Posts Tagged church
I deeply appreciate these videos created by InterVarsity’s video production crew, twentyonehundred . They have re-framed the conversation about worship styles to emphasis something that I’ve always believed – that worship should be diverse in style out of love and mutual submission that looks a lot like sharing a meal together.
These clips could function as a good conversation starter for a team of musicians, pastors, youth leaders, etc who are exploring the idea of diverse worship. It’s also a breath of fresh air in a time when the church is having hard and painful conversations about race and ethnicity. Brothers and sisters in Christ do need to have hard conversations, but they need to happen in the context of relationships that are fueled by gospel-based hospitality.
If you are a singer in the choir or the praise team at New City Fellowship, please read this update about some more changes (we can’t get enough!) that I am implementing in the music ministry. These changes will take effect immediately but are always subject to revision if necessary. Basically, the plan is to eliminate choir rehearsals and the choir director position in order to replace them with “Choir Sundays” which will happen 6 times a year.
Before getting into these changes, I want to give a big, “thank you” to Noelle Becker, who stepped in and took up leadership of the choir this year. She’s been doing a lot of work to plan and prepare rehearsals with spiritual sensitivity and aesthetic excellence. I also want to thank Carrie Jones, Helen Scott and Vera Parkin who have been serving as accompanists to support our choir rehearsals. Finally, I want to thank everyone in the choir who has been sacrificing so much to be at rehearsals, to serve on Sunday mornings and to love the congregation through using their voices. These changes are not an indictment on anyone’s performance, but rather, it’s time to take our collective gifts and focus them into more fruitful areas of the music ministry.
As we look forward to what’s next for the choir ministry at New City Fellowship, I want to share with you what I see as our strengths and our weaknesses in regards to the vocal and choral ministries.
- We have many, many gifted and experienced singers in our church. Some have graduate degrees in vocal performance or other music fields, some have decades of experience singing in many different choirs and some of them are young singers with a fresh new voice to share and a passion to learn.
- We have willing servant leaders who give and give so much of their time to the kingdom. I see you all giving your lives away in service over and over and I praise the Lord for his righteous acts being on display in the lives of the saints at New City Fellowship. No one can ever accuse New City Fellowship members of being unwilling or selfish with their time or resources.
- Schedules and availability of singers has meant that we have not been able to maintain a large group (20-25) to meet on a weekly basis. We have changed the time around. We have used promotional blitzes and targeted invitations. We have opened up the restrictions to give more and more freedom for people to participate. However, last fall and well as this winter, we have averaged about 10-12 people at rehearsals. In February (what is usually one of our strongest months), we cancelled a performance for lack of people and some of our performances had to use “on mic” singers to fill in the parts that were low in numbers.
So, based on this assessment and conversations with some of the leaders in the choir I would like to adjust how this ministry operates in order to open up the availability of the many gifted and willing singers in our church. This adjustment will mean creating what I call, “Choir Sundays”. Here’s what a Choir Sunday would look like in bullet points:
- Every other month (6 times a year), every singer in the music ministry would be assigned to Choir Sunday in the planning center. Also, an announcement would be made to the whole church encouraging anyone to participate. As always, volunteers are free to accept or decline, but the expectation is that every singer on the team will participate if they are available. This ensures that we will have a large, strong team of singers who are both leaders on the team as well as casual singers from the congregation.
- The planning center plan for a Choir Sunday would go up several weeks in advance with the 4 songs before the offering designated as “choir led.” Songs will be mostly pulled from the weekly repertoire of worship music at NCF and a song or two would be from our choral repertoire.
- Sample Choir Sunday Set List: Dwell Among Us, Holy Holy Holy, My Desire and Total Praise
- Participants who accept the assignment can access recordings, sheet music and part-specific demos in order to prepare on your own for 3-4 weeks in advance if necessary.
- Instead of a separate choir rehearsal, all the Choir Sunday singers would come to the 9:00am-11:00am music team rehearsal. During this time, the choir and the band would prepare the songs for Choir Sunday in much the same fashion that the music team prepares every weekend.
- On Choir Sunday, the singers would all arrive at 8:00am (as normal) but after the 4 choir songs in the 11:30 service, the singers could depart and I would lead the last 2 songs by myself. So, the Choir Sunday would be easier for music team vocalists to participate in than other Sundays.
In case you are feeling that this change means the loss of something you love, I want to compare some numbers for you:
In our old format, we were singing 16 performance anthems a year. In the Choir Sunday format, the choir will participate in leading worship for 24 songs a year.
In our old format, we have an average of 10 people attending rehearsals and 12-15 on Sunday performances. In the Choir Sunday format, 44 people on planning center would be invited to sing so that even if a quarter of those people declined, our choir would double in size (not even including congregation members who might respond to our general invitation.)
In our old format, participation in the choir required a commitment of 1.5 hours a week, plus a 3 hour commitment twice a month on Sundays. In the Choir Sunday format, the music team vocalists would have NO additional rehearsal or Sunday commitments and non-music team singers would have no more choir rehearsals to attend and 10 less Sundays a year that they would have to commit to. Less time-commitment means more availability to participate.
In our old format, the church had to pay a choir director, in addition to the music director to maintain a choral program that averages an attendance that is smaller than most of our House churches or Adult Ed classes. In the Choir Sunday format, the music director can maintain the choir operations without the need to budget for the choir director which frees up the churches resources for other use (or a little less end-of-year deficit).
In the old format, singers who were not comfortable with traditional European music notation were often marginalized and left feeling inadequate. In the Choir Sunday format, the inclusion of congregation songs and the large choir numbers infused with song lead singers creates a safe environment for these more vernacular-style singers to be welcomed in. This moves us more in line with our core values.
I would like to make our first attempt at this format on Easter Sunday next month. It might be a little crazy, but why not go crazy when we celebrate the risen Jesus? You can expect to hear more about it soon, but you can also check out my draft-plan for Easter Sunday on the planning center here: https://www.planningcenteronline.com/plans/18182697/public. So then we would have Choir Sundays in June, August, October, and December.
If you have any questions about these changes, please write me an email or set up a time when we can talk. I’m open to any suggestions or ideas.
Please join us for the 11th annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship on Saturday, February 28, at 6:30.
Our theme for the evening is “To God Be The Glory” based on the Andraé Crouch song, “My Tribute.” Crouch passed away last month and we will be performing a couple of his songs in the concert to celebrate God’s work through him as a composer and worship leader.
In our planning, we the musicians talked about the passage from John 9 about the man born blind who Jesus healed. The question was asked about why he was born that way and Jesus’s response was that this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him. So as we remember the heritage of African Americans, we might ask “why did so much evil and suffering have to happen in our nation?” and we can look to this blind man, his healing and his testimony to see that all people and cultures exist to display the works of God, for his glory alone. We remember the past works of God in Black community and culture because HIS glory is woven into their story for all to see, and we can all praise Him for the things He has done.
Please pray for our choir directors, Michelle Higgins and Noelle Becker who both have stomach flu running through their family this week. (Also, pray for my wife and the other spouses who have to care for the kids during extra rehearsals this week.)
Please pray for the unity and bond of peace from the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of everyone involved.
Please pray for Thurman Williams, one of the pastors at Grace and Peace Fellowship who will be bringing a sermon.
Please pray for the long, slow healing process that our region is going through this year.
Yesterday, my son was sick with a stomach bug. When our bodies get sick, there are symptoms that tell us something is wrong. The symptoms are painful and sometimes feel unbearable, but without them, we would not do what needs to happen to get well. If I didn’t get a fever or feel nauseous, then I would not know to lay down and rest in order to get well. Today, St Louis is experiencing the symptoms of an illness that has been infecting our community for a long time. We can chose to ignore these symptoms, but it would only be ensuring the diseases we suffer are going to continue. As a worship planner, I have a few thoughts on what our job looks like as we start to respond to the symptoms with the correct treatments. I have a few gospel based themes that I have been trying to emphasize in the midst of this crisis.
Fear vs. Love
Fear has been a major symptom of the community disease that has infected us. Fear is at the root of race-based discrimination and it is also at the root of self-righteous rants on social media. As Tony Myles shared last Sunday, we are prompted by fear to bow down to the “false narratives” of our culture in the same way that the 3 Israelite youths were threatened by the powers of Babylon with a trip “fiery furnace” if they did not bow to a golden image. How many Black men are killed by people filled with fear that is derived from false stereotypes and deep-seeded racist myths that American culture has perpetuated for centuries? In the days preceding the grand jury’s decision, our whole community was overwhelmed with fear. These fears were fueled by lies that that stand in opposition to God’s Word.
Standing against fear is Love. I’m not referring to “the age of Aquarius” love which was ultimately found to be impotent and self-serving. I’m talking about the love that we find in the power of the gospel. Love in the gospel is both unconditional and accountable. In Christ, I have love that is lavished on me despite being opposed to God in my sin. That same love creates a relationship of accountability to respond with unconditional love toward my enemy. Christ demonstrated this love on the cross and his resurrection empowers us through his Spirit to reject the lie of fear and to say to the powers of fear, “You can throw me in the furnace, but I will not bow to you. I will love the Lord and love my enemy without being afraid of the consequences.”
In worship services, we express this by affirming that all authority belongs to the Lord Jesus. No other power can stand in opposition to his glorious reign. We need not respond with violence to any perceived threat from someone who the culture tells me to fear. Because we are one with the Lord of heaven, we can say, “We would rather die than to give in to fear.” We can also boast in His victory over every power even as we grieve the realities of injustice. Sing with joy for the King reigns over all the earth. As Psalm 2 says, we serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling because He is the only power worthy of our reverent fear. His throne is established in Love and the submission to anything other than his authority and reign is a rejection of Love.
Death vs. Life
#BlackLivesMatter has been one of the phrases that has framed much of the frustrations of Americans in response to the deaths of several Black men this year at the hands of police. Even if you believe that the police officers were justified in their actions against these men, you have to affirm that life matters and death is the enemy. Any death is tragic. Even the most evil murderers in history were victims of the power of death both in their sinful acts against others and in the deaths that they themselves suffered. Death reigns in disease, in famine, in disasters, and even in the slow progress of time. Death was let loose on the earth by humans in the actions of Adam and Eve. All throughout history, the powerful have brought death to the weak in order to subjugate. In response, the weak have consolidated their power to bring a reign of terror to their oppressors ultimately becoming that which they have feared and despised. At the end of all that conflict, only one victor stands over the field of battle: Death.
However, we serve the Lord of Life. The whole of scriptures affirm over and over that the one true God is about Life and not Death. His whole plan from Genesis to Revelation is the renewal of eternal life to both individuals and to all of creation. Black lives and the lives of all people matter to God. His agenda is always for life and who ever has the power of life in their hands will have to give account for their actions to the God of Life. Jesus was never going to lead a bloody revolution to defeat Rome by the sword. He ultimately used death against itself, undoing it by the power of the resurrection.
In worship, we can respond to #BlackLivesMatter by affirming that Death has no victory or sting. We go back to the cross and the empty tomb over and over to remember that no matter how many lives are lost to oppression, the perishable will be raised again imperishable. This is not to deny the pain of grief and loss. Nor is it about brushing off the anger that comes from murder and other unjust deaths. Rather, the resurrection is a firm foundation in the midst of the shifting sands of history and culture. The resurrection has been the confidence for Christians throughout the ages to stand against violent oppression from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. Sing with joy knowing that Death is ended! No power that holds death in its hand will ever win the victory over the God of Life.
Fear and Death are the ultimate diseases that produce the symptoms that we have in our community today: racism, violence, oppression, injustice, vengeance, vandalism, discrimination, etc. Protestors have been shutting down interstates and staging “die-ins” around our country to bring attention to these symptoms. If we respond to symptoms without the power of Love and Life found in the gospel, which are the antidote to Fear and Death, then we will only be treating the surface issues. As worship leaders or planners, we can lead songs, prayers, and creeds to reaffirm Love and Life in the church. May the Lord bring crowds of “sick” into our services in order to receive healing.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5
This week, I read an email from a colleague who was wrestling with the role of artists in a church that is actively ministering to the poor. He felt uncomfortable with his role of preparing songs while there were families coming into the church off the street who were looking for food and clothes. I felt compelled to respond to his wrestle because it’s a wrestle that I’ve had to deal with also.
Sometimes, I start to wonder how my salary is actually justified when that money could be added to meeting the basic felt needs of the poor in my community. Wouldn’t it be better for me to give up my salary to the other ministries to the poor and then get a job teaching music and tithe some more of my cash to the meeting felt needs? We all know that art and beauty are important and valuable, but if we do art when our neighbor is starving, we have to seriously consider the verses like 1 John 3:17 “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
With that being said, here are some of the things that I have learned to give me the right perspective on this stuff.
1. Development vs. Relief.
There’s a difference between meeting the immediate felt need (a meal for today) and working to end the systems that create that need. Worship musicians in the church (and all artists) fit into the place of development and not into relief when it comes to doing justice. We point the poor and the rich alike to the gospel and the kingdom in a way that will heal the broken parts of the community which are the root causes of poverty. Find the purpose and value in your role and don’t be ashamed that you are not doing relief – especially because development is the more difficult and long-term process of doing justice. (I learned this from reading the book “When Helping Hurts” but it’s also classic John Perkins stuff. Read more about that process here.)
2. Stay involved in meeting felt needs outside of music.
My wife and I are foster parents. It’s a very practical way that we can love kids and their families when they are in deep crisis. This ministry has helped my music and worship planning because it keeps me out of the ivory tower of arts appreciation and in the mess of real broken situations. I don’t think that an artist who is part of the kingdom can pursue the vision of romantic genius who creates art in a vacuum. I’m not saying art needs a moral justification, but rather that artists (like everyone else) are image-bearing humans who have to stay in community – connected to the needs of the poor.
3. Do justice in your music ministry practices
Are the poor welcome in your church to participate, lead and share gifts in your ministry? Are you using just practices in how you spend the churches resources to equip the ministry? Are you actually inviting the poor and powerless or are you just singing about it? Are the songs and styles representing the voices of the poor in your community or just the powerful?
Some practical suggestions:
1. Invite a deacon to come to rehearsals
If this happens every time you have a rehearsal, maybe the folks with needs are just being drawn in like a moth to a flame by the sounds of your worship. You could have a deacon or someone who is on site during your practice to connect with them as they come in.
2. Lock the doors
Post hours when the mercy ministry representatives are available. Maybe include some emergency numbers. Don’t be ashamed of getting your work done – you have a job and a responsibility that has been delegated to you to fulfill.
Some books I’d recommend:
Evangelism – Doing Justice and Preaching Grace by Harvie Conn
Beyond Charity – John Perkins
The Dangerous Act of Worship – Mark Labberton
I might be entering into a phase of life when the basic work of living life takes up all my time such that there’s no time left for contemplative activities like writing. Living life right now consists of some fun new developments that are part of my calling to follow Jesus. He has invited us into some scary places, but His rod and staff are a comfort and the yoke He has placed on our shoulders is both “the cross” in that it costs everything and yet it is also “the empty tomb” because it gives everlasting life.
Currently, my family is hosting two foster children. One is a 3 year old boy who is a non-stop flow of questions and energy. He has been with us for 6 months now and he is still wrestling with both the trials of his formal home as well as the loss of his former life. The other foster placement which we just received last week is a 4 week old infant who is still a little bit in shock that the womb-home of her mother has been replaced with a loud and crazy home of big kids, dog barking and strange caregivers. Currently, she needs to be held and rocked and swaddled almost constantly when she is awake.
Fostering is a strange life. It’s hard to describe it to people who haven’t lived it. It’s both intensely personal as you become “Daddy” overnight to a stranger and yet it’s intensely impersonal as you are treated with cold, professional indifference by the vast bureaucratic web that these kids are caught up in. Foster parents are asked to love and nurture a child in their home as one of their own all the while knowing that at any moment a phone call could bring an abrupt end to your relationship with this child.
The other thing that I have going on this summer is a little project in the works that a few of my colleagues and I are cooking up. We have called it the “Worship Ministry Workshop” and it’s a kind of low-key conference to encourage and equip our volunteers. I’m working together with Michelle Higgins and Mary Higgins from South City Community Church and Jules Gikundiro and Adina O’Neal from New City Fellowship – South to put this together. The plan is that we will give our volunteers an time to draw near in intimacy with Christ without rehearsal agendas, to receive gospel-refreshment directed at our particular struggles as worship musicians, and then to share some of our vision for what God can accomplish through our teams.
At this time, I am filled with anticipation for what God is doing in his musician servants in St Louis right now. The ground is tilled and the season is approaching for a Spirit-filled movement in this city to see a new thing come into being, a new wine-skin of songs and expressions for a new generation of saints. I mean something bigger than the next flavor-of-the-month music trend. I’m talking about a revival of the Holy Spirit working to heal and restore this broken, fractured city into the family of Christ. Of course, he’s always at work, but I just feel like his Spirit is opening the eyes of my heart to see how vast his love is for this community.
You can learn more and register for the Worship Ministry Workshop here: http://wmw.ticketleap.com/worshipstl/
SAVE THE DATE // August 9, 2014 in Saint Louis
Who: Worship musicians, leaders, and volunteers
What: resource exchange, training, praise, and fellowship
When: Saturday August 9 2014, Daytime workshops ($5 for participants) // Evening concert event open to the public
Why: worship teams from various churches don’t normally have the chance to gather in the same place to be participate in worship events rather than direct them. We will learn together, encourage each other, and share our experiences.
organized by New City Fellowship and South City Church
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org // email@example.com
“We need a music person”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this from a church planter or a smaller church that’s entering into cross-cultural ministry. They come to me in hopes that I have a clone or some super-skilled person who just happens to be out of work. However, the musicians are not out there in my denomination because we have a low view of worship music, we are not equipping them with the skills that they need, and we are not giving them the incentive to go into church music.
1. Reform our perspective on worship
“The problem with our denomination is that they don’t believe that music in worship can be transformational.” That’s how the problem was put to me last week from a friend who was expressing her frustration with the lack of interest in the PCA with supporting worship musicians. I am blessed to be part of a PCA church that supports my full-time salary and that has invested in worship because they believe in its function in the worship service to be transformational. Especially in a cross-cultural church, the music plays a role of building a community, of teaching our hearts and minds the values of the kingdom, and of inviting us to sing along with the worship song of all creation.
2. Training and experience
I have heard from many church planters who have no musicians at all. If they have a musician, that person is completely unprepared to handle cross-cultural music. If they have a musician who is prepared for cross-cultural music, that person is usually not spiritually prepared to lead a worship service or team. We need to begin to train leaders to be musically and spiritually prepared to become the future worship musicians for the cross-cultural ministries that are being planted today.
3. Full-time employment
After that person is trained and experienced to lead, we need to be able to give them a job. I knew of several musicians who have completed their training only to find that all the offers they get from churches are for volunteer positions or maybe part-time roles. I realize that it’s very expensive to pay someone a full-time salary with benefits, but how can we ask someone who has studied and trained for years to become skilled in their field to work for free. Maybe we need to find ways to give musicians multiple jobs skills (graphic design or web site management) in order to give the church more services for the cash, or we need to find businesses in our communities that will work with the church to give the musician a part-time job to combine with their role at the church until the church grows to the point that it can support a full-time position. Churches need to be willing to invest in the music –especially cross-cultural ministries – because you will be waiting a long time for a super-skilled, financially independent musician to walk in your church and volunteer. Side note: I believe that one full-time, spiritually mature musician who is working to organize and empower the volunteers will far exceed the fruit from a crew of part-time, non-Christian pros.