Monday, July 28, 2014

Directions for Singing: Part 3b - Sing, Weary Singers

Last week I took a bite out of the first sentence in John Wesley’s third instruction. Today I’ll finish the plate.

3. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

After addressing the people to “sing All”, Wesley follows up by encouraging everyone to sing together and to push through if it is a burden, because ultimately it will be a blessing.

Join With the Congregation
Wesley is telling us to sing along, to join the throng. Everybody sing. In the previous post I told you about my experiences growing up in the First Baptist Church of Dreary Song, where verses were skipped and the singing was lackluster. Unfortunately I've heard the same story from many others. The gospel of Dreary Song is cross-denominational, a truly ecumenical movement. Symptoms include the mumbles, folded arms, blank stares and/or scowly faces, half-heartedness, lip-syncing, and possible eye-rolling. Frankly, some congregations are truly united, but only in their effort to not sing. Unity of this type is also found in the graveyard.

To make a point I will now get off the topic for a moment. Carl Truman wrote an incredibly helpful and needful article called, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing”. His point is that in our day and age the emphasis in church music leans heavily towards the happy, glad, and joyful, leaving those who are miserable or hurting without a song to sing. His solution to this Happy Clappy Endemic is (spoiler alert) the Psalms. Aside from the fact that it needed to be written in the first place, everything about the article is spectacular and I pray it finds its way before the eyes of every pastor and worship leader in the land. That said (back on topic!), in my experience, the problem isn't that everyone is singing only happy songs, the problem is that almost no one is singing anything.

There is an awfully heavy side to this that unfortunately I’ll only mention briefly here. When there a congregation that resists singing about the One who invented music and formed their vocal cords—not to mention the One who saved their souls from the pit of hell—the fear is that they sing not because they are saved not. This is a real and dreadful conclusion that cannot be reached lightly and so I’ll leave it to the discernment of those shepherds to whom God has entrusted such matters in their own flocks. For my purposes, in these instructions I have a believing congregation in mind. Perhaps it is full of folks who grew up like me, where they were trained that the songs they sing don’t matter much. Perhaps it is a congregation full of horrible singing voices and everyone is a bit self-conscious. There are likely as many reasons as there are non-singing congregations so I’ll get to the point.

I believe Wesley instructs his people to join in singing with the congregation as frequently as possible to encourage even more singing. We've seen in previous installments that singing is formative and that these hymns are meant to teach doctrine as well as praise God, so it would follow that more singing means more teaching and more formation, and as a result, more praise to God. But there's a bit more to it than that.

You Will Find a Blessing
"Just one more okay?" -said for the 10th time
Singing is a natural part of our original glorious, pre-sin, Garden of Eden, state. But we are fallen, which is why singing (and singing together) can be weary and burdensome. And by golly, I think we have our finger on the foundation for the Dreary Song Movement. Singing is a burden in the same way playing is a burden. Think about how damning of a statement that is. Playing is a burden! At first glance it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Have you ever sat down to play make believe with a toddler? How long did you last? Long before my daughter brings me my 37th cup of tea I've been looking for a way out. I mean, she’s already given me 36 cups in under two minutes. I'm antsy and I can't blame it on being hopped up on imaginary caffeine. Go ask your mom if she wants some tea. Had we the time and had I the ability, she would keep this up for another, oh, 3 million cups or so. And that’s just me sitting on the couch, not moving.

Play is a burden and that it is a burden is evidence of our fallen state. Chesterton taught this to me.
The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

In the same way, C.S. Lewis contrasts earth and heaven in those things (singing among them) which we consider to be frivolous: 
Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is most like that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.

Singing is a burden because we are sinful people. But singing is good for us because it is the serious business of Heaven. The glimpse we get of the Throne of God in Heaven reveals to us four living creatures who are continually, without stop day and night, singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty”. Without stop! Day and night! And we think, what a burden!

So our weakness and weariness in singing is a sign of our fallen nature. Wesley wisely tells us to battle through such weakness. He says to take it up as a cross and carry it and it will be for our good. This flies in the face of that masterful tactic of Satan; the phrase, “I don’t feel like it.” How many times have we given credence to this phrase? Not that it isn't true (most of the time it is true!). But we never explore why it is true. Why does singing make us weak and weary? Because joy is the serious business of heaven and we are steeped in the serious business of the world. Of course we don’t feel like singing! We’re too weak to understand its power. Wesley is smacking our face here, not to be cruel, but to snap us into reality. Hey, wake up! Stay with me!

Singing together is like a magic cordial offered to the sick and dying. Those who refuse to drink because the taste (at first sip) is sharp, harsh, and nasty will remain sick and dying and likely unaware of their state. Singing will never quite sit well with them and they’ll believe the fault lies somewhere outside of themselves. However, those who realize their condition will push past the first taste because they know ultimately it is for their own good. They will soon regain their strength and develop an acquired taste that leads to greater complexity of pleasure and enjoyment.

The burden of song may not be fully lifted for many until Christ returns, but when we sing together we help each other carry the burden. In the church of the Dreary Song the burden is crushing. But in a congregation where everyone sings together the burden is lifted and eased. Everyone shares in the load and the work becomes a foretaste of eternal glory.

Previous installments of the Direction's for Singing series

Friday, July 25, 2014

Directions for Singing: Part 3a - Sing All

The third direction John Wesley gives us is like a shotgun blast. His aim hits the target, but does so in a way that covers a lot of ground. I initially intended to give my thoughts on this entire point in one go, but I happened upon a few interesting rabbit trails along the way and allowed myself to meander. 

3. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

Today I’d like to look at the first sentence: Sing All.

When I read “Sing All” I am immediately aware of three possible meanings: 1) Sing all of the hymns in the hymnbook. 2) Sing all of the words in the hymn. 3) Sing all, every one of you. Wesley may have intended it to mean only one of them, but since we cannot ask him (for he’s been dead for over two centuries) and since I think all of the meanings I’ve gathered from these two words would be agreeable to Wesley anyway, I’ll go for it.

Sing All of the Hymns in the Hymnbook
Sing every song. Every one of them. The whole shebang. Even that one. Allow me to backup before I run and jump into this. Singing all the hymns from the hymnbook is almost a foreign concept to our PowerPoint-shaped minds. Technology today gives us the ability to sing a 400 year old song and a song written 2 hours ago in the very same service without even a hitch. Even if you don’t have access to a projector, most have access to a printer that will meet your immediate needs (Gutenberg would be so proud). The way we view the hymnal today is vastly different from how it was viewed back then. Don’t miss the importance of this. In the past, the hymnal was more or less a requirement. Today the hymnal is optional. One could think of the physical hymn book as a well, and projected (or print-on-demand) lyrics as a faucet.

"Spring up, O well! sweet fountain, spring!"
In many ways the ‘worship wars’ transition of the recent past could be boiled down to how people viewed the physical hymn book. Folks who were used to the well, sustained by the well, whose lifestyle developed around the use of the well, were suddenly introduced to this newfangled doohickey called the faucet. No longer did one have to go outside to the well for water, you could just flip it on in the house. When they went to the well they knew exactly where their water was coming from. But this new plumbing brought water to the faucet from somewhere else. Surely there must be a reservoir somewhere, but how do we know where it came from? How can we be sure someone hasn’t put something else in it? Besides, this tap water tastes funny.

"Pour out your power and love"
Do you see what happened? Nothing essentially negative has occurred. But something negative might occur. And it certainly changes the rhythm of how life used to be. Something solid and reliable has been removed. The hymn book, for centuries has been a haven. A place of solace. Between these two covers is sustenance and safety. If you take a look back at the preface of hymnals such as those developed by pastors like Gadsby and Spurgeon, you will see that one of their concerns is to have a body of songs that have been vetted and approved and are ready for consumption. This is more or less the same reason there is a different hymnal for every denomination. For the good of their people they tailored their hymnbooks to gather the good stuff and avoid the junk.

Along comes technology and it allowed immediate access to new and different songs. The well water that is good for drinking, the one our fathers’ fathers have been drinking from for all these years, is suddenly unnecessary. Now, only pragmatists wish to destroy that which is unnecessary, and believe you me the modern church is chalk full of pragmatists. And because the modern church is chalk full of pragmatists that means they lined up on both sides. The Hymnbooker Pragmatists were of the opinion that the Projector and the music it brought with it were unnecessary in light of what they already had. The PowerPointer Pragmatists stood firm in their belief that the hymnbook was impractical in light of what they now had. Are you starting to hear the war drums beat? (Well…at least one side was pounding drums…) Meanwhile those Christians who hadn’t succumbed to the temptations of the goddess, Pragma, were taking part in a revolutionary concept in our day in age; they were singing together. For Christians are the best at reveling in that which is gloriously unnecessary.

Well that’s enough backing up, now for the run and jump. All of that was said so that we can see the reason John Wesley directed his people to “Sing All” was because this Hymnbook was the Well he dug and he knew it was good. Like Spurgeon and Gadsby after him, Wesley developed this hymnbook for sustenance and safety. Every song was included for a reason; to glorify God and to edify the Church. He wanted his people to draw deep and drink all the well had to offer.

Sing All of the Words in the Hymn
Growing up I figured there must’ve been some Baptist rule in hymn singing that went like this: “You Shall Sing Verses 1, 2, and 4. Never Verse 3.” Is it me or did they always skip verse 3? Perhaps the third verse was the Baptist version of diabolus in musica? Whatever the reason, skipping verses in this way conveyed to me, even at a young age, a pretty strong message: The length of the song trumps the content of the song. This, in turn, conveyed the idea that singing didn’t matter much. It was just something we do because it’s something we’ve always done. Get on with it. And if singing didn’t matter much, what we sang didn’t matter much. And if what we sang didn’t matter much, well then; songs to and about our Creator and Savior that don’t matter to Christians are the devil’s favorite tunes.

That said, skipping verses is not a bad thing. Sometimes it is appropriate and necessary. Sometimes singing one verse is enough. But this shouldn’t be the rule or arbitrary habit in gathered worship and I think John Wesley would agree. Skipping verses in singing is like skipping verses of Scripture. Imagine someone reading Scripture during worship and always skipping every third verse. You might get the point across but really you are betraying the context and the content. A hymn is more likely to build upon itself than our modern verse/chorus/verse/chorus songs. More often, hymns, like a puzzle, require each piece to see the whole picture. But in the end wisdom and discernment should prevail. If you as a leader, or you as a singer, choose to omit a word or a verse then it ought not be arbitrary or done without thinking.

Sing All, Every One of You
Out of all of the meanings I’ve pulled out of “Sing All”, I feel like this one likely hits closest to Wesley’s intention. The emphasis he places on “All” with italics causes me to want to interpret “All” as “Everybody”. And the immediate “see that you join with the congregation” also leads me there. Whatever his intention, this is good advice.

I would that you might suffer me another ‘growin up Baptist’ anecdote. I mentioned how skipping the third verse caused me to slide down a slope of Doesn’t Matter Much of Whatcha Sing. So it comes as no surprise that there were many mouths clamped shut during our times of singing. Singing was (is!) a burden to many. I grew up in a church full of lackluster singing. But I never knew how bad it was until I attended another congregation. The song was “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and before I uttered two melodic syllables I was struck dumb. I stopped singing because I was amazed at the sound around me. The voice of the congregation boomed. I checked the ceiling to make sure it was still intact. I looked around me to make sure the heavenly host hadn’t joined in. And there was one more thing that took me a moment to pin down. What was that sound? That deep rumble. That punch. That sound that invigorated and fortified my soul. It was the sound of men singing. I mean, really singing. It was an experience I’ll never forget. The following week found me again at First Baptist Church of Dreary Song and as we stood to sing verses 1, 2 and 4, my soul was dismayed. No wonder Wesley encouraged everyone to sing.

We’ll dig a bit more into this in the next installment.

Previous installments of the Direction's for Singing series

Thursday, July 24, 2014

John Newton's "Old Style" Birthday

"I was born in London the 24th of July, 1725, old style."

John Newton was born 289 years ago today. Well not really. As we see, John Newton refers to July 24th as his birthday dated in the "old style".

What is the "Old Style"? The old style refers to the Julian calendar, which was the system used at the time of Newton's birth. However Britain implemented the Gregorian calendar in 1752. To adjust for this new calendar 11 days were essentially removed in September. From 1752 on, Newton always considered his birthday to be August 4th.

But even though today is not technically Newton's real birthday, don't let that stop you from celebrating! I say we start partying today and finish up on August 4th.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Directions for Singing: Part 2 - Sing Them Exactly

Today we continue looking at John Wesley’s “Direction’s for Singing” with his second point,

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

This point is an overflow from point 1. There we saw how Wesley wanted to build a foundation based on sound doctrine and create a formative tradition. Point 2 indicates that Wesley was concerned with the purity of what he was feeding his people. His initial point, “Learn only these songs first” was important because the songs had something particular he wanted taught. But if the songs are changed or had been learned in a different way, then it just might act as a monkey wrench and disrupt both doctrine and fellowship.

In the previous post I spoke of the people having a common language through these hymns. But if some had learned a song in a different way or if some chose to alter the words printed, then that common language is in danger of being lost. And more importantly, the purity of the doctrine that was laid down originally, if altered, may lead to division within the body over doctrine.

So we see that Direction 2 serves to preserve the goal in Direction 1.

I find myself a bit on both sides of the fence on this, but I largely find myself sympathetic to Wesley’s line of thinking. On one hand I am a huge proponent of clarity in worship. I imagine a 300 year old hymn, full of rich truth and beauty, but it also contains words or phrases that are essentially meaningless and/or confusing to the common parishioner. I believe that someone with deft hand with a pastoral heart may take that hymn and alter it, without changing the content or context of the hymn. Thees and Thous come to many minds, but some words like fetter or Ebeneezer cause many to pause and say, “raise my what!?” The phrase “contracted to a span” while beautifully crafted, may not convey a lick of the Incarnation to some congregations. And don’t get me started on the yearning of our bowels.

So I really do believe it is okay in some ways to alter words or phrases when done with skill and a heart to make things clear for the worshippers of God. Even when it goes beyond language and overlaps into doctrine, I still think there is a time and place to alter words. Emphases on certain doctrines change throughout the centuries and so it is conceivable that there might be a phrase that was appropriate for sound doctrine in days past that may not be fully understood as sound in our day. In our aim for clarity we need to be wise, discerning, and respectful of the hymn writer’s art.
John Wesley would not be pleased

With that said, I tend to side with Wesley on the whole. I believe Wesley was aiming at keeping pure the doctrine contained in the hymns. If alterations are made, not simply for clarity, but to change the context or content of the song, especially to make it mean something other than it intended, then the hymn has been hijacked and ruined. While there are likely exceptions, it’s probably better to drop the hymn than to give it a Total Hymn Makeover. It is one thing to patiently restore a masterpiece painting, slowly revealing and touching up that which has faded. It is quite another to superimpose or erase content so that you and your followers feel better about it.

Here’s a good example. A couple years ago in Spain a woman attempted to restore a beautiful but worn and faded fresco of Jesus. It turned out bad. Like a-train-loaded-with-explosives-running-headlong-into-the-middle-of-a-nitroglycerin-factory-next-door-to-a-nuclear-plant bad.

umm...don't do this to your hymns...

Here’s a more appropriate example, and it’s one that I think really gets to the heart of Wesley’s concern. Recently the song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend made national news when the song was ultimately rejected to be included in a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA). The reason it was rejected was because the songwriters pulled a John Wesley and refused to allow one of their lyrics changed. The lyric in question is originally written as,

Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied

The hymn committee wanted to change the lyric to read,

Till on that cross as Jesus died
The love of God was magnified

It was a close decision but ultimately, after Getty and Townend refused to allow their lyrics to be changed, the committee voted to drop the song from their hymnbook. This sparked a firestorm of blogs and news outlets that centered on the doctrine of atonement. All because of one line, and some say one word, in a hymn. I think this example alone is enough evidence to justify Wesley’s second point.

Previous installments of the Direction's for Singing series

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Directions for Singing: Part 1 - Learn These Tunes

Yesterday we looked briefly at all seven of Wesley’s Directions for Singing and some of his reasons for giving them. Today I’ll ruminate and gab about his first point.

1. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

As we begin, we should remember is that Wesley was writing this in a hymn book for Methodists. “These Tunes” are Methodist tunes. The thing we ought to glean from that is that Wesley is concerned for a particular people. Any pastor or leader has the same concern for their flock. Any parent has the same concern for their children. Wesley wants his people to learn these tunes for two reasons: 1) to disseminate doctrine, and 2) to establish a pattern for formation.

First, “these Tunes” were important because they contained doctrine. So the thought goes, if you learn these first then you’re starting out on the right foot. There is a bit of walk before you run going on here. Here are the fundamental things we want you to learn and to meditate on. Get these down pat. Once they are drilled into your brain to where you are singing them in your sleep, then go ahead and start learning other songs. An important thing to remember is that these tunes aren't just stepping stones to some greater doctrine of God. These contain the truth of the gospel that we never move beyond. Wesley is trying to establish a foundation to build upon, not a game of hopscotch where we start at #1 and move on.

Secondly, “these Tunes” were important to learn first because they established the rhythm of their worship. Learning the same songs and learning them well has a formative effect on people. This is the soil of tradition. The people learning “these Tunes” will have a common language and share a common bond in their fellowship, and this language and these bonds are passed down to their children. On a grand scale it’s similar to Christmas Carols. Almost everyone can join in without the aid of a book. These songs not only aid in worship and praise, but are used to build up the body. People can use their in-common language to minister to one another. When someone you love dies, these songs give you a voice to sing. And if you can’t sing because the pain is so deep, the body of Christ can sing for you and to you. When the kindness and goodness of God rushes upon you like a burst of fragrant spring air, these songs can give you voice of thanksgiving. 

I find that I can relate to a high degree with the idea of learning “these Tunes” before learning any others. Five years ago or so, I was leading worship for a relatively new congregation. There was no clear direction or long view regarding what songs they would sing as they gathered. As I stepped into the role the first thing I sought to do was to develop a repertoire of common songs. I came up with about 65 hymns I felt were solid songs of truth and beauty and for a little over a year they were the only songs we sang. Even within the relatively small number of 65 songs I narrowed the focus even more. About 40 of those songs immediately became ‘core’ and so we sang these songs over and over. We learned “these Tunes” before any other.

And we did learn more songs. Once the congregation began to take ownership of these tunes it actually became easier to introduce new songs. These new songs were used because the occasion required it or because I was seeking to lead the people to fresh fields of truth and beauty. Happily some of these new songs would eventually become one of our ‘core’ songs. One of the fascinating things that resulted from this (and perhaps this was part of the method—heh—to Wesley’s madness) was that our congregation sang the ‘core’ songs better and louder, with more focus and enthusiasm than the other songs, every time. I continued to develop and build our song base, and continued to expand our ‘core’ songs. By the time I stepped down our ‘core’ songs had increased to around 85 songs.

I actually didn't learn this from Wesley. I think I picked it up from Bob Kauflin. But it’s the same principle and it was extremely beneficial to me as a leader and to our congregation. It infused doctrine and it established a pattern for formation in weekly worship. It is at the same time exciting and sobering to imagine what effect these songs might have on the seven year old who is sitting in the pew. Will he sing these songs to voice his joy and thanksgiving? Will he pass them on to his kids? Will God use these songs to sustain him in the trials to come? When I'm dead and long gone, and when he is old and grey, raspy of voice and shaky of hand, only moments away from death, will these songs, like a whisper, pass over his lips as he enters into glory?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wesley's Reasons for "Directions for Singing"

When it comes to hymnody the Wesley brothers stand among a small number who could be called giants. Their shoulders have withstood the standing of countless men and women throughout the years. The reason for their vast influence is quite simple; their hymns, (Charles’ in particular), embody truth and doctrine with beauty. The Wesley’s not only used their hymns for praise to God, but also for discipleship. Wesley’s teachings and doctrines (like Luther’s before him) were dispersed through song. Methodism was strengthened and sustained through these hymns, and Christians, beyond the borders of Methodism, have benefited from the overflow of truth and beauty contained in their songs.

So it comes as no surprise that John Wesley sought to encourage his congregations to sing. He understood the value, purpose, and importance of hymns (to glorify God and edify the Church) and sought to instruct his followers to sing these songs so that they would be of the greatest benefit to the participants of worship. In a 1761 hymnbook prepared for his people, John Wesley included some brief “Directions for Singing”. He states:
That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.

1. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

6. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
My plan is to offer some thoughts on each of these seven points of instruction on their own as series of separate posts.

But before we really jump into this series, I would like to look briefly at the reasons John Wesley gives for offering these Directions in the first place. He opens with the simple but informative sentence, “That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.”

For Gathered Worship
The first thing we can pull out of this is that Wesley envisioned these hymns for a particular audience and placed in a particular setting. Namely, they were to be sung as a part of gathered worship. First and foremost this hymnbook was not for the individual believer, but for the congregation of believers for “this part of Divine Worship”. Of course “this part of Divine Worship” is referring to congregational singing. (That Wesley speaks of singing as a ‘part’ of worship happily contrasts with those today who only view singing as some “truer” form of worship than preaching or partaking of the sacraments. How often have we heard in the parking lot, “The worship was great, but the sermon was a bit dull”?)

To Glorify God and Edify the Church
Wesley reveals these Directions for Singing have two goals in mind: That it “may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others”. In sum, the goal of congregational singing in worship is to glorify God and to edify the Church. These instructions seek to aid the church in accomplishing both.

We might also see here that the phrase, “acceptable to God” conjures (for us) a bit more than simply “glorify God”. To be sure, acceptable worship does indeed glorify God, but Wesley here is concerned with the way in which his people get to the point of glorifying God. By stating that there is a kind of worship that is acceptable to God, Wesley is also saying that there is a kind of worship that is unacceptable to God. Worship that is acceptable or unacceptable is as old as Cain and Abel. It is deep in our DNA, and yet the phrase “acceptable worship” causes us to cringe. It automatically puts us in a place of vulnerability. It leaves us exposed. It puts us on a scale. It leaves open the possibility that our worship might not be up to par. Wesley’s brief Directions do not cover this idea of worship that is ‘acceptable to God’ to the fullest extent, but there are glimpses in the instructions that we can expand upon further when we get to them. In the meantime, I’d like to think if someone asked him to further expand on this theme that Wesley would say, “Have you considered this song by my brother Charles?

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

A Pastor's Heart
The reasons Wesley provides are not ground-shattering, but they are helpful. Someone could read these Directions and in a huff write them off as legalistic or old fashioned. But they would be missing the heart of Wesley. A pastor’s heart aimed at shepherding his flock, leading them to the best grazing lands he can find. He wants to give them the deepest truths and have them behold the greatest beauties while in his care. At the end of the day John Wesley is saying, “In these hymns there is truth and beauty. Here are some ways, as your pastor, I believe will help you to glorify God, to see truth better, to behold beauty deeper, and to experience the joy of fellowship as best as we can.”

The Directions for Singing series

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Well, I'm Back

A couple nights ago I had the opportunity to meet with some folks who I connected with, basically, through this blog. And one of them asked a question that led to this blog post, “Why don't you blog anymore?” I gave them a brief answer and the conversation moved on. At the end of the night I was encouraged to start blogging again. At the time I didn't think much about it, but it hooked into my brain. Why don’t I blog anymore? I wanted to ponder it some more here.

It’s been well over a year since I've last posted to this blog. It wasn't my intention to stop blogging after I stepped down from my position in April 2013, but I found that I wasn't quite sure what to say here anymore. I initially started this blog for a few reasons:

1) In my early days of worship leadership I didn't have much depth, not much was solidly ‘sound’ in my doxology, but God was gracious and caused growth. I began to see much of the same shallowness that I saw in my early leadership happening in churches all around me. When I searched online for blogs and websites specifically relating to sound worship I didn't find much, so I decided to start my own. So in some ways I was writing to inform my past self, hoping that there were others who would benefit.

2) I also saw this place as a way to talk about what I was thinking through or what I found to be interesting. Hymns, liturgy, John Newton, songwriting, etc. In this way I was stretching my own thinking and trying to put a voice out there to anyone who wished to hear it. I found that one of the benefits in pondering these things on this blog is that it helped me develop a philosophy of worship for my congregation.

This eventually this led to an important shift in how I started using this blog, which was to serve my church. However it initially started, I wound up more and more thinking how I could utilize the Sound Doxology blog to serve my congregation. Whether it was through a song I wrote or re-tuned or a brief thought trail exploring the theological depths of a sentence said in a past sermon, I began to write things geared more towards the people whom God had allowed me to lead. And so when I stepped down last year I wasn't quite sure what to write anymore.

Since that time my family and I have had the opportunity to visit other congregations and I have found myself in a weird and unfamiliar place; the pew. When I was in a position of leadership I had the ability to take my own advice. I would write out of my experiences. If I led our congregation in a re-tuned hymn I could share it here. If I was pondering liturgy and how to implement certain aspects into the worship service, I could voice it here and actually follow up with it at church. I felt I could give advice to worship leaders about song selection here because I was also selecting songs. But now those things have changed for me.

As I mentioned, when I started writing this blog it was tough to find any good online resources about worship. But since then however, so many good blogs and websites have cropped up that it became much easier to point people there than to write the same thing over again. It’s actually pretty exciting when I think about it. Five years ago I couldn't find anything so I felt I needed to write. Today there is so much out there that it felt like I didn't need to write! And so I let it hang. The “purpose” of this blog was either fulfilled through other websites or no longer applicable because I no longer lead a congregation.

So here’s the plan. Because I’m still deeply interested in sound doxology, and because I was encouraged to do so by folks I admire and respect, I’m going to start writing here again. The narrow “purposes” of the blog will have to shift and the tone here will likely change. Sound doxology will still be the theme so you can continue to expect ruminations on hymns and worship and more John Newton. After all of the good things God has done through this blog in the past, and all of the people He has connected me with, I’m excited to see what is in store. I’m not singing melody anymore, but I can try to sing some harmony.