Weekly Worship Thought – Taxonomy of Contemporary Worship

I’m convinced that labeling worship isn’t helpful. It puts our gatherings in boxes that they aren’t meant to be in. It creates the illusion that our assemblies are homogenized and that we can get away with using one genre or style that reaches and represents everyone. We should be able to design and implement any order of service with a full, robust toolbox of resources that draw from the best the church has to offer from all time and traditions.

This is why I have issues with labeling worship “contemporary.” It suggests a genre of music, and perhaps a philosophical approach, but is too vague. I’m growing to appreciate the work of C. Michael Hawn in identifying different streams of song in the church today. You can go knee-deep in this idea in his article from The Hymn, “Streams of song: An overview of congregational song in the twenty-first century.”

Here are the seven streams he identifies:

Stream 1—Roman Catholic Liturgical Renewal Song

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Roman Catholics have been finding their voice. This voice is diverse ranging from folk and classical song to African American gospel and various Latino styles. Many of these songs may be found in most Protestant hymnals, adding vitality to liturgy. Some of the key names include David Haas, Michael Joncas, Marty Haugen, James Moore, Cesáreo Gabaréin, Omer Westendorf, Delores Dufner and many more.

Stream 2—Contemporary Classical Hymnody

These are the hymns that follow in the tradition of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Their themes range from creation, ecology, mission of the church, social issues, to worship and the arts. Some of the most important names include Fred Pratt Green, Timothy Dudley Smith, Brian Wren, Carl Daw, Jr., Tom Troeger, Ruth Duck, Shirley Erena Murray, Mary Louise Bringle, and many more.

Stream 3—African American Gospel Song

This streams includes major African American voices including Andraé Crouch, Doris Akers, Margaret Douroux, Edwin Hawkins, James Cleveland, Kirk Franklin, and more.

Stream 4—Urban Gospel Song

Urban Gospel Song writers are represented by the Gaithers, John W. Peterson, and extensions of this song in the UK, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, and Keith Getty.

Stream 5—Folk Hymnody

These songs use an acoustic musical idiom grounded in the folk and protest movements of the 1960s. The theological focus of these songs is on direct language, unvarnished frankness, a social consciousness, and a simple singability that allows everyone to participate.

Stream 6—Pentecostal Song

The roots of CCM/CWM may be found in the Pentecostal movement that began with the Azusa Street Revival (1906) on the west coast. Vineyard, Hillsong, and others.

Stream 7—Ecumenical Global Song

The twenty-first century church is the recipient of songs from the world church—signs that the overseas mission efforts of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries have born much fruit. The former mission fields are sending their songs back to the church in the West. More than two-thirds of Christians now live outside North America and Europe. They have been singing our songs for nearly two centuries and now we have the opportunity to reciprocate by singing the songs of the world church.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Inner Power

On Easter Sunday at Faith we only offered one style of worship in our sanctuary services (we offer a Chinese language service in our gym). This was a change from how we normally do Sunday mornings. Normally in the sanctuary we have one Heritage service (organ and choir) and one Gathering service (band-led).

After noticing the low attendance at our Gathering-style Christmas Eve service last year, we decided to experiment. For Easter, we only offered the Heritage style worship service. Why? Because our hunch was that people think Easter (and Christmas) should feel like “church.” Despite what hundreds of thousands of people who go to big-box churches might lead us to believe, in our context, for church to feel like “church” it needs the historical flavors of our tradition. That would be organ, choir, vestments, formality, liturgy, and hymns.

Oddly enough the building was packed and no one asked, “Who took away my worship service?”

This is not new, but the continuation of a documented trend. And here.

What is the point?

I’ve been reading a new book about the emergence of contemporary worship in the church (for an upcoming book review in the ALCM CrossAccent journal). The book chronicles the Anaheim Vineyard church as it swelled in growth through the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the components that are considered today to be the backbone of contemporary worship were synthesized at this church (a continuous set of worship songs; intimate, God-directed language; openness to God through music, etc.).

As I read the book, the one thing I am struck by is what many mainline churches have left by the wayside in their adoption of contemporary worship practices: the work of the Holy Spirit. The Anaheim Vineyard was a pentecostal-ish church with the gifts of the Holy Spirit on display in their worship. Speaking in tongues, prophetic words, healings, and other charismatic signs were regular parts of their worship. Participants would show up to church an hour before the service in expectation for God to move. I’m left wondering if we are missing something?

My impression is that, for the most part, mainline churches that employ contemporary worship practices have “taken the meat and spit out the bone” of the Anaheim Vineyard experience of worship (or maybe we just kept the bone). We have hijacked the parts of their worship that we think (hope) will cause people to encounter God (and attract them), but tossed out the questionable parts that don’t jive with our theology or make us squirm. It reminded me of 2 Timothy 3:5, “They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it.” (Forgive me for pulling a sentence out of context.)

What is the inner power of contemporary worship? What is the inner power of any worship?

If the church is not filled with the breath of God’s Spirit as it worships, regardless of the style, there can be no inner power.

Weekly Worship Thought – Missing Something

4b2husoh_m0-zachrie-friesenI attended a funeral last week. It was not someone I knew, and it was held at a church I had not attended before. So, for better or worse, I entered the space with my worship detective hat on. I always like to see what other churches are up to and how they arrange their spaces for worship.

This was a modern church. Sometimes they get called “big box” churches (after the mega retail stores that look exactly the same everywhere). The building was a recent construction. All of the furnishings were new and up to date. On their website they say that you can expect:

  • a casual atmosphere
  • friendly people who’ll help you find your way around
  • today’s music and high-impact media
  • messages relevant to your daily life
  • clean, bright facility and kid’s classes

I guess those things are innocent enough. I can’t say that casual atmosphere and friendly people ever hurt anyone. I know all about these motives for ministry. The hurdle is set low for people who don’t understand church or don’t have a helpful experience of church. It is an easy facility to walk into and feel comfortable. It is disarming.

But that wasn’t exactly the experience I had at this funeral. Upon walking in the front door of the entryway I noticed the nice tile, updated signage telling me where things were, and heard familiar worship songs from everyone’s favorite Australian church gently cascading through the air. My spidey-church-sense was activated.

I peeked through the door into main worship space. And immediately I knew something was off. Something internally was not sitting right with me. I saw rows of chairs, a platform, drums and a keyboard, and very expensive lighting gear (motion lights and LED panels). The lighting was dimmed. There were 2 large screens at the front of the room (nothing being displayed on them). I turned back into the lobby area and tried to make sense of the uneasy feeling I had. What was missing?

After a few moments it hit me. The table. And then I identified the feeling. I had felt it before. It is this subconscious tug I feel every time I enter a space for worship and there is no table for God’s meal. Not only was the table missing, but also a cross, and a visible, accessible font. I realize there are different types of churches for different types of people. But my heart was heavy. And not because of the funeral. It was what was missing from the funeral.

How can we be comforted by God’s love without tasting the food that unites all people across time and space – the foretaste of the feast to come? In the desire to have an authentic experience in worship we can easily lose the most powerful signs and symbols we have of God’s presence.

Weekly Worship Thought – Confession

456903_381360738576439_143418169037365_1103943_1194963067_oOne of the elements of worship at The Gathering will change this week. It is the Prayer of Confession that takes place before the presider speaks the words of institution and we share communion. We added this confessional liturgy into The Gathering worship earlier this year and use it every week. I have been writing and compiling these prayers and this week will be our fourth iteration of it. The structure is the same from season to season:
  • Introduction (which might include acknowledgment of God’s attributes, thanksgiving for the offering that was just collected, and a call to confession from the presider)
  • Silence for reflection
  • Communal confession of sin (spoken in unison by the assembly)
  • Words of Forgiveness (which might include a call to the meal, transitioning us to the table and the words of institution)
One of the tricky things about curating this confessional prayer is to not transition into the meal focused on my sin and my forgiveness. Although the words of the confession us “us/we” language, there is a tendency to make confession about personal wrong-doing and personal forgiveness. However, the table is not so narrow. The table is not only concerned about me as an individual. The table is broad enough for the universe, and is the place where I “become what I eat” and am in turn made to be bread for the world. My goal in this prayer of confession is to set our minds and hearts on the cosmic reach of God’s forgiveness at the table, not merely what God has done for me individually.

Eucharistic Prayer of Confession @ The Gathering
Easter Season 2016

P:        Let us pray. God of all creation, we joyfully give back to you what you have given to us in abundance. All you have made is good, and your love endures forever. You give us bread from the earth and fruit from the vine. We do not presume to come to your table trusting in our own righteousness, but in your overflowing mercy. Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.

Silence is kept for reflection.

P:        God of grace and glory,

All:     you have brought us from death to life in Jesus’ resurrection. Yet our lives are still shadowed by sin. Make us alive in Christ, new creations in you. Rescue us in our time of need, renew us in grace, and restore us to living in your holiness, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

P:        Brothers and sisters, we have victory in Christ who has defeated the powers of sin and death through his glorious resurrection. Join in the meal of God’s forgiveness. As we eat and drink the body and blood of our risen Lord, may we live in him and he in us, a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the night in which he was betrayed…

Q&R: Which contemporary songs should we introduce to our church?

477039_381357365243443_143418169037365_1103810_100449478_oQuestion: 

We are in desperate need of introducing some contemporary music into our worship services. I do know contemporary music but have no clue about what works best in a room full of folks, many of whom do not know contemporary Christian music. We do a few songs:  As the Deer, Seek Ye First, Sanctuary, and a few others here and there.  My organist insists they can do the contemporary music, but the few times we have done it it has fallen flat. I can’t tell you why. So, here is my question: if we were to introduce maybe 10 new contemporary songs to our congregation to be used in worship, which 10 would you suggest?  Of course theology matters, but so does singability and teachability.
Response:
To start, I would definitely recommend you sign up your musician and any singers that are interested for the Tune Up worship band gathering: http://TuneUpGathering.org – they will learn some new songs, and rub shoulders with other church musicians who are doing this same thing.
I’ll say that successfully pulling off contemporary music is a challenge. Especially for a church organist. There are lots of reasons why: the rhythmic language of contemp. music is different than traditional hymnody. Also many contemp. songs are written and presented by guitar driven bands, and without that instrument (as well as drums) they can fall flat. 
But there are some “bridge” songs that can get you started in the right direction. Songs that work well with piano and are easy to learn for an assembly that is unfamiliar with the style. The ones you listed (especially As the Deer) are good. If you’re using Evangelical Lutheran Worship in the pews, take advantage of some of the music in there: 
857 Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
821 Shout to the Lord
483 Here Is Bread
And even some of the multicultural music works well and is “new” in a sense, if you’re not already using them:
817 You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore
491 Come, Let Us Eat
525 You Are Holy
Here are some other songs outside of ELW, found through a website: CCLI.com:
10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – Matt Redman
How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin
Blessed Be Your Name – Matt Redman
Here I Am to Worship – Tim Hughes
Your Grace Is Enough – Matt Maher
Holy Is the Lord – Chris Tomlin
Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin
Hopefully that is something to get you started. Theologically, most contemp. songs are fine. A few are not. The biggest problem I run into is they can be less than gender inclusive (God = He) and put way too much emphasis on substitutionary atonement theory (as opposed to a Christus Victor theme). Some contemp. songs are engaging Biblical themes and images unexplored in traditional hymnody. However, a consistent diet of contemp. songs will not be as full, or rich a theological expression as hymnody would be. For example, if you’re looking for contemp. songs that mention the Trinity (a core doctrine of Christianity), you’ll have to look hard (but they are there). 

FREE Download – My Eucharistic Setting

Eucharistic Setting graphic

For a while I’ve wanted to create my own setting of Eucharistic liturgy music for use in worship. I wanted something that could be used in a contemporary/post-modern service with a guitar or band. I also wanted to use fresh language and imagine some of these well-known texts in a different way.

I ain’t gonna lie – this recording is a little rough. I recorded it at my home studio with a couple of mics. I played and sang all the parts. So there are some exposed edges – which is kind of how I like it anyway.

This music was meant for the church. We have been singing them at Faith Lutheran. Please use them if you think they’ll work in your context. Permission is granted for use in worship. The mp3s are free to download. If you’d like the lead sheets they are available at the PayPal link below for $5.

Eucharistic Setting (2014) – Click here for all mp3s

Let me hear from you if you find these songs useful.

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.

Escaping from Worship Music

Dr. Rollins has some interesting thoughts on the problems inherent in contemporary worship services. Read the full post here:

What if church is the place we go precisely to escape worship music, instead singing songs that invite us to turn our backs on some ultimate solution and affirm the life we find ourselves in? A place where the art encourages us to find meaning, beauty and goodness in our world rather than in something beyond it?

Contemporary Worship = Higher Attendance?

Article from The Lutheran Staff Blog:

Almost two-thirds -64 percent- of congregations that switched to contemporary worship in the last five years saw an increase in worship attendance of 2 percent or more…

Robert Schaefer responds:

When thinking about worship, first I would propose Lutherans need to start with the center — namely it is the Triune God who acts in the means of grace, the word and sacraments. Second, we have a simple pattern for our worshiping assemblies that shows up in the New Testament church and has been used by generations of Christians ever since: gathering, word, meal and sending. Only third does style capture our attention. Here there is great freedom and flexibility in the song and style a given assembly uses to express what God is doing through this common pattern of gathering around word and sacrament. In this context we would encourage an ever expanding repertoire of contemporary, global, as well as classic music and texts to make the proclamation of the gospel accessible in this time and place, while linking it to every time and place.