Thinking Out Loud

July 15, 2018

Worship Planning is both Simple and Complex

I write a lot about the worship part of our church services because that is the area where I have served most frequently and consistently. If I had spent a lifetime serving in the church nursery, perhaps that would be the focus!

Years ago, when my wife was putting together worship sets, she encountered people who saw her work has very specialized and perhaps a bit mysterious. They viewed her adeptness at this with awe, often saying things like, “I don’t know how you do that each week;” or “I could never do that.”

The point is, at the basic level, they could do it. They could pick 5 songs and put together a worship set just as easily as anyone reading this could.

But in the modern worship environment, if you’re having to supply chord charts for band members, prepare presentation files for projection, deal with sound volunteers, and organize rehearsals; the job can get quite complex.

There are certain songs which just don’t follow other songs, usually for reasons of the pitch or key of each, but often for rhythmic or lyrical reasons. There are songs some churches don’t know and others that used far too frequently. A handful of popular ones today would go against the grain of the doctrinal position of certain churches.

Trying to be helpful to my wife, and as an occasional member of her team (I play keyboards, bass, incidental percussion and occasional guitar) I created the above document. It was a recognition of several things we were dealing with at the time.

First, it’s easy in rehearsals to under-communicate introductions and endings. Second, we sometimes feel instrumentalist on stage needs to be playing on every song, when in fact, the instrumentation would work better if some people took a song out to just sing. Third, it helped me personally visualize where some of the spoken readings fit into the larger set list, especially if I was only given a song set list, and the readings weren’t actually introduced until the actual service. Lastly, she was often run off her feet and I thought she’d appreciate the use of an organizing tool where churches didn’t have a budget for anything more sophisticated or personnel were still dependent on print resources.

Feel free to borrow it.

Yes, there is some complexity to all this, but again, if the demands are less complicated, this is something anyone can learn how to do.

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April 3, 2018

Cruising the Liturgical Worship Continuum

A few years ago, Evangelicals starting using words like Advent and Lent and Lectio Divina. While some purists probably thought this was the proverbial “Road to Rome,” some of us were thankful that the Episcopals, Anglicans and Catholics didn’t have a copyright on the liturgical calendar.

However, at the same time as this is taking place there is another distressing trend at the other end of the worship continuum. Increasingly, worship leaders seem blissfully unaware that there are songs which are especially suited for Easter Sunday and more disturbingly, Good Friday, or the mandate that these days issue to them.

I attended a number of Good Friday services this year and got to witness this firsthand. The lack of focus was rather appalling, however, as I said, the standard has been eroding for at least the past decade, to the point where younger worship leaders and worship planners have never had an Evangelical Good Friday service properly modeled for them.

I covered this in two previous articles:

One of the services I attended included Hosanna, which is a song for Palm Sunday and comes packed with the mood you’re not trying to create on Good Friday. Ironically, of all the services we attended or watched online, it was a capital “L” Liberal denomination’s church that got it right. We sat in a room with only 22 attendees and although there was no sermon, I give them 100% for liturgy and 100% for music in terms of capturing the intent of a Good Friday service.

This is a rant I will never stop. I’m sorry, but… well, here’s what I tweeted a week ago, possibly in anticipation of the weekend which was to follow.

It’s not just Good Friday, either. Thanksgiving has slowly fallen off the worship leaders’ radar. I’m not saying we need to sing We Gather Together or Come, Ye Thankful People Come endlessly; I’ll take a modern worship expression of the same theme. But the people choosing our songs apparently live in a total vacuum when it comes to awareness of the seasons in question. (And yes, I know Thanksgiving isn’t part of the liturgical calendar.)

July 10, 2014

Creating A Worship Song Set

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Worship moment

Although our friend Laura has been leading worship for a relatively short time, she comes to this from a background in choral music in a more liturgical setting, so many of the modern worship songs and gospel hymns that are familiar to Evangelicals have been to new to her. With that perspective, her approach to leading in our home church is always marked by a careful choosing of songs, crafting original readings, and a most-evident continuity of theme.

She was asked recently to write about the song selection process — the always challenging and even mysterious part of worship leading to those who have never done it — and we got her permission to use this here at Thinking Out Loud. I really appreciated how she was able to cut to the core issues; the things that matter. I hope you’ll copy the link for this and send it to anyone who chooses the music for any sized event at your church.

Planning A Worship Set

by Laura Steen

In scripture, we are instructed to teach “using psalms, hymns and songs from the spirit, and to sing with gratitude in our hearts” (Colossians 3:16). How, then, do we plan a worship set that will set the spirit free, and make hearts thankful and ready to receive God’s word? How do we become organized, yet flow in the spirit? How do we work within the tension of careful preparation and spontaneity?

Prayer – the most important planning element. We enter into prayer as we think about the needs within the congregation and songs that may speak to those needs. We ask ourselves … is there a theme we need to work with, is there something in the message that needs to be reinforced through the music, do people just need to know God’s heart? It is amazing where answers come from … other people, scripture, books we are reading, or messages we have heard. We pray for preparation in our own hearts so that we can enter into worship and connect the hearts of God’s people with Him.

Song Selection – easier said than done. There are so many songs to choose from! Once prayer has given us a clear focus for the set, this process unfolds. We keep in mind several other items; are the words meaningful and scripturally based, are they right for the voices and instruments we have to work with, do they move us from praise to worship of our God?

Transitions – important smaller details. These create a natural flow through the worship set, often assisting in freeing the spirit. Scriptures, prayers, readings, heartfelt words or images are used to offer encouragement. Sometimes, a planned pause can speak volumes! Images, too, can speak a thousand words.

Practice – it isn’t about perfection, but rather to prepare the leader and team to work together and to create an arrangement that works for the songs. It isn’t just about technicalities, it’s a process that frees us to discover what works best for the song – voices, harmonies, instruments. Practice roots us in the purpose of our leadership and prepares us for the unexpected. We want people to feel freed to worship as the spirit moves them.<

And finally, Gratitude – we are grateful to be able to be used by God for the purpose of preparing hearts, freeing the spirit and encouraging others … and, while the planning takes time, there is so much joy in making music for God and his people!

 

April 8, 2014

Back on Message

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

A year ago at this time, I got a lot of heat from a lot of readers over something I — for the most part — did not write. It was a reprint of a comment a reader left concerning a prominent American megachurch pastor who ditched the usual Easter Sunday message in favor of commencing a sermon series on personal finances. ‘Rather odd,’ I thought, but a newsy blog post anyway — since most pastors see Resurrection Sunday as a high point in the church year — so I posted it not realizing how passionate and loyal his followers were. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” I was told, though not in those words. If you really want to, you can read that story and the comments here

…I just skimmed over and relived all those comments all over again. I think it’s great to be loyal and supportive to your pastor. I also think it’s great to be able to step back from that subjectivity and weigh big-picture issues against the counterweight of data from other churches and ministries. The problem that took place in the comments section was that nobody was truly hearing what those on the other side of the discussion were saying…

…In any event, I decided to see what’s planned for the same church this year. I can only hope the following represents truth in advertising…

Easter 2014 at Harvest

 

July 7, 2013

How to Play Church

Have you ever watched a group of children playing “school,” or do you remember playing the game yourself? Kids may say they hate school, but interest in this game usually intensifies in mid-July, and the same kids who were chanting, ‘No more teachers, no more books…’ just a few weeks previously find themselves engrossed in a complete reconstruction of the educational process.

The teacher plays the role perfectly. There’s instruction, discipline and a test to see if the students are learning. The students also turn in a flawless performance. But wait! Now somebody else wants to play the part of the teacher. The roles have been exchanged and the new ‘teacher’ is even better than the last. These kids have never been to teachers’ college; where did they learn the teacher’s role so well?

It has been said that of all the occupations available to young people, the job of schoolteacher is the most self-perpetuating. This means that the teacher’s activities receive constant exposure and we gain a full understanding of what teaching entails without being formally trained to take on the role. We are what Hollywood would call understudies for the part, even though only a handful of children ultimately choose teaching as their life’s work.

[Sidenote: Some will argue that motherhood is actually the most self-perpetuating role. No problem here; have you ever watched the same group of children play “house?” It’s the same principle: Monkey see. Monkey do.]

Having grown up in a Christian home and having shared that heritage with many of my friends, I’ve learned that it is equally possible to play “church.” It is actually a game that affords a greater variety of roles. One can be the worship leader while another is the preacher. A cardboard box becomes the offering plate. A battery-operated toy piano is transformed into a four-manual cathedral organ. For Baptist children, a nearby wading pool offers the opportunity for the sacrament of baptism; for Anglican children a glass of water serves the same purpose. Those who don’t sing, preach, or serve communion become the congregation.

The problem is that the game never ends. As we progress through our teens, twenties and thirties, we continue to perpetuate the game the way we’ve always played it. When someone tries to play the game differently — maybe they didn’t play church when they were young — we encourage them to play it our way because we’ve been playing it longer and we know the rules.

Think about this one: Its 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. The kids have had their ritual weekend bath and gone to bed. Time now to read the paper, play with the TV’s remote control for a half-hour, and then review your Children’s Church lesson for the next morning.

The phone rings. It’s the pastor, and he doesn’t sound too good. He’s come down with Somethingitis and can’t get anyone to take over the worship service, because everyone has gone to the cabin for the long weekend. He needs you to run the entire service; there’s been no order of service written. Choose a few choruses that the kids from the youth group can play on guitar or piano. Be sure to read a scripture. Don’t forget the offering. “Look;” he says, “I need you. You have one hour together to worship God, and you can do anything you want to with that hour.”

You hang up the phone. Nobody would ever believe this one. You grab a copy of the church’s old hymnbook; the one you should not have taken home with you. You flip the pages back and forth, and set it down and pick up a CD copy of Wow Worship and start reading the list of worship songs on the two discs. All this time the pastor’s words are echoing in your brain, “do anything you want to with that hour.”

Your creative juices start to flow. You begin to think of all the things you wish would happen at a Sunday morning at your church. Testimonies. Praying together in small groups. Interactive discussion. All those concepts that have been locked away in your head for all those years.

On the other hand, you realize that a very sacred responsibility has been entrusted to you. Everyone will be watching to see what you do.

Why rock the boat? Why make waves? Why get everyone mad? Because you were on the sound and lighting team, you have a copy of the order of service from the week before; so you change the music selections, adjust the scripture reading, and enlarge that Children’s Church lesson so that it becomes an sermon for adults.

The next day your service is a perfect imitation of everything the pastor normally does. When it ends, people come up to you and say how much they enjoyed the service. What they mean is that they weren’t challenged, weren’t made to think, weren’t robbed of any program elements that make them feel comfortable. You were a hit!

After 20 years of playing church, you finally got to play in the big leagues, and you let everybody know that you know how the game is played.

Congratulations. Your religion is now completely devoid of any real meaning.

~ Chapter 8 from For Members Only, an unpublished manuscript I began working on many, many years ago.  Previously posted one year ago at Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2012

Did Church Work For You Yesterday?

Carlos Whittaker posted this on his blog, Ragamuffin Soul exactly two weeks ago.  You may find it a little harsh, or you may feel he nailed it. Perhaps you attend church, and it’s not perfect, but you go with different expectations.  Either way, I’d like to know your reaction.

Yesterday millions of people stood in rows and sang songs.
Yesterday millions of people sat in rows and listened to a person talk about God.
Yesterday millions of people left a building and went back home.

Today millions of people are waiting to see if “going to church” worked.
Today millions of people are going to be severely disappointed.
Today millions of people need to see that church wasn’t yesterday and it wasn’t in a building…
Today millions of people need their church staff to not start planning CHURCH next Sunday until they show them CHURCH today.

July 28, 2012

Playing Church

Have you ever watched a group of children playing “school,” or do you remember playing the game yourself? Kids may say they hate school, but interest in this game usually intensifies in mid-July, and the same kids who were chanting, ‘No more teachers, no more books…’ just a few weeks previously find themselves engrossed in a complete reconstruction of the educational process.

The teacher plays the role perfectly. There’s instruction, discipline and a test to see if the students are learning. The students also turn in a flawless performance. But wait! Now somebody else wants to play the part of the teacher. The roles have been exchanged and the new ‘teacher’ is even better than the last. These kids have never been to teachers’ college; where did they learn the teacher’s role so well?

It has been said that of all the occupations available to young people, the job of schoolteacher is the most self-perpetuating. This means that the teacher’s activities receive constant exposure and we gain a full understanding of what teaching entails without being formally trained to take on the role. We are what Hollywood would call understudies for the part, even though only a handful of children ultimately choose teaching as their life’s work.

[Sidenote: Some will argue that motherhood is actually the most self-perpetuating role. No problem here; have you ever watched the same group of children play “house?” It’s the same principle: Monkey see. Monkey do.]

Having grown up in a Christian home and having shared that heritage with many of my friends, I’ve learned that it is equally possible to play “church.” It is actually a game that affords a greater variety of roles. One can be the worship leader while another is the preacher. A cardboard box becomes the offering plate. A battery-operated toy piano is transformed into a four-manual cathedral organ. For Baptist children, a nearby wading pool offers the opportunity for the sacrament of baptism; for Anglican children a glass of water serves the same purpose. Those who don’t sing, preach, or serve communion become the congregation.

The problem is that the game never ends. As we progress through our teens, twenties and thirties, we continue to perpetuate the game the way we’ve always played it. When someone tries to play the game differently — maybe they didn’t play church when they were young — we encourage them to play it our way because we’ve been playing it longer and we know the rules.

Think about this one: Its 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. The kids have had their ritual weekend bath and gone to bed. Time now to read the paper, play with the TV’s remote control for a half-hour, and then review your Children’s Church lesson for the next morning.

The phone rings. It’s the pastor, and he doesn’t sound too good. He’s come down with Somethingitis and can’t get anyone to take over the worship service, because everyone has gone to the cabin for the long weekend. He needs you to run the entire service; there’s been no order of service written. Choose a few choruses that the kids from the youth group can play on guitar or piano. Be sure to read a scripture. Don’t forget the offering. “Look;” he says, “I need you. You have one hour together to worship God, and you can do anything you want to with that hour.”

You hang up the phone. Nobody would ever believe this one. You grab a copy of the church’s old hymnbook; the one you should not have taken home with you. You flip the pages back and forth, and set it down and pick up a CD copy of Wow Worship and start reading the list of worship songs on the two discs. All this time the pastor’s words are echoing in your brain, “do anything you want to with that hour.”

Your creative juices start to flow. You begin to think of all the things you wish would happen at a Sunday morning at your church. Testimonies. Praying together in small groups. Interactive discussion. All those concepts that have been locked away in your head for all those years.

On the other hand, you realize that a very sacred responsibility has been entrusted to you. Everyone will be watching to see what you do.

Why rock the boat? Why make waves? Why get everyone mad? Because you were on the sound and lighting team, you have a copy of the order of service from the week before; so you change the music selections, adjust the scripture reading, and enlarge that Children’s Church lesson so that it becomes an sermon for adults.

The next day your service is a perfect imitation of everything the pastor normally does. When it ends, people come up to you and say how much they enjoyed the service. What they mean is that they weren’t challenged, weren’t made to think, weren’t robbed of any program elements that make them feel comfortable. You were a hit!

After 20 years of playing church, you finally got to play in the big leagues, and you let everybody know that you know how the game is played.

Congratulations. Your religion is now completely devoid of any real meaning.

~ Chapter 8 from For Members Only, an unpublished manuscript I began working on many, many years ago.

October 24, 2011

First, The Bible Wars; Then, The Music Wars; Next…

Collectively, churches and changes don’t go well together.  Whether it’s change in the way people dress for worship; the addition of multiple service times and Saturday night services; replacing the choir with a worship team; or the preacher switching from the NASB to The Message; we tend, as a group, to be very uncomfortable with the transitions. 

In Evangelical circles, the ongoing tension is often expressed as, “The Bible Wars,” or “The Music Wars.”  Like the weather, everyone has an opinion on these topics, and some people simply vote with their feet and move on.

For Roman Catholics, the parish system dictates where your primary place of worship is located.  Catholics actually led the rest of us in the switch to contemporary music, with the folk masses of the early 1960s, so it’s not a prime breeding ground for music battles.  Their scripture readings form a smaller part of a much larger liturgy, and use the NAB (New American Bible), NRSV, Jerusalem Bible and even the Catholic edition of the Good News Bible allows some flexibility.

In fact, the NAB went through a revision this year; a revision somewhat ignored by the rest of the Christian community, and totally overshadowed by the release of the 2011 edition of the NIV.  But it was not without controversy especially over — you can pause and make a guess here — the use of inclusive language.   So now we hear the NABRE (revised edition) is “approved for private use and study.  It will not be used in the mass. “

While we wait for that story to sort itself out, comes word this week that changes are coming to The Missal, a book which really has a larger place in the structure of the mass than the Bible itself.   What might be called “focus groups” are getting together across the USA to “test drive” the new order of service, as USAToday Religion reports:

…They [are] preparing for a revised text of the Mass that will take effect on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent and of the church year.

The revisions reflect a new translation for the English-speaking world of the Roman Missal, the official Latin-language set of worship documents. It includes words and instructions for conducting the Mass, the central act of Catholic worship, in which priests bless and distribute bread and wine as essentially the body and blood of Jesus.

Virtually every prayer and proclamation in the Mass is undergoing at least some revision, marking the biggest change in worship for American Catholics since they began having Masses in English rather than Latin after the reformist Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

Much of the debate within the church is over whether the changes, ordered by the Vatican to achieve more literal translations from the Latin, are good or bad.

Proponents say the new version is a more precise reflection of the original Latin. They say it is richer in its poetry, more reverent in its references to God and fuller in its allusions to the Bible and church creeds.

Critics say the Vatican dismissed years of work by scholars who had been working for the bishops of English-speaking countries. They call the new version rigidly literal — difficult for priests to recite and lay people to understand.

It contains technical theological terms — such as Jesus being “consubstantial” with the Father, replacing the current phrase “one in being,” and “oblation,” replacing the term “offering.”

But for many Catholics, such discussions haven’t even registered.

A national survey released in August found that three-quarters of Roman Catholics are unaware of the changes to come.

continue reading the story at USAToday

Other highlights from the article:

  • [Michael] Diebold sees the revisions as showing “symbolically where Rome is headed” — away from a cooperative vision of church as the “people of God” toward one defined by its hierarchy.
  • Others worry about how young people — whom Catholic and other churches are already struggling to retain — will react.
  • The Rev. Joseph Fowler, a retired priest, said the phrasing is “going to be very foreign” to people.
  • The vocabulary is “not the language of the street, it’s not the language I may pray on my own,” [Archdiocese worship director Judy Butler] said. But it reflects the current Vatican emphasis on using a “sacred vernacular” — which people recognize as devotional language.
  • “If any priest picks up that Missal on that first Sunday and has not read it out loud, he’ll be in over his head,” said the Rev. Paul Scaglione, pastor at St. Barnabas.

So for non-Catholics, how does this affect you?

I think that for the most part, Protestants and Evangelicals have done a decent job of surviving the Bible wars and music wars, but not so good a job at “refreshing” the liturgy.  We still tend to lapse into dated and awkward phrases at time, and the repeating of the ‘words of institution’ at The Lord’s Supper or Communion could easily be refreshed since they are straight out of I Cor 11 and the other translations already exist.

While mainline Protestant churches focus more on liturgy, Evangelicals focus on the sermon, and this is another area where help is needed.  One Atlanta pastor is known as “one of America’s top communicators;” but I wonder if the issue is not the number of people in the pulpit on Sunday morning who simply aren’t good communicators, or are perhaps really bad communicators.

The Roman Catholic church is working to address a badly needed change; but it’s insistence on a “sacred vernacular” that is difficult to grasp may signal change that is moving in the wrong direction.

Some excellent articles on the new missal can be found at Catholic San Francisco:

Again, from a non-Catholic perspective, it would be great to see so much thought and consideration being poured into the words spoken during our worship services, especially given the Evangelical penchant to speak extemporaneously, or as one pastor told me years ago, “to wing it.” Winging it simply doesn’t respect people’s time, intelligent or the place of things sacred.

August 24, 2011

Wednesday Link List

I like a church that covers all the basics for living

Years from now, when anthropologists discover this blog, they will say, “Truly, this was the Wednesday Link List for August 24th, 2011.”

  • Randy Alcorn quotes a Chuck Colson report that we shouldn’t be talked into thinking there’s been a lessening of persecution of Christians in China.
  • The author and publishers of The Shack — a bestselling Christian novel — found themselves on opposite sides of a lawsuit which was finally settled out of court.
  • Just what WOULD the Beatles have come up with, creatively speaking, had they been followers of Jesus all those years ago? A good friend of ours has finally given us the green light to release the link for a take-off to The Beatles “When I’m Sixty-Four.”  So enjoy “Matthew Six Three-Four.”  (The link will open your computer’s media player.) Stay tuned for more from Martin Barret on a soon to be released project featuring this song and others.
  • Schullergate Item of the Week:  The Crystal Cathedral succeeded in getting a dissenting website, Crystal Cathedral Music, taken down this week. The site featured commentary from former members of the CC choir and orchestra and friends of the Cathedral’s former music style.
  • Darryl Dash warns pastors and others that when it comes to email and online correspondence, nothing is confidential.
  • Christianity Today profiles Dave Ramsey, noting the new Momentum curriculum, designed to bring the same advice to cash-strapped churches as is given individuals.
  • Alex Mejias at the blog High Street Hymns gives you Five Reasons to Use Liturgical Music in Your Contemporary Worship Service.  (And no, “Liturgical songs are free of copyright worries” wasn’t in the list.)  [HT: Zac Hicks.]
  • This one’s a repeat from April, but I read it again and laughed again.  What if churches used their signs to suggest “purpose statements” that were actually achievable?
  • DotSub — the online service which adds subtitles in any language to your videos — picks up a June, 2010 TED Talk by Larry Lessig which deals with copyright and fair use, but begins with an observation about Republicans: They go to church.
  • Ronnie McBrayer adds his voice to The Underground, a Christian website like no other, and notes that a lot of people do strange things because they thought they heard God’s voice.
  • In an in-depth article, CNN ponders whether Christians can win the war against pornography. (Over 3,000 comments as of Monday.)
  • Julie Clawson considers the theological implications of the Veggie Tales song, “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.”  Okay, that’s not exactly what this post is all about.
  • Just discovering the music of Phil Wickham.  Gave Mrs. W. the Cannons album last week for being good!  This older song, You’re Beautiful, is closing in on 2,000,000 YouTube views.  For the already-converted (!) here’s a clip from Phil’s October-releasing album, Response.
  • Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like delivers a fundy take on I Cor. 13; though in all honesty, I gotta say this one is high in contention for being tomorrow’s post here.
  • You’re not really going to the bathroom at Bible study group are you?  Bryan Lopez reblogged Tech-Crunch’s Technology is the New Smoking.
  • Somewhat related: Chrystal at Life After Church introduces a new blog series by describing a very non-Baptist way to engage with scripture.
  • Thomas Prosser at the UK Guardian newspaper thinks that Christian youth camps are manipulative, but before you read, you need to know that what they term as camps, we refer to as festivals.
  • If you’re a link-o-phile, you’ll also find a daily rundown at Take Your Vitamin Z (Zach Nielsen), Kingdom People (Trevin Wax) and Tim Challies.  These bloggers include things from the broader blogosphere including lots of tech news, but when it comes to theological discussion the links are all from a single doctrinal family of bloggers.  (Note the vast number of links that turn up on all three over the course of a month.)  The mix here is quite different, but feel free to check out the three mentioned above as well as the large, diverse number of other bloggers in the margin at right.  These links are constantly checked for (a) a spiritual focus, (b) frequent and recent posting, and (c) taken as a group, doctrinal mix and balance.

The Wednesday List Lynx arrives late to the party

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