Reflection #12 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 12 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #12: The busyness of the playing of the average praise band drummer is usually in inverse proportion to his/her age.

If the above assertion is accurate–and it has been for the visits my wife and I have made to numerous Chicagoland churches in the past two years–what should a conscientious worship leader do to address the issue, assuming the worship leader finds busyness on the kit a problem?  Three suggestions, but first a quick word of encouragement re: how to offer constructive criticism encouragingly–especially if trying to guide a younger person.

Studies are rife supporting the notion that we hear negative feedback with more intensity than we do positive feedback.  Anecdotally, in my teaching career at Judson University (which began in 1991), when poring over student evaluations of my classes at the end of every semester, I am prone to ruminating over one semi-negative comment from a student in the midst of a sea of otherwise-glowing reviews from the vast majority of the class members.

Hence, in my own opportunities to offer constructive criticism to younger folks (which I did with frequency when I directed the chapel ministry at Judson), I eventually made it a habit to give feedback via what I called the “Oreo Method.”  Even if my assessment of a student’s performance was mostly negative, I somehow found a way to acknowledge, first, one thing the student did well.  Then (even if it was the primary observation, dwarfing all others) I would suggest what could be done better (never what was “bad”).  Finally, I finished “on a good note,” and gave the student encouragement re: one more thing that went reasonably well.

I know good, well-meaning Christian leaders who scoff at this approach, ticking off all kinds of rationales for “speaking truth in love,” giving an “accurate assessment” of the use of gifts, and all kinds of ways of communicating that whatever someone did was not sufficient or good enough.  (They often work in churches or parachurch organizations that put a premium on presentation–as if technical excellence was tied closely to holiness, as if smoothness of content delivery was indicative of spiritual maturity–and they would look at my approach as fostering mediocrity and coddling those who need to be challenged if they are to reach their full potential.)  I disagree; moreover, I am willing to believe the Holy Spirit will direct my path and that of anyone I am evaluating so that opportunities to address concerns arise over a period of time.  There’s no need to share feedback that is overwhelmingly negative in one session.  (Obviously, there are extreme cases where someone behaves severely inappropriately or consistently misses a well-articulated mark that all recognize as important for accomplishing the job, but those are different situations.)

So, with a busy young drummer who is in your praise band, what might you do to help him or her develop more-appropriate playing for the setting?

AbrechtFirst, introduce your drummer to Carl Albrecht, who, for many years, was the primary drummer for worship leader Paul Baloche and other Hosanna/Integrity artists.  I’ve attended a few conferences where Albrecht presented, and I’ve seen him become visibly moved talking about how the drums can, when played with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit (and the worship leader), be used in mighty ways to bless God and His people.  Any resources he releases will be rich in content–both technical and theological.  You can see his most recent work here: Carl Albrecht’s website.

Second, gently convey the notion of the “Fraction Principle,” a concept introduced to Doerksenme by worship leader Brian Doerksen (“Come, Now Is the Time to Worship,” “Refiner’s Fire”).  In short, if there are six musicians playing in the band, each musician should be contributing one-sixth of the musical material.  Drummers are particularly susceptible to the temptation to overplay (so many options!), but gentle counsel in this regard can pay huge dividends.  A more thorough explanation of the the Fraction Principle can be found here: Brian Doerksen’s “Fraction Principle,” as explained by Dan Wilt.

Third, appeal to your drummer using the “still, small voice” metaphor.   Simply put, the best drummers for corporate worship are those we don’t notice in any particular way, who don’t draw particular attention to their chops.  An apt biblical metaphor here can be found in the account of God’s communication with Elijah in 1 Kings 19.  Though God throughout recorded history up to that moment had surely spoken in dramatic fashion at times, this time He was not in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire.  He was in the “still, small voice.”  That’s how Elijah clearly heard the word of the Lord that day.  There’s a lesson there for drummers . . . and all of us who lead worship in a band setting, for that matter.

Playing energetic drums without overplaying takes effort.  Worship leaders, if this is an issue for your team, may the Lord be with you as you encourage your drummers!

Coming next week (Lord willing): A few thoughts on the satellite-and-video-sermon strategy.

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Reflection #11 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 11 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #11: I often find myself conflicted about what many of us wear to church on Sunday mornings.

As I have mentioned previously, for most of my adult life–31 out of 34 years (taking a few years off to get married and adjust to that new reality)–I got paid to go to church.  To be accurate, I got paid to lead worship (in different capacities) at six different churches in Cincinnati, Ohio, and various parts of Chicagoland.  But on those mornings when the alarm rang far too early for comfort, I confess I found comfort in the paycheck waiting for me in the church office.

Once I stepped away from church-sponsored worship leading, one of the biggest and most surprising changes in the way I approached Sunday mornings was how quickly I embraced the contemporary American church’s current ethos re: what constitutes appropriate attire for worship.  (More so than in most of these blog posts, the following does not apply across the board.  In the typical African-American church, for instance, most congregants still adhere to the concept of wearing “Sunday best” attire.)

Dad CHPEarly in my ministry, I was hardly ever without a coat and tie (and sometimes a full suit) on Sunday morning.  (I came to this habit partly because of the example of my father, Dr. Simon Anderson, the college professor, who was so committed to solidifying the ridiculous jump in socio-economic status his hard work and education had afforded his family that he was always dressed to the nines–to the extent that the man once wore a three-piece suit and fedora to the Van Halen concert to which he took his Music Appreciation class.)  As soon as I no longer found myself on the platform at church, however, my sartorial fastidiousness evaporated pretty quickly.

But, I confess, I don’t always feel comfortable in the comfort of my casual dress, and I wonder if, perhaps, there are deeper issues at stake for believers, if collectively we should think a bit more about what our typical church-going attire communicates–to others and to God.  Since I don’t have this all figured out and am still wrestling with the implications of what I’m suggesting here, I close these reflections with five questions to ponder.

  1. How would the Didache (Wikipedia on the Didache) read had its authors been primarily fashion commentators as opposed to liturgical and ecclesial historians?  In other words, what would have been considered normative and appropriate attire for “parishioners” in the first century?
  2. Regarding the layout and adornment of our worship spaces, Aaron Niequist, in hisuntitled wonderful primer on practice-based worship The Eternal Current, writes, “Physical space is not neutral.  The room itself preaches.”  Can a similar statement–“What we wear to church is not neutral; our attire itself preaches”–be made?
  3. How does the internal dialogue “What should I wear to church this morning?” relate, if at all, to spiritual maturity and/or respect for the Almighty God?
  4. When Samuel anointed the new king of Israel, all of Jesse’s more-qualified-for-the-job sons were bypassed, initially stupefying Samuel, in favor of David, the runt of litter.  God said, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NLT).  What are the applications, if any, of this verse for the discussion of what we wear to church?
  5. In 2 Sam. 24, now-King David, in order to atone for the sin of taking a hubris-inspired census of his kingdom, builds an altar to the Lord at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  When Araunah offers to provide the supplies for the sacrifice, David rejects the offer, saying, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.”  Looking at this Scripture metaphorically, and extending this account beyond sophisticated exegesis, can we, nevertheless, appropriate the gist of David’s sentiment for the purposes of evaluating our church-going wardrobe?

As I say, I’m conflicted on this issue.  When you figure it out, please let me know.  The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Praise band drummers.

 

 

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Reflection #10 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number ten in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #10: Churches that can’t afford a full-time worship pastor but can afford rock-concert light assemblies and Hollywood-ready screens and projectors might want to rethink their budget priorities.

As my wife and I have traveled from church to church in the past two years on what I have called The Worship Leader Roadshow, I have occasionally been concerned when former students of mine, who would love to quit their Starbucks gig and serve the Church full-time, labor as part-time weekend warriors in churches that, from the perspective of what they have spent on their sound and lighting systems, could afford to bring on a full-time worship pastor if they would prioritize different aspects of their worship ministry.

No pastor or elder board would be so crass as to say, “What’s really important about worship ministry is having cutting edge a/v tools; worship leaders are a dime a dozen, and any young person who plays halfway decent guitar and looks reasonably cool will suffice to lead us in worship.”  But that’s sometimes the message that gets communicated, intentionally or not.  What’s often missing in situations like this, it seems, is an appreciation of the role of corporate worship in a congregation’s spiritual formation–and how a humble, well-trained worship leader/pastor/shepherd can be crucial (as important as the pastor) in nurturing said corporate spiritual formation.

51i+lbFbe9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sometimes I think the best blog posts are ones that point readers to a source with which they might not be familiar.  Hence, let me introduce you, if you haven’t met her before, to Marva Dawn, who has written wonderfully about worship as an agent of spiritual formation.  I will allow her words to support my argument, as she writes as passionately and eloquently as I could on the subject.  The following comes from her excellent collection of essays, A Royal “Waste” of Time, in the section titled Being Church: Forming Character:

What many churches do [in their efforts to attract unbelievers] is eliminate anything that is different from the surrounding culture and reduce their worship services to a few songs that are simple to sing, a band that always plays in ways that sound familiar, and a preacher who does everything else.  The misconception frequently touted is that worship should be user-friendly.  I am certainly not advocating worship that alienates or is totally inaccessible, nor do I think people ought to need a great amount of education before worship can be meaningful to them, but I am warning against the constant reduction of anything that stretches people, of anything that makes them uneasy.  The Scriptures make it clear that being confronted by God is not always comfortable or comforting.  Reductionistic worship is extremely harmful because it sacrifices the identity of the Church (which people in our unchristian culture of course don’t understand yet) and of God, for God is not easily understandable. . . . User-friendly worship seems to me to sacrifice an awe-full lot of God.  Moreover, believers must learn that faith is not always going to be comfortably understandable as we live it out in daily life, nor is it always cozy to be a disciple. . . .

If children join the Boy Scouts and don’t understand how to tie knots, the troop won’t eliminate knot-tying. . . .; instead, the Scouts do all they can to help the children learn it. . . .

[W]hat we must do instead of reducing worship is continually teach people more and more the meaning of what we do in worship and immerse them in the beauty of its practices. . . . [W]e should not reduce the splendor of worship; instead, we must make sure that we have found a balance of both accessibility and richness, mystery and instruction.

The kind of congregational formation to which Dawn calls us here and elsewhere–513JJHntElL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_particularly the sometimes harsh (and, hence, I feel, unfairly dismissed) Reaching out without Dumbing Down and the wonderful short read, How Shall We Worship?–does not happen by accident.  It doesn’t happen via technology.  It happens best when a dedicated, full-time, trained worship leader/pastor/shepherd focuses all his or her energies, being led by the Holy Spirit, on helping the pastor and elders of the church discern how best to structure and lead corporate worship in ways that glorify the Lord and educate and edify the Body.

All of this might be accomplished in conjunction with expensive a/v technology, of course.  But if the expensive a/v technology is the priority–over and above bringing in a full-time worship leader/pastor/shepherd to utilize biblical, historical, and theological best practices for corporate worship with the goals of blessing God and spiritually forming congregations increasingly into the likeness of Christ–that does not bode well for the Church.

The Lord be with you in your efforts to prioritize your worship budgets well!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Why I understand better the desire to wear jeans on Sunday morning these days (and why I’m still conflicted).

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Reflection #9 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number nine in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #9: The “overwhelming, never-ending” I-IV-V-vi harmonic structure of so many contemporary worship songs underserves a Church whose Subject and Object of worship is the Creator of the infinitely diverse universe.

imagesHang around musical children for any length of time, and you will eventually hear two of them at the piano playing the two parts of “Heart and Soul.”  They will play, without apparent fatigue (and without adding the virtually unknown bridge, which would help to alleviate the water-torture-like repetition), for a long time.  They will switch parts.  They will play in different octaves.  But they will pound out the same basic patterns until most adults in the room want to scream, “PLEASE PLAY SOMETHING ELSE!”  (If you’ve only heard kids render this song, here’s what it sounds like in its original context: “Heart and Soul.”)

I often feel this way whenever I listen to extended doses of contemporary worship music these days.  The same chords (uppercase Roman numerals = major chords; lowercase = minor) used in “Heart and Soul”–I, iv, IV, and V (the tonic, submediant, subdominant, and dominant, respectively, in music-theory-speak)–show up in alarming regularity in contemporary worship.  Oh, they get mixed around a bit, to be sure.  Sometimes it’s I-IV-vi-V (the beginning of “What a Beautiful Name”); other times it’s IV-I-V-vi (both the verses and choruses of “10,000 Reasons”); and sometimes it’s vi, V, IV, I (the chorus of “King of My Heart”).  But those four chords reign supreme.

Sometimes exclusively, I’m afraid.  Yesterday afternoon I printed out the chord charts for the Top 20 current contemporary worship songs, as tracked by CCLI (CCLI Top 20).  Here’s what I discovered:

  • 10 of the Top 20 use the I, IV, V, and vi chords exclusively
  • 5 of the Top 20 add a ii chord (supertonic) for a total of five chords
  • 2 of the Top 20 add a iii chord (mediant) for a total of five chords
  • 2 of the Top 20 add a ii chord but drop the V chord, an interesting touch, for a total of four chords
  • Only 1 of the Top 20 (“Revelation Song”) ventures into out-of-the-ordinary territory, utilizing the rarely heard v chord and the flat-VII (subtonic)–no V and no vi–but this excellent change of pace is muted by the use of the same exact I-v-bVII-IV pattern, with no variation, for both the verses and the choruses.  (A similarly daring song, harmonically speaking, “Worship the Great I AM,” with its I-bIII-bVII-IV structure, also uses the same four chords, in the same order, for both verses and choruses.)

My little research project didn’t factor in tiny differences like suspended chords, chords with a major or minor seventh, or chords with the third or the fifth in the bass–nor did I consider introductions or instrumental interludes, which occasionally deviate harmonically from the the rest of the song (like “In Christ Alone,” with its v chord, which opens both the introduction and the instrumental interlude).  That acknowledged, I would argue that contemporary worship music needs to break out of its harmonic rut.

“What’s the big deal?” some might ask.  God is being glorified.  The Church is worshiping, it can be argued, more passionately than it has in years.  How can that be wrong or bad?  It’s not, necessarily–but it’s also not evidence of worship musicians studying to show themselves approved (2 Tim. 2:15) where the craft of songwriting is concerned.  While I don’t wish to make Rory Noland and Greg Ferguson’s harmonically rich and satisfying “He Is Able” (with its nine different chords!) the standard, and I don’t expect every songwriter to be able to pull off the wildly inventive harmonic structure Jason Ingram, Reuben Morgan, and Stuart Garrard achieved in the first two verses of “The Greatness of Our God,” I am calling for better craftsmanship, as a general rule, in contemporary worship music, especially re: harmonic structure.  If you are a writer of the Church’s songs, let me offer two quick and easy ways for you immediately to improve your efforts.

First, study the masters–and I don’t mean Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, as much as I downloadoften appreciate their music.  You can do a lot worse, for example, than listening to a steady diet of The Beatles.  Put their two greatest hits collections–1962-1966 (the “Red Album”) and 1967-1970 (the “Blue Album”)–on regular rotation for a couple of weeks, and see if feasting on Lennon/McCartney songs (both eminently singable and stunningly diverse, harmonically speaking) doesn’t open up pathways of creativity for you that have previously been untapped.  Paul Simon, especially of late, would be another.  Joni Mitchell is a third.  These are pop music’s Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.  Why would you not want to study them?

Second, at least for a month or two, don’t allow yourself to write anything that falls back on the I-IV-V-vi patterns.  Use iii chords, flat-VI or flat-VII chords, or iv chords–anything but the usual.  Just do it.

The Lord be with you, especially you songwriters, as you seek to honor Him with your best efforts!  The Creator of the infinitely diverse universe deserves no less.

Coming next week (Lord willing): Worship budgets.

 

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Reflection #8 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number eight in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #8:  The pastor’s dress code (or lack thereof) seems to matter a lot less than it once did.

Anyone expecting scintillating insights on this topic can stop reading now.  Yes, I know bloggers are supposed to take a stand, proffer an opinion, and avoid on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that rhetoric, but I’m as ambivalent on this issue as anyone could be.  These reflections don’t always make their way to assertions.

When I was younger, most evangelical pastors dressed like CEO’s (represented here bytony-evans the sartorially splendid Dr. Tony Evans, Dallas’ Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship).  Pure and simple, this was the expectation, and it crossed all denominational lines.

headerImage-stanleyLetterAny pastor who dressed as casually as most evangelical pastors do today (represented here by Andy Stanley, suburban Atlanta’s North Point Community Church) would have faced scrutiny from an elder board, a worship committee, or a pastor-parish council.

Any pastor who dressed as casually as the most laid-back evangelicals pastor do today brian_tome(represented here by Brian Tome, Cincinnati’s Crossroads Church) would have faced discipline from an elder board, a worship committee, and a pastor-parish council.

And yet. . . .

When Tony Evans graced the stage at Judson University when I was directing the chapel ministry, he delivered one of the most memorable sermons on the will of God I have CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTever heard.  I once calculated the number of chapel services I attended in my 22 years as the driving staff force behind Judson’s chapels: just shy of 2,000.  I can’t recall details of most of them, but I remember Evans’ words 20 years and 1,000 chapels later.  (The gist of his message on the will of God focused on the intersection of God’s gifts and our passions.)

I’ve never heard Andy Stanley live, but the sermon series he did a few years ago on Romans, Free (including this particular sermon: Andy Stanley on freedom from sin), made a profound impact on my understanding of Romans 7, and I immediately adapted some key concepts from his message in the work I do with the Judson University Choir (Judson University Choir sings “Greater Still”).

I’ve heard Brian Tome in person many times.  When my father retired from 40+ years of weekend music ministry at five different Cincinnati-area churches, he and my mother began attending Tome’s Crossroads Church.  It was the last place I anticipated my former conservatory-professor father, with his Ph.D. in music, and my mother, who sang opera in college, desiring to attend, but Tome’s passionate and relevant-to-the-age preaching spoke to my dad in ways that most other pastors hadn’t.  I am profoundly grateful for the ministry of Crossroads Church.

I confess I’m a little old-school on this issue; I still prefer listening to pastors who don’t look like they stopped by the church on their way to the afternoon’s WWE matinee.  So I’m glad there are still pastors who don’t feel if they wear a tie or clerical collar and something other than designer jeans it will negatively impact their ministry.  But I use the examples above to testify that God has moved in my life through the preaching of pastors decked out in reverend rig across the “Dress for Success” spectrum.

So what are the guidelines?  Basic propriety and common sense should play important roles, of course, but, after that, let me suggest what to do by illustrating what not to do.  If we subscribe to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 10:13, paraphrased here, that while all things are permissible not all are helpful, one thing we can do for sure is not allow societal expectations and misguided desires to be relevant at all costs to dominate our decisions.  (You have probably seen this, but, even if so, it’s still worth a second look: “Contemporvent” Worship.)  Your church’s cultural context (history, denominational ties, location, and a host of other factors) should be taken into consideration, as well, but this will be different for every church, making one-size-fits-all dictums problematic.

The Lord be with you, especially all you pastors–as you strive to dress for pulpit ministry in ways that will not get in the way of the gospel . . . even as we acknowledge the dynamics on this issue seem less important than they once were, a good thing, generally speaking.

Coming next week, Lord willing: The ubiquity (and near exclusivity) of the Four Chords of Contemporary Worship.

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A Thought on and a Prayer for Willow Creek (and for All of Us)

I am taking a one-week break from the ongoing series Reflections on Worship in the Contemporary American Church to offer a thought on and a prayer for Willow Creek Community Church (and for all of us).  Lord willing, I will return to the reflections next week.

I have hitherto not offered any public comment on the ongoing situation at Willow Creek Community Church, one that first rocked the evangelical world back in March.  Folks far wiser and more in tune with the Holy Spirit than I have weighed and continue to weigh in.  I have not felt that any profound words of wisdom have been ignored, nor have I felt the inspiration to offer anything fresh to the conversation.  That still being the case, I offer here one thought and one prayer, neither one original, in the hope that the insights of one and the heart’s cry of the other will minister to all who read them.

CrouchThe thought comes from Andy Crouch, itinerant speaker and author of a slew of books, including Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  My wife and I have of late found Crouch’s words to be prophetic for our times.  I commend his entire Q talk (Andy Crouch on power) to you, but the phrase that stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it was this:  “[Power], if left unchecked by worship, [will] destroy me, my marriage, and anything I have to give to the world.”

No one goes into Christian service of any kind assuming the allure of whatever power eventually accompanies the position will inevitably bring down the ministry . . . but to assume said allure won’t, at least, prove problematic and need to be brought into check at regular points in the process denies the reality of human nature.  May all of us in positions of leadership in the Church Universal align ourselves with wise counselors who can–graciously but forcefully–keep us rooted and, especially, humble.  And may we pursue authentic worship with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength . . . for all kinds of holy and righteous reasons, but, for the purposes of this topic, because doing so is our best defense against our abuse of power.

(In case you don’t have time to watch the clip–it’s only 18 minutes–here are a few other Tweetable quotes:

  • “Who is flourishing because you have power?”
  • “Every idol [representing the end result of the deepest corruption of power] . . . makes two promises to us . . .  1) “You shall not surely die” . . . [and] 2) “You will be like God.”
  • “Poverty is simply the result of someone playing God in the life of someone else.”
  • “Do we believe that we can be agents of flourishing without having to make or become idols?  That is the question of power.”)

VVThe prayer comes from a collection of Puritan prayers entitled The Valley of Vision that I have used in my devotional efforts the past couple of years.  I pray this prayer, “The Cry of a Convicted Sinner,” on behalf of those in leadership at Willow Creek who have caused their brothers and sisters grief and pain, but even more so I pray this for myself (for though my sins might not make front-page news, they are as vile as anyone’s), and I would encourage you to do the same (for though your sins might not shake to the core an institution that has had 40 years of global impact, they are as reprehensible as anybody’s).

Thou righteous and holy Sovereign, in whose hand is my life and whose are all my ways, keep me from fluttering about religion; fix me firm in it, for I am irresolute; my decisions are smoke and vapour, and I do not glorify thee, or behave according to thy will; cut me not off before my thoughts grow to responses, and the budding of my soul into full flower, for thou art forebearing and good, patient and kind.

Save me from myself, from the artifices and deceits of sin, from the treachery of my perverse nature, from denying thy charge against my offences, from a life of continual rebellion against thee, from wrong principles, views, and ends; for I know that all my thoughts, affections, desires and pursuits are alienated from thee.  I have acted as if I hated thee, although thou art love itself; have contrived to tempt thee to the uttermost, to wear out thy patience; have lived evilly in word and action.

Had I been a prince I would long ago have crushed such a rebel; had I been a father I would long since have rejected my child.  O, thou Father of my spirit, thou King of my life, cast me not into destruction, drive me not from thy presence, but wound my heart that it may be healed; break it that thine own hand may make it whole.

Amen.

The Lord be with you!

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Reflection #7 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number seven in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #7:  Confidence monitors, which allow musicians on stage to see the lyrics being sung by the congregation, sometimes do more harm than good.

At Judson University, our worship arts students take several communication classes to help them more fully appreciate how all the elements of dialogical worship can be Brendaenhanced by an understanding of some basic but important principles of communication.  One of those classes is a 400-level Communication Theory class taught by my colleague Dr. Brenda Buckley-Hughes.  Typically, halfway through the semester, students’ heads are swimming; by the end of the semester, most of those students have become equipped to bring a deeper understanding of what worship leaders can (and, we would argue, should) bring to corporate worship.  It’s amazing to see.

Basic communication theory dictates that communication happens best when obstacles (physical or psycho-emotional) are removed between the sender and the receiver.  That’s part of the motivation at work when pastors use a small music stand or a hightop table, instead of a massive pulpit, for their messages.  The smaller the obstacle in front of the speaker, the more clearly the message will (have the chance to) be heard by the audience.

The response to this well-intended urge as it relates to praise bands often finds vocalists, in particular, going without music on stands so that they can make better eye contact with congregations.  Because your typical praise-band volunteer doesn’t have the time in her schedule to memorize music–and because even the best of us fail to remember memorized material from time to time–most churches project the lyrics to the songs on a screen at the back of the church, colloquially known as a “confidence monitor.”  This takes care of the cluttered-stage-as-inhibitor-of-communication problem, to be sure.

The problem with confidence monitors is that they too often provoke slavish attention from musicians to the extent that the very-worthy goal of increasing eye contact with the congregation gets lost.  Only the most disciplined singers seem to be able to avoid staring at the confidence monitor in the midst of leading the people’s song.  This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise nowadays.  How many of us discipline ourselves with any kind of regularity when eating at a restaurant that features a TV in every corner?  Not too many.  I know several people who purposely ask the hostess for a table where they will least likely be distracted by a TV screen.  I do this myself whenever possible, especially on date nights with my wife.

The Worship-Leading 101 solution I’m going to suggest here is easier today than it ever has been, what with more-than-adequate videography available from a simple smartphone.  You can tell your praise-band members not to stare at the confidence monitor as often as you want, but nothing will grab their attention like watching a video of an entire worship set in which they have served.  Pastoral worship leaders will want to undertake this exercise with grace and a light-hearted spirit.  Staring at a video screen as opposed to communicating well with the congregation via excellent eye contact is not the Unpardonable Sin, but if all of us desire to bring our best to the altar in worship, neither is it inconsequential.  It will also help in the feedback process if you, as the worship leader, can point out in the video an observable area or two where you can improve as well.  Nothing helps build community in your team like fostering the (true) notion that while you are the designated leader, you are still first among equals (with “equals” being more important in the equation than “first”).

The Lord be with you as you and your praise-band teammates strive to communicate effectively in corporate worship!

Coming next week (Lord willing): The pastor’s wardrobe.

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