Thinking Out Loud

September 12, 2016

Selah

guitar-solo

The Saturday Ramblings column at Internet Monk always proves interesting. It’s basically like our (occasional) Weekend Link List, but they tend to feature different types of stories.

Like everyone else, they’ve been captivated by what Adam Ford is doing at Christian fake news site, The Babylon Bee; and recently featured the item below, which sparked me to get creative. First, the article:

Ancient Documents Confirm ‘Selah’ Best Translated ‘Extended Guitar Solo’

ISRAEL—Ancient documents uncovered by archaeologists working in the West Bank confirmed Friday that the disputed term “selah” present throughout the Psalms and Habakkuk is actually best translated “extended guitar solo.”

While many scholars had previously believed the Hebrew word referred to either a period of quiet reflection, a musical pause, or a time of heightened musical crescendo, the recent discovery of scrolls in remarkable shape lend overwhelming evidence to the theory that the term actually instructed Hebrew worship bands to shred across all six-strings in a blistering, melodic guitar solo.

“This is an astounding find—it really can’t be overstated,” biblical archaeologist Dr. Thomas Earl told reporters excitedly. “While we knew that Old Testament worshipers often incorporated instruments into their singing of the Psalms, we had no idea that biblical worship was often accompanied by a gratuitous, performance-oriented electric guitar solo.”

Other experts in Old Testament language studies have confirmed that scribbled on the back of one of the newly discovered scrolls was a piece of tablature notating a rudimentary version of famed guitarist Slash’s soulful solo from hit single “November Rain.”

“While many Christians have cautioned against excessive use of showmanship and flashy musical performances in our times of worship, well—it seems like the Scripture now confirms it’s okay to wail, if the Spirit so moves,” Dr. Earl continued.

This prompted me to leave prose behind with this free verse concoction:

The lyric screen goes blank.
The guitar solo begins.
We stand there.
And stand there.
We have heard this solo before.
It’s a copy of the one on the album.
We take a deep breath to sing the next line.
Nope.
Too soon.
He’s going for another eight bars.
An older woman sits down.
A small child follows.
They’re dropping like flies.
The computer guy puts the next verse up in anticipation.
I’ve lost the worship vibe completely.
Now I just want the song to end.
This isn’t right.

Guitars in Church

 

August 4, 2016

C201 Songs

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:53 am

In the sidebar at Christianity 201, there are a number of worship songs linked with devotional articles we’ve done there. Many of these would be recognizable to those of you who feature modern worship in your church or listen to Christian radio, but I thought today we would include some which are a good fit here at Thinking Out Loud which may be know to some of you, but not others.






July 30, 2016

Self-Centered Worship Leading

A few years back I was sitting in the large auditorium on the grounds of a denominational campground. We were just coming up to the message, and the person chairing the service remarked about the great acoustics in the place and suggested we stand and sing the simple, one-word chorus, “Hallelujah” acapella. I was looking forward to this.

He started us off, but then, instead of going off-microphone, like you do in these situations, he just kept wailing into the mic, with the result that while we got to hear a little bit of what it might sound like if it was just the sound of our voices, we mostly got to hear the sound of his voice.

leading acapella in churchDoing this correctly is a worship-leading technique that is basic. I would have thought everybody knows this.

I should say that this a very, very personality-driven denomination, and one in which the parishioners play into the leader-driven culture by not doing anything unless their pastor tells them to do it. So while it’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s entirely possible that the second he appeared to stop singing, they would have all stopped. That would be funny.

(The solution to that, by the way involves leading with your arms. The rhythmic one-two-three-four type of hand waving you often see done in older churches is actually orchestral conducting, what you really want to do is accent the sung syllables, which is closer to choral conducting, which is also visually more worshipful.)

Anyway, I told all this to my wife a few days later — this actually happened several times, involving How Great is Our God and one other song — and she very accurately said, “that is so very dumb and so totally self-centered.”

Self-centered. Ah, there’s the problem. The secret of church leadership, no matter what your role, is to know when to get out of the way. By that I don’t mean knowing when to retire (although that’s important, too) but knowing when not to take center stage, when to let things just take place organically; when to let things be congregation-led and not top-down.

In a modern church culture that is saturated with rhythm sections (drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards, etc.) singing acapella is a refreshing change. But the entire point of the exercise is to allow the congregation to hear the sound of their own voices in a single blend. The smallest measure of musical instincts would tell you to set the microphone aside and if absolutely necessary, lead with your hands only.

That didn’t happen. It’s why it didn’t happen that concerns me. It betrays an ego so incredibly large that it affects the quality of the ministry taking place. It’s an obstruction a time in a worship service where you want to minimize distractions. Granted, I suppose you need a bit of ego to want to be on the stage, or want to write the book, or want to go on Christian television. Introverts don’t gravitate to those positions.

However, let me go on record as saying that introverts probably make the best worship leaders. Choosing a worship staff member for your church? Pick the person who exhibits the greatest humility.

July 17, 2016

Worrisome Worship Words

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

Worship BandWe are the sons
We are the daughters of God

I get the sentiment, which is appropriate to the times we live in. But as someone recently pointed out, in Bible times a son had an inheritance, which a daughter did not. Perhaps it would better, even if female, to be able to say you are a son, having full rights and privileges. However, I will defer to those just trying to be politically correct.

Yahweh, Yahweh,
We love to shout your name, O Lord

This one really grates on me because the Lord’s name in this form was generally not pronounced, let alone shouted. A Wikipedia article (on YWYH, the Tetragrammaton) mentions Philo’s teaching that “…it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place…” and “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come!” Such is the prohibition of pronouncing the Name as written that it is sometimes called the ‘Ineffable’, ‘Unutterable’, or ‘Distinctive Name.'”

Our God is greater
Our God is stronger

There’s nothing wrong with the lyric per se, the issue is where the emphasis (accent) falls musically: OUR God is greater, OUR God is stronger. It sounds like a moment in an apologetics debate where the discussion got reduced to a schoolyard level. ‘Oh yeah? My God is bigger than your God.’

Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know

A song bridge best left out, in my opinion. I can never say that anytime in the last two decades where I’ve sung this song that I felt like dancing. But I sometimes sung the words anyway. (Which is foolishness, I know.)

I want to touch you
I want to feel you more

I always wonder what visitors think when hearing this song for the first time. I’ve heard the expression, ‘prayers that touch the heart of God,’ but this one is a little less clear even in context of the rest of the lyrics.

My sin, oh the bliss
Of this glorious thought

I just wanted to be fair; it’s not just modern worship that has awkward lyrics. I would place the offending line in parenthesis, or use em-dashes, just to be clear.

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

So much has already been written on the “sloppy wet kiss” line that I hesitate to mention it at all. The goal in leading worship should be to minimize distractions, yet this one has distraction built in. But the opening line begs you to stop and say, “I want to see where this going before I continue singing.” Yes, God is described as a jealous God. But if these are the opening lines, I want to read it over before I sign the contract, so to speak. And I can say that because I am a tree.


After writing most of this, I came across these articles:

 

July 1, 2016

The Music That God Likes

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favorite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fiber of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

 

~Ruth Wilkinson


Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

June 19, 2016

What’s going on with modern worship?

This weekend on the blog we’re introducing Australia’s Luke Goddard who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened to Father (he explained the title to me). The article here appeared on his blog in April, but as a bonus, in addition for permission to reproduce the one below, he wrote an article just for us which appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

This is a fairly lengthy piece for some of you, so as an alternative, some of the same material is covered on Luke’s podcast, Filtered Radio. (15 minutes) To leave a comment direct on Luke’s blog, click this link.

Ever since the 1970’s, Christian rock has had a large audience through praise bands in front of churches and in record stores (yes, physical record shops with actual music in them) through Maranatha! Music in California. Here is their history from their own website:

“Maranatha! Music was founded in 1971 by Chuck Smith Sr. of Calvary Chapel, to promote the “Jesus Music” his young hippie followers were writing and singing up and down the California coast. In the early years, Maranatha! Music started signing artists because of their passionate profession of faith through music. These songs became the influential calling card of the worship music genre of that time; they belong to the Maranatha! song catalogue today. Back then, the songs considered unsuitable for the ‘traditional church’ were still being sung by millions of young people around the world.  Pastor Chuck Smith, Chuck Fromm and Tommy Coomes were among the leaders of Maranatha! who were serving the church at that time.  The mission these faithful men began continues today: It is still the song of faith that leads people into the presence of God.” (Maranatha! Music, 2016).

baptism

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony.

With this movement of musicians filling churches with hippie hair, ripped jeans, big beards and hip, melodic, catchy rootsy tunes (much like todays scene…) it gave Christianity something “alternative” to hang its hat on with music. Something wholly original, organic, birthed out of revival and centred on Jesus Christ. However, as this movement progressed, praise bands became more “mainstream” in churches, replacing hymn books and congregational singing led by a conductor to a band-led church experience with worship leaders being born out of this movement.

The 1980’s – Some good, some not so good…

In the 1980’s when the “self-esteem” reformation hit (which I touch on here), the music became part of a much larger “engineered” sound that was “planned” to be a part of moving an atmosphere into a particular direction. Since churches became larger, and the people attending became more broad in age, musical taste and preferences, the service had to accommodate this if it wanted to keep them in their seats. So they polled the world, and guess what? The world hates hymns! In fact, the world loves rock music! So soft rock became the weapon of choice for megachurches around the globe, and these growing churches appeared healthy (aesthetically), so smaller churches across America and Europe and Australia began mimicking every successful large churches’ praise band style, making it infiltrate even the most resistive traditional church. The tidal wave approaching was too big to hide from, so rock-music-infused praise bands got their way. They became very, very common. The problem is, this was a fad. Not the praise band, but the style. It had to change. So ever since the Calvary Chapel Jesus People praise music has maintained its rock roots, but simply undergone various degrees of changes in sound to catch up to the world. Right now (like, today in fact) Electronic Dance Music is the norm. Blending electronic drums with heavy synth, washy guitar, minimalistic dance beats and even programmed loops that contain sound effects, hits, pops of music or samples are all the norm amongst 13 year old and over-directed youth bands, and arena style churches. This style has gained traction existentially through the Hillsong Young and Free. This band catapulted the use of straight out trance synth, pulsing beats and using stabby samples into music, forming a catchy, melodic, dance-infused power trance feel, whilst somehow pretending to maintain that their music is Christian in theology and truth. Anything could be further from the truth. Here is a sample of one of their more recent efforts that has a huge following on radio:

I lived
Heart on a wire
Hand in the fire for so long
But You’ve shown me better
A new kind of love
It’s ever the one I want

I’m lifting you higher, higher
There’s nothing that I’d rather do
A sweet elevation of praises
There’s no one I love more than You

I never knew a love like this before
The kind of life that I cannot find on my own
I’ve seen the world but I have never been so sure
That I want Your heart
God, I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

Your love, like nothing I’ve seen
My wildest of dreams don’t come close
Life never no better than living like this
I cannot resist You Lord

I’m lifting you higher, higher
There’s nothing that I’d rather do
A sweet elevation of praises
There’s no one I love more than You

I never knew a love like this before
The kind of life that I cannot find on my own
I’ve seen the world but I have never been so sure
That I want Your heart
God, I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

And after all this time with You by my side
I can’t imagine what it’d be like on my own
I’ve made up my heart, this love is all I’ve got
And You’re the only one I know worth living for

A sweet elevation of praises
There’s no one I love more than You

I never knew a love like this before
The kind of life that I cannot find on my own
I’ve seen the world but I have never been so sure
That I want Your heart
God I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

Peeling back the layers is all it takes to have a good hard look at the overall theology of a movement or band, and like with Jesus Culture’s fixation on super sentimental love songs to God that are purely based on experiences, feelings and romanticized lyrics about our Holy God, Y&F manages to do the same thing but with a different musical style altogether. It’s the same infiltrating heresy of sappy love songs to God, but wrapped in different beats for clothing. The truth remains the same – the bands that have sprung from churches that preach complete heresy most of the time end up singing heresy in almost all of their songs, bar the odd one or two that remain orthodox. It’s hooking youth, young adults and parents into a wider, bigger, vaster movement called the “New Apostolic Reformation,” as well as mega-church purpose-driven philosophy which is absolutely contrary to God’s written word. And it has to stop!

So, back to rock as a sound… The rock scene took over praise music for the praise songs at the beginning of the praise band era in the early 1980’s, and songs were categorized quickly into “fast” and “slow” songs, which led to the traditional “2 fast songs/2 slow” etc. technique we now have today. Rock riffs began to make up the base recognition of a Christian song, instead o the lyrical content, and the way the song made the congregation “feel” began to swamp the use of songs. Instead of songs that were well written and musically beautiful, songs were written to create a particular mood for the service. So, loud punchy songs were used for the introduction to church, then music slowed down on cue for “worship” time after this. The music shift from singing a numbered hymn in a book of 4 or so verses, interconnected with a strong chorus sung in unison disappeared once “singing in the spirit” became a real thing. This technique was largely developed in Vineyard church through the Toronto Airport Vineyard Fellowship, that was the catalyst for the Toronto Blessing, which I speak of at large in my podcast. The sound developed from the “soaking” practices there, where one loses themselves in God’s presence and empties their minds, only to bathe in the music and feel washes of God’s love. This is an eastern meditation-linked musical technique, achievable with anyone anywhere with the right instrument, though, and has been proven to be a mind control technique in many studies. The simple fact is that with emotional and musical manipulation you can get people to believe anything, even wrong doctrine, if you sound sincere and emotional enough at that time. The fixation on modern bands to a persistent latch onto heavy synth drones, invoking emotions during preaching using music, and tactics that lead to using music as a prop in part of a larger production – the church service – has led to a cardboard cut out style of music that every modern worship band ended up trying to emulate. It affected preaching, teaching, service length, evangelism and even discernment in the church. Its all linked to watering the gospel down, and a ploy to destroy the overall power of the gospel. Instead of focusing on Christ, the gospel, the cross, God’s nature and what He’s done for us as sinners, songs are now written to show our devotion, make us feel happy (Planetshaker’s This Is Our Time highlights this tenfold) and steer our attention to how much we can do for God in our face-crunching work to please God with our dedication. This discusses how it got to that point.

What happened to theology?

Early church songs used to be God-honoring colorful palettes of sound biblical doctrine that exalted the cross, Christ, God’s holiness and other characteristics, focused on salvation of the sinner, and were easy to sing in a group. Since the early 1990’s contemporary Christian music in church has been rock focused (in music style). Guitar was introduced – even the worship leader used it to lead from (as I have done). Electric riffs became a high point in a song. Worship leaders were wearing what most rock acts were for that era. Congregations singing certain catchy lines together became the norm. In the late 1990’s Hillsong’s sound developed into a standard, setting the stage for what was to come for a good 9 years. I followed their music and played every major song from their albums from 2002 onward in many churches and ministry trips to other congregations. Their worship style became mainstream. The building riffs, the drums leaping into staggered fills to build to a chorus, the delayed, layered guitar with massive reverb. It all became “church music,” and it was good. It was seemingly harmless to have different instruments introduced over time. Entire YouTube tutorials are out there on how to achieve a “worship guitar sound” (and I have a pedal-board that achieves this if I want it). For a while it became an effortless success. But something happened right after Hillsong’s worship director changed. When Darlene Zschech left the ministry of Hillsong as senior worship director in 2010, the theology, sound and direction of Hillsong took a turn when it was handed to Joel Houston, son of Hillsong Sydney’s senior pastor Brian Houston. The theology disappeared from their music. It was subtle, in that there were always a few doctrinally sound songs on each album that followed, but by and large some theologically rich songs such as “God He Reigns,” “Mighty To Save,” At The Cross,” and “Worthy Is The Lamb.” These songs, that now sound quite dated, did contain some great theology and truths about God that are indeed found in scripture. But along the way somewhere the great writing & composition of Darlene got lost and each worship leader from Hillsong got the chance to flex their creative muscle and, well, a significant portion of Hillsong’s tracks became void of deep scripture-rooted theology. For example, “Children of the Light” from 2012’s Cornerstone album has a chorus of:

Set alight to follow
In the shadow of Your Name
The world is Yours and I know
Everything will find its place
Under Your Name

and the bridge is rather bizarre and jumbled in thought:

Children of the light
Blazing through the night
Taking back what the devil had stolen

Calling on Your Name
Breaking every chain
Jesus everlasting freedom

Running through the wild
Dancing in the fire
Taking back what the devil had stolen

Calling on Your Name
Breaking every chain
Jesus everlasting freedom

This kind of messy theology that’s vague, romantic and “cool” sounds great in a modern song structure… but doesn’t work well as a God-honoring song that will turn people to a resurrected Saviour: Jesus Christ. It certainly whips up a storm, but the heart of it is shallow and empty, like a foil wrapper that looks like a chocolate that is found to be nothing but a prank.

DSCN8793

This kind of writing by and large continues to plague modern music, from Hillsong’s extension band “Young and Free” to United’s youth albums, to Planetshakers and many younger generation bands. Everything seems very well engineered and edgy-sounding, yet somehow the reverence, awe and wonder of the God of the universe and His redeeming Holy Son appear absent. Large mega-church bands seem to have a penchant for selling large volumes of music, yet a deep neglect for the true heart of worship – pointing people to their risen King with deeply scriptural words that point people to Him in song as they sing together. The entire premise is to make music so exciting sounding, so emotional, so irresistible that there is no escape – some kind of emotion is evoked, but the truth is that a deeply satisfying, truly awe inspiring experience of worship can be found in a tiny church in a country town that only has two musicians, an old building and some committed Christians who fear God attending. The phrase that everything traditional is the “frozen chosen,” is a lie, and I have discovered this since leaving the Pentecostal scene and opening up my eyes to what God is truly doing in the hearts of men and women and children in other denominations that hold to Christ as their Saviour. The division that insulting traditional or creedal churches has produced is easily spotted when a team from a Pentecostal youth ministry comes invited to a traditional church to preach, and the young person gets up and rants on about how little their congregation is doing, how old everything is and how they have to change everything they do otherwise they’ll die a slow death. This is simply not the case! Good theology in song, even if it’s played in a modern context – is still a rock of a foundation for the church, and boosts the spirits of the congregation because it solidifies their belief that the scriptures are inerrant, that God is sovereign, that salvation is of the Lord, and that there is only One God and One Holy Trinity. This cannot be done with washy, romantic lyrics that flatter God and elevate man – this actually stunts true worship and a true understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ and His relationship to us.

Atmosphere. A god?

There’s a well documented story on how Elevation Churches’ staff told a disabled boy that he could not continue to worship with the congregation because he was “a distraction.” It highlighted, publicly, a major flaw in the modern evangelical belief of a worship service, and that is that it is about “feeling good” when a certain atmosphere is present. That atmosphere is one of fun, laughter, carefree, jubilation, reflection, silence, listening and quiet contemplation. This is all achievable in a controlled environment, but not in a random one. If I brought my 4 children to Elevation’s worship service they’d make noise. Not much, but enough to grab my attention if they wanted it. I would look at them, open my eyes, attend to their needs, tell them off, take them to the loo, look around, ponder, then shut my eyes again. At Elevation. That is because their worship style is modern – and by that I mean studio recording, arena stage, concert quality modern. It leaves no room for congregational singing. It’s a show. It’s filled with loud guitar, loud drums, loud PA, loud voices, loud leaders, loud devotion. But what about those who cannot sing in the key they’re in? They just stand by and watch the show. What about those who make noise and cannot focus on the songs? Well, they miss out on the atmosphere too. What about those who are disabled and maybe have a degenerative muscle condition that has forced them to drool and wear a bib and groan during speaking? Well, they’re part of the “atmosphere ruining crowd.” These people aren’t young, hip, with it, focused and driven… so they cannot be part of the service. Not in the same room as the band that’s for sure. Is this separatist? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes! Many people have attended church for millennia who have all kinds of issues with their bodies or minds, only to stay and hear the preaching and be saved, prayed for, ministered to, sung next to and encouraged. This is Christian welcoming and hospitality. This is what heaven is like – non-favoritist. Christians are to seek the good of their brothers and sisters, and build each other up in their Holy Faith, which has been delivered once for all the saints! When making noises during a service has become a reason to be booted out, then something’s wrong with the high view of corporate modern worship over the dignity of individuals made in God’s image who have come with their parents to listen to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, lets get real here. I’m a worship leader & musician myself. I have been since I was 20. I started in youth group in Adelaide before I even had a girlfriend, and most certainly didn’t take in the brevity of what I was meant to be doing – pointing people to a crucified, risen Saviour who died for all mankind’s sins. Whilst learning how to worship lead in the Charismatic church, I had to learn from other worship leaders who would visit church how to do this well. I simply went by how they viewed the worship leader role, and what they concluded was a successful worship style/set/show for that congregation. It was usually information from the largest churches at the time e.g. Hillsong, Saddleback and Willow Creek, and the Contemporary Christian Music scene sound being translated into church as rocking as it could be without being irreverent. I only had charismatic, mega church worship leaders to learn from. Not accompanying musicians that served to back a congregation singing together, but rock stars who had their own albums who played electric guitar, drums, sang or played piano and led worship from any of these instruments. I only knew this model. So I learned about raising my hands. I learned about smiling politely the entire time so that the congregation were also smiling with me, mirroring my emotion. I learned about hearing from the Holy Spirit during a particularly quiet moment, or a moment building up to a crescendo from nothing, and riding it out. I learned how to play between songs and make them “flow” together well so that there were no “dead spots” in between the music (because that would kill the “atmosphere.”) I even learned how to lead a team like a business man leads a company using similar tactics and applying them to Christian men and women under me. The problem was that everything was a tactic to manipulate the congregation. Literally lead them into feeling certain ways at certain times, using certain sounds. Pad-esque sounds on guitar for quiet moments, overdrive and reverb for building choruses, yelling things into the mic that are positive when a moment builds & quietening down when things seemed to peter off. These are “leading” tactics I used to get what mood I wanted whenever possible. And they’re repeatable. And can be used anywhere to create a sense of expectancy, even if the preacher/teacher/speaker being introduced for the evening is heretical or downright blasé with handling God’s word. There is a real sense that a worship leader can create an environment that’s harmful to the people he’s meant to be leading in song, if he’s not careful at all. And this has happened many times. How many of us cringe when a band starts playing a hard rock line when a youth ministry leader hops up on stage to preach? It’s like introducing a WWF wrestler, only worse because it’s Christ’s holy church… and the preacher is meant to be above reproach, humble, able to teach etc….

worship1

Church only looks like this… apparently

It’s a matter of telling the congregation to, “raise your hands… let go of your thoughts and drift off into mysticism…. don’t worry about anyone else around you… just go crazy… sit… stand… do whatever you want right now to worship the Lord…” And this could be used to get the reaction because the music matches that atmosphere. However, when you have 4 children, a wife, a job, a family, a car loan, a study assignment due… a schedule to keep… that “drifty” atmosphere can be snapped out of at any moment because of someone needing the toilet, a baby nappy change required or simply having to discipline someone for being too loud. This tactic only works in the right situation. It rarely works when responsibility, wandering thoughts and seeing through the light show occurs. There is only one audience that this works for – people who are on their own or a couple…

I’m saying all of this because there are better ways to do things than “what everyone else that’s a big church is doing.” Most modern churches have a formula and strategy for lighting, sound design, sets, props, target audience and feelings & comfort of the seeker. This is only valid if the point is to glorify Christ in it. There is no room in the church for excessively expensive sound design if it’s purely to entertain the sinner so that he feels more comfortable, because unless that church also couples it with preaching repentance from sin and forgiveness in Jesus Christ through His shed blood, then it’s absolutely money wasted, week after week, item after item. That’s simply an engineered attempt at pleasing the masses so that they’ll think Christianity is “relevant” for the sake of being relevant. No other. I’ve seen good examples of this, and bad, and everything in between as a Christian. Many pastors would balk at the idea of simply having a modern building and style of service purely for the comfort of sinners… the goal has to be that once people are there that they ultimately hear about our resurrected King who was crucified and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. That’s always the goal of a pastor and a church – to preach Christ and Him crucified. This modern style of atmospheric worship can almost be pinned down to a few movements and people, but by and large it has been pop culture and charismatics that changed the landscape of worship for this last 4 decades. This quote from Matthew Sigler of Seedbed sums up how these are linked:

    “Many forget (or don’t know) that “contemporary” worship was inextricably linked to the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This connection forged a musical style that was rooted in a particular understanding of the Spirit in worship. Specifically, the singing of praise and worship songs was understood sacramentally. God was uniquely encountered, by the Spirit, in congregational singing.

Several important aspects of this theology of congregational song are worth highlighting. First, a premium was placed on intimacy with Jesus in congregational singing. This emphasis was largely due to the influence of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Though he was not the first to say so, Wimber emphasized that the Church needed to sing songs “to God” and not “about God.” Lyrically, this was manifest in the frequent use of the personal pronoun, “I.” Just scan through the catalogue of songs published by Vineyard Music during the 1980’s and see how many of them emphasize the importance of the individual engaging the second Person of the Trinity in the lyrics. While the intimacy motif wasn’t new in the Church, it was an important development in what would become known as “contemporary worship.”

So what’s the alternative? Well, it’s simply to cut out the excessive stuff that’s been plaguing the modern worship scene for so long. The lack of use of well thought out theology in songs, the lack of real depth to lyrics, the absence of Christ and Him crucified being the focal point of worship, and to utilize a wide variety of sounds instead of electronic dance music alone, followed by slow synth ridden layered Coldplay knock-offs. Hopping onto Bandcamp and searching for bands that contain “worship” as their tag quickly reveals a wonderfully colorful texture of a variety of peculiar, interesting, unique and barrier breaking music that will satisfy that longing for another way out of the same sounding stuff. Granted, there’s some weird stuff too… but some gems are hidden there for our eyes and ears. The sound of modern worship has begun to copy the world, and that alone is a poor footing to begin a movement from. We need solid writing again, reverence for the scriptures in song, attributes of God brought into our singing, and more songs that congregations can wholly sing together. Instead of 20 people standing around watching three people play their favorite songs each week in their comfortable keys, lets have that many people singing every line together of a modern hymn and bring back thoughtful, prayerful and decisively Christian music again. The church is begging for it!

May 3, 2016

Car Repairs, Hats, and Propriety in Weekend Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

So about three years ago, I was speaking with a couple who operate their own automotive repair business. They were telling me how their primary purpose in attending church is to worship God, but people like to use Sunday morning to discuss car problems or even book an appointment to get some work done.

Okay. In a way I totally get that. Most of the ‘fellowship’ that happens in the lobby before or after church isn’t true spiritual fellowship. It consists of talk about the hometown sports team; how the kids are doing in school, piano and soccer; and the weird weather we’ve been having this year. Not so much of, “So what’s God been showing you this week?” Or, “I gotta share this verse with you I was reading yesterday.” Or, “Anything I can pray with you about over the next few days?”

That doesn’t happen so much. Maybe more in the U.S. than in my home country of Canada. But not a whole lot.

Talking in ChurchBut what really got to me about this couple’s story is that people were requesting consultation and wanting to book appointments during the offering (okay it’s like the seventh inning stretch in baseball at some churches), during worship choruses (well, in some places it is more like a rock concert than a worship opportunity) and even during a prayer (ouch!). Remember, they weren’t standing in the aisle passing out business cards, people were coming to them.

Now, I love that worship services in western Europe and North America are slightly more casual. That necktie was choking me all those years and those shoes just plain hurt. But have we gotten too casual? Is a whole generation of church-goers emerging that has no sense of propriety; no sense of what it is supposed to mean to come into the presence of a holy God?

We got a comment on a old blog post here about guys who keep their hats on in church. Normally when I comment on a post that old, it’s spam and I’m all set to delete it. But this time…

Yes, now it is my turn. We can debate whether it is a matter of “custom” or a matter of scripture; I affirm the later. For 1900 years, the matter was clear: Women are to be veiled in church, men must not cover their heads. This is based on 1Co 11:2-16 and was understood this way – as I said – UNANIMOUSLY in ALL churches of Christ for two millennium! Now, in the WEST women took off the veil and became pastors – which is a severe discontinuation of Apostolic practice UNIQUE to the Western churches, esp. Protestants. And it is in THIS setting, that men became increasingly indifferent as well and started wearing their baseball hats to church a only couple of years ago. Also: Shorts are worn to church, and shirts are no longer tucked in – the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips. Watch out: That’s contemporary Gnosticism! Where are these brave leaders who address misbehavior like this and put an end to it?

Now, you might just dismiss this a comment from an ultra-conservative reader, but I don’t. Not completely. That sentence, “…the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips;” is the part that haunts me.

There’s a trend emerging, but where is that trend taking us? Some say to just relax because in a few years, the men at the bank and the real estate office will be back to suits and ties. (In our town presently, the only person who wears a suit is the funeral director.) But is a whole generation that’s known nothing but casual Sunday likely to go formal? (And don’t even get me started on parents who let their children treat communion as snack time.)

Typically, I find that people in blue collar jobs tend to dress up for church, while people in white collar jobs tend to dress down; at the same time as everybody tends to be very casual in their approach to weekend worship. Even the concept of weekend worship is a compromise which allows those who choose to have their entire Sunday free to play golf, picnic, visit family or head to the beach.

…In the meantime, I feel for this couple who owns the auto shop. When this happens to me, I feign memory loss and tell them, “I can’t remember business stuff that happens on Sunday morning, but if you write it on a piece of paper, I’ll put it in my shirt pocket and deal with it on Monday.” And I actually do try to hold back some stuff to the next day. Furthermore, my job could justify getting them the answers they want because I could argue it’s kingdom business.

The auto repair couple are trying to live their lives by a higher standard and are no doubt unimpressed by those who choose to violate their time of worship. If you were they, how would you respond to a mid-service request for brakes, steering or transmission advice or a service appointment?

April 23, 2016

Three Decades In, Steven Curtis Chapman Declares “We Believe”

Filed under: Christianity, music, reviews, worship — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Next year will mark 30 years since the Kentucky-born guitarist released his debut, First Hand. He’s taken home more hardware from the Dove Awards than any other artist: 58 to date. Hard to believe then, that his 23rd album, Worship and Believe (Essential Worship/Reunion Records) is his first worship-themed CD. From the first note, it’s definitely a SCC album, but the new genre fits like a glove.

There are 15 tracks on the physical CD, but only 11 songs. The last four cuts are live versions — recorded at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas — of studio tracks heard earlier. (The deluxe digital version tosses in two more live versions.) Having said that, there are a few of the studio tracks that have the immediacy of a live concert. There’s a freshness to this album, rare in a market that is often over-saturated with worship releases.

Chapman’s joined by Matt Maher, Rend Collective and Chris Tomlin, with an overall sound reminiscent of many of Tomlin’s recent releases. The compositions are songs of bold, confident declaration in the greatness of God, such as “We Sing for You,” “We Believe” and “Amen” and sung with a conviction that matches the lyrics. He describes the latter:

The ‘Believe’ part of the album’s title is a reference to Zondervan’s BELIEVE, a 30-week church curriculum series from Randy Frazee; a partnering which came about after Chapman traveled with Frazee for The Story tour.

These are many songs here that I think your church will be singing in the future. Enjoy!


with files from YourMusicZone.com, Wikipedia, iTunes, Charisma Magazine and the artist’s website

No review copy was supplied because, “Nobody does record reviews anymore.”

April 17, 2016

Worship Weekend

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:54 pm

I had something planned for today, but I want to take more time to get it right. This is a series of songs we presented in October (and one from April), 2011 at C201; so definitely not new, but worth a re-listen. Maybe it’s your first time for some of these…

When mountains fall I’ll stand; by the power of your hand
And in your heart of hearts I’ll dwell; that my soul knows very well


 

I have felt the wind blow,
Whispering your name…
I have seen your tears fall,
When I watch the rain.

How could I say there is no God?
When all around creation calls!!
A singing bird, a mighty tree,
The vast expanse of open sea…

Gazing at a bird in flight,
Soaring through the air.
Lying down beneath the stars,
I feel your presence there.

I love to stand at ocean shore
And feel the thundering breakers roar,
To walk through golden fields of grain
With endless bloom horizons fray.

Listening to a river run,
Watering the Earth.
Fragrance of a rose in bloom,
A newborns cry at birth.

How can you say…

I love to stand at ocean shore
And feel the thundering breakers roar,
To walk through golden fields of grain
With endless bloom horizons fray

I believe
I believe


You are holy, great and mighty
The moon and the stars declare who You are
I’m so unworthy but still You love me
Forever my heart will sing of how great You are


 

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.

February 13, 2016

When the Work of the Local Church is Neglected

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

It was 1989. The big city Christian bookstore closed at 6:00 PM on Saturday nights. At 5:30 he walked in and we got into a conversation where he let it be known that his reason for shopping was that he needed to buy an accompaniment tape as he was booked to be the “special music” at church the following morning. He wanted to listen to a few songs and “get some ideas.”

This wasn’t a small country church. This was a church that would have about 1,500 people in each oftwo services. The next day.

img 021316He had left it to the very last minute.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when something similar happened at another Christian bookstore about an hour from where I live. The people needed six copies of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.

They needed them for Saturday. The owner of the store wondered if I had any ideas.

Yes, I do! Plan ahead!

It amazes me how people can show up for work on time, pay their bills before the due dates, and never miss an oil change on the minivan, yet seem totally ill-equipped to do anything related to the church until it’s the last minute.

Historically, the typical stereotype was the Sunday School teacher who pulled out the lesson plan after supper on Saturday and spent ten minutes “going over it.” Is it too idealistic of me to imagine that somewhere there were Sunday School volunteers who began the process mid-week and actually allowed their minds to consider the lesson and fresh ways to present it? I certainly want to think that.

There’s a law in economics that states that everyone’s property is no-one’s property. What that means in this context is that many in the local church have simply never taken ownership of the life and ministry efforts of their local congregation.

img 021316aOne of the worst musical habits I picked up involved a group of instrumentalists who would be tuning their guitars or bass guitars and then, at a certain point, stop and exclaim, “Well… Good enough for gospel.”

Good enough for gospel? Is that what we’re aiming for? Simply good enough?

I was in church the next morning when the guy sang his solo. He did good, but not great. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew the story; the half-hearted, last-minute approach that had gone into preparing to minister in music that day.

 

 

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