Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Examining Worship: part II: Is it helpful?

In my post, Lecherous Worship, I laid out two extremes of lyric writing that prevent music from being helpful in corporate worship; over-simplification and over-complication.

1. Over-simplification: These are songs that have helped create the label of "7-11" worship that is applied to contemporary worship - "sing the same 7 words 11 times." The most egregious example is the song "Let It Rain." Here are the lyrics in their entirety:

Let it Rain
Let it Rain
Open the floodgates of Heaven

That's the whole song. Sing these 11 words for 3 to 5 minutes. How, I ask, does this help anyone? Is it asking God to pour out blessings on us? Is it asking for the Holy Spirit to come in an abundant way? Overly-simple songs can easily create confusion and open the door for errant theology and intentional truth twisting.

2. Over-complication: Have you ever sang a song and found yourself asking "what did that even mean?" A common temptation for songwriters is to insert Biblical language into a song because it sounds nice, with no regard to the original context. So why is right now the days of Elijah, where the word of the Lord is being declared. I don't see the dry bones becoming as flesh, or David rebuilding the Temple. What is a temple of praise?

Writing poetic lyrics is like free jazz. It is easy to sound poetic, and hard to tell what is deeply imaginative and what is simply wordy. Congregational worship is not only for the high-minded or the literary, but for all who love Christ. We need to employ words that evoke powerful imagery and roll off the tongue, but also speak clearly. Good poetic language reminds us of the beauty of God, bad poetic fakery draws attention to the cleverness of the author and disengages the individual from worship.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Examining Worship: part I - Is It Biblical?

"Would you believe me if I said 'all of the dreams in your heart can come true today?'
Would you believe me if I said 'life can be all that you want it to be today?'"

These lyrics were written by a worship leader for one of the biggest and most influential churches in the world. This song was recorded in front of thousands and traveled halfway around the world and found its way into my CD collection. This is the age we live in, where ideas can travel around the world at the speed of light. With so much information, misinformation, fact, and opinion flying all over the world, the need for discernment is at a premium these days.

Any Bible-literate Christian should read the lyrics above with alarms going off in their heads. Jesus never promises a life of comfort and riches. Just the opposite. That is where the danger is. A song like this will leave the undiscerning Christian wondering if God is faithful when hard times do come, and could leave their faith in shambles.

Music in the Church has just as much power to instruct people as any sermon, and can find its way deeper into a Christian's mind. Let me ask; what was the main point of last week's sermon? Last month's sermons? What scriptures were used? Now, recite the lyrics to your favorite songs, some old hymns, or what you sang this last Sunday. Music is a powerful tool to convey the truth, but it can carry destructive lies, too.

We are to worship God in spirit and in truth. He went to great lengths to reveal Himself to us. We should never take lightly the responsibility we have to know him rightly and proclaim the truth.

This post is a follow up to Lecherous Worship

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Salvation is Here

This Sunday we are introducing another new song; Salvation is Here by Hillsong United:

For those of you who like the work of Lincoln Brewster, here is his version:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Band on the Run

For those of you who haven't checked out Bob Kauflin's blog, WorshipMatters, I highly recommend it. That is why it is on my blog list. I found this video there of him along with his band explaining how to play as a cohesive unit.

Band on the Run from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.

It is 74 minutes, but I encourage everyone who is involved with contemporary worship at Hope or elsewhere to set aside some time to watch this video.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Encouraging Word from Oliver

Last night was Hope's annual meeting, and I was especially encouraged to hear about some of the work that is happening in the Oliver Christian Ministry Center (formerly Oliver Presbyterian Church, formerly Bloomington Avenue Presbyterian Church). God is definitely doing great work through that building, and I am thankful to all the former Oliver members who have been committed to leaving a legacy in the Phillips neighborhood that is bigger than themselves. You can check out what is going on down there at the OCMC website:


21 months after the union between Hope and Oliver, I am fully convinced that it was the right decision. Pastor Bruce, all the members of Oliver, and the Oliver building have been a blessing to Hope Church, and I hope the blessing has been mutual. God has so richly blessed Hope Church in so many ways. Let's all be sure to do our part in the work God has for Hope Church.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lecherous Worship

A trend has come to my attention recently in a most disturbing way. I was reading the lyrics to a song that I had heard a number of times and often found myself singing along to. It is a sweet and gentle song of surrender to the Lord. But with the change of one word, or a change of focus, the song went from worship to a syrupy love song that would blend in seamlessly at a Journey concert. If the phrases directed at God were directed at a boyfriend (or girlfriend), they become almost pornographic.

Chuck Colson wrote an article a while ago lambasting a popular song for its cotton-candy substance and syrupy consistency. While his view of contemporary worship is lamentably low, he caused me to think on the nature of some of the music I present for times of corporate worship. Whether hymn or praise chorus, there are thousands of songs that have been written that are not worth hearing beyond the 4 walls of the author's residence. Yet many of these songs are performed, recorded, and distributed throughout the world without even a cursory analysis to determine if it is fit for consumption by God's people.

When it comes to lyrical content, I look at 3 categories:
1. Is it Biblical? Do the lyrics reflect the Truth found in scripture, or am I presenting a false understanding of God to the congregation?
2. Is it helpful? Do the lyrics make sense or are they confusing? Is there a clear message or is it simple to a fault?

3. Who is it focused on? Does it magnify God and his attributes, or is it about me, what I think, how I feel, and what I do for God?

The good news is that there is an abundance of songs that meet these criteria. There is no excuse to be lazy and select a song just because it is catchy, and it is the job of each Christian to evaluate what they are singing. If you ever see me singing a song that fails to meet these criteria, please make sure to ask me about it.

I will expound further upon the 3 categories listed in the coming weeks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Definitive Worship Leading Blog Post

To this day, I consider this to be the definitive blog post on worship leading. Let me know if I ever get too close to matching that description.

Update: The link was not functioning properly. It has been fixed as of 11:30 on Friday morning.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jesus Paid it All

This week we will be officially introducing "Jesus Paid it All." Many of you know this song already. It is another great reworking of an old hymn by the Passion folks.

I hope to hear everyone singing boldly this Sunday.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Did You Pick That Title?

I admit, my choice of blog title is a bit obscure. It was late and it seemed like a good idea at the time. After a couple of days, it still seems like a good idea. I was thinking of the quote "The problem with living sacrifices is that they tend to crawl off the altar." I believe Jim Elliot said that, or C.S. Lewis. Maybe it was Rick Warren. But just as Jesus scorned the shame of the cross, we are to gladly accept the call to die with Christ so we can be raised with Him to live a life of worship and service.

With those thoughts running through my head, I remembered where the phrase "clutching the altar" appears in the Bible (or something close enough). It is the story of one of my favorite Biblical figures, Joab. If ever there was a man who relied on the strength of his own hand, it was Joab, and he did many great things as David's General. He was fiercely loyal to David, but his lust for power lead him to kill Abner, Saul's general, and David's son Absalom. So as one of his last acts, David ordered Joab's death. At that point, Joab ran to the Tabernacle and "took hold of the horns of the altar," seeking mercy. He was shown none, just as he showed none.

Do we come to the altar like Joab, seeking to escape the consequences of a life driven by our lusts, or do we come to the altar to die with Christ so that we may be raised to new life in the Holy Spirit? Do we continually lay down our life for Christ's sake, or do we merely run to Christ when there is nowhere left? I hope that on any day you see me, I will be clutching the altar where Christ intercedes for me.

I encourage you to read more about Joab in 2 Samuel.

What You Can Expect...

I've decided to take up blogging, which these days is a lot like saying "I've decided to continue breathing," so I think it is important to spell out what will make my efforts worth reading. Because I am a big fan of lists and logical order, here are my objectives:

1. As co-contemporary-worship-leader at Hope Presbyterian in Richfield (yes, that is my official title), to let the people of Hope Church better understand better how I seek to lead us in Worship as a part of our Sunday morning contemporary service.

2. To provide a forum for introducing new songs before Sunday mornings. That is to say, if you read my blog, you can spend less time learning and more time worshiping.

3. To expound upon the technical aspects of worship leading. I love my guitars. I love gear. I work with the soundboard and power point. I hope to help anyone interested in these things learn how they are integrated into the worship experience. I also hope to provide plenty of humorous material for those who know way more than I do about these things.

4. To provide a place for constructive dialogue about worship. Whether you have a song request, ideas for a more compelling worship experience, or a complaint about how bad I am at my job, you can stop by and drop a comment. If you don't attend Hope, feel free to stop by and bounce some ideas. Just be polite, or I will retreat to the corner and hide in my shell.

If you are reading this, you are my intended audience, so please stop back often.
DISCLAIMER: Even though I am tying this in to my work at Hope, this is my own personal blog. It is not endorsed, sponsored, or sanctioned by Hope Presbyterian Church.