Sing Unto the Lord


What matters
August 22, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Thinking Music

I know that it is Friday and noone reads blogs on Fridays. Well at least I hardly get any hits on Fridays. However I thought this was so important and I didn’t want to lose my thoughts over the weekend.

I had a conversation with a mate today from another church and he was talking about a friend of his who is involved in music ministry. I won’t tell you too much about his situation but it was very similar to my own just a couple of years ago.

I was involved in a growing music ministry and I was keen to explore the opportunities I could have to do Music stuff full time for a church. Others encouraged me to think through doing MTS (Ministry training… like an internship) and getting some theological training but I wondered if it would be more beneficial to enrol at a music college or something similar and study there part time while running music stuff part time at church. Besides the obvious arrogance and pride of thinking that I could just dictate to my church what kind of job I wanted, I came to realise something about music ministry. Since then I’ve seen so many examples of it that it makes so much sense.

A ministry in music that is going to last and have a significant impact for the gospel will HAVE to be found, centred and forged from a deep rich theological understanding of God’s word and an ability to teach his word faithfully. Lots of guys are able to put out great songs and organise bands so that they are tight and can produce good tunes. Less but still lots of guys can write good Christ honouring songs.

However the ability to teach congregations not just how to sing but WHY to sing and to not just do that through little bits and pieces throughout a set but from the pulpit, requires someone to have a good handle on what the word says about song but even more than that, what it says about Jesus.

The ‘music guy’ or the ‘magnification guy’ depending on your context wants to help people see Christ’s glory properly and so to be moved by it that they want to give up everything for him, let alone sing their guts out. Music guys too often sell ourselves short and aim way too low by having as our main goal to do music in a way that people will love.

Who cares if people love it if Christ isn’t honoured.

I believe it is important to think about ways of doing music in a culturally relavent way. I also think that it is important to improve skills so that you achieve that goal well, but there is a greater goal.

We want to see Jesus glorified.

In the metropolitan tabernacle when Spurgeon was preaching there the music was fantastic. There wasn’t a band or even an organ. The song leader would hit the tuning fork and then the whole congregation would sing with so much enthusiasm that there would be tears all around the hall. The reason for their awesome singing was that they loved Jesus so much that their songs reminded them of him. There were hymns written that were reflective of what they had been taught.

However once spurgeon died and others took over the preaching lost some of it’s christ centeredness. But the music kicked on. So the church threw all it had at making the music great even though the gospel was becoming more and more watered down. People now loved singing those songs because of the experience of singing them. They didn’t love Jesus anymore, they loved singing. And so the church grew more and more liberal.

In the end it doesn’t matter what great songs you sing, if you worship the music more than the one who the songs are about then you are committing idolatory.

Is it more important for the guy who will have probably the greatest influence on how his congregation sings to be trained musically or biblically? In the end you might have some sweet music but if you just assume that you can input your own gospel centred lyrics because you’ve been hearing the Bible taught for ages in your church, then you have begun to assume the gospel. What legacy do you want to leave? Do you want to be the guy who made sure the music rocked or the guy who taught people Christ’s proper place in their lives.

I’ve got a good friend who did music stuff in a church for years. He was an evangelical but the church was on shaky ground. It lacked direction and good biblical teaching. He refused to be ‘the worship pastor’ because he rightly saw that that role would need to include a MASSIVE teaching component. He was adamant that he was just the music guy. He was a fantastic musician who had a good head on his shoulders for the theology of music but he never spent time teaching it to his church or pastors. He has left that church now and their music still rocks. He has left a massive legacy there in terms of skill. BUT, their theology and thinking in this area is wishy washy and directionless. Far from being christocentric. I never want to just be the music guy.

So I did MTS.



Syd Anglicans making music
June 3, 2008, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Doing music, Thinking Music

A recent article on Sydney Anglicans dot net speaks of a couple of ministries where music is playing a large role. In particular the Dean is supporting Richard Maegraith in his ministry to Jazz musos in and around Sydney. I reckon this is a sweet thing to be highlighting. We have a band at nitechurch called Dissonance who play for our evangelistic cafe nites and are looking to get some more gigs. They are a tight jazz standard band and I can hook you up if you want some jazz action. We got Dissonance started because we saw a need to have good music at our events. We don’t want to put off musically minded people by having sub-par thrown together stuff.

I’m intrigued though why Christians always seem to go for jazz. I love it. But where are the evangelical industrial goth bands? Is it because we are all nerdy and so is Jazz?



A worship leader is…
May 13, 2008, 11:43 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

Hey all.

I’m half way through reading Worship Matters: Leading others to encounter the greatness of God, by Bob Kauflin. I’m finding it good. It’s light, but there’s heaps of bits that I’d love my team to read. Particularly there is a good chapter on reading theology and one on skill that’s tight and to the point. In one section he speaks of the discussion on using the term ‘Worship Leader’ when speaking of the one who is leading the singing/response time of a meeting. He quotes Dr. Carson as saying we should get rid of the term altogether because of the unhelpful connotation it gives that only the music is worship or that worship is led by the best guitarist, rather than Jesus. He gives cred to that view and he says that he generally uses other terms to speak of this role like: Music Minister, Worship Pastor, Service leader or ‘The music guy’. He then says…

While I agree with Dr. Carson‘s perspective, I don’t think we have to lose the term ‘Worship Leader”. It succinctly communicates that our goal is to lead others in praising God. But neither should we exaggerate the significance of the phrase or attach biblical authority to it.

I don’t like the term because of the baggage it carries but I do like his emphasis in leading people in praise. I think that the person who is ‘the music guy’ should think more intentionally about his role. He is the one who is leading people to see Jesus more and be affected by him. He doesn’t just play a few popular tunes, there is an opportunity there for him to lead.

Bob then gives his job description for a ‘Worship Leader’ which I think is the best one I have read.

A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.

Whatever you call the guy, do him a favour and buy him this book. It’s mad.



The Preacher, The Worship Leader
May 1, 2008, 10:30 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

Peter Mead at ‘Biblical Preaching‘ has raised some good questions about the linkage between sermons and singing in a service. He asks whether we should sing after a sermon or not and he gives good arguments for both.

What do you think? Is it helpful to sing and respond after hearing God’s word, or would it be better to just spend some time in contemplation. Can singing distract from the message just heard. I know at our church, while we love singing after a sermon I’m often disappointed to see people use it as a time to unwind and get some release after listening to God’s word. It can allow them to disengage with the word being taught to them.

hmm. Big questions. Any answers?



When to fire your music team
March 31, 2008, 9:35 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

I had a friend talk to me on the weekend and he said that in his experience the area of church life that has given the most grief is the music team. The music team can be full of arrogance, pride, selfishness, bitterness, angst and divisiveness. Often when music is pushed to do well it means that musos get cut who aren’t good enough and that causes pastoral issues, or musos get put on who are great but full of themselves and that creates a music team full of glory-seekers.

In his mind, it’s not essential in the Bible to have a music team so lets just get rid of it. I actually agree with him.

Sort of.

I think that a music team can lead your people to sin more than to be joyful in Christ. They can cause fractiousness and gossip and resentment quicker than it takes a celebrity to get of jail. There is no where in the New Testament that says such a team needs to exist. In fact you could argue that the music team that is there in the old testament is, like the rest of the priesthood, now found within each member of Christ’s body and fulfilled in Jesus himself. We don’t need a special group to run our singing. It doesn’t need to be world class. It isn’t a sin to have bad music. Perhaps you need to drop your music team.

But…

A more ideal situation would be to have a music team that loves Jesus and his people more than themselves. I personally would cut someone who was obviously self seeking before I cut someone who couldn’t sing. Nothing kills music teams more than fights. Music teams fight because we are involved in art. Artists generally have the tendency to put their ego and sense of self on the line with their art. It is a very ‘self revealing’ role. However this approach is not acceptable in a church context. Your ‘art’ is not yours to give. You are serving your church. As you sing together, a song becomes a joint offering of worship from the whole congregation. So often we are taught as church musicians that we are bringing our talents to be our worship to God. That’s individualist crap.

You are using the gifts that God has graciously given you to serve his people in joining together and firing each other up to live lives of magnification and worship. That means that if it doesn’t serve the church for you to play a certain way… don’t do it. If it doesn’t serve church for you to play at all, then listen to your team leader for advice and maybe you should serve elsewhere. Church music is about church. Not about individuals wanting to do ‘their bit for God’.

This is why I like the idea of Bands rather than a team. People already understand some of this thinking when they are in a band. They get that they aren’t individuals. They work together. They arrange together to get the best result as a band. As soon as one member is keen to express themselves contrary to the way the band is heading, they come into trouble.

The model of a Music team as opposed to a few bands encourages people to do their own thing. They are on the roster with different people all the time and so a ‘every man for themselves’ philosophy can take root. Our church has just moved to having bands right across morning and evening congregations. The results have been amazing. People are working together in a way they never have before. I’m excited also by my friend’s experience.

Like I said before he had felt like it wasn’t worth having music in church because it caused too many problems, but now he said that at the church he is at the music works on a band structure. There are three smaller bands instead of one massive crew. He said that the music has been sweet and conflict has been absent. I’d encourage you to start thinking about the structure of your team and how you can be working to debunk individualism within music ministry. It can be a fantastic tool in gathering together. It would be a shame to have to get rid of it because of sin.



John Owen loves to sing
March 18, 2008, 10:45 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

I’ve been reading a bit of John Owen lately. I found him heaps hard to start with but his sermons are easier. You can download them from ccel.org. I printed off the first hundred pages and bound it at the church office. Sweet action.

Yesterday I read a sermon on Psalm 45. A few parts were just gold! There was also a lot of references to music and singing. He speaks of David’s gifting in music as being a tool for God to use to bless his people. He also mentions that in his mind…

singing is a means appointed of God whereby men should express their joy in a way of
thankfulness
.’

He then goes on to point out the error in a heart not filled with joy in response to Christ’s offer of salvation. This bit was particularly compelling:

Let us inquire whether we have found, or do find, this joy in our own hearts. Is the remembrance of the closing of our hearts with Christ a song of loves unto us? Truly, if our loves be earnest and intent upon other things, we find joy and refreshment in them; but are we not dead and cold to the thoughts of this great and excellent advantage, of being espoused to Christ, as all believers are? If so, it is but a sad evidence we are truly so espoused.

Alas! if a poor beggar, a deformed creature, should be taken into the espousals of a great prince, would she not be sensible of it? We are poor, deformed, woeful, sinful, polluted creatures; and for us to be taken into this relation with Jesus Christ! — where are our hearts? Why do not we rejoice in the Lord with joy unspeakable, and full of glory? Is it not because Christ hath not our whole hearts? because we are  not so entirely with him and for him in our affections as becomes this relation? because the world
hath too much hold upon us? Shall God rejoice, and Christ rejoice, — shall it be a song of loves to God and Christ that we are brought into this relation, and these dull hearts of ours be no farther affected with it? We ought to be ashamed to think how little we are concerned in this so great a privilege…’

Wow. There is a call to watch the affections of your heart. Pray that we might realise the weight of our sin and the wonder of our salvation!

There are a lot of Johns who love to sing. So far I’ve mentioned John Stott and John Owen. Maybe I’ll turn this into a blogging series.



Triple J and Church
March 3, 2008, 9:12 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

I go through stages of listening to Triple J. Usually it lasts for about three weeks and then I remember my ipod and come running home. Lately as I’ve been listening I’ve become frustrated at someone.me.

I listen to heaps of music. I love The Herd, Thrice, Cog, Chopin, Theolonius Monk, The Black Keys, The Gorrilaz, Coheed and Cambria, The Killers, The Mars Volta, Nick Cave, Silverchair, Boysetsfire, Jimmy Eat World, Mozart, Keith Jarret, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Brand New, Oasis, The Smiths, Nirvana, The Music, AFI and heaps more!

But the music that we play in church and the music that I write for church all sounds so church! Here is our church in the middle of one of arguably the most musically rich areas of Australia and we pump out songs that sound nothing like the world around us. Christian music is weird music. If you heard a christian song on Triple J I’m sure you could pick it in a second. No one else makes music like we do – except U2 fourteen years ago. Why is it that I can listen to so much good music by those who don’t know Jesus and I haven’t learnt anything in the way I write music.

One of the key points of our music ministry is that we want to be missional. That means we should be seeking to allow our music to be an entry point for the culture around us. We don’t want it to be a barrier!

Now I hope that this is all changing. The guys in leadership in Nitechurch music have been thinking this way for a little while and some of our songs are sounding better. Can I encourage you to think about the music you are creating/choosing/arranging. Does it serve in making your church more missional, or does it contribute to an insular church.