10 Ways to Use Past Hymns in Today’s Songwriting


1. Familiarize yourself with both classic and obscure hymns and hymn writers

a. Ambrose, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Isaac Watts, Ira Sanke, Thomas Dorsey, St. Francis, Philip Bliss, Wm. Bradbury, Frances Ridley Havergal, William James Kirkpatrick, Robert Lowry, George Stebbins, Paul Gerhardt, Joachim Neander, and a thousand others.

b. Look at the hymns’ structure, rhyme, and meter

c. Look at each author’s perspective and use of literary devices

d. Look at what story is told, where the story begins and ends, and how it is developed musically and lyrically.

e. Practise playing and singing your favorites

2. Familiarize yourself with both poets/poetry and theologians, old and new.

3. Immerse yourself in Scripture

4. Listen to newly relased hymns and hymn remediations

5. Experiment with different approaches

a. Add a new chorus or bridge to an existing hymn

b. Add a new melody to an existing hymn lyric

c. Update a hymn lyric, keeping depth of content, but using only contemporary language

d. Practice using different literary devices: paradox, personification, metaphor, symbol, simile, alliteration, etc.

6. Collaborate with someone whose strengths support your weaknesses and vice versa

7. Regularly write a new hymn in the style of a classic hymnwriter.

a. Choose a specific hymn, and mirror its time signature, meter, rhyme structure, and subject

b. Pick a specific audience for your song, i.e., your local church, your best friend, your wife, your child, your Sunday school class or youth group.

c. Pick a specific occasion: Sunday service, a funeral or time of grievingng, a wedding, a joyous occassion, a baptism, etc.

d. Find a fresh way to tell the story and musically illustrate it.

e. Sing it a capella to see if it’s user friendly

8. Try your hymn out on your family or home group, if it works, move it to the larger community for a trial.

9. Submit your songs to a circle of friends who are theologically schooled, pastorally oriented, have a history with God, and are creatively inspiring for review.

10. Eliminate time as a factor. Relentlessly pursue beauty, theological truth, emotional resonance, lyrical poetry, musical accessibility, relevance and match to content till the song is truly complete.


*You’ll find that your time spent in hymn exploration and creation will season all your songwriting regardless of form or function, style or situation. So even if you decide hymns are not your thing, you’ll write infinitely richer songs.


Psalms in Worship


By John D. Witvliet

All who long to lead biblical worship discover a rich and vital gift in the Bible’s longest book. In the words of one early church leader the Psalms are like a “gym for the soul”—just as valuable for our spiritual health as LA Fitness or your local YMCA is for physical health. The Psalms have been a source of worship renewal for 100 generations of Christians! Here are few pointers for “working out” in this spiritual gym.

1. Use the Psalms both Expressively and Formatively.
Sometimes we scan the Psalms for verses that convey what we already feel. The Psalms then become our way of expressing ourselves to God. But throughout history, Christians have concluded that this is not enough. We also need the Psalms to teach us to pray things to God that do not come naturally to us. The Psalms give us models for conveying the whole range of human emotion to God—anger and joy, sorrow and gratitude, patience and impatience, anxiety and trust. A healthy worship service today will give us a chance both to express what we already feel and—like a good gym—the chance to strengthen our weaker modes of prayer, across the spectrum of human experience.

2. Learn from Both Excerpts and Whole Psalms.
Most often, we use only excerpts of a Psalm in worship—a verse here or there that seems fitting to what we what to sing or pray. That can be good. But it also misses so much. Most Psalms convey meaning through how they move from beginning to end.

• Psalm 73 tells a story of someone who was converted from envy to trust in God.

• Psalm 13 (and many other laments) pivots from despair to prayer to hope.

• Psalm 105 tells the story of the highlights God’s dealings in history. It not only says “remember God’s works,” but it actually does so!

• Psalm 19 savors creation (vs. 1-6), then God’s word (vs. 7-12), and then concludes with prayer for true piety (“may the words of our mouths…”). That last verse is fine by itself. But the whole Psalm teaches us that this kind of prayer arises from a new awareness of God’s creation and revelation.

A good song writer can write a memorable song on a Psalm excerpt. A genius song writer—and there are many!—can convey the thrust of an entire Psalm in ways that an entire congregation can sing.

3. Multiple Points of View.
We can sing many Psalms from several different points of view. We can sing a lament, like Psalm 22, remembering the plight of David fleeing his enemies, or on Good Friday, remembering Jesus’ anguish on the cross. Or we can pray it as our own lament during especially difficult or tragic times. Or we can sing this Psalm in solidarity with Christians who suffer—even when we gather in comfortable congregations who do not experience this suffering directly. This one Psalm can function in at least 4 different ways! 

4. Pay Attention to the Nuances of Language.
Psalm 100 can be prayed or sung in ways that feel very cliché (praise, praise, praise). The Psalm’s own emphasis (“it is he who made us, not we ourselves”) tells us that it was written not only to express praise to God, but also to resist idolatry. It calls us to sing both “praise God from whom all blessings flow” AND “down with the gods from whom no blessings flow.” 

5. Both Old Testament and New Testament Perspectives.
The same Psalm often resonates with different parts of scripture. Psalm 72 fits with the anointing of David or Solomon. But Christians can’t help but sing it without reference to Jesus (that’s why Isaac Watts took Psalm 72 and turned it into “Jesus Shall Reign”).

In these ways the Psalms are useful “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). They are an indispensable training gym for every worshiper, and every worship leader.

In the past few years, I have had the joy to participate on a team that has reviewed over 2,000 musical settings of the Psalms written for use in worship. We’ve chosen 700 of them (at least one on each Psalm) for a book entitled Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship (Faith Alive/Baker). Our work on us convinced us that we live in a time of renewed interest in the Psalms—with new Psalm settings, of even whole Psalms, in many styles and musical forms. The best of this music—in any style—features not just a good groove or memorable tune, but also an angle on the text that helps us all grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus our Lord.


John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and associate professor of music and worship at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, respectively. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin College. His areas of interest include the history of Christian worship, worship practices in various denominations, biblical and systematic theology of worship, the role of music and the arts in worship, and consulting with churches on worship renewal.

Moving to In Ear Monitors

By Brendan Prout

Recently our church moved from using wedge monitors on the stage to in-ear monitors.

The point was not so that we could be really cool looking and have new gadgets to wow the crowds with. The point was not to be extravagant in our expenditures so we could say, “look at what we have at our church!”

The point quite simply was to make an investment to increase the excellence in sound quality in the house for the people attending our church, by removing the excess stage volume from the house mix, thereby allowing the sound board operators to get a cleaner mix overall and have more absolute control over the room volume.

From removing the excess sound formerly produced by our wedge monitors, we can now determine the exact volume level that we want in the sanctuary and hit it with consistency, keeping total volume limited to a level that is right in that sweet zone: where it’s loud enough to be felt, but not offensive in any particular frequency range to where anyone complains about the volume.

To be completely honest, the sight of a sound engineer prowling the sanctuary with a sound pressure meter does instill confidence in our church goers, visually telling them that we are being sensitive to the sound level, keeping it in control (which we are in fact doing). By the way, if you don’t have your sound engineer equipped with a SPL meter, I highly recommend the investment. Or use a smartphone app like the aptly named “SPL Meter” on iPhone. Its performance is within a couple dB of a real meter, close enough for the desired purpose.

Back to the in-ear monitors… there are several general types. The basic ones are wired and only provide individual control over volume of the general monitor mix, and volume control of one individual input, like the Rolls PM50s system, which I used for many years. Those simple setups are available for less than $25 per station, and don’t require anything more than a couple extra XLR cables and some good earsets. Most churches can afford to step into the game with this level of gear. 

The next step up involves systems that are based on the auxiliary output from the main board. They basically operate like a wedge, except instead of an open speaker, the board sends signal to a headphone amp on the stage, which you then plug extension cables from your earphones into. Typical headphone amps have 8 outputs, selectable from 4 monitor channel inputs. A headphone amp setup like this can be had for less than $200 new, and often found used on craigslist or ebay for even less.

The more intricate systems involve digital converters, digital workstations or tablet/smartphone control, using either Ethernet or wifi, and some digital consoles now incorporate this as a built in feature, eliminating the need for a separate system. The new Presonus board has this feature, and my friend Kyle is quite happily getting wonderful use out of it at his church where he serves leading worship.

We’re using the MyMix system at our church. I fell in love with it because of the sound quality and expandability of the system, and also because of its multitrack recording capabilities. With a setup such as this, the Aviom, or other similar digital monitor systems, each musician has individual control over their monitor mix and can hear (or not hear) anything they want.

By having direct control over their personal monitor mix, each musician is able to determine how much of any particular instrument or voice they need to hear, and take the front-of-house engineer largely out of the picture. They can each save their own preferences in the system and log into a personal monitor profile, eliminating the need for lengthy monitor mix tweaks. Our sound checks are down to less than 5 minutes total these days, from what used to take 25 to 45 minutes. It was a total game changer for our mid week rehearsals and our weekend sound checks!! We get so much more time to actually rehearse together rather than fuss with mixes, it’s wonderful!

But our musicians don’t know how to mix sound, and barely understand the concept of “reference” for monitoring. How will they deal with mixing their own monitors?

Truth is, there will be a learning curve. Those who understand how to get a good mix will have to help those who don’t. No matter what IEM system you go with, it will have to be learned and mastered by those using them on a weekly basis, in order to get the most out of them. My advice: don’t put up with negativity as a default response, but defeat it with a positive response: serve your team by delivering to them what they need to hear. Eventually they’ll learn how to feed themselves, but in the short term, you may be doing some spoon-feeding. I’ve certainly set up quite a few monitors for others over the past couple years, but I enjoy most when my volunteers take ownership of it and I see them helping newer folks with it.

But we’ll lose the dynamics of a wedge monitor.
That is inherently untrue, and only said by people who don’t understand how powerfully versatile in response IEMs are, compared to the relative flatness of a wedge. Due to the clarity of the in-ear system, each musician is far more aware of their own instrument/voice and its dynamics. The musicianship of the whole team has increased exponentially, as there’s nowhere to hide from poor musicianship when the sound is so crystal clear. If you’re off key, you hear it. If you missed a cue or get off beat, it’s not ambiguous. Our goal is the play the right note at the right time, and IEM’s facilitate that. It forces the musicianship quality bar to be raised.

Our particular system has the ability to do multitrack recording on SD memory cards on each individual workstation. Our musicians can record the live worship sets or rehearsal (or both!) and export the raw .wav files into any music editing software and review/mix/remix it to their heart’s delight. It allows me to review each music session and determine where we need to concentrate, as far as continuing to develop our musicians’ skills and cohesion as a band. Or simply to export a good worship song recording as an mp3 and share it!

A final benefit is that by dropping the stage volume (an average of 20dB) and using sound isolating earbuds (which also drop sound by 26-29dB), we’re saving our musicians’ hearing. No ear-splitting OSHA violating noise levels, even when we’re rocking out!!

We tried a wide variety of different earbuds of price ranges from $20 up to $700, and found happily that for us, the best bang for the buck was right at the $100 level. Shure SE215′s are amazingly the most full range flat response earbuds of the entire Shure line (no need to get the dual driver SE325′s or triple driver SE435′s – they simply don’t sound better than the SE215′s.) The other earsets that we found to be close in performance and price models were the Sennheiser IE6′s. They didn’t quite fit the majority of our musicians ears the way the Shures did, but the sound quality was hard to tell apart. Very crisp.

Of course, you do get what you pay for… and when you step into the realm of custom molded earsets like 1964’s or UE’s, you’re in a completely different realm of quality.

Whether you go for $100 earphones or $2000 earphones, the important thing is that they provide sound isolation from the loud sound producers, namely the drums and possibly the guitar amps. iPhone earbuds are not going to cut it – so do not allow your people to use them. They absolutely must use isolation earphones if they are going to get the most out of an IEM system. Even a $25 pair of Skullcandy or bottom of the line UltimateEars will fit the bill to meet the basic requirements.

But we’re a small church without a big budget. We can’t afford it.
That was us. Budget-wise, it was a long term game plan. We phased in the system slowly, as it was a major expenditure. In order to facilitate getting our in-ears, we bought it piece by piece over the course of the whole year (and then some). First month we bought the analog/digital converter for our board. Next month we bought the ethernet switch & router. Next month we got a couple of workstations and cables and actually had the drummer and bassist on the system. Next month we got two more workstations and got the electric guitarist and keyboardist on there. The next month we got two more, so on and so forth. We still are in process of getting more components – the goal is that by mid year 2014, we’ll have a complete setup for all musicians and vocalists, and budget-wise it will have been spread over 2 and a half years. Made it a lot more tenable for our financial oversight board to approve, rather than a single big purchase.

But I will feel disconnected from my church.
Not true, if you implement it right. Having an ambient room mic in the system is essential for the band, to be able to hear the church singing with them, as well as to be aware of possible feedback issues. Even without wedge monitors, feedback can still happen, if the FOH tech is running a certain frequency particularly hot. Sometimes it takes the band saying, “something is not right” for them to isolate and fix it, and that requires the band being able to hear the house. 

But I will feel disconnected from the band.
Quite the opposite! Though I do hear the occasional complainer or naysayer (who usually has hearing loss issues that IEM’s make very clear and unavoidable), the vast majority of musicians love the clarity that IEM’s bring, so they can feel even closer in step with the other musicians, and able to more closely follow their leader. I’ve noticed that musicians with hearing loss using IEMs have often become suddenly motivated to get their hearing problems addressed; they were under the impression with shared wedge monitors, that no one noticed their hearing loss issues… EVEN WHEN WE HAD TO BLAST THEIR MONITOR SO THEY COULD HEAR IT AND IT WAS BLOWING THE REST OF US COMPLETELY AWAY. Sorry, I’m not being subtle here. But it really was that obvious, and I’m sure many of you deal with the same thing in you bands. The fact is, IEM systems properly utilized benefit all involved: the church, the band, the techies, and the worship leader. It’s one of the best tech investments a church can make.


Brendan Prout is a pastor at Community Bible Church in San Diego, CA, where he oversees worship and outreach. He has served in worship ministry leadership for over 20 years and focuses on training and raising others to do the work of ministry they are called to.


What Is Essential in Worship?

grunge background
By Greg Jones

The remnants of a hurricane swept through parts of the Midwest in 2008. Every tree and edifice with a weak structure came down or was damaged. Just like winds “test” these structures, it is healthy for us to “test” the structures that have been assumed to be necessary to ‘have church’.

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” – Mark 7:8

In light of God’s word, what is non-negotiable and what is open for change or removal? What is God ordained vs. man-made?

In Matt 22, Christ boils down all the commandments to the essentials:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

So everything boils down to loving God and loving people.

The essentials of church worship

How does this loving God, loving people principle play into how we gather together as a church?

The essentials of the church are defined in Acts 2:

“42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” – Acts 2:42

So what are the essentials of a church service?

1. Devotion to sound doctrine (Teaching/preaching/studying)
2. Fellowship
3. Prayer

Preaching and Bible studies are churches’ attempts to devote to sound doctrine. Fellowship is supported via various social functions like pot-luck dinners, game nights, study times, and various social activities. Prayer is usually incorporated within the church service. Believers are encouraged to pray by other believers.

The lack of further detail in these essentials gives us liberty to think ‘outside the box’.

What are other ways that a church can support these essentials? Perhaps you can think of ways that most churches aren’t incorporating.

For instance a panel of people engaged in dialogue on the platform could support devotion to sound doctrine just as well as a traditional sermon. Organized prayer walks (like in a prayer maze) can support prayer. Using live social media on a screen during service could promote social interaction. What ideas come to your mind?

Here is a list (not exhaustive) of things that are present in today’s church services that are not REQUIRED to preserve these three essentials:

  • Worship Music: Yes there is a Scripture verse in Colossians 3 that says that the believers sang but it is written as a descriptive, not prescriptive text.
  • Organs (actually no musical instruments are REQUIRED)
  • Liturgies & antiphonal responses
  • Pews and altars
  • Incorporation of video and media
  • Having a church building (hence the existence of house churches as an alternative)
  • Priestly garbs/robes
  • Wearing Sunday best (suits, ties and dresses)
  • Bulletins
  • Banners
  • Symbols
  • Choirs (and required choir robes)

None of these things are bad they just aren’t essential. We can advocate them, but we have no Scriptural right to be dogmatic about them. Our strongest convictions lie in the essentials that Scripture has laid out for us. The above things are methods. They are not to be confused with essentials.

Choosing Methods (Who are we trying to reach?)
So as long as the essentials are preserved, we can take a very practical approach by asking the question “who are we trying to reach?”

For instance, if we are trying to minister to traditionalists, the usage of hymns, liturgies and wearing of robes would be a good approach. But if one is trying to reach the average postmodern generation X’er, who are they and what methods speak to them?

And what reaches analytical or educated groups, fails to reach your average blue collar worker. What reaches one race may not so easily reach another.

So have you asked yourself who you are trying to reach? What do you know about who those people groups are? Secular T.V., radio, music trends, book sales, fashions and the internet are all great ‘dashboards’ to get a feel for where the ‘fish are’ so that we can use the correct bait. George Barna has some great resources for answering these questions (see www.barna.org).

Bottom Line
The bottom line is that there is a huge difference between the essentials and the non-essentials. The church often confuses the message with the medium, style with substance, word with language, the commands of God with man-made traditions.

Secondly, the average church doesn’t ask the question “Who are we trying to reach?” The answer to this question will dictate your church’s approach. What reaches one group will not necessarily reach another. When Christ speaks of being fishers of men, do you think a good fisherman uses only one type of bait to catch all kinds of fish?

Finally, because the essentials of the Christian faith never change, they are to be repeated every time the church gathers. Familiarity breeds contempt. Therefore successful churches are creative with their methods to communicate them. They continuously speak old truths in new ways. In a changing world, we preserve something’s essence by changing its form.

This requires creativity. But how creative is your average church that names itself after its street or town name? Is there a creativity deficit within the church? How is your church speaking old truth in new ways? Is your church speaking the counter-cultural message of the Kingdom in a culturally relevant way?

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.
For more info, check out:
website | The Pendulum Effect Blog | Twitter 

IMAG Form and Function


By Nicholas Rivero

“I must appear giant” is how a friend always explained the acronym. For those unaware, IMAG, for short, is the process of using a video camera system to isolate a subject on stage and then enlarge them on a projection screen. With the cost of such systems becoming increasingly more affordable, it’s a popular solution for large facilities (or medium ones with visibility issues) to connect far and non-ideally seated participants with what’s happening on a seemingly distant stage.

Flip the Coin
I break down IMAG into two main categories, the first of which is what I call logistic IMAG. As a pastor gives a message, a camera operator follows intently, allowing onlookers to see the facial expressions and hand gestures more clearly. When a pastor holds up a small trinket or prop, people in the back of the room don’t feel left out asking themselves what it was. It clarifies the complexities of what is happening on stage by pointing the audience’s focus to whatever the camera enlarges on a screen. In this case, cameras are meant to isolate and reproduce what is happening. 

The flipside is a much more recent use of IMAG, the artistic side. Simply put, this approach is akin to that of a rock concert, and it’s probably what you’ve seen if your church has a band or choir. Shots are meant more to reflect the energy and mood of what’s happening and consist of things that are out-of-focus or at odd-angles with a higher pacing and rhythm. 

Think. Please.
In an interesting paradoxical turn, people are becoming disillusioned by video screens. In a normal day, the average person stares at their smartphone, sits at their computer screen for a few hours, then probably relaxes at home to their new flat-panel TV. Come Sunday morning what do those same people do? Because it’s become natural to look to screens for information, they gravitate their eyes to another screen. Therefore, context is everything. What you put up on that screen is very important to think about.

It’s human nature to see an image and connect our past experiences and knowledge with what we’re seeing. If we look up at a screen and see a shot of loaf of bread that is being used for communion, we instantly begin to think about what that bread means to us: the sandwich we ate yesterday, the bakery down the street, and that old bread machine under the sink that you never use but always keep meaning to. This isn’t always a bad thing, but rather something to keep in mind. Perhaps, taking a more artistic approach and shooting a shot of a cross in the sanctuary could help direct the focus of the room on communion with a stronger emotional effect. Or maybe having a camera shot of a stage light, out of focus, could evoke imagery of stars and the heavens. There’s no right way of course, but in a worship setting, you always need to remember that the essence of what you’re doing is ultimately not about the people or things on stage, but rather the message that they are bringing. Learn to be intentional about what you put up on a screen.

Don’t Do It
A camera shot is never something you need to have. While it may seem important, IMAG is ultimately secondary to what is happening in your space or on your stage. Take a step back before you start an event or service and think about the whole picture and environment. Ask yourself how you can be reflective of what’s happening. As soon as an image appears, it has everyone’s attention, always have a reason for what is going up on your screens. If you have to think more than twice about using IMAG, then don’t.



Calling Nashville, TN home, Nick has traveled with artists such as Lady Antebellum TobyMac, Chris Tomlin, and Hillsong United, as well as, directed video for events such as the Passion Conference. Stop by nicholasrivero.com and say hey!