Serving With Passion—Be That Person

Realizing that many articles out there on worship ministries focus on addressing problems, I’d like to take a few moments instead to celebrate a success story. And encourage each of us that this success story is entirely within our own capacities to achieve ourselves.

There’s a guy with whom I had the delight of serving alongside for a number of years.

This guy gets it.

He understands the heart of ministry, which is serving others and doing everything he can to make everyone around him successful.

He serves with a passion that is born purely of serving the Lord and His people. There isn’t any way to explain it other than God works powerfully in and through this man who wholeheartedly pours his effort into the work that Jesus has prepared for him to do because he knows Jesus well and follows Him closely.

This guy. Let me tell you about this guy.

This guy. Showed up consistently even when he wasn’t scheduled, because even when he had no direct responsibilities for the church service we were preparing for as a team, he counted himself as part of the team and wanted to offer support to other team members while building companionship and camaraderie within the fellowship of believers hard at work for the Lord. He showed up because he wanted to be part of the devotional study and prayer time before rehearsals.

This guy. Took initiative to find the equipment manuals & learn them, so he knew exactly how each piece of gear worked and could show and teach others all the capabilities to deliver the maximum of excellence possibility.

This guy. Actively sought out training opportunities to grow in his craft and gifting. I often found out about conferences and training events first through him passing along the info to me.

This guy. Actively sought to pass it all on to others, actively inviting others to join him in serving and in humility making himself available to train others with what he knew.

This guy. Actively sought to assist others at rehearsals and services, making sure all the musicians had what they needed, helping them get their gear set up and dialed into the system, putting their instrument cases away for them, running cables, setting up stations, and troubleshooting technical issues.

This guy. Actively sought out to encourage others, coming alongside them personally with warmth and love and compassion and prayer. Big bear hugs. Sharing his life. Giving testimony to the Lord working.

This guy. Available to help others outside of rehearsal (real-life stuff), helping folks move their family across town, get food if they were hungry, fix stuff that was broken. Johnny on the spot for whatever was needed.

This guy. Active in other ministries of the church—both the local gathered body and the extended family of Christ followers. Leading a Bible study for men on Saturday mornings. Connecting with other believers and engaged in evangelism through Bikers for Christ. Unashamedly telling others how much he loves and appreciates his wife and his brothers and his church family and most of all his Jesus.

I’m not going to rob this guy of his blessing by telling you his name. We can just refer to him as “Mr. Above and Beyond.”

But though I’m not going to tell you who he is, I do want to proclaim how encouraging it is to see the Lord working through him to build up the saints, and I definitely want to challenge each one of us to be this person!

I believe this is the sort of example Paul spoke of when he said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

I’m so blessed to have seen this guy in action in real life and to have him as a friend and brother in the Lord. He inspires me to want to be better because I see Jesus in him.

Be this person.

God wants it.

Our brothers and sisters deserve it.

Be.
This.
Person.

Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, and not driving off cliffs anymore. You can find him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and places good coffee is served.

Thoughts on using Charts and Music Stands in Worship

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s an ongoing bickering match surrounding the topic of whether musicians should memorize their music, or if they should be able to use resources such as tablets or (gasp!) music stands.  Let’s deal with this, as folks on both sides are making a mountain out of a molehill.

First off, having a music stand does not make one any less “professional.”

I was an orchestral musician at one time, and despite rehearsing for many hours, I found that it was still helpful to have charts. Go to any professional symphony performance and what will you see? Charts. Music stands. It doesn’t detract from professionalism or preparation – written music is simply a reference tool.  My professional symphony orchestral musician friends and composers would be deeply offended at the idea that their music stands make them any less a polished expert at their craft, or that they are somehow distracting. I too take exception at this notion.  It’s not true, so get over it, if that’s your viewpoint.

Secondly, there are plenty of musicians who are excellent instrumentalists or vocalists, but have learning disorders, and need a visual reference to assist them in the execution of their gift.  There is a wonderful man I know who can sound like thunder on his instrument, passionately expressing worship to God, but he has a mental issue that prevents him from remembering things.  If “How Great Is Our God” isn’t in front of him on the page, he can’t remember the simple chord progression G Em C D, and he stops playing.  Does that make him any less a worshiper of God or a musician?  Certainly not.  He just needs a particular reference tool – written music – to assist him in the execution of his gift.

For those in the “it must be memorized” camp, how many of you have memorized your Bible completely?  Or memorized all the Psalms?  Or even one of the Psalms?  Because we are commanded to hide God’s Word in our hearts, and indeed to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to each other… if you’re not actually memorizing the Psalms, then you are being a hypocrite or at least off base when you insist others must memorize contemporary music.  Memorization is a noteworthy goal if it serves the purpose, but if it is a hindrance rather than something that facilitates the goal, then stop fighting that fight so ardently. Equip your people by giving them tools to support and grow them in their gifts; don’t chastise them for an ability they may not possess.

In worship, my preference (for myself) is that I do not need to do anything but occasionally glance down to check where we’re at and make sure I’m being consistent in the roadmap of the song.  I’ve been known to forget or skip entire sections of songs, whether it’s a verse, an additional chorus, a bridge, an interlude; I know each of us has done the same.  I want to avoid that, and yet I want to be connected with the church family that I am leading into God’s presence – making eye contact, smiling with them, sharing communion with them in the time of worship.

My preference for my team is that they’re doing the same – and that the majority of the time, their eyes will not be glued to the page, but making contact with each other and with the church, or closed as they engage with God.  Proper preparation and familiarity with the songs ensures this happens.

“Take the music off the page and put it in your heart,” is something Paul Baloche says frequently. Good advice.  It’s a great goal to strive for, because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  Out of our hearts comes our worship.  If we’re not at some level taking this music into our hearts in the first place, then it’s not coming from our hearts as we lead in song, and that’s an offering unacceptable to God.  But there is room for grace.  There is certainly room for using tools and resources appropriate to raising the excellence of the music.  The Bible does not say, “play skillfully and never use charts.” It simply tells us to play skillfully, to consecrate and prepare ourselves spiritually and musically, and to be found trustworthy as stewards of our gifts.

It’s fine to memorize your songs, and it’s also fine to have the charts there in front of you, so you’re not that guy who has a hiccup in service, forgets a line, and train-wrecks the worship experience of hundreds of people just because you’re an imperfect human with some weird ego thing about needing to look “professional”.  Get over it.  Don’t put your own convictions on others who don’t have the same capacity for memorization as you do, and do be about the purpose of your role: to lead others in worship, without looking down at how others accomplish the same purpose.

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.

Planned Spontaneous Singing

Over the past few months I’ve been gently encouraging our singers to stretch themselves and get beyond singing just what is on the printed page (or on the confidence monitor screen), to help our congregation learn to sing what is on their hearts.

For us on the platform, this has meant times during songs when there is an instrumental interlude happening, and we all sing something different along with that, lifting in song the names of the Lord, simple praises or thanks to Him, a simple melody line without specific words, etc.  It’s a mix of the planned and unplanned.

We *can* and *should* practice the unplanned!  Such as, what do we do when things go wrong… we should be prepared and know how to handle ourselves when things go sideways.  For example:  I’m on the vocal ensemble and I jump into a vocal part a half measure before I’m supposed to, and none of the other singers are there with me… what should I do?  Awkwardly choke off the note and make it really obvious that I wasn’t supposed to sing then?  Or hold it out boldly and passionately and just own it, as if it were planned?

Hopefully, we all know the better answer is the latter.  The latter serves the moment, the song, the team and the church, by taking a unplanned moment that could distract and turning it into an unplanned moment that inspires.

But that’s just an example of the unplanned in a negative light – we do need to plan for mistakes and how to deal with them effectively, but we also need to prepare for the unplanned positive moments as well!

So how do we plan for the unplanned with regard to our spontaneous singing? And does practicing spontaneity really take away from it being spontaneous?

As many instrumentalists know, practicing scales and rudiments, and indeed practicing different solos leads to the ability to truly improvise on the spot, to create a heartfelt instrumental interlude that is unique and spontaneous and might never be repeated.

When it comes to spontaneous singing, we need to practice that in the same way. To take time to sing what is not on the page and make it sound good. Being intentional about being able to improvise is as important to musicianship as being able to play what’s on the sheet. Just as we can practice singing the words we know we’ll sing, we can practice different words we might sing, so they’re an option that we know we can do.

When we’re well practiced up, we’re confident, and when we’re confident in what we’re doing, we inspire confidence in others as well. Practicing spontaneous moments for the platform can truly lead to moments where we are able to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, getting off the page and expressing our hearts – something the Lord tells us He longs for.

Some folks have wondered aloud to me, “when we’re all singing something different spontaneously, all different words and slightly different melodies, does it actually sound okay when we do that?”

I want to answer a resounding “YES!!!!”

Here are a few examples that have been delightfully captured on recording:

From Bryan and Katie Torwalt’s “Praise Will Be My Song,” take a listen starting at about 2:40 into the song to hear them transition from singing a well defined chorus into spontaneous singing, becoming especially strong right around 3:35

In Paul Baloche’s Live version of “Our God Saves,” the song begins flowing out of a time of spontaneous praise


Also check out Paul’s song “Glorious,” where in the ending, he leads the church through the ending of the song into some spontaneous singing then into an unplanned song (“Holy Holy Holy”), with that transition starting to happen at around 5:00

There is purity in the spontaneous lifting of our voices together in praise. A beauty. An art. God deserves such warmth and expression.

So… singers: in your personal practice times, think about what you might sing out during these times! Practice singing to the Lord a new song, as he tells us to do many times in Scripture! Be prepared to do boldly so when prompted by the Holy Spirit (and when we plan these spontaneous moments as well!)

May you be blessed as you serve the Lord and each other with your gifts.

Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, and not driving off cliffs anymore.

 

11 Stages of Preparation

Most musicians serving in our churches have a heartfelt desire to be as well prepared as possible as they come together as a team to lead others in worship. And yet it’s fair to say that while every musician has their own idea of how to best prepare, many of their ideas aren’t actually based in sound principle, logic, wisdom or guided from the voice of experience.

Many worship leaders I know work very hard to provide their musicians with what they feel are more than adequate resources for preparation, including song chord charts and lead sheets, Youtube video links, mp3s that have been transposed to they key the song is actually being played in, etc etc etc. Many even plan out their sets many weeks in advance, posting the sets and resources online using Dropbox or Google Calendar or Planning Center Online or any of a wide variety of other websites to give as much time as possible to the music team to be able to show up prepared, knowing the songs and able to play them well.

But somehow, the musicians still show up without having learned the songs. They show up to our midweek rehearsals expecting to learn them there, and magically somehow in the few days between their first time playing it and Sunday morning, to achieve mastery.

We all know this is ridiculous.

Yet… week after week, it keeps happening. Worship leaders get frustrated that their team members aren’t working hard enough to prepare. Musicians get frustrated with themselves and with their team members who aren’t pulling their weight. Pastors get frustrated that the team is just not getting any better than their 7th grader’s garage band – or annoyed that their 7th grader’s garage band is actually quite a bit better than the worship team at the church. The church gets frustrated that the music is just not very effective at helping them worship – or that it’s just truly not good at all for anything.

So with leaders providing all these tools for preparation, and believing that our musicians are indeed diligently trying their best to learn the songs, what might be happening?

One possibility is that while all the tools have been provided, clear instructions in how to best use these tools have been lacking. For some, it’s like being given a clear, high definition picture of an assembled Lego toy, and a bucket containing all the individual parts needed to assemble that toy… but without step by step instructions of what to do with the tools, chances are the finished product is not going to closely resemble the desired picture.

That’s exactly what happens with our musicians. “Here’s an mp3 and a video of this song by Hillsong, and here are the chord charts you need to play it… and go! Make it look and sound just like that!”

Yeah, that doesn’t work out so well.

Our role as worship leaders in shepherding our teams includes the responsibility to train and equip members of the body to become musicians who are trained and skilled in music for the Lord (see 1 Chron 25:7), not just to throw the resources at them and expect them to figure it out. For many of us, especially those whom have not been given a clear framework of “how to’s”, that’s a big challenge.

There are of course, many books that have been written on how to develop a worship ministry, and most of these include chapter upon chapter of step by step instructions. Consume as many of those as you can, and utilize any and all methods that assist you in pouring into others to bring out their best! Time invested in learning how to train others is time well spent that will reap a plentiful return.

In the meantime, here’s a quick checklist that will aid in establishing an achievable framework of preparation for your teams. They may never been given a step by step tutorial of how to systematically prepare for a song, and if they have, they can always benefit from knowing another approach.

11 Stages Of Preparation

  1. General Observation
    Get to know the basic roadmap of the song

Listen for the specific formulaic components: verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, refrain, interlude, key changes, etc. Write the roadmap down. Practice predicting what part is next as you listen, so you commit the roadmap to heart.

  1. Specific Observation
    Listen for your particular instrument/vocal parts throughout the song

Make it a point to listen not only to the version that has been provided to you as reference, but to other recorded versions as well – go search on youtube, soundcloud, noisetrade and you will certainly find alternate versions done by other artists. Some contain small parts that are gems, which your main reference recording does not. Do the extra legwork to understand your parts in this song and what is possible to bring to the table with your instrument.

  1. Critical Observation
    Listen for signature elements of the song: the hooks, the parts that identify it as “that” song

Some songs are simple and don’t contain an instrumental part that clearly defines it. “Blessed Be Your Name” falls into that category. It can start off a myriad of ways, and doesn’t have a particular riff, line or sound that makes it stand out. Other songs do have a signature part for various instruments. For example, “This Is Amazing Grace” has the buzzy lead keyboard hook that makes us recognize the song (this can be replicated by an electric guitar, sax, viola, etc). “Whom Shall I Fear” and many other guitar led songs do have a signature riff that defines it. Whatever song you’re studying, pay attention to these elements and if it has them, learn them, regardless of your instrument. You may not use this part exactly as written, but get in the habit of learning it well so you can communicate this song element from your instrument. I routinely ask keyboardists to approximate guitar parts and vice versa, and I’ll also ask violists and cellists to do various lead lines. Whatever you’re playing, be ready to be “johnny-on-the-spot” with these signature licks, and you’ll be your worship leader’s hero.

  1. Dynamic Observation
    Pay attention to the dynamics of the song, especially your parts

Where does the song get really quiet and reflective? Where does it begin to build, and how does it build? Where are the breaks? Where are the rhythmic cadences and nuances that make the song sound expensive? Learn these – even if your band doesn’t do them at first. Often when learning a song, we’ll skip the fine nuances while the team is getting familiar, but have them in the back of your mind, so that when you’re confident with the main roadmap, you can work in the fun tasty bits!

  1. Recreation
    Work out your parts as written/performed by the creators of the song

This part is important not to skip. Not that we want to just be a cover band, but if you don’t understand how to play the song as originally written/orchestrated/performed by the writers, you probably don’t understand the heart of the song as it was intended to be heard. Once you know the original parts down cold, then you can exercise creative freedom together as a team to wander from the beaten path. Many musicians make the mistake of going off the roadmap before they even know the roadmap – but you need to know it so that if someone gets lost you have a common point of reference to get back moving together! That someone may be another team member, or it may be you… either way, since this is ultimately about helping others worship and not about you, best to know how to recreate your instruments parts in the song for the sake of serving the song, serving the team, and serving your church.

  1. Approximation
    Work out your parts as you are actually able to perform them effectively

Reality hits sometimes while we’re doing step 5 (recreating the parts as written) and we come to the realization that we can’t effectively replicate those parts. Here are a couple examples of this challenge:

A good vocal example would be in the song, “Lead Me To The Cross,” in the bridge section where Brooke Ligertwood sings: “to your hear – ar – ar – ar – ar – ar ar ar art” with a very airy, sing-songy voice. She makes it sound effortless. And then we go to try to sing that part, and we find out it’s not that easy, and trip all over the part. And then we have to envision our poor church folks trying to sing along…

An instrumental example might be, well, any Lincoln Brewster lead line for electric guitar. Very few can pull off all of his riffs note for note and make it sound smooth and effortless (though I do know one guy who can). For most of us, we can hit maaaaybe 70% of the notes and muddle our way through it.

So what to do with that? Rather than replicate the part exactly, approximate the part as best you can. Drop some notes if you need to, keeping the main riff apparent. Whatever version you do come up with, make it sound good. It most often doesn’t have to be exact. This is where you can do variations on a theme, and bring some of your own sparkle to bear on the song.

  1. Imagination
    Work out ahead of time what your part is going to sound like in the context of your particular band.

Not only taking into account our own ability to play the parts of the song, we do need to consider if will it clash with another part that is not present on the actual recording, but that you know will be present in your worship team by virtue of the people you have involved. Does your drummer play with a lighter touch than the recording, making your heavy bass line sound overbearing? Might need to dial it back. Does your keyboard player tend to live on the low end of the register? A guitarist may need to live on the high end of theirs in response.

Also, take into consideration the unique composition of your instrumentalists you play with. Most modern recordings don’t have a sax part or a harmonica part, and if your worship team has those instruments, take a moment to think ahead of time about what those folks will probably be doing so that what you do won’t be competing with what they might do. Like the Word says, prefer others above yourself. Your worship leader can (and should) communicate clearly what should be prominent in the context of your team for this song, but be willing to let others have the spotlight if it makes you sound better as a whole – even if it means sitting out that really good part you spent a lot of time working out.

Think constructively with the whole team in mind, as best you can.

  1. Memorization
    Commit the song roadmap and your parts to heart

Don’t be glued to the charts. Free yourself from fright reading, take the song off the page and put it in your heart. Then – and only then – will you be truly able to concentrate on worshiping the Lord and helping others encounter Him through song. If you’re so focused on the basic mechanics of what comes next in the song, you’re not in a place where you’ll be able to notice the leading of the Holy Spirit, you’re not going to be in close connection with your team, and you’ll miss out on the joy of fellowship with your church as you lead them in musical worship. Memorizing the music is a very practical way to put yourself in a place to truly be free as a worshiper to seek God in spirit and in truth, to be effective as a team member and to help others worship Christ.

We can be creative with a song, but not excellently until we know how it was originally intended to be performed. When we’re solid with the original roadmap, we can comfortably go off the beaten path.

  1. Experimentation
    Come up with alternate parts

It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan, just in case the main one you’ve been preparing doesn’t work. Sometimes there are multiple parts for your instrument, and sometimes you spend a lot of time preparing what you think is that one killer part, but when you actually play it in the context of your worship team, it just doesn’t work.

I remember doing so one time, preparing a guitar solo note for note like the recording, building my tone to match it exactly, and I had it nailed. Then we had our team rehearsal and the worship leader stopped everything after that solo, told me he was impressed how I emulated the exact part from the recording, and then bluntly said, “too bad it just don’t work for what we’re doing as a team. Can you play something else there? Maybe change your tone too?”

Rather than pitch a fit about how much time I’d put into it, I (fortunately) made the better choice to say, “You got it! Can we give it a couple go-rounds so I can try something out?” After listening to our horn and percussion section, I came up with a different lead and tone that rhythmically was a better fit, and it made our worship leader and the team very happy. Felt good to be a team player that day!

I encourage you do be prepared to do likewise – and if you’re not a strong improvisational musician, prepare alternate parts ahead of time.

  1. Application
    Put the rubber to the road with the band

Togetherness. Rehearsal. Making it happen for real.

My friend likes to say a couple things about rehearsals and practice that have stuck with me over the years:

1) Practice is personal; Rehearsal is relational.
2) Rehearsal is not the place for you to learn your parts. It’s the place for you to learn everybody else’s parts.

This is where you actually get to try out your parts, learn what everyone else is actually doing, and make changes as necessary. It’s about coming together as a team. Finding unity together in song. Making melody to the Lord, with hearts united and instruments & voices in harmony. And if it’s not coming together, be willing to make the changes necessary on your own end to further that goal. You can’t control how well someone else prepared or how well they’re playing – but you can take responsibility for how you minister to them in that moment, carrying them along with you instead of leaving them behind.

  1. Realization
    The final product

The ideal: you arrive at with your individual parts as a team gelling together, finding your own groove, committing it to memory, and able to replicate it again and again from now on. Then whenever the song comes up in the schedule, it’s a joy and thrill to play it well, rather than a challenge to be overcome.

Observation is Key
The introductory class at my seminary was a course in Biblical Interpretation, the foundations of which guided the remainder of the program of theological study and application. The first four extremely tedious weeks of the class focused on the concept of Observation. We read the same passage of scripture over and over again, each time writing down what we observed.

Not questions we had about the passage.
Not ideas we had about what it might mean.
Not how it related to other passages.

We learned to read what was actually there, clearly and plainly.
We learned not to jump five steps ahead and rush to an improper result.
We learned to take it step by step, investing the time necessary for the best possible outcome.

It was a painstaking process, helping us understand that often times when we read the Bible, we were reading it through glasses colored by culture, language, vernacular, history, other things we’d heard or read… to strip away those lenses and read what the Bible actually said is a discipline that requires careful concentration.

Likewise, a musician can listen to a song and hear it through all sorts of different filters. The challenge is to strip away those filters and start at the basic building blocks of the song, listening purposefully through many multiples of repetitions, to hear what is actually being performed. The first four stages of preparation involve learning how the song is formulated and orchestrated in its original form and how it was meant to be heard by its authors.

Another friend of mine likes to say it takes at least 50 times listening to a song before we really are familiar with it, 50 times playing it to learn it passably, and another 100 times playing it before we’ve mastered it. For the average song, that’s about 16 hours for each song. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have two solid work days to devote to learning a new song on any given week. So be patient with yourselves, but be persistent and methodological in your approach to preparation, and you will reap the benefits – and so will your team and your church!

Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, and not driving off cliffs anymore.

 

Mentorship: You Are Worth It

A friend just related to me an unfortunate story about a former pastor telling him that he couldn’t afford a mentor or that if they were a mentor worth having, that they wouldn’t have time for him, and this really struck me. So heartbreaking to hear that such a thing would be said to anyone that they are not worth mentoring, and it is so absolutely untrue.

To those whom have had anything along those lines said to you: I’m so sorry that this person spoke such disastrous mistruth into you. I know how words like that can echo for many years in our heads, even after we’ve learned better and know truth about the matter.

Let me speak some encouragement and more importantly TRUTH into you regarding Biblical discipleship and mentoring:

First off the notion that you need to be able to “afford” a mentor is utter hogwash.
That’s not a truth according to any Kingdom principle. There is no Biblical precedent for a mentor exacting a salary from the training and equipping of another in close relationship.

There is a right that ministers have to earn their living from teaching the gospel and from caring for the flock. Mentoring is not that, however. It is only one component of teaching – not one and the same, and the right of tuition is reserved for teachers, not mentors.

There is a fundamental difference between a mentor and a teacher. Teaching is both a job/career/calling that someone with a particular set of gifts is crafted to do, to train and equip others in specific ways – and at the same time, every believer is called to teach other believers in whatever area they are gifted. To pass along what was given to them. To disciple others in the area they are themselves farther along on the path. That second part is mentoring and discipleship. We are to make disciples. And I don’t recall Matthew 28:19 including the phrase “and make sure they can afford you or that they are worthy of your time”.

Look at the examples given us in the Bible of good mentor/disciple relationships. They are wrought through years or even lifetimes spent together. No mention of Timothy paying Paul for mentoring him. Indeed, Paul mentions that Timothy is to him “his own son”. And what father charges a son for passing along wisdom to him? NONE. Or as the Word says, what father, when his son asks him for bread, gives him a stone or a snake? That’s right. None worth speaking of.

Now that’s not to say that one should not ever pay for expert advice. I’m happy to invest in resources for my personal development, or the development of those serving alongside me in ministry, whether it’s to pay for the time of an expert in the form of a DVD, a workshop, a seminar, a training session, a retreat, a camp, a conference, an evaluation, a recommendation, a book, a webinar, or even a conversation… all of those are worthy of spending time and money on, if they help bear fruit, develop skill, foster growth, and result in betterment of whatever the subject matter is. I often recommend to others that they make such investments.

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that paying someone for their time to provide a specific resource is the same as mentoring. Some do call it that, but it’s not. True mentoring is a mutual, two-way street of benefit of shared invested time that grows trust and develops friendship, camaraderie, safety and loyalty. My friendship isn’t for sale, and yours should not be either.

Secondly, you don’t need to be “worth the time” of a mentor.
As an adopted child of the King of Kings and a co-heir to his kingdom, you already have inestimable value – you are a prince or a princess, royalty in the most royal of families – and you are on equal footing with any person who would mentor you in terms of the worth of their time. Which, if we’re being honest, is not ours. We were purchased at a price; we are not our own. We are stewards of what we have been given, not owners. You are not below a mentor in value, not in terms of your time being as worthwhile, not in terms of importance, not in any measurable factor of priority. The only difference between you and a mentor is that this person has had the benefit of more years walking with the Lord and in His Word, more time spent gaining wisdom and experience, and has a fuller cup, so to speak – to be able to pour into you. That’s it.

Any who would say you’re not worth their time, or that you need to or can’t “afford” them – that’s a plain example of someone not receiving you. So do as the Word says: shake the dust off your feet and keep walking until you find the one who will live out Scripture in discipling you – freely and lovingly committed to building up another member of the Body of Christ.

The search may take time – but the effort is worth it
The reality is that there’s something to be said for chemistry. Not every two people will fit nicely together as complementary puzzle pieces. Not every relationship gels naturally. Some do. Some have to be worked at, because we’re committed by nature of relationship – be with as workmates, schoolmates, housemates, etc. But with the nature of a mentor relationship, it does really need that natural fit in order to gain the most benefit for both people involved.

It’s been related to me (by one of my mentors) many times that the way we were created is for community. We need to have someone ahead of us on the path, showing us the way. We need comrades in arms sharing similar struggles on the journey with us. We need to pass along what we’ve learned to others fresher on the path behind us. That’s the heart of mentoring. It’s fluid, dynamic, and active. We don’t just take in wisdom and knowledge for our own sakes, but for the sake of pouring into others.

In the manner of Paul and Timothy, I have been very blessed to have a few men adopt me as sons over the years, mentoring me for a time. Some ended up just being the stewards of my path at way stations along the journey, and some became lifelong mentors. I was able to learn from some for where I was at the time in my growth and development, and then the Lord moved us on in different directions – and some have become close friends who continue to pour into me. Most of these men were spiritual mentors, helpful in guiding me toward sound doctrine and philosophy of ministry as a shepherd pastor. These men took time out of their schedules to meet with me regularly – some as often as weekly, some more often, some less – to share with me, hear me, delve into questions with me, and most importantly, point me to the Bible in all things. One challenged me even to find yet another mentor in my primary discipline (worship leadership) and held me accountable to do just that, even as we continued our relationship and he spurred me on to deeper theological growth.

When I went on that quest to find a worship-leading mentor, it took me awhile. I shot for the stars – and asked many of those well-known names whom I admired and respected; Tim Hughes, Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, Matt Redman, Brenton Brown, and Matt Maher all got calls or letters from me… and through diligent pursuit of that end goal of a mentor relationship, I had the chance to connect with several and talk about what good mentoring looks like and explore whether we might be a good fit. It didn’t turn out to be the case with these particular guys, because it would just not be pragmatic to meet regularly, due to distance more than anything, though I do still go travel to Atlanta to see Chris, Matt and Louie once a year so I can glean from them and their co-laborers in Christ serving at Passion City Church.

Through the process I discovered a man who was a worship leader of worship leaders, a man who had fathered and raised two men who both have grown up to be respected worship leaders themselves. And I discovered that he was actively searching for someone to mentor, and he lived just a few miles away from me. We connected, we gelled together nicely, and we agreed to meet monthly so that he could mentor me. We met at least that often, if not more, for six years – until I moved out of state this past year. We’d talk ministry, personal lives, the dynamics between both, the challenges and joys of worship leading and working with musicians, we sharpened each other… it was incredibly fruitful time for both of us. It met a need for both of us. And we’re now dear friends – no doubt, we will be for the rest of our lives. Since I moved this past year, I miss him very much and look forward to when I can go visit… and he checks in with me to see how I’m doing as well.

That’s the sort of mentor relationship I want to encourage you to find. Don’t give up. God created us for relationship, for community, and gave us the commission to participate in discipleship. It may take longer than you’d like to find that fit, but it is absolutely worth it. And you are worth it.

Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, and not driving off cliffs anymore. You can find him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and places good coffee is served.

Don’t Check Your Email Right Before Service

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his little tidbit of counsel may annoy many people, but it will serve a vastly greater number, including yourselves as worship leaders and pastors, the church you serve, and ultimately the Lord.

One of the most effective tools of the enemy is to use anything that would distract you from your focus of bringing glory to the Lord and serving His people as they come together for worship, prayer, fellowship, and the teaching of God’s Word at the weekend service.

Email is hands-down, one of the most destructive forms of communication that currently exists. It is good for delivering documents speedily, good for conveying simple facts, or setting appointments. It is horrible for discussing any matter of importance.

Within email or any form of text-based communication, there is no way to accurately and properly convey or guide inflection, attitude, or intent. Nor can you instantly see how your words are being received, and modify your delivery if they are not being received in the way that you intended. Humans already have issues with communicating properly when it’s live and in person. We already have a proclivity to read our own thoughts and feelings into what is being said, even when the person is standing there right in front of us. Even when we can see the look on their face, the mannerisms of their body language, when the conversation is intimate and happening live.

When you remove the instantaneous nature of conversation, you take away the tools required in order to properly convey the things that matter most in a difficult conversation: humility, love, compassion, kindness, gentleness. Hmm, those things sound familiar… where have we seen them mentioned before? Oh yes, that’s right – the Bible does instruct us in how to conduct ourselves with each other!

People get unusually bold over email. They say things they would never say to another in person, or rather, things they should never say to another in person. The enemy knows this, and I guarantee you, if you get in the habit of checking your email right before a worship service, he’s going to use someone who struggles with this to hit you with the worst possible nasty communiqué right before you are expected to lead God’s people into God’s presence for God’s purposes.

If you set yourself up for receiving it, you’re opening the door to get that email that will completely derail all your prayer, planning, and preparation, and put you in a horrible frame of mind that will distract you from effectively ushering others into worship.

So don’t do it. Let people know that you go “dark” on the weekends, put your away message up, and wait until after the weekend is over to look at the emails that arrive.

Doing this will allow you to focus on the more important aspects of your ministry: being with people as you all seek the Lord together. In person. Live. Where it counts.

Make it count. Go electronically dark, and go light up a room by being present instead!

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.

Who Should Pick The Songs?

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow can you determine what songs are best for your church?

Who ought to be selecting them?

Is it best that you do it by yourself, or by working with others in the worship ministry to select the songs for each week, so the songs selected are not all songs you personally select?

There are many Scriptures that speak to making wise plans by relying on others:

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14

For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. – Proverbs 24:6

There is obviously wisdom and safety found in the multitude of counsel. As it pertains to the crafting of the congregational worship experience, it can be beneficial in a variety of ways.

For one, having multiple sources of perspective collaborating together does tend to make it easier to examine possible problems with a particular song. Is it biblically true, and doctrinally accurate? Does it serve to illuminate the scripture being taught that weekend? Do its themes serve the season that the church body is in at the moment? Is it a familiar enough song? Is it accessible for the average person to be able to actually sing it? Is the melody simple enough to be memorable? Is it too technical of a song for the worship musicians to be able to give it proper service? Does it reflect traditions of the church that we desire to retain as part of our church makeup? Is it a new song that needs to be taught or reinforced through repetition? Is it a song intentionally included in high rotation? Is it obscure? Is it the best song choice, given the limited amount of time available in the weekend service devoted to worship music?

With leaders of different perspectives adding their individual voices to the conversation, different flavors are contributed which may not have been present had only one person been involved in the song selection process. Different genres of music might be represented in the mix that might otherwise be absent, and more creative approaches to the big picture of the flow of worship, not only for a particular weekend, but for coming weeks and months, can be brought to serve the needs of the church as a whole.

Bringing multiple leaders to reason together is a good exercise for the leaders themselves. Working out that sharing muscle, cooperating together, being co-laborers in Christ, and learning to play nicely in the same sandbox with the other kids, is a very good thing. Different opinions can be shared, and yet the leaders can work together for the common goal and achieve greater unity for the sake of God’s purposes in this body. It is also helpful for these leaders to see the long-term view, keeping in consideration the Bible verses which are coming down the pipeline, and forecasting together which song selections will best serve the body as those verses are taught. Agreeing together which new songs will be introduced, and which older songs will be refreshed and brought back to life.

The team approach is helpful for the growth and development of younger worship leaders, so they can see the example of more mature leaders working together and cooperating to craft worship for the church, learning to plan out in advance. In our church in particular, that would be especially beneficial.

The team approach is helpful for the one given the responsibility of oversight, because it provides safety, in that it takes away a possible area of contention that members of the body might have personally as a result of song selection that they didn’t agree with. When there is a group selecting the songs together in consensus, while one person may have to give the final approval or make a judgment call, the unity of the group in agreement provides strength and legitimacy to the selection. There is no one person to blame or to applaud. It doesn’t fall on just one person’s shoulders to catch the criticism for a set of songs poorly received, nor is that person at risk of getting an inappropriately prideful attitude for a set of songs received with gladness.

The team approach is helpful as well for the body in this regard – if there is not a single person to blame or to applaud, it takes away a distraction that the enemy could use as a foothold to drive a wedge of disunity into the body. It’s not as easy to attack or gossip about a group of people as it is to attack just one person; word gets around faster when more people are involved, so there is motivation to not be a gossip or slanderer in the first place. Plus, if there is a solid group of leaders working together for a common purpose, there’s a higher amount of regard and respect paid for their efforts, as compared to how people may perceive the efforts of just one working alone.

On a biblical note related to this question, there is not anything particularly wrong with the person given the responsibility of oversight of worship for the church body actually being the person to pick the songs for the church body, especially if he works in partnership with and submission to the lead pastor to ensure the songs serve the needs of the body, work in conjunction with the scripture being taught, and are approved by the lead pastor. It’s simply that working in isolation is not the most beneficial approach to leadership. It’s not only that a team approach has greater benefits, but that it also helps to prevent burnout and failure!

When you back up and look at the scenario from a different perspective, it seems rather silly that someone would take the teaching pastor to task on his own selection of the particular verses of scripture he was teaching on. He has been given oversight for that particular ministry and entrusted with that responsibility, so he should exercise oversight in that area. It is reasonable and prudent.

Similarly, it is reasonable and prudent for the leader given oversight of worship to exercise the actual oversight of worship, and select the songs being utilized in service. There is nothing wrong with that. Certainly any worship leader can approach God directly in prayer and contemplation and ask the Lord for wisdom in selecting songs. How much more so then, one given oversight by the church and entrusted with the responsibility?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5

At my own church, for three years I made it a consistent weekly habit to review all song selections with my lead pastor and get his approval before sharing them with the team for that weekend. I normally find out the scripture verses he will be teaching on well in advance (sometimes up 8 to 10 weeks in advance) and begin studying those scriptures, researching worship songs that might be born from those verses and usable for the services, looking for themes in the passages that certain songs would support and reinforce.

Additionally, I do take into consideration the season the church is in: are people hurting or wrestling in particular areas as a whole? Are there certain songs that seem to be resounding with the majority of the church body, serving to lead them more effectively into worship than other songs? Are there songs that do not seem to be received well, which need to be dropped from the roster? Are there older songs that should be included to reflect the traditions of the church? Are there newer songs that people would want to sing, that they’ve been hearing on Christian radio or worship albums? Are there songs generated from within our own church body that would serve to usher the family into God’s presence?

I made it a habit to meet quarterly with all the worship leaders at CBC together as a council, to discuss worship in the various areas they are entrusted with, as well as worship for the church as a whole. I have made it a habit to meet with some worship leaders weekly, or multiple times a week, to discuss worship for the church. I’ve routinely asked for input from members of the worship ministry, other ministry leaders, and church members. Song selection had never truly been mine alone.

However, given the wisdom and safety and the benefits to the body as well as to the leaders, myself, and our lead pastor, it made sense to form a creative team that would collaborate solely on song selection and worship service flow. I approached several people to invite them to be part of a monthly brainstorming session, providing input and perspective in the process of selecting songs to be used in worship at our church. We started with the more mature worship leaders first, and it has thus far been tremendously positive for all involved! The meetings are encouraging and fun, and extremely productive – knocking out a month’s worth of song selections at a time! We’ll be inviting the developing worship leaders to participate down the line as well, so they can benefit from the process too, learning how to cooperate and collaborate together as they grow in their gifts.

So how are you selecting your songs? Do you include and empower others to participate in the process? If you don’t, I challenge you to examine closely your process, and see if the Lord might have a better way for you to accomplish this important task of selecting the songs. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised and blessed!!

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.

Living the Messy Dream

All we worship leaders share many of these common dreams…

That all of our volunteers would respond to PCO schedule requests right away and not ignore them completely.

That our sound team would take the time to learn the songs as well as the stage musicians and know when to highlight that one voice or instrument and when to drop it back down.

 That our visual media folks would get the words right, get them on the screen at the right time, and make them look good at the same time.

That our musicians would learn their parts ahead of time and show up to rehearsal prepared.

That our musicians would commit songs to memory effectively, so we could spontaneously move from the planned into the unplanned during our services.

That our musicians would play with the confidence and proficiency deserving of a professional symphony.

That our sound team would be able to dial out weird noises, feedback, and achieve the desired volume level and mix in the house.

That our musicians would be able to get the monitor mix they need to follow and play well.

That all of our song choices would be gladly received by our churches and responded to passionately.

That our church would respond appropriately to the Lord through songs with clapping, singing, and loud shouts.

All of these dreams are things that are entirely within the realm of reality and possible for us to bring to fruition as worship leaders, if we take the time to properly set and hold the standards, train and equip the people the Lord has brought to us to steward. Every one of these issues can be improved by us loving our church in a more Christ-like, humble, passionate, sacrificial, gentle, instructive, compassionate, kind, tender-hearted, patient, long-suffering way.

Every. Single. One of them.

Can be improved.

Which is not to say that the road getting there is not going to be long – sometimes much longer than we’d hope for – and fraught with frustration, challenges, and difficulties.

And it’s also not to say that when you get there to a place where all of these things are finally happening, that the Lord won’t say, “Great job here! Now I’ve got need of you to do likewise over in this other church of mine” and move you along to the next assignment, and you may not get to enjoy the fruit of your labor for very long before you find yourself neck deep in another mess of miry clay…

The struggle is real.

The frustrations are real.

Sometimes we can move as worship leaders from one moment of success, feeling very pleased with the progress of our teams and our churches as they grow in worship, to a moment where our spirit is absolutely crushed by the disappointment of an unexpected situation arising, stealing our joy.

That’s the job.

If this is not something you’re called to, these experiences and frustrations are the sort of thing that will weed you out and force you to go do something else. You’ll be much happier elsewhere, if you’re not called to this. Get out while you still can … it’s too late for me!!!

However, if this is indeed the call on your life, then despite setbacks and obstacles and pain and frustrations and the broken people and their bad choices and the poor responses, then it’s something you cannot walk away from. It’s something you can’t not do. You don’t have a choice. It’s written into your DNA, inscribed on your heart, more than just a gentle tugging on your spirit. You have to do this.

So for all those who are experiencing the hard times, and wrestling with the never-ending questions of “Why, O Lord, is it so hard? Why can’t all this stuff just happen the way it needs to?”… be assured that this is indeed the life to which we were called, the fight we were created to fight, the race we were gifted to run, and there is work to be done. Training. Hard training. Put-an-Olympic-athlete-to-shame training. Training our hearts to be soft, pliable, and loving toward others. Training our minds to be renewed by the transforming power of the Word of God. Training our lives to reflect the glory of Christ in us. Training our responses to the failings of those around us to be full of grace and forgiveness, compassion, and love.

Yes, even toward that one elder who thinks we should be doing things the way they did in 1956 and wants you gone.

Yes, even toward that drama queen who claims that 78dB is WAY TOO LOUD for worship and makes a public spectacle of holding his hands over his ears and he runs out of the sanctuary.

Yes, even toward your team member who, despite you spending hour upon precious hour of individual instruction in addition to group rehearsal, has once again forgotten his parts and flubs it during the service.

Yes, even toward that parent that doesn’t think their screaming baby is distracting anyone else during the worship service and remains in their seat.

Serving them. This is living the dream.

A messy, wildly imperfect, emotional, sometimes stinky work in progress, full of shortcomings and hurts, which is all of us, if we’re honest.

When we see others the same way the Lord sees us, and show to others the grace He has shown us, the struggle becomes less our struggle and more His. When we learn to have His heart toward others, we feel less frustration and more compassion. When we learn to be forgiving more like Christ, it’s easier. When we see His Church as His Church – His Bride – His called out ones – His sheep – His people – His – and not as a group of misanthropes, transgressives, miscreants, problems to be remedied, or any other label we want to throw at them.

When we have Jesus’ heart for these people that we are given stewardship over—then we start living the dream in earnest.

Then we start seeing the people as He sees them. Saved. Redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed. Purified. Loved so much more than we can ever really wrap our heads around.

Let us all refocus our hearts and model being doers of the Word, not just hearers of it.

Let us be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us. Let us be like-minded, be sympathetic, loving one another, and be compassionate and humble.

Let us learn to dwell in unity together and together taste and see that the Lord is good.

This is the dream. THE dream. So much better than the combined mishmash of whatever short sighted goals we can come up with for our dream worship/church environment. It’s the Lord’s playground, and when we learn to play together nicely in it, then we’re on our way to so much better than what we imagine and dream.

As the great hymnist of the 1980s, Howard Jones, expressed in song:

I need an everlasting love
I need a friend and a lover divine
An everlasting precious love
Wait for it, wait for it, give it some time
Wait for it, wait for it, give it some time

Is this love worth waiting for?
Bitterness will die for sure
Something special, something pure
Is this love worth waiting for?

Yes. Yes, it is.

This is the dream.

Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, and not driving off cliffs anymore.

Bongo Man

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y dad once told me about he was in a choir in school. This was somewhat shocking to me because those who knew my dad, know he was pretty much tone deaf. He loved to sing Irish sea shanties, terribly off key and with great enthusiasm. So when he shared this bit about being in a choir, I was quite astonished… until he mentioned that the person directing the choir told him not to sing, but to mouth all the words and smile a lot. She was more interested in his physical presence in the choral ensemble than she was in his voice, which she had obviously figured out was not fit to sing in unison let alone harmony with others.

When I first heard this story, I thought that the choir director was so mean, telling someone not to sing. Why bother having them up there in the first place? How embarrassing for that person to know that they weren’t good enough to be heard!

However, early in my worship leading career, I found that I may not have understood all the details necessary to make a judgment call on that approach, and there was something else at work that made sense in the big picture.

You see, my dad had an incredibly joyful presence. His smile could light up a room, and he had a penchant for bringing out the best in others around him. I can see why a choir director would want that sort of encouraging influence among the other members of the ensemble, even if his vocal talents didn’t merit inclusion.

The other factor at work is that it is not only about what is heard, but what is seen, when a musical group performs in front of others, especially in the context of when they are modeling worship – being role models, examples, setting the bar of permission for expressiveness within the church. The visual expression of worship is absolutely as important as the audible expression of worship, for any group of lead worshipers charged with being the ones responsible to usher the people of God into the presence of God for the praise of God.

Sometimes there’s a huge disconnect between what the people in the band are singing and how they look on the stage. If they’re singing, “the joy of the Lord is our strength,” with the most pained, sad expression on their faces, that’s not really matching what is being sung with what is being seen, and that’s not really serving the people they’re meaning to lead, because it’s disjointed and confusing at a root emotional level. As the leadership goes, the church goes. If the band is reserved, the church will be as well. If the music is excellent, upbeat and passionate, but the band looks frozen in place, guess what? The church is going to be frozen in place as well. Unemotional. Hindered. Exactly what the Lord does NOT want in his worship.

He says he doesn’t desire burnt offerings or sacrifice, but the sacrifice of a heart broken and contrite before Him. (Psalm 51:15-17) If you look at the offering of music in our services as the modern day equivalent of sacrifice or burnt offering, then it follows that it doesn’t matter how excellent the music is, if the heart is not there to accompany it! Elsewhere in Scripture (Amos 5:23, Isaiah 29:13), the Lord exclaims how he is repulsed by the people who honor Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him, and how He will not even listen to the sound of their songs and praises. “Away with your noisy hymns of praise!” He says!!

Pretty strong indictment.

So it’s not just about the quality of the music, and it is absolutely about the heart that accompanies it.

Which brings me to Bongo Man.

Bongo Man was a good friend of mine in college who had an unrestrained passion for the Lord, especially vibrant in worship. He loved to play percussion instruments and had quite a collection of congas, djembes, cymbals, maracas, tambourines, and of course bongos. It was quite an impressive setup when he’d put it all together, making his own drum circle around him! The only problem was he had really bad meter. I mean, atrocious. Some would say he had no sense of rhythm. But man, he loved to play those percussion instruments and make a joyful noise to the Lord!

Whether he was in front of people or in the congregation, he worshiped his heart out to the Lord. He totally reminded me of David saying, “I’ll become even more undignified than this!” in his focus to respond to the Lord in song, pouring out his heart regardless of who was watching. In that, he was extremely consistent and authentic – not putting on a show for anyone but the Lord. Which made him a wonderful example of a worshiper after the heart of God.

Even though he had a really rough time keeping a beat, I often included him on my worship team for big events. In a small room, his off-beat cadence would be distracting, but in a large setting, where he really couldn’t be heard about the volume of the sound system, what he brought to the plate visually was worth every wrong beat he played.

To be clear: I had to let him know, for the sake of integrity, exactly why I wanted him on the team, and that he was not likely to be heard but only seen by others. He was okay with this. Once we were leading worship for a large conference, and he set up his incredibly elaborate percussion station, and the live sound engineers came to me asking how many channels we wanted dedicated to him. How many mics were needed, for all those bongos? When I told them, “none – but make sure he has a nice loud wedge monitor so he can hear the band clearly,” they were a bit taken aback. “But if we don’t mic him, no one will be able to hear him in this place!” they said to me. I told them that we were counting on that, and then asked them to listen to him during the rehearsal and they’d understand.

Sure enough, with a loud monitor, Bongo Man played his heart out to the Lord alongside the band, passionate even in sound check & rehearsal. The sound team came to me afterward and said, “okay, we get why you don’t want him miked… but why bother having him up there if no one can hear him? And especially if you don’t want anyone to hear him?”

I responded, “But did you SEE the way he worshiped the Lord? Did you see how exuberant he was in offering his heart to God? Did you see the joy of the Lord on his face, not only on his face but in his whole countenance? His entire being praising Jesus!! That’s why.”

Bongo Man was a joy to have on our team, and his passion is still the bar that I look for in that visual expression component in those I gather for the ministry of leading others in worship.

It really doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. But in your team, where do you draw the line at what sort of presence you have on stage? Who is a better fit for modeling worship? A person who can sing like the angels but always has a look on their face like they were baptized in lemon juice? Or a person who cannot carry a note but shows the passionate love and joy of God in their whole being?

Blessings to you as you serve our Lord and His people.

 

Brendan Prout is a pastor in San Diego, CA, active in developing worship leaders locally and nationally. He has served in ministry leadership for over 25 years, and has a passion for training and inspiring others to grow in their gifts for the work of ministry they are called to.

 

Traditional Versus Contemporary Worship

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] fellow theologian passed this my way, and I thought it worth sharing. It has been sited to Jonathan Edwards; however on further inspection, we found this to be an Internet error. It is simply an interesting anecdote. Nonetheless, the information is worth examining and having a conversation about.*

A man, accustomed to traditional worship, one Sunday attended a church that sang only praise choruses. When he came home, his wife asked him about the service. “It was interesting,” he said. “They sang praise choruses instead of hymns. His wife asked, “What’s the difference?”

He said to his wife, “If I said to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ that would be a hymn. But suppose I said, ‘Martha, Martha, Martha. Oh Martha, Martha, Martha, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows and the black cows, the cows, cows, cows are in the corn, the corn, corn, corn.’ If I were to repeat the whole thing five or six times that would be a praise chorus.”

That same Sunday, a woman accustomed to contemporary worship attended a traditional church. When she came home, her husband asked about the service. “It was interesting; they sang hymns instead of praise choruses.” “What’s the difference?” her husband asked.

She replied, “If I said to you, for instance. ‘Earnest, the cows are in the corn,’ that would be a praise chorus. But suppose I would say, ‘Oh Earnest, dear Earnest, hear thou my cry; incline thy ear to the words of my mouth. Turn thy wondrous ear by and by to the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth. For the way of the animals, who can explain? There is no shadow of sense. Hearken, they not in God’s sun or his rain. Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced. Yea, those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight, broke free from their shackles, their warm pens eschewed. Then goaded by minions of darkness and night, my Chilliwack sweet corn has chewed. So look to that bright shining day by and by, where all the corruptions of earth are reborn, where no vicious animals make my soul cry, and I no longer see
those foul cows in the barn.’ That would be a hymn.

It is interesting to see how long there was been a separation in the body, of different camps of people who each think their style of worship is preferable! And interesting to see how applicable this anecdote of old still remains today. Indeed, music in the church has long been amongst the most controversial topics throughout the history of the Church.

The point is not how we express worship – there is no one flavor of music that is more correct to worship God with, over another. Style is not relevant, but biblical truth is extremely relevant. Are the songs we sing true? Are the songs we sing glorifying to God? Are the songs we sing edifying to his Bride? Do they teach proper theology? Do they facilitate prayer expressed in a way simple words cannot? Do they conduct the church into the presence of God and allow Him to do spiritual business with his children? That ought to be the focus of our concentration on the substance of our musical choices, rather than whether the time signature is 4/4 or 6/8, or if there are 3 vocal parts versus 7, or any such comparison.

We as a body are very blessed to have a variety of different styles of worship music being sung every weekend. Let us continue to encourage and build each other up as a community of worship musicians, and remember that it is ultimately about Him and not our own likes or dislikes. Let us never look down on another’s worship offering for the sake of its form, but instead always appreciate its function, and the heart attitude with which it is given before the throne. All praise be to God!!

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.

Note From Monique Ingalls on Jonathan Edwards and the anecdote falsely attributed to him: 
*As in just about any time period, there were debates about old vs. new music in the church in Edwards’ day; however, the categories of “traditional hymns” and “contemporary choruses” as they are presented in the anecdote did not exist until the 20th Century. Most Puritans of Edwards’s day believed Christians should only sing psalms only, unaccompanied by instruments and in unison with no harmony. Towards the end of his life, Edwards was pretty progressive for allowing hymns “of human composure” (i.e., with texts that weren’t straight from the Divinely inspired psalms) to be sung in worship. So, for Edwards, “traditional” church songs were psalms taken straight from Scripture, made to rhyme, and sung in a very plain style, while “contemporary” songs were Isaac Watts’ hymns sung in 4-part harmony. Edwards was a stern Puritan preacher whose sermons are, quite frankly, dry and academic–he would never have used such a witty, folksy anecdote in a sermon. And, as one final nit-picky point, a quick Google search puts Edwards’ death at 1758, a couple of decades before the author claims he was writing in the 1780s.

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