Jesus Never Used a Countryman Microphone

Macro shot-display of the broadcast video player, equalizer

By Joshua Weiss

How do you prefer your worship service?

I have been leading worship at Abundant Life for nine years. The sound for the weekly service is always a topic of discussion for me. As a media professional, it is always a frustration that I cannot be in the sound booth and on the stage at the same time. Obviously there is not a one setting fits all with the preferred volume level or song selection of a service because every room is different and every setting is different. When you go to big mega-church worship service, they are sometimes running at 110 decibels or higher without any issues – but they are also mixed professionally.

It is real easy for people to have an issue with a mix at 95db when it is mixed poorly and painful to the ears whereas that same individual may not have any issue at 105db if mixed properly – especially if the given song is one that they like.

I’m not at all interested in a concert style worship service. However, there is something to be said if the volume is loud enough that you can’t hear your neighbor sing. This helps those who are tone deaf not be worried that others will hear how bad they sing. It also helps many to feel more free to belt it out without concern that they will be heard by all.

Like many worship leaders, I also want to be able to hear the congregation singing. I am usually very intentional to provide times where the various instruments cut back, or out, with the purpose of boosting the congregational singing clarity.

When I enter the discussion of “what decibel should be the target for a worship service,” it often is followed by the other person implying we have “gotten away from the heart of worship” or something similar to that. As a media professional, I fully understand that every room is different and every band, board and soundman will play, function and hear things differently. If OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is capable of stating standards for health safety to a specific decibel, then why would we feel that the church is incapable of at least setting some reasonable goals to work around?

Many worship leaders are not very versed in sound and as such, this topic is simply not discussed. It seems that one of the more typical difficult relationships in the church is between the worship team and the sound man. Perhaps if the worship team had better understanding of sound, this might not be the case.

The congregation where I serve is multi-generational and multicultural. We run between 150 and 200 in the sanctuary Sunday mornings. Like many, I have fought the typical fights of hymns vs new songs. I am very intentional to include at least one hymn in every service and to not go overboard with newer songs for a number a reasons. Typically, the young people on the worship team don’t recognize the theological depths of the hymns. The melodic values are not as emotionally moving to the younger generation (who didn’t grow up with them) as the new songs. The younger ones also seem to prefer the volume at higher levels. They regularly talk of being able to get into the music much more when they physically feel the kick drum and the bass guitar vibrate their body. I can understand this and it makes complete sense. It incorporates one more of the senses by adding feel to seeing the words, hearing the music and of course singing themselves. The younger worshipper still needs to recognize that the worship isn’t for them.

However, I serve the entire congregation including those who prefer the hymns and would like the sound quieter. To these individuals, I have to help them understand the young person’s side of the debate. I also work with these individuals to understand that the songs they grew up listening to are no more sacred then the songs that are new today. The main difference is familiarity. These individuals may simply be complaining because they do not like the song selection. I believe that there are times that the levels are equally hot during a hymn with no complaints.

I know that it doesn’t seem very spiritual but the technological aspects of a worship service are equally important as the quality of ones voice on the stage or the lyrics that are being sung – well, almost as important as the lyrics. In order to have excellence, it requires being intentional. Education, research, and focus on the physical elements that comprise a typical worship service in America is part of the process.

What often happens in smaller church worship teams is people tend to think everything they have is junk. I cannot count the times someone has implied “this” or “that” stinks and we need to replace it with “First Church of X” has. Being intentional about the physical aspects of a worship service is not focusing on what we do not have by comparing what bigger budget churches may have. It is focusing on being the most faithful we are capable of being with what we have already been made stewards over.

I don’t care for the seeker friendly or trendy settings. I am interested in pointing people to Christ and doing whatever I can to lead people into worship.

My initial question was simply intended to get a pulse for what others do. It sometimes seems like there are more who are “too spiritual” to focus on practical elements like sound quality. Of course, David didn’t struggle with a sound system and Jesus never had to use a Countryman microphone or worry about feedback. This doesn’t mean that those things are less spiritual than if we were to simply chant acapella or have a biblical style harp as our only instrument. They also didn’t use the printing press to print the scriptures they would read and they didn’t have a projector to display the words.

Let’s talk about this stuff. These are my thoughts. Let me know yours.

 

Joshua Weiss is a husband of 13 years and serves as worship and media pastor at Abundant Life in Grand Prairie, TX. He is a partner at The Walk TV network and a partner at EICB, a full service production company where he produces the Christian television programs. Find out more at www.joshuadweiss.com  |  twitter.com/scrapper24

 

The Modern Worship Revolution: Did It Help Us or Hurt Us?

1-revolution

By Dan Leverence

In the mid to late 1990s, the “Modern Worship Revolution” was in full swing. I was finishing up college and the very first Passion album (Live Worship from the 268 Generation) was being released. Rock bands were becoming increasingly common in churches and the church music landscape was evolving significantly. We were being introduced to the likes of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, Lincoln Brewster, and Hillsong. It was a good time to be an aspiring worship leader.

Fast forward a few years. EVERY mainstream Christian artist was releasing a worship album. The market was being saturated with church music. At the same time, the accessibility of technology was (and still is) making it much easier (and less expensive) for artists to record albums. Church worship bands like Gateway, Elevation, Bethel, and many others (ours included) have become artists who write and record their own original music, adding to the cacophony that continues the modern worship revolution.

Today, I can visit ten (or a hundred) different churches on any given weekend and never hear a single common song. “Contemporary” is ambiguous and churches search for the next descriptive word to describe their “all-together-really-cool-and-the-most-current-relevant-style-to-your-life” sound. Right at the moment, everyone wants to sound like Mumford and Sons, but soon it’ll change and we’ll move on to another influence.

Before you think that I’m having a mid-life crisis of musical philosophy, let me assure you I’m not. I find myself fully immersed in the very same activity – searching for relevance and desiring that our church would be a place that people would want to come to worship. But as I grow older, I’m beginning to realize that the “modern worship revolution” may have done more harm than I would have once liked to admit. And here’s how I know …

A funny thing has happened over the last few years. We’re seeing the resurgence of hymns in our worship experiences. Sure, we write our own new arrangements or add a new chorus, but churches are once again using the time-honored songs of the Christian faith with increasing regularity. It’s certainly happening here at Constance Free Church. A few weeks ago we actually used two hymns in our weekend services (probably the first time that’s happened in the ten years that I’ve been here) and I joked with our teams that I’d be installing a pipe organ the following week. All kidding aside though, there’s a reason why it’s happening. Why? Because those songs are among the most well-known for the church and people connect deeply in worship with familiarity. We’re even starting to write new songs now that feel like hymns (Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons and even my own Quiet Voice among many others).

Additionally, bands and contemporary Christian artists that were once dedicated to recording their own original songs are becoming cover bands. Newsboys is singing “Your Love Never Fails” and “God’s Not Dead” (which they didn’t write as originals) and I could go on with countless other examples. While I’m always a little (ok, a lot) bothered that the original artist isn’t the one who’s able to get their song on the radio charts, I think it’s indicative of a trend: the Christian community is hungry for more common music and thus, the modern worship revolution is entering a new phase.

The way I choose new worship music for my church has become more of a middlebrained art and science than it ever has been before. The days of flippantly choosing a song because I liked it are gone. Now, I have a multifaceted system and review process before a new worship song ever makes it into one of our worship experiences. I check the Christian radio charts religiously and I follow several churches who post their worship sets online. When I see a song that at LEAST two other churches are doing, I’m willing to consider it. This obviously doesn’t apply to our original music. Thankfully, I’m part of a church community that values creativity and the opportunity to sing songs that we’ve written but we balance those with the rest of our repertoire. If I’m introducing a new original song for the very first time, I make sure that the rest of our worship set includes a lot of familiar tunes. The result for us has been a dramatic increase in congregational connectedness during our worship gatherings and that’s worth it for me.

So did the modern worship revolution help us or hurt us? Yes.


Dan Leverence has served as the Creative Arts Pastor at Constance Free Church in suburban Minneapolis, MN for the past 10 years and is also an adjunct instructor of Music Ministry at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. He lives with his wife, Angie, and their son, Tate. Visti, middlebrained.com

How American Idol Hurts Worship

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By Steven D. Brooks

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Psalm 96:1-2

We have a problem in our churches I like to call the American Idol Syndrome. Because of our culture’s obsession with American Idol, The Voice, and other “reality” singing competitions, our congregations oftentimes come to worship services with two preconceived ideas: 1) they expect the worship team singers to sound like the latest competitors on television; and 2) they feel minimized because they don’t sound like the competitors on television.

Have you ever heard someone in your church tell you they can’t sing? Over my years in ministry I have heard many Christians say they can’t sing. And they believe it. Either they were told so at a young age or they just don’t feel confident when they sing. My response is always the same: “That is a lie from the pit of hell.” I believe this is one of the greatest lies the evil one has convinced us of. Satan knows the power of singing God’s praises, so he has convinced us that we can’t, or shouldn’t sing. We must stop believing that lie! When we buy into the lie, Satan is victorious.

Our congregations must be instructed and encouraged to use their voices, no matter how they sound, for the glory of God. Singing is an important part of offering our worship to God.

1. Singing Is a Scriptural Command
Scripture commands us to sing to the Lord. This is not an option, nor a recommendation. It is a command that everyone has the ability to fulfill. It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you have any formal musical training. There are no prerequisites. The song of the church is to be sung by everyone.

In the Old Testament, singing was an important mandated element of worship in the temple. The Levites were instructed to sing and to lead the people in song; and the people were expected to join in the singing. There are numerous psalms that command the worshiper to sing (68:4; 96:1-2; 105:2; 149:1; to name a few). The Apostle Paul encouraged the New Testament church to sing (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Christianity is a singing faith. From the Old and New Testaments to today, the church of God has always and will always be a singing faith. Worshipers have no option but to sing. As Constance Cherry states in her book The Worship Architect, “The crucial question is not, ‘Do you have a voice?’ but ‘Do you have a song?’” (p.154).

2. Singing Allows Us to Rehearse God’s Story
Congregational song is the heart and soul of all worship music. As we gather for worship, the songs we sing remind us of God’s story. We remember all God has done for us in the past, recall the blessings he has permitted for us in the present, and anticipate all God has promised to accomplish in the future. Singing the story of God joins us with the saints of old and the heavenly hosts.

I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me,
How he left his home in glory for the cross of Calvary.
Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory gathered by the crystal sea.
(Francis H. Rowley, public domain)

3. Singing Forms Us Spiritually
The songs we sing in church embed themselves into our minds as truth. I have had conversations with people about faith and they begin, without realizing, to quote song lyrics as a defense for what they believe. The words of hymns and worship songs sung over the years have become an important part of their belief system.

Plato once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.” He understood the power of songs to shape the beliefs and lives of people.

4. Singing Has the Power to Unite
Singing is an important aspect of communal worship as it has the power to unite groups of people. Even within secular settings, singing has the powerful affect of uniting people: strangers sing together as they gather to remember someone at a memorial service or fans sing “Sweet Caroline” at a Red Sox game. Within the Church, singing together is the quickest way to unite a gathering of individuals, no matter how large or small, into one corporate worshiping body: the body of Christ. 

When it comes to the musical worship of the church, instruments are great tools to enhance our worship, but it is the voice by which the congregation can offer their praises to God. Singing provides the church with the chance to fulfill Scriptural commands, rehearse the story of God, allow the Holy Spirit to form our lives, and unite with others in worship and praise. St. Augustine once stated, “He who sings prays twice.” Let us lift our voices in prayer and praise.

Steven is a Worship Pastor and also Professor of Worship at Azusa Pacific University. He holds a Doctor of Worship Studies and is the founder of Worship Quest Ministries, providing worship resources and coaching for churches. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two sons.

 

New Team Member Expectations

Rusty chains linked together

By Greg Jones

Whenever I begin leading worship for a new team or acquire new musicians, I lay out expectations in a packet that I give them. The following is a layout of those expectations. I hope this will be a helpful guide for other worship leaders.

Practice
Practice with the MP3, using it as a guide to supplement the chord chart in order to determine dynamics, accents, groove, song structure and most time signature lines.

Rehearsals are not practices. Please give your fellow team mates the courtesy of practicing on your own time so that rehearsals will run as smooth as possible. Please come prepared! Take notes on the charts if necessary.

As another courtesy, if you need to set up your instrument, please do so BEFORE the start of rehearsal.

General Worship Team Expectations:

Punctuality, preparation and a humble attitude, coupled with a passion for excellence. Humility is having the boldness to stare our weaknesses in the eye without flinching. If we couple that with passion for God, people and music, then such humility will fuel us to want to grow so that we do this tomorrow better than we did it yesterday. We ARE performers but GOD is the audience so give Him nothing less than your best as your act of worship! This act also teaches the congregation to do likewise with our very lives, not simply with tunes.

Attitude produces altitude so humility and passion trump even your singing/playing skills as long as you have the basic fundamentals down.

You will have to be able to learn the music on a week to week basis.

It is at the worship leader’s discretion to give allowances for chronically late attendance and missed rehearsals if a reasonable excuse is given. Examples might be because you are serving/attending traditional service, a small group, helping out another church, or child-care issues.

Know when you’re the ‘elephant’ and when another instrument is. Stay out of the way of the way of the ‘elephant’ when it’s not you. When in doubt, less is more.

Our vision is served by our mission. Our mission is partially served by the music, its style(s) chosen based upon the vision and mission. We are to serve the style of the song. Classical singing contemporary music or throwing hair band 80’s guitar riffs and tones into Amazing Grace is not going to serve the song even if it is done with great skill and talent.

Vocalists Expectations:

• Sing in tune

• Sing in a contemporary style

o Moderate vibrato

o Contemporary vowel enunciations

o Watch those diphthongs and trip thongs. Example: “Praise” should not be sung as “Pray – eese!”

• Blend with the other vocalists

• Facial and physical expressions communicate more than our words so communicate the passion you have outwardly. YOU are all worship leaders!

Drummers Expectations:

• Tight tempos

• A sense of dynamics

• Know where the song is going. The rest of the team cues off of you when moving through the song structure from verses to choruses, etc. so it is important that you know the song structures. Whether that means you use the charts, keep notes or memorize, that is up to you.

• Tastefulness. Don’t hold back on those flashy chops (if you have them in your arsenal), but try not to overplay either. Don’t worry, I won’t micromanage here ☺.

Guitarists Expectations:

• Play for the style. Throwing blues licks into God of Wonders is probably not going to work ☺.

• Acoustic guitarists

o It is generally a fact that you will only be heard during softer parts of songs. Don’t take it personally.

o Learn to use a capo when appropriate.

• Electric guitarists

o Tailor your tones for the style.

o Listen to recordings of contemporary music for tonal cues (Lincoln Brewster, Hillsong, Jesus Culture, Redman, etc…). From the secular side, Eric Johnson, John Mayer, U2’s the Edge and even Slash have produced tones that can work very well within the genre. Things to stay away from? Excessive use of chorus and other modulation effects, pointy pink guitars, and probably little use (if any) of wah wahs.

• If you are a skilled soloist, I encourage you to give those skills to God as your act of worship. Just try to be tasteful and make sure it fits the song or style. Always demonstrate such skills with humility, performing for God and not for people. Let your attitude of humility inspire people to ask, “Who are they playing for?” and your excellence inspire them to ask “Why is their audience (God) so important that they give Him their all with such passion?” Just as light appears brighter when in the presence of darkness, humility shines brighter when in the presence of skill.

Bassists Expectations:

• Hit the right notes. While every musician has this challenge, it is probably most important to the band for you to be on top of this since your instrument so strongly defines the harmonic structure.

• Sense of rhythm/groove. The bass is a sort of bridge between the pitch instruments and rhythm instruments. Learn to play the grooves for each song and ‘in the pocket’.

• Know when to NOT play.

o Usually dynamics are the driving force. Play more when the song is big and less when it is small.

Keyboardists Expectations:

• I’m sorry that in contemporary, the guitarist’s get to hog so many of the fun songs. Just remember that the last will be first! ☺

• Use patches/sounds that are appropriate for the song and styles. In contemporary, these are common patches/sounds:

o Pianos
o Organs
o Strings
o Pads

• Try thinking like an orchestra. You don’t always have to play chords. Sometimes playing single note melodies, fills and counterpoint is just the ticket to put a song over the top!

 Greg has over ten years of experience serving as a contemporary worship leader at various churches in the Dayton, Ohio area. He is currently a worship leader seeking new worship leader opportunities. Greg is also an adjunct professor of guitar at Cedarville University. He has recorded three albums, The Science of Music (with his former band The Collaboration Element), String Theory, an instrumental guitar oriented rock album and Manifest Destiny, an instrumental piano album.
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5 Ways to Show Your Team That They Are Valued

Grunge gift

By James Calkins

Feelings are important to us artsy types, and that’s not a bad thing. If it were not this way there would be way more songs about quadratic equations and the beauty of a well-formed tautology. Our society needs songwriters and musicians who feel. A byproduct of this is that our worship teams are full of talented people who feel, and who need to feel they are valued.

Worship leaders should be aware of this fact and have a desire to show our people that we truly value them, but with all of the logistical stuff we are responsible for throughout the week it is all too easy to neglect those people without whom the worship leader would be a one-man-band, literally. Following I offer five actions the worship leader can take to ensure that our team members know they are valued.

1) Take an interest in their lives.
This should go without saying, but it often goes without happening, so it needs to be said. This will come as a shock to someone out there, not you of course, but worship team members are more than just emotionless automatons whose singular purpose is to fill a spot on a worship team. Believe it or not they have lives outside of worship ministry and don’t just pop into existence when needed only to fade into the ether until next time.

Get to know them, personally. What do they do for fun? Everyone has a hobby, right? What are they reading? What do they do for work? Again, these are what scientists refer to as “no-brainers” but we know from the hit television show Friends that sometimes even besties don’t know what a friend does for eight hours every day. So ask them questions about themselves and then – this bit is important – listen to their answers. Get to know them.

2) Hang out with them.
A monthly meet up at Starbucks can do wonders for team morale. If everyone can’t make it that’s okay, just get a few people together and hang out over a cup of Joe. It’s okay to talk shop too. We’re all in worship ministry so we don’t need to purposefully avoid talking about it. This next piece of advice might seem strange, but pray before the meet-up. Get there a few minutes early, sit in your car, and pray that relationships would be strengthened. Avoiding doing the praying with the team helps to ensure we don’t feel like we’re just church acquaintances attending another Bible study together. Think about it, when you meet up with your friends to see a movie or whatever you don’t get in a circle and join hands to pray, heads bowed and eyes closed. Communicate to your team, with purposeful inclusion or exclusion of certain things, that you’re just friends hanging out.

Other ideas include having everyone over for dinner, a game night, or even lunch after church. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination… and budget, and time…

3) Pray for them.
“But how will they know I am praying for them and thus feel valued?” you might ask. Well, I’m glad you asked. In order to know their needs you have to ask them first. Once you have asked someone a few times how you can pray for them they might get the feeling you are praying for them. Be contextual in your inquiries, like, “hey, is your sister still looking for a job? I’ve been praying and waiting for the good news,” or something like that. Try to pray for each of them at least a few times per week. Be genuine when you tell them you’re praying for them by actually doing it.

4) Ask them for song ideas.
If you’re anything like me you have a list as long as a Robertson’s beard of songs you want to introduce, so using someone else’s song ideas might rob you of precious opportunities to display those sparkling gems you’ve been carefully mining, but chances are each of your team members has their own list. So maybe ask them for the top five songs they’d like to see in a set. Odds are that you’ll find a few of their picks on your own list. Sure, they might be down around number 85 or so, but see the cup as half full, buddy!

5) Shower them with gifts.
Not literally, weirdo. That would likely be painful, if not wildly impractical. No, as much as your budget will permit show them you value them by actually purchasing things for them. A gift card for their favorite coffee house is like flat, plastic gold (I should be getting some kind of compensation from Starbucks for how often I mention them). A physical or digital copy of a CD they want is a nice gift for a person who’s in music ministry, however obvious that may seem, which is pretty darn. How about a puppy?

These are my five best ideas to show team members they are valued, but they aren’t the only ideas, but they are the best ideas. What are yours?


James has been leading worship for over a decade now. He has played at venues ranging from coffeehouses to Spirit West Coast, Del Mar, but his heart is in the local church. He writes songs and other words too, and he lives with his wife and two children in Southern California.

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