Thinking Out Loud

December 7, 2017

Free Open-Source Worship Lyric Projection Software

When we’re asked to lead worship at another church, I try to get as much information as I can about the congregation and which songs they have been singing and what a typical service looks like. However, on a more practical level, we also need to know what type of piano/keyboard they have and which presentation software they use for worship songs (PowerPoint, EasyWorship, etc.).

The church we’ve been asked to assist this coming weekend introduced us to something new in terms of software, and my wife was impressed with some of its features. Furthermore, it’s free. I asked her if she’d be willing to share this discovery with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

As a worship leader in my home congregation and occasional “guest worship leader” here and there, I enjoy writing, arranging, creating and sharing music and images that help people engage with Scripture and the God who gave it to us.

Over the years I’ve found no shortage of people wanting to sell me stuff to help the process. And fair enough.  A workman is worthy of his wages, after all.

But as a volunteer, I must say it’s lovely when, now and then, I come across a freeware or open source piece of software that has a lot to offer.  Most of the programs I use week to week fall into this category.

Most recently, we were introduced to VideoPsalm, a presentation program that describes itself as “missionware.” As with many freeware programs, this seems to be a labour of love (I didn’t even see a ‘donate’ button on the website). The terms of use simply ask the user to support a missionary/organization financially or in prayer and to “take a little more at heart the evangelical Christian mission.”

The functionalities are comprehensive — images, text, video, PowerPoint, scripture, announcements, countdowns… — with one particular addition I really like: It’s ChordPro friendly.  Which means that, with some editing, chord charts can be projected along with lyrics. (Now if only someone will develop a ‘lead line’ option to make teaching new songs easier. (Dear Santa…)) But this is definitely a nice feature.

As with any program, there is learning to do (for example, how to import a particular song from CCLI.) Video tutorials are available through the website.

For smaller churches or home groups, VideoPsalm could be a real God-send, considering the cost of the commercial presentation software.

…And for what it’s worth, a few other budget friendly (ie free) programs:

OpenOffice –  Word processing, spreadsheets, “PowerPoint” with thorough format compatibility

MuseScore – Music notation software with pdf, midi and mp3 exporting

SoftChord – ChordPro editor

Gimp – Image editing (like photoshop) with a lot of tools and options

OpenShot – Video editing software.  I haven’t used this one myself, but I’ve heard good things

StudioOne Prime – Nice audio editing program.  This is the free version, fully functional but lacking some fancier features

Audacity – A more basic editing audio suite, but quite user friendly and good for recording sermons and whatnot

 

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October 27, 2017

God’s Power? Yes, As Long as We Are in Full Control

If you grew up in Africa, the West Indies or even in the North American Black church, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about in today’s column.

Lord, send the old time power;
The Pentecostal Power

Although we sang that gospel hymn at many of our church’s evening service, indications of God’s power were looked on with extreme suspicion. While the Charismatic Movement had contributed to explosive church growth in many locations, the megachurch where I grew up was having behind-the-scenes meetings to discuss how far they were willing to let that movement invade our fellowship…

…I noticed her across the auditorium from the corner of my eye. Middle aged woman positioned ideally on the aisle for what she was about to do. We were singing a very lively hymn, possibly even the one above and the music at the church was quite loud as she started moving to the music, then stepping out into the aisle putting one foot ahead and back, and then one foot behind and then back. The aisle sloped slightly so she was moving forward and backward, up and down the aisle, though never far from her seat.

The ushers serving that aisle watched each other from the back for confirmation and then wasted no time. Swiftly she was confronted but apparently lost in the music continued the dance.

Then the unthinkable happened. They attempted to pick her up. She went rather rigid at that point — to avoid injury to them one would think — and they carted her out of the service like she was a large piece of lumber. She was perpendicular to the floor and one carried her head and shoulders while the other carried her feet.

I kid you not. Down the aisle and out the door. Never to return…

…Maybe your church has stories of people shutting down Charismatic expression. (The man who ran up on the stage at John MacArthur’s church to give a word of prophecy comes to mind. That was dramatic!) …

…One of the songs in that church’s youth group was “The Holy Ghost Will Set Your Feet A-Dancing.” This was a noble goal for those seeking the fullness of God’s Spirit, as long as things didn’t get out of hand. I don’t remember us doing much more than clapping to that piece. But then a discussion would follow about wanting what the Pentcostals and Charismatics had; wanting to see more of God’s power displayed and active in our church and in our lives…

…Today’s there’s the bridge in “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” which goes,

O, I feel like dancing.
It’s foolishness I know.
But when the world has seen the light
They will dance with joy like we’re dancing now.

My wife and I haven’t used that song much when leading worship, but when we did, we always skipped that bridge. The purpose of leading worship is to give voice to the congregation to express the worth-ship of God and their aspirations of response. Most of the people in our congregations did not feel like dancing in those moments, and if you’re not dancing, the song really makes no sense.

They would concur the second the line however, “It’s foolishness I know.” David danced before the Lord. Thank goodness we’re in the New Testament now…

…I’m sure the woman in my story recognized that our church wasn’t the best fit for her and eventually found a home in the many Pentecostal and Charismatic church springing up all over the city where you could take a few steps back and forth without being a distraction.

I wonder how many that Sunday night secretly admired her freedom?


It would be interesting to know what insurance providers and court judges would think of the physical confrontation I watched. Do not try this at home…

…And yes, YouTube would be several generations down the road, but this one would have been great to have captured. Today camera-phones would have been tracking her from the first few steps of her jig.

 

August 31, 2017

Could Your Worship Leader(s) Pass a Basic Theology Test?

What just happened? I was trying to make the connection between two elements of a single spoken section between two worship songs, but I figured I had just missed something. Someone came to me after the service and asked what I thought. I said I didn’t think it made any sense. They said they thought it was heretical.

Last night my wife and I continued the discussion.

A pastor was once expected to spend an hour in study for every minute in the pulpit. 30 hours preparing the sermon. I don’t know what the expectation was if they also had to do a different sermon in the evening service (back when churches had them) but I’ve known pastors who if they don’t hit 30 hours come respectably close. One I know these days always has books and commentaries spread out on his desk throughout the week; and the payoff is evident with each new message.

So if a worship leader is going to have five minutes worth of patter between songs, should they not spend five hours preparing that? I know worship leaders that have spent a long time, in addition to selecting the songs, in preparation for what they’re going to say at the beginning and little comments interspersed throughout the worship set.

So…

Could your worship team leader(s) pass an elementary test of basic theology?

Could your worship team leader(s) provide helpful counsel to someone who seeks them out after the service?

Could your worship team leader(s) deliver a homily; a message; a sermon if asked to speak in a format longer than the short song introductions they give at weekend services?

I wonder how much thought is given to this when interviewing prospects for paid positions in the modern Evangelical church?

Have you ever experienced really bad theology during a worship set?

Does your church let the worship leader say much or is their mandate to simply play music?

If the modern Evangelical expectation is that pastors have a Masters level education, should there be a lesser but similar educational requirement for worship team leaders?

August 25, 2017

Parts and Pieces of Praise Production

Yesterday we looked at some very superficial reasons which draw people into the larger music business with a hope that church musicians can understand their own music-personality type. Today we want to stay somewhat shallow (!) in looking at the raw practicalities of drafting the music for Sunday morning.

When it first appeared, yesterday’s piece‘s title was about motivation with this one being about methodology. Both are important and it’s something I first taught at a musicans’ seminar back in the — let’s just say a long time ago. You need the right people with the right building blocks.

treble clefFinding the recipe

If you look at a recipe, it’s always divided into two sections. First you have a list of ingredients, and then you have the instructions as to how you wish to use them. Worship planning is very similar. There’s a list of songs you want to use, but how do you blend and mix them? Perhaps there’s a song that is going to occur at the beginning and the end of the service. Possibly two songs might play off each other (i.e. How Great Thou Art and How Great is Our God). Some might stand alone, while others might combine into medleys.

Ingredients are key

You want to choose your ingredients carefully. Just as in baking, some elements might conflict. Some choices might be too spicy. Others might be too bland. In a salad, you go for color and music is no different. A seasoned worship leader will have about 5,000 songs in their head at any one time. Unless you get to plan a worship night, you’re probably only going to do about five songs. You have 4,995 songs to leave out.

What people are hungry for

Your job is to give people the means by which they can respond to God for his greatness and goodness, his holiness and majesty, his love and compassion; just to name a few. The songs should resonate with young and old, and therein lies a challenge. With different strains of ingredients (classic hymns, 20th century gospel hymns, Maranatha! Music, Vineyard, modern worship leaders, modern hymns, soaking music, Hillsong, UK-based songs, etc.) you can appeal to different demographics, or you can choose to present a more musically-unified selection. If you want to see a younger demographic, you also have to skew your choices to people who perhaps aren’t there yet. That’s risky, but some churches do this.

Appetizer or main course?

Some Evangelicals see the worship time as preparing the hearts of people for the teaching of the word. Some Evangelicals see the praise time more liturgically valid on its own. I personally lean more to the second position. Still you want to know what the sermon topic is so your two selections don’t conflict.

Toppings

A worship time will be rather uneventful if it is just straight singing. You want to intersperse related quotations, read one of the verses before or after singing it, include quotations, or even do a “story behind the song” type of introduction. Many leaders default to Psalms, but some congregants tune them out. But there are exceptions; last week in our church the readings were all from the same Psalm and the songs chosen around that.

A shared meal

One of the values of corporate worship is that there are things we can do together that we can’t do alone (i.e. just listening or singing along with an album or Christian radio station at home.) The music should somewhat exploit the congregational dynamics. There should be some lively songs (by whatever parameter you measure that in your style of church) and there should be some songs where the beauty of blended voices can be both heard and felt. There’s also a value to silence.

When people like the recipe, don’t take credit

It’s very humble to say, “God gave me these songs this week;” but better to deflect the credit to the creators of the songs, or best, God Himself. “This is a new song, written by a musician who God is really using to stir us to deeper worship.” Or, “This song really focuses on God’s knowledge and wisdom and helps us consider how the ways of the Lord are so much beyond anything we could understand.” With opening statements like that it takes the focus away from you; you’re seen rather as a hunter and gatherer of worship that’s already out there.

We’re part of a much larger banquet

Occasionally, I would remind our congregation of the vast number of churches that were joining us in worship across our city, across our denomination, and in our nation; and then I would remind them that in North America, we occupy a place at the end of the timezones, joining a worship service that has been taking place around the world that weekend. Just thinking about that now, I am reminded of its potential to reshape how we approach worship.

So those are the superficial factors. But there are also some very spiritual considerations. That would make a great third part to this weekend series, but Laura covered that for us so well I’m going to invite you to simply click here.

August 24, 2017

The Personality of the Platform People

So what attracts people to work in the music industry? A few years ago, writing under the title “Motivation for Music Ministry” (which is equally alliterative to the one chosen today) I looked at the traits of people in the music sector of the entertainment business listed below and extrapolated from that to make application to the church context. I also added one, at the end of the list, that I believe is more common only within Christian experience, though that’s not say that many musicians don’t have a cause.

Worship leaders: Perhaps finding what attracts you to music in the first place will help you understand your personality type as a musician.

treble clefPerformance

Some people just want to play. They live to gig. If you’re a drummer and you can’t sing, you’re never going to be center stage, and people might not even know your name, but that’s okay, right? The idea is to simply make music, either in a live context or in a studio. The busier the schedule, the better.

Profile

For others, being center stage is really important. They are attracted by the idea of being a name you would know. They might already have their own web domain. Or an agent.

Product

The goal for some people is just to make an album. They aren’t looking for bookings and they aren’t looking for fame. They just want to have that physical CD in a plastic case that they can give to their friends, and show to their kids some day. (“That’s neat, Mom. Too bad we can’t play it on anything.”) Sales in retail stores would be an added bonus.

Publishing

The nice thing about this as a goal is you don’t have to give a single concert or even be able to carry a tune. But if you can compose meaningful songs and get others to perform them your music can travel to places you can’t. For people who are happy behind the scenes, this is an achievable goal, though usually the singer/songwriter usually has their own material. For people who do perform, the goal here is getting their songs covered by other groups or solo artists.

Production

Just as there are frequencies that only dogs can hear, there is a smell in recording studios that only some people detect. To most of us, a 48-channel recording console looks intimidating, like the cockpit of a jet plane, but to them, the lights and dials create an adrenaline rush, or at the very least are all part of a day’s work. Their job demands that they live to serve the needs of others, but we know the names of many producers who have never recorded a single note themselves.

Profit

Although this can apply to any of the areas listed above, if we’re dealing with the area of motivation, then money can be a driving force. If you’re competent at publishing, performance, production, etc. and you need to pay the bills, you do what you’re good at.

Proclamation

This is the one I feel is more common to Christian musicians, though it’s not entirely unique since it applies to anyone who feels they have a message to communicate, whether it’s 60s hippies protesting the Vietnam War, or 80s rockers crusading for environmentalism. Today the message might still be anti-war, or racial equality, or perhaps gay rights. It is in this milieu that Christian artists raise their voices to express their faith or tell their story, though in the last dozen years, Christian music has been dominated by vertical worship which lessens the number of testimony or teaching songs being heard. We have, as Randy Stonehill put it many, many years ago, “the hottest news on the rack,” and so that motivates Christian musicians to make music which reflects their core faith beliefs.

…Of course, playing because you want to have a message to share is a noble ideal, but many musicians also fall into one of the other categories as well. They want to make an album, or achieve popularity, or be able to make a living from their art. That’s okay, right?

In Part Two we’ll look at some of the practical ingredients of worship, comparing it to a recipe that worship leaders bake each week!

August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

July 14, 2017

Having Fun With Common Meter

We’ve run this one by you twice already, but I still think you can enjoy this or do things like it, unless of course you’re a follower of Bob Kauflin, the Reformed worship guru who says you don’t mess with the original composition. That’s okay, Bob. You do it your way.

Cornerstone by Hillsong 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. But some did, especially on Sunday nights, which wasn’t always taken as seriously as Sunday morning. 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 strongly recommending the idea of ending with the last one here.

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 verse 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. You might want to do your own research and find other L.M. songs that work. And yes, the title of this blog post is technically wrong, but I like it better than “Having Fun With Long Meter.” And if you’re British, Australian or Canadian, just change “meter” to “metre” the way the word was intended!

June 29, 2017

Your Church’s Worship Playlist: How Many Songs is Too Many?

Worship Band 2This topic came up in conversation with a friend. His church wants to create a rather tight playlist of about 18 songs which would be rotated through. In other words, worship leaders would select from that list only. For me a whole lot of red flags surfaced. He dived into the web and found some articles on the topic:

A 2008 article at Practical Worship:

We currently have a list of about 50 songs (actually, it’s closer to 60, which means it’s time to cut a few), and every song has been chosen for a very specific purpose…To be honest, I don’t think I could find more than about 75 songs that we would even want to use in our church (either because of the lyrics or musical style)…having a small list means that we get to choose the cream of the crop. We don’t have any “fillers” (not that having a large list means you have fillers), nor do we keep any songs that have outlived their usefulness for us…

A reader commented:

You’re not taking into consideration the culture changes between churches. Some congregations are quick to learn and quick to remember, while others are much slower. Some can do a song 3 times a year without any troubles, while others may need to a song once a month for a year before people feel like they’re comfortable with a song.

A 2013 article at The Church Collective:

I feel strongly that the size of your song repertoire is not nearly as important as how frequently you sing any given song… While I would say we aren’t a super progressive church musically, we do have a good number of people that listen to K-Love/Air-1 and so, hear a lot of the songs during the week that we play on Sunday. The amount of time allotted for music is usually somewhere around 20-30 minutes given what we have going on during service that day. This translates to 6-7 songs per week depending on how I arrange them. I feel like repeating songs every 10 weeks or so has worked well for both congregational familiarity/participation and worship team excitement. Given all of this, I try and keep our repertoire somewhere around 70 songs.

A 2016 article at Worship Him 24/7:

At our church, we normally have 6 songs (24-30 min) each week. This would put us at 70-80 songs. That’s the ideal. We also have many older hymns and worship songs which the current congregation knows very well, so we’ve kept our range higher at the moment… 105-115 songs. This has been a big change for us. Prior to my arrival the repertoire was at 300 songs. Many people did not know the music and as a result worship engagement was low. Bottom line: a repertoire that is too big or too small can negatively impact your church’s corporate worship time. If they don’t know the music well, worship is difficult.

As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think this left the potential syllabus uncomfortably small for the churches I’ve worked with over the years. So I quickly dashed this off to my friend:

A Diplomatic Solution and/or Fresh Way of Looking at This

©2017 Paul Wilkinson Worship Consulting, a division of Thinking Out Loud Enterprises

Here’s another way of seeing it: Let’s say you’re planning a worship set that allows you time for 7 elements of which 6 are sung. Here’s a possible configuration.

  1. Open with CCLI Top 25 song [potential pool of songs = 25]
  2. Next, move to the new song you’re introducing that month [potential pool of songs = 1]
  3. Hymn of the week [potential pool of songs = 200 – 400 that this congregation knows]
  4. Interactive / Scripture Reading / Antiphonal Reading [non-music element]
  5. Recurrent song from congregation’s past [Week “A” from ~5 years ago, potential pool = 70; week “B” from ~10 years ago, potential pool = 50]
  6. New emerging worship song that’s on theme from the bottom 75 of the CCLI Top 100 [potential pool = 75] OR Song written by local church congregation member [potential pool = 2 or 3 probably at any given time]
  7. Close with strong worship song from CCLI Top 25 [potential pool =25; same 25 as #1]

The advantage to this type of thinking is that you’re working with a much tighter base on 3 of your selections (total is 26) but on the other 3 modules (#3, 5, 6) you’ve got potential expansion involving hundreds of songs.

Of course, this isn’t the way to choose songs weekly or it gets sterile, but over the course of a month you’re generally conforming to this.

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

The first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it.

I remembered something from years ago when I was working in Christian television. Unlike radio which used random station logs as representative samples, TV royalties were based on all logs from all stations all the time. When the ministry organization in question received some rather meager royalty checks for some tunes they had written, a situation emerged where (and this is a fairly direct quote from someone close to the process), “People who had never written a song in their entire lives suddenly found songs pouring out of them on a regular basis.” He was highly skeptical.

So economics can indeed be a wonderful motivator. I’m sure that the person who decides to modify an existing hymn or do a fresh arrangement takes time to study the lyrics and I’m not saying that some of these people don’t do this prayerfully, both before and after the process. 

Yes, I’m a cynic when it comes to such things. But you have to admire the ingenuity of finding a way to get royalties from songs heretofore part of Public Domain. A combination of total disdain and ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’

Occasionally these improvements to existing hymns simply don’t work. They involve a change in lyrical theme or rhythm or melody so as to constitute an unwelcome intruder. Like the guy who brings his accordion to worship team practice. Or the guy who wears a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral. 

Other times I fear that a generation of church musicians is being raised up to assume that this is how it’s done, and that adding bridges to existing hymn literature is the modus operandi of worship song composition.

But honestly, sometimes these new hymn versions can be the gift that keeps on giving. If the revenue is being plowed back into ministry, that’s great. Scripture tells us that we shouldn’t “judge the servant of another,” though honestly, I now find the cynicism was, in my case, somewhat contagious. But I’ll continue to “believe the best” that the starting place for adding a bridge or changing the chord structure of a song isn’t motivated by economics.

I hope you’ll do the same.

HCSB Prov 16:2 All a man’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord evaluates the motives.

February 3, 2017

Review: The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks

Zac Hicks should write a novel. In his book The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan) he proves himself as a master of analogy. Not one or two, but more than a dozen comparisons between the person you might see on the stage at weekend services leading us sung and spoken worship, and other ministry and non-ministry occupations with which you are familiar.

the-worship-pastorThe need for these comparisons is simple: Worship leaders wear many hats. Those who are paid full-time to do this vocationally at larger churches are definitely multi-tasking, but even in smaller congregations, the task of directing us, as well as leading the worship team itself, is multi-faceted.

For that reason, I would argue that for those who perform this function, this is a book that will be referred to on a constant, ongoing basis. The Worship Pastor is basically an encyclopedia of everything related to the responsibility of planning and executing what is, in many of our churches, up to if not more than half of the total service time.

The author has been writing at his blog, ZacHicks.com since May of 2009. His bio notes that he “grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, trained in Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary, and his current doctoral work is in the theology and worship of the English Reformation. Zac’s passions include exploring the intersection of old and new in worship and thinking through the pastoral dimensions of worship leading.”

Indeed, the brilliance of the book is his ability to speak to two vastly different audiences: Those leading in a traditional, liturgical setting, and those serving in a modern, free worship environment. In both cases those leading have more in common in than they realize, and face many of the same challenges.

Back to the analogies. At the book’s website, these are spelled out and it helps you understand the book best to restate them here:

Chapter 1: The Worship Pastor as Church Lover
Chapter 2: The Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic
Chapter 3: The Worship Pastor as Doxological Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Worship Pastor as Disciple Maker
Chapter 5: The Worship Pastor as Prayer Leader
Chapter 6: The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician
Chapter 7: The Worship Pastor as War General
Chapter 8: The Worship Pastor as Watchful Prophet
Chapter 9: The Worship Pastor as Missionary
Chapter 10: The Worship Pastor as Artist Chaplain
Chapter 11: The Worship Pastor as Caregiver
Chapter 12: The Worship Pastor as Mortician
Chapter 13: The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd
Chapter 14: The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect
Chapter 15: The Worship Pastor as Curator
Chapter 16: The Worship Pastor as Tour Guide

The title of the book (reiterated in each chapter) also deserves a second look. Hicks clearly sees the job as pastoral and would have those who serve in this capacity see it as nothing less. For those of us who have been criticized by pastors who felt their toes were being stepped on by a music director wanting to express this type of role in the statements, readings, and off-the-cuff remarks on a Sunday morning, this book grants them the authority to pursue their calling as a pastoral role. 

I couldn’t help but note that for a book written by a musician, this one definitely builds to a crescendo in its later sections. 

Wondering about that 12th chapter? “Death is the unspoken anxiety of North American culture…Our people bring all those fears right into the services we plan and lead. Each week, death is the biggest elephant in the sanctuary.” That one was fun reading. (Full disclosure, the chapter also deals with worship directors called upon to assist with funerals.)

Chapter 14 is actually a high point in the book and one that is anticipated throughout earlier sections. We’re presented with a worship flow (my word, not his) which then maps onto various liturgical and contemporary church service models, from Vineyard to Anglican.

But what about choosing some songs? Hicks doesn’t get around to anything as pedestrian as song selection until Chapter 15, and he does it in a rather unique way: By calling on the various ‘people’ in the previous models he is basically asking us to consider what songs ‘they’ would choose. (As a practitioner, I once commented that a longtime worship leader has heard about 5,000 compositions, but song selection isn’t about the five songs you choose, but the 4,995 you have to leave out.) He applies this also to choosing prayers (and how they are worded) and considering transitional segments.

Through the use of illustrations from the author’s experience, this book is accessible to all, however having said that, I believe it is also written at a somewhat academic level, thus I would expect The Worship Pastor to appear in textbook lists for worship courses. For those who want to go deeper, the footnotes represent a vast array of literature which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see Hicks explore those writers in greater detail. (The Worship Pastor: Director’s Cut, perhaps?)

My recommendation? This should be required reading for both worship leaders, singers, musicians, and senior pastors.


zac-hicksThanks to Miranda at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to read The Worship Pastor. Any physical resemblance between Zac Hicks (pictured here) and Steven Curtis Chapman is purely coincidental.

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