And here’s the cool part – I get to be a part of their newest collective, the Worship Design Collective. I join a team of ~20 other contributors: a community of thought leaders and practitioners — worship leaders, pastors, creative directors, entrepreneurs, songwriters, professors, artists, theologians, and farmers (perhaps both literal and figurative) — committed to networking and encouraging worship leaders with the richness of the Wesleyan theological vision and tradition (though I am not part of the Wesleyan tradition, I have some good friends that are). As one member mentioned on our first conference call, it’s kind of like The Avengers of worship leaders, though instead of saving the world, we just hope to encourage each other in designing and leading worship with excellence in the power of the Word and Holy Spirit – though maybe those goals are more similar than I think.
Even after 4 years of worship leading, I feel like I’m still just a beginner as a worship leader, but I’ve also gained some wisdom along the way, and I’m excited to be able to share my thoughts with a wider audience than just this personal blog. Some folks on the blogging team are way more experienced than I am, so I’m excited to learn from them as well.
If this collective sounds like something you may be interested in being a part of, I’d highly encourage you to check it out. Here’s where you can find us:
And here’s a video of Seedbed’s Sower-In-Chief, JD Walt, sharing a bit more about the vision behind the Collective:
So check it out! My future blog posts related to worship will be cross-posted here and there. Be sure to comment/share my posts (not here, but on the Worship Design Collective site) when they come out :-). I heard a rumor that the blogger who gets the most page-views wins a free toaster.
Conferences are great. At the beginning of June I travelled to Trinity School for Ministry to attend “Spirit and Sacrament: Integrating Modern Worship with Traditional Liturgy,” a 3 day worship conference designed to equip and encourage leaders from traditions across the liturgical spectrum. It was refreshing to hear worship leaders, filled with love and wisdom, speak about joys and struggles, successes and failures, and to speak candidly about the heavy weight placed on our shoulders Sunday after Sunday. By the end of the conference I looked up to these leaders, not because of the size of their churches, amazing bands, flashy albums, or any other external success, but because it was clear that they have huge pastoral hearts, want to see Jesus glorified, and want to build up the church for the sake of His name.
I was also encouraged by being reminded of my convictions. As I met with fellow worship geeks from across the country, I was reminded that I am not so weird after all…or at least, if I am weird, I’m not alone! We all desire theological accuracy and depth in lyrics; elegance and economy in melodic writing; ways to draw the congregation into deeper worship expression; worship forms and models that help people become more like Jesus every week.
Liturgy was, is, and ever shall be CONTEXT-DRIVEN
Since the conference was hosted by TSM, and organized by Andy Piercy [web | twitter], Director of Worship Development for the Anglican Mission, Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was at the center of our worship. Piercy reminded us that when Cranmer first complied these texts and wrote these prayers, they were to a specific people at a specific time. They were a direct reaction and indeed a correction to the theological mis-steps of the Catholic church in that day. When the religious climate of the post-medieval church was fear, guilt, and shame, Cranmer sought to reveal grace and gratitude. The liturgy was not an end in itself, but a means by which the nation would be converted; from guilt to grace, from fear to gratitude.
Glenn Packiam [web | twitter | blog] also pointed out archeological evidence of this paradigm shift. He showed us this chapel fresco from medieval England:
Then he showed a modern restoration of what the painting might have originally looked like:
We can see clearly an exalted and ascended Christ at the top of the picture. Great! But looking closer we see naked figures being tormented by demons, impaled on spears. Packiam pointed out, that at one point, this may have inspired worship in an authentic way, we are not medieval Christians, so we can’t assume they see it the same way we do. Indeed, we must fear God and love God. The reformers decision to whitewash these details was not out of hatred of art, or of the traditions of the past, but to better align the message preached by the walls of the church to the message preached by the sermons, prayers, and other ministries in that current context. When the post-medieval church was showing a powerful Christ standing above the chaos and torment of the world and hell, Cranmer was showing that Christ said “COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. (St. Matt. xi. 28.).” Read more about that story over on his blog.
Of course we need both, but the lesson here is that if any one is too-emphasized, we need a correction. As liturgists, we ought to be seeking the right words for our context. Are we too comfortable in our sanitized Christianity that is all about love and not about personal transformation? Then we need the Holy Sprit to convict us of sin, and an encouragement to move from apathy to action. Are we burned out on empty religious gestures or tiresome church programs? Then we need the Holy Spirit to refresh our souls and lead us to truly rest. As a diverse church, we have people from all different perspectives who may be searching for different things. Some come to church to pray earnestly in a peaceful space, others come to worship through song, to be poured into through a convicting sermon. It’s our job as leaders to listen to the congregation, hear where they are coming from, and lead them to a greater love for Christ and the world.
A Modern Example
I was greatly encouraged by Aaron Niequest [web | twitter], who shared with us about a new liturgical service born out of the place you would least expect: Willow Creek Community Church. “The Practice” was created from the idea that worship is formative (thank you James K.A. Smith), and instead of thinking of a worship service like a classroom, maybe we should think of it like a gymnasium. By engaging in ancient devotional practices, we were encouraged to see worship not only as something we do to glorify God, but something God does to us. It is not only our expression of praise to God, but how God has chosen to communicate with us: through his word and the sacraments. This dialoguical perspective has a huge impact on how we plan and organize our worship services. At “The Practice”, instead of the worship service centered around a 45-minute sermon/teaching and relegating music to “warmup time,” the entire service is a smooth flow of spoken and sung prayers, gestures (physical participation is loosely encouraged with simple encouragements: “let the posture of your body reflect the posture of your heart”), and guided meditations. The congregation even takes 2-minute, 3-minute, and *gasp* 5-minute pauses in complete silence, listening to God and reflecting on scripture.
One step at a time
One thing that was made clear again and again throughout the three days was that all the discussions and examples are meant to be models; representations of a real thing, but not to be mistaken for the real thing itself. The lesson was not, “look at the awesome things we’re doing at our churches…here’s how you can make it happen at yours,” but real honest discussions about the struggles of ministry; with all the conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings you would expect.
One comment by Aaron stood out to me. He mentioned that early on in his “mission to liturgize” the culture at Willow Creek, and having recently “discovered” liturgical worship, he introduced a sung kyrie at the beginning of the worship service. This was met with a resounding NO from the congregation, as for too many people, it reminded them too much of “that Catholic thing I ran away from.” I couldn’t help but smile remembering that I did the exact same thing at TCC a few years ago myself. Sometimes you need to take a step back before taking the next step forward.
For those of us serving in Evangelical contexts, there is no one-size-fits-all liturgy. Every person has a unique faith journey and we all carry baggage and mis-conceptions about worship. As leaders we need to be wise in discerning the shape of worship each season. We need constant reflection and evaluation. We need to be sensitive and listen to the pastoral staff, the lay leaders, and the congregation. And of course to do all this, we need the Spirit’s guidance and power.
Speaking of baggage and mis-conceptions, if you are like me it is not a skepticism of liturgy that I need to fear, but exactly the opposite: a strong aversion to overly emotional worship. I remember many camps and conferences that used music, dim lights, and social pressure to manipulate awkward jr. highers into making commitments for Jesus. I have always looked on those experiences with a mixture skepticism and embarrassment. Today, with a decade (almost two!) distance from jr. high, I feel myself resisting any emotional response to music in worship, out of fear that it is not “real,” but put on or influenced by the music.
But here’s the thing: music is emotional. Cranmer’s prayers are emotional. They are evocative, stirring the heart and moving the emotions. When the church prays the prayer of humble access before communion: “we are not worthy even to come to this your table…but you are the same Lord who’s nature is always to have mercy,” I often get choked up. Relentless grace should create an emotional response!
The redemptive part for me was to hear several eloquent, thoughtful, and even well educated speakers share how they want to redeem emotions and help the church embrace worship not just in the mind but in the body and the heart, I was encouraged to give it a second look. We, perhaps rightly so for a time, emphasized intellect out of fear of a thought-less worship, but perhaps we need to reclaim the heart. I’ll admit, it doesn’t come easy for me!
Like I said, conferences are great! This one reminded me of that fact. With only 50 or so attendees, a simple schedule, and a very warm atmosphere of respect and love, the conversations were healthy, life giving, and energizing – which is a high bar to hit for worship discussions!
So if you’re interested in geeking out with fellow worship nerds, be sure to register next year for this conference! I’ll be there!
Remember this post? In it I wanted to discuss the undeniable fact that apple stores look like and effectively function as religious shrines for the faithful consumer. Well 3 years and 3 iPhone models later, I guess its time to blog it up.
Theology of Space. Every place tells a story.
How do our public spaces tell stories about humans and what we desire? How do our churches tell us what is important in life, and where to direct our attention and focus during a worship service?
These and other questions make us realize that no space is a neutral space, and that every space both explicitly religious (a church) or not (an apple store) are pointing our hearts towards things to love (and in the same breath, worship).
Don’t believe me? Take a look at these pictures from the latest apple press conference (aka the iFeast day) and see for yourself…
And you thought it was a cult before… these iconic, monumental, yet strangely familiar spaces (there’s one on Boylston St. and one in the Natick mall) invite in the faithful apple junkie to gaze upon the newest objects of worship, bathed in light and set apart from the darkness or chaos from which you enter. In the center, the emblem and icon of the fruit – no Eden reference intended but I’ll bite 🙂 – reminds us who is behind all of this, and who will receive our offering when we purchase the things for $649 for the 16GB-model–without–a-2-year-contract-thank-you-very-much-t-mobile…
Competing Liturgies. Who (or what) do we love?
But the connection to religious doesn’t stop with their stores temples.
Human beings are oriented and defined by desire (what we love).
Human beings are influenced and shaped by practice (by what we do)
Some practices or rituals communicate a specific vision of “the good life” (Smith categorizes these as “liturgies”), and compete for first place in our lives.
In short, the church is not the only liturgy in our life, and it is not even the loudest or most effective.
Smith then exegetes competing liturgies in our 21st century western culture. Consider his first analysis.
The layout of this temple has architectural echoes that hark back to medieval cathedrals – mammoth religious spaces that can absorb all kinds of different religious activities all at one time. And so one might say that this religious building has a winding labyrthinth for contemplation, alongside of which are innumerable chapels devoted to various saints. As we wander the labyrinth in contemplation, preparing to enter one of the chapels, we’ll be struck by the rich iconography that lines the walls and interior spaces. Unlike the flattened depictions of saints one might find in stained-glass windows, here is an array of three-dimensional icons adorned in garb that – as with all iconography – inspires us to be imitators of these exemplars. These statues and icons embody for us concrete images of “the good life”. (Smith, 21)
If you haven’t guessed it by now, Smith is describing, albeit from a unique tongue-in-cheek perspective, any suburban mall. His evocative depiction of a “full worship experience” at the mall, complete with all the “smells and bells” needs to be read in full to be truly appreciated, as his depiction of the mall as a cathedral pilgrimage site makes unfamiliar the familiar, and makes us truly stop and think about just what kind of liturgy we’re competing against. As Smith states, The mall understands humans as desiring creatures.
I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures who’s being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they “get it”: they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures–creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret. (Smith, 76)
The mall (or marketplace) is of particular interest considering Apple’s press coverage today. I think Apple’s brilliant marketing, design, and a knack for grabbing our hearts fits in perfectly with Smith’s analysis. They even have their own saint…
These pictures tell a story. Combine that with insane apple fanaticism, monumental media attention, and a half a billion “followers” (apparently there are 500,000,000 iTunes subscribers), and you have a religion. A religion that tells us what is good, what we need, and what we’ll buy as soon as we are able to.
Where do we go from here?
In part 2, “Desiring the Kingdom” James K.A. Smith offers a counter for the church to paint the picture of “the good life” through our Christian practices of worship based around the teachings of Jesus. We cannot simply shun consumerism – we need to offer a replacement. The result of the fall was not that we stopped loving, but that we began loving the wrong things. It’s up to the church – the hands and feet of Jesus – to re-orient our desires to what they were intended for and the only thing that will bring ultimate fulfillment. Lord help us. More on that after I read part 2, and even more on that after I read his second book: “Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works“. Unfortunately I have to save up for my iWatch so it will be a while until I can afford paper books again.
In my daily blog reading I ran into Issac Wardell’s followup post on the Bifrost Arts 2013 conference. Here you can find recordings of each of the conference talks relating to the themes of worship, community, and mercy in the life of the church.
David Bailey’s talk on “Contextual Creativity in Worship” caught my eye. His vision for music as a reconciliatory tool is uplifting. His humor on our denominational differences is refreshing. A couple key points:
He acknowledges that churches are incredibly diverse organizations, yet there can be unity through diversity. Indeed it is scriptural.
Aural culture vs. literacy culture. Not everybody learns the same way. We all have different educations, experiences, and learning styles. Yet the power of stories connect with everyone. Is my song selection is biased towards doctrine over response?
Hymns speed through a bunch of awesome doctrine at 1000 miles per hour. Wesley and Watts are master craftsmen at infusing congregational song with doctrine. This is great if you have studied the doctrine, read Romans, and know the tunes, but what about giving some time for the singer to digest and meditate on one point entirely? (skip to 37′ for his discourse on this.) I am often skeptical of the ‘retune’ choruses that Tomlin et. al. splice into hymns (Amazing Grace + ‘My chains fell of…’ is a classic example). Why mess with perfection? But Bailey made me see the value in these additions.
We have our denominational emphases: Evangelicals, the cross and personal salvation; Mainline, the kingdom of God and social justice; Baptists, the resurrection and the power of the Gospel over sin; Charismatic, the holy spirit; to name a few. But we have the Good News, and it includes all of these things. What are we forgetting in our own church contexts? We need to preach the whole gospel, not our Christian tradition’s preference of the Gospel.
David also runs an “equipping ministry,” Making A Melody:
Making a Melody is a ministry department of Artist In Christian Testimony International. We use music as a tool in the reconciliation process. Music is a great tool for connect people, cultures, and communties, creating shared experiences that can be a bridge for deeper relationships. We are an equipping ministry that provides resources and trainings for Christian communities that are commited to cultural diversity.
I’m all for the current resurgence of setting old texts to new music. It’s fantastic for us young evangelicals who seek and crave lyrical depth and historical grounding. It’s great for churches that have ‘worn out’ the top 40 CCLI songs and looking for new songs by reaching backward. A bit of ‘retrovation’ if I may implement my new favorite neologism.
Many times these hymn re-tunes are successful, and bring back an otherwise forgotten text to 21st century congregations. Other times they miss the mark. Lackluster texts with unimaginative melodies simply add to an overwhelming corpus of contemporary hymnody that confuses and alienates worshippers. It’s great for the hymn (re)writers, to gain experience composing new tunes, trying out new arrangements, and sometimes failing, but is it really effective? With new CCM songs written every day, and 90% of them won’t last more than a year. The last thing we need is to revive an extant mediocre text.
What are the things needed for a hymn re-tune to succeed? I’ll explain them using an excellent example, Greg Thompson of High Street Hymns’ 2004 setting of “Jesus Lord of life and glory” by James Cummins (1839). Incidentally, we’re singing it this Sunday at TCC. Here is my litmus test
1) The text must be good. Like, real good.
I can’t emphasize this one enough. The text has to be SO GOOD, that we can’t not sing it. It has to make you look at the gospel with a new pair of glasses. Though the perspective and cultural context of hymn writers of centuries past is different from our own 21st century hermeneutic, people are always people, sin is always sin, and God is always God.
Besides the aim for gospel centric lyrics, they must also be valuable poetically, both sense and sound. The words must not only pack a theological punch, but must be pleasant to say and pleasing to the ear.
Take our example, “Jesus Lord of Life and Glory.” The alliteration of phrases such as “Lord of life,” “while our waiting souls,” and “when the world around …” roll off the tongue with ease; they’re a joy to say and sing!
Consider also the structure of the text, which lends itself nicely to our contemporary verse/chorus idiom. Each verse concludes with this final line: “By thy mercy, O Deliver us, Good Lord,” rendering all the preceding text as submission to God. It’s especially poignant in his fourth verse:
When the world around is smiling,
in the time of wealth and ease,
earthly joys our hearts beguiling,
in the day of health and peace By thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.
2) The original genesis of tune use must be fragmented
(see pie chart)
The OLD hymn must use a tune (or tunes) that are relatively unfamiliar to the typical worshipper. If a tune is too readily recalled it will be near impossible to remove the conventional wisdom of the past. Especially if the old hymn exists in the existing pew hymnals. “Why can’t we just sing it the old way! I knew that one!”
Check out this pie chart – Exhibit B. “Jesus Lord of life and glory” shows itself to be a promising candidate for a hymn retune. Not only are the most commonly used tunes unknown (ST RAFAEL and ST AUSTIN…wut?), the “other” category is just as big as the other two. This essentially indicates this text is not tethered to a certain tune, and can be freely re-set to new music.
3) Original tune (or tunes) must be unfamiliar
(see bar graph)
This is perhaps more like #2a, as it is similar to point #2. Not only must the current usage be fragmented, the usage must be low. The graph on the right shows a very low occurrence in hymnals from the hymns original publication, no large spikes or even any increase in use. It also hasn’t died away, but seems to be hanging on in one or two hymnals. Today it is listed in the Trinity Hymnal, #569, and no others. Perfect.
When these three factors align, the new setting might just ave a shot at succeeding. We haven’t begun to discuss the compositional decisions that need to be made – we’ll save that for another blog post.
All this to say, I’m loving the re-tune by High Street Hymns. Check it out online here:
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) national convention in Chicago, IL. Among the many interest sessions, round table discussions, and concerts, were a few events that focused on music in worship. On Thursday at noon I attended the music and worship roundtable discussion, which to my surprise was not so much a round table, but a hall full of professional church musicians from all over the country ready to discuss and debate the hot topic issues of leading church music.
The “speaker” was more a discussion facilitator who posed various polls and open ended questions to the audience. One thing I noticed right away from the comments was that I was definitely among the denominational minority. As this was a conference of professional choral directors, it makes sense that the majority of church musicians would be from “traditional” worship settings with choirs and organs, but I was surprised to be one of only a handful of “evangelicals” in the crowd of over 200 people.
After these polls of self-identification, we were asked to share about our own worship experiences. What are some points of celebration in the liturgy of your congregation? What are some points of tension or conflict? I was surprised to see the atmosphere of the room turn negative after the latter question was asked. It became obvious that many present at this conference were bitter or disenchanted with worship, likely due to the demographic of the american choral directors association and the changing face of christian worship.
But fortunately these negative comments turned around, and after the nay-sayers had their turn to share their opinions, the majority of the audience began to share stories of overcoming conflict through patience, perseverance, and flexibility. Many stories involved people who were hired at churches as worship leaders that were not their “home” denomination. Though they were uncomfortable and out of their element at first, these church musicians largely expressed positive experiences where through worshipping in a new way, they gained a greater understanding of what it means to truly worship, and a greater understanding of who God is.
Though – as my sociology teacher says – ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’, these stories nevertheless warmed my heart and made me realize that there is a lot of good that can come from differences in worship styles. I realize that we should rejoice these differences and count them as blessings.
I just got home from the annual meeting at Park Street Church, a group of believers that meet in downtown boston and who I worship with on Sundays. I was fortunate to serve on the worship team for the evening, playing piano with a great band of musicians. Minus the formalized (and, to me, somewhat archaic, but perhaps necessary) meeting jargon, I was sincerely inspired by the leaders presentations; from tedious discussion of budget, to a long range vision of the facilities, I could tell that every aspect of the life of this church is being prayerfully thought about and led by the Holy Spirit.
The most encouraging part of the meeting for me, was when we broke into small groups and discussed two points:
1. What is currently happening in the services that fills you with the Holy Spirit and a sense of God’s love for the world?
2. What can we do to improve our services to open our eyes to the working of the Holy Spirit?
I met with a group of park streeters that were sitting around me, including one of the ministers to facilitate our discussion. I was encouraged to see the depth of thought and the intention of each member wanting to enhance their relationship with God and other people in the church. (I don’t know what I expected…so maybe this says something about my own pessimism). These folks, all older than me by varying amounts (one who had been going to park street for 60+ years!), had really practical concerns and amazing ideas on how to make each service more accessible for all people. Here are a couple that were especially memorable.
1. Don’t discontinue the radio broadcast!
Apparently a debate this church has been having for a while. Airtime costs money, and this might be one service we could cut; one step closer to a balanced budget. At first I thought: why is the church spending money for airtime when the service is available online for free and sermons can be downloaded as a podcast for free? Then I realized that the people who rely on the radio station likely don’t own computers, much less know what the word podcast even means. This generation, who grew up with radio as their source of mass media, cannot and should not be expected to learn new technology, when old technology works just as well.
2. A way to prepare intellectually and spiritually for Sunday’s scripture and sermon.
A number of groups shared their desire to be better prepared for Sunday’s sermon with an advanced notice of what would be preached on. This is so exciting hear that people want to study the scriptures at home before. There are many ways this could be done that would be straightforward and for virtually zero-cost (email, social media, church website, an announcement in the bulletin). Now to be fair, all of this information is actually on the churches website, so any tech-savvy worshipper can avail themselves of this information. However, I think the church staff could encourage preparing for worship in a variety of ways. This could be something as simple as printing next weeks sermon topic in the bulletin, to something as complicated as reformatting the entire small group structure to one where small groups would study and read the exact passage to be preached on the upcoming Sunday. Or shoot … what about the lectionary?
3. A great amount of diversity in worship styles.
I was really glad to hear from a number of people from the morning services that they desired to see a more continual flow of worship and praise similar to the evening format.
One person in my group mentioned a newfound love of some of the repeated service music like the Gloria or Doxology. What was previously viewed as tedious and repetitive is now seen from a new perspective as bringing greater continuity and enriching the worship.
Yet another person mentioned a connection with the looser more informal liturgy of the evening service. For her, a formal liturgy reminds her of younger years, with negative connotations. Praise music that seamlessly links multiple songs together allows her to get lost in the wonder and awe of God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So yes! I’m so inspired and encouraged to hear that members of Park Street church are passionate about the same things I am passionate about. It was great to hear a voice from the faces I see, and to understand that every is coming from different backgrounds, different past experiences, and brings their own unique ideas of worship to the table (pun intended?). I hope and pray that this coming year at Park Street would be one of rich worship, inspired words, and lives that reflect these workings of the Holy Spirit.
Yet another! This one on humility in church music:
There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.
This on why worship is the most awesomest thing ever…
An excellently performed piece of music, as natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man, will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be. But that is a kind of glorifying which we share with the ‘dragons and great deeps’, with the ‘frost and snows’. What is looked for in us, as men, is another kind of glorifying, which depends on intention. How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and the disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know. But it is on the intention that all depends. When it succeeds, I think the performers are the most enviable of men; privileged while mortals to honor God like angels and, for a few golden moments, to see spirit and flesh, delight and labour, skill and worship, the natural and the supernatural, all fused into that unity they would have had before the Fall.
And this; CS Lewis on bad singers in church…
We shall also be aware that the power of shouting stands very low in the hierarchy of natural gifts, and that it would be better to learn to sing if we could. If anyone tryies to teach us we will try to learn. If we cannot learn, and this is desired, we will shut up.