Weekly Worship Thought – 5 Good Reasons to Sing in Church

Why do you like to sing? There is something transformative that happens when our soul and body connect to the melody and text of a song. Here are what I consider to be the top 5 reasons why we should be singing in church. These ideas are adapted from Dennis L. Bushkofsky and Craig A. Satterlee, The Christian Life: Baptism and Life Passages. Augsburg Fortress, 2008. p. 55.

  1. Singing is communal. Singing in church is meant to be more than a bunch of solo voices forming notes at the same time in one space. When an assembly breathes together at the same time, creating the same pitches and harmonies, something unites all our solo voices into one. We become connected to everyone in the space. This connection seeps out of the current time and place and touches all believers from past and future and across the world.
  2. Singing nurtures faith. You are what you eat. In the same fashion, you believe what you sing. The story of God’s creation, reconciliation, and new creation is best learned in the psalms, songs, and hymns that have sustained generations before as well as those yet to come.
  3. Singing shapes memory. The songs that nurture our faith also give us the handlebars to hold onto our faith when crisis and frailty arrives. The songs of our brothers and sisters can lift us up and remind us of God’s faithfulness when we need it. Sometimes we need to sing for others. There will be times when others need to sing for us.
  4. Singing opens us to the Spirit. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, God makes a home amidst our praises. When we sing in community the hardened parts of our heart are broken open. We become open and receptive to how God is moving around us.
  5. Singing builds trust. When I open my mouth and sing in church I am instantly vulnerable. What if I stick out? What if I sing out of tune? What if I sing the wrong word? What if people think my voice is ugly? There is nothing like vulnerability that provides a place for trust to grow. And church is the one place where we should be able to trust that we are loved.
Advertisements

Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Vocalists

Also check out my top 5 suggestions for keyboard, drums, and bass guitar.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of deception with my tips for vocalists.

 

  • 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Don’t be a diva.

The Parable of the Two Vocalists

Once upon a time, there were two vocalists. These two vocalists were both going to sing during a worship service for a church. Both of the vocalists went to the church for a sound check and rehearsal. The first vocalist had a pleasant attitude, sang in a simple style, had a beautiful tone, and had no problems with anyone. The first vocalist was a joy to listen to and approached singing in church with an air of humility.

The second vocalist began the rehearsal by noticing that the air conditioning made the room feel drafty. The second vocalist described how at home they had air diffusers to prevent this drafty feeling. Then the second vocalist noticed that the microphone didn’t have enough of a high frequency boost in the EQ. Next the second vocalist requested that the noise gates and compression be turned off on their mic channel. Then the second vocalist said that a church this large should have a floor wedge monitor system and refused to try the in-ear-monitor system. Next the second vocalist argued with the musician about what tempo the song should be. After the musician changed the tempo of the song, the second vocalist accused the musician of incorrectly adjusting the tempo in the opposite direction. Then the second vocalist decided to change the key of the song.

The second vocalist was a diva. Don’t be a diva. Be like the first vocalist.

This is a true story.

 

Weekly Worship Thought – Breaking Down for Lent

breakingLent begins this year on March 1 with Ash Wednesday. I have begun to think about all the possibilities of our music and space for worship during the upcoming season. Lent is a time to reflect, to pause, to weigh the costs of discipleship, and to prayerfully prepare for marking time with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In particular I am thinking about the music for worship in our gathered assemblies. What can be done musically to carry across the layers of meaning we find during the Lenten season? One idea I am exploring is breaking things down. In a musical sense, this means simplifying things. The simplicity of our instruments and ensembles can bring out the themes of Lent.

An article at WorshipLeader.com makes some suggestions for improving congregational singing that I think are helpful: I did not have my band play on every verse and chorus. Musical accompaniment has one major purpose: supporting congregational singing! The most important sound on Sunday morning is that of your congregation. Have the band stop playing occasionally and let the people hear each other. I promise they will sing louder and more heartily in response!” Breaking things down instrumentally and providing simplicity can help the assembly sing – a worthy goal regardless of the liturgical season!

Scott Weidler shared a tip for Lent in a recent ALCM email regarding unaccompanied singing: “Lenten simplifying may well mean singing some music without instrumental accompaniment. If this is new (and, perhaps, terrifying) to your congregation, Lent may be an appropriate time to introduce it. The human voice is the primary instrument given to us by God. Let’s find ways to amplify its centrality. Many settings of psalms, Lenten verses sung as the Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus, Lamb of God, and other music may appropriately be sung without accompaniment. If eliminating accompaniments completely is unrealistic, try to imagine how to minimize the instrumental leadership in order to maximize primacy of the human voice.”

Breaking things down can be done in many ways. It could be using acoustic instruments instead of electric instruments, hand percussion instead of full drum kit, or just using piano or unaccompanied singing. Try one of these ideas in your context.

Weekly Worship Thought – Sing a New Church

We sang a text for the first time in worship on Sunday. “Sing a New Church” is written by Delores Dufner, OSB and sung to the tune NETTLETON (Come Thou Fount). I found the comments section on the previously linked page interesting, as well as this post, “Bad Poetry, Bad Theology.” It seems that some Roman Catholics have a problem with the lyrics in this song.

From what I can gather, the problematic text is the refrain,

“Let us bring the gifts that differ,
and in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.”

I can appreciate the theological hesitation. And I think it is always beneficial and good to discern the texts we sing in worship. It is not a trivial thing to pastorally care for the sung theology of a local church. It seems that the primary hang up is the idea that the church can sing itself into being.

From a Lutheran perspective, I can understand the objection. The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith” (Small Catechism). There is no church, and no church can be sung into existence, unless it is the Holy Spirit singing.

l66co3n4gxu-andy-leePerhaps “new” is the most problematic word. I understand the argument that there is only one church. Perhaps “sing a renewed church into being,” better captures the idea in a less heretical way. A new church is a renewed church, which is another way of saying reformation. And certainly the work of continual reformation in the church is performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is not to say that we, God’s people, don’t have a part in the reformation of the church.

It is the prayerful labors of God’s people, centered in word, meal, and baptism, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that make God’s church renewed. I don’t think the church can enter renewal and reformation through passively willing it. I definitely think that singing has something to do with how the church becomes renewed and reformed.

What do you think? Are the lyrics orthodox or heresy?

"Let Us Break Bread Together" sung by Desi Lancaster

Here is a track I recently recorded with my friend, and one of my favorite singers, Desi Lancaster (@Dexxie35). It is my arrangement of the spiritual, “Let Us Break Bread Together.”

Let Us Break Bread mix

Recorded in my office at Faith Lutheran Church, Bellaire, TX (using my PreSonus Audiobox USB and GarageBand).

  • Lead Vocals – Desi Lancaster
  • Organ, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Percussion, Background Vocals – Clayton Faulkner
  • Mixed by Stephen Bolech at Studio K in Waco, TX (@sbolech)

Experiencing God in Worship

1228670_90111056How do you experience God in worship?

Is it a feeling? Is it an attitude? Is it a thought? Does it bring joy? Does it feel mysterious? Does it make your fingertips tingle?

Which part of Sunday worship is most meaningful to you?

Is it the songs and hymns we sing together with one voice? Is it the water that cleanses us and renews us as new creatures in Christ? Is it the reading of God’s story and the proclamation of the good news in Jesus? Is it the common meal we share in broken bread and poured wine? Is it the blessing and sending that propels us to be God’s people for the good of the world? Where do you experience God the most in worship?

The important thing is not how you experience God in worship – but that you experience God in worship. If you come to church week after week and never experience the person of God, never enter the fellowship of the Trinity, you’ve missed the point and we as a church have failed in our task.

Also valuable to remember is that how you experience God is not the same as how other people experience God in worship. God creates us as individuals and wires each of us in unique ways. Just because one person experiences God in a different way than us does not make it better or worse than the way we experience God. What becomes crucial is how we act and respond to those who draw near to God using “worship languages” that are different than our own. The words of Philippians 2:3-4 should guide the hearts of everyone in our assembly on Sunday: “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We worship God as one body, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Worship is designed to create space for the Holy Spirit to move and show up in fresh and unexpected ways. Worship is not a one way conversation. We are not the only ones speaking during worship. Worship is space for the Spirit to provoke, whisper, and prod us into Christ-likeness. The work of our worship is to be attentive in both heart and mind and then follow in obedience.

Church Music from Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

[vimeo vimeo.com/25994173]

This is a video I recorded on March 4, 2010 while touring Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We were very fortunate to hear the cantor and chorus rehearsing the deggua or “church song” in the cathedral. The video also shows the beautiful stained glass windows and the tomb of Haile Selassie.

The sacred music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very old. The hymnary is attributed to Saint Yared, a scholar who lived in Aksum in the 6th century. This is perhaps the most astonishing thing about our journey toward adoption because Deacon’s “finding place” was in front of Saint Yared Music School in Addis Ababa in 2006. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my profession/livelihood/calling happens to be church music and that is where Deacon was found! That news was an epiphany for me. Just as God had used music in my life to bring me into the faith and into a relationship with Him as an adopted son, God used a music school to make me a father and teach me about faith, love, and hope.

Learn more about Trinity Cathedral HERE. Learn more about Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy HERE.

 

Why do we sing hymns? (part 3)

Part 1
Part 2

This is the third post in a three-part series on why singing hymns (defined as “sacred poems intended to be sung to God”) in church is valuable.

First, a note about the definition above. Notice that it says nothing about style. It says nothing about how many stanzas it contains, or meter, or how fast, or how slow. Basically, in defending the singing of hymns, we are not saying anything about the style of the hymn or how it gets labeled.

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Hymns are tools that we can encourage each other with. The hymns we sing should lift the heart of the congregation up toward God. What makes this challenging? Well, different people are encouraged by different hymns. So singing hymns is not only an opportunity to encourage one another in Christian community, but it’s also an opportunity to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In doing this we show humility, honor God, and allow everyone to receive encouragement.

Hymns are tools that allow the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. The best hymns are the ones with text quoted directly from Scripture, or closely paraphrased. In singing these hymns, we allow God’s unfiltered Word to saturate our thoughts and enter our hearts when coupled with melody and harmony. Singing hymns is the richest way to ponder the Bible.

Hymns are tools that teach us the truths about our faith. When God’s Word sits with us through the singing of a hymn, we are receiving Biblical instruction. Some of the best sermons and messages are sung, not preached. I often point out that when people are at the end of their life and ready to pass forward to the next, it’s not the words of sermons and messages that they are quoting. It’s the hymns of the faith that have served to instruct and teach us that we cling to in the twilight of life.

Hymns are tools that allow our hearts to connect to God. The point of a hymn is not the hymn. The point of a hymn is the God it’s directed towards. If we sing hymns and fail to connect with God through them, we miss the point. I believe the same way about grace. Grace is a wonderful gift, but if we fail to connect with God through grace, we miss the point, and God. We sing hymns to enter into the Garden again, where God dwells with his people and walks with them in the cool of the day.

Why do we sing hymns?

First we should settle on a definition of what a “hymn” is. For some it’s already a loaded term. But I’d like to boil it down to what actually makes a hymn different than any ole song.

A hymn is a sacred poem addressed to God, intended to be sung.

So to break it down:

  • Hymns are sacred – they are set aside for holy purposes, doesn’t mean they’re perfect, they’re just employed for a higher purpose.
  • Hymns are poems – they have a poetical structure, they use poetical devices, they are beautiful language.
  • Hymns are addressed to God – they can be about God, or they can be to God, God can be the subject, or God can be the recipient of the hymn.
  • Hymns are meant to be sung – this is what makes it different than a poem, a musical element or melodic delivery is intended

So now that we know what a hymn is, why do we sing them? Because singing hymns is a Biblical directive.

EPHESIANS 5:18-21 (ESV)

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Singing hymns is how we are to be filled with the Spirit! Singing hymns is a way to give thanks to God for every blessing we have in Jesus.

Singing hymns is also supposed to be a heart response. The physical act of singing doesn’t create worship. It needs to be sung from the heart.

Is it possible to worship and glorify God without singing hymns? You bet. Otherwise the mute person wouldn’t be able to worship. But God has a special role for music in worship. Music and worship have been uniquely joined together by God’s design.