Three New Worship-Leading Initiatives for the New Ministry Season

editToday we welcome the Class of 2023 to my alma mater and employer, Judson University.  The excitement on campus last week–both that of the student leaders who returned early on and the new students who arrived on Friday–was infectious.  In my role as Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts, I get to take an active role in helping articulate and facilitate the culture into which my colleagues and I receive the students the Lord brings to us.  It’s an exciting time of the year, and, I confess, I still get butterflies every mid-August.  (I think when I cease having that nervous energy, I’ll know it’ll be time to hang up the pedagogical spikes.)

How about you, worship pastors, directors, and leaders?  Do you feel a sense of holy excitement as you enter into a new ministry season?  (I affirm that practitioners of contemporary worship would benefit from ordering their efforts more regularly according to the church calendar, but I recognize that the default setting for many of us is, in fact, the academic calendar–which, to be fair, does allow for some ebb and flow and captures, to a small extent, the essence of what our Catholic brothers and sisters refer to as Ordinary time.)  Do you enter the fall with an enthusiastic holy expectation as you seek the Lord in your planning for corporate worship?

Having experienced over 25 years’ worth of starts to new ministry years during my time as a weekend warrior, I know occasionally you enter this time of year feeling the well has run dry, at which time a few Holy-Spirit-inspired fresh ideas often can jumpstart your creativity.  So here are three ideas that might prove beneficial to you.  The extent to which they are divinely inspired I’ll leave to your discernment, but I have seen each energize worshiping communities in the past, and I pray they might be of some use to you today.

1. Put your worship set at the end of the service every once in a while.  Many of us in worship-leadership positions subscribe to the notion that an excellent definition of worship is simply this: God reveals, we respond.  (See longtime worship educator Ron Man for a marvelous, succinct summary of the revelation-and-response dynamic.)  In contemporary worship, so often we are invited to sing after what feels like woefully insufficient guidance in appreciating God’s revelation; many of our church services just launch right into congregational singing without so much as a call to worship or a word of Scriptural exhortation.  Putting the bulk of the congregational-response-in-song time after the sermon and/or the sharing of the Eucharistic meal allows those gathered a full complement of revelation prior to the invitation to respond.  (Thanks to worship leader Ryan Flanigan, curator of the Liturgical Folk network, for sharing this idea several years ago.)

2. Try a week of congregational singing without instruments on occasion.  Some churches do this all the time, of course, and I’m not advocating that approach.  But I used to go sans instrumental accompaniment about twice a year in the two most-recent churches I served, and the response was fabulous.  You need to choose the music wisely, of course, and you need your A-list vocal team members on board that weekend.  Hymns work well in this context, as you would guess, but certain contemporary songs serve the overarching goal better than you might initially expect.  Anything by the Gettys and songs in A-B design are good places to start.  (If you want to put a date on your calendar for planning or accountability’s sake, consider shooting for March 1, 2020, the next global A Cappella Sunday sponsored by the Center for Congregational Song.)  One by-product of doing this on occasion is that those cwm writers who excel in writing interesting melodies and who aren’t slavishly locked into I-IV-vi-V harmonic structure quickly rise to the fore, hence serving as good models for any budding songwriters in your midst.  Which leads nicely to point three. . . .

3. Begin conversations with interested members of your congregation re: starting a songwriting group.  The goal here is not to try to emulate any of the well-known, church-based songwriting collectives (Vineyard in the not-too-distant-past; Hillsong, Bethel, and many others currently) in contemporary Christendom.  If no one outside the walls of your sanctuary ever uses your church’s songs for worship, so be it.  The goal is to begin to explore, in song, those aspects of the Christian faith that develop indigenously from the lives of your parishioners–to give musical voice to the work the Holy Spirit is doing in your particular fellowship.  If songwriting isn’t your strongest gift, bone up on the basics via any number of videos or books on the subject.  Work for at least six months before ever utilizing a song in a worship service–and then be sure to bring it back around often enough for it to become familiar.  Do no more than one new song each quarter for a year or two until the congregation becomes accustomed to the efforts.  Make sure the first several are co-written by several members of your team.  Then sit back in gratitude at what Creator God is doing in your midst.

The Lord be with you this ministry season!  May your Kingdom efforts bear fruit, as you rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance and sustenance.

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Reflection #39 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 39 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 #39: Contemporary worship’s thorough emphasis on every aspect of an individual’s relationship with Christ often diminishes a healthy and biblical global perspective.

For all the wonderful and extremely important impact of worship renewal over the past 30Duke7 years or so, especially contemporary worship music (thanks, Adam Perez, right, for stating it so succinctly recently), contemporary worship, as a general rule, at least as practiced in suburban America, does only a fair-to-middling job helping its adherents foster a healthy global perspective–a perspective concerned as much about what God is doing around the world (and especially where people are hurting) as it is about strengthening individuals’ walks with the Lord.  Dr. Lester Ruth, one of my first grad-school worship profs, labeled the churches that camp on either end of this continuum as “cosmic-story churches” and “personal-story churches.”

Let me use a specific example to illustrate a general point.  My family attended a worship service yesterday morning that was excellent in many, many ways.  Unfortunately, however, at no point in the service, at all, was there mention of the tragic shootings in El Paso and Dayton over the weekend.  As much as those in attendance were encouraged, in the words of Godspell‘s “Day by Day” (which took its cues from the 13th century’s St. Richard of Chichester), “to see [God] more clearly, love [God] more dearly, and follow [God] more nearly,” they were not encouraged to get worked up about or even to pray for the many whose lives were changed significantly for the worse and forever in a moment’s time.

Rather than reinvent the wheel here, let me cut and paste what I consider to be an antidote to this kind of myopia in corporate worship from the blog I wrote shortly after suburban Chicago had a mass shooting earlier this year.  Here’s what I suggested worship leaders do the weekend after a national tragedy (you can read the whole post here):

1) Don’t ignore the tragedy.  Terrible events like this happen so frequently that we risk becoming numb to them if we don’t fashion some kind of response.  To whatever degree that is true for individuals, it’s even more important for churches–especially when the tragedy hits close to home. . . .  While we can’t address every single act of evil or every natural disaster in our worship services, we must confront the brutal manifestations of our fallen world when they happen in our backyard.  [Theologian Karl] Barth’s exhortation for preachers to prepare with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other serves as great advice for worship leaders, too.

2) Don’t be afraid to go off script.  With the advent of worship-planning software . . . worship leaders construct worship-service orders further in advance than ever before.  While I generally applaud this preparation, we need to be willing to change directions pretty quickly when a tragedy happens in our community.  [I then detailed the change in the pre-sermon worship time I felt compelled to put forth after a similar instance 11 years prior, in which I led with material from Ps. 22 and transitioned into a time of lament.]

3. Don’t sugarcoat the tough stuff; wrestle with it.  The Sunday after the loathsome synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh last fall, the worship leader of a church service I experienced online began the set with “The Lion and the Lamb.”  My initial fear, that he was going to ignore the shooting altogether, was alleviated when he transitioned into a prayer for the victims, but, in doing so, he missed a chance to wrestle with hard truth.  “Who can stop the Lord Almighty?” the congregation had just sung/asked together, and a worship leader more in tune with fostering congregational spiritual formation might have responded, before transitioning into the next song (or the prayer that followed, in this case), “Well, there are 11 families in Pittsburgh this morning that might suggest one deranged guy with an AR-15 can and did.”  That could have led into transitional comments about the difficult-to-grasp but real sovereignty of God, the problem of pain and suffering manifested in times like this, or a whole host of other things, but the juxtaposing of the triumphal “Lion and the Lamb” with the brutality of the Pittsburgh shooting—without putting both in context—was a missed opportunity.

May the Lord be with you, contemporary worship leaders, as you seek to help the members of your congregations think more purposely about things that matter to the heart of God in addition to their personal faith walks, important as they are.

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What Contemporary Worship Leaders Can Learn from the Gaithers

To whatever extent I might heretofore have had a modicum of street cred with Gen X and Millennial contemporary worship leaders, I am probably going to lose it with this post.  Oh, well.

I grew up in the 70’s and thus experienced what I would categorize as contemporary Christian music’s (CCM’s) pre-adolescence.  (For good, accessible reads on CCM’s birth, consider Don Cusic’s history The Sound of Light: A History of Gospel and Christian Music and a wonderful chapter in Richard Mouw and Mark Noll’s study of hymns in American Protestantism Wonderful Words of Life, “‘I Found My Thrill’: The Youth for Christ Movement and American Congregational Singing, 1940-1970.”)  By the time the first albums of Love Song (1972), The Second Chapter of Acts (1974), Keith Green (1977), and Amy Grant (1977) arrived on the scene, Bill and Gloria Gaither were already passé in my eyes (and those of countless Jesus People).

IndianaHistoricalSocietyPhotos057Sure, the Gaithers had contributed “Because He Lives,” “He Touched Me,” and “Something Beautiful” to evangelicalism’s musical lexicon (and, eventually, hymnals), but I didn’t feel they could offer much to my generation.  And even though my dad foisted their music on me–we had our own version of the Gaither Trio, with Dad as Bill, Mom as Gloria, and me as Danny/Gary McSpadden–I dismissed them as culturally irrelevant.

A few posts back, I mentioned a summer project of digitizing some newspaper and magazine articles, but I also have been transferring some audio cassettes to CD’s.  Because the Gaithers have been favorites of my mom’s for 50 years, I recently converted a couple of their live albums for her, Moments Are Forever (1977) and Live across America (1980).  Many years sufficiently removed from too-cool-for-school immaturity, I discovered that Bill and Gloria were terrific worship leaders–and not just for senior citizens–from whom contemporary worship leaders, if they will put their preconceptions aside, can learn much.  Here are three simple principles for worship-leading gleaned from those two Gaither live albums.  (Note: Although the musicianship of the Gaither Vocal Band in the 21st century far and away supersedes anything the Gaithers did as a trio in the 20th century, the worship-leading lessons show up more readily from that bygone era.)

1. Show some reverence for the past.  If your only exposure to the Gaithers comes through the 783 Homecoming DVD’s they’ve released (OK, maybe it’s 629), you might think revering the past is all the Gaithers do, so you have to reach back to those early years of the Trio to appreciate how smoothly their concerts flowed from songs that were, by then, universally loved and recognized to newer songs that, primarily because Bill wrote with Average-Joe congregations in mind, soon became eminently singable standards.  (The resurgence in hymns in the past 10-15 years in contemporary worship certainly speaks to this concept.)

2. Use thoughtful spoken transitions to enhance the congregation’s worship.  Gloria, in particular, was known for her lengthy monologues (see “There’s Something about That Name”), and contemporary worship leaders can’t take that much time in our producer-counting-down-the-allotted-time-in-your-in-ear-monitor culture.  But we can, and should, offer brief “verbals” (as one local megachurch’s worship team calls them) to help our congregations appreciate why we have chosen to put these particular songs on their lips–and we shouldn’t absolve ourselves from this responsibility by assuming everyone in attendance will connect the dots on their own and intuit the greater, overarching narrative threads of our worship without a little assistance.  (They won’t.)

3. Don’t shy away from emotions should they well up.  Listen to either Bill or Gloria speak and eventually you’ll hear them testifying through tears.  Darrell Harris, a founder of the Star Song label, for which the Gaithers recorded for a spell, says, “Both are very comfortable with their tears and never hold them back.  They will talk right through them, just letting them flow.”  In our tightly structured contemporary worship services, we can’t have a leader tearing up every other song, but if God’s faithfulness, provision, and love don’t cause worship leaders to get emotional every so often, someone might need to encourage them to let the passion wash through them and spill out onto the congregation now and again.

So, millennial worship leaders, now that I’ve convinced you to give your grandma’s favorite octogenarian church musicians a try, what songs might you consider?  Here are three (of many) that could be employed in contemporary worship today (in addition to Matt Maher’s renditon of “Because He Lives”):

1. “It Is Finished” starts with typical southern-gospel/Second-Coming/victory-in-heaven rhetoric but then ingeniously (“Yet in my heart the battle was raging / Not all prisoners of war had come home”) brings it back to today and the victory we have in Jesus right now.

2. “Canceled/Worthy” is a less-familiar offering but perfect for redemption celebrations.  Set in 6/8 meter, it’s hard not to get caught up in that rhythm, which underscores the goodness of having “all my debts canceled, Satan’s threats canceled”; “Now I stand worthy . . . through the Lamb” indeed!

3. “I Then Shall Live” sets Gloria’s lyrics to the familiar Finlandia melody of classical composer Jean Sibelius.  This is a perfect closing song for a service on the Church’s mission in the world (“may You feed a hungry world through me”) and, in my opinion, the Gaithers’ best lyric.

The Lord be with you, worship leaders!  And thanks, Bill and Gloria Gaither, for your many obvious contributions to the Church’s congregational song and many less-obvious-but-significant contributions to worship leadership!

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Reflection #38 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 38 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 #38: Preaching in the contemporary American church unwittingly but not infrequently places improper focus on the deliverer, not the Deliverer.

78711Mark Galli, of Christianity Today, is one of my favorite church-culture commentators, and, as I have mentioned recently, he just launched a new series, The Elusive Presence, that has, in my opinion, hit the mark on a number of topics.  This past week he covered preaching in the contemporary American church in an article prophetically titled “And Now, the Star of the Show. . . .”  I encourage you to read the entire piece, but here are some particularly profound thoughts.

Galli’s primary point deals with content in contemporary worship.  He sees two main areas of concern, the first being a misguided focus on the horizontal.

Preaching is one time in the week when we have the opportunity to hear about something other than ourselves, other than the horizontal. It’s the time to hear about God and the wonder and mysteries of his love, of what he’s done for us in Christ. But more and more, evangelical preaching has become another way we talk about ourselves, and in this case, to learn about the preacher. . . .

Today, it’s not uncommon to hear a sermon in which the opening, closing, and key illustration from the sermon’s main point is taken from the life and experience of the pastor and his family. Such sermons do a wonderful job of helping listeners connect with the pastor. And pastors keep using them precisely because when people leave the service and shake their hand, they say what a wonderful sermon it was, with comments like, “I love hearing about your family” and “Your kids are so cute” and “I really identify with you.”

Really? We want our congregations to identify with us? This is precisely the problem with [using] personal illustrations: It inadvertently puts the spotlight on the preacher. Within a few months of such preaching, everyone knows the quirks of each member of the pastor’s family, his triumphs and failures in key parts of his life, his passions and his dislikes, and so forth. In the end, they know more about their pastor than they know about Jesus.

The second concerns our evangelical penchant for elevating the practical, which I would suggest is a by-product of seeker-focused approaches to corporate worship.

We evangelicals are suckers for the practical sermon that tells us how to live for Jesus. But too often, the practical crowds out the biblical. A sermon on “Five Ways to Keep Your Marriage Strong” might mention Jesus or the Bible here and there, but take away those references and the substance of the sermon remains the same: great, practical relational psychology. In a similar vein, we hear sermons on how to manage one’s finances, with the key insights drawn from financial self-help literature, decorated with verses from Proverbs. And then there are the sermons on raising children and finding a career and work against abortion so on and so forth. Such sermons are full of sound and wise advice, and we need sound and wise advice on many topics.

The question is: Is this the most vital, relevant thing we have to communicate in worship? The one time in the week in which we gather to praise and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is this really the most important thing we can say? Have we exhausted the treasures and wonders of God’s Word? Have we said all we can say about the glories of salvation? Or are we bored with talk about God, so that we revert once again to talk about ourselves and how to make our lives more manageable?

Interestingly, Galli recommends bringing back pulpits to help militate against the pastor’s self-referential tendencies.  (I made reference to this in an earlier blog post in this series.)

[W]e might bring back pulpits. It doesn’t have to be the kind that remind us of churches of yesteryear. How about designing a contemporary pulpit that accents the fact that the preacher has been commissioned by the church, and that the sermon is finally under the authority of the church—all of which is under the authority of God? Something that says in its design that in this moment, the sermon—the spoken word of God—is not about the speaker of that word but about the God who stands with and above the preacher.

He also advocates for shorter sermons, something I also recommended in a previous post.

[P]astors might shorten the sermon so that the service is not dominated by one person and one voice. We can make room for more singing. Make room for more prayer. Make room for silence. Maybe make room for the regular celebration of the sacraments/ordinances. In other words, we can make room for God.

The Lord be with you, worship leaders who preach, and may our congregations take away more about Jesus than they do about us (i.e., as southern gospel music’s The Kingdom Heirs sing, “Just Preach Jesus”).

Coming next week (Lord willing): More reflections on the contemporary American church.

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Reflection #37 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 37 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 #37: The upside of contemporary worship’s come-as-you-are informality and spontaneity is often mitigated by worship leaders’ off-the-cuff rhetoric that, if not outright heretical, can paint a very insufficient, incomplete, or ill-informed picture of our Triune God.

I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English/Communication Arts.  I appreciate those truths conveyed in my communication theory studies regarding the value of understanding your audience members and their real and felt needs as you craft your message.  I acknowledge that studied perceptions (accurate or otherwise) of 21st-century parishioners’ needs motivate much of what we do in contemporary worship these days.  And I accept that all the above often leads to dressed-down rhetoric that eschews any semblance of formal scripting.

In practice, however, the applications of this well-intended theory often lead to verbiage that is suspect, at best, where theological truth is concerned.  Say what you want about centuries-old liturgies passed down through the ages.  Decry how, in the hands of passion-bereft worship leaders, such creeds, prayers, and recitations promote dry, tired worship.  (And, I confess, I was in my late 30’s, in my grad-school studies at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, before I experienced liturgy routinely and regularly effected well.)  But by the time those well-worn scripts–amended, edited, and shaped over time–reach us in the year 2019, they have, almost always, been shorn of any obvious theological inaccuracies (applied universally, recognizing distinct denominations’ various perspectives and those points of Truth about which Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians disagree).

In most churches my wife and I have attended over the past two and a half years of our church visits, it seems as if a desire to avoid stiffness unwittingly leads to unintended flippancy.  Mark Galli, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, puts it this way in an article  from his ongoing series on the current state of evangelical Christianity, The Elusive Presence, entitled “The Temptations of Evangelical Worship”:

We sing various choruses that say, “Bring down your glory” and “show us your face.” But we do not know what we’re asking for. People in the Bible who actually encountered God’s glory fall on the ground in fear. For example, after the miracle of the fishes, Peter knows he has seen glory and that he is in the presence of the Glorious One. He doesn’t give God an ovation. He doesn’t weep with joy. He falls on his knees, begging Jesus to depart from him. The glory of Jesus has made it clear to him that he is a sinful man (Luke 5).

The same thing happens to Isaiah in the Temple. When Isaiah is given but a glimpse of God’s glory, he doesn’t break into song, singing a praise chorus. He actually thinks he is about to die: “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Isa. 6:5).

51UUjlwIR5L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Transforming Presence: How the Holy Spirit Changes Everything–From the Inside Out, a new book from Daniel Henderson to which my mother introduced me, has some practical suggestions for avoiding both stiffness and rhetoric that promotes any number of inaccuracies re: the presence of God in our worship (particularly the notion that unless we do certain things when we gather God might not “show up” in our midst, the corporate worship version of putting the cart before the horse).  This instead-of-that-try-this list (from which I am cherry-picking particular examples) appears in an appendix at the end of the text entitled “A New Covenant Worship Vocabulary”:

“Lord, we welcome you” vs. “Lord, we are grateful for Your indwelling presence” or “Thank You for welcoming us at the cross.”

“The Holy Spirit came” vs. “The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in our lives.”

“Release Your Spirit” vs. “Bring us into complete submission and responsiveness to Your Spirit.”

“Holy Spirit, fall” vs. “Holy Spirit, fill, control, and dominate our lives.”

“Pour out Your Spirit” vs. “Take charge of our lives as we submit to Your indwelling Spirit.”

“Welcome to the house of the Lord” vs. “Welcome to the gathering of God’s people.”

“Flood the atmosphere” vs. “Take control of our hearts.”

“Let Your glory fall” vs. “Jesus, You are our glory.  We seek Your will and word.”

“Let our praises fill this temple” vs. “May the indwelling Spirit inspire our praises.”

“Thank You that we can come into Your presence” vs. “Thank You that Your presence has come into us–through the work of Christ.”

Nit-picking?  Arguing semantics?  I don’t think so.  More like putting the same kind of effort and energy into carefully choosing the words we use in our services that most of us put into doing our best to make every aspect of church-weekend life culturally relevant–from the parking lot to the nursery to the gathering for corporate worship.  Worship leaders, I encourage you to think carefully about these matters that are, I would argue, as important as your song selections and band rehearsals.  The Lord be with you!

Coming next week, Lord willing: More observations on worship in the contemporary American church.

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A Taste of Rich Mullins

Summer is my time for reorganization projects, and this week I’m going through old articles–some from magazines, some from newspapers, some from cyberspace–that I’ve amassed over the years.  I used to hand out short essays in writing classes I taught at Judson University to illustrate various aspects of effective rhetorical technique, and the small file I began in the early 90’s now fills two desk drawers, so it’s time to digitize all these and enter the 21st century.

C1oYD-no9YS._SL1000_Most of what I’ve saved has come from the creative energies of others, but while rummaging about the other day, I ran across a couple of articles I had written back when I was doing free-lance, feature-article/concert-review stringing for a couple of local papers, the Elgin Courier-News and, on rare occasion, the Wheaton Daily Journal.  During those years, I had the pleasure of getting to know ccm singer/songwriter Rich Mullins at a very basic level.  We weren’t drinking buddies or anything like that, but I did live next door to him one summer (fun story) when he stayed on Judson’s campus while recording in Elgin, and I did end up interviewing him on three separate occasions.  We also brought him to chapel (the quid pro quo for his cheap rent that summer) when I was directing that ministry at Judson.  It was enough so that had someone mentioned my name and put it in context for him, Rich might have said, “Oh, yeah–that guy at that school in Elgin.”  That was about the extent of the depth of our relationship.  (Some Elgin friends knew him better; in fact, Rich gave a house concert in their home a few weeks before he died.  You can access a home movie of that concert here, if you’d like.)

As I re-read the two pieces that ended up being published from those interviews (the third was the best of the lot but was nixed by the powers that were at CCM magazine, for which I wrote a regular column and album reviews, in the late 80’s . . . argh, editors!), I was reminded again of Mullins’ quirky approach to the Christian music industry, and life in general, a taste of which comes through in the pieces below.  (The first article is in two parts and must be read column by column, awkwardly.  Sorry.)  In the midst of various ubiquitous summertime “Taste of . . .” festivals, I hope you enjoy a small “Taste of Rich Mullins.”

Mullins 1a Mullins 1b

Mullins 2

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Who knows?  I plan to get around to more reflections on contemporary Christian worship in the American Church eventually.

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We Interrupt This Blog Series . . .

53580536_312280736313835_5335483072609517568_n. . . to introduce you to a fabulous music group that just released a full-length CD.  We the Least features two of my former Judson University Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts students, sister-and-brother duo Michaela and Nathanael DeLong, along with friend Dell May.  Their new long-player, Screw It Up, released on hard-copy CD as well as all the usual streaming outlets, is a sonic joy, full of catchy songs, interesting lyrics–many of them humorously self-deprecating (none finer than the title track)–and Christian Truth, some overt and some the product of what Eugene Peterson so marvelously designated the “sacred ordinary” things of life.  It is well worth your investment if you’re looking for something fresh and out of the ordinary for your summer listening pleasure.

I would be remiss if I didn’t flesh out the adjective fresh in the previous sentence.  Over the course of the past . . . well, for all of the 21st century, to be frank, I have despaired over the state of Christian pop music, especially where harmonic development, or lack thereof, is concerned.  As an exercise in both research and nostalgia, I recently have been listening to the WOW Hits series, beginning in 2004 and concluding in 2016, and I have been reminded again of the stultifying ubiquity of the I-IV-vi-V chord progression and its 23 other possible combinations in ccm.  Contemporary worship music is, alas, no better (and sometimes worse), a reality I have lamented in this space before.  There are, of course, laudable exceptions to the rule in both ccm and cwm, but they tend to be in the little-heard indie world, unfortunately; the fact that we can’t point to many more creative tunesmiths serving and being marketed for the contemporary Christian church does not reflect well on the current cultural arbiters of art made by believers.

I bang this drum loudly in Judson University’s Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts, and Michaela and Nathanael DeLong were clearly listening.  I laughed out loud for joy on more than one occasion, as a deliciously unexpected diminished chord appeared here, a cleverly unanticipated flat-VI chord emerged there, and on an on it went.  Combine the harmonic vivacity with perceptive lyrics that belie their authors’ relative youth, and I can recommend We the Least’s latest offering to you without a shred of reservation.  Truly, purchasing this album will be a decision you’ll be hardpressed to screw up.

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week, Lord willing: Back to reflections on worship in the contemporary American Church.

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