Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
There are countless reasons behind this, and many of them are even good reasons:
Silence is awkward.
If there is no ‘flow’ then dead air leaves a ‘stop/start’ feeling to worship.
People will become quickly bored.
A lack of smooth transition indicates a lack of excellence and God deserves our best.
But for the most part, the reasoning can be pretty much summed up like this: If there is silence in between songs then people are uncomfortable and therefore distracted and unable to worship.
Fill It In!
So the worship ‘experts’ then offer us ways to fill in this ‘dead air’ (which is just a code word that places a negative spin on the word ‘silence’). From my reading the most preferred method seems to be transitioning one song to the next without a pause in the music. When done right, this can be very smooth and pleasing to the ear. It also allows the leader to connect one theme with another quite seamlessly. I utilize this when I feel it is necessary, but it becomes impractical in many situations. Every Sunday just cannot be a five song medley.
So the next best ‘method’ is to fill the silence in with talking. This can be done in a variety of ways. Two of the better ways are Scripture readings and prayer. But most often, from what I’ve personally seen and read (and unfortunately, done myself) is spontaneous chatter. Some have called this ‘The Mini Sermon’, others have called it ‘Worship Cheerleading’ but most call it ‘Annoying.’
Fill It In?
The problem I have here is not the desire to have a smooth transition. I find nothing wrong with Scripture being read in between songs. But what bugs me is that these ‘fillers’ become nothing more than a ‘solution’ to silence. Instead of a 15 second pause between one song and the next, the popular advice is to ‘fill’ it with something. Eradicate and exterminate all forms of silence because, I am told, it makes people uncomfortable, distracted, and it hinders worship. Well I’m here to say it’s not true.
I’ve bought into this type of thinking for too long. Many times I have found myself standing awkwardly on stage in between songs, looking slightly fidgety awaiting the introduction of the next song. I’m sure my presence didn’t help the congregation feel any less awkward. But my thinking was always aiming to end the silence. And awkward silence, as I have found, will make a talker out of a mute. And talking simply to fill in the silence leads to unnecessary rambling and idiotic phrasings that edify and glorify no one. Well, I’m done with that. As I strive to increase my understanding of sound doxology I just cannot continue to participate in this game. Silence is inevitable and I aim to make much of Christ through it. I believe that the benefits of silence in between our songs can far outweigh our feeble efforts to fill it. I also believe that these benefits can prevail over the common concerns of awkwardness, distractions, and the inability to worship.
The Benefits of Silence in Worship
The first benefit is Authenticity. What is more fake than conjured spontaneity? As I pointed out above, in my experience, it just comes off as awkward. There are appropriate times for leaders to talk in between songs, but in between every song is unnecessary. If the Spirit is moving, I'm sure He can move just fine without me talking compared to whenever I open my sin filled mouth. If there are a few moments of silence while the musicians to end one song and start the next then so what? If it takes a couple seconds to turn the page to prepare for the next song, big deal! Is it less excellent to pause for a few moments rather than to play seven songs without stopping? Why should our music at church imitate a concert or a radio station? Imitation is the antithesis of authenticity! Authenticity through silence can serve as another reminder to us and our people that we are not professionals and we don’t aspire to be. That doesn’t mean we fail to plan or rehearse, but it means we make the most of the inevitable silence to come and not try to shoehorn in our often unnecessary noise.
A second benefit silence provides is Reflection; a time to think and a time for prayer. How many times do we as ministers provide opportunities in the worship service for the congregation to meditate and reflect on what they have just heard or sung? If you sing one song after another, without a break, and then seamlessly start the sermon, the congregation has never had time to ponder what they just sang. Many times the few brief moments of silence between each song might be the only silence available for the church to reflect. Mark Dever’s church has embraced the silent times in their service. He says, “We LIKE "dead air space." "Dead air space" gives us time to reflect. To collect our thoughts. To consider what we've just heard or read or sung. The silence amplifies the words or music we've just heard. It allows us time to take it all in, and to pray.” (Read Dever's full post here)
With that in mind, ‘dead air’ is also an opportunity for Participation. Instead of doing something to break the silence, do your best to participate in that silence. Dever continues, “Everyone works to be quiet. People stop moving their bulletins or looking for something in their purse. There's no movement. We, together, hear the silence. It engulfs us. It enhances our unity. It is something we all do together. Together we consider what we've just heard. Together we contribute to each other's space to think.” Active participation in silence actively works to get rid of distractions. Which makes me wonder when people say that silence itself is a distraction!
Lastly, another benefit of silence, and I believe the most important, is Worship. In fact, any benefit derived from this silent time should culminate in worship. Everyone talks about Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” but that’s exactly just what everyone does, talk. Rarely do we see this put into practice. The silence between one song and another is a perfect time to obey this command. In light of this passage it is quite telling to me when the ‘experts’ say that ‘dead air’ hinders worship. What that tells me is that either their understanding of worship is skewed or that they don’t understand what worship really is. If not, then they should really consider the logical outcome of their claims. To make the claim that ‘dead air’ causes people to not worship God is evidence that our faith resides in our methodologies rather than the Creator of silence. It is also a sign to me that many believe worship to be a product that can be manufactured or manipulated to produce an anticipated outcome, which is often called the ‘worship experience’. Many times this is based solely on feelings and nothing else.
One thing to be aware of is that just because silence takes place doesn’t mean that worship takes place. We need to train our people (and ourselves!) in the discipline of silence. And the best way I know how to train is to teach it and practice it. Instead of just expecting the congregation to ‘get it’, take a couple minutes and explain how the church can make the most of the silent times during worship. Explain how worship is not like any other venue in our culture and how silence can enhance reflection. Encourage participation. Take time to worship God when the opportunity of silence presents itself during the week. Even if it is for a few moments.
So instead of constantly trying to fill in the silence, make the most of it when it comes our way! And, most importantly, continue to measure everything we do in our worship services with Scripture to ensure sound doxology. Even the little things like the silence between our songs.
Update 3-26-10: Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters has posted a three-part series called "What Do You Say When You Lead Worship?" He provides some humor as well as great advice.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Bibles Unbound is a ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization dedicated to serving our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ. I have been receiving the VOM newsletter for many years and it is a continual blessing and encouragement in my life. So when they came out with Bibles Unbound a few years back I was thrilled to be a part of it.
Here's the gist: VOM has contacts in countries that are hostile towards Christians. In these countries it is difficult for many believers, not to mention unbelievers, to even own a copy of the Bible. So VOM has asked us to participate 'smuggling' in these Bibles through Bibles Unbound by providing the funds for the Bibles and postage. $30 covers the cost of 5 New Testaments and postage. VOM then sends the Bibles to their contacts who give them to specific people. In many instances you will be given the names of the people who will receive the Bibles you have provided so that you may pray for them specifically. In some cases it is important not to provide this information so names are not given out.
This isn't just shipping a whole bunch of Bibles across the sea and hoping they go somewhere. Every Bible has a specific destination, a specific person in mind. Bibles Unbound keeps track of how many Bibles that are requested and how many more are needed to reach that goal. Then they move on to the next mission. Recently they have surpassed the millionth Bible sent.
Like I said earlier, I have personally been involved with this organization and it is a wonderful thing to receive the actual Bibles to be sent, pack them up, pray over them, and send them out. I can't imagine anything better to give our brothers and sisters who suffer for their faith. Nor can I imagine anything else that would enable their sound doxology.
In his book "Let the Nations Be Glad!" John Piper says, "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever."
The reason I support Bibles Unbound is because Worship is the ultimate goal. When the Word of God permeates these places of darkness then Worship will result...and more than that, it is an authentic worship; a biblical worship; it is a sound doxology.
So I've posted a couple of links on my blog so that it might be a reminder to all who visit that we can be a part of smuggling in worship--through these Bibles--to nations and people groups where Christ is not known nor worshipped. I'm not receiving any money or anything for putting these links on my blog, only the satisfaction of knowing that it might inspire someone to join in this wonderful effort and magnify Christ through Bibles Unbound.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
The pamphlet is titled "Towards a Better Hymnody" and has some great insights about music in the church that would be our loss if we were not to consider them today. I've gone ahead and picked out some wonderful quotes that I'm sure will be beneficial to anyone interested. As the title suggests, Funston is basically putting forth suggestions and criteria that are recognizable in good songs and looking to apply this to modern hymnody. I should say that Funston's use of the word hymn is basically synonomous with 'worship song' as in 1959 all church music was recognized as 'hymns' rather than 'hymns vs praise chorus' for example.
I'll start you off with Funston's imagery of the whole of Christian hymnody as a stream. I love this illustration and will definately use it in the future.
"It would be an attractive project to chart the whole stream of hymnody. Some little knowledge of it is, in fact, desirable if our hymns are to make the maximum contribution of enrichment to our worship. We could seek the springs from which the stream rises, what are its main tributaries--sombre or sparkling, restful or tumultuous, clouded or clear as they may be, but each bringing its distinctive contribution. We could inspect the shallows, the deeps and the occasional whirlpools along its course. Power plants there are in places, and unfortunately, too, commercial interests are here and there to corrupt what should be a pure stream. Nevertheless, legitimate commerce of prayer, devotion, praise and doctrine are borne along on its waters."
Hymns and Good Music
"We need tunes which are not just catchy or temporary; instead, let us seek and use those that are robust and dignified without being stodgy or highbrow or difficult."
"Nobody who knows anything of the history of religious revivals from the days of Moody and Sankey down to Billy Graham could possibly query that there is a place for the lighter music of the gospel song with its catchy phrase, its resounding refrain and its sometimes disconnected lines of thought, but it is not on such foundations that a worthy and lasting all-purpose hymnody is built."
Hymns and Sound Theology
"The theology of the creeds has often been a bone of contention, but the theology of hymns may often fulfil a very different function, and be quite constructive in the direction of binding together different groups of Christians. Thus very perfunctory search of an Anglican and a Methodist hymnal could show that, while each had hymns from their own and the other body, both also had large numbers of hymns from Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Quaker and other sources."
"There are two elements of danger--one inherent in the writer of the hymn, the other in the user. Firstly, because hymn-writing talent it neither confined to one branch of the Christian church, nor indeed flourishes more markedly in one branch than another, there must be a certain amount of "screening" rather than indiscriminate use of hymns...Secondly, it is futile to look for "a full gospel" in every hymn. No hymn need be suspect because its writer is not theologically precisely in step with those who use it. As we have all heard sermons with which we would agree--but only up to a point--so some of our best hymns are pruned of verses theologically unacceptable, and other excellent hymns have very little of theology in them. No sermon, no passage of Scripture, and no hymn contains a full gospel, nor can they be expected to do so."
Hymns and High Literary Standards
"We forbear to mention some of "the horrors of hymnody"--whole verses which defy analysis either grammatically or as to their spiritual content, and others so utterly muddled or absurd in their figures of speech that it would become difficult to use them once one came to give some clear thought, to the expressions used."
"Instead, of attempting any major general task regarding literary excellences, we will here limit ourselves to two minor manifestations in this field. (1) Those involving structure include progression or development in thought...(2) Minor elegances often very effectively used by poets who are "masters of sound" include alliteration and assonance."
Trends In Modern Hymnody
[Remember 'modern' to him is 50 years ago...but this is still applicable.]
"Perhaps [some] lines of improvement may be suggested:(1) We could surely make better use of our present hymnody...(2) The intelligent use of hymns written in a special form would deepen their meaning...(3) As a brotherhood, we must be alive to the possibilities of using new hymns." [some examples he gives:] "new hymns through missions, new hymn tunes, new hymn texts through unstudied languages, new lyrics written by youth"
Some Helpful Advice
"Let us be under no illusions about the habit of "cutting out verses." Surely those who edit hymnals are not the only ones with the right to exercise this prerogative!...[B]ut whatever the occasion for limiting the number of verses to be sung, let it be done intelligently and only after a careful examination so that there is no marked break in the continuity of thought."
"At the very least, we can sing on, still hoping! If we cannot achieve it all, we would still be unwise not to make the attempt."
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
After meeting him I can honestly say that Matt Redman has a true and authentic passion for writing songs for the church to use in worship. I really appreciate that because of how much success he has had. He could very easily take his worship leader rock star status and peddle out tunes for cash and get more Christian radio airtime.
I ran across this video clip which only reinforces in my mind his concern for the church when it comes to songwriting. The interviewer asks him about romantic imagery in today's worship music and Redman provides and exquisite answer. The best part is that his answer reveals the importance of placing language on the lips of people in the church.
I also found that his answer revealed humility when he reflects back on one of his own songs and how he should have been more aware of the language he used.
The main reason for linking this video, however, isn't to go on and on about how great Matt Redman is, but I trust that his answer provides great information that applies to how leaders and songwriters in the church should examine our music lyrically. To sum it up Redman is rock solid when he says "Songs need to be watertight scripturally and culturally they [need to] mean what we think they mean."
So check out this video clip: Matt Redman on Songs for Blokey Blokes
Friday, July 31, 2009
Imagine you are in a great cathedral in Europe in the Middle Ages. Or maybe in a small frontier church in the American West around the 1800’s. Or how about the house of a Jewish fisherman in Capernaum in the 1st Century. Now imagine a thunderstorm rolls in. Great flashes of electric current spread across the sky. During the storm the church is doing what the gathered church does: praying, singing, read Scripture, and hearing the Word of God preached. The storm has no real distracting effect on the worship service, other than an occasional thunderclap and perhaps a prayer offered in thanksgiving for the rain. Hey, if the storm is really bad there might even be prayer for safety on the way home.
Now fast forward to the present day. Picture yourself sitting in a modern day church building. You may be in a building that looks like “a church”—steeple and all. Or perhaps a school, a theatre, a warehouse, or a six-thousand seat Megacenter. Ok. Same situation, big thunderstorm rolls in and lightning fills the sky.
As a music minister, do you know what runs through my mind right now? Gut wrenching panic. All of the songs I prepared are now sitting in an electronic file, on an electronic computer, waiting to be displayed electronically. Most of the instruments are plugged in to an electronic box, connected to an electronic soundboard—as well as every single electronic amplification device in the building, from speakers to microphones. Above the congregation hang many light fixtures designed to electronically illumine the building, the flickering of which gives me the first indication that my current panic will soon become full blown horror. Then…BOOM! The storm has dealt its final death blow and with a static pop and a descending hum the congregation is plunged into darkness.
The lights are out. There is no projector. There is no sound system. What happens now?
This happened once to me a few years back. Thankfully, we had already sung most of the songs, but there was one more right after the sermon. On this particular Sunday a student from the youth group was preaching his very first sermon when all of a sudden…ZAP! the lights go out. I sat there dumbfounded like everyone else for the first few seconds. Then, you know the feeling, it’s that hint of giddiness a schoolchild gets when the lights go out at school and the teachers have no control. But it’s ok, we’re at church, everyone contains their inner schoolchild (except the kids!). Someone found a flashlight and after a few minutes the student went right on preaching. Good for him. Then it hit me, what am I going to do? I knew the congregation wouldn’t be able to sing song I previously selected by memory. Do I use the darkness to slip out of the sanctuary to the office where I can make 200 copies? Nope. Copy machine is electronic and therefore, dead. Then I looked in front of me and a light came on (in my head). Praise the Lord for hymnals! The sermon was about over so I flipped through the hymnal as fast as I could, trying to find a song that everyone was familiar with. No time to consider if the song would be an appropriate response to the sermon, just find a song! So I found an oldie but goody, went up to the pulpit and announced the hymn number. Then, in the dark, we sang the first line together, “O soul, are you weary and troubled; No light in the darkness you see?” The words we sung were appropriate and slightly ironic when you really think about it. At this point I’m thinking to myself, I am either a genius or an idiot. Upon further reflection, considering my haste and carelessness in selecting the song, I can plainly see that I was an idiot—blessed and given grace by the Lord—but an idiot nonetheless.
With the exception of the last 110 years or so, the Church has always held its services in buildings without electricity. 110 years is just a blip on the radar screen in comparison with 2000 years. But today, unless you meet in a small group in a house, you will be hard pressed to find a church gathering that does not implement audio and visual enhancement technology. And even in a house church you’ve got lights!
So what exactly am I getting at here? Well, to be honest, I hope all of this imagining helps us to think about how technology benefits us or limits us in our gathered worship service. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul writes, “Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial.” I believe we can apply that logic to technology being used in the church. So the first thing we should ask is, “Is it beneficial?” When it comes to clearly hearing and seeing in congregational worship, I would say yes, absolutely!
Even in ancient times, the church has always utilized technology. Imagine how architects designed the acoustics of the cathedrals and meeting halls. The rooms were vast and spacious. The speaker’s podium was high above the congregation so that he could be seen. Hundreds of people could hear what was being spoken without the aid of a microphone. Large windows were created to allow the natural light to pour into the building. Stain glass windows served as visual instruction to the illiterate. Places were intentionally built for candles to illumine a room. The printing press allowed for the reproduction of innumerable Bibles and hymnbooks. All of these innovations were beneficial to the worshippers who gathered together at that time. All we’ve really done today is “electronified” them. But the fact remains that the Church got along just fine without our modern day technology, which leads us to the question, “Is it necessary?” Well, yes…and no.
The reason I say yes and no, is that modern day technology is only necessary when the situation dictates it. Lights are what we in the industry call a ‘no brainer’ in the necessity department. Are lights necessary? I would say, in all occasions, yes. It is up to you whether or not you want electric light bulbs or candles. But most people find that the benefits of electric light bulbs far outweigh that of candles; a fact in which most firemen agree.
How about microphones? Are microphones necessary? Well, not in every situation, but if people cannot hear the preacher, give the man a microphone to amplify his voice so that all can hear. A microphone is a relatively inexpensive way to make sure everyone can hear you. Sure you could do without, but when are you planning on building that acoustic friendly cathedral? Sure, there may be occasional distracting feedback, but that can be corrected. If you met outside there may be an occasional distracting horsefly.
How about projection? Projection is extremely beneficial and yet, completely unnecessary. Using a projector is the equivalent of using a power drill. It allows you to do difficult things with simplicity. Could I do it by hand? Sure, but it is almost effortless if I use the power drill. Could we sing from memory? Sure, but it does limit you to a very narrow song selection. A more apt metaphor would be to liken the projector to a multi-functional tool, such as a Swiss Army Knife. This tool can be used for announcements, schedules and for many it is an aid for teaching. It also can be used to see visually what a large group may not be able to physically see for themselves. For example, pictures or video of places mentioned in the Bible, or video messages from a missionary.
One of the most obvious and beneficial uses of the projector is the ability to project song lyrics. But as the church has the option to sing from a hymnbook or from copied paper, the projector remains unnecessary. However, the benefit of the projector is the ability to provide the congregation with songs that are not found in the current publication of their hymnal. If the hymnal is the bucket of water, the projector is the running faucet. The projector also gives the ability to arrange a song in whatever fashion the music minister may desire, allowing for a more authentic approach to congregational singing. Essentially, the projector provides simplicity and versatility, both of which are absolutely beneficial but not absolutely necessary.
Let’s Get Practical!
I haven’t yet even considered more detailed items such as electronic instruments, stage lighting, monitors, wireless features, ipods, computers, DVDs, etc. but for the most part I believe you can run them through the “is it beneficial? – is it necessary?” filter. When you ask yourself, “Is this beneficial?” the answer should be “yes” before you move on to the next question. If whatever you are using is not beneficial (ie. it is not glorifying to God, nor edifying to the Church) then do not use it (see the second part of 1 Cor. 10:23). However, if it is beneficial then ask yourself, “Is it necessary?” Here, remember to take the context of the situation into consideration.
If what you are using is necessary for your situation, then by all means use it. But if it is not necessary, then my suggestion is that you would use it with the expectation that you may not be able to use it. A good question to ask yourself is, “Do I depend on it?” Meaning, do you depend on it to the point that if it is ever taken from you then gathered worship would halt? For instance, let’s say your church doesn’t have any hymnals; and you have three songs prepared in PowerPoint, all of which will be accompanied by an electric keyboard, electric guitars and drums. The power goes out. No projection and the only instrument that people will hear are the drums. This should point out your dependence upon unnecessary things. Once you have figured out what the unnecessary things you are depending on are, you can now create a situation to prevent it. If your church only uses PowerPoint and does not have hymnals, make sure your congregation knows 10 songs by heart—start now. Be mindful of the type of instruments you currently lead with. Do you have an instrument that will work in an acoustic setting such as a piano or an acoustic guitar? And remember, even instruments are not necessary—be prepared to sing a cappella! What does the room look like when all the lights are out? Can the preacher be heard in the back without a microphone? Etc.
I would advise anyone in a church leadership position to run through these things and go over them with the people involved. It is a good exercise to do a Tech Check. I just totally made that phrase up. Now I’m not into formulas and 12 step plans as to how to “do church” so take this info for what it’s worth. I believe it is a biblical and logical way to keep our congregational worship authentic, humble, edifying, and ultimately glorifying to God when it comes to the use of technology in the worship service.
The Sound Doxology Tech Check:
* Figure out if the technology you use is beneficial
* Ask if it is necessary
* Find out if you have become dependent on anything unnecessary
* If it is beneficial and unnecessary then use it with the expectation that you may not be able to use it and work out a solution to make that statement true
Friday, July 24, 2009
Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior’s name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame
He has washed us with His blood
He has brought us nigh to God
Let us love the Lord Who bought us
Pitied us when enemies
Called us by His grace and taught us
Gave us ears and gave us eyes
He has washed us with His blood
He presents our souls to God
Let us sing though fierce temptation
Threatens hard to bear us down
For the Lord, our strong salvation,
Holds in view the conqu’ror’s crown
He, Who washed us with His blood,
Soon will bring us home to God
Let us wonder grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store
When through grace in Christ our trust is
Justice smiles and asks no more
He Who washed us with His blood
Has secured our way to God
Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high
Here they trusted Him before us
Now their praises fill the sky
Thou hast washed us with Thy blood
Thou art worthy Lamb of God
Friday, July 17, 2009
Read the words of Isaac Watts in this hymn based on Romans 3:27, and below I have listed some links for you to dig further into the life and works of Isaac Watts.
No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of Thy Son
Now, for the love I bear His name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to His cross.
Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus’ sake;
O may my soul be found in Him,
And of His righteousness partake!
The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before Thy throne;
But faith can answer Thy demands,
By pleading what my Lord has done
Here are a couple of Google Books you can read in full:
The Psalms and hymns of Isaac Watts
The Psalms of David
Here is a short video biography:
The Rebel's Guide to Joy Isaac Watts
Here's the always helpful Wikipedia entry and a bio from cyberhymnal with a list of over 500 of his songs, many you can read and hear:
Wikipedia entry - Isaac Watts
Cyberhymnal bio. and songs - Isaac Watts
Monday, June 22, 2009
Part I was my lighthearted attempt to introduce this topic. Here in Part II, I want to get into what really upsets me about Christian radio. The real problem I have with Christian radio is that Christian radio stations make no distinction between songs composed by Christian artists as art and songs composed for the church to sing during worship. This problem runs so deep that people are shocked to find out that there really is a difference. This is because Christian radio and the “worship” industry have not only blurred the lines, they have obliterated them. To be clear, I am not posting this to slam Christian music. I love Christian music and respect musicians and songwriters who are Christians. Some of the greatest music in the world has been written by Christians. My point here is to show that there is a distinction between a song appropriate for worship and a song produced by a Christian artist for entertainment, or even "ministry." I am going to attempt to explain why I feel this is a problem, how it negatively affects the church, and where we go from there.
Reason #1: By placing songs not written for congregational worship alongside songs that are leads to a tendency for people to believe that every song on Christian radio is suitable for gathered worship on Sunday morning. This can be a fine line to walk, especially when an artist finds success at writing songs suitable for a congregation as well as writing songs for entertainment. There is a major difference between a Christian who creates music as an expression of himself/herself or for entertainment or to pursue a career in pop-music and a Christian who purposely composes a song to be utilized in a corporate worship setting. While the “worship music” industry might be blamed for pumping out the next Christian Britney Spears, Christian radio is to blame for presenting that artists music as if it were suitable for the congregation during worship. And to be sure, we are to blame for our lack of discernment in this area.
Reason #2: While many people are edified and utilize Christian radio to individually worship God, the overarching aim of Christian radio is entertainment. Thus, when worship songs are played, entertainment automatically becomes its purpose—intentionally or not. Entertainment is not a bad thing. But worship songs are not intended to be entertainment; they are intended to facilitate believers to praise God through song.
How does this negatively affect music for worship in the church? Well to begin answering that question I think we need to first answer another one: What makes a song suitable or not suitable for congregational worship? For the most part, my blog is dedicated to distinguishing between the two and it would take a lot more room for me to cover that subject exhaustively here, and would detract from this current topic, so I’ll try to be brief. What makes this question difficult is that most, if not all, of the music played on Christian radio glorifies God and can help people worship God. But what I am speaking about here is the actual worship service itself. I’m not talking about private worship, but corporate worship as laid out in Scripture. And here’s the difference (and a shocker to some); what we do individually to worship God does not necessarily translate as worship in a corporate setting.
For example, a surgeon may glorify God through his vocation by using his skills to save a life, and he may cause others to worship God because they are thankful that God has saved their loved one, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to build and ER in the Sanctuary, or for the doctor to perform surgeries on the altar. My point is that a song written with the congregation in mind will tend to focus more on objective truth rather than subjective experience. That surgeon, if allowed to operate on the altar, though glorifying God in his own way, does not lend to the building up of the body during the worship service. His experience is very subjective. How is the guy five pews back glorifying God through the surgeons actions? And that’s just one example. Why should it be any different with songs?
The most difficult part about discerning which songs are appropriate and which songs are not is that, for the most part, I cannot list them to you here. What I may feel is appropriate for my congregation may not be what is appropriate for yours. For instance, Bob Kauflin gives an example in his book "Worship Matters" about how he doesn't lead his congregation in singing the song “Above All” because there are people in his congregation who might misinterpret what the song is saying. The last line, “You took the fall and thought of me above all” can be a glorious reality for a believer, but a person can also read into that line that “I” am the most important thing in the universe. What is more, when we sing of Jesus taking “the fall” it implies a small amount of irreverence because what Jesus has done can hardly be described as “taking the fall.” The brother, who takes the blame for stealing a gumball when in fact it was his sister, takes the fall. The event of Christ taking on our sin and the Holy wrath of God, in my opinion, can hardly be described as “taking the fall.” But that being said, in another congregation these issues may not be a problem and the song is discerned to be just fine.
But the bigger (and perhaps my main) problem is that the radio has given rise to a lot of worship songs that are extremely shallow and vague. The reason many new worship songs become so popular on the radio is the very same reason any other song becomes popular on the radio; it has a good, catchy tune that is repetitive and simple with a general theme. There is a reason why songs on the radio don’t have more than two verses. There is a reason why “hit worship songs” steer clear of specific theology. Because it is music for the masses; and perhaps therein is where the root of our problem lies.
Let's take a look at a common scenario: T.V. networks will cancel a show, despite the 2 million viewers who love the show, if they can produce something that will appeal to a much broader audience that will bring in more ratings and thus, more money. It doesn’t matter to them if the show was well written or if the show brought satisfaction to those who watched it. What are 2 million viewers compared to 20 million? So they create a show that appeals to everyone and that means that they must do something simple, catchy, and familiar. Quality and authenticity are sacrificed or at best become secondary. As far as I can tell, this is the same mentality that operates within the “worship music” industry and Christian radio is more than happy to take it and run with it. And in turn, we are more than happy to take it at face value, never discerning anything labeled “Christian” while ignorance runs rampant in our churches.
The culture has crept in among many areas of the Church but nowhere else has the culture so greatly impacted the Church than in her consumption and replication of her music. This isn’t about “good music” vs. “bad music” as much as it is about Worship vs. Entertainment--or at least an Entertainment Mentality. This isn’t about style either. Having a soloist, or a rock band, or a pianist, or a choir lead worship isn’t wrong, nor is it the issue, but those who lead and those who are led must continually check their motivations and reasons for the music that is selected and sung. I cringe when I hear someone talking about going to worship to hear the “awesome band.” We go to concerts to hear an awesome band; we go to worship to worship God. I’m not saying the praise band has to suck, in fact that should never be the case. Musicians who lead worship should constantly strive for musical excellence. But it really is time for us to stop being duped into popular music for popular music’s sake, as if popular music is the only resource available for American Christians.
The hardest part about all of this is that many of the people involved in the “worship” industry and Christian radio are really good people who strive to glorify Christ in their vocation, be that a radio DJ, a record label president, an artist, or even the worship leader who “made it big.” So how do we handle this and what are we to do about it? Do we throw our radios out of the window? No. Do we boycott our local radio stations? No, that would be ridiculous. So how do we counter this? Maybe the question ought to be, Should we even counter this? And more and more I keep coming to the conclusion that perhaps we should just accept it for what it is, and for the most part it is music produced for a mass audience for profit. The best thing we can do is just to be aware and more discerning.
For as much as I rail on the “worship” industry, I am seeing signs of change. I am seeing more of a division between entertainment music and music for worship. But as it stands, Christian radio continues to make no such distinction.
Perhaps where I am most encouraged is through the internet. There are projects starting from the ground up, rather than from the top down, and they are being recognized for producing good quality, authentic music fit for congregational worship. And instead of being pandered for profit, these songs are moving by word of mouth through church services, conferences, and ultimately the internet. Groups, not limited to, but including Indelible Grace, Sovereign Grace Music, and Sojourn Music have for the most part songs written and composed by the church for the church. And not only do these groups create songs for worship, but most of them provide sheet music of their songs for free, which is an extremely beneficial resource for music ministers.
This is where I see the future (and oddly enough, the past) of worship music; songs written by the church for the church and offered at a relatively low price to serve the church. And not only do I see this as the future of worship music, but this is an area where I see Christians shaping the culture of music. Already, the “worship” industry, alongside the other Big Music Industries are being hit financially as they are finding out that it is becoming harder and harder to maintain their model of business in an internet age.
As for the future of Christian radio, I think it will continue, and I am glad. But I don’t believe a distinction between worship and entertainment will be offered any time soon, which is sad, but it means that we must be ever more vigilant and diligent to rightly discern what to select and sing during congregational worship.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Unfortunately, the list for why I hate Christian radio is a bit longer. I’m going to list a few general things I dislike and then in Part II, I will move on to the real reason I hate Christian radio. First, I hate Christian radio for the same reason I hate the Top 40 stations; because they play the same songs over and over and over until I throw up. I used to love the Newsboys. I find nothing wrong with their music nor who they are as musicians, but thanks to Christian radio I cannot stand to listen to any Newsboys song, ever. If a Newsboys song comes on the radio (and it does every time I enter the car) I will risk that idiot DJ on the other station for two and a half minutes, or if nothing else is on I’ll listen joyfully to the commercials. By the way, if anyone from Christian radio is reading, Casting Crowns are about to reach Newsboys status in the nauseatingly overplayed category, I’d hate to lose them too.
Another reason I hate Christian radio is because all of the Christian knock-offs of secular artists. I swear I just heard Maroon 5 singing about Jesus. Oops, that’s not Maroon 5? Who is it? Oh, you don’t know because everyone calls them “that Christian band that sounds like Maroon 5.” And if it isn’t a knock-off of a secular artist it is a knock-off a popular Christian artist. Wow, I love that new Jeremy Camp song. What? That’s not Jeremy Camp? You mean it’s another guy that sounds like he lives in the wilderness and smokes 2 packs a day? What’s his name? You don’t know and you can’t call him “the guy who sounds like Jeremy Camp” because there are four of them.
A third reason I hate Christian radio is the fundraising week. Don’t act like you don’t change the channel quicker than the DJ can say, “Without your support…” The only way I’d donate to my local Christian music station is if I were able to call the shots, but there is no way they’d let me do that because I’d throw out all the Newsboys songs, and then no one else would donate money because apparently the only people who donate to Christian radio absolutely love the Newsboys because that’s all they play.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Here's what the site has to say about the new CD:
To Be Like Jesus contains twelve worship songs that teach the fruit of the Spirit in a creative and memorable way.Through these songs kids will learn that Jesus is our perfect example of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,and self-control. More than that, they’ll discover that we can’t be like Jesus unless we trust in the power of his cross to forgive us and the power of his Spirit to change us.
Needless to say, you won't be finding this kind of explanation on the back of your generic, overpriced, mass produced, cookie cutter "HOTT 25 Worship Songs 4 KIDS!" CD anytime soon. I appreciate Sovereign Grace Ministries so much for writing songs from the church, for the church.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Perhaps Martin Luther understood this better than anyone. During the Reformation, the most popular way doctrine spread was not through the intellectual discourses between the theological heavyweights, but through hymns! And specifically hymns in the language of the people.
Martin Luther recognized the power and effectiveness of these songs, and in fact, he went on to write many hymns to teach and edify the church, but he also knew the dangers that would threaten to enter the church through song. Which is why he wrote these words:
False masters now abound, who songs indite;
Beware of them, and learn to judge them right:
Where God builds up his Church and Word, hard by
Satan is found with murder and a lie.
False teachers don't always enter the church as Pastors or Sunday School teachers, but also as hymn/worship music writers, and music ministers. It is a sobering thought to be given the responsibility to discern what is right and wrong for a congregation to sing. To those who are in such a position I hope Luther's words of warning impact you in the way they have impacted me. My prayer for myself and for those in a similar position is that God would grant His grace that we may continually be able to "judge them right."
By the way, I love that picture of Luther because it reminds me of myself...sitting at the table with my instrument, a drink on the table, papers scattered, children playing in the room, dog on the floor...that table even looks like mine.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
From time to time I'll post a hymn from my favorite hymnbook, Gadsby's Hymns. This is hymn #637 written by William Gadsby:
Jesus, thou art our only rest
From sin, and guilt, and fears;
We love to lean upon thy breast
And on thee cast our cares.
With anxious care and painful thought,
We toiled and toiled again;
True holiness was what we sought,
But this we sought in vain.
Stripped naked, and exposed to shame,
We loud for mercy cried;
The Lord gave faith to eye the Lamb,
And fasten in his side.
The works of nature, bad or good,
Availed nothing here;
Faith viewed the Saviour's precious blood,
And banished guilt and fear
Here's life, and light, and holiness,
And righteousness divine;
A boundless treasure, all of grace,
And faith says, All is mine
O what a rest is Christ to me!
How precious and how true!
From guilt and sin he sets me free,
And gives me glory too.
I have, I want to rest beside;
Here's all a God can give;
Here would I constantly abide,
And every moment live.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
First, how do these songs compare to our children’s songs today? I don’t want to criticize the intention of those who compose our modern day children’s songs because I believe that many are very instructive in their simplicity for the very young. But unfortunately most children’s songs for today are only appropriate for ages 0-4. Such as “The B-I-B-L-E” and “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man”. They fall in line with other nursery songs such as “The Ittsy Bittsy Spider”. The resources today for children’s music are a little better than wretched. The CD’s you find at your local Christian bookstore are horrendous. First you have the nice lady who probably taught kindergarten singing all her songs in a goofy baby-talk voice. This works for babies and dead people. Second you have the lullaby edition that contains dreamy, sleepwalky, instrumental hymns that only adults (who grew up in the church) know. The only purpose for these are to soothe your baby to sleep. And last but not least it is the top 25 “hot” worship songs from CCLI sung by 12 over-enthusiastic kids. Let’s just say that if this album came with two CDs, you now have an extra Frisbee in case the first CD goes into the neighbors’ yard. Obviously, there is a glaring hole in the quality of children’s music in the church today. Why do we have to dumb down our children’s music? Children learn at an incredible rate. They are sponges that soak up everything around them. If they are exposed early on to the truth then they can only grow from there. I’m not saying we need to get rid of all our modern children’s music, but let’s expand it, and improve it vastly! How would the church look today if the past generation of children grew up on songs like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” rather than nursery songs until they entered youth group?
The next thing I notice is that though these hymns began as songs meant for children, they stood the test of time by matching beautiful truth with beautiful music. Obviously, ours is not the first generation to use these songs for congregational singing. They have been sung for hundreds of years. What that means for us (the church) is that we (the church, not the music industry) should be striving to produce similar music. Not similar in sound or style, but similar in substance and quality, musically and lyrically. Sometimes I wonder if the “worship” music industry is more of a curse than it is a blessing. If the blessing is the abundance of resources then the curse is that most of the resources are just pumped out for cash with little consideration for the local church. The reason I bring up the “worship” music industry is because there is such a stark contrast in the production of “modern worship” songs compared to the songs produced by Luther and Watts. Why did Luther and Watts produce these songs? Because they cared for the children in their congregations enough to instruct them in the truth. Why does the “worship” music industry produce new music? Yikes. That one is harder to answer because it not very clear that the local congregation is who they are writing for. I don’t think Isaac Watts would be comfortable referring to himself as a ‘worship artist’ and I have a hard time imagining Martin Luther being interviewed by CCM magazine and saying something like, “I was just sitting there with my lute and God just gave me this song. It was, like, the Spirit was totally there.” Get my point? These guys wrote for the church. They didn’t make an album and sell it. They didn’t go on tour to promote their songs. They saw a need and filled it and God blessed it. I wonder what would happen if poets and musicians invested themselves in theology and the local church? Or if theologians and pastors would take time to write some poetry? What if they teamed up to produce music for their local congregation, not to sell a CD, or to make a name for themselves, but to serve the church?
Side Note: I am not saying that a pursuit in the “worship” music industry is bad. But what I am saying is that it is very different to how the church has historically found her voice musically. It is hard for me to believe that the “worship” industry, modeled around popular music’s industry, is in the business of serving the church. Now, if we are talking about artists and musicians who are Christians creating music and art based upon Christ I have no problem with that! God is glorified through that vocation. The problem starts when the (usually highly subjective) art or music is mistaken for congregational worship songs. I know that every now and then, one slips through the cracks and winds up being a great congregational worship song, but in the end the “worship” industry is out to make money (and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself) and serving the church is secondary, if it is even a goal at all.
[In the future I’ll be posting more about the difference between today’s Christian songs, like the ones heard on the radio, and Congregational songs]
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
What I'm getting at here is basically this; a song, no matter how theologically rich and wonderful the words may be, must have an appropriate tune to carry it. I like to think of it this way; music is the vessel, or cup, that carries the lyrics, which is the liquid contained. Now you can drink wine from a styrofoam cup, but a more appropriate vessel is a wine glass. The glass was specifically made to complement the wine. I feel like a lot of the older hymns have suffered because of this. So many great lyrics have been paired with trivial, boring, or just plain wretched melodies it is no wonder why many people cringe when they hear the word 'hymn'. Wine in any old cup is still wine, but it cannot be fully appreciated and fully enjoyed if not contained in the proper vessel, namely a wine glass.
The flip side of this idea is no matter how beautiful, majestic, catchy, or pleasing the music may be, it means nothing if the lyrics are simply weak theology and mindless dribble. To continue the analogy, if you owned a beautiful ornate goblet, fit for a king, would you drink chocolate milk, or kool-aid out of it? If you are 10 then yes, you would. But for anyone else it doesn't make since to do so. The reason is because kool-aid, though sweet and tasty, is not complemented by such a cup. The reason I don't drink kool-aid from a wine glass is the same reason I don't drink wine from my child's sippy cup.
Here are a few practical examples. Let's look at the most well loved English hymn, Amazing Grace. The words were written by John Newton in the 1700's but the tune, NEW BRITAIN, was written in the mid-1800's. Before the tune was composed Amazing Grace was just another ordinary song in the hymnal. Nothing special really, other than good poetry. Now, take the words to Amazing Grace and sing them to the tune of Gilligan's Isle or House of the Rising Sun. Some people would say that is sacrilege! That is because the tune falls short of the lyrics. They do not complement each other. It is wine in the sippy cup.
Here's another, albeit a bit silly. The tune and lyrics of A Mighty Fortress is Our God written by Martin Luther evoke majesty and triumph. Let's use that wonderful tune to sing the following lyrics:
There was this man from Galilee/His love is like a river/He died one day upon a tree/He is the perfect giver/I raise my holy hands/and bow and kneel and stand/Just gotta worship Him/And singing without end/La la la la la la la la la. (with hand motions?)
Ok, first I must say that I feel dumb just writing that off the top of my head. I need to apologize to Martin Luther when I get to heaven. Second, these lyrics (unfortunately) evoke much of today's modern "worship" music, however I digress, that is for another post... But it serves to make my point clear. This is kool-aid in the wine glass.
This may not seem like a very important topic to some people but for the singing congregation I believe it is vital. Trivial music paired with truth-laden lyrics will cause us to trivialize the truth. Wonderful, beautiful music paired with weak, senseless lyrics will cause us to believe that what we are singing is the core of the gospel, when in fact we may be happily singing heresy!
So let us be cautious in what we sing by understanding the submissive role music takes to the lyrics.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
When we argue for “our side” we are in affect telling another Christian that “we know that we are right and we definitely know that you are wrong.” And what do we base it on? If we are honest we see that it is based on our own ideas or desires. The weirdest (and dumbest) thing about this debate is that all sides seem to agree that Scripture has nothing to do with it (unless they find a verse they believe supports their argument!). The common argument is, “Oh, well Scripture is silent on the whole matter.” In one sense they seem right, which might be a reason for the never ending-ness of the debate. Scripture doesn’t tell us what “style” to play our music. But is that what God really cares about? Don’t you think that if God was only to be worshiped in one particular style of music He would have commanded us to do so? “Thou shalt only play thine organ.” What God does care about is that worship to Him is to be done in “spirit and truth” through Christ. And essentially what that means for those leading the people of God is that we are to guard the worship of God from “flesh and error” and from “worldliness and falsehood”. Otherwise God is not glorified.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
That is to say, if there ever really was a “war” to begin with. Oh to be sure, battle lines have been drawn and it seems as if every sanctuary is a combat zone, but what we’ve carelessly deemed as “war” is nothing more than demonic distraction from our ultimate goal. The only winner in such a “war” is the enemy. (That’s Satan, in case you think it is the person sitting down the pew from you.)
I despise the expression “Worship Wars” because it has nothing to do with worship. A more appropriate phrase might be “Preference Wars”, or we could call it by its technical term: Sin. But ironically, while what we fight over has absolutely nothing to do with true worship it is for that very reason we have lost the very essence of worship. A truly cunning plan arranged by the Serpent. Distract the people of God with that which is most important to God by confusing what worship really is so that while they fight over temporary and meaningless issues the eternal nature of true worship falls to the wayside without anyone noticing what went wrong.
So how do we break free of this “War”? I firmly believe that the best way for people to come together and reject this demonic distraction is what we find in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This can be done in a manner of different ways but first and foremost there needs to be teaching on the subject. Pastors and teachers in the church are crucial in fulfilling this role. I pray that this blog can contribute to that as I endeavor to teach sound doxology.
I pray that this blog will be a resource to you, one that will assist you in renewing your mind in regards to worship. If you have a question about worship please email me anytime (email@example.com) or post in the comment section. Some of the best learning comes from dialogue. You can also follow this blog and subscribe so that you are notified whenever there is a new post.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,or who has been his counselor?”“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.