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We moved away from regular use of the organ about 15 years ago, adopting an entirely "contemporary" style. Now we have found ourselves reintroducing a number of hymns, though still presented with praise band instrumentation and style. I've found myself increasingly wondering how we might integrate at least occasional use of the organ in some of our songs. I'm not an organist, although we have one keyboard player who plays the organ (we still use it for weddings). I'd be interested to hear from any others who have gone the whole way to contemporary worship and then backed up and reintroduced the organ. How did you approach it? What has worked, and what hasn't?

John, thanks for your response. I'll check out the Intergenerational worship posts and also reach out to Chad. I think there are a couple of things that have led us to think more about reintroduction of hymns in particular, and also (for me) the organ. Firstly, we have always missed the richness of the words of the best hymns. Secondly, the contemporary worship movement has increasingly embraced hymns (writers like Christ Tomlin have gone further, by adding some very effective additional choruses or bridges - The Wonderful Cross for example, or more recently Joy To The World), With regard to the organ, it is simply a powerful, versatile and impactful instrument when used in the right way at the right time. This isn't a matter of hymns vs contemporary songs - it is a matter as with any instrument of determining where it adds value and where it doesn't. The addition of the organ at this point is my thought and needs to be discussed with others before we go anywhere with it. But the gradual reintroduction of hymns in a way that doesn't interfere with our musical abilities, flow, general service style, etc is something I think we've made some good progress with.

Posted in: Mission Monday

Thanks, Kevin, for this critical insight. I've been increasingly struck in recent years by the lack of support, resources and encouragement provided by churches (not just CRC) with regard to practical Christian living in the workplace. As Reformed Christians we purport to have a holistic understanding of God's Kingdom as "already now but not yet"; we're big Abraham Kuyper fans; we understand God's sovereign redemptive grace to extend throughout His Creation, and yet we hardly talk at all about where most of our church members spend most of their waking hours - in their places of work.

I'm spending some time exploring this through Bible study, reading, and practical application in my own place of work (I'm called by God to be COO of a Mortgage Lender in San Francisco - a pretty good "rubber meets the road" calling!) In case anyone reading this is interested, I've just started a blog which will document some of the discoveries, challenges and joys of my flawed, fallible but Spirit-empowered attempts to live as one made in God's image in the middle of the financial and real estate worlds. It's at I would also be interested in seeing dialogue on The Network about how churches can help people in the workplace. I'll start another topic for that ...

Posted in: Dropping Out

We have a relatively contemporary set up, and rotate worship leaders between 3-4 people, with rotation of instruments and singers. There are times we'll have the congregation sing a capella (with the praise team singers) but perhaps sometimes play too much (I'm likely the worst offender!)

On the topic of ages at which we involve children, is the powerful impact on children and youth of inviting them to participate as singers on the praise teams. One high-schooler at her Council interview prior to Profession of Faith last month, when asked what was the greatest spiritual influence for her, and what had helped her grow most, said unequivocally and immediately that it was singing with the praise teams. Last Sunday we had one other adult and me, along with two high-schoolers, a junior high-schooler, and three elementary age kids. Congregational response was very positive on several levels. We usually have at least one or two younger children singing with us, without condition on their musical abilities coming in - very occasionally we'll have them sing into switched off mikes if they're off-key. But they usually grow into the role, are active participants in worship leading, and generally find it rewarding while creating cross-generational unity. We also invite them to join in readings, prayer, etc. As leaders we talk with them about worship, why we're doing what we do, the themes and subjects of the songs, etc.

Given all the challenges of retaining our younger members after they go off to college, I'm convinced that early involvement in worship is a vital element and a wonderful way to integrate all ages together.

Thanks for this thoughtful post, James. From the pew, the decision seemed a little dissatisfying. I consider the Belhar, and everything it stands for, to be a legitimate response to major error in the Church, including the CRC. I also have sympathy with a number of those who didn't want it to be a Confession. But on the face of it, this "third way" seemed like neither one thing nor another.

However, as you rightly point out, it creates a tremendous opportunity. Again, from the pew, the role of our confessions is quite murky. I'd be surprised if one in a hundred CRC church members could give a coherent account of how the confessions came to be and, especially, what they can and should mean to us today. (I'm a 99-percenter!) So if debate on the role of confessions in the doctrine and unity of the Church spreads through the CRC (and other denominations that will be disappointed with the Synod's decision), then as is so often the case God's wisdom and grace will be shown to be so much more than our imaginations allow. May the Holy Spirit fill us all the more with wonder and love for His Church, and may He use this time to lead us into greater wisdom and unity.

It would be good to see some input from the 20-something attendees here. This is a critical issue for the church, and all of us, in all generations, have an opportunity to seek God's wisdom and discernment as He shapes His church going forward. That's going to require some additional humility, submission, faith, hope, and unity (not least for those of us on church Councils) - none of which would hurt us anyway!

I know from other feedback that there were some great discussions, though perhaps not much in the way of resolution which is hardly a surprise. Is any of the valuable dialogue being collected for dissemination and/or publication for those of us unable to attend?

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 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!

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.

Brendan, thanks for this thoughtful post. I agree that it is only too common for musicians (including singers) to neglect the development of their gifts and abilities. And yes, it shows. I would add the need for spiritual development. Worship team members and leaders are, after all, not performers but men, women and children called by God to lead their congregations to the foot of the throne. We should also all be continually increasing our understanding of worship, through our Bible study (particularly in the Psalms but also throughout Scripture), through other reading, conferences, discussions, etc, and most of all through our own personal experience of worship in individual devotions and corporate settings. It is the combination of natural talent honed by practice, and spiritual depth honed by active and growing relationship with God, that makes up a worship leader or "lead worshiper". 

This is a valuable perspective on US church culture as a whole (though dangerous to generalize). The prevailing US cultural environment of individualism, is counter-Biblical. While the solution may not be classic liberation theology, it does require for some of us a radial re-reading of Scripture, not through the lens of our own dominant culture, but through a 1st century Jewish cultural lens. That's why I've appreciated Tom Wright's work so much (even if he isn't right about everything!)

I am one of four worship leaders in our church, and have tried a few of my songs when they seemed to be the best fit for a service. The challenge of pride is considerable, as well as the related one of false humility. The other worship leaders usually don't think of using my songs, even though they do affirm the value. I once heard Stuart Townend say (in a song-writing class) that there are three kinds of worship song: those written for a single occasion, those written for a single local church setting, and those written for the church community as a whole. We often don't know at the time of writing which is which. So to sing a song once may be just fine. To have it limited to our local setting is fine too.

For me, the key in planning worship is to ask firstly why I am including one of my own songs (and what others' perception will be, since that matters even if it isn't the final arbiter), and then to ask secondly why it is that this particular song is the best "fit" for the flow of worship, style and congregational participation. Although my songs may not be as "good" musically or poetically as many others out there, they were written in the specific context of our local church, and were written to address a hole in the currently available list of songs. For example, I was really struggling to find a song on confession and forgiveness that was in a style consistent with the flow of worship, so I wrote one. It fit, and it filled a need, and it was reasonably singable for the congregation. As a result, we've used it more.

I do appreciate the point about having a second person involved in the song-writing process. I've done it very little, but more because others are convinced they can't write. We who are worship leaders should encourage the writing of songs from our congregation, helping when needed (especially with arrangements), particularly when they arise out of our local church commuity's culture and experience.

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