Category Archives: Church Music
I’ll admit. I’m a bit biased as I have a natural bent toward technology and gadgets. For the most part, they have served me well and an overall knowledge of what is possible through the use of technology for communicating with excellence as well as culturally engaging ways, has proved to be a useful leverage for my ministry. But this post is not about me, but the benefits that this knowledge has brought me over the years. I would love to share a few thoughts with you, that whether technology is your natural bent or not, on how a better knowledge of it can serve you and your team better. The truth is, while many of us may not be “techies”, technology itself is not going away. In a very real sense (good or bad–that’s another post entirely), it has become the language in which the world speaks.
It helps you connect with your staff and volunteers
One thing a decent overall view of technology will help you do is communicate better with your tech staff and/or volunteers and help you speak their language. They live in a world that the evangelical church for the most part is still struggling to understand, and as a result, they often feel misunderstood and underappreciated. Having at least a cursory sense of what their responsibilities entail and knowing how to communicate reasonable expectations to them, can make a world of difference in your church culture and the practical outcomes that you experience each week. People who feel understood and appreciated will work exponentially more effectively than those who do not. And the truth is, it’s difficult for them to feel truly appreciated if they believe you have no idea what they actually do. By speaking their language, you open up a door to deeper relationships and increased productivity from those who are so vital to the effectiveness of your ministry.
It helps you set reasonable expectations
When a leader has very little concept of what is entailed in a creative project, it becomes very easy to set unreasonable expectations and/or get less than stellar results. Your tech and creative staff by nature are often “people pleasers” in that they truly want to please those whom they serve. Because of this, they will often not communicate how they feel about your expectations even when they know they are unreasonable. The result is often either burned out staff and volunteers (at best), loss of morale in the overall creative culture, or disastrous and less-than-desirable results, or all of the above. When you have a general understanding of what is entailed in technology and creative projects, you will set better expectations for your volunteers and staff as well as get more consistent, quality results. I believe you would agree that our people and our ministries are worth it.
It helps you save resources
In many church cultures, the attitude is often that “technology costs money, therefore we don’t value it, because we can’t afford it.” The truth is actually often quite the opposite. A well known financial radio host often says “Never spend more than $300 on something you don’t fully understand.” This is great advice. However, as with much technological advancements, when fully understood, what costs you $300 could save you thousands or more over the long run.
There are many things in life that technology, no matter how advanced can never replace–mainly meaningful human interaction. However, I’ve seen so many processes in churches that don’t increase the value of human interaction but are human resource intensive or costly that otherwise could be simplified and streamlined through the use of technology. Why would I take good people away from meaningful ministry with others to perform dull, monotonous tasks that a computer and some relatively inexpensive software could leverage at far less personnel costs or the sacrifice of meaningful ministry interaction. Yeah, I wouldn’t and you wouldn’t either. But we don’t know what we don’t know. As a leader it’s important to seek out input from our staff, volunteers and those outside our church walls to gain exposure to ways we can make our ministries more effective by helping people to do what only people can do–make more and better disciples of Jesus. Let people do what only people can do and let’s leverage other avenues for accomplishing some necessary, but less important tasks.
It helps you ask better questions
When you have an understanding of the technological options available and what is possible through those, it helps you ask better questions of your team. While creatives and technical staff seem to often want to color outside the lines, the truth is, most of the time they need (and want) boundaries. Yes, they hate to be micromanaged, but they also enjoy the freedom of working freely within well-defined expectations. When you know what is possible, you are free to ask the questions of your team that they love to hear. One of the greatest questions I’ve learned to ask in creative meetings is “How might we (fill in the blank)?”. I usually don’t ask the question without having a few ideas of my own to help prime the pump, but I also realize that rarely are my ideas the best ideas in the room. Having a general understanding of what is possible through technological means, can help your team enjoy more creativity and achieve better results.
Here are some resources that you might find helpful in gaining a greater understanding of how to better leverage technology for ministry:
- The Church Collective (Music resource)
- Loop Community (Music resource)
- Planning Center (church-wide planning and communication tool)
- Technology for Worship Magazine
- Church Production Magazine
- BBFI.org – Specialty Networks
- Ascension Worship Resources (find a local network near you)
I’m glad that at BBC, where I serve as faculty, we are addressing this through more focussed classes on technology in church music and ministry. If you haven’t had an opportunity, click the link above and see if www.gobbc.edu could be right for you. Several online opportunities are available as well.
What would you add to this list? What are some ways in which technology has hurt or helped your ministry?
With Thanksgiving approaching, you may find yourself in a place where you are wondering what in the world you’re going to be thankful for this year. For you, this year may look very different from last year–it certainly does for me. Maybe you find yourself on the mountaintop or maybe you are wondering what in the world you’re going to do next. Maybe you’ve lost a marriage, a family member, a love, your job, your sanity or maybe all of the above.
You may have more to be thankful for than you know but it may look very different than you think. Don’t stop. Keep looking. I’m looking too.
Many know the story of the beloved gospel song “It is Well with My Soul”, and have found comfort both in its message and the story behind the song. Horatio Spafford, a friend of the famed evangelist D. L. Moody and prominent attorney in Chicago in the 1860’s, penned the words of this song. In 1870, a series of family tragedies began with the death of he and his wife Anna’s only son at the age of four. About a year later, Spafford’s extensive real estate investments were destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago.
Two years later in 1873, the Spafford family decided to holiday in England hoping to catch up with D. L. Moody who was preaching a series of meetings there. Delayed on business, Spafford sent his family ahead of him and while crossing the Atlantic their ship sank from colliding with another and 226 people lost their lives including Spafford’s four daughters. Anna, his wife was spared in the tragedy and sent a telegram back that said “Saved alone.” Spafford set sail for England and approaching near the location where his daughter’s lost their lives, he was inspired to write the lyrics of this well beloved song.
It is Well with My Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It is well (it is well)
with my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Each verse seems to track a very normative response to tragedy as often experienced through the eyes of faith. There is no question of the reference to his great family loss in verse one and then there is the reference to what is often perceived as spiritual warfare as we continue to reel from the effects of life’s tragedies. Much like a predator who can sniff out weakness, Satan often comes in to finish the job, whether he can be credited with starting it or not. Then, Spafford, much like many of us, comes to realize though “life” may have taken turns and experienced loss none would anticipate or desire, we realize how we too, are sinners saved by grace and even in great loss, we realize we have for more than we could ever deserve in this life or the next–mainly our freedom and forgiveness from sin! Then, in that we realize that as difficult as life may be, we have hope and assurance that it will not always be this way. One day, ALL will be restored and we will see our Savior face to face and in complete fulfillment, all will be well with our souls.
Enjoy this rendition from Jeremi Richardson (of Avalon) and the great folks at Northland Church in Orlando, Florida.
What songs have helped you express your faith walk and why? You can leave your comments below. (Click “Read More” to open the comments box).
In discussing corporate worship, the idea of preferences comes up a lot. While our preferences help to shape us into who we are, not all preferences are created equal. I’m not speaking of whether someone likes rock, hip hop, or classical (though this definitely applies here), I’m speaking more that there may be better questions.
In a recent Facebook post I made a brief statement thanking my wife for picking me up a bag of cortland apples and made some offhand, tongue-in-cheek remark of how those apples can “change your life”. Several responses (much more than normal for me) followed of both curiosity about these particular apples and several opinions of why another’s choice of apple was superior to my own. While I will never understand why anyone would not enthusiastically agree that a Cortland apple is, by far, the best apple on the planet, this brief exchange between me and a few of my Facebook pals may have something to teach us all. Below are three thoughts that I hope can help to inform us to ask even better questions.
1. God is far more concerned with His purposes than with our preferences.
“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” – Psalm 33:11
Does God know that I like Cortland apples? Sure he does! He created me and whether the propensity for this preference is somehow genetic or the result of the region in which I grew up or some combination of both, I’ll let the scientists decide that. However, it is no secret to God. However, in the grand scheme of God’s kingdom and His greater purpose, does my preference of Cortland apples really change the world? —No, most definitely not (as much as I hate to admit!).
In regards to how we look at corporate worship, I think there are also some applications here as well. In Kingdom and covenant living, it is important that we be asking the better questions of “what is God’s purpose and how can I join Him in it?”. Also, “…what is the greater good of the faith community of which I’m a part and how can I help fulfill my calling and gifts to serve the body?”
2. God knows there is a greater joy that is far deeper and more meaningful than our own personal, temporal pleasure.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1b-2
There is no greater example of the life that is offered to us, than what we see in Jesus. Christ’s ultimate purpose was to glorify the Father by reconciling the world to Himself. He has called us to join Him in that purpose as well and has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). When we align with God’s greater purpose, seek to know Him and make Him known, we set ourselves up to experience a far deeper and greater joy than any temporal preference could ever offer us.
God has called us to build bridges with the culture around us as we seek to engage in the conversation of reconciliation, and often, that means that we may be inconvenienced and uncomfortable as we seek to relate and get involved. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to leave His rightful place in Heaven to come to earth to live, move and walk among us. It was a great sacrifice, but He also knew there would be a greater joy.
3. Our personal freedom is not primarily for self-consumption, but for the context of a covenant relationship
In the garden of Eden, God presented a choice to Adam and Eve. Without the ability to choose, love is not love. Love is a choice to seek the good and welfare of another ahead (and often at the expense) of our own. That is what our freedom should ultimately be about. Living in affluent materialism in the West has inadvertently taught us that our primary and most patriotic duty is to “consume” while the Kingdom economy is more about creating and giving. We all have preferences and that is totally ok! However, our preferences are not created as much for consumption as they are for us to enjoy the grace of giving (and receiving) in a covenant relationship.
In my story of the apples above, this story may look a lot different if I took a different approach to my preferences that looked like this: 1) I like Cortland apples 2) Everyone should like Cortland apples 3) As head of my home, I demand that all of my family not only eat, but prefer Cortland apples. Boy, that sounds fun, doesn’t it?
I may get what I want more often, but at the expense of all of the relationships around me. However, my wife’s simple thought at the grocery store was way more fun for both of us. I don’t think she even ate one of those apples, but she was thinking about me and I think that’s pretty cool! If I know her, she probably got even more pleasure from giving them than I did in eating them.
A Better Way
In our culture and in our churches, it is a good reminder for all of us to be reminded of our covenant relationship with God, His Church and our ministry of reconciliation. How do our decisions, choices and preferences play into God’s greater purpose and how can we join Him in that? These are the better questions. And in the mean time, as we are busy making much of Him and becoming the people He desires us to be, in His infinite grace, He may just surprise us with some “apples” of our own. So. Does God care about our preferences? —Absolutely, but maybe not the way we may have thought. How do you like them apples?
How have you seen this in your own life? What other questions should we be asking?
Boston is a great city. Every time I have the opportunity to visit, I’m brought face to face with its blend of remarkable history and its current relevancy and influence in the current affairs of today. I’m currently sitting in the Thinking Cup Cafe (hoping this really helps me!) across from Boston Common reviewing notes on the life of Lowell Mason, a great church musician,educator,entrepreneur and Boston native. I’m presenting some of this research as part of an intensive class I’m currently teaching at Boston Baptist College. Yesterday in class we were discussing the importance of having a working philosophy of music and worship for those in worship leadership. I came across this summary of Mason’s outlook on church music which I found to be interesting. This was compiled by Carol Pemberton based on a lecture Mason gave in 1826 at the Hanover Street Church in Boston.
- Church music must be simple, chaste, correct, and free of ostentation.
- The text must be handled with as much care as the music; each must enhance the other.
- Congregational singing must be promoted.
- Capable choirs and judiciously used instruments, particularly the organ, are indispensable aids to services.
- A solid music education for all children is the only means of genuine reform in church music.
- Musicianship per se is subordinate to facilitating worship.
While some of the relevancy of his thoughts above may be questioned today (though much of it is quite valid), I would also suggest that his influence continues because he took the time to write it down and share it with others. I would like to share a few thoughts for worship leaders who are currently working out their own thinking regarding corporate worship and encourage those who are not currently thinking about this to begin to work it out in their own minds and begin to incorporate it into their ministries. If the majority of evangelical churches spend close to half of our corporate worship gatherings being involved in congregational music and expression, I believe it is important that we have a sound rationale for why we behave this way. I think there are some important things we can consider regarding working out our values for corporate worship and why that matters today.
A working worship philosophy will prevent you from being forcefully bound to antiquated traditions.
If you’ve seen the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, you can recall Tevye and his uncompromising love for “traditions….(insert Russian music)…traditions.” Like Tevye, often we find ourselves blindly bound to the way things have always been. Now, there’s nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily. They can provide us with structure and stability so that we can pour our energies into the most important things in life. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel. Occasionally, however, it doesn’t hurt to question these “wheels” and evaluate their effectiveness. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the Wright brothers thought outside the “wheel” and found a better way to travel. As was the case with these revolutionaries, anytime you question established norms, you will have your critics and skeptics who wish you anything but the best. But based on principle, good information and determination, they pressed on and now most of those critics, if they were alive today, would gladly get on an airplane for a far away trip when given the option. When our traditions stand in the way of our core values, it’s time to rethink the tradition. Jesus, in Mark 7, had some things to say about this as well. The Pharisees had taken the Law and added their own interpretations and applications to it. While the creators of the traditions mentioned in Mark 7 may have had the best of intentions, by the time Jesus gets on the scene, these traditions were standing in the way of real life transformation. When our traditions do the same, it’s time for honest reevaluation.
A working corporate worship philosophy will keep you from being aimlessly swept around by passing fads and public opinion.
Most of us can probably hear our mother saying with that certain tone, “If the rest of your friends [insert rediculous metaphor here], would you do it too?”. You have to admit, “mamma” had some wisdom there, as annoying as it may have seemed at the time. Many of us should ask the same question of our leadership now as well. Often we make mistakes when we try to emulate others’ success in a different context and thoughtlessly apply it to our own. There are some exciting trends and advancements in the arena of corporate worship today. Using modern instrumentation, visual aids, creative planning and communication can all be excellent tools in sharing the timeless message of the gospel. The danger is often, that because prominent ministries are using certain tools and techniques, and have an appearance of “success”, without thinking, we assume that these same tools and techniques will work in our context as well. They may. They may not. Borrowing from the words of Stephen Covey it’s important that we “begin with the end in mind” and not get too quickly awestruck by the latest and greatest methods when they have little value to our own context or environment. At the same time, staying current with the latest trends and developments in your field can help you to be more informed and often more effective. Don’t be afraid to think outside the “wheel” on your own as well or you might might miss the next “flight”. Who knows, maybe you will be the next trend setter! Having a working worship philosophy will free you to be innovative while ensuring that you also remain effective.
A working corporate worship philosophy will provide purpose, freedom and direction for the future.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is “where are we going with the worship program at our church?”. This is a valid question and may indicate that I have not been as effective as I need to be in communicating the vision and principles that drive us. Having a working worship philosophy and set of values that you faithfully communicate to your team can go a long way in making sure that this question is answered for your people as well as creating better by-in for your ministry. It helps to ensure that your decisions are made on purpose and can help give some of us “creative types” better confidence in the decisions that we make by knowing that we have made decisions based on timeless principles, rather than letting our desire to be creative get in the way of being effective. In those times when your creativity makes you more effective, then by all means…create away! This does not mean that there is no room for creative expression for its own sake (and for God’s glory). It simply means that in the context of community, creativity should always be employed with the responsibility to edify the church as a whole.
Your vision and values will also help give you freedom to explore all of your creative options without the fear of nullifying your current progress. Once you have effectively identified your purpose, you have the creative freedom to explore every possible option that can help you and your church express a greater love and devotion to the Lord. Our nations founding fathers knew the value of marrying freedom and responsibility. For example, the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy and consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. A certain Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Much like the implication of responsibility in Franklin’s answer, our spiritual freedom in worship is best exercised in the context of serving and edifying the church.
In the same way our nation’s founding documents help to preserve certain values, they have also helped to provide direction and vision for the future. Your vision and values can work for you in much the same way. While our nation has strayed from many of the principles that were established early on, because of the effort of these men and the providence of God, we still have a constitutional republic that is free from tyranny and stands as a beacon of freedom and opportunity for many. Even though the early founders of our country probably could have never imagined airplanes, cell phones, or the internet, the principles they laid down helped to pave the way for the freedom to innovate in the future. Your vision and values can do the same for you. I may not know exactly what corporate worship will look like 5-10 years from now for the congregation I serve, but I do know that I am committed to the core principles and vision that will help us to be intentional, effective and creative for future generations.
What are you doing to develop and communicate your core values and vision with your team? Please share your thoughts and anything that is working for you. In the next post, I will lay out the process I have used to develop these resources for myself.
Have you ever set out on something you thought was a lost cause? Maybe it was the class ring you lost while riding on a ten mile wilderness trail, or maybe it was that time you tried to convince your father to borrow the car “one more time” only two days after you wrecked it? In any case, whatever the situation, it looked dire and almost hopeless. Well, there is another “hopeless” pursuit that we are called to as believers–one in which the full paradox of the Scriptures comes into full realization. This “hopeless” pursuit is unlike any other you’ve been on, though, because in this pursuit, the more “lost” you feel, the more “found” you realize you are; the more that you pursue in “vain”, the more meaning you actually find; the more thirsty you are, the more satisfied you become; the more persecuted and rejected you are, the more you find real acceptance—and the list could go on.
The pursuit that we’re talking about here is the never-ending pursuit of God. In Psalm 145, we see that His greatness is unsearchable. It’s not that God cannot be found, because it is God’s very desire to have a relationship with you for He says, “…and ye shall seek me, and find [me], when ye shall search for me with all your heart” – (Jer 29:13). The thing is, that once you are found in Him, you begin the never-ending journey of discovering how unsearchable and endless God’s love and character truly is. This one “hopeless” pursuit is the only thing in life that can actually provide real and lasting joy.
One of my favorite songs of the last couple of years is “Greatness of Our God” (track 11 on the ChurchLife Worship Band CD). In this song there is a line that says “..and no sky contains, no doubt restrains all You are, the greatness of our God”. Not only is this excellent songwriting, but this is an incredibly simple phrasing of a profound eternal truth. The God that you and I serve is greater and stronger than our most challenging trials, and whether or not we choose to believe Him, He is still the same God and still loves us just as much. The flip side is also true–there is no skeptic or doubter that can make God any less than, well, God. He is God and we are not. The end. Fine. And because of this, I plan to continue my “hopeless” pursuit today of the unsearchable riches of God. I hope you will join me, and in doing so, let us find lasting joy in the journey.
In a recent discussion with one of our church staff, we were speaking of God as Creator and what it means for us and the local church. In many churches, and especially within the Independent Baptist movement (of which I am most familiar), we often hear of many attributes of God–holiness, grace, judgment, mercy, and so on. Of course, in children’s Sunday School we’ve been faithful to teach on the seven days of creation and that God “created the heaven and earth…”, but I have found that, often, very little application of this is made to our lives personally, as those created in His image. If God is creative and we are made in His image, then it seems that gospel-centered creativity should also be encouraged and developed as part of our formation as those who are God’s image bearers.
We are God’s image bearers
Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). As such, we possess unique qualities that differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Though we may share common genetic code with the rest of the animal kingdom, we are distinct and different–creativity being one of the principle differences.Through reason and language, man has the capability of forming original thoughts and acting upon those thoughts. Though, unlike God, we do not create ex nihilo (out of nothing), we do have the capacity to see, think, reason, feel and respond to our surroundings while adding something very unique to it.
Lessons from the Creator: Creation is not God–neither are we our “creation”
God, through His own volition and desire created because He wanted to. We are not able to fully know the mind of God outside of what He has revealed, however, we know that God must have a purpose for His creation, though we may not fully understand every aspect of it. God is very distinct and separate from His creation. His creation reveals some things about Him, but it is very separate from Him.
In a similar way, we are not our creation. It is unhealthy as creative people, to wrap our identity around our “creations”. They may reveal a part of our character and be an expression of who we are, but they are not us and this is a very important distinctive. We must find our identity in our relationship with Christ Himself, because this is the only identity that is complete and fulfilling. As His creation, this is what we were created for. To find our identity in something else, whatever it may be, is unhealthy, unfulfilling and less than what God intended for us.
This fact also frees us to create imperfect creations. This may sound a little counterintuitive, however, as imperfect creators, this is all that we can produce. Creativity for human beings can be (and should be) a constant pursuit of excellence for the sake of the gospel, however, “perfection” will always elude us because we are not perfect creators. This is when we rest in the grace of the gospel to redeem our art because of the finished and perfect work of Christ. Christ frees us to create imperfect creations out of a pure heart and offer them to a perfect Creator as an act of worship for Him. The gospel frees us and gives us the ultimate reason to offer our very best, while at the same time, freeing us from perfectionism. We are free to create and, yes, even make mistakes, because we are not our creation and we find our identity in Christ who has already finished the most perfect work on our behalf on the cross.
How has the gospel influenced your creativity and what would you add to these thoughts?
I am looking forward to the release of the ChurchLife Worship band project “Our God” on April 7th! It is the culmination of an idea to be able to share some of the music that students will enjoy at the conference and be able to take part of their experience home with them. We also are excited to showcase several original songs written by Trinity students and alumni (including “Isaiah 53”, “Cry out Your Name” and “Only Hope” among others) and share with others the blessing that we have already experienced as God has used many of these songs in a powerful way in several of the different worship venues within our ministry.
We will be hosting a CD Release event on Friday, April 8th in the new E-Theater on our campus at 9pm during the “after hours” activities at the ChurchLife Student Conference. You can RSVP by clicking here. We’ll also be hosting a song review of your own original songs for a scholarship opportunity as well as the opportunity to have your song featured on the next recording. You can pre-order the album for $10 by clicking here.
The album features the ChurchLife Worship Band as well as “Lifesong”, one of our traveling groups from Trinity Baptist College. All of these will be leading live at the ChurchLife Student Conference. It was an honor to work with these talented students and band members. We had a lot to do in a very short amount of time, but all of these guys worked hard and brought their best at every session (even singing through sickness!). I’m proud of everyone that had a part in making this album a reality including those who gave sacrificially to make this possible. We are indebted to so many who shared in the vision of how God could take a small idea and magnify it into something that will bring glory and honor to Him. We hope that you will enjoy listening to “our God” half as much as we did in making it!
In future posts, I will be chronicling some of the details of the process from our first days in the studio to final completion along with a link to a free download from the project. Stay tuned!
“Our God” Track listing:
1. Our God
2. We Belong to You
3. Forever Reign
4. Cry Out Your Name
5. Glorious Day
6. You are More
7. Isaiah 53
8. Only Hope (click for a free download)
9. How He Loves
10. Open Our Eyes
11. Greatness of Our God
If you are a pastor, you know that pastoring creative people can be a challenging task all on its own. Hiring them on your staff can be a journey to a whole new level of joy, frustration, and bewilderment, often all at the same time. This week I had the privilege of sharing in our team’s vision for a couple of days of off-site planning and strategy development. Being a “creative” and a leader of other “creatives”, I would like to share with you a couple of take-a-ways from this time. I am blessed to work with a great pastor who has an incredible vision for the lives of our people and for those in our community. Here are a few of my take-a-ways as it relates to the importance of vision to the creative people that you lead.
First of all, for fear of stating the obvious, vision provides direction to your team. Being able to see clearly what your church is all about, and what your team is trying to accomplish, helps keep the “big picture” in mind. This may seem obvious to most “type A” leaders (they would never think of doing anything without purpose, right?), but the creative people on your team will create, often just because they can. While creative people will often justify this attitude by claiming they serve the same God that created the platypus (and what purpose does it have?), they are freed to be more valuable to the team when they have purpose and direction to aim their creativity. While there is room in the Christian life for creativity for it’s own sake (when done with a pure heart as an act of worship toward God–it seems that God did), we will have more value to everyone in our world when we have direction and purpose for our creativity.
When most of us think of vision, we think of concepts like “out of the box”, “liberating”, and “defying the odds”. Vision can definitely be associated with all of these things, but one of the areas that is probably most crucial to the success that vision can provide is the idea of boundaries. This may seem counterintuitive, but without them, most ideas remain just that–ideas. Ideas by themselves benefit no one until they are shared and put into action. Boundaries help us clarify what is really important and what resources should get the most priority. The fact that many of us usually cringe when we hear this word, we usually realize that we need them. While it may be fun to day dream about what we might do if money, time, and people were not a limiter on our ideas, the bottom line is–they are. None of us have unlimited time, money, or human resources. Vision helps us shape the boundaries that are necessary to put the best ideas into action.
Focus is crucial to the success of any worthwhile project. For me, this is probably the most difficult obstacle to overcome. My wife keeps insisting that I be treated for adult ADD. While I do admit that my mind can run in a million different directions at the same time, it seems that clear vision can help me focus in ways that no medication could. When we keep the main thing, the main thing, it is much easier to remain focused even when our pursuits seem derailed. When you are sure of your destination it is a lot easier to take the “quit” out of your vocabulary.
Having vision and direction to aim creative pursuits is an incredibly freeing experience. While using words like direction, boundaries, and focus, may sound nothing like the freedom of flying freely through the forest of our dreams, for most of us, it is much easier to approach the “blank canvas” of our art when we have a clear vision of how we can benefit the team. A clear-cut vision can truly give wings to your creativity. One of the ways it does this is by refueling the sense of purpose that all of us have inside (whether creative or not). Like in aerodynamics, it takes several distinct forces acting in harmony to produce flight. Any of the necessary forces (gravity, lift, drag, etc.), when by themselves, can be dangerous, limiting, or worthless, at best. Clear vision can act like the heading and lift that not only makes flight possible, but worth doing at all. People are much more productive when they know that they matter to the team. Clear vision will give your creative team wings to be able to fly to the future of changed lives–both theirs and everyone they touch and inspire.
In the last post I presented a few challenges with the idea of “blended” worship and addressed why this can often be a misunderstood approach to corporate worship in the church. In this post I want to present some thoughts concerning “balanced” worship and why this might be a better approach for those seeking gospel unity in the church.
Why the fuss over terminology?
Words matter. Last month during the Church Life Conference here on Trinity’s campus, Charles Billingsley gave a great talk to worship leaders regarding how to transition your church’s worship without starting a worship war. In that session, he spoke of the importance of language and that communication is not so much what you say, but what people hear. Sometimes it’s better to use a term that requires defining, than a term which may be misunderstood. So whether you prefer to use “blended” or “balanced”, below is the first of a few “balance points” that constantly challenge me as I approach corporate worship planning.
Revelation and Response
Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see a very clear pattern that emerges in the worship of God’s people. Mainly, God reveals Himself to His people–the people respond to Him in worship. This appears quite simple, but has often been a neglected balance point for me as I have planned and led corporate worship. During the 90’s the majority of new music was focused on “me”, “my”, and “I”. In defense of this, I sense that songwriters were writing in this vein primarily because those expressions were lacking in so many of our churches. Worship for many churches had become a very dry, cognitive ascent to a set of beliefs or values, but often did not engage the entire person (mind, will, emotion) in worship. So, in reaction to this, songwriters began to write about their emotion and their feelings toward God. What happens often in modern church culture, however, is that we try so hard to stay “current” and fall victim to whatever is “hot”. The CCLI top 100 song list becomes the basis for our worship planning with little thought to content or direction. Don’t get me wrong–I regularly use most of the songs that are on these charts, and I also recognize that these songs are there for a reason–primarily because they, generally, are good songs and God is using them globally in a great way. However, the needs of your church and my church are very unique and we need to keep this in mind as we “put words in the church’s mouth” as Glen Packiam (“Fairest”, “My Savior Lives”, “Your Name”) describes so well (you can subscribe to his blog here).
Here’s the bottom line: does the music your church sings present a balanced view of God’s revelation to us (His attributes, His character, His gospel) as well as providing opportunities for your church to respond to that truth in authenticity? If we over-emphasize revelation to the exclusion of our authentic, heart-felt response to God, the result can be a dry, crusty, Christianity without heart and genuine emotion. If we over-emphasize our response to God to the exclusion of knowing Him, His revelation (through His Word), and obedience, then we can end up with a psuedo-emotional, “me-centered” Christianity that knows little about the God we are trying to worship. I recognize that the entire weight of this does not rest entirely on the music we choose (that’s why we have preaching/teaching), however, I can also say that I’ve forgotten many more sermons than I have forgotten songs. What we sing can help reinforce the truth that is presented in our services through all the creative means, whether it be teaching, preaching, Scripture reading, or some form of dramatic interpretation or other form of visual art. It is, however, the songs that carry the melodies that can help us to remember these truths at those times when we need them the most.
During the last month I had the opportunity to spend some time with a worship leader of a new, vibrant church plant. We were discussing this very idea of revelation and response, as well as how much of what our churches believe is a result of what we sing. After spending some time thinking and reviewing several of his services over the past few months, he noticed a pattern that he shared with me. He said that after reviewing several of the services where the church seemed to be more in tune and engaged with God, he noticed that it was those services where (in hindsight) he had led the church in this “balance point” of revelation and response. Now, this doesn’t mean that God can be confined to some “formula” and that this idea become another legalistic “rule” to follow in worship. However, what it does say, is that a pattern of several millennia of recorded worship and response not be too quickly dismissed simply because it is not “current”.
What is working for you?
At Trinity, we have recognized this and try to present a balanced selection of music that allows for both of these expressions. Often, “revelation” can be found in many of the older hymn texts and “response” can be found in many of the simple choruses that have been popular (though it is also conversely true as well). There are also many new songs that deal well with God’s revelation to us like “In Christ Alone”, “The Power of the Cross”, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, and many that are great at combining both of these concepts within the same song like “God of the Ages” (Travis Doucette)*, “How Great is Our God” (Chris Tomlin), “Revelation Song” (Jenny Lee Riddle), and a new song written by one of our staff, Joel Carney — “Isaiah 53” (You can get charts and full orchestration for this song by contacting email@example.com). There are also several arrangements of hymns that have added choruses that can help with this as well, like “Fairest” (Glenn Packiam), “I Am Yours” (Michael Neal), “To God be the Glory” (Tommy Walker), “Be Thou My Vision” (Adam Lancaster)*, and one that I have written recently called “What a Savior You Are” (also available from firstname.lastname@example.org).
My challenge to all of us would be to go back and review our own worship services and see if we find similar patterns. I do know that God always honors His Word and that he desires for us to respond to Him in worship and obedience (John 4:23).
What music is working well for you in your church?
What songs would you add to those mentioned above?
What expressions, besides music, are you using to demonstrate this balance point?
In the next post in this series, I’ll look at the “balance point” of context and church culture.