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Welcome! From projection screens to professions of faith, from sacraments to song selections this is where worship teams and planners can connect with others about all aspects of worship.
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Our church has Children and Worship story figures that we would love to find a new home for them as we have changed our curriculum and no longer use them. Anyone starting the Children and Worship curriculum and need story figures? Please contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reminding me of the musician's perspective Diane! Yes, I too think there is potential for greater ownership and involvement and love the song request box idea. There could also be a digital option, i.e. on the church FB page.
Thanks, Michele! Balance is so important. It would be interesting to see if the survey found that people were generally pretty happy with the songs or if there was room to grow or change.
Glad to hear someone else enjoyed this too! Great song as well :)
I remember this practice, too, Staci, and as a musician I remember the anticipation of whether someone would pick a really hard song to play! But I, too, really enjoyed this. Maybe now churches could have a "Song Request Box" in the back of church, and members could drop in a paper with a song they'd like to sing. The worship leader/planner could try to incorporate these requests as much as possible. It would give people new ownership and involvement in the worship, wouldn't it?
We no longer have an evening service in Montreal because the people who complained about the format never showed up when there was a formal service in the sanctuary when I moved to Sherbrooke, QC, to attend university there. Now we try to keep a balance between hymns and songs so as to keep the highest number of worshippers happy, and it seems to work. Of course, I'm not in church every Sunday, but I haven't heard other committee members bring up complaints about the choice of hymns or songs at WoCo meetings. Maybe we would need to conduct a survey.
I would always request The Trees of the Field when my church growing up would have the congregation choose. It was my favorite part of attending night church.
I love this idea, Esther. I've always had a soft spot for this style of worship as well as the occasional acoustic (or vocals only) sing along. For me, it sometimes quiets my heart and mind so I can focus.
I've been visiting other churches recently, many with modern worship styles and spaces, quite different from the traditional setting I'm accustomed to. I appreciated the church I was at recently that announced at the beginning of the service that they had "stripped down" their Praise Band to a single soloist and guitar for a couple of weeks so that the focus was not the musicians or their talent. They said they do this periodically to be sure that the music allows for participation of everyone there rather than people watching and being "entertained". No matter what the worship style this self examination seems like a very good thing.
Hello Jerry - Calvin Seminary's Center for Excellence in Preaching also has some sermons available in audio format. You can find them here.
Thanks for your feedback, Mark. I hear what you are saying and I will have to give this some thought. Words matter. I do resonate with the idea of opportunity for the whole congregation to grow in its understanding of what it means to be community.
We routinely create DVDs of sermons at Faith Christian Fellowship, a CRC church in Walnut Creek, CA. We use them to give to people who weren't able to make it to church. They are also on our web site at http://faithfellowship.com/media so that you could see in advance what might fit best. My guess is that many other churches do the same - in fact the CRC could maintain an amazing library of sermons this way!
Thanks Leslie! Great thoughts. Here's one for you: I'm beginning to wonder if "accommodations" is even the right word. (And it's one that I use often, so this is something I'm wondering about and I invite you to wonder with me.) "Accommodations" implies that you, whoever the "you" is, are special, and so we'll do something special for you to be a part of us. We don't call stairs an "accommodation", even though there are some people in church who could move from one floor to another using nothing but a rope. Nor do we consider electric lights or toilets or microphones and speakers to be "accommodations". Here's another book to consider, Turning Barriers into Bridges: The Inclusive Use of Information and Communication Technology for Churches in America, Britain, and Canada by John Jay Frank. In that book he argues that what some of us think of as "accommodations" are actually just ways for people to participate. So in the case of the man you describe, the unplugged mic is not an accommodation for the man who would use it sometimes, it's an opportunity for the whole congregation to be more the community that God calls your congregation to be. So I wonder, if we don't use the word "accommodation", what would be a better word?
Thanks Adom for starting this discussion, and to everyone who has added to it.There have been lots of great points made already.
When considering a new song, (in addition to all the things others have already brought up) I think it's important to understand how the song will sound when your team does it. I think a lot of people get tripped up by this. Here's what I mean (sorry if this seems like a blog post I never wrote; it is).
You hear a great song for the first time and you immediately think of using it at your church. It's catchy, emotionally engaging, theologically sound, singable... it seems perfect. You ask others if they've heard it; they have and they like it. Excellent! So you listen to it constantly for a week straight, get a copy of the sheet music, and watch some very well-done instructional videos on YouTube. This is going to be great!
Your enthusiasm is markedly diminished, though, when you start practicing the new song with the praise team. Even though the whole team likes the song and feels they can play their part well, it just doesn't sound right. Sure, you knew it wouldn't sound exactly like the professional recording, but something's off. It could be one or more of a few things.
First, you might not have all the essential instruments. Our church, for instance, has no bass guitar player and usually no lead guitarist. We often have the keyboard player add the low notes and, for some songs, play the melodic hook. While this usually works well enough, sometimes it sounds pretty wretched. Some riffs sound great on the electric guitar, but dull and lifeless when played with a keyboard or violin. So if that riff doesn't sound good on the instruments you have available (or, honestly, if no one on your team can play it really well), you should leave it out.
Second, the team might not be grooving together. What? We're talking about church here. Yes, I know, but most songs sound best when each instrument complements the others effectively. Even though everyone knows the song, they might not be playing something that works really well with what everyone else is playing. You're probably the only one who watched a video on how to play the song. There are countless videos on the web for guitarists, but hardly any for bass or keyboard. And the other instruments are no doubt making it up as they go along. You may need to go through the parts one at a time, making sure each one works, before bringing the whole ensemble in. This requires tremendous patience, so don't get discouraged.
Finally, you might simply have to do the song your own way. Maybe the song works well in completely different style. Shane & Shane's version of "Because He Lives" (Worship Initiative, Vol. 6) is a fantastic example of how to re-imagine a good song in a style that suits the artist or audience. You could do something similar, according to the skills/resources of your team and the needs of your congregation. Maybe by slowing the song down, speeding it up, leaving out the riffs (or writing new ones), or changing the rhythm, the song will suit your church wonderfully.
Obviously, many songs are not so complicated as to present the concerns I mentioned. Still, I think it's good to intentionally go through the process of thinking through a song with your own church in mind.
I got to experience worship with Jeremy and his band, Body + Soul Collective at the Canadian Gathering recently. They lead with humility and reverence, and the original songs that they do fit all of the criteria that Joyce outlined. To me, that's a must for any music we introduce, whether it comes from ourselves, members of our congregation, local churches, our denomination or the great beyone (i.e., CCLI).
I can't imagine trying to plan a worship service without the Scripture and sermon theme. To me those are essential to choosing songs that lead the congregation through a rich worship experience. The spirit moves as we plan worship while reflecting on the message and events that are happening in the church.
Here are some ideas for getting your music out there:
I'd also encourage new text/tune writers to look for opportunities to work on their craft. Few people can sit down and come up with a great song the first time around.
Again these are real quick off the top of my head so others please add your input...
My personal opinion is that, If possible, musicians should try to choose music that is connected to the pastor's message or the concerns of the congregation. I realize that, especially for praise teams, practices often happen before the sermon outline has been provided (or determined) by the pastor. But, at the very least, I think music leaders should, before choosing their music, consider whether or not there is a part of the liturgical calendar that should/could be connected to OR an event in the congregation (or society) that could be addressed.
As an attendee at various churches in various denominations (part of my former employment), I'd often hear a song that was "new" to me. Sometimes, I'd be wondering "What were they thinking?" And, if I was thinking of suggesting it as a song choice for our own congregation, I'd first read through the lyrics as if it were a spoken message to determine if it was spiritually moving. Often, I'll come across new songs that have a great tune but the tune appears to be wasted by incorporating extremely redundant and boring lyrics. It's like reading the lyrics of "Happy Birthday".
Of course, that's an opinion that varies from one listener to another and, if a worship team is involved, members' opinions should be sought. I've learned lots from the opinions and enthusiasm of others.
Interesting that Jeremy Zeyl is coming up here as we as a church have decided to introduce his song "I Am Not My Own" over the month of July as we have recently finished an adult study of the Heidelberg Catechism. It's great to see the efforts he has made to write quality worship music with a reformed theology.
I have an extension question to your comment on the music being picked up/used in worshipping communities beyond their own - do you have any recommendations as to how an artist might go about achieving that? Outside of your wheelhouse maybe, but I'm curious what you have to say, if anything.
Yes, great reminder James to go beyond the top CCLI songs. There are so many other avenues for good Reformed, contemporary songs, newly written like Jeremy Zeyl or new arrangements of traditional hymns. Some additional people to consider are:
Also consider looking up music from:
For more modern arrangements of traditional hymns search those hymns on sites like:
I'm doing this off the top of my head so I am sure we can add people/websites to each one of these categories. Please do add your additions. A suggested key requirement for adding names: the music the individual is writing must have been picked up/used in worshiping communities beyond their own.
Also note that in the Advent edition of Reformed Worship there is an article on "Reawaken Hymns" by Nathan Drake who explains some basics to taking traditional hymns and playing them in a modern/contemporary style. The article will include a link to a teaching video as well.
Excited to see this beginning list grow!
Great question and excellent response, Joyce. It would be great if this question and answer could make their way into The Banner as it's relevant regardless of the style of worship applied.
At my church, neither elders or our pastor get very involved in selections of songs used in Sunday worship. Instead we have 4 worship leaders who choose the songs. Once in a while, some feedback will come to us either from the pastor or from congregants about the appropriateness of certain songs or lyrics within songs, and sometimes we'll change the words slightly to address the issue.
In general, though, I think we follow most of the principals you've outlined, each applying our own lens. But it's nice to have these lists and I'm going to share them with my fellow leaders. Sometimes the songs we choose are relevant for a "season" within our church; other times they have longer legs.
I would also challenge churches to reach a little further and work a little harder, creating and incorporating our own original music into worship and keeping our ears open for good new music that hasn't reached the CCLI charts. Jeremy Zeyl (https://soundcloud.com/jeremy-zeyl), for example is a Reformed contemporary musician from within our own circles (Talbot Street CRC in London, ON) who is creating some rich and original songs that fit all of the criteria above.
Thanks for the response! I'm wondering though if you can expand on your first point at all - do you have "criteria" for determining this?
Excellent response by Joyce! As a church musician for over 40 years, I've enjoyed the changes and have been rewarded by the education given to me by the younger musicians involved in our worship. Still, I do rely on 2 major guidelines (contained within Joyce's response).
1 - Does the text of the song fit within and amplify the message of the service?
2 - Does the music inspire congregational participation in the singing?
And, I'll always remember a lesson given to me over 40 years ago by my teacher. During congregational singing, church musicians are there to accompany in worship, not to perform. Yes, occasionally we must assist in teaching a new song and that may require more volume but I often find the community of singing can be destroyed by overwhelming musical accompaniment. Of course, I'll still pull all the stops for at least one verse of "A Mighty Fortress" but I'm also prone to stop playing altogether for a verse and hear beautiful a capella singing and, as a musician at the front of the church, I often have the best seat in the house.
Thanks for the fast reply Joyce. I appreciate your expanding on the process for the hymnal and your outlining of some of the criteria you use for evaluating music.
Great question(s) and worthy of some discussion. Since you mention me by name I will try and answer some of them from where I sit but I hope others will engage as well. There is a lot of wisdom out there.
First, the question about what is or is not allowed to be sung in our worship. There is no longer any requirement that churches solely use music from one of our published hymnals so in essence you are free to take music from whatever resource/website you have access too. But, in our polity (church rules of governance) the elders are charged with the task of overseeing worship which includes making sure that the music that is sung is appropriate for worship in a Christian Reformed Church.
That of course begs an answer to your second question or a rephrase of it, "what qualifies a song as appropriate". Let me begin by saying just because the editorial committee of Lift Up Your Hearts chose not to include a song doesn't mean that we deemed it inappropriate for use in the CRC. The fact is that we looked at at least 3,000 songs as a committee and by using up every bit of real estate in the hymnal we managed to include about 850. So there are a lot of songs we didn't include. We began with an outline for the hymnal with a rough estimate of how many songs we felt we needed in each section, we were also committed to including songs from a diverse number of genres in each section (roughly global, contemporary, traditional hymnody). For Christmas for example, we aimed for between 20-25 songs which when you put in the songs that are "required" left little room for anything else. Many good Christmas songs were left out due to space alone. Other times we had two songs of the same stylistic genre that said pretty much the same thing so one had to go.
But there were many additional songs that we let go due to theological or musical concerns. However, here is another reality when it comes to hymnal publishing. We were needing to think very broadly about the church which in this case encompassed two denominations spread across two nations. So it could very well be that a song that we deemed not appropriate for the hymnal might pass scrutiny in a more specific context. In my own church we have sung a number of songs, even the Sundays I've preached, that did not pass the hymnal committee because of textual concerns. In our context the problematic reading of the text would never be raised, but given another context that same text would be offensive. That's where the wisdom of the leadership is important. It could also be that even though few people will raise their eyebrows at a text it still isn't appropriate for our worship because every song we sing forms us.
Choosing congregational songs then is a bit about the context but not entirely. If we take the formative power of worship seriously (and we should) then what people sing will form their understanding of God, God's relationship to us, and our relationship to each other. As pastors, elders, and others who are tasked with worship's oversight we need to take that priestly and prophetic role very seriously. Here are some guidelines I have found helpful (though there are exceptions to every rule):
One of your final comments was whether or not Reformed Worship could highlight a few songs. We have always highlighted congregational song through our Songs for the Season, then Noteworthy, and soon Sing 10! columns, but we haven't solely focused on newly composed or specifically songs from the contemporary/modern genre but rather sought to highlight songs from diverse genres. The problem I fear with a quarterly journal is that currently we are planning the Lent/Easter issue. If we provide a list of songs now with critique by Lent/Easter they will already be in use in our churches. Worship folk aren't going to and shouldn't have to wait for the next issue of RW to decide whether or not to use a song.
As for other means of evaluating new songs for their content I think the Network could be a great place to do that. I encourage all worship leaders to share their newest finds and offer some reflection on why they commend them to other churches. And who knows maybe someday we will come up with a system for evaluating new songs on a more regular basis. Until then do share with each other the best that is out there, and when necessary offer cautionary remarks.
Hope this helps...happy to engage more.
Beautiful Things by Gungor. Great message obviously, but also it uses the pronoun "us" in the choruses. This nicely counters the rabid individualism of our consumer culture.
My husband's favorite as well!
This is one of my favorites too, Laura!
I've recently been enjoyed the song by Jonny Diaz entitled "Just Breathe". (You can find the video by clicking here). At first I wanted to turn it off because the beat was soooo busy and I just didn't want to hear that in my busy world. But, then, as I listened further, I was blessed by the words that tell us to "just breathe .. come and rest at My feet ... and be .. just be". All we really need is to "just breathe".
This resonates with Syd's reflections. The "peace of God" overcomes. Lay down what is good and find what is best.
I love how God inspires us with encouraging words and melodies throughout our day. So many songs come to mind, but for this day in God's perfect timing "Moving Forward" by Integrity's Hosanna! Music is my song.
I'm not going back I'm moving ahead Here to declare to You my past is over in You
all things are made new Surrendered my life to Christ I'm moving, moving forward
"How Deep the Father's Love for Us" by Stewart Townend touches my soul.
For my wife and I a song that stirs our soul is by MercyMe, called "I can only Imagine"
Lately I've really been inspired and challenged by the Rend Collective song Joy of the Lord.
This song encourages me to lean on the JOY and HOPE of the Lord, no matter the circumstances. My favorite part of the song are the lines: "The joy of the Lord is my strength, In the darkness I’ll dance, In the shadows I’ll sing, The joy of the Lord is my strength."
Rory Nolan taught a song at a Willow Creek Conference quite a few years ago when I was a young worship leader, and I have started almost every day since then with these words. I call it my 'shower song'.
He is Able (title)
He is able, more than able, to accomplish what concerns me todayHe is able, more than able, to handle anything that comes my wayHe is able, more than able, to do much more than I could ever dreamHe is able, more than able, to make me what He wants me to be.
My Dad's favorite song, which he sang to us while tucking us in bed, "When we Walk With the Lord" ("Trust and Obey")
So appreciate you sharing this video and showing us the beauty of generations coming together. What a great idea!
Good thoughts all! This is a frequent issue in worship, partly because we think of the individual too much as doing something for the community, and the community as a receptor which wants or deserves better. If we think more of worship as all of us in community ("one body") doing something together for God, every member having gifts to add to the whole, never telling someone they are not gifted for this or that, but helping them find where their gift fits best, thus moving the whole body toward greater degrees of excellence; the dilemma of community vs excellence disappears. Excellence means getting all the instruments in the right place and performing together in the best possible way for the ultimate concert of praise.
I agree with that statement. When I'm unable to attend the service at "my" church I watch a service of The People's Church in Toronto, and while I enjoy the preaching, the singing irritates me no end. The people who sing do so many descants on familiar songs that you'd think they were singing in a concert hall. It really is a performance, and you wonder who's the audience. Very often I either cut the sound or turn the TV off altogether.
John, thanks for these thoughts. I've asked these same questions myself. Bill Vanden Bosch, a retired CRC pastor who did well at engaging people of various cultures and people with disabilities in the life of the congregation, once told me, "The best worship comes from the heart, reaches the heart of God, and the hearts of all the worshipers touch each other." I love the communal focus of that statement. Excellence in worship is not about achieving certain technical standards, it's about people connecting with God and with each other through the power of the Holy Spirit. Given that as a standard, a stammering reader or a clumsy dancer may lead the congregation in worship better than well-trained actors or dancers.
I tried singing in the choir in my church a few times, and it never worked out. But it wasn't my voice that was the problem. I was throwing everybody else off key. So I had to give that up as a way to serve God and find out where my real gifts lay. It took awhile but now I'm in my right niche. Sometimes you're not doing people or the church a favour by letting them continue in a line they're not gifted for, while other areas are being neglected. These days I translate sermon power points into French and bake desserts for Community Supper, a ministry of our congregation. And I have been appointed as Regional Advocate for Classis Eastern Canada. These would not have happened if I'd insisted on singing in the choir, and no one had told me it wasn't my place.
We meet weekly with each other and we have a few members who join us. Sometimes we ask a group to participate because it is lent, advent, or a specific series. I never get the picture of the pastor's message because he doesn't write his sermon until later in the week. All I can go by is the sermon text, season, series theme, etc. 90% of the time I can draw some elements (songs, readings, etc) that support the sermon. Sometimes I receive the information and let the sermon stand on its own. Not necessarily ignoring the sermon information, but sometimes, I don't have the exact resources to make a supportive theme. That's not all bad either.
Don't give up, it's the right thing. Sometimes i find it helpful to read a brief concordance on the text to get a general overview of the text (a study Bible works most of the time). Then drawing from your reading, you can at least derive some theme. Also try using the lectionary (www.textweek.com) and search for the text and then see the corresponding passages (psalm, OT, Epistle, NT, etc.) and sometimes I can draw from that also.
I also agree with using something like planning center, etc to start the process and keep your worship participants informed. I'm just starting this myself.
There was a book at one time published by Faith Alive, "Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture". The short story is that excellence in worship is achieved based on ability and skills. Don't' ask a 3 year old to sing an aria from Handel's Messiah. at the same time, don't insult an advanced musicians to play just the melody line of a song. Don't ask the 3rd grade Sunday School class to create a banner in the style of Van Gogh, at the same time, don't stifle an inspiring visual artist to a felt board. I realize these may be extremes, but hoping you get the picture. If you ask the beginning piano student to play a simple melody during the worship service that the person is able to achieve then you have done both excellence and community. If you ask your more advanced musicians to play a more advanced or original piece, then you have created excellence based on ability, and you have created appreciation for that person, thus fostering community.
Having said this, I do feel that commitment among members is also a factor, sometimes they aren't as dedicated to the life of the church and don't always feel the commitment to prepare for worship for various reasons. As a worship director, I also find this difficult to see people who I know have the talent and are consistently not playing to their abilities. So a lower expectation of excellence is required on your part to make them still feel "community" and to achieve "excellence" that you are looking for.
Although we are currently without a full-time pastor, before our last one left in October of last year (2015) he was part of the worship committee, so we did work with him to choose hymns that supported the topics and message of his sermons, and we hope to be able to do this with the next pastor also. In the meantime, since we're getting classical appointments, we strive to contact the minister who will preach when one of us will be responsible for preparing the order of worship ahead of time to give them time to think about their sermon, and to find out what they intend to preach about so we have an idea of what songs to choose. Very seldom does lighting come into the picture in our church, but when our former pastor was with us Good Friday services were almost always Tenebrae rituals. That was THE exception to the rule. Otherwise, I don't recall any service where the lighting had anything to do with the order of service. Other than to light candles, maybe. and that usually takes place mostly around Advent and Christmas.
We did most of the work by email. Still do. Most of the members work full-time, and some live quite a distance away from Montreal, sometimes even past the Ontario border, so meeting on a weekly basis simply is not practical for us.
I think part of the answer is expecting from all who would participate in the service a (speaking, singing, playing whatever) recognition that their participation isn't only about giving them a chance to do their thing in front of the congregation. If everyone that the point of serving is serving, the problem really disappears.
Not all will have that maturity of course. Which means another one of your jobs is to teach that, both as a preliminary to anyone who wants to participate (serve) and in an ongoing way. Another job may be to find opportunities for all to serve, even if they ultimately can't serve in the way they first wanted.
"C" grade music is OK, tolerable. A solid "F" soloist?
Thanks, Graham! You are exactly right that it can be a logistical challenge to meet weekly for planning purposes. Glad that you are still able to have open channels of communication. Also, love the idea of musicians/pastors collaborating on a song led by the Holy Spirit - how powerful that would be!
Thanks for sharing this Adom!
It depends to some degree on the pastor, but a level of collaboration is, of course, essential. Our present pastor posts a brief statement on Planning Center Online, giving his Scripture, general themes, and punchline. This is the minimum that would work. Ideally we'd meet with him on a weekly basis (a couple of weeks prior to the service) but that seems difficult logistically for us. We do use email for clarification, sharing of ideas, etc when needed. Depending on the theme, we will sometimes theme an entire service around the sermon, and at other times, will start with a more general worship theme (often on a particular attribute of God) and then lead toward the sermon theme. We do this for two reasons. Firstly, some themes don't lend themselves to songs and liturgy that will lead us all into the presence of God, and secondly some themes have very few associated songs that are familiar to us or easily learned.
If your pastor is worship-focused, and wants to have more involvement, the opportunities for creative collaboration are endless. One great idea (from a Stuart Towned song-writing seminar) is for a musician and pastor to co-write a song that speaks precisely to where the Holy Spirit is leading the service. In general, if it works for worship leader/planner and pastor to meet together, I would jump at the opportunity.
I love this article! Thanks for the thoughtful and nuanced questions. There is so much we want to control, or make better, but God has always worked through imperfect people to accomplish incredible things!
One of the things that usually ends up frustrating me (and I'm not sure if I'm right to let it frustrate me) is when I know the music for a service could be done better with maybe half an hour more practice, but individuals say that they don't want practice to go more than an hour. I view that as stopping short of the effort required, but that could be a result of my personality. Also, I recognize that if you were to take that to the extreme you could end up practicing for hours at a time and you need to draw the line somewhere. I guess I'm frustrated when I don't think people's hearts are in it, but then again, how can I know for sure where they are? I'm not expecting perfection, I am expecting people to have left something of themselves on the altar, but am I allowed to expect that or am I out of place?