Posts Tagged ministry

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 www.ncfmusic.com/conference/

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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Changes to the Vocal and Choir Ministry at New City Fellowship – UC/STL

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.

Strengths:

  • 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.

Weakness:

  • 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.

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To God Be The Glory: 11th Annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship

Please join us for the 11th annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship on Saturday, February 28, at 6:30.

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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.

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Messes and miracles

IMG_2513This past weekend, I led worship with my brothers and sisters at the New City South worship site to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. It was a good time. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about God’s faithfulness in the midst of some pretty severe trials. It is a miracle that this congregation survived but I suppose the same can be said of any Spirit-filled congregation. The power of God is not the most evident reason for the existence of any congregation. If it isn’t, then we’re nothing more than a social organization.

This upcoming weekend, I get to leave my life in St Louis for a resort in West Palm Beach, Florida in order to lead worship at a fundraiser weekend for Serge. Unfortunately, I can’t bring my wife with me. However, my dad will be there and I’m looking forward to quality time with him as we play music together and get one last taste of warm weather before ol’ Jack Frost gets to work nipping at noses in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, we’re wrestling once again with volunteer participation in the music ministry. The Choir has averaged less than 10 people at rehearsals for the past few weeks. For some reason, available sopranos are hard to find in the praise team and choir. I’ve lost a couple of musician/leader this fall to other churches and some musicians have been even absent from worship services in general. What causes the eb and flow of available servants? It might just be the natural effects of overbooked schedules, cold and flu season, midterm school work and post-season sports, the list goes on and on… It’s a wonder we get anything done in the church. At this time in the choir season, we ask for renewed commitments, we evaluate logistical barriers to participation, we pray and worry, and worry and pray. And when there’s nothing else left to do, we take a deep breath and plunge into the holidays, holding our breath till January when we’ll exhale just long enough to get ready for the conferences and concerts that come up in the 1st quarter.

It’s a miracle that we ever survive this mess. That’s the thing about God’s power, it takes a mess and makes it a miracle.

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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: kirk@ncfstl.org // michelle@southcitychurch.com

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A Good Idea Gone Bad

1 Chronicles 17

David had an idea that seemed like a good one. “The ark of the covenant lives in a tent and I live in a palace. Maybe, I  should build a house for the Lord.” It was a good idea. There was good intentions and affection for the Lord involved. But text shows that it was not a good idea. The Lord actually stops that idea short and reminds David that no one can build a house for the creator of the universe. The suggestion is actually kind of insulting to God. The Lord responds to David that he will flip the plan around. The Lord will build a house for David that will endure for all time. We know now that this is a prophecy of the future house of Jesus Christ, the descendant of David, who would establish an eternal kingdom.

Here are some questions that this story brought up for me:

  • How am I, like David, attempting to build a house for the Lord through my accomplishments, my dreams, my family or my ministry?
  • Can I give examples of where the Lord is building a house for me through his accomplishments?

Honestly, most of the time I’m not even in David’s head-space. I’m more like King Saul who was  in the business of building a house for himself.

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What do you dream about?

Do you have dreams for your life, ministry, or family?

I have a lot of dreams. I have all kinds of ideas, good and bad, to fix, to change, to restore, and to develop my passions. My wife and I have dreamed for a long time about being able to connect our family with the needs of children from families in crisis. Currently, we are living the dream as foster parents. Music ministry is a great laboratory for me to experiment with songs, arrangements or ensembles.

I have a few ideas that I want to just throw out there for NCF folks or whomever to think about:

  • Could we start a children’s choir for the kids in the West End? We’d meet in the Firm Foundation space maybe on one of their off nights. All we need is an enthusiastic leader.
  • What about teaching teens to produce beats, to dance, or to play an instrument? These days all you need is a laptop, a USB mic and a midi controller to make beats. I know we have folks gifted in dance or who would be able to teach a lesson or two. My colleague, Mike Ramsey has been doing this in South City already with the Revival School.
  • What about a summer music camp to piggy back on the summer tutoring program? It would be a short term project without the high commitment levels of a regular rehearsal schedule. We’d do it like a day camp but with choir practices, simple theory lessons, and lots of exciting experimentation with sounds.  We’d need a lot of people to pull this off, but maybe a summer team (someone like, maybe Mike Collison) could take the lead.

What dreams do you have? Let’s talk about them, get the ideas out there, “mother-hen” some ideas, run it up the flag pole and see if anybody salutes.

I think that these ideas usually come to me on weeks like this one when I’m trying to get ready to leave town at the same time that I’m planning passion week worship and dealing with infant induced sleep deprivation.

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Austin Stone – A well executed worship resource site

Thanks to my friend Chris Hatch, I heard about this church, Austin Stone. They are using video and sharing their music through their website in a way that empowers many other churches to perform their songs. It’s a cool business model, but it’s also an interesting model for how the church can share it’s songs in the digital age. Watching the videos, I am struck with a few random thoughts (2 positive and 1 critical).

Theology is important to my generation. Despite the accusations of traditionalists, the music of post-modern Christians is expected to have theological meat to it. It might not sound the same as Isaac Watts, but theology is not something we want to ignore.

There is an art to writing piano, guitar, and drum parts. (also bass, but there were no tutorials for that. Check out this video for bass tips.) You can see from the tutorials that these musicians are doing a lot more than strumming the four chords. When you go in the studio and take time to craft a song, you have to think about every guitar or drum part as a composer.

Your cultural is invisible to you and blatant to the rest of us. It’s great to see how this church is living out the gospel in their context. If you are not from their culture, you might notice that they dress different, sing different, think different, etc. When I listen to most “modern worship” recordings these days, I am struck by their mono-cultural nature. Did you notice the vintage keys and antique piano? Why not use a Phantom? All the guitar parts are a wash with delay and chimey distortion – where’s the funk or the blues? I’m not saying that they needed to include that stuff, but I am saying that this music is not designed to reach across cultural barriers. It seems to be comfortably easing into a singular cultural expression, but they are probably not doing that intentionally. Right?

True confession: I am totally jealous of this website. I love the video tutorials, the chart downloads, the minimalist design. They have nailed what we imagined our ncfmusic.com site to be like.

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2012 NCMC, Holidays, and more upcoming events

The fall season for many of us becomes more and more like a flume ride. We spend September and October in a slow ascent with a feeling that’s somewhere between excitement and dread as we anticipate the events on the horizon. Soon, we come over the crest and find our lives becoming a crazy blur of screaming joy and nausea. Next thing we know, it’s January and we’re left feeling a little cold and wet with the entire holiday season  nothing more than a SD card full of crowded and poorly lit jpegs. Personally, I’m about the round the crest this weekend, so I’m not having fun yet. However, despite my melancholic remarks, here’s some stuff that I’m genuinely looking forward to:

Thanksgiving in Tennessee

We’re doing “Turkey Day” in the land of the Moonpie this year. I’m looking forward to talking shop with my dad, having a snackdown with my sister and kin, and getting together with old friends in order to have interactions that are more meaningful then liking their status. Maybe I’ll take my kids to the new Muppets flick.

Youth Sunday – November 27

The New City Fellowship youth band is going to take the role of worship music leadership for weekend. I love youth Sunday for the way it brings a sense of worship being the shared experience of an individual expression. In other words, people give the youth a lot of room to express their faith in worship without the usual constraints. It’s an experiment in cross-cultural ministry as we allow the young and powerless to lead those of us who usually hold the reigns in the church. (November 27 is also my wife’s birthday!)

The First Ever NCF Christmas Concert! – December 10

The NCF Choir will get to make a little more joyful noise this Advent with this new Saturday night event. We will share some familiar classics as well as some new classics. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate together the wonderful expressions of music that have become such a meaningful part of Advent for the church. The NCF Choir continues to come into it’s own as a ministry that both nourishes the participants and the church on an almost weekly basis.

Reconciliation and Justice Conference 2012 – January 24-25

We will be once again hosting this special meeting of pastors and ministry leaders from around the US to have a dialogue about the issues of reconciliation and justice within our denomination. I’m going to be there leading some of the worship. You can register here.

7th annual NCF Black History Celebration – February 25

This had been the highlight of the year for our music ministry for a long time, but now, it’s only been diminished by the abundance of exciting things happening all year long for us. We expect this year’s BHC to continue the tradition of celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ through the unique expressions of Black Culture.

Food For The Hungry – March 15-18

I’ll be in Phoenix in March 2012 leading worship at a special fundraiser weekend for the ministry Food For The Hungry. This is an exciting opportunity to participate in a ministry that I can <pun> really sink my teeth into</pun>.

New City Music 2012 Conference

I just published this post and then realized that I failed to say anything about the 2012 NCMC! This summer’s music conference will be hosted by my church again. With the search on for a new senior pastor, the folks in Chattanooga decided to take another year off. The dates will be August 1-3. I don’t really have much more to say about it than that. I’m currently looking for ideas for speakers, musicians, and clinics to feature, so give me any you have that come to mind.

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