Posts Tagged ‘music’

Our Worship Committee is considering getting a screen for video projection for our worship services. People who are interested in this cite a number of purposes for it — to project words to hymns and songs so that people don’t have their heads buried in books; to show video clips produced by the Mission and Service Fund; to add a more visual dimension to the worship services.
This fall, I’ll be offering a course based on Quentin Schultze‘s book, High Tech Worship? Using Presentational Technologies Wisely . I like his approach. He’s not opposed to the use of ‘presentational technologies’ in worship. He just wants whatever technology we adopt to be used in the service of worship and community. That’s a real challenge, since the nature of technology is to bend everything else to its needs and demands. When a congregation puts a video screen into a worship space, it is introducing a pretty invasive piece of technology. The screen can become the centre of the congregation’s focus. Because it needs to be placed in such a way that everyone can see it, care must be taken so that it does not obscure the main symbols of worship — the communion table, the baptismal font, the pulpit, the cross.
The issue is something similar to what happened when pipe organs were introduced into worship services. In many sanctuaries, what dominates visually are the organ pipes and the choir. I don’t imagine that the original intention was to take over the worship space, but that has often been the effect. I wonder what difference it makes in the spiritual formation of a congregation when the visual field is dominated by that kind of technology, rather than by the core symbols of table, bath and pulpit? I have no doubt that it does shape us.

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Here’s another question I have received about leading worship when you’re a guest:
I have several questions pertaining to doing services, e.g., how do you know what hymns a church knows? Do you receive a list of hymns from the choir master? Do they inform you of their preference regarding a song during the offering, a closing hymn?

Here’s what I answered:

when you’re the guest worship leader/preacher at a church, I would suggest that you ask them to pick the hymns, so that they sing ones that they know. If you have a suggestion for the hymn after the sermon, give them that. You could provide them with an indication of the direction of your sermon — that could help in picking the hymns. Or, pick them all and ask them to change any that they don’t know
If I am a guest, I follow their normal pattern for songs during the offering, and other standard parts of the liturgy.

Any other suggestions? What do you do when you’re a guest leading worship?

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More about Music

Here’s a link to an insightful reflection about music in the church: “In unity we lift our song”. It’s based on the vision of worship around the throne of God that John of Patmos gives us in Revelation 7.

I like the way she illustrates how important the influence of other people is when we learn to sing and love music in the church. We are dependent upon each other to help us fall in love with God and with the things of God.

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A sermon based on Revelation 7

Last Sunday evening, five or six choirs from around Lambton County joined together to present a concert — “Sing into Spring”. Each choir sang one or two pieces on their own. Our own choir’s contributions were delightful. At the beginning and at the end of the evening, the choral groups combined together –over one hundred voices joined in song. Throughout the evening, I was reminded what a powerful force music is in our worship.

At least some of the choirs, I suspect, help to lead worship every Sunday in congregations that are struggling to survive. There are more than a few empty pews in their sanctuaries. Young people are noticeable by their absence. Yet, that evening, with so many voices raised in song, praising God together, we were reminded that we part of something that is greater than ourselves and our struggling congregations. We are part of a great chorus of praise to our God that rises from all corners of the earth. Our final hymn painted a picture of that for us:

As o’er each continent and island,

the dawn leads on another day,

the voice of prayer is never silent,

nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking

your church beneath the western sky,

and hour by hour fresh lips are making

your wondrous doings heard on high.
(verses 2 and 3 of “The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended”)

That evening we were offered a glimpse of how large and global the church is. We need such glimpses these days to sustain us.

Most of the hymns we sang were old favourites. As the people sang them the sanctuary was filled with long-loved, familiar words. But, in the voices of the people, the sanctuary also became filled with many memories — memories of how those words and how that music had carried people of faith through some of the most difficult experiences of their lives:

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear.

What a privilege to carry,
everything to God in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful,

who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;

take it to the Lord in prayer.
(first four lines of verse 1 and last four lines of verse 2 of “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”)

Our faith is shaped far more than we realize by the words and music that we sing. If those words and music are shallow and superficial, God’s people will not have the depth of faith and character they need when life takes them through dark and difficult places. If the words and music we sing are focused only on ourselves — on what we are doing and what we are feeling and what we are wanting — we shall lose touch with the God who is greater than we are. We shall forget that there is a Saviour who is more powerful than all the forces that threaten us.

On the other hand, if our music and the words in it direct us toward God and God’s grace and the mercy that Jesus gives, we will still encounter troubles, but we shall encounter them with resources beyond our own. We shall know that the risen Christ offers power to stand firm and to live creatively in the midst of our troubles.

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, he tells about spending 27 years in prison because of his religious and political beliefs. One of the greatest sources of encouragement came when the prisoners would sing. They sang hymns that they had learned in worship — gospel songs that had nurtured the people. The prison guards said that they knew that, as long as the prisoners song, their spirit were good. When the prisoners no longer sang, the guards knew that they had defeated them. They had killed their spirits. As long as they could sing, they were free, even behind prison bars.

As the Christian Church in North America tries to figure out what it needs to do in order to find its way into the future, it will need to give renewed attention to its worship, including its music. It will need to find ways that make music that is strong and robust — music that forms the culture and forms character in healthy ways. It will need to find ways to make music that will do that not just for those of us who are already here, but also for the next generations as well.

I remember hearing years ago about a group of young people who attended a Christian conference at which there were people from all over the world. On the first night of the event, the leader invited the groups from the various countries, “Choose a song that represents you. Choose a song that you all know as your own.” All the other group were able, fairly quickly, to agree on a song that they all knew and that expressed who they were. All the groups, that is, except the group of young people from North America. One half hour into the exercise, they were still not able to find a song that they all agreed upon or that they all knew. Finally, they realized that the only common song that they had was the Coca Cola commercial, “I’d like to teach the world to sing…”
They realized that they had been shaped more by North American consumerism than by their faith. We are people who desperately long for some way to find community and peace in our world and sometimes, there is nothing more than a bottle of soda pop that ties us together. It’s not up to the task. (Rodney Clapp, “Why the Devil Takes Visa”)

In our churches, we know that music is important. It shapes who we are. It shapes how we live our faith in the world. It shapes where we find hope. That is why the style of music in our worship services is so contentious. Read the literature about worship renewal these days and it won’t be long before you come across the phrase ‘worship wars’. Should our worship be contemporary or traditional? Should we use the organ or drums and electric guitars? Should we use a projection system or hymn books? Some churches have split over these questions. Some church have decided that they cannot come to any common ground and so they have groups worshipping separately, each having their own preferred style of music.

The arguments are so fierce because we know that the way we worship forms who we become. Worship is so critical that the first of the ten commandments is about worship. “I am the Lord your God. I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall worship the Lord your God alone. No other gods, only me.” All the other commandments tell us how to live in community together as a people who worship one God. Worship that is directed to lesser gods — to purposes and goals that are less than this God who liberates — eventually leads to distorted lives. Worship of other gods eventually creates communities that cannot give life and well-being to their people. Christian ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, puts it this way: “Bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You sing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer and the next thing you know, you have murdered your best friend.” (The Truth about God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, Hauerwas and Willimon, p. 89)

Worship matters. Whom or what you worship matters. One of the realities with which our church must come to terms these days is that most people in our culture are being formed by a very different liturgy than one that directs our attention to the God of love and mercy and grace who meets us in Jesus Christ. Most people in our culture are being formed by the worship of materialistic consumerism. The stories, the songs, the values that are forming people and our communities are provided by commercials and television shows and movies. They tell people to take care of themselves; to worship their own wants and needs and desires; to get what they want by any means available. That is the cultural context in which we gather Sunday by Sunday and, for an hour, direct all our attention to God who meets us in these peculiar, counter-cultural stories we tell, in the hymns and songs we sing, in the prayers we pray and in the actions we take.

In some ways, that cultural context is not so different from the one in which John of Patmos wrote the book of Revelation. He wrote Revelation to Christian communities scattered throughout eastern Asian who were hanging on by their fingertips. They were outnumbered and marginalized. It seemed as if the empire held all the power.

John describes in vivid detail the powerful forces that are ranged against them and then asks the question, “Who is able to stand?” Do you just give up, figuring that anything the church can do could not possibly have an impact on shaping the culture? How do you keep the faith in such a time as this?

In answer to these questions, John takes us into the throne room of heaven and says, “You worship.” Or, rather, you join the worship that is already going on in God’s presence. Attend to the living God who is seated on the throne and who shelters God’s people. Join in praising the God who guides God’s people to springs of the water of life.

We are to shape our worship by this vision of the future. We don’t shape our worship by our own preferences for certain styles of music. We shape worship by this vision of the end of the story when God finally gets what God wants. What God wants is the reconciliation of the whole creation. What God wants is communion — a community where the barriers that normally divide people are broken down. Here, people are not gathered on the basis of economic status, or on the basis of which generation they belong to, or on the basis of their ethnic origins. In God’s community, the risen Christ gathers people from every nation — from all tribes and peoples and languages — by the power of his death and resurrection. They are all sealed, protected, sustained by his powerful, self-giving love. Together, they praise God for God’s salvation.

The mission of the church is to point the world to the reconciliation, the peace, the love across the boundaries, that Jesus Christ makes possible. That mission begins in worship. Our worship is to be a sign, a witness, and a foretaste of the kind of community God intends for all creation.

So it is that we cannot be content with worship that gathers only one generation or only one social economic class or one nationality. We must constantly ask ourselves, “Who is missing?” In this culture where there is a massive spiritual quest going on, what are the barriers that we are putting up that hinder people from encountering the God who wants to gather the whole world into one? In this culture where people are thirsting for connection, for love, what barriers are we putting up so that they do not know about the God who longs to guide them to springs of the water of life and wipe away every tear from their eyes? Many of those barriers may be unconscious and unintentional, but they are barriers that Christ does not intend. They hinder God’s purposes, so we must find out what they are and take them down.

Although I can’t find the source right now, I believe it was Tony Campolo who said, “Worship is rehearsal for the choir. It’s in the book. Read Revelation.” That choir is being assembled into a great multitude that is praising God’s goodness and love. We get to join the chorus. May God grant that our worship here raises a joy-filled invitation to all people, for all blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen!

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Music in small churches

I’ve been asking people for the critical issues to which one must attend for congregations wanting to head in new directions. Music is a recurring theme. Here’s a response to KT’s observations about the decisive role that music plays in forming congregations:

Music…one of my favourite things! I’ve always belonged to a small, rural congregation, and our services are very traditional. The last few years we’ve been visiting our daughter’s contempory service, and we love the music! They have a praise band, and the words to the hymns/songs are projected on a screen. Although it’s hard to imagine that our congregation will ever have a praise band, ( but I do believe in miracles!) the Sunday School is saving to buy a projector, and I hope to use some CD’s to encorporate a different style of worship music into some of our services.
I feel that our congregation has moved past the desperate stage, but we can’t stay complacent. I do believe that music is one part of the service that can be very inviting…or a huge stumbling block.
Has anyone had some success with any particular CD’s?

This post raises the dilemma of live musicians versus recorded music. People are used to both the quality of professionally recorded music and to the multiplicity of instruments in CD’s. And, not all traditionally trained musicians can make the transition to some of the contemporary rhythms.
However, there are lots of questions that the use of CD’s raises: Is it better to accept the gifts of the people who are in the congregation –because that is more authentic — even though doing so limits the kinds of music that the congregation uses to praise God? Is it faithful to restrict the music a congregation uses to the preferences of one particular generation? Are there ways in which we can make a place for all generations to offer praise to God in music that gives expression to their faith?

Obviously, based on the responses received so far, the role of music in forming a congregation needs careful attention.

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Dreaming and Music

I’m not certain how to get the comments displayed on the main page (at the moment you have to click on the “comments” link to see what people are saying) — but there are some great ideas coming in that I would like for people to see. So, I’ll make a new post, along with my comments. And, invite you to join the discussion.

Here’s the comment from KT

Music. Music. Music.

Interestingly enough we are working on this with my Church in St. Marys we have what is called a “transitional minister” who will work with us for two years to build up and put in place the things we do not have.

But from my limited experience I can say that Music is the most important thing when trying to re-vitalize a congregation. Music will reach people on a level that prayer, and liturgy can not. Music is a universal language that everyone can understand and relate to on some level or another. And the wonderful thing about it is that it can be inclusive and interactive on a level that can stimulate and even energize, AND it does not ALWAYS have to be “modern” but can be (and probably should be) an equal mix of both contemporary and traditional.

For now this is my two cents.

Wishing you well…


And my reply:

I agree that music plays a critical role. It shapes our congregations far more than we usually acknowledge. If the music and accompanying lyrics are trite, we shall be formed into shallow Christians. Stanley Hauerwas also contends that our music choices are also related to our ethics: “one reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.”
So, music iscritical. And I agree that the mixture of traditional and contemporary is needed — it witnesses to the Spirit’s ongoing work in the midst of the church.
Any ideas on some particular musical activities/events might help a congregation move forward in a new direction? Anybody have an experience that has helped their congregation move into the future with a hope that is shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus?

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