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.

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July 6, 2018

The Problem with Christian Music

While I don’t want this to be a defining feature of this blog, we have recently discussed some of the problems with Christian radio and the related problems with modern Church worship music. And now we’re doing it again.

A few notes: The video is 14-minutes long. I don’t know the creator. It was posted just over a year ago and was sent to me by a friend. I’m not endorsing every sentence in the video script, but I think this deserves a growing audience.

 

June 11, 2018

Becky Goes to Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

I introduced this graphic less than 90 days ago when we were discussing Christian radio playlists.

[M]y wife pointed out something that the more I thought about it, the more profound it seems. She said something like, “There’s more variety on any given contemporary Christian music album than what is played on Christian radio.” In other words, the songs chosen to be the single off the albums tend to get chosen because they all match the station sound and therefore they all sound alike.

In my mind, I envisioned the diagram where each line represents the range of the songs on any given artist’s album — some exploring a greater number of musical genres — and the dots representing the songs selected to be featured on the radio.

Wouldn’t you like to hear some of the songs from the edge of each artist’s collection?

The article then proceeded to introduce Becky, the imaginary customer for what Christian radio has to offer.

But the hard reality is that Becky does indeed park the minivan once a week as she and her family attend church. There, the decisions being made about which songs to sing are being made along similar criteria, and in fact, there is currently an all-time high in overlap between the recurring songs at churches doing modern worship and what the Christian radio industry is promoting.

It’s basically about which songs work and the chosen few songs are those which are compressed into a narrow range stylistically, but also compressed into a narrow range vocally because, without the SATB parts breakdown of hymnbooks, everyone is being compelled to just sing the melody…

…In our community there is a church which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church many years ago. I’ve visited on many occasions and have described their worship as a blend of songs drawn from Catholic folk liturgy and modern worship. Recently however, the pastor corrected me and said, “Actually, we’re mostly just doing modern worship now.”

I felt a little sad. The diversity of music offered at churches in our area now stands as a binary choice: The hymns still sung by Mainline Protestants and the modern worship of Evangelicals.

A worship leader I spoke with yesterday described the pressure to do a song, “just because it’s popular;” despite his theological misgivings about some of the lyrics. We also talked about songs which need a spoken introduction describing the background and how a church might do this the first week, but if it fails to continue this in successive weeks, people don’t understand what they are singing; necessary in some cases as songwriters seek out fresh language or metaphors to describe scriptural truth.

In terms of style, full marks to those churches that continue to pursue a greater variety of music. The ones that still have solo pieces. The ones which include an occasional string quartet. The ones which reassemble a choir for Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately, in order to do that, you need a large pool of talent to draw from, which is why we see this type of thing at North Point or Willow, but not at the church around the corner from where you live. Mostly now it’s a matter of having the basics: A guitarist, a bass player, a drummer and a keyboard. For whatever reason, God did not distribute the gift of drumming equally around all the churches. Perhaps we’re meant to do more sharing in this department…

…I’m sure somewhere in this blog I’ve championed the value of doing pieces familiar across all Evangelicalism. It’s great if you’re visiting to know a few of the songs which are, after all, now ‘the music of the church.’ I don’t agree with going great distances off the path for an entire set, or only doing songs which are original compositions by members of your own band.

But I think we need to avoid blandness or sameness.  We need to look at the lyrics and say, ‘What sound best captures what the lyricist is saying?’ The original word I heard used for this is prosody. I can’t find the particular definition now among the several offered, but I was taught it implied “a marriage of lyrics and music.” In other words, let the music fit the words. Go beyond the fast song vs. slow song dichotomy.

I think Becky would appreciate it.

 

 

 

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.

June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

April 28, 2018

Songs of Mission: Part Two

Guest post by Lorne Anderson 

This is a response to an article we posted yesterday.

Songs of mission? Certainly, you can’t be suggesting that we should be looking beyond our navels? Perish the thought!

If you are want you eat, as the saying goes, are you also what you sing? If so, what do modern worship choruses have to say about English-language Christianity? As music goes, so goes the church in many ways, so if our songs are not missionary, the church probably won’t be either.

I’m old enough to remember the Jesus movement of the early 1970s, when young people caught the vision of the need to spread the gospel, especially given the expected immanence of the return of Christ. That movement was in many ways driven by its music, which was a blend of evangelism and a call to personal holiness.

The late Larry Norman set the tone with “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” a lament that there would be some not prepared for Christ’s return – which was also a call to go out and tell your friends about Jesus. Others followed. The church as a whole may not have understood, but the youth did.

The songs sung in small group meetings may have been worshipful (“Father I Adore You”) but the need to reach the lost was never far from front of consciousness. Young Christians were excited to have discovered Truth; sharing it was an imperative. The spokes-musicians for what would eventually become an industry felt an urgency to share their faith. Worship music as a genre did not yet exist.

Today it seems worship music has become the dominant Christian musical expression, stifling all other forms of musical creativity. A lot of “worship” music isn’t truly about praising God but more expressing our feelings about praising God. Believe me, there is a big difference. We have become inner-directed to the point that we forget the reason for the church’s existence isn’t just to praise God, but to bring others into a relationship where they want to do the same.

But how do we inspire people to care about the spiritual well-being of others when our songs are all about ourselves? We’re so busy contemplating our navels, and how God loves us, right down to our belly button lint, that we’ve missed the point that we are supposed to be passing God’s love on to others. (“It only takes a spark…”

‘Jesus Music’ inspired my generation. We went out into the highways and byways looking for people who hadn’t heard the good news that is Jesus Christ. Our songwriters led the way, framing our zeal for evangelism in music.

We are supposed to praise God. But if that is all we do, if we lose that missionary vision, our praise in many ways become just resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

It was easier when the mission field was so far away. In my area of a large Canadian city, there are now more mosques than churches – the mission field has come to us. That makes it everyone’s responsibility, not just those who feel an overseas call. That also makes it harder — we have to show love to our neighbor, on a daily basis, and put that love into action.

We no longer need to go to “Greenland’s icy mountains” to reach the lost. They have moved into your neighborhood, into my neighborhood. On the city bus I hear a myriad of tongues and see a variety of skins tones.

Where though are the songs about the spiritual needs of those people on the bus? Who is inspiring the church to leave the comfort of its walls and take the gospel to the nations that have arrived on our doorstep. Who is writing the soundtrack for missionary activity in the 21st century?

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations.” We’re just not singing it right now.


To learn more about Lorne, follow his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne. We occasionally steal articles from each other but this one was initially written for readers here.

April 27, 2018

Songs of Mission: Part One

Wall maps like this one at Wolverine Baptist Church in Michigan adorned many a church bulletin board with push pins and string highlighting the church’s mission outreach around the world.

We’ve written before about the shift to vertical worship means there are no longer songs of testimony. But also missing are songs of mission, as well as other categories. I realize that it is no longer politically correct to talk about evangelistic crusades and that songs like Onward Christian Soldiers sound different to 2018 ears than it did when the 1865 lyrics were combined with music in 1871. But I thought we’d collect some stanzas from these classics today perhaps for a last look before they disappear into obscurity.

These are hymns, but you could include some 1980s fare like “Shine Jesus Shine” and “We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High” in this list.


We’ve a story to tell to the nations
That shall turn their hearts to the right
A story of truth and mercy
A story of peace and light

For the darkness shall turn to dawning
And the dawning to noon-day bright
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth
The kingdom of love and light


From Greenland’s icy mountains
From India’s coral strand
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;

From many an ancient river
From many a palmy plain
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain


Far, far away in heathen darkness dwelling
Millions of souls forever may be lost
Who, who will go, salvation’s story telling
Looking to Jesus minding not the cost?

“All power is given unto Me
All power is given unto Me
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel
And lo, I am with you always.”


There’s a call ringing o’er the restless waves
Send the light! Send the light!
There’s are souls to rescue, there are souls to save
Send the light! Send the light!

Send the light, the blessed gospel light
Let it shine from shore to shore.
Send the light, the blessed gospel light
Let it shine forever more.


Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.


O, Zion haste! Thy mission high fulfilling
To tell to all the world that God is light
That He who made all nations is not willing
One soul should perish, lost in shades of night

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace
Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.


Out in the highways and byways of life
Many are weary and sad
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
Making the sorrowing glad

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing
Out of my life may Jesus shine
Make me a blessing, oh Savior, I pray
Make me a blessing to someone today.


A charge to keep have I
A God to glorify
A never-dying soul to save
And fit it for the sky


To the regions beyond, I must go, I must go
Where the story has never been told
To the millions that never have heard of his love
I must tell the sweet story of old

To the regions beyond, I must go, I must go
‘Til the world, all the world His salvation shall know


Hear the Lord of harvest sweetly calling,
“Who will go and work for me today?
Who will bring to Me the lost and dying?
Who will point them to the narrow way?”

Speak my Lord, speak my Lord
Speak and I’ll be quick to answer thee
Speak my Lord, speak my Lord
Speak and I will answer, “Lord send me.”


Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does His successive journey run
His kingdom spread from shore to shore
‘Til moons shall wax and wane no more


Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?

By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine
We are on the Lord’s side, Savior we are thine.


So what’s the point of all this? Just a trip down memory lane for some older readers?

No, the issue is that we don’t have anything today — with the exception of the Getty’s revival of Facing a Task Unfinished, which wasn’t entirely new lyrics — that is thematically equivalent. Our songs are all introspective. We don’t challenge each other.

This was the music of the church, until recently. This is the content that Christians sang on Sunday morning. This was the power of music being used to inspire us to think beyond our church walls, beyond our city, beyond our state, beyond our country and to consider our response to the Great Commission. 

We ought to lament this loss.

 

 

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.

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