Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Worship Leaders: Imitate J.S. Bach

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." -Hebrews 13:7

In a previous post I encouraged those who lead worship to imitate the character of pastor and hymn writer John Newton. I would like to continue this theme of emulation by encouraging those who lead worship—especially those involved with music—to imitate Johann Sebastian Bach. In the universe of Music History, Bach might just be the brightest star. It is safe to say that without Bach Western music would simply not exist as we know it today.
J.S. Bach was not a pastor, nor a theologian, but that is not something he was ashamed of because he knew exactly what God had called him to be; a musician. Christoph Trautmann writes:

“Bach was deeply conscious of his own office as a church musician, ordained for him by God through David. Accordingly, the office was in his view not merely the name of a calling or the description of a sphere of activity, but on the basis of Biblical authority he identified himself as a called and ordained servant of the church.” (Cited from Mary Dalton Greer in the book “About Bach” )

One of the reasons we know that Bach felt his office as church musician was ordained by God is evidenced by taking a look through his personal Bible. Bach’s personal Bible in reality was multiple volumes of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible along with a commentary by Abraham Calov. Over time these volumes were brought together and they now reside in Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. But the most interesting thing to note is that there are numerous notes and underlining’s found throughout the Biblical text as well as the Commentary, not the least of which deal with his theological understanding of the church musician and church music.

We find a note at the beginning of 1 Chronicles 25, a chapter which lists David’s assignment of the Levites in regards to instruments and song, “This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing church music.” Another note in 2 Chronicles 5:12-13 reads, “In devotional music, God is always present with His Grace.”

We also find Bach underlining Luther’s words at 2 Thessalonians 3:12, a passage about vocation, “Lord, I accept my calling and do what You have commanded, and will in all my work surely do what You will have done; only help me to govern my home, help me to regulate my affairs, etc.”

And from this article we read: “Bach's view of music can perhaps best be summarized by his own comments next to passages in 1 Chronicles and Psalms in the Calov Bible. Bach underlined that musicians are to "express the Word of God in a spiritual songs and psalms, sing them in the temple, and at the same time to play with instruments." In the Psalms, Bach underlined commentary which points out that two prophets served King David by playing musical instruments as part of their official duties. Bach saw himself in such an office. He proclaimed God's Word with his music, and he did so with the most beautiful music he was able to compose.”

J.S. Bach and His Personal Study of the Bible
I want to dwell on two aspects we can glean from J.S. Bach and his personal study of the Bible. First, is that which we have already abundantly seen, namely that Bach was fully convinced that his calling as a church musician was thoroughly Biblical. This is very important. This foundation allowed Bach to pour his life into his calling. Think of the ramifications if Bach was not fully convinced his calling was from God. What then would motivate Bach to compose such beautiful and masterful music? How encouraging it is to know that your calling is rooted in Scripture! If Bach were living in the present he might very well be called a “worship leader” as we use the term today. I, along with Bach, find great encouragement in these Old Testament chapters that list musicians who ministered and proclaimed the Word of God through song.

Two simple observations I draw from these lists of musicians found in 1 Chronicles 25.
1) God chose music and song as a way for people to worship and to glorify Himself. And God gave to David the duty of selecting those who would fill that office. We read in verse 2 that these musicians prophesied under the direction of King David. That is, the chief duty of these musicians and singers was to proclaim the inspired Word of God that God gave through David. We have record of this inspired Word in the Psalms.

The importance of this for us today is that the role of the worship leader, church musician, music minister, worship pastor, or whatever title you call it, is a legitimately Biblical office. Though I would be quick to warn and point out that these offices were set up under the Old Covenant. It would be folly if we were to equate these offices as equal to our own today under the New Covenant. However, the principles remain the same, and this Bach understood; God still uses music as a means to glorify Himself and (here’s the important one) those who minster through music are to minister under the direction of the Word of God. This isn’t an argument for the exclusive singing of Psalms but rather a fulfillment and practical application of Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” It’s what I like to call ‘sound doxology.’

2) Another observation I gather from the list of Musicians in 1 Chronicles 25 is that it is simply that; a list. Sure we can learn a lot from this list, but in reality Scripture doesn’t give us very much information about these guys. They are mentioned briefly as being a part of some major events such as when the Ark came into Jerusalem and the Temple Dedication, but beyond that we don’t learn about their “methods” or their “worship set list,” we don’t even learn about their backgrounds. The Bible simply tells us they were there and they did their thing.

What I learn about this is that sure these guys were important, but not as important as we think they should be! Check out Chapter 26. In this passage we find a list of all the assigned gatekeepers. Now I don’t know about you, but when was the last time you saw a “Church Usher Magazine”? How many blogs have you read dedicated to being a Greeter? I don’t say this to downplay the importance of Ushers and Greeters at our churches, but rather to point out the fact that Worship Leaders tend to have huge swollen heads. Hopefully this puts some perspective on the office of worship leader. Your job is important and given to you by God, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not about you.

The second aspect I glean from Bach and his personal study of the Bible is that we notice Bach was a serious student of Scripture. Of course we are all interested in what Bach wrote and underlined about music but we find that out of all of his markings only 3 percent of them deal with music. Bach dug into the entire Word, and not just the parts that he felt applied to him and his calling. When Bach came across printing errors he would correct them in the margin. We even find next to Exodus 38 Bach adding up the amount of gold used to build the temple. Bach was intimately familiar with all of Scripture.

How different would our songs for worship be today if every church musician was as familiar with the Bible as Bach was? Imagine the impact it would make for those who compose songs, those who lead singing, and those who play instruments in our worship services! A life consumed with the Word of God is a life that will overflow with the Word of God. No wonder why Bach’s music is among the best in the world!

On a side note, at the risk of stepping on toes, I feel that this only adds to my conviction that those who assist in leading worship must be Christians. As we have seen, Bach was obviously convinced that the role of church musician was a biblical role, one that he took seriously and devoted his life to it; a life that was rooted and sustained by the Word of God. Why would you want to allow your congregation to be taught, fed, and led by someone who by their very nature despises the Word of God? Even if it’s “just the guy who plays guitar” you are still sending a message to your congregation that: 1) Good sounding music is equal to or more important than worship. 2) Those who lead are not held to a Biblical standard, but rather a Pragmatic standard—therefore, so is the congregation—which leads to a works-righteousness culture and a devaluing of Scripture.

Glimpsing the personal Bible study of J.S. Bach has greatly encouraged me and I hope it does the same for you. From it we find that:

1) Bach was fully convinced that his calling as a church musician was thoroughly Biblical which gave him great courage and great humility as he carried out his duties.

2) Bach came to this understanding through an intimate knowledge of Scripture that was the overflow of his life and work.

O that I might emulate J.S. Bach and soak myself in the Word of God so that it might be the overflow of my life and my work!

If you want to find more info about Bach's Bible check out the following links:
The Calov Bible Wikipedia Page
Watch a Video about Bach's Bible
Christianity Today Article

Monday, March 8, 2010

John Newton's Approach to Hymn Writing

Fresh off the heels of last month's post about John Newton, I ran across another blog, Cardiphonia, which is going to tackle his hymn writing approach based off of his Olney Hymns.

Here's what they're doing: 
This is part (1) of a two-part series looking at John Newton’s approach to hymn writing. In part (2) we will look at the various ways that John Newton approached hymn writing and his influence on songwriters to the current day.

The first post goes through all three books in the Olney Hymns, briefly touching a few songs and subjects and then offer some songwriting tips. Simple and straightforward and I like it.

Read Part 2 here: Song Writing 101 by John Newton

I would also encourage you to look deeper into their blog. There's tons of great info and they've done a masterful job at linking loads of resources. http://www.cardiphonia.org/

Friday, March 5, 2010

Interview with the Worship Leader: Mike Ruel

Over the last few weeks I've been working on a couple of ideas that I hope will make Sound Doxology more encouraging, interactive, enjoyable, and ultimately more helpful in strenghtening our understanding of worship. So today I bring you the first installment of a little segment I like to call "Interview with the Worship Leader". The concept is simple. I interview a worship leader. Okay the concept is really simple... But my hope is that through these interviews we will be able to see things related to leading worship from a different perspective as well as being able to see how God is working in other churches.

In the future I hope to contact the worship leaders who have participated in the initial interview to get their particular viewpoint on certain practical and theological questions and topics related to worship in a type of Roundtable format.


So to kick things off I am exited to have Mike Ruel as my first guest! I came in contact with Mike through his excellent blog at http://www.mikeruel.wordpress.com/. I benefit greatly from his thoughts and you will too. Let's begin!

Give us the stats. Name, age, family, church where you serve and your role:
Mike Ruel, 39, married...2 kids - son: 12; daughter: 10. I am the Worship Director (Part-time/volunteer) at Green Pond Bible Chapel in Rockaway NJ.

How and when did you know you were called to lead congregational worship?

I had been a professional musician for years, living a sinful life away from the Lord...when the Lord brought me back, I started to get involved in music at the church but really it didn't click until I started to get to know the God we serve thru intense reading of great books, audio sermons, and reading the whole Bible. As these pieces were beginning to form the foundation of the calling, a tragedy occurred and friends of ours lost their 16-month old son. They asked me to lead worship at the funeral. Leading the body to worship the sovereign awesome holy God when we needed Him the most was all the convincing I needed that this is where I felt God wanted me to pursue serving.

Give us a glimpse of what takes place from the end of the worship service to the beginning of the worship service the following week:

At the end of a Sunday service I will briefly touch base with the worship team and tech team to see how everything went from their perspective while it is fresh in their minds. Praying for the worship is a daily thing - so I pretty much immediately turn towards the next weeks' service. Depending on if I'm leading or someone else (There are a few worship leaders on my team) they get their sets to me and we look them over and I send it out to all the teams via Planning Center Online and schedule the teams for the next week....work on rehearsal, etc. We rehearse usually on Thursday nights and we run the set.

Describe from beginning to end what a usual Sunday Morning Worship Service looks like at your church:

I usually get to the church about 8:15am to make sure everything is in place or in process to be ready to go - sound check starts at 8:30am. We typically run thru the whole set once...we pray before we start and after for the Holy Spirit to come and do its work thru us as well as thru the preaching of the Word in the hearts of those attending. We have a 9:30 and 11:00am service. The 9:30 service leans a bit more contemporary (with drums and elec guitar) and the 11:00am service leans a bit traditional (no drums or elec guitar). I try to keep both services musically the same, but sometimes I will switch out 1 song. We also have a 6pm service, but this is much more informal and either I'll just lead on acoustic or another worship leader with piano or guitar.

During a morning service I will briefly welcome the people and we'll get started right away with our Call to Worship - I like to say that I'm reminding them that it is time to worship the Lord our God -- let us worship for he is WORTHY!

Depending on if the choir is singing they will be on stage with us for the call to worship, then they will sing 1 song.

From there we have announcements from one of the Pastors. Which yes...we all dread the flow interruption, but it's a "necessary..."

Then I pray, invite the Holy Spirit to come and work in us, be present with us...maybe read scripture, a paragraph from a book, or briefly introduce why I felt lead to chose the songs we are about to sing.

Then I have about a 4-5 song worship set - I have been talking less during the set and just letting it flow...but sometimes, like the Revelation Song if it's a new song and there is such a wonderful bit of scripture that helps reinforce the message I will break in and talk.

Then we have our offering and usually someone will sing / play a special music piece

Then we have a sermon for about 30 minutes from our Senior Pastor

First Sunday of each month we share communion together at this point...

I usually get back up to close with a short chorus or prayer.

What songs did you sing last week and why were they selected?

Last week we sang:

Call to Worship: Majesty - an "oldie" but a goodie. I wanted to focus eveyone's attention on the glory and authority of Jesus as we gathered to worship Him.

Days of Elijah - many of us have been doing a chronological read of the Bible this year and I felt led to that song that ties in so many of the aspects of OT redemptive history and also to celebrate together "There is no God like Jehovah!"

Revelation Song - new for us. I read Revelation chap 4 to paint the picture of the throne of God in Heaven and then we sang those words - so powerful to remind us of what awaits us!

Be Unto Your Name - giving us a chance to reflect on our temporal nature (We are moment...), focusing again on the "Holy Holy Lord God Alighty" and "Lamb who was slain" themes from Revelation

Salvation Belongs to Our God - reinforcing themes of salvation and continuing to build on the "Him who sits on the throne" and "the Lamb" themes

What is or has been the most enjoyable part about leading worship? How about the most difficult?

The most enjoyable is actually leading worship - playing and singing - those moments when I can tell that the Spirit seems to be working in the hearts of those gathered when I see the tears or raised hands or expressions that the lyrics are really hitting home and pieces of understanding are coming together and God is revealing himself by the Holy Spirit to His Glory thru his Son Jesus!

The most difficult...hmm...Sunday mornings themselves are usually a blur for me. There are usually technical challenges, lyric operator questions, pastoral requests...any number of things can go wrong and usually there are about 10 people (or so it seems!) that need to talk to me immediately all at the same time. It's a challenge to keep a clear head and a happy (unstressed) face sometimes. I have learned that more than ever...on the Lord's Day I need to spend some serious solitude time with him alone early in the morning getting my heart happy in the Lord my God and drinking deeply from his word (and a giant pot of coffee) and praying, begging him to work thru me...a clay pot.

What resources or ‘tools’ do you utilize or that you consider a ‘must have’ for leading worship?

Practically speaking I have come to be a huge Planning Center Online fan...I rely on it very heavily for planning and scheduling. Other than that, just good old fashioned diligence, planning, and organization! I need to be constantly connected to the web/e-mail as things and scheduling issues come up I need to jump on them ASAP!

Who has been the most influential person(s) in your ministry and how have they influenced you?

I have the "blessing" of having a long commute to my "day job" - upwards of 1.5 hrs each way...so my iPod is always stocked with podcasts from men of God preaching the full counsel of his word. I have been influenced heavily by great Pastors like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, CJ Mahaney, DA Carson, John MacArthur, Josh Harris, local pastors Dave Gustavsen and Ryan Baitzel, Steve Hawthorne...Worship Leader wise I am a huge Sovereign Grace fan and believe they bring some of the most Christ-exalting, Gospel-centered, cross-focused worship music out there - so needless to say Bob Kauflin has had probably the biggest impact on me as to what it means to be a worship leader...

I also am influenced by great authors...but we'll get to the books below.

Ultimately, I pray that I am most influenced by the Holy Spirit to the praise of His glorious grace!

Where do you find new worship music and how do you integrate a new song into the service?

Like I said...I'm a big Sovereign Grace Music fan, so I do a lot of their songs. I keep a close eye on others that I have come to appreciate like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Keith/Kristin Getty, Fee. I also love to take an old hymn and rearrange it or pick up someone's arrangement. The hymns are soaked in doctrine!! Otherwise I keep my eyes and ears open for good solid stuff. I am active on Twitter and a blogger and blog reader so I find a lot there. Unfortunately, I am frequently disappointed by the "worship" music that is published and becomes popular. So much of it is theologically vague or just plain Biblically wrong...it seems that we have come to idolize worship leaders and many of them are literal rock stars - some by using the name of Jesus and really it's not about Him it's about THEM and their careers. Don't forget there are those out there that are really just concerned with selling records and the record companies have quickly realized that "worship music" is a great revenue producing category for them. Very sad and very detrimental to the church - we must proclaim the mystery of the gospel thru Christ-exalting, Cross-centered, theologically correct and doctrinally sound worship! We are called in scripture to be discerning, protect our lives and doctrine closely, and test everything! (1 Thes 5:21, 1 Tim 4:16, Rom 12:2, 2 Cor 4:2)

Name 3 books (besides the Bible) every worship leader must own:

Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin

Desiring God, Piper (sorry...I know that's 4 but this is HARD to narrow it down!!!)

Tell us a little about your blog; why you started it and what it’s about:

I started my blog really as a running journal of my thoughts from reading the Word, good books and sermons - mostly centered on worship themes and theology. It also contains recaps from conferences I attend, and message text and audio from any messages I give. I really don't use it to vent personal pet peeves, or funny kinda stories (every once in a while...) but it's mostly an online journal that allows me the ability to manage that content, archive it, search it...organize it so that I can access it later. Others seem to have enjoyed it to and I'm happy if it blesses others! At the moment I do also use it to post the master worship team schedule - which will be moved to our new church website as soon as it's done! :-)