Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Traditionalists, please forgive me or enlighten me.... maybe I haven't been listening well but I'm not so sure you guys have been communicating well either... but traditionalism seems like throwing a Toga party for Jesus.
Yes Christ wore a robe and sandals.... and while you're at it, he had a beard.... but to dress like Christ totally misses the point of His teachings. In the same way, to say that Christian worship has to be expressed with 300 year old music, pipe organs, stained glass windows, a 'table of the Lord', and all the other 'smells & bells', seems to miss the point just the same in my mind.
For both traditionalists and the ancient/future folks, I hear them talking about wanting to connect with the rich history we have inherited as believers. I can appreciate and even value that within the context that G.K. Chesterton explained tradition as the 'democracy of the dead'. The Holy Spirit has spoken to not just our generation, but to generations of believers past.... the historic church.... but I would contend that what He said had nothing directly to do with 'smells & bells'. If we REALLY want to connect with what the Holy Spirit has done historically through the church, I would contend we should affirm the BELIEFS and VALUES that the Holy Spirit has passed down to us through Christ and the Apostles. Those beliefs and values are in the form of loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving God with all our hearts and souls, and expressing worship as the community known as the church chiefly in the form of loving one another but also in the forms of partaking of communion, baptism, and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another.
So if I truly value tradition, tradition isn't found in stained glass windows, choirs, hymns, bells, incense and the like. Christian tradition is found in loving one another, turning the cheek, walking in the Spirit....
The rest can be helpful but shouldn't be our dogma. So if you're a traditionalist and you prefer a toga, that's fine as long as you hold on to your toga loosely. If it helps you express worship, functioning as a symbol, that's great but we err to ever mistake the symbols/styles for the substance, mistaking the medium for the message or mistaking the sign for the truth to which it points.
The greatest tradition of a Christ follower should be to love God and love one another. THAT is how we connect to generations of believers past.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4
It’s relatively easy to establish music that exalts the Lord. Such music should be Biblically sound, should give Him glory, highlighting who He is and what He has done. I see this as being primarily a focus on lyrical content, although some styles of music can distract one from God.
Choosing a worship style that edifies the believer is not necessarily any more difficult, except where such a strategy conflicts with the goal of the third E of evangelization. I would suggest that the third E of evangelism is potentially the most controversial, causing a lot of headaches for worship leaders.
As stated in “Freedom of Style”, I believe that God has given us the freedom to use any style as worship music. However, this freedom of style does not mean that we are free from practical considerations.
Drawing from a pool of styles that should all exalt the Lord and edify the believer, we now ask which styles are best suited to allowing us to evangelize the seeker? Which styles are seeker-sensitive? Which styles give the seeker the least amount of distractions from the Gospel? Which present the least amount of speed bumps, and pave the smoothest path to a relationship with the living God?
To think of it in another way, if a seeker were to walk in on a Sunday morning in the middle of a worship service, how can we better ensure that if they ARE offended, that they will most likely be offended by the truth of the Gospel, instead of by an irrelevant or irreverent music style?
Given the fact that popular music is mass marketed, it is easy to determine which musical styles both seekers and believers should be able to relate to. One doesn’t even have to consult marketing surveys (although they can be helpful). Marketing trends are easily seen in pop culture. Just do a scan on your FM radio dial. What styles of music dominate? And out of those styles, which can be used to serve the three E’s?
You will most likely not hear classical pipe organ music with vocals during that FM scan. You will unfortunately find classical orchestra music relegated to non-profit radio stations because of their lack of popularity. It is unlikely that you will find music that sounds like Christian Southern Gospel on secular stations. You will find that the popular musical landscape is dominated by guitars, drums and bass, with the guitar usually being central. And of course vocal music is vastly more popular than instrumental.
The FM radio scan helps us identify what I call “churchy” music. I define churchy as the things that the church uses to unnecessarily distinguish itself from the world. This can even go so far as to be legalism when taken to an extreme.
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." - Mark 7:8
While there’s nothing wrong with more traditional styles of worship music, such music is foreign to most seeker’s minds, especially the unchurched seeker. What instruments dominate the cultural landscape? What kind of vocal styles are most popular? What sounds are considered modern and what sounds are dated?
The driving force behind these questions is the church’s freedom, given by God to adopt the culture’s styles so long as the truth of God’s word is never compromised. After all, if one wants to catch fish, you have to use the right bait.
Paul did this:
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. I Corinthians 9:19-23
Even with this in mind, I do believe that it is good for the church to sing hymns and do traditional music in order to remember where we have come from and to keep a historical perspective. I also see traditional music as bridging generation gaps that can otherwise occur. In my opinion, all of these considerations serve the E of edification, without significantly hindering evangelization. And in many cases, these elements will even help to serve evangelization.
And by the criteria of the FM radio scan litmus test, one will also never hear choirs or even praise teams singing vocal lines. The use of choirs and praise teams may be limited to church culture, however because I defined churchy as that which the church unnecessarily distinguishes itself from the world, I wouldn’t call this a churchy characteristic. The very reason for the church is to enjoy the presence of God (worship) in the fellowship of believers (community).
Although the sound of worship team vocalists, or choirs might not be a sound heard on FM radio, the practice of using praise teams and choirs reinforces the Biblical imperative that the church should be a functioning, fellowshipping community. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that a seeker is going to be deterred by this distinction.
Now how do we handle the believer who feels left behind by the whole approach outlined thus far? Galatians 5 indicates that the fruit of the spirit is evident by the fact that we believers should not be driven by selfish desires. We are challenged to be a living sacrifice for God, always esteeming others higher than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
As a worship leader, I don’t want ANY believer to have to suffer through the worship styles that I might be tasked to lead. However, good ministry has been said to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. If we believers can’t worship God through the “suffering” of worship styles that we might not like (and I include myself under all the standards that I am laying down in this series of articles), how can we possibly worship God as Job did in the midst of much, much greater suffering?
”Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” – Luke 6:26
If following Christ inevitably leads to displeasing some people, which is preferable? Would it be better to please some immature believers in our congregations and hinder advancing God’s kingdom? Or is it best to allow these immature believers to either suffer the growth pains necessary to blossom into maturity, even at the risk of them leaving our fellowships, thus saving our fellowships from being “infected” with their influence so that the kingdom of God can advance?
- Someone who clearly loves God and people
- Someone who is gifted and called to be a leader and therefore has leadership, administrative and organizational skills.
- Someone who has a sense of humor can really help, especially to lighten things when difficult decisions and situations arise.
- A great communicator.
- Has a strong theological foundation for worship
- A good teacher
- Can sing and/or play either guitar or piano
- Music reading
- Can play by ear
- Knows music theory
- Can sing/play in the style(s) that best suit your church’s vision
- Can use a computer to communicate and create/distribute charts.
- Vocalists (lead excluded) who sing all the time
- Musicians who play all the time
- Vocalists who constantly harmonize
- Vocalists with too wide of a vibrato
- Vocalists with too much vibrato
- Vocalists/musicians out of tune
- Lack of dynamics
- Poor mix
- Musicians who play over top of each other instead of leaving room for others
- Guitarists and keyboardists who use sounds/tones/patches that don’t suit the music or its style
- Poor vocal enunciation causing words to be difficult to understand or giving the music the wrong style
- Musicians playing the wrong style for the music
- The wrong instruments used for the style of music being presented
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? – Luke 14:28
One of the most challenging things many churches face is that they might like sausage but they have no idea how it is made. And should we expect anything different when most people on church hiring teams are not qualified or experienced worship leaders?
In addition to the limitations of the interview process, this is further complicated by the fact that a good worship leader won’t simply be a good musician but needs to be a spiritually healthy person, a good organizer, disciplined, passionate, humble, a good communicator and able to meet people where they are even at the expense of his/her ambitions or desires.
If you ask any church, they are going to say that they want their worship leaders to do the best jobs they can. That’s a no-brainer right? No church is going to suggest excellence be compromised. Granted, differences will arise in the definition of excellence, and excellence should never be made into a ‘golden calf’ where we sacrifice people and relationships in the process.
And why might we value excellence? That reason is found in the story of Cain and Abel (see Genesis 4). It is also summarized in Romans 12:1-2 which says that our act of worship is to give God our all. How does a compromise in what people call ‘worship music’ hold up to communicating such a truth?
Disclaimer: worship is MUCH more than merely music. Again, see Romans 12:1-2.
Is a servant greater than his master? If Christ had to sacrifice, will we not at times have to do the same? Anyone who has succeeded at anything will tell you that success comes by having the courage to stare your weaknesses in the eye without flinching. That is the very definition of humility. You can’t become a great singer without first knowing that you have a pitch issue. Otherwise, how will you know what to practice? Growth starts with working on our weaknesses. When we get offended, not because of the critic’s intentions, tone or sensitivity, but by the very fact that they spoke the truth, who REALLY has the problem?
The tendency that I’ve seen in the church is for us to bury our own weaknesses and to enable others to bury theirs as well. This certainly ensures a ‘feel-good’ experience but it is short-lived and ultimately paralyzing.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – I Corinthians 12:10
It is difficult to delight in our weaknesses. I’ve noticed that both insecure and proud people refuse to look at their weaknesses.
Of course, a worship leader, like any servant of Christ, is supposed to always serve in love.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ – Ephesians 4:15
But often times, I find worship leaders can follow this truth and STILL get burned. Could it be because we sometimes have ‘itching ears’?
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3
So where are you in your ministry? Are you the people pleaser who is afraid to tell people the truth lest you risk offending them? Or perhaps you find yourself indiscriminately firing the truth to everyone without practicing the love prescribed in Ephesians 4:15? Or maybe you find yourself throwing pearls at swine (Matthew 7:6). Perhaps you find yourself lacking the patience and discernment to wait until some people might be ready to hear the truth. Many people will unfortunately never experience such growth. Are you willing to offend them? Does your Pastor and church give you such permission (see Luke 6:26)?
In love, are you willing to take the risk of telling people the truth? If you have a vocalist who is pitchy, are you willing to sit down with them, and sensitively and discreetly address the issue, not with condemnation but while offering a helping hand of hope for improvement? Does your church recognize that truly good things come at a price? Is your church willing to risk losing people in the short term in pursuit of God’s greater kingdom?
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble – James 4:6
After examining ourselves to make sure that we do not have planks in own eyes (Matthew 7:3-4), are we as both a church and as worship leaders willing to take people on the journey of facing their weaknesses so that they can overcome fears and insecurities in order to become the people God has called us to be? The journey can be painful and seems paradoxical but I’ve found in my walk with Christ that paradoxes bear his fragrance.
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39
Be a Good Worship Leader or Keep Your Job
Vision and Mission
Even our language is confusing. When a church service begins, usually to segue the beginning of the music, we often say we gather to worship, but according to Romans 12:1-2, worship is the act of believers giving their entire lives to God as an act of worship. This is why Colossians 3:23 says that whatever we do, we should do it with all our hearts as working for the Lord. Those guys and gals we often call ‘worship leaders’ are really ‘congregational worship music leaders’. The latter would make a horrible title but as a description it certainly clarifies. So as you can see, even our language and job titles work against our understanding.
Each expression of worship, no matter how clearly Biblical, can be easily misunderstood. Take Solomon’s temple for example. A temple makes it too easy to see God as small, fitting within its confines, or so weak as to even need a building at all for His home. Solomon was aware of this inadequacy when he says in 2 Chronicles 6:18, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
Sometimes I wonder how our pride might contribute to our misunderstandings. In 2 Samuel 6, Michal, David’s wife, is offended by David’s humility expressed in His worship as the ark (representing God’s presence) is brought to Jerusalem. In Genesis 4, Cain’s pride makes him jealous of Abel and his offering, spurring him to commit the first murder.
While teaching and communication isn’t an antidote for pride, it certainly is necessary to bring clarity to that which is too often easily misunderstood. But I often wonder if the reason the church seems deficient in explaining worship is because many of us who might have the influence of a pulpit, or lead Bible studies & small groups don’t really know ourselves WHY we worship.
Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living. I believe that an examined faith is not worth believing. II Peter 3:15 says we should always be able to give a reason for the hope that we have.
So of course, while space doesn’t permit me to tackle every question (nor could I answer every question), let me at least address some of the major ones:
So why do we worship? As stated earlier, Romans 12:1-2 calls us to offer our lives as an act of worship. The Westminster Catechism correctly concludes that worship is the very purpose of man. Worship is the very reason we live. It is not to be reduced to Sunday morning church services. We gather in services to worship as a community. The chief way we do so is by loving one another (I Cor 13).
Why do we worship in song? Col 3:16 says that the Word should dwell among us as we teach and admonish one another through all wisdom through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Worship music is liturgy augmented by art. Art in general (not just music), awakens the imagination of the heart. Worship music, marries the heart and the mind. They that worship God are called to worship Him in Spirit & in truth (John 4:24).
Why do we incorporate X style? Paul said in I Corinthians 9 that he became all things to all people to reach as many as possible. If your church is trying to minister and reach the average person living in a modern world, they are probably best suited to using modern music. If they are called to reach traditionalists, traditional music is better suited. The same goes for Black Gospel, Southern Gospel, low or high church, etc…. Where the Scriptures are silent, we are free.
If the worship leader/band/orchestra, sets the bar too high, or is ‘too good’, isn’t that a performance? Yes it is a performance but you are not the audience. How are you giving YOUR best with what God has given YOU to God as an act of worship according to Col 3:23?
But what if people get the wrong idea of our worship? Christ never withdrew from saying or doing anything because He risked being misunderstood. He stood before the temple saying, destroy the temple and in three days He’d raise it up again. He told his followers that unless they drank His blood and ate his flesh, they could not be His disciples. Why did He do this knowing He’d be misunderstood? And why did God sanction the temple given the danger of it being misunderstood as His literal home? The question is not IF you will be misunderstood. The question is WHO will misunderstand? It is Christ like to be misunderstood by the shallow.
I’m fortunate as a worship leader to regularly be able to also preach. I have found ways to sometimes use the pulpit to bring clarity to our corporate worship. But many worship leaders aren’t so fortunate. Do our Pastors realize the importance of giving context to our worship? What is your church doing to give its members reasons for why we worship as a community?