I have a handful of go-to writers when it comes to worship. If I want to put contemporary worship music (cwm) into historical context, I consult my former Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies professor Lester Ruth. If I want to focus on worship’s potential for corporate spiritual formation, I turn to Marva Dawn. If I want to look at the rich contributions of the African-American church to worship, I grab anything by James Abbington. If I want to rekindle my first love where worship is concerned–and see how all the above intersects in holistic and beautiful ways, I take one of my 19 books written or edited by Robert Webber off the shelf.
But if I had to choose only one author whose work I’d want to have with me on a desert island, it would be Rory Noland, director of Heart of the Artist ministries and a former adjunct professor at Judson University’s Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts. I’ve known Rory for many years and knew of him before that. Because I live in the northwest Chicago suburbs, I’ve been impacted by the ministry of Willow Creek Community Church, where Rory served for many years as music director. When years ago I encountered a young man whose last name was Noland in one of my classes, I casually asked, “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Rory Noland, would you?” He smiled and said, “That’s my dad.” Soon thereafter, I invited Rory to share thoughts on The Heart of the Artist with an Intro to Worship class I was teaching, since we were using the book as the class text. The rest is history.
I am very pleased to use this space to alert readers to the publishing of a second edition of that classic, The Heart of the Artist, newly revised. From Noland’s preface:
The second edition contains a great deal of new content. As I’ve taught this material over the years, I’ve continued to add new insights and illustrations. While this edition contains the same basic content as the original, it reflects additional learning I’ve gained since the book’s first publication. I’ve updated the scenarios at the beginning of each chapter that, along with the discussion questions, introduce the chapter’s topic. People often ask me whether these short, slice-of-church-life stories are true. I assure them they are; each one is based on real people I’ve known or encountered while ministering in the church. But I jokingly add that the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Let me stop with that sentence to highlight what I love best about Noland’s efforts. Unlike so many authors–all of whom, understandably, must promote themselves in some fashion since their writing helps support their families and careers–Noland never seems to make grandiose self-referential splashes or pronouncements. He’s hardly ever on social media, the obvious place to blow your own horn (however justifiably), which no doubt costs him some prestige and renown. And I just thumbed through all four of his books looking for one–just one–photo of him. There were none to be found, and at first glance I don’t see one in The Heart of the Artist, 2nd ed. Perhaps the motivation for this admirable humility comes from a bit of wisdom from the School of Hard Knocks. More from the preface, honesty that has endeared Noland to so many:
I’m embarrassed to admit how spiritually immature I was in my early days of ministry. Whenever conflict occurred, I was convinced it was everyone else’s fault. Certainly not mine! Much to my surprise, I began noticing that more often than not I was to blame; I was the cause of the strife. Or at the very least my stuff was exacerbating the problem. My immaturity and lack of character threatened to undermine the ministry I was trying to build. . . .
I didn’t write The Heart of the Artist because I had life all figured out and had conquered all my shortcomings. I have struggled with every character defect discussed in this book, and I continue to wrestle with my old nature. I have learned much along the way, most of which grew out of my quiet times with the Lord. I’m happy to report that I have made significant progress over the years. The Lord, in his mercy, has grown me up in significant ways, but I certainly haven’t arrived yet. I continue to apply the things I share in these pages, and I feel privileged to be able to pass on what I’ve learned to the next generation of church artists.
I am so grateful that students at Judson University have over the years been some of the “next generation of church artists” whom Noland has blessed. I am eager to dive into the revised edition of The Heart of the Artist. The first one was a milestone in practical theology for church musicians and worship leaders. This one will be even more significant, I have no doubt.
Just in case you don’t have them already, also consider Noland’s . . .
- Thriving as an Artist in the Church, excellent for all the various creatives in your church
- The Worshiping Artist, a fabulous handbook for growing worship leaders
- Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven, a primer on worship as spiritual formation.
The Lord be with you!