I moved back to the Cincinnati area in 1992 to become the new music minister at White Oak Christian Church. The senior pastor at the time told me he wanted me to lead the transition of the musical part of the worship services here from a very traditional (think hymns/organ/piano/1st, 2nd, and last verse) to using a worship band and more contemporary music. (As I look back on it now, I find myself wondering if the congregation was on board with this. But that’s the subject of a different post.)
We would learn these songs at choir rehearsal and teach them to the congregation on Sunday.
There was a super nice couple in the choir around that time named Dennis and Rosalee Hendricks. I love these two! Dennis was about 10 years older than me. I was around 40 at the time and I still thought of 50 as pretty old. Old enough to maybe prefer the old style of music.
I wasn’t sure.
One of the songs that we did quite often back then was Shine, Jesus, Shine. Remember that one? It was written by Graham Kendrick in 1987. This quickly became Denny’s favorite song! Whether he was in the choir on the platform, or in the congregation, I could see his face light up every time we sang it.
The last time I spoke with Denny, he mentioned how much he loved that song.
I sang it this morning at his funeral.
Rosie was sitting on the front pew.
Dennis was singing around the throne…
Lord, I come to Your awesome presence,
From the shadows into Your radiance.
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
I recently read an article that was critical of the new worship music. It talked about the old hymns and how these old songs bring comfort to the grieving and the dying, and claimed that the newer songs could never do that. “Could you imagine singing one of these new songs in worship around the death bed of a loved one?” it challenged.
Yes. Yes, I can.
I realize Shine, Jesus, Shineis no longer one of the “newer” songs, but it was new 25 years ago. It was a new song that Dennis Hendricks didn’t learn until he was 50 years old.
What songs are you learning today that you will sing in heaven?
What I don’t know is the truth of the situation… I don’t know, and I’m content not to know. That’s because judgment is, frankly, easy.
It takes no time. It takes no real effort. And it certainly takes no sacrifice. It is based purely on assumption. This is why you could say that judgment, among other things, is a lazy substitute for intimacy. And this is not the way of Jesus.
Most of these are way too common…
5 Ways Ministry Leaders Start the Journey to Failure
–Ron Edmondson One of the hardest things I do in ministry is interact with those who are no longer in ministry, but wish they were. They’ve been derailed. They messed up and either they got caught or the guilt got the best of them and they confessed.
In recent years, I’ve had numerous ministry friends who lost their ministry due to moral failure, poor leadership, or simply burnout…
Watching this process over the years there appear to be some common reasons failure occurs. It doesn’t start at the failure. It starts months – and, perhaps years – prior. My hope is if we expose some of them we can catch a few people before it is too late.
I get where these comments come from. Matter of fact, I’ve said them myself. What I want to guard against is demonizing performance. If you play music in your local church, there’s no need to avoid the word performance or think of it as something less than true worship.
Performance and worship don’t need to be mutually exclusive…
Worship leader, is congregational singing a priority to you? Do you actively encourage it?
I ask because I understand that it may not be, and that’s ok.
I have attended churches where it was obvious that the leader did not expect me to sing. The service was moving, powerful, and well-planned. The sermon was engaging and challenging. The music touched me deeply. I worshiped.
But I didn’t sing.
Congregational singing was not a priority, and that’s ok.
It’s not my preference, but worship isn’t about my preferences.
But that’s why I asked the question. Because if congregational singing isn’t important to you, you needn’t read any further. This post isn’t for you.
However, if congregational singing is a priority for you and your church, as it was for me in my ministry, then I have a suggestion.
It’s more of a plea, actually.
Please put the songs in a more singable key.
Now, I want you to know that I don’t agree with most of what I read about why congregational singing is waning. I don’t think projecting the music along with the words will help. I don’t think the answer is to stop doing new songs. (I responded to one article which touches on many of these complaints. You can read it here.)
But I do believe this one thing with all my heart…
People won’t sing with you if you deliberately exclude them.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the recordings of most popular music (including popular worship music) is pitched in a low range for female singers and a high range for male singers. The result is that the vocals end up in approximately the same range. It’s a range we like to listen to. Now we may let loose and do our best to sing along in the car when no one else is around, but we know we sound awful. Because the songs are in a range most non-musicians and inexperienced singers are uncomfortable with.
The thing is, most of our worship leaders are experienced musicians who are comfortable singing in the pop music range. In fact, they prefer it because it allows them to be more expressive.
But it doesn’t encourage congregational singing at all. In fact, it does the opposite. It discourages participation. People may even want to sing, but they won’t be able to.
I know this because I really, really want to sing. I want to belt out my praise at the top of my lungs. I’ve been around the musical block a few times. I know what I’m doing. So sometimes I can find a harmony that feels right, or an octave that works. But there are many times when I simply can’t participate. I’m motivated. I try. I know what I’m doing. But many times I still can’t find anything that I can sing.
I guarantee that most of the people in the congregation who aren’t motivated, who have to be encouraged to try, and who don’t know what they’re doing, won’t participate.
Now, because I’m a man, what I’m about to say isn’t known through experience, but it seems to me that the women in our congregations are somewhat more flexible in their vocal range than men. What I mean is, if a male worship leader is singing in a very high range a female congregation member can generally sing with him in her lower octave, in a prime unison with the leader, and it can sound awesome! The men of the congregation, on the other hand, must either choose to sing in a high falsetto to stay with the leader (which will feel silly to him), or resort to a lower octave which, for a man, just isn’t going to be as expressive because it won’t have enough power for him to really even hear himself.
The third alternative is that he simply won’t try to sing at all. When you factor in the cultural bias that singing isn’t a very manly thing to do anyway, you can see why so many will choose option 3.
So, how do you determine what key to use?
I’m glad you asked.
A congregation will feel most comfortable if you keep the melody of the song in a range from about Bb below middle C to the D in the staff. You can go a little lower in quiet times and a little higher at big musical moments. Locate the highest and lowest notes in the song and find a key that puts the melody closest to this range. (This would be easier if worship leaders would use lead sheets instead of just lyrics and chords, but maybe that’s another blog post.)
I realize that many younger worship leaders will likely pooh-pooh this advice, but before you do I challenge you to try it. Consciously pitch your songs this way for a couple of months. You might not feel good about it because it may not be in your own sweet spot, but yours isn’t the sweet spot you’re aiming for.
Please remember that our congregations are not filled with trained musicians or singers. We do them an extreme disservice when we expect them to sing along with a song that is completely out of their range.
Last summer there was one of those snarky “bash-modern-worship” posts making the rounds. I share the author’s concern about congregational singing and have some of my own thoughts about why it seems to be declining (I may share those in a future post), so, I read it. It made me mad. It just rubbed me the wrong way, so I just let it be.
Then one of my friends sent it to me and was interested in hearing my response to the article. I don’t like the article, but I like my friend, so I decided to read it again and jot down a few quick responses and send it to him.
I came across that document today.
It seems many of these same complaints (along with the same condescending attitude) still persist, so I decided my response to my friend might make a worthwhile blog post.
What follows is a slightly edited version of what I wrote for my friend…
“We began by changing our understanding of corporate worship. It’s not for the church, it’s for those who aren’t part of the church.”
I admit that this has been a struggle throughout my career. Who do we plan Sunday morning for? Where I’ve always landed is that we plan the service as a time of worship for believers, but with the knowledge that unbelievers will always be there. Consequently, we do everything we can to help them understand what we’re doing and saying. We use new music, and modern art forms and references, not to appeal to unbelievers, but simply because we’re planning services for believers in the 21st century, not the 17th.
“…we’ve decided that the singing alone is the “worship,” followed by preaching or teaching time (NOT worship)…”
Again, I admit that I’ve heard the music set referred to as “the worship time” (I’ve even caught myself doing that) and that’s a mistake. But it’s simply not true to say that we teach that “singing alone is worship.” Every week we participate in the Lord’s Supper, give material gifts in the offering, listen to scripture preached and taught, sing together, listen as others sing, watch a video, celebrate baptism and more. We teach that everything in the service is worship and try to explain how that’s true.
“So, while music was once simply a way to add dimension to our sacred storytelling, we began to exploit its emotional appeal, suggesting the feelings it could evoke to be authentic spiritual connection.”
Seriously? I would suggest that music has always been used for its “emotional appeal.” And, why not? Certainly, worship is far more than an emotional experience. But how can worship ever not involve your emotions?
“Our cultural ability to make music has decreased steadily since the dawn of commercial recorded music…Now, most churches have given in to the cultural decline of music appreciation. Instead of training many of our own, we hire a few to stand up and perform from the stage.”
I think I know what he means by “make music.” It’s the music he likes and approves of. Anything else doesn’t even deserve the term, in his opinion.
Here’s the thing: We have a whole generation of young people who do know how to “make music.” Their notation style is not that of the classically trained musician. They may not be able to read notes on a musical staff, but they’ve learned to improvise from a lyric sheet and chord chart, and play by ear. Most classically trained musicians struggle with all these things. How is this not “making music”? The accusation he makes above about not training our own strikes me as absurd. Training our own is exactly what we do. And, in order to “make music” the way he describes, it would necessitate exactly what he decries: “hiring a few to stand up and perform from the stage.”
I suggest that the training of our own should also involve retraining some of our musicians to be able to hold their own with these young musicians who are improvising from a chord chart. Sadly, most of these folks are either unable, or unwilling to do this. In fact, many would consider it beneath them to do such a thing.
Most churches have trouble putting both types of musicians together in one team. I believe (in all modesty) that this has been one of my strengths. I have worked over the years to combine these people and train them to work together. It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe it has been worthwhile.
Also, as an aside: since when was the church’s mission to foster “music appreciation”?
Oh, and one more thing: he uses the word “perform” intentionally as a negative term. This really gets under my skin because it’s all performance. What we have to teach (and maybe don’t do well enough) is that the congregation is expected to “perform” as well. If the leaders (musicians, singers, preachers, tech crew, ushers, greeters, etc.) don’t “perform,” they’re not doing their job. We’re all there to perform worship.
“We have a rich history of hymns and songs dating back centuries, set to beautiful, singable melodies with a rich harmonic framework, a group to which each generation added their best. Then we decided we didn’t need these anymore.”
What about this generation? He can’t have it both ways. Either each generation gets to add their best or they don’t.
“So, we stopped empowering those among us who do read music to use those gifts. And we stopped expecting anyone else to learn.”
See my thoughts on reading music notation above.
“We used to have these majestic and beautiful instruments, with infinite musical palettes…”
“Majestic and beautiful instruments” that could only be played by a single, classically trained musician hired to perform.
“What’s more, few of these leaders it seems are capable of just plainly, accurately singing the melody. Some of them croon with a whiny, closed-mouthed tone, turning every vowel into an ee-ended diphthong.”
Ok, crooning? Really? For that I just offer you 3 words: George Beverly Shea. Also, I think his musical arrogance and bias really comes through in this paragraph and I would just stop reading here…
This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...
Keep the main thing the main thing…
Production or Virtue? –Bryan Elliff Yes, there is no doubt that we need to be setting and achieving godly goals. And there certainly are times when we need to examine our productivity. However, should we act as if our production were God’s chief concern? I think not. What he cares about far more is virtue.
By virtue I mean the kind of person we are, our character, the carefully-cultivated dispositions of our heart that manifest themselves in our everyday actions and reactions. It is not always what you accomplish that matters, but how you do it, why you do it, and ultimately who you are even when you can’t do it.
My contention is that we should distinguish between breakdowns of genuine freedom of speech and persecution of Christians, we should recognize that some in the latter think their freedoms are restricted in a way that is not only un-American but hostile to faith, and it would be good if we could at least have a reasonable conversation about these distinctions and the reality of the latter. To call this alarmism simply doesn’t help and it’s yet another good time for us all to read some Rich Mouw on civility, beginning right here: Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncommon World.
Here is some stuff from Mary Eberstadt’s It’s Dangerous to Believe…
I regularly see posts from friends who say they are looking to cut back their Facebook use and spend more time on real life. It’s a good goal. It is far too easy to give social media too much time. There is convincing research suggesting we are becoming physically addicted to our devices. So taking steps to limit and manage the way we use social media is smart.
Yet with all of its problems, Facebook still has a lot going for it, and I for one am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Here are some of the ways Facebook continues to be a positive presence in the lives of many…
I deeply love and respect every senior pastor I’ve had the privilege of working with, but I have experienced a few of these in 35 years of being a church staffer…
It is imperative when in the lead role to lead the rest of the staff well. Being human, and sometimes lacking a full palette of leadership skills, results in a staff who is less-than-enthusiastic about coming to work, carrying out the vision, or supporting the lead pastor. They’ve been demotivated. From years of being on staffs, leading pastors, talking with senior pastors, and talking to staff pastors, here are a few ways I’ve seen a lead pastor can demotivate the staff pastors…
This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...
I’ll be following this series. Could be interesting…
The Diffusion and Influence of Contemporary Worship –Michael Lee In part one of this short series exploring research related to the diffusion and influence of the contemporary worship, I will point to some recent findings as it relates to current congregational practices and correlations to congregational growth…
Besides the rapid increase in the adoption of contemporary worship forms over the past 15 years, which will probably not come as a surprise to anyone reading this, more interesting are the conclusions offered in numerous iterations of the FACT studies that the adoption of contemporary worship is correlated to congregational growth and vitality. Here are some excerpts from several studies…
The always challenging and insightful Carey Nieuwhof…
7 Things Christians Should Give Up To Reach Unchurched People –Carey Nieuwhof
So many church leaders (staff and volunteer) struggle to lead beyond the preferences of the church members. And as soon as they try, they get inundated with complaints and angry emails. Too many Christians feel like it’s their right to have a church that caters exactly to their tastes and whims, and millions are paying the price for that (including unchurched people).
Catering to the preferences of members is a terrible idea for three reasons.
First, it’s killing the church…
Second, it’s an unwinnable game…
Finally, and most importantly, it’s just wrong…
When your preferences keep unchurched people from the promise of Christ, it’s time to change your preferences.
Here are 7 things Christians should give up to reach unchurched people…
Moms and dads change the world…
Maybe We’re Raising World-Changers –Melissa Edgington …maybe for now I just need to keep plugging away at the little things God has entrusted me with. This is where I learn to be more like Him. This is where He shows me how real love operates. This is where He demonstrates that His glory is all that matters. And, who knows? Maybe one day He will do something big through me.
Or maybe He already is, I thought, as I watched my firstborn’s eyes dance at the idea of changing the world.
Here’s a little gem that made me smile this morning…
I want Christians to argue more and fight less. To take it a step further, I’d even say that fighting less depends on our willingness to argue more and better…
Instead, we see quarreling…where people are personally offended that someone else has a different opinion, so they dig in in order to defend the point of view they already accept.
Why does this happen? For three reasons…
The church is jazz…
The Art of Community –Manuel Luz There’s nothing like jamming in a jazz trio. Especially when the players are good and the band plays tight. There is an immediacy of every moment of every song. Every groove percolates. Every solo is an adventure. Every song is a work of art.
…the jazz trio is a metaphor for Biblical community. In true Biblical community, there are all of these components—selflessness, dialogue, grace, mutual submission, synergy, improvisation, and shared passion. It is necessary—even commanded—in order to play the music that is the healthy, functional Church. The Church, the Bride of Christ, is intended to birth the music that cares for the lost, loves the world, makes disciples, and worships the Living God. It is an improvised symphony, alive and breathing, bathed in the mystery and wonder of our shared journey with Him.
Keller, 66, announced at all eight Sunday services today that he will be stepping down from the pulpit. The move corresponds with a decades-long plan to transition the single Presbyterian Church in America congregation—which has grown to 5,000 members since it began 28 years ago—into three particular churches.
His last day as senior pastor will be July 1.
I was saddened recently to witness two mutual friends break up on Facebook. One shared an introspective post concerning his fear as a man with dark skin in today’s cultural climate. Instead of caring and trying to understand, the other unfriended him because of the “negativity” in his newsfeed. What has happened to us?
Curiosity, Crossing Cultures, and Breaking Down Barriers –Barnabas Piper This is equally the most comfortable place to be and the most awful. By no choice of my own, I was born into and with little enough effort I have achieved a place where I can spend every day thinking nothing of how others live, think, survive, and navigate culture. They navigate around me, not me around them. It is a place of passive superiority that soaks deep into the soul. How easy. How terrible.
This is not what God intended…
Curiosity is the bridge between neighbors of different races because it is built on genuine interest and honest questions. It seeks to know the other person with no agenda or ulterior motive. Curiosity allows us to humbly admit ignorance of another’s way of life, perspective, or experiences and then humbly listen when they share. Curiosity assumes the veracity and validity of another’s pain or joy even if it doesn’t understand precisely because it doesn’t understand.
It only takes a few minutes to trade something of eternal value for what will only provide a moment’s pleasure. It’s like the man in Washington State who sold a rare coin collection, worth over $100,000, at face value. He paid for a pizza with a Liberty quarter that’s worth up to $18,500.
Stupid, but no more so than the man who trades in decades of marriage for a dalliance, or a fruitful ministry for a moment’s pleasure.
I read The Shack a few years ago and I have to admit, I was quite moved. As with most popular works like this, critics abound. Theology scholars can pick it apart (and they should, it’s their job and we should listen to them), but I believe there is value here anyway. On one level, it’s a cheesy work of Christian fiction. But on another level, it’s a metaphor that paints a picture of the Godhead, not in multisyllabic theological terms, but in a tangible human way. For me, the value was in helping to bring God near. I’m curious to see if the movie does the same.
If you’ve been around Christian circles long, you know this controversy isn’t new. But if you may not know—especially if the controversy is news to you—what exactly all the fuss is about.
Fear of the Working Class –Gene Veith …I see this problem as a pathological form of classism–bigotry against people of a lower social class than yourself. Classism used to be a taboo like racism, with which it has lots of similarities, but no more.
The working class used to be the base of the American left and the Democratic party. Ironically, this phobia or classism of today’s liberals against the working class was arguably what elected Donald Trump, as Democrats wrote off industrial states like Wisconsin in order to pursue millennials, techies, and other cool people.
The left has come a long way from “workers of the world unite!” to the fear of plumbers. At least there is little danger today of a Communist revolution. Today’s left has become far too bourgeois.
A longish profile of a fascinating guy…
How Kirk Franklin Is Pushing the Boundaries of Gospel –Vinson Cunningham One of the problems, he said, is gospel’s dual role as artistic endeavor and as purveyor of religious experience. “They don’t come to gospel for the production or for the beats,” he said of his audience. “They come because they wanna be ministered to. So sometimes it’s, like, Well, if that’s all I’m good for, what do I do with all these ideas, and these creative dreams, and growth I want to do as an artist? I wanna give you Jesus, but I wanna give you Jesus with an 808. I wanna give you Jesus with some strings.”
Designations of Seasonal Ariose Vocalizations
Couched in Verbiage Chosen with a View to Obfuscate,
Consequently Providing Personal Amusement
in the Process of Providing Said Vocalizations
With the More Common Designations
In other words, name the Christmas songs.
For the solutions, click “Listen Here” after each title.
This will take you to one of my favorite versions of the song.