Thinking Out Loud

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?

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March 16, 2015

The Sound of Keys: Modern Worship Instrumentation

The new Nord Lead A1 analog modeling synthesizer joins brands such as Moog, Korg, Novation, Studio Logic, Akai, Access, Yamaha and Roland.

The new Nord Lead A1 analog modeling synthesizer joins brands such as Moog, Korg, Novation, Studio Logic, Akai, Access, Yamaha and Roland.

If you track the worship sections of church service podcasts, you can’t help but notice a couple of subtle shifts taking place in what instruments are on stage. Some churches are manifesting one of these, others have both:

  1. The influence of Roots music or even Appalachian music, in particular the use of banjos, ukeleles and mandolins and compositions by bands such as All Sons and Daughters, Rend Collective and I Am They.
  2. The re-introduction of more keyboards, not just the use of what is called pads or textures, nor synthesizers which are being used for their digital samples of existing instruments or variants; but rather, the more raw synthesizer sound itself being used to drive the melody or create linear counter melodies or lines between verses.

For this writer, the second situation can’t happen soon enough. After three or four decades of having both Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and modern worship dominated by Nashville — most of the major record and publishing companies are physically based there as well — it’s time to refresh things by changing it up a bit, and allowing the UK or European sound to influence the sound of weekend church services. To date, both CCM and church worship in North America has had Tennessee’s country music looking over its shoulders.

That doesn’t mean the guitarist is done. Watching services this weekend at North Point Community Church as well as the ‘release party’ church service at City Church for Judah Smith’s new book Life Is _____, it was apparent that even though the sound was revised in several songs and very much keyboard-driven, the guitar player is still front and center providing leadership.

Where Christianity meets culture and worship meets the arts, there are always going to be opinions and counter-opinions, but trying new things is not harmful. If anything, keyboard players who were excluded from the team roster now have an extra instrument — a second digital keyboard of synthesizer — which can be included.

The resultant sound is bright, crisp and certainly inspiring.

March 1, 2015

5 Perspectives for Power Point People

While it’s not listed in the New Testament, assisting the worship leader or worship team by being the computer graphics or Power Point person is definitely a gift, if not a spiritual gift. Here are some things on choosing who serves in this area, or if you are that person, the qualities needed:

1. You need to be really comfortable around a computer.

The goal is to minimize distraction and allow people the freedom to enter wholeheartedly into expressing their worship to God. The last thing you want is for the computer to decide to run updates in the middle of the service, and you need to know how to make sure none of that happens, or what to do if something goes wrong.

2. You don’t get to sing along.

Unfortunately, as much as you may love musical worship, you will eventually run into problems if you decide to sing along with the congregation. While playing various instruments with a worship band there are times I get to sing along, but there are also times I need to focus entirely on a particular instrumental part. Sorry, but you need a certain level of detachment or you get distracted.

3. You need to know the songs.

Most worship leaders I’ve worked with have their weekend set(s) established by noon on Thursday at the latest. Make sure you have the list and then give the songs — especially the new(er) ones — a listen on YouTube, playing each one several times.

4. You need to see yourself as part of the worship team.

That means attending relevant practices and being on time for the sound check. As much as you can track each song fully during the rehearsal process, you’re less likely to make errors during the actual service.

5. People need to form the next word before they sing it.

Your changes between slides need to occur slightly before people actually sing, because the brain needs to be able to tell the mouth to shape the words coming next. You can’t wait for the band to move on to that next line, you need to know exactly where they’re going so that you can get there ahead of time.

Again, this is not everyone’s gift. Placing someone in a position of trust here when they don’t have the necessary aptitude results in a messy slide presentation. I believe God wants excellence in worship. Band practices and rehearsals are a great opportunity for interested volunteers to see if this is a good fit. Otherwise, perhaps there are other areas of service for which they are more suited.

Bonus item:

6. People who do a great job with the worship slides might not do a great job with the sermon slides.

And vice-versa. Furthermore, in most churches the pastor’s sermon notes are often prepared in a different program than the program that runs the worship lyrics. They may even originate from different computers. The person doing the sermon notes need to focus on the sermon and intuit where the pastor is going next, even if the preacher stays somewhat close to a fixed manuscript. At this point in the service, a change in personnel may be the best way to avoid errors. This means your weekly schedule may mean you’ve got two different people working each service. But don’t change people in the case of multiple services; any issues arising in the first service — i.e. worship leaders spontaneously adds an extra chorus — are better resolved in the second service.

Writing about people needing time to form the lyrics reminded me of this video, where guitarists can see the chord that’s coming next.

February 7, 2014

Churches with Loud Worship Bands May Need More Than Earplugs

Browns Bridge at Church Stage Design

As someone whose hearing hasn’t exactly been helped by exposure to loud music at Christian rock concerts in my 20s, I have a special interest in today’s topic.  It started with a Tweet by Kyle Idleman, who apparently visited Pete Wilson’s church in Nashville last Sunday, and noticed the availability of earplugs at the door. Kyle likes his music loud, so he was excited at the prospect of extra decibels. His wife thought they were packages of breath mints.

Is this common, we wondered? (The earplugs, not the confusion with breath mints.)

Sure enough, a search revealed a host of results, including a review of a church in Nebraska,  or this worship apologetic from Mike Pittman, church location not specified:

At Vertical we like our music a little louder than a lot of churches. How loud? Loud enough that you can sing out and not feel like everybody around you is listening to you (and all of the people who can’t sing said “amen”!). We have great sound technicians who work hard to ensure that our sound is full and consistent from week to week.

One of the things that is difficult about music volume is that people’s opinion is subjective and personal. Not everyone likes their music the same volume and with that in mind we have made the conscious decision to let the volume of our music be defined by the people we are trying to reach. This means that a few people thinking it is too loud is not reason to turn it down in such a manner that it affect our what we believe Vertical Worship sounds like. Our worship to Jesus is alive, loud and vibrant. With this in mind we decided to make earplugs available to anyone who feels that our music is too loud.

emphasis in original

Evidence of the widespread use of earplugs turns up in articles like this one “And don’t offer me any of those blasted ear-plugs; I shouldn’t have to wear earplugs in church!  I should just like what is being played and how it’s being played.”  The topic also appears on discussion boards like this, “if they handed out earplugs to me it would be goodbye time;” or, “It seems to me that earplugs would be the bandaid, not the cure.” (Link broken as of this morning.)

The earplug phenomenon has been around churches long enough it seems that it’s already fodder for blog satire.  “Handing out ear plugs says to the congregation ‘The volume is as low as it’s gonna go'”

The question churches need to ask however, is this: “Is providing earplugs sufficient to avoid potential liability issues resulting from hearing loss?”  I’m willing to wager that the average visitor isn’t expecting rock concert volumes at a church service. Last summer, we attended a youth service held in a former nightclub on the east fringes of Toronto and I was reminded firsthand of the volume levels that have no doubt contributed to the loss of high-end sound definition I sometimes experience. Really. Isn’t. Necessary.

And it’s not just the music. A while ago we carried this excerpt from a bulletin at North Point:

“This service contains flashing lights which may cause problems for people with photosensitive epilepsy.”

North Point Church Lighting Warning

There’s no doubt in my mind that excessive volume levels simply puts people at risk and exposes churches to liability issues, but all of this is simply another example of the modern church using youth ministry models to guide what takes place on Sunday morning. I doubt the early church house meetings in any way resembled what megachurches do on the weekend, nor would they even recognize those gatherings as religious in nature if they simply walked into the back during the worship set. 

I also believe that handing out earplugs is an admission that something is not right. Furthermore, there are all types of contextual issues at being presented with a rock concert at a 9:00 AM service versus the same band, same volume at 6:00 PM, at least for this writer.

I like my music loud enough that I can sing out, even try some harmonies, without feeling intimidated. I love the energy. I love the passion.

But it isn’t supposed to hurt.

Upper Image: Browns Bridge Church story at Church Stage Design (click to link)

Plugger Feb 25 2012

May 9, 2011

Charles Swindoll on Modern Worship

…I have been to church services, and you have too, where the only people who knew the songs were the band. I’m not edified. I’m just watching a show.

And they’re not interested in teaching me the songs either. They just sing louder to make up for the fact that no one else is singing. Loud doesn’t help. Why do they do that? Do you want me to be impressed with how loud you are singing, how accomplished you are? I’m not. I’m not here to be impressed with you. I’m here to fall back in love with Christ.

Innovation doesn’t have to be loud or a gimmick. How about silence? Most people get no silence in their world. Imagine three or four minutes of silence. No music. No background distractions.

Or change the order of worship. Start the service with an invitation rather than ending with it. Nothing in the Bible says to walk down an aisle. So be innovative. I’m not against screens, or new songs, or innovation. I just don’t like the gimmicks. I want to know when worship is over that that leader’s sole purpose was to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s not important to himself, and I’m not.

Here’s what troubles me: I don’t know why leaders younger than me aren’t saying this. I’m not talking about novices, but the leaders in their forties and fifties. Why aren’t they raising questions and showing some concern for where the church is heading with its focus on media and headcount and passive spectating? I know one church that has 17 people on their media staff and only 12 on the pastoral staff.

When a church is spending more of its budget on media than shepherding, something is out of whack. We have gotten things twisted around. My book is simply saying come back, folks. I’m not against innovation. But we need more wisdom.

read more at Leadership Magazine online.

June 24, 2010

Worship in the United States vs. Worship in the United Kingdom

Two countries.   Much shared history.   A common language.   Similar politics.

But when it comes to church or when it comes to our expression of Christianity, are we in North America more alike our British cousins or are we more unalike?

Living in Canada gives a few of us a unique window on both our neighbours to the south and our friends several thousand miles to the east.   To many of us here, Adrian Plass, Selwyn Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, etc. are names we have at least heard, if we haven’t also read their books or sung their songs.

What amazes me though is how little my contacts in the U.S. know of Christianity in England.    Where this turns up most is in a cursory examination of worship music in both countries.

Because we’re still a few weeks away from getting the biannual numbers from CCLI — the next six month report comes out in August — we’ll have to settle for a look at the February 2010 stats.

Here’s a look at the Top 25 worship songs in use in the U.K.

Without getting too deep into statistics — we’ll leave that to the sportscasters — you see on this list a couple of Graham Kendrick classics along with the beautiful “I Will Offer Up My Life” by Matt Redman and a number of pieces that follow the ‘hymn style’ of verse/chorus, such as “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “Be the Centre,” and the classic “All Heaven Declares.”   The American #1 most-used chorus, “Mighty to Save” by Hillsong doesn’t even appear on the list.

Here’s the U.S.A. list for the same period:

For some of my American readers, this list seems rather dated, or perhaps even rather tame.  Your church has already moved on to newer songs.   I personally think that the U.S. church has adopted a rather “disposable” attitude toward its worship music in the last five years or so.   Anything before 2006 is considered a “golden oldie.”

That’s rather sad in a way.    The British churches contributing to their list seem to hang on to a good song a little longer.

I also feel bad for American churches who aren’t using “Once Again” by Matt Redman, but also wish that the British list contained at least one song by Paul Baloche.

I think every church service should contain at least a couple of songs from these lists.   This is the worship music that connects us; these songs are being sung across denominational lines.   Too much new and unfamiliar music weakens the worship time.   I also hope your church does at least five or six different worship songs each week.   There’s a trend right now to only doing a couple, but I think it leaves both seasoned worshipers and seekers a little shortchanged.

If you missed it, last week I had another couple of posts on worship music in light of a recent book, and you can read those here (June 11th) and here (June 17th).  (If you think I’ve gone conservative, rest assured that the author of that book wouldn’t have even posted these lists!)

I think it is incumbent on worship leaders to stay aware of what’s happening in worship on a worldwide scale, and know about other material that is available to them.   If you click on the links, you’ll end up at the site which also allows you too look at lists in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

Brooke Fraser has a total of four songs on the N.Z. list, including #2 and #3, but the Africa list has more familiar songs that you might expect.

If I could only sing 25 songs in the next year, I’d be content to make the Africa list my songbook.

Today’s forum:  What do you think of the song selection at your place of worship?

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