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We should approach our task with an intensity of focus that produces a solid outcome. This is counterintuitive for some churches, where worship leadership is handed to a young man whose primary qualification is that he can play an instrument or sing. It counters worship leaders who do only what is needed to get through Sunday so the focus is solely on the preaching of the Word.
Some songs quote passages without their context, leaving the exegetical work to the listener--which isn’t inherently wrong but also isn’t helpful. Other songs distorts the true intent of the text by putting verses a new context, which does a tremendous disservice to the church and dishonor to God. I hope this article will challenge songwriters to write, pastors to select, and Christians to champion songs that treat passages in their original context with a renewed commitment to clarifying the biblical author’s intended meaning of a passage.
You may only have to pick four songs every week to keep your boss satisfied and your congregation singing, but there’s so much more you actually can, should, and need to do to maintain your integrity as someone who has been called to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the people God has called to worship Him in grace and truth.
The strong movement produces strong music. There is no greater movement and no greater passion than Jesus’ gospel, the power of God to save. The songs of the redeemed should pack passion, creativity, intensity, and be sung loudly to reveal the story of God and how that story collides with our lives.
In previous posts, we talked about why it was important for songwriters to write from scripture, and how to do it faithfully, creatively and regularly (make some goals!). Today I want to list some specific ideas, writing prompts, scripture passages, and examples that might help you get started.
Some are instructing churches to turn down the music volume during their Sunday morning gathering. We cannot dismiss these arguments as complaints from old curmudgeons within the church, such as the argument that a lower volume of music emphasizes corporate singing. However, I’m not sold that the best way to encourage corporate singing is turning down instruments’ volume.
The goal of leading corporate song is to facilitate the joyful singing of God's people. Anything you do should tend toward their participation and full engagement. This means that your leading of the singing should be simple and predictable enough so that the congregation can jump on board, and also compelling enough that they want to jump on board.
In A Home and a Hunger: Songs of Kingdom Hope, singer/songwriter Caroline Cobb invites listeners to sing the story of God’s kingdom. Cobb has emerged as a unique and needed voice as she attempts to make biblical theology accessible for old and young, new believers and longtime Christians, for those who know their need and for those who think they’re doing OK.
The joy of the good news of Jesus outshines all other joys, making it seem like we must be dreaming, filling our mouths with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy. So our worship services should feel joyful, right? On the whole, yes, of course, they should. But that is far from the whole story.
Congregational songs must be singable enough that unmusical people can participate and theologically understandable enough for new believers to benefit from their truth. But the biggest struggle I see when songwriters show me new congregational worship songs isn’t musical or theological. The greatest struggle in writing good congregational worship songs is structural.
Our difficulty as worship pastors is that we tend to be so close to the songs we lead that we cannot see the big picture which we are forming. The people of your church are worth your spending the time to take a few steps to take theological inventory the songs you sing.
I came across this passage in my devotional early one Sunday morning. As I read these words, honest and sobering questions flooded my thoughts: “This is true for Paul, but is this true of you and your congregation? Is it? Do you long to see them? Are you using the spiritual gift God has given you to strengthen the church? Are you and your congregation mutually encouraged by each other’s faith on a weekly basis?”
If you assume that a book relating corporate worship and ethnic diversity does not affect you, then let me make the case that you must read The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World.
This sense of nothing-new-to-say is magnified by the fact that worship leaders only have a few moments in between songs to speak. Our responsibility then is not only to hold up the Truth, but also to have wisdom in our economy of words, extending beyond just the same old thing.
Our lives are combusting with expectation and anticipation, and we're groaning for answers. Jesus knew this about us, better than we do. In fact, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink’” (John 7:37).
No hymnwriter since the Reformation has been as prolific in his writing and impact as Isaac Watts, called the Father of English Hymnody. His Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs provided the hymns of the post-Reformation movement of churches.
We’re less than two weeks away from #doxandtheo16, and a few spots are still available. (Also, registration closes October 31.) If you’ve been on the fence about joining us next week, here’s three reasons to sign up today.
This year, we asked you to fill out a short survey to help us know more about you and the ways we can serve you best. Thank you for filling out the survey! We had hundreds of responses, and your input helps us understand why you're a part of Doxology & Theology. Check out the infographic below to see more about who comes to D&T and why.
Emotions in worship are a touchy subject. They’re touchy because, first, worship is often intensely emotional, and, second, many of us have had unpleasant experiences with leaders who have abused that reality. In my opinion, there are two extremes, neither of which are healthy or biblical, and both of which should be avoided through pastoral wisdom and grace.
Our church sings original music. Not always, but sometimes we do it. Most of the time it’s awesome, but other times, it’s an exercise of patience for our congregation. Recently someone asked me to explain why our church writes original music, so I’ve been thinking about all the ways songwriting serves our local church.
Song and melody not only unite us with others, but also touch parts of our hearts that might surprise us. This Independence Day liturgy took a truth that wasn’t immediately at the forefront of my mind and moved me from passive forgetfulness into active gratitude.
In a day and age where so many distractions are fighting for our attention, one of the best ways we can help center our people’s hearts is through a specific and pointed call to worship. It urges people to turn from worldly distractions and set their minds, hearts, and attention on the glory of God.
The songwriters of the Church have a special responsibility. We should be writing songs that expose God’s people to more and more of His powerful, life-changing Word.
Whatever the ambient volume of our sanctuary, there is a more critical matter of volume and understanding at play. It is one of the most glorious truths in the universe: implicit, and seldom mentioned. That is, when we gather to worship at our local churches, behind all our prayers and all our songs, behind all our exhortations and all our encouragements: the Lord hears.
I recently had a conversation about the process of creating art with a friend who writes movie scripts. As we talked, I mentioned a difficulty I’ve had in writing a song that I’m actually happy with. I’m trying to write more because I want to cultivate this gift in my own life and serve the congregation I am privileged to lead. But it’s been frustrating.
In all this talk of excellence, many Christians fail to realize the chasm between the world’s definition of excellence and God’s definition of excellence. The two are not synonymous. In fact, worship leaders in particular often succumb to a worldly definition of excellence. In doing this, we actually misunderstand godly excellence.
Things are not as simple for worship leaders/church music directors as they used to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a more complicated thing. There are now more songs to choose from than ever, at an increasingly rapid speed, coming from big publishers, independent artists, local churches, Christian radio, social media feeds, conferences, carrier pigeons, and their distant relatives, hipsters.
One of the areas we must continue to grow in as church leaders is giving people vocabulary to express confession of sin, the emotional tides of suffering, and even death. The gospel is wide enough for all of our questions, and strong enough to hold us through each storm.
On May 24, 2016, one of the great Reformation scholars of the 20th century passed into glory.
In a matter of years, Steele became one of the best-loved names in hymnody. Just as Watts was crowned the “father of English hymnody,” Steele has been called the “mother of the English hymn." Since her day there has not been a woman hymn-writer who has matched Steele’s ability and nuance with the doctrinal fidelity and care she demonstrates.
Every once in a while you stumble across a historical figure whose voice speaks—no, shouts—with all kinds of contemporary relevance. For me, that figure is Thomas Cranmer, and the more I get to know him, the more I am inspired by this theologian, pastor, artist, and worship leader. If Cranmer is remembered at all, he is often caricatured as a wishy-washy politician, flitting to and fro in the winds of the whims of the mad King Henry VIII.
Easter is not the "Super Bowl of the church." Easter is not the day we suit up, march onto the field and win the game for Jesus. Easter is the day we fix our eyes on the resurrected Christ. Easter is the day we gather together to remind one another that Jesus has already won for us.
We must continue to preach the Gospel through song to those who already know it and rest in it. So what are some practical ways we can accomplish this as worship leaders so that our weekly planning is not mundane but done with intentionality and excellence?
For the last twenty years, I have been trying to bend the English language around for the glory of God and write melodies to encourage the hearts of his people. I know the difficulty and the reward of this labor and, more than ever, I feel the need to sing to the Lord a new song.
Note: This is the second of a two-part series, delivered by Harold Best at the 2014 Doxology & Theology Conference. A few more thoughts about labor. There is a difference between labor and what labor produces; it varies from person to person, talent to talent, parish to parish. Pastor Luke can saw a piece of worship wood to length just once and it always seems to fit just right; Pastor Jack saws his piece three times and it’s still too short. In both cases t...Read More ➔
We must prepare for the music on Sunday morning. It must be excellent, but does our pursuit of musical perfection get in the way of our ability to really care for the souls of those that God has placed on our teams? Have you considered how you will pastor the people on your team? More often than I care to admit, I have been more concerned about the quality of music that has been produced by those I have lead. A few years ago I knew something needed t...Read More ➔