Posts Tagged community

Diverse Worship Matters

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.

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How might Kingdom values reshape the music marketplace?

Musicians who are in the Kingdom of God are faced with two choices:

A) Make your living off of the benevolent patronage of other Christians (churches and other non-profit arts ministries)

B) Make your living off of the secular marketplace of music consumers (gigs, recordings, jingles, scoring, etc)

I would place the CCM, modern gospel music, and even the “worship” industry into category B. These musicians, even those who are making “worship” recordings, are vocationally producing a product that is designed to compete with other products in the secular market place. I’m not saying that it’s somehow “evil” or “sinful” to sell you product in the market. I am saying that the market place is not the church nor is it the Kingdom. The Kingdom can inhabit (become incarnate) in the market place, but the true worship of God, the fellowship of his people, and the restoration of creation is not achieved by floating in the current of the secular culture that has established the laws of market. This is true of any industry or vocation. We are not just citizens of this world who happen to prefer Jesus to other religious ideas (like I might prefer Star Wars to Star Trek). We are citizens of the Kingdom of God who happen to live and work in this world. Our citizenship in the Kingdom should determine everything else about how we live.

Instead of mastering the laws of the secular market in order to produce a competitive product, what would it look like for Kingdom musicians to actually reform the marketplace by offering an alternate set of laws?  Kingdom musicians could change the nature of how music is produced and consumed in order to restore the relationship of musicians and their communities. 

The church is one of the last places in our society where large groups of people meet together to sing songs. Despite trying to contextualize for the cultures we are trying to reach, we are still meeting together to sing songs which is one of the most bizarre, antiquated and irrelevant things we could be doing. If we wanted to be contextual in our culture, we should have done away with singing-church in favor of something like shopping-church or gaming-church. Aren’t those the activities practiced in our culture on a daily basis? (Shopping and gaming are cool. Don’t stress.)

Despite the push to be relevant, we haven’t let go of the practice of singing together because it’s a music expression that reflects the values of the Kingdom: healed relationships, shared abundance, and equal access to power. However, instead of taking these values into the marketplace in order to restore the creation, musicians of the Kingdom are often bringing the values of the secular marketplace into our worship spaces (or the “A” category of Christian music patronage).

So what should musicians of the Kingdom be working toward? A couple of changes off the top of my head would be:

Participation vs. elitism  – The Kingdom gives power and meaning to the whole community and not just the elite. This means the pyramid hierarchy of the music industry would be deconstructed in favor of more community and educational based music experiences that encourage as many people as possible to become music making participants.

Creation vs. consumption – Along the same lines, our relationship to music changes from being consumers to creators. We need a D.I.Y. revolution in music to come out of the application of Kingdom vlaues. Composers, educators, and performers should not be aiming at creating products for mass consumption but products for mass creation.

These ideas could start to shake the power structures that make music participation, creation and dissemination only available to the privileged and resourced communities.  New tech has already opened the doors to these changes but instead of embracing these new technologies, the music industry has been fighting them “tooth and nail.” They see these tech developments as a threat to their consolidated power.

More practical jumping off points:

  • New means of sharing and supporting music that are localized and community based
  • New performance venues that support participation and creation
  • Kingdom based paradigms for intellectual property
  • Educational practices that emphasis lifetime music participation and relationships

Share any thoughts you might have in the comments on how  Kingdom values might re-shape the music marketplace?

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Come to #MusiCon15

simple_graphicNew City Music Conference 2015 is shaping up. We are getting registrations slowly but I fully expect 2/3 of the conference to register at the last minute. I’m so thrilled to have our line up of speakers and breakout leaders. It seems to get better and better every time we pull one of these together. If you haven’t done it yet, please check out the conference details and register at

Carrie Jones is the conference director this time. Carrie was involved in the 2011 conference we had here in St. Louis as the graphic designer and she created the conference notebook which was so full of information and resources that people wanted to get the notebook even though they couldn’t attend the conference. Carrie is also a long time member of NCF (@NCFStLouis) and as well as a highly qualified musician on our team.

The conference steering committee was made up of myself (@kirkwardmusic), my dad (@jcalvinward), and my long time friend, Michelle Higgins (@fast_foodie). We went out to lunch when my dad was here in March and hammered out the rough outline of who and what will be featured at this year’s conference.

I hope that you consider coming. If you are from the local region, we would love to meet you or connect again with you to be able to encourage each other in the struggle. If you are from out of town, we would to meet and connect as well and to hear what is going on in other communities. So much has happened in our nation this year that has served to break down our facades and to reveal the areas where we are divided and broken. The gospel has the power to heal communities when it is planted in soil that will let it thrive and produce fruit. Let’s live the gospel of reconciliation and justice that is available to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Musicians and artists meeting the needs of the poor

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

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Save the Date: August 9, 2014

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: //

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Too many services!

So, I’m a little too busy to be posting. I have 6 (maybe 7) services to prepare and 5 more work days in which to get it done. At the same time, our army of volunteer musicians is getting depleted by the shear number of roles that have to be played in all these celebrations. We’re having fun, but sometimes you need a break from fun to hang with your family and use your vacation time for vacationing. 

Is it too much? I ask myself the question every Christmas. Why do we have parties, concerts, worship services, programs, and more all December long? Can’t we just be at home, sipping egg nog and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Of course, as disciples of Jesus, it’s kind of a big deal to celebrate his birthday. Not only that, but it’s also a celebration of how, through Jesus, we have become one family, a royal priesthood offering acceptable sacrifices of worship. When I think of it that way, it seems more like we should plan a few more celebrations, eat a few more cookies, and dance together with our whole family in Christ. Individualistic American culture has put the emphasis on the exalted ME, and what “the ME” wants “the Me” gets (read that in a Cookie Monster voice for better effect). The influence of this cultural value on my heart makes it so hard to get into the idea of celebrating so much. As a leader of musicians, I need to have the freedom in the Spirit to set aside the both my personal agenda, and set aside the pull to be a kind of mall-Santa of worship services whose job it is to fulfill all the selfish desires of all the selfish ME’s in the church. That’s what makes my job exhausting at this time of year, not the celebrations. 

Our concert is on Saturday night at 6:30. It’s going to involve close to 50 people. Each person in the concert is working together to come before the Lord in worship and to invite the congregation to come and behold him, too. May our worship in celebration of Christmas over the next two weeks, be an expression of our individual joy and our corporate joy as well. 

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20 years of New City Fellowship in St Louis

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Black History Celebration this weekend

This weekend we have our annual Black History Celebration. Last weekend, I was sick as a dog with a cold that is currently laying waste to the entire population of St Louis. Apparently they had a fun and productive final rehearsal without me. It’s nice to know that the world goes on without me so that I can rest and recoup when necessary.

Here’s the details on the event if you would like to come (graphic design by Carrie Jones):

The event is at our church New City Fellowship – 1483 82nd Blvd St Louis MO 63132

Here’s a stag plot that I’ve created to be ready for the enormous band that we’ll be rocking with. Notice that I’m not playing any guitar this year. If you have a problem with that, then talk to the men in our church about joining the choir so that I can leave the tenor section.

I’ve also created some schedules for the busy day. Somehow, every time I try to communicate information to people, it doesn’t seem to be received. Part of the problem is that people process information in different ways. To compensate for that, I’ve created two versions of the same schedule, one for Left-brained people and one for Right-brained people.

Schedule – Left Brains

Schedule -Right Brains



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Coming Down from the Mountain – New City Music Con

God is good! I know you are thinking that I need to take a break, but I can’t sleep in and my house is quiet so it’s a good time to reflect. It was great to see the pics that Neil Das has already posted froom the conference. Check them out here.

I want to share my personal favorite moments from this weeks conference:

  • The absolute explosion of celebration and activity on Tuesday night as Voice of Africa led us in worship. Emmanuel on the hand drums was a real treat.
  • Tony Myles sharing that he doesn’t know what a “Plenary Address” is so he’s just gonna preach.
  • My kids dancing and playing with Pastor Kevin VandenBrink’s daughter
  • Playing a “stankin” set with the NCF U City crew – God, my God, God is good!
  • My dad’s talk – a reminder that this is hard work, but the fruit is evident in the lives of the young people he has mentored
  • Jim Payne’s songs which revealed a deep passion for the gospel and a love of the craft of songs
  • Aloo Gobi – Zack said he’d make it “American Spicy”
  • Malcom Speed’s revealing personal experiences with some of the legends of gospel
  • It was great to see my Congolese friend, Nestor Biayi, affirmed in the African Style Class as he was called in from the back of the room to demonstrate Saben
  • Dr. Sánchez – conga, guitar, upright bass, vocals, and bringing some cool hard truth with wonderful class. We were so affirmed and challenged by his words. (Yes, that talk was recorded and will be available as soon as possible)
  • NCF- Chattanooga successfully did the work for me of picking tunes for the next year. I’m not sure that my team will let me rest until every one of those tunes is in our set.
  • Doing the electric slide – can we do that in church?
  • Jumping in on “Glorious” with Dr. Sánchez on the congas and clave
  • Redeemer PCA in Jackson standing as a family together as their composers shared their songs.
  • watching half the people in my “Into to Improvisation” class falling asleep – What do you expect when you put exhausted people  in a warm room on couches, after lunch. Next conference we’ll ask everyone to bring a yoga mat so that we can have nap time once a day.
  • Watching Paul Neeley get Joshua Saleem playing hand percussion
  • seeing my friend, Odetta Fields, come into her own as a choir director
  • Jeff Rakes humbly taking us to school with his tune “All Honor and Glory” – man, Jeff set a new standard for my flute player.
  • Seeing this cross cultural body of believers express their “heart song” in the form of “O Lord, How Excellent”
  • Carrie Knapp – that girl can sang.
  • Mike Higgins bringing us back to the promise that the curse is broken and the accuser has no power over me
  • I loved the spontaneous expression in singing “You Are Good” at the end of the night. I wish that we had been able to hear more from Jonathan Gramling from Dorchester.  What a voice!

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People Get Ready

graphics by Carrie JonesPulling together the set list for the Black History Celebration, we decided to have the Men’s Ensemble sing a classic tune by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, “People Get Ready.”  The message is clear that we need to be ready to “get on board” when the kingdom of God comes and that it’s all a wonderful gift of grace through faith. You don’t need a ticket; you just get on board. For me personally, the song conjures up memories of the early years of the first New City Fellowship when we met in the YMCA building on Michell Avenue in Chattanooga. I can remember watching the big neon sign for the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and smell of dust and sweat that filled the Y. Faded snapshots of those years show a mix of white, long-haired hippies (like my parents) along side young, inner-city, black folk with Afros and dashikis. In a church committed to reconciliation, your children grow up with a new cultural heritage that is a blend of cultures and which presents reconciliation as value that is fundamental to a healthy community of believers. My parents heard the call to get on board the train to Jordon, and they brought me and my sister along for the ride. I’m so thankful that I now share this heritage.

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