Thinking Out Loud

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


March 27, 2017

Loss of Church Leadership Position is Like a Death

It’s now been seven years. Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family. My wife and I have been through this with respect to one particular church both individually and collectively, but because of our long history with the place, seven years ago she went back for another final run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend in response to a request to have her volunteer position reinstated. Nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog. The day after she allowed me to run this at Thinking Out Loud, I came back the next day with what I felt was an objective discussion of some of the other larger issues her meeting raised. That will appear here tomorrow.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself.

They said they wanted to have a meeting and “discuss this.” Which is never good.

But I said “OK,” and one evening the three of us sat down to “discuss this.”

I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve known enough people who’ve been alienated from churches to know that you just don’t try to go back. You just don’t. Because it hurts.

One time a few years ago, I got a call from a woman who’s the wife of a former pastor of another church in town. Their time there had ended very stressfully and he’d been fired. But she had founded the local chapter of a national prayer group and they were having their annual shindig. Guess where. She couldn’t bring herself to walk into that building alone after what they’d been through and just wanted somebody to go with her. I said sure. She met me in the parking lot and we went in together. Those kinds of forays are tremendously difficult for the wounded.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of preachers say that “You don’t have to forgive a church that hurt you. You have to forgive the particular individuals in the church who hurt you.”

They’re wrong. Completely wrong.

Anyway, my meeting at the churchIusedtogoto was cordial. The answer was no. Or rather, “Maybe someday.”

Maybe someday. These are obviously people who’ve never read Proverbs 13:12.

The condition they set on the “maybe” was this: That there are people at the churchIusedtogoto who don’t know who I am. People who would wonder, if they saw me at the piano, “Who is that?” And their policy is that “We don’t have guest worship leaders.”

That’s it. That’s the reason. Not that I’ve failed morally. Not that I’m a bad example. Not that I’m incompetent or dangerous. Not that I’m a communist, or a heretic, or I dress funny. Just that somebody might not know who I am.

And their solution to this “problem” was that I should attend the church regularly, spend time after the services talking to people, shaking hands, chatting, getting to know folks and to be known.

Then, once I’d built these “relationships”, then “maybe someday.”

As I said, I’m an introvert. I think about things. I use my brain to ask myself questions. People say things and I actually listen, and then give them thought.

I thought about this. And decided it was bumph.

After a few days, I wrote them back. In part:

I respect your answer, and won’t pursue the question anymore, in spite of the fact that I really don’t believe I was asking for much. Just one Sunday.

But your reason for saying no was so absurd. There are people there who don’t know me. You don’t have guest worship leaders.

All through school, children show up in the morning, occasionally to discover that they have a substitute teacher. People turn on the Tonight Show to find that the host is away and there is a guest host. The evening news anchor goes away for a few days and his seat is filled by a guest anchor. Just the other week, you had a guest speaker as churches do all the time.

And you’d ask me to believe that your congregation is so simple minded that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a guest worship leader. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t pathetic.

I don’t know what you think you’re protecting them from, but if you treat your congregation like simpletons, don’t expect them to challenge themselves.

Not my most diplomatic, but I figured, hell, the bridge is on fire. What have I got to lose?

(Yes, I know I said hell. See above.)

There might be a few things at play in their response.

First, this is a church that had a burst of progressiveness in the 80’s and then just stopped. Since then the leadership has become dominated by policy wonks who seem to be always looking for one more loose end to tie down.

Second, we ‘worship leaders’ have been done a grave disservice over the last couple of decades by being given an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We’re told that we’re ‘leading people into God’s presence’, that we’re ‘temple musicians’ and stuff like that. Rather than that we are just one part of the body of Christ, whose diverse giftings are all of equal value and sacredness.

Which is all another post for another blog.

But reading McHugh’s book has given me the language to better define the vehemence of part of my antipathy to their reasoning.

McHugh points out that, since we introverts usually struggle with social interaction, we find our ways into community by different paths than extroverts and normal people do.

He makes me smile when he describes the hellishness of “unstructured social events”, and writes of a man who leaves church a few minutes before the service ends to avoid “the agony of the fellowship hour”. I love that phrase. It warms the cockles of my contemplative heart.

Those of us who can’t function in the schmooze and chat world of North American evangelicalism connect with their churches through the roles they find to fill. Having a place to step into when you get there is a tremendously valuable thing. It’s a piece of ground from which to meet just one or two people at a time, to find like minded friends and to, yes, build real relationships, not ersatz hi-how-are-you-fine ones.

To insist that one of us has to run the gauntlet of coffee time in order to reach that place, is cruel and unusual punishment. Like telling you that you have to park your car a mile downhill from your house. If you want to go home at the end of the day, you have to sweat for it.

Screw that. Guess I’ll have to make do with one less finger.

Which might be just as well.


To this day, I still get comments from people as to how much they appreciated Ruth’s worship ministry in that church. I may be biased, but it was awesome. Vast song selection. Custom made video clips. Dramatic readings. Times of bold proclamation and times of deep introspection.

Some even go so far to ask if she might consider a reprise of that role. Without going into detail, I tell them to contact the church with that suggestion.

Since the article appeared, the wounds simply have not healed. At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight — and we’ll get to this tomorrow — what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.

There was another change of pastoral leadership after this was written and on hearing the full story the new pastor basically said, “He would never do anything like that.” In addition to what we’ve already had to deal with, I’ve now had to suffer the loss of credibility for attempting to defend my wife’s version of the events. 

Finally… saving the best (or worst) for last… Not more than three weeks later they had a guest worship leader. A recording artist who was also doing a worship workshop with them that weekend.  

It had to have already been booked at the time she was told they don’t bring in guests.

December 20, 2016

Help! I’m Up Here on the Stage Leading Worship Against My Will

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:24 am

I have this thing in common with the robot in the movie Short Circuit, the one who kept repeating, “Number 5 is alive.” I need input. So when it’s worship time, I do my best to enter into the spirit of the song, but I’m also highly distracted by the mandatory copyright notices which appear on the bottom of the screen along with the names of the writers of the words and music and the church’s CCLI number. I have to read them. For those not familiar, it usually looks like this:

worship-slide-credits

I’ve highlighted the credits in question. (Thanks, Renewing Worship.)

So as we were sitting in church on Sunday, I started thinking what a disgruntled worship leader could do in this space (not the song in the example) given the opportunity. Such as:

  • I really don’t like this song, but a significant contributor to the church budget specifically asked for it.
  • If you think about it really carefully, the second verse is doctrinally heretical.
  • The rhythm guitarist is the pastor’s nephew, we knew he couldn’t play that solo. 
  • Coordinating song selection and worship personnel for all three campuses takes about 25 hours a week and I’m getting less than minimum wage.*

* Remember, the print is really small, you can squeeze a lot in there.

Problem is, over time people would start seeing these and start looking for them. It would start with a middle-aged guy nudging his wife and pointing to the screen, but then some teenager would look up to see what he was referring to, and next thing you know people are busting a gut in the middle of Revelation Song. You simply can’t have that.

No, you’ve probably got one or two shots at this at best, so you want to make them count, possibly relaying important information that might not otherwise get known. Stuff like:

  • The Associate Pastor is embezzling funds from the Seniors Group account.
  • Because of a mold problem, the church kitchen failed its last health inspection.
  • The Junior High Pastor is a Universalist. 
  • The church missed last month’s mortgage payment.

But it would greatly improve communications in the church. No secrets = ministry transparency. That’s what I always say.


Help, I’m Up Here | words and music by Paul and Ruth Wilkinson | © 2016 Thinking Out Loud Publishing | CCLI #8675309

September 12, 2016

Selah

guitar-solo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guitars in Church

 

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.

 

March 31, 2015

How Evangelicals Lose the Plot on Good Friday

good-friday

If, by someone coming here via a search engine, I can help even one church make their Good Friday service more meaningful, this will have been worth the effort.

Maybe you heard the phrase, “At that point, they lost the plot.” Or, “That’s where it went off the rails.”

…I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how contemporary or how alternative some churches are, many of them often begin their communion service with the “words of institution” from I Corinthians 11. It’s like a little, tiny slice of liturgy in an unexpected place.

Today, I want to propose we add another little slice of formality, namely the construction of the Good Friday service, if indeed your church or community has one. If this were a song by Jamie Grace the line would be, “We need to get our Anglican on.”

I wrote about this three years ago:

Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday…

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together… Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable. Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They really need a producer…

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.” Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying. Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us. We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

My concern now as then is that we are rushing toward Easter, rushing toward celebration, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

But the disciples didn’t know from Sunday. Their memory, etched so clearly, was of the life draining out of Jesus’ broken and bloodied body. At worst, rejected Messiah’s were supposed to fade into obscurity, not die a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans. One by one they disappeared…

We need to feel that.

We need to feel what it meant for him to (a) enter into the human condition, (b) always give preference to others, (c) experience physical death, and (d) have that death be the most excruciating ever devised.

In another essay here I talked about the equally concerning practice of losing the plot on Easter Sunday.

My own thoughts that day included a study of songs churches in the U.S. had used:

[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between the worship leaders who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

…there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

So returning to Good Friday, here is my manifesto:

  1. We need to set a tone at the very beginning of the service; allow a ‘holy hush’ to come over the crowd.
  2. We should then incorporate other silences throughout the service.
  3. As far as possible, every word spoken should be planned. We need to borrow from our Episcopalian friends for this service.
  4. We need agreement from participants on what we will not do. No, “It’s good to see everyone;” no “It’s finally warming up outside;” no “We do this in anticipation of Sunday;” or the worst, “I hope you all found a place to park.”
  5. If your service is interdenominational or has many participants, do not introduce people at all, i.e. “And now Delores Jones from Central Methodist will favor us with a solo accompanied by her husband Derek.” Don’t waste words.
  6. We need to skip the final verses of some hymns or modern worship songs if they resolve with resurrection. We need to immerse ourselves in the moment.
  7. If your church uses a printed program, consider the idea of the congregation whose Good Friday bulletin cover was simply a folded piece of black construction paper. In other words, use other media to reinforce what is taking place at the front, and remove things hanging in the sanctuary that might be a distraction.
  8. No matter how big the crowd, and how tempting this makes it, don’t use Good Friday as a fundraiser for a church or community project.
  9. Preaching needs to be Christological. This would seem obvious, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not about us, except insofar as he suffered and died for us.
  10. That said, we also need to be Evangelical. What a wonderful day for someone to stand at the level ground of the cross and look into the eyes of a loving Savior who says, ‘I do this for you;’ and then have an opportunity to respond to the finished work on the cross.

Finally, if your church doesn’t do Good Friday, consider starting it. I worship between two small towns which both have an annual interdenominational morning service, but several years ago, my wife’s worship ministry did a Good Friday evening service and over a hundred people attended. She assembled worship songs, solos, video clips, readings and had a local pastor do a ten minute homily. It will forever be one of my favorite, most cross-focused Good Friday events, even though I was busied with the planning and running of it.

 

 



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.

June 4, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Arch Enemies

Clicking anything below will re-direct you to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal who snapped up the rights to this weekly aggregation of linkage before Salem Communications could even submit a bid. From PARSE, click again on the story you want to read.

So that’s this week’s list. We didn’t even steal anything from iMonk or Rachel H.E. Tune in next week; same bat time, same bat channel; or visit during the author during the week at Thinking Out Loud, C201, or Twitter.

Hitler's Pants after the assassination attempt. Some feel that surviving the event only empowered him more.

Hitler’s Pants after the assassination attempt. Some feel that surviving the event only empowered him more. Source: Rare Historical Photos

May 20, 2014

Saving Modern Worship

CCLI

Because there was so much interest in my short post on Sunday about modern worship, we actually got comments! That never happens here, despite a huge daily readership. This means that throughout Monday I was still engaging this topic, and it was then that it occurred to me that something that would have helped greatly this past weekend, and something I wish now I had included in my criteria for a broader, more inclusive song set, would have been to actually have a couple of songs that appear in the current CCLI top 25 list.

For churches that are concerned about copyrights, CCLI is the organization that makes it possible to see that mechanical royalties (not performance royalties) are paid to the appropriate songwriters and publishers for the manufacture of printed or projected lyrics. In so doing, they are party to great amounts of data about what churches in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, etc. actually want to sing.

By using these songs, worship leaders are:

  • using material that has been proven; songs that lead congregations into worship
  • choosing songs that might be reinforced throughout the week on Christian radio
  • selecting compositions known to visitors from other churches

Here is the current list for the U.S.

1 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)
Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
2 How Great Is Our God
Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
3 Mighty To Save
Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan
4 Our God
Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
5 Blessed Be Your Name
Beth Redman, Matt Redman
6 Revelation Song
Jennie Lee Riddle
7 Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Chris Tomlin, John Newton, Louie Giglio
8 Here I Am To Worship
Tim Hughes
9 Everlasting God
Brenton Brown, Ken Riley
10 Forever Reign
Jason Ingram, Reuben Morgan
11 In Christ Alone
Keith Getty, Stuart Townend
12 Jesus Messiah
Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
13 One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)
Brian Johnson, Christa Black Gifford, Jeremy Riddle
14 Your Grace Is Enough
Matt Maher
15 How He Loves
John Mark McMillan
16 Open The Eyes Of My Heart
Paul Baloche
17 Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche
18 Forever
Chris Tomlin
19 You Are My King (Amazing Love)
Billy J. Foote
20 The Stand
Joel Houston
21 Holy Is The Lord
Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio
22 Come Now Is The Time To Worship
Brian Doerksen
23 From The Inside Out
Joel Houston
24 Hosanna
Brooke Ligertwood
25 Shout To The Lord
Darlene Zschech

Here is the current list for Canada which is very similar:

 

1 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)
Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
2 How Great Is Our God
Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
3 Mighty To Save
Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan
4 Here I Am To Worship
Tim Hughes
5 Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche
6 Our God
Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
7 Blessed Be Your Name
Beth Redman, Matt Redman
8 In Christ Alone
Keith Getty, Stuart Townend
9 Everlasting God
Brenton Brown, Ken Riley
10 Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Chris Tomlin, John Newton, Louie Giglio
11 Revelation Song
Jennie Lee Riddle
12 Jesus Messiah
Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
13 How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
Stuart Townend
14 Forever
Chris Tomlin
15 Your Grace Is Enough
Matt Maher
16 Hosanna
Brooke Ligertwood
17 You Are My King (Amazing Love)
Billy J. Foote
18 Open The Eyes Of My Heart
Paul Baloche
19 Come Now Is The Time To Worship
Brian Doerksen
20 One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)
Brian Johnson, Christa Black Gifford, Jeremy Riddle
21 Beautiful One
Tim Hughes
22 Forever Reign
Jason Ingram, Reuben Morgan
23 Happy Day
Ben Cantelon, Tim Hughes
24 Shout To The Lord
Darlene Zschech
25 The Stand
Joel Houston

I’m not sure how recent this UK list is; it seems older. There are a couple of songs here that may be unfamiliar to American churches, although we are aware of them in Canada.

 

1 In Christ Alone
by Getty, Keith\Townend, Stuart
2 Shout To The Lord
by Zschech, Darlene
3 Here I Am To Worship
by Hughes, Tim
4 How Great Is Our God
by Cash, Ed\Reeves, Jesse\Tomlin, Chris
5 Be Still
by Evans, David J.
6 How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
by Townend, Stuart
7 King Of Kings Majesty
by Cooper, Jarrod
8 How Great Thou Art
by Hine, Stuart Wesley Keene
9 Psalm 23
by Townend, Stuart
10 The Servant King
by Kendrick, Graham
11 There Is A Redeemer
by Green, Melody
12 Blessed Be Your Name
by Redman, Beth\Redman, Matt
13 Come Now Is The Time To Worship
by Doerksen, Brian
14 Everlasting God
by Brown, Brenton\Riley, Ken
15 Faithful One
by Doerksen, Brian
16 I Will Offer Up My Life
by Redman, Matt
17 Knowing You
by Kendrick, Graham
18 Great Is Thy Faithfulness
by Chisholm, Thomas Obediah
19 Shine Jesus Shine
by Kendrick, Graham
20 Mighty To Save
by Fielding, Ben\Morgan, Reuben
21 Lord I Lift Your Name On High
by Founds, Rick
22 All Heaven Declares
by Richards, Noel\Richards, Tricia
23 Once Again
by Redman, Matt
24 Forever
by Tomlin, Chris
25 Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
by Baloche, Paul\Brown, Brenton

Despite the cartoon, please restrict comments to the issue of the familiarity and singability of worship songs; this was not a discussion of legal responsibility with respect to copyrights.

March 31, 2014

How Evangelicals Miss Good Friday

good-friday

If, by someone coming here via a search engine, I can help even one church make their Good Friday service more meaningful, this will have been worth the effort.

I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how contemporary or how alternative some churches are, many of them often begin their communion service with the “words of institution” from I Corinthians 11. It’s like a little, tiny slice of liturgy in an unexpected place.

Today, I want to propose we add another little slice of formality, namely the construction of the Good Friday service, if indeed your church or community has one. If this were a song by Jamie Grace* the line would be, “We need to get our Anglican on.”

I wrote about this two years ago:

Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday…

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together… Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable.  Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They really need a producer…

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.”  Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying.  Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us.  We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

My concern now as then is that we are rushing toward Easter, rushing toward celebration, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

But the disciples didn’t know from Sunday. Their memory, etched so clearly, was of the life draining out of Jesus’ broken and bloodied body. At worst, rejected Messiah’s were supposed to fade into obscurity, not die a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans. One by one they disappeared…

We need to feel that.

We need to feel what it meant for him to (a) enter into the human condition, (b) always give preference to others, (c) experience physical death, and (d) have that death be the most excruciating ever devised.

Music plays a big part. In another essay here that referred more directly to Easter Sunday, I quoted:

“Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons,” said Chris Rosebrough. “Far too many pastors have played the role of Judas and have betrayed Jesus. Rather than being paid 30 pieces of silver, these pastors have sold Jesus out for the fame and adulation that accompany having a ‘growing, relevant ‘man-centered’ church’.”

My own thoughts that day included a study of songs churches in the U.S. had used:

[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between the worship leaders who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

…there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

 

So returning to Good Friday, here is my manifesto:

  1. We need to set a tone at the very beginning of the service; allow a ‘holy hush’ to come over the crowd.
  2. We should then incorporate other silences throughout the service.
  3. As far as possible, every word spoken should be planned. We need to borrow from our Episcopalian friends for this service.
  4. We need agreement from participants on what we will not do. No, “It’s good to see everyone;” no “It’s finally warming up outside;” no “We do this in anticipation of Sunday;” or the worst, “I hope you all found a place to park.”
  5. If your service is interdenominational or has many participants, do not introduce people at all, i.e. “And now Delores Jones from Central Methodist will favor us with a solo accompanied by her husband Derek.” Don’t waste words.
  6. We need to skip the final verses of some hymns or modern worship songs if they resolve with resurrection. We need to immerse ourselves in the moment.
  7. If your church uses a printed program, consider the idea of the congregation whose Good Friday bulletin cover was simply a folded piece of black construction paper. In other words, use other media to reinforce what is taking place at the front, and remove things hanging in the sanctuary that might be a distraction.
  8. No matter how big the crowd, and how tempting this makes it, don’t use Good Friday as a fundraiser for a church or community project.
  9. Preaching needs to be Christological. This would seem obvious, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not about us, except insofar as he suffered and died for us.
  10. That said, we also need to be Evangelical. What a wonderful day for someone to stand at the level ground of the cross and look into the eyes of a loving Savior who says, ‘I do this for you;’ and then have an opportunity to respond to the finished work on the cross.

Finally, if your church doesn’t do Good Friday, consider starting it. I worship between two small towns which both have an annual interdenominational morning service, but several years ago, my wife’s worship ministry did a Good Friday evening service and over a hundred people attended. She assembled worship songs, solos, video clips, readings and had a local pastor do a ten minute homily. It will forever be one of my favorite, most cross-focused Good Friday events, even though I was busied with the planning and running of it.

 

 


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