Song Story – "Be A Blessing"

On Saturday, August 25 the Faith Alive! Band went on a one-day retreat. The Band spent the whole day at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston. We spent time studying God’s word and listening to each other. We enjoyed a silent lunch (most of us enjoyed it) and explored the trails and hammocks at the Cenacle. We had conversations about what the goal of leading worship is. Those in attendance at the retreat were Alan Balius, Cathy Doughty, Tim Griffith, Kathy Patrick, and Jim Richman.

Songwriting was another activity I proposed for the Band to do while on retreat. Before beginning our attempt at songwriting, I told the Band to not get hung up on the outcome. Many songwriters work for years on perfecting a song. Sometimes the lyrics come easily, but not the melody, and vice versa. I also set some parameters on the type of song we would attempt to write. I wanted to write a sending song. The sending song is an important part of worship. It is the last thing we sing – a song that catapults us into the world carrying the message of God’s grace and mercy. I am always on the lookout for great sending songs for The Gathering service.

I also wanted our song to capture the vibe and spirit of Faith Lutheran Church. The motto, or mantra, that we use a lot is, “Be a Blessing.” That phrase sums up our commission as the people of God to love and serve our neighbors and the entire world.

We started by discussing some of the biblical images of being sent. Then we started to develop lyrical phrases. Next we paired the lyrical phrases together. Then we identified the paired phrases as sections of a song, such as verses, a bridge, and a chorus. Finally we developed a chord progression and a melody to fit the lyrics. An hour and a half later, this is the song we wrote! We have used it in worship several times and we have received several compliments on the song. Great job Faith Alive! Band. You can hear a demo of the song below:

Be A Blessing

Be a blessing, you have called us. Be a blessing, you have shown us.
Be a blessing, you have told us. Be a blessing, you have sent us. 

Send us to places where doubts prevail.
Help us remember your love won’t fail. 

Be a blessing, you have called us. Be a blessing, you have shown us.
Be a blessing, you have told us. Be a blessing, you have sent us.

 Send us with nothing; your grace is enough.
Help us proclaim your truth in love.

 Be a blessing, you have called us. Be a blessing, you have shown us.
Be a blessing, you have told us. Be a blessing, you have sent us.

 To heal, to help, to hold a hand.
To show your heart, to take a stand.

 Be a blessing, you have called us. Be a blessing, you have shown us.
Be a blessing, you have told us. Be a blessing, you have sent us.

 Be a blessing (we’ve been blessed), you have called us (we’ve been blessed).
Be a blessing (we’ve been blessed), you have sent us (we’ve been blessed).

Should churches hire their worship band musicians?

bandI’ve been asked this question before: Should a church that wants to do music in a pop/rock style pay for musicians to come in and play?”

It is a question that churches usually ask when they are starting a new style of service with the intent of reaching out to a younger demographic. They realize that having a new service with poorly executed music might have the opposite effect. There might be a few instrumentalists or vocalists willing to form a band, but rarely are there enough volunteers to fill out a full band (especially in smaller churches). Something is usually missing: maybe a keyboardist, electric guitarist, or drummer. Someone will usually suggest that the musical vitality of the service is worth investing in. On the flip side, mega-churches routinely hire out full ensembles of studio musicians to make sure the musical quality of their services lives up to the hype.

I’ll share a couple of stories from personal experience:

  • A church had music in worship led by a pianist who was employed by the church part-time. A person joined the church and volunteered his keyboarding skills for the service. After a couple of months of both the staff pianist and volunteer keyboardist leading music together, the volunteer keyboardist approached the church leadership about being compensated for his part in worship. The keyboardist felt that it was unfair for two people to be serving in the same capacity but only one be compensated. The church leadership disagreed. The keyboardist became angry and moved on. Awkwardness abounded.
  • Another church had three Sunday morning worship services. The first service was accompanied by a small volunteer orchestral ensemble and two part-time employees, a pianist and an organist. The second and third services were led by a band entirely made up of volunteer musicians. One of the volunteer musicians happened to play in all three Sunday morning services. It became evident to the church leadership that perhaps it was unfair that the organist and pianist were being compensated (for a rehearsal and one service), while the volunteer was not being compensated (for two rehearsals and three services). The church leadership decided that having some church musicians compensated and others not was unfair. The pianist and organist stopped being compensated for their musical contributions, but remained active as volunteer musicians.
So what is a church to do? Pay to play or pray for players?
Here are my thoughts and suggested guidelines for how churches should navigate these waters:
  • There is something to be said for wanting the offering of music in worship to be done with excellence. God is pleased when we offer a skillfully executed sacrifice of praise (“Sing praises with a skillful psalm.” Psalm 47:7). 1 Chronicles 15:22 says, “Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful.” (NASB) It is also part of hospitality and welcoming people into worship – which is less easy when there are mistakes and flubs musically. So it may be responsible to hire musicians to help the church offer excellent music.
  • On the other hand, God gives us everything we need. Just because your church doesn’t have a drummer or a bass guitarist doesn’t mean you are incapable of corporate worship. Sometimes the musical device used for worship can become crippling to worship. “We can’t have a service without (insert name of instrument).” It is preferable to look at your context, see what God has provided you with, and go with it.
  • I have also heard it argued that if you pay one or two professional musicians to join your volunteer group, the overall excellence of the team will rise. If there is one person coming to rehearsal every week with charts organized and marked, songs learned, and tempos perfected, the professionalism will raise the standards of the volunteers as well.
  • Deciding whether to pay worship band musicians is something a church has to decide for itself. My opinion is that it is preferable for a church to use what gifts they have been given and be content with it. But I’m sure there are circumstances when paying a musician or two to augment the band also make sense.
Also read Vicky Beeching’s post on this subject for more thoughts.

"In My Heart There Rings a Melody" can be cool too.

So on the twitter, this guy David says, “What are your best tips for young worship leaders leading an older congregation?” This immediately made me give a knee jerk response: “ask older folks what songs they like; learn them; sing them.” This is an important lesson I’ve learned. So the rest goes like this:

David: what if they recommend songs that are nearly impossible to do? Just too old & too irrelevant?
Me: you’re joking right? If it’s old it’s not irrelevant. Try reading the psalms to start. If music is difficult, try practicing.
David: i was referring to a song like “in my heart there rings a melody” something that wouldn’t connect with the majority.
Me: that’s a cool song. It sounds like a challenge to make it cool to me. I’m gonna work on a recording to prove ya wrong…

And that led me to this little rough draft…

In My Heart There Rings a Melody

Don’t be fooled kids – hymns can be cool. If they’re not cool, it says less about the hymn and more about your creativity.

Worship Team Questions

Jonathan (@worshipbassist) provided some great questions for any worship team, choir, or band. They would make good fodder for a retreat or workshop. You could also dissect them individually during rehearsals.

1. How do we remain humble in up front ministry?

2. How do you deal with conflict in your band?

3. What role does serving play in worship ministry?

4. How do you choose people to serve in your worship ministry?

5. How do you prepare and/or select songs for a worship set?

6. How can a worship leader help the band succeed? (From Band’s Perspective)

7. What does a great worship/band leader look like? (From Band’s Perspective)

Advice for New Church Musicians

Leading church music is different than any other type of music. It is a high calling that requires humility and a servant-attitude. The first goal is always to honor/praise God through the music. The second goal is to help the congregation join in. Church music is not entertainment. Church music is helping people participate in worship. Encouraging people to participate starts by making sure that the music is done in a way that makes it easy to sing along, and subsequently making it easy for people to express their hearts to God through the music.

The Golden Rule for Worship Bands

The bands I work with probably get tired of hearing me say it – but I’m not sure it can be said enough: “Less is more.” Having the musicians/singers be picky about when they play/sing does a lot for the dynamics of a song. But it also does something on a spiritual level. It allows other members’ gifts to shine through. It allows everyone the opportunity to practice the “prefer others more than yourself” attitude (an essential attitude for any collection of worshipers).

From Greg Atkinson:

If you’re  a worship pastor that leads a band and you let your musicians play 100% all the time, you’re dropping the ball (you know I like to shoot straight). I mentioned that when I visit churches I often look for a laptop on stage. But one of the first things I look for is who is not playing. The difference between an amateur musician and a professional is knowing when not to play. It’s the whole “less is more” thing that I always preach.

Maybe this is something that your church band struggles with. Maybe you have a pianist that used to be “the band” and is used to playing the full 100% of the music. Now that a guitar, bass and drums are added in, she doesn’t know that her role must decrease and she must adjust the amount of action or busyness that she plays with in order to allow the other instruments to equal to 100%. This is what I call the 100% rule. You only have 100% to divide up – any one player can’t play like the 100% is up to him/her.

Let’s get practical: Often to make a point, I will go to the extreme. I used to do this with my camera operators and video directors all the time. When working with church bands, I will often ask players to “sit out” or restrain from playing for a LONG period of time – in order to get the point across.

Audio Mix Pyramid

From Technologies for Worship Magazine:
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Look at the Mix Pyramid. Notice that the top or focal point of the pyramid is the lead vocal. The lead vocal or soloist must always be on top and be able to be understood by someone who does not already know the words to the song. Just under the lead vocals come the backing vocals or choir. They are the first layer of support, and they too need to be audible as a distinct musical element that helps convey the message of the song.

Beneath the vocals come the instruments that provide fill and color. These add musical interest and highlights, and in fact may be the most prominent portions of the mix when the vocalists are not singing. Instruments might include Lead Guitar, Synthesizer, Brass, and/or Percussion. These instruments will often lead between vocal lines or during instrumental breaks and may need a bit of help from the Mix Musician to make sure their parts are heard when needed.

The primary bed of chords that form the harmonies under the lead parts of the music are often laid down by instruments such as rhythm guitar, piano and/or electronic keyboards. These instruments should be audible but never dominant in the mix.

Lastly low frequency instruments add foundation and weight to the music. These include drums, bass guitar, organ pedals, and the low end of electronic keyboard instruments. While almost never dominant in the mix, if they are not given their proper place and balance in the mix, the music will sound thin and will lack much of its grandeur.

Worship Band Tune Up, part 5

5. Lead guitars, sax, flute, and other instruments should not play the melody, but learn to play complementary parts in the pockets (between the vocal parts).

Read Tune Ups 1 2 3 4

I think there are also exceptions to this rule. I know there are times when I’ve had a lead solo instrument double the melody with the vocals, and it has added impact to the song. But I don’t suggest doing this more than 1 time during a set of worship songs. When you overuse this, it can sound amatureish. If you do have a solo instrument doubling the melody a lot, have them stop, and this should give your band a more professional sound instantly.

Some other solo instruments that sound good with a Worship Band:

  • cello
  • trumpet
  • clarinet
  • oboe
  • mandolin
  • hammer dulcimer
  • accordion
  • vibraphone

Learning to play complimentary parts in the pockets takes many years of musicianship to be able to do it on the fly. “In the pocket” in this sense means “between vocal parts.” The best example is on “turn-arounds” or the section of instrument music that takes you from the end of a chorus back into the beginning of a verse. Another “pocket” would be at the end of a vocal phrase, during the rests before they come back in.

Of course, if you’re going to add a solo instrument, and they can’t improvise, or even if they can, someone is going to have to write a part for every song. There is one resource that I have been consistently satisfied with when finding orchestrations for Worship Band songs. G3 music not only has creative arrangements of popular worship songs and hymns, but they also have great sounding horn parts that accent the song. G3 also allows you to subscribe to their service, or just buy single songs “a-la-cart” from the website. Having a solo instrument play the orchestration of their part from a song would be a good example of how to play in a Worship Band.