Thinking Out Loud

September 7, 2015

Labor Day Monday Music

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

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

Apologies to those of you still on dial-up

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

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

August 27, 2015

Wow Series Celebrates 20 Years

Wow Hits 2016Christian bookstore shoppers have made this item a staple for two decades now, and in many of them, it is the top selling CD of the year overall.  The WOW CDs were patterned after the NOW CDs which were sold in the general market. The idea behind the compilations was to present the best available songs, but without the label restrictions usually associated with CD samplers. To accomplish this, The WOW Partnership was created involving the major Christian record companies. Additionally, bonus cuts allowed the participating companies to introduce newer artists.

The CD series has its own page on Wikipedia:

WOW is a series of annual compilation albums featuring contemporary Christian music. The birth of the WOW record project can be traced Grant Cunningham, A&R Director at Sparrow Records. In November of 1994 Grant made a business trip to EMI Limited in London, at the time was the parent company of Sparrow Records where he noticed that several British record labels were issuing an annual CD of top-rated songs, known as the NOW series, containing collections of pop songs. Grant brought the idea back to Sparrow. Sparrow executives suggested a similar project be developed for Christian pop music and Grant was assigned the task of getting the project off the ground. The WOW franchise represents the most successful collections of Christian music ever issued.

Released in late 1995, “WOW 1996” was the first in the WOW series and the first recording put together by the three major Christian record companies of the time: Word Records (now Word Entertainment), Sparrow Records (now part of EMI Christian Music Group), and Reunion Records (now part of Sony’s Provident Label Group). Still today, after each submitting label agrees to a reduced master royalty, the final decision on the tracks to be included is made by committee. Production, marketing, and distribution for the “WOW Hits” series is handled by EMI Christian Music Group.

Wow Worship LimeThe Wikipedia page has two more paragraphs,one of which I added this morning, and deals with the huge popularity of the more recent WOW Worship series. That series began in the fall of 1999 and are named by the color of the cover, possibly in a nod to the timelessness of some worship songs. There have also been hymn collections and Christmas collections, and in the U.S. the WOW Gospel series highlights the best of urban and mass gospel choir-inspired music.

With WOW Hits 2016 due to release mid-September, I found it interesting that one writer has already suggested ten songs that didn’t make the cut. (If you’re looking for some tunes to listen to, he has the videos embedded in that post.) Furthermore, just to show what a coveted prize getting on the Wow complications is, Josh Andre also offers twenty songs that he feels should be considered for WOW 2017. Somebody takes this really seriously!

These albums always make a great gift. For the the recipient, they represent an instant commercial-free playlist, especially for people who live on the fringes of Christian radio reception or are completely foreign to the contemporary Christian music genre. The 2-CD sets are now usually made available in both a regular and deluxe edition, the latter containing more bonus cuts, but the standard minimum is usually 30 songs, making this a great bargain.

Happy Birthday to WOW!

August 11, 2015

David Wesley’s Music Crosses Demographic Lines

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

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

Physical CD: Collide Media
Amazon: (pending)
Google Play:…

YouTube: DavidWesley on YouTube

Facebook: David Wesley Music

August 4, 2015

An Alternative Worship Menu

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

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

article for Worship Links

The Hidden Menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another way is possible.

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

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

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

July 10, 2015

Hillsong and the Common Meter

If your church does modern worship, odds are that in the last few years you’ve been doing the song Cornerstone by Hillsong. This song incorporates the lyrics of the old hymn, My Hope is Built, and then adds a chorus, “Cornerstone, Christ alone; weak made strong in the Savior’s love…”

My Hope is Built is based on a rhythmic structure called Long Meter or simply L.M. for short. If you grew up with hymnbooks, you know there was a metrical index in the back and it’s there for a reason. Well, actually it was there mostly for the amusement of musicians since most churches never did switch up tunes or lyrics. L.M. is also 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 (though I’ve added words in some cases or you have to stretch in others).

For what it’s worth, I like Cornerstone just the way it is; and I would suggest retaining the first verse as it connects well with the theme. So you would probably only want to choose no more than a couple of these, but I’d recommend the very last one especially.


He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great redeemer’s matchless praise
The glories of my God and King
The triumphs of His love and grace

He breaks the power of canceled sin
The prisoners are each one set free
His blood can make the worst ones clean
His blood poured out for you and me

Forbid it Lord that I should boast
But for the death of Christ my God
All earthly things I hold so dear
I sacrifice them to His blood.

O God our help in ages past
Our hope for many years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
Our strength and our eternal home

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved someone like you and me
We once were lost but now we’re found
We once were blind but now we see

No condemnation now I dread*
Jesus, and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him, my living head
And clothed in righteousness divine

People and realms of every tongue**
Dwell on His love with sweetest song
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their earthly blessings on His name

Faith of our Fathers, living still
In spite of prison, fire and sword
O, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that great word.

Praise God from Whom all blessing flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
And up above you heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

* All the verses from And Can It Be? work well here.

**I really like Jesus Shall Reign here, I just selected a single verse. Cornerstone is a song of declaration, some of these verses turn the song into an anthem of praise, with Christ as the Cornerstone. 

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

June 24, 2015

Wednesday Link List

While none of the pictures will make the Church Stage Design website, many church platforms are being transformed for VBS.

While none of the VBS pictures on Twitter yesterday will make the Church Stage Design Ideas website, many church platforms are being transformed this week for VBS.

Some stories this week from The Christian Post and Christian Today were rejected because of distracting links to other web content. 

Because of our arrangement with Christianity Today, many Wednesday Link Lists here simply link to PARSE, no matter what you click; but as of last week, PARSE no longer exists. If you want to know more about a particular story, email us the date of the link list, and we’ll post the original list with all the links. It’s all very time-consuming, but we’ll eventually get to all of them.

June 16, 2015

Finding Blog Topics in the Middle of Sunday Worship

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

Applegate Christian Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look around you.

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

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

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

May 29, 2015

Your Favorite Praise Song May Not Be For Congregational Use

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.

May 15, 2015

Keeping Your Church’s Energy Level High Will Cost You

Rarely do I repost an article in full. But this one really needs to be seen by a variety of people in various aspects of ministry in the contemporary Evangelical church.  I do hope you’ll send author Brady Boyd some stats love by clicking through and reading it at his blog. Click the title below:

The Price We Pay for Exciting

 by Brady Boyd

Have you ever sat and watched an entire baseball game on TV? I mean, from the first pitch to the last out?

Brady BoydReally?

Baseball on TV is boring. There, I said it. I mean it, too. I will not apologize.

I love baseball. I played baseball. I was the third baseman for my high school team that won the state championship.

The Grand Old Game limps along when viewed through lenses because it was meant to be watched in a stadium or park while eating hot dogs, sitting on bleachers in the middle of the summer. Baseball is rhythmic and filled with strategic moves by managers and players. Each pitch can be scrutinized and every at-bat has subtle nuances. There is a plenitude of secret signs and pregnant pauses. But, it’s still boring to watch on TV.

That’s why I wait for the highlights on TV each night. The miracle of sport’s television allows a three-hour pastime to be condensed into 30-seconds of the best parts. I see all the home runs, the key strikeouts, the controversial plays at the plate without having to watch the entire game. If all we studied were the highlights, we would think baseball is the wonder of all sports, certainly made for live TV. It was not.

Church was not created for TV, either. The activity of discipling people from spiritual infancy to maturity is rarely exciting. In fact, it can be quite mundane. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that church should be exciting, made for TV, full of buzz and emotional fervor. There are certainly zenith moments like baptisms, weddings, baby dedications and encountering the Holy Spirit through prayer and worship. Stirring stuff, for sure. Other things like fasting, lingering intercession, hospital visits, unhurried conversations with grieving widows, and bringing food to a sick family are not as electric.

Jesus called us sheep, not lions, bears or race horses.  Have you ever watched a shepherd with his flock in a field? It does not qualify as thrilling cinema. Sure, there may be predators that sometimes need to be thwarted and occasionally, the shepherd will have to hurry his flock into a shelter when a storm surprises them.  Most days, though, the sheep eat grass, drink water, and nap while the shepherd stands in the shade nearby.

In my vocation as pastor, most of my work would miss the cut for the 30-seconds of late-night highlights. I doubt most shepherds see their work as scintillating, but it is indeed proficient. In fact, skilled shepherds tend to avoid rushing their sheep to distant pastures or exciting the flock with loud noises. Sheep do best in stable, secure environs. There is a steep price to pay for constant excitement.

Recently, I was speaking at a leader’s conference in the Los Angeles area. My message was about sustainable rhythms for healthy ministry, taken from lessons I have learned the hard way. As soon as I finished, a young woman approached me with tears in her eyes. Her pastor had told her and the team that he was going to have an exciting, growing church, which meant everyone had to give 110%. He told them if they could not keep up with him, they could all be easily replaced.

She wanted to be a part of the weekly highlight reels, so she tried to maintain the insane pace. Predictably, she failed and was left in the ditch of ministry with many others. She was hurt because church life was not about the sheep flourishing anymore, it was about creating a false sense of excitement that simply was not sustainable. Her ambitious Senior Pastor is now out of ministry altogether, burned out for trying to run too fast for too long.

I prayed for the young leader, then reminded her that what we do is a sacred calling that should be taken seriously. We do get to be a part of some incredible highlights as God transforms people in front of us. That’s exciting stuff and should be celebrated. I also reminded her that when Jesus called his disciples, he did not tell them, “Come follow me, and keep up if you can.” He promised them hard work, sleepless nights, criticism and persecution. He also said he would be with them always, like a faithful shepherd on a long, obedient journey that would sometimes be exciting, but would always be leading people home.

April 30, 2015

How to Get Royalties for Songs in the Public Domain

treble clefThe 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.

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.


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