Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2021

Boldly Going Where No Baptist Has Gone Before

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:11 pm

by Ruth Wilkinson

Some churches seem to specialize in “ministries” that make for good Instagram posts. I mostly don’t.

What I love best about my job (after teaching) is the conversations I get to have with people, which for sooooo many reasons don’t get Instagrammed. Partly because it’s none of your business. Partly because they’re real-life unscripted conversations, with friends old and new. Partly because sometimes I’m reminded of the fact that I don’t know everything.

This week, tho…

Our church building stands on the corner of a little street in a small town. Up the block is another heritage building that has been home to many retail and service businesses over the years. The most recent, as of September, is a family owned endeavour featuring reiki, tarot, crystals, and smudging supplies. They host workshops, do readings and provide massages.

I’m Baptist.

So…

Of course…

Every time I walked past the windows for the last month, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “Go in and say hi.”

Just that.

It took me a while (I’m a socio-phobic introvert and the Holy Spirit thinks he’s funny) but this week I popped in. I’m so glad I did. Because I think I made a friend.

I introduced myself (“I work at the church on the corner, and I don’t know anything about crystals”) and the beautiful woman whose passion and dream this store is took time to explain them to me. She talked about the energy that resides in the earth and how crystals harness and carry those energies. How tarot connects people to their chosen sources of wisdom, like angels or ancestors. We talked about our faiths–hers and mine–and where they are the same and where different. She talked about growing up Catholic, and later discovering the “holistic” nature of where hope and healing can be found. I described my faith as being more specific.

Then (and, seriously, this never happens. Ever. Want to end a conversation? Tell people you work at a church) she asked me what it’s like to work at the church. I told her how much I love my job, and tried to explain what Evangelicals shorthand as “worship leading.” About choosing songs for us to sing together, about asking God what it is about these songs that we should pay attention to, and about introducing them to the congregation with thoughts on why we are singing them and why it matters.

She beamed a huge smile at me, clapped her hands and said, “You channel! I was going to say that, and now I see why. You channel!”

I sort of wish I had a picture of my face at that moment. It would have been an expression of combined defensiveness, surprise, and revelation. Oh. My. Word.

Baptists don’t channel. Channeling is ‘new age.’ Right?

It took a split-second for the penny to drop. For me to remember that, every time I lead worship, I silently pray, “Sing through me.”

Channeling the Holy Spirit? How could I not want to do that? How could I possibly think that’s a bad idea? To be so connected to the Comforter, the Counselor, the Advocate, the Wisdom of God that his power flows through me without my even having to try. How amazing would that be? So in the end, I was smiling, too.

Life as a Christ-follower in Canada these days is life as a minority. Long gone is Christendom (good riddance, I say) and we have to do the work of knowing what we believe and why. Of being able to explain it without using Evangelical code. Of hearing, actually listening, to the people around us and to the Spirit. Of being willing to be surprised in wonderful ways.

As I was leaving that morning, she said that next time, if the store’s not busy, maybe we could have a tea or a coffee. Turns out we’re both coffee people. So I’m looking forward to that. Conversation, surprise, chewing the metaphysical fat.

Instagram be darned.

 

August 18, 2020

Worship Composers Who Piggyback on Classic Hymns Create Copyright Confusion

My wife uploaded a church service video which included her congregation singing, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Although the song wasn’t annotated, the YouTube bots scanned the video and recognize the lyrics and tune and immediately informed her that the entire video would be banned in one European country, which raises the specter of more blocking to follow.

While she was staring at her screen in disbelief, I went to Wikipedia on my screen; a source I find offering increased reliability at a time when general search results can be misleading.

True enough, the song pretty much has to be in public domain, considering it is listed as first published in 1876.

But the page also noted a 2011 edition “with a new added bridge composed by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding.” I am willing to bet that is part of the problem. The new bridge would qualify them to claim a copyright, even though my wife has never heard it and didn’t use it at all.

You and I and she understand that. YouTube does not. When she went to file a ‘dispute’ on the blocking, the dispute itself was blocked by YouTube. The company acts as sheriff, judge and jury…

…Piggybacking on existing hymns is nothing new. I wrote about this in April, 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

…But I was reminded of this in a new way on the weekend, when I encountered a song with a very unique title — No One Every Cared for Me Like Jesus — a title I would have considered hands-off, since the original is so iconic, but had none the less been assumed by former Bethel Worship leader Steffany Gretzinger. I can’t be convinced that this title similarity is a coincidence.

You’re allowed to be skeptical of my conclusion, but truly the title is somewhat unique. Clearly, the composers had this in the back of their minds. It’s the question of how much of this was intentional where we’re allowed to disagree.

I found myself experiencing an emotional response to this title borrowing that I was not expecting. These guys are creative types; couldn’t they have found something else to act as their motif? No, I think they wanted to catch a ride with the original hymn.

For that reason I hesitated to include it here, but for those of you who want to do an After-and-Before comparison here it is. The similarity of the mood and tone of this and the original.

For those with a sacred music memory longer than the last 12 months, I want to leave you with the original, in a tasteful arrangement by Sandy Patti. In my view, this version will always have the last word.


Postscript: In searching for a hymnbook image of “No One Ever Cared…” I found one which indicated the song as public domain, and one that indicated it as ©1932 by The Rodeheaver Company; the same company that filed a copyright claim against another song my wife uploaded, In The Garden. That hymn was well past its sell-by date in terms of legalities, but Rodeheaver apparently renewed the copyright. Why not? There’s gold in them there hills.

 

December 21, 2019

New Uses for the Hymn Board

After yesterday’s discussion on Twitter prompted by Traci Rhoades, I thought you’d like to see what my wife did when she inherited a hymn board at the church where she now serves.

For Advent it got more complicated! The second line in this board is replaced each week…

…with the lines shown on the right in this picture. And the candle flames on the left……end up on the hymn board on the other side of the church.

 

 

July 1, 2019

Earlier Modern Worship Songs Which are Still Viable

Long ago, in a time before Hillsong, Jesus Culture and Elevation; in a world uninhabited by Chris Tomlin, there existed another universe of praise and worship…

This list is comprised of songs which are not the most popular from the ’90s, but chosen by a criteria consisting of, “Would these songs work well with today’s congregations?” or, “Are these songs which could be re-introduced?”

Why this matters: There were some substantive songs which people who have been around church remember, but are not currently sung. The songs represent music for a demographic that is not longing for the nostalgia of the Gaither Music years — they aren’t that old yet — but longing for some connection to past songs where there is greater singability. 

This could include things from Maranatha Music, Vineyard Music, etc.

Statistically, the median age of established churches rises over time. The key is to keep this demographic engaged, but present music that doesn’t sound dated to the younger demographic churches are hungry to reach.

This is the list I assembled:

  • You Are the Mighty King
  • The Servant King
  • You Are Worthy of My Praise (I Will Worship With All of My Heart)
  • Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty
  • Above All
  • Glorify Thy Name (Father, I Love You…)
  • You Are My King (with 2nd verse)1
  • Once Again
  • Shout to the North
  • Majesty2
  • All Heaven Declares
  • You Are My All in All
  • Lord I Lift Your Name on High (with 2nd verse)
  • Trading my Sorrows
  • Open the Eyes of My Heart

Related: A History of Modern Worship Music

1 You are My King 2nd Verse
2 Majesty Extra Verses

December 18, 2018

Worship Monopoly: A Fable

I got to know Peter and his family about ten years ago. Honestly, there wasn’t anybody in Rickford County who didn’t know them. His family was gifted musically, and they spread that gift around four churches.

His wife Marta was the organist and music director of the SBC church in the next town. Peter himself played keyboards and led worship at the Assemblies of God church. Their son Justin played guitar and led worship with his wife at the Foursquare church in town, and their daughter was the pianist at the United Methodist church.

“We control the music in four churches;” Peter frequently told me; though I bristled at the use of the word control.

But control was exactly what Peter had in mind for his little dynasty. “I eventually want us to control the worship music selection in the entire region; in the entire Tri-State area.”

“That’s about 50 churches;” I reminded him.

But Peter was undeterred. He sent out emails to the other worship leaders telling them they could “buy their weekly song selection” from his informal organization.

For whatever reason, some took the offer. Whether these worship leaders and music directors were tired of choosing for themselves I do not know. Perhaps they felt Peter’s family offered a degree of expertise beyond their own.

He emailed 52 churches and 13 (one quarter) took the offer. Combined with the four churches already under their family umbrella, they were choosing congregational sung worship songs for 17 churches, a few of which they’d never even visited.

Word started spreading beyond the area and he started getting requests from churches in other states.

“This is really big;” he told me, “We found a need and we filled it.”

I had told Peter that popular worship leader Tim Lonchris was my wife’s second cousin, so when his tour came to our state, Peter asked if I could score us free admission. I did wonder why the guy who was raking in a small worship music stipend for nearly two dozen churches couldn’t afford concert tickets, but I decided to let it go.

In fact, I did better. I got us backstage passes and a chance to meet Tim before the concert.

I started to introduce Tim to Peter, but Peter barged ahead, “My name’s Peter and I control the worship music in 27 churches across the Tri-State area.”

Tim’s brow furrowed slightly. “What do you mean control?”

“We choose the songs for the churches so they don’t have to have to choose them themselves.”

He then thrust a business card into Tim’s hand and then he told Tim how much he enjoyed his music. Then we had to find out where we’d be seated backstage, so we left the dressing room, but as Peter left I circled back.

“Sorry about that;” I said, “Peter’s little operation is probably unique, I’d say.”

“Yes it is;” Tim replied, but then he handed the business card to his road manager adding, “Remind me to follow-up with this guy; we need to look into this.”

August 2, 2018

Breaking the Repetition Factor in Worship

A few days ago, our friends at Flagrant Regard posted this question at Worship Leader’s Collective:

 

Does anyone else feel the 7/11 treatment of songs (7 words, 11x in a row) can get a bit taxing if you’re standing, have ADHD or just want to sing worship songs that render its message in 4 minutes or thereabouts?
 
We took the nearly 8-minute version of Elevation Band’s great song ‘Resurrecting’ and rejigged it down to a comfortable 5 minutes (example below). Anyone else doing the same or feel the need to?”

We asked if we run this larger response for readers here at Thinking Out Loud.


Hey there. It’s the Original Poster (Flagrant Regard) here. So, after reading the many responses to the question asked above, the first thing I’d like to say is thank you all for taking the time to answer/reflect. Much appreciated!

I think from the many responses, the idea of the worship leader/team having to cut back on a Hillsong/Bethel/Elevation song’s length during worship time seems to be out of sync with the modern worship trends and not a favorable action with the majority here.

You know, if it were just young people in your services who are into the whole Bethel/Hillsong/Elevation Worship thing that has come to dominate the ‘industry’ of worship music in this century, I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s fine. Don’t cut back on your song lengths and repetition of choruses.”

But the church is made of many parts and many peoples. People who give a fig about older hymns, people who don’t. People who like songs from the 90’s and 00’s, people who don’t. People who like to sing and people who’d rather read the lyrics on the overhead projections and just ‘soak’ while the worship band does their shtick.

What bothered me in this thread was how some of the reasons for not wanting to trim some songs (in attempts to accommodate many people’s comfort-levels in the church body) came across as rather snobbish or selfish even. And musical snobbishness is a reflection of worship leadership that is more concerned with elevating one’s self or one’s musical agenda rather than attempting to meet many people where their at in an oft-diverse congregational body. We are taught in Scripture to ‘be all things to all men’. One good way to do this, as a worship leader, is to not just play the music YOU dig or get into. To honour one another above yourselves is sometimes playing that old hymn for those 10 or 11 folks there who would so much appreciate the effort that you’d take to do so. Maybe play only 1 longish song with multiple layers/choruses and then play others from the 90’s or the 00’s even that are less repetitive. Not everyone in the congregation is ‘bent’ toward meditative worship music that constantly refrains things for up to 8 or 9 minutes. This does not make them less spiritual than you. This does not make them less deserving of your respect or outreach or occasional accommodating their comfort-levels.

What’s wrong with a balance of song styles/lengths to reach a whole congregation and not just the Bethelites/Hillsongians among the crowd?

Listen to how much of your ‘SELF’ came out in your responses to the question.
“Gets ME into a meditative state”

“Sometimes it takes a little time and repetition for ME to really set aside MY day …”

“I THINK they can stand for 25 minutes once a week”

So it’s about you is it?

And then some of the reasoning for playing longer songs had me going, “Uh, really?”

“Why don’t we feel the same way when Scripture gets repetitive? Psalm 136 is a good example. … I wonder if we can’t stand as long because we just don’t want to. We like things our way because we feel entitled to things being done our way.”

“people who complain about repetitive lyrics, ask them if they like the Hallelujah Chorus”

“that whole idiotic 7/11 thing is what many of the prominent reformed guys use to smear the entirety of the charismatic church, while still being fine with the eternally repetitive ways that the angels are projected to be worshiping God in heaven.”

1. Psalm 136. Reminds me of my Roman Catholic days. You know, where every Sunday you’re made to say the same prayers over and over again in a ‘call and response’ fashion till it became lip service. Who warned us against ‘repeated prayers’ because of their inherent nature to disengage us from reality and make us think we’re doing something spiritual when we’re not? (Matthew 6:7)

Not saying that this Psalm isn’t wonderful. But I was able to read it aloud comfortably in under 2 MINUTES – TWO MINUTES folks … Not eight.

2. The Hallelujah Chorus … is not a congregational piece. It’s a highly designed performance piece. Doesn’t fit in with Sunday mornings now does it? Silly example.

3. People of a certain age (you’ll get their friends, trust me) will be sore. Yes, the ‘whole of Israel’ (hyperbolically speaking) was there for the reading of the Decalogue in Nehemiah, but Israel would not be telling a crippled old widow, “Stand up, you lazy serf. We’re worshipping God here.” Unless you believe in a God who would expect that, our role is to accommodate the suffering and struggling in our midst. People struggle with attention spans when they’re very young and very old and long, repetitive songs DO NOT ASSIST in their attempts to become more spiritual!

4. The angels in heaven … are in heaven. They are angels and not humans. They praise God because they are self-aware in a way that you and I could never comprehend (in this life) and feel compelled to worship our Mighty God in ways that you and I could never fathom.

Not all raise their hands in praise. Are they less worshipful? Not all have a singing voice, is it right to compel them to sing or hear things over and over again that do not centre their minds on God, say, the way a well-worded sermon does?

My wife was right yesterday when she noted that the modern worship service seems to be moving in this direction: its structure is being dictated by the worship music or leadership … not the pastor, not the preaching, not the theology, not the disciplining efforts.

She was right, I began to conclude. Is it because the whole ‘paid worship pastor’ thing (which is rather new in the history of the modern church) forces the worship pastors to ‘earn their salt’ by making sure they’re ‘performing’ to expectations? That their singing long enough songs … playing extended musical sets?

I wonder how many of those here in favour of the longer songs and longer sets are the same people who start looking at their watches when the pastor begins to go ‘overtime’ with his message? If you’ve ever done that … do you see the duplicity you’ve just found yourself chewing on?

I guess what it all comes down to is this:

Who are you serving? Why are you serving? How could your serving best meet the variety of souls that have to listen to you for 25 minutes or so? Old music is not bad. I used to be one of those ‘hymn haters’ … “Why can’t they do the new stuff here? They’re such FUDDY-DUDDIES!” But that was because my agenda was to make them – the less ‘with it’ folks – get with the program. Yeah, that’s what Christianity is about – making the people bow to YOUR preferences.

Christian worship leading is not about fulfilling YOUR preferences. It is about ‘being all things to all men/women’ and ‘honouring another above yourselves’ VIA YOUR GIFTINGS.

So before next Sunday, think about your congregation – the blue hairs, the young, the middle aged, the smart/the not so smart, the attentive, the less talented, the seeking … are you doing everything in your power (in the Spirit’s power, rather) to lead them closer to the Throne by meeting them where their at by way of the many songs available to you from the many glorious eras of Christian song that are wonderful as well and often succinct in their message/presentation?

Worship the Lord with your love and humble-heart, and love others with your various giftings. Play well and professionally of course. But love others – as many others as you can – with your gifts.

That is the true Worship Leader’s calling.

March 4, 2018

Resource for Worship Leaders Who Aren’t Pros

Over the years I’ve shared some of the music of David Wesley with readers here or mentioned new videos in the weekly link lists. David does multi-track recording of Christian songs and posts videos of him singing each part, complete with a costume change for each track. I’m privileged to know him personally and to get to share conversations about worship in the local church. (If you’ve haven’t heard his music, I’ve embedded two videos at the bottom of this article.)

Today, I want to share a couple of the recent videos he’s produced in a new series called NoPro Worship: New principles, strategies, tips and tricks every Friday! It’s for people who aren’t on staff at a local church, or feel they’re no professionals, or no pro for short.

After a couple of getting-to-know-you videos where he introduced the series, he then looked conceptually at the Six Purposes of Worship in the Church. (Click to watch; that one’s not below.)

But then he moved into a really challenging topic: Does it matter where our songs come from? What about the life of the composer? What about the writer’s doctrinal perspective when it’s quite different from your own on key issues? He uses a really challenging example of a song that many worship wrestled with a few years back. Can you comfortably lead a tainted song? Check it out:

Then last Friday, he looked at the size of a worship leader’s (or church’s) repertoire. Is your congregation seeking freshness or familiarity? There’s also some practical advice on choosing songs generally. And how can worship be considered Spirit-led if you have to plan it all out ahead of time? After watching this one, if you give worship leadership at your church, consider subscribing to the series. And if you’d like to support what David is doing with this series, you can learn how to do that at the end.


For the first sample of his music, although he has more complex videos, I thought given the subject matter it was a fitting tie-in here to include this one, O Church Arise.

Finally, I had to include this one because my wife sings on it! This is David’s virtual choir and band — representing many different countries — performing an original arrangement of Nothing But The Blood.


Videos watched on WordPress blogs register on YouTube as views, but send David some “stats love” by clicking through (the YT logo in the bottom right when the video is playing) and watching a few more. And be sure to forward the NoPro Worship videos (or link to this blog post) to the worship leader at your church.

June 29, 2017

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

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

A 2008 article at Practical Worship:

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

A reader commented:

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

A 2013 article at The Church Collective:

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

A 2016 article at Worship Him 24/7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you’ll do the same.

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

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!”


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