple. The hymn When We All Get to Heaven does talk about seeing Jesus and being in His presence, but implies that we are going to get to heaven, some place that’s out there.

Another example of a song under reconsideration, Onward Christian Soldiers talks about taking the cross to the world, but our crusade doesn’t appear to include demonstrating compassion or there being servant leaders among the soldiers. (Most people today agree that crusade is the wrong word; even the Billy Graham Association has dropped the term.)

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

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

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

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

It’s not that vertical worship we have is inadequate in and of itself, but perhaps the whole vertical form is over emphasized to the point we no longer have songs of proclamation that fit our doctrine as it is constantly being amended (i.e. the parenthetic reference to crusade above.)

As we re-think certain Biblical interpretations, our music — or specifically our musicians — should be tracking with our different doctrinal emphases.


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

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

June 3, 2018

My Favorite Worship Song Doesn’t Work Congregationally

The blue Pacific on a summer’s day
Rushing in to meet the yellow sand
The view’s terrific I see Monterrey
Lookin’ mighty fine from where I stand
The water dances in the sun’s reflection
A thousand silver birds fly in my direction
Now isn’t it beauty, isn’t it sweet perfection?

If someone were to ask me my favorite worship song, I suppose I could easily think of songs like “Shout to the Lord,” “Majesty,” “How Great Is Our God,” “Revelation Song,” and a number of hymns including “Our Great Savior,” which you may or may not know.

But not every praise song is meant to be sung congregationally, and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to take every great worship chorus and force congregations to sing songs that perhaps don’t match up with their personal expression of adoration to God. Sometimes we’re just meant to listen to someone else’s thoughts.

The song embedded below is an example of that. The late Tom Howard wrote “One More Reason” with a first verse that expresses the beauty of God in creation that he is familiar with growing up in California, with its references to the Pacific Ocean and Monterrey; the spirit of which was captured by the person who made the tribute video. To sing this in our church, the first thing I would want to do is make that verse more generic, but I’ve never got around to writing different lyrics because I rather enjoy the song just the way he wrote it.

The sky is singing, the earth proclaims
Always one more reason to praise Your name.

April 21, 2018

Adding to the Difficulty of Singing Modern Worship Songs

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

When the musical aspect of the last ten years of modern worship is examined, the unique technical distinctive that will be remembered is what’s known as “the octave jump.” For reasons outlined in the video below, it has become a staple of modern worship. Unlike “the key change” which increases energy, but usually doubles the number of chords required for any given song, octave-jumping allows musicians to continue following the same basic chord structure, while the vocalists do the heavy lifting.

If we’re talking about a concert, then it’s the people onstage who are trained singers. However, in a church setting, the aforementioned vocalists are you and me, and the result is going to be vocal strain. Bungee jumping might be safer than octave jumping, and that’s allowing for the screaming when you first jump.

After two weeks looking at the issue of the pitch range of modern worship songs — especially when contrasted with their hymn counterparts — a veteran worship leader looks at octave jumping. We’re joining David Wesley in the middle of a series here, so if you’re up for more or are just a frustrated congregation member who wants to forward something to your worship leader (!) click through to YouTube — on the bottom right of the video — then click his channel name underneath the video.  On the other hand, you can just click here.

 

April 3, 2018

Cruising the Liturgical Worship Continuum

A few years ago, Evangelicals starting using words like Advent and Lent and Lectio Divina. While some purists probably thought this was the proverbial “Road to Rome,” some of us were thankful that the Episcopals, Anglicans and Catholics didn’t have a copyright on the liturgical calendar.

However, at the same time as this is taking place there is another distressing trend at the other end of the worship continuum. Increasingly, worship leaders seem blissfully unaware that there are songs which are especially suited for Easter Sunday and more disturbingly, Good Friday, or the mandate that these days issue to them.

I attended a number of Good Friday services this year and got to witness this firsthand. The lack of focus was rather appalling, however, as I said, the standard has been eroding for at least the past decade, to the point where younger worship leaders and worship planners have never had an Evangelical Good Friday service properly modeled for them.

I covered this in two previous articles:

One of the services I attended included Hosanna, which is a song for Palm Sunday and comes packed with the mood you’re not trying to create on Good Friday. Ironically, of all the services we attended or watched online, it was a capital “L” Liberal denomination’s church that got it right. We sat in a room with only 22 attendees and although there was no sermon, I give them 100% for liturgy and 100% for music in terms of capturing the intent of a Good Friday service.

This is a rant I will never stop. I’m sorry, but… well, here’s what I tweeted a week ago, possibly in anticipation of the weekend which was to follow.

It’s not just Good Friday, either. Thanksgiving has slowly fallen off the worship leaders’ radar. I’m not saying we need to sing We Gather Together or Come, Ye Thankful People Come endlessly; I’ll take a modern worship expression of the same theme. But the people choosing our songs apparently live in a total vacuum when it comes to awareness of the seasons in question. (And yes, I know Thanksgiving isn’t part of the liturgical calendar.)

March 4, 2018

Resource for Worship Leaders Who Aren’t Pros

Over the years I’ve shared some of the music of David Wesley with readers here or mentioned new videos in the weekly link lists. David does multi-track recording of Christian songs and posts videos of him singing each part, complete with a costume change for each track. I’m privileged to know him personally and to get to share conversations about worship in the local church. (If you’ve haven’t heard his music, I’ve embedded two videos at the bottom of this article.)

Today, I want to share a couple of the recent videos he’s produced in a new series called NoPro Worship: New principles, strategies, tips and tricks every Friday! It’s for people who aren’t on staff at a local church, or feel they’re no professionals, or no pro for short.

After a couple of getting-to-know-you videos where he introduced the series, he then looked conceptually at the Six Purposes of Worship in the Church. (Click to watch; that one’s not below.)

But then he moved into a really challenging topic: Does it matter where our songs come from? What about the life of the composer? What about the writer’s doctrinal perspective when it’s quite different from your own on key issues? He uses a really challenging example of a song that many worship wrestled with a few years back. Can you comfortably lead a tainted song? Check it out:

Then last Friday, he looked at the size of a worship leader’s (or church’s) repertoire. Is your congregation seeking freshness or familiarity? There’s also some practical advice on choosing songs generally. And how can worship be considered Spirit-led if you have to plan it all out ahead of time? After watching this one, if you give worship leadership at your church, consider subscribing to the series. And if you’d like to support what David is doing with this series, you can learn how to do that at the end.


For the first sample of his music, although he has more complex videos, I thought given the subject matter it was a fitting tie-in here to include this one, O Church Arise.

Finally, I had to include this one because my wife sings on it! This is David’s virtual choir and band — representing many different countries — performing an original arrangement of Nothing But The Blood.


Videos watched on WordPress blogs register on YouTube as views, but send David some “stats love” by clicking through (the YT logo in the bottom right when the video is playing) and watching a few more. And be sure to forward the NoPro Worship videos (or link to this blog post) to the worship leader at your church.

March 1, 2018

Cricket, Cricket

Many of us aren’t fans of the part of the church service where someone leads us into a pause for silent reflection. Part of us dies inside waiting for the sound waves to begin re-commencing. We become aware of our own breathing and then we swallow. Someone coughs. We hope we turned our phone off, as this would be the worst time for our particular ringtone.

I’m currently starting four mornings this week with The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence, a short book written by Henri Nouwen  in 1981. The book was written primarily to church leaders, but I love how he nails it on this subject in terms of what we all experience in such moments, which, as the rest as the rest of the book explains so well, is something much needed.

One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness. Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow. For them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up.

As soon as a minister says during a worship service, “Let us be silent for a few moments,” people tend to become restless and pre-occupied with only one thought: “When will this be over?” Imposed silence often creates hostility and resentment.

Many ministers who have experimented with silence in their services have soon found out that silence can be more demonic than divine and have quickly picked up the signals that were saying: “Please keep talking.” It is quite understandable that most forms of ministry avoid silence precisely so as to ward off the anxiety it provokes.

~Way of the Heart, pg. 52

I was intrigued by the line, “silence can be more demonic than divine.” I wonder what other well-intentioned forms and elements in our worship services are producing the opposite effect to what is intended because of the way we’re wired? 


There was another line in this section where Nouwen spoke of “driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words…” (p. 38) We crave constant input now more than ever.

There’s another excerpt from the Prologue to this book being posted tomorrow at our sister blog, C201.

A revised version of the book was published in 2003.

A few years ago I compiled a number of quotations from Henri Nouwen. They are collected at this link.

February 4, 2018

Worship: Do You Prefer Printed Map Books, or Phone Apps?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:39 am

We found this yesterday at the blog of Emily Howarth (tag line: Because writing a novel is too long) who writes from London, England. Click the title below to read at source.

The A to Z of Worship

I passed a contented fellow stroller of the pavements the other day. She looked in her 70s, other than that fairly non-desript. She was poring over a London A-Z, flicking through page after page of detailed map.

I am a recent migrant to the big smoke, so an A-Z book is the stuff of fables. A world before mobile maps exists online as a memory. In fact, it’s such a legend that the online people I imagine relying on them are hipsters. But here she was, poring over the pages and working out her route. I admired her choice all the way back to the office.

Her A-Z would not run out of battery. Once she bought it, she would not have to pay a monthly data allowance to keep using it. She would not be reliant upon mobile signal to guarantee it would load.

However, her map doesn’t also come with a telephone, diary, internet access, access to infinite other books and films, camera and even a calculator. It doesn’t fit in your pocket if you wear modern female clothing (that’s a discussion for another time though). And it doesn’t come with free upgrades every time Transport for London change their route or a new road is built or the access is changed in any way.

Each is reliant on a prior knowledge of how to use it. Each has it benefits. Neither is flawlessly perfect.

But each will get you to the same destination: God’s presence here on Earth.

This was the point where my mind got a bit … deep. I got to thinking of similar comparisons. With many things, we use a different route or route-finder to get to the same place. It got me to thinking about expressions of faith. Now before we go any further I want to take a moment to explain this is not a pitch for universalism. That’s a blog for another time. But I mean, when you think of church, what do you see?

How about incense and carvings?

Do you think of hymn books and candles?

Do you think of a lean-to and fans?

Do you think of guitars and ripped jeans?

Do you think of a living room?

Each achieves the same thing. Each is creating a place where a community feels comfortable to worship. A place where they can pray together, sing together, share communion-Euacharist-bread-and-wine together. Each comes with its benefits and each comes with its flaws. But each will get you to the same destination: God’s presence here on Earth.

 

 

January 7, 2018

Worshiping a Generic ‘God’ vs. Worshiping Jesus

On Thursday we looked at the trend in vertical worship and how it has moved us away from songs of testimony and songs of proclamation. I ended with the question,

In your church, do you think there is thought given to the horizontal-vertical dichotomy? Or the distinction between “I” and “we”?

which produced a handful of responses both on and off the blog.

One of these was from Kaybee, a freelance writer herself, former missionary, longtime reader here, and personal friend of ours. (I hoped we could catch her between assignments so that she could flesh out her comment in greater detail but that will have to wait!) She wrote,

Not an answer to your question – but I have always felt it important to specify in hymns and songs just exactly which God we are worshiping. In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour. They need to know it is Jesus we are worshiping, not just any god. Out of your list of 12 hymns/songs – so inspiring for those of us who know Him and love Him – if my calculations are correct, 9 do not explicitly mention Jesus’ name.

I had not given this much thought. What distinguishes the music at our gatherings from something that could be sung at a Unitarian service? (I’ve been to one; they did sing.)

My wife Ruth responded,

I agree to a certain extent, but as a “worship leader”, I have to embrace and acknowledge the whole personhood of the Trinity. Choosing songs that only speak of or to one of the three seems lacking. This is part of the challenge we face: touching on the multi-faceted nature of individually and corporately singing to and about an ineffable and complex God. No song is ever going to be theologically complete and no Sunday service is long enough, so it falls to the “worship leader” to choose wisely and lead well.

There’s merit in that, but I think Kaybee’s comment is addressing the times when perhaps none of the Godhead are being referenced. Besides the religious pluralism now present in Western society, why is that? I have one answer.

Where the traditional hymns had an advantage it was in the multiple verses. The more words written and then sung, the more specific the God being addressed, right?

Not always. Consider this song, pretending you just walked into the “Community Church” for the first time and as a unchurched person have no idea as to their theology and values:

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!

O measureless Might, unchangeable Love,
whom angels delight to worship above!
Your ransomed creation, with glory ablaze,
in true adoration shall sing to your praise!

If we truly can abandon our Christian perspective for a moment, the God addressed is only clear in the context of other hymns sung at the service, and in the prayers, the scripture readings and also the sermon. By itself, it’s not entirely clear.

Even the classic How Great Thou Art is not initially clear:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul…

That second verse is immensely vague, don’t you think? But the piece is redeemed in the third verse,

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

as well as the fourth.

Think about it. I think the best way to end this for today is to repeat Kaybee’s words one more time:

…In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour… not just any god.


Somewhat related:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones


Lyrics from Hymnary.org and Sharefaith.com. Never trust the results appearing on the Google landing page for any research you’re doing; in this case O Worship The King is attributed to Chris Tomlin. (And these computers want to drive your car.)


Homework:

Make a list of your twelve to twenty favorite all time hymns and then rank them in terms of

  • vertical or horizontal
  • “I” vs. “We”
  • specificity of God worshiped

January 4, 2018

Redemption Songs vs Modern Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:01 am

One of the luxuries — and they are few these days — of having ownership in a Christian bookstore is that if there is a title you wish to examine, but not necessarily purchase, you can always bring it into the store as inventory. Such was the case with Redemption Songs, a words-only collection of 1,000 hymns published a century ago. Somewhere in the house we have a much thicker version which contains music, but I wanted to see how the book looked in its present form, given that it’s still in print. As far as the store is concerned, we do get (older) people asking if we can get their hands on resources like this so they might enjoy some memories.

Although I’ve written about this before, I was once again struck by the difference in the lyrics — not the vocabulary, which is superficial — between the songs congregations once sang and what the modern church is singing today. Mostly I was seeing:

  • songs of testimony; reflecting conversion and then an experience of God’s deepening presence
  • songs of proclamation; declaring the life and teachings of Christ and the history of the church moving into a new era; as well as the doctrinal underpinnings of faith

Today, this is referred to as horizontal worship — we are speaking these songs to one another — as opposed to the vertical worship which is directed to God. Don’t get me wrong, there were

  • songs of worship and adoration

but they were part of a healthy balance of faith expression through music.

I keep thinking the present (and the next) generation is getting shortchanged.

My wife has a rather generic description of many women’s Bible studies she has attended.  They read a passage and then the group discussion question is, “How does this make you feel.”

People go around the circle giving answers which are rather subjective, personal, and sometimes rather ridiculous. I know how those exercises in group discussion make her feel. It’s all about me.

That’s how I feel about these worship songs. A few decades back, writers warned of worship songs that could easily be about “my boyfriend” than about God. I think today’s writers are more cautious because of this, but we still get songs that reflect a rather shallow understanding of the basics of faith, or who God is.

Writers often produce articles and columns like this with little regard to saying something encouraging about the songs which have been popular in the modern worship era. Let’s look at a few:

  • Shout to the Lord – the verses are vertical and personal, but the chorus is reminiscent of the Psalms
  • Here I Am To Worship – the only modern worship song I am aware of which was an answer in the New York Times crossword puzzle, the song is vertical but speaks of incarnation and God’s attributes
  • In Christ Alone – more modern hymn than contemporary worship, the song is personal (“my hope” “my strength”) like Shout to the Lord, but it’s rich in doctrinal substance.
  • Majesty – The Jack Hayford classic chorus is, like the hymn O Worship the King, an invitation to join in worship
  • How Great is Our God – A song of declaration of God’s attributes. I’d place this one in the modern hymns category as well because of its content and structure, and it will probably endure equally well.
  • Open the Eyes of My Heart – The Paul Baloche chorus is personal and vertical, but contains allusion to scripture which helps it break out of subjectivity.
  • Good, Good Father – This one is more recent, but resonated with congregations around the world. It shows how vertical and declarative can be blended in a single song.
  • 10,000 Reasons – This very Psalm-like song has a vertical chorus but a more horizontal set of verses.
  • One Day – This is a remake of an old hymn and a rather good one at that. The verses tell the wider story arc of Christ’s incarnation and look forward to his return.
  • Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) – Again, a remake of a horizontal song of testimony.
  • You are My King – A partial hymn remake of the classic Amazing Love, but also a declaration of personal conversion. Horizontal verse, vertical chorus.
  • Come, Now is the Time to Worship – An song of invocation which looks forward to Christ’s return. Horizontal, though vertical in an optional additional section.

In your church, do you think there is thought given to the horizontal-vertical dichotomy? Or the distinction between “I” and “we”?

I trust that, even as you’re reading this, there is a musician or two composing songs that are worthy of making a list of the best in the next five or ten years.


Redemption Songs may be ordered by vendors having a connection to HarperCollins. It comes from the UK, so allow 2-3 weeks.


Related:

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.