How to Select Songs for Worship Services

Every week worship leaders select songs for upcoming worship services.  The process of selecting songs can be an enormous task, complicated by well-meaning people offering not-always-so-helpful opinions on what songs to use.

Just the other day I met a gentleman for the first time.  After a few minutes of conversation, he says, “Make certain that the first song and the last song of every worship service are familiar ones.  Starting with an unfamiliar song just taints the rest of the music.”

This gentleman is not a member of any worship group, and, by his own admission, has not been involved in music since high school.  He does, however, feel that he has the right to share his opinion on the music and that his opinion is right.

Worship leaders everywhere experience these kinds of comments and interjections every week.

Pastors are constantly talking about wanting to hear and see the congregation be more involved in the music.

Musicians want fresh music and not the same old stuff every week.

Members want to sing their favorite songs.

So how do you choose songs in the middle of this continual and usually all-over-the-map feedback?

Here are a few things I consider in my planning.

  • Be able to fully articulate what the service is about and what you hope to accomplish in the service.
  • Know the congregation’s favorite music.
  • Know your pastor’s musical tendencies.
  • Pray before planning.  Always.
  • Read the related Scriptures thoroughly and note what phrases and ideas jump out to you.
  • In general, begin every service with an up-tempo song focused on who God is.
  • In general, end each service with something uplifting and at least medium up-tempo.
  • If you have three songs in a set often the first song should look up at God, the second should focus on how God interacts with us, and the third should be our personal response to God.
  • Introduce on average one new song (new to the congregation) a month.  Repeat new songs immediately the following week.
  • Courageously cut tired songs.
  • Ruthlessly scrutinize the theology of your songs.
  • Do not take critical comments about music personally.
  • Do not take yourself too seriously.
  • Hold loosely to what you plan.  God can run the universe without you, so he can probably work in a worship service even if you have to change what you had planned.
  • Keep the difficulty level of the music reasonable for your worship team.
  • Keep the melodies of congregational songs no higher than D.
  • Make certain that song melodies are singable.

These are just a few ideas.

What guidelines do you consider in selecting songs for congregational singing?

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Giving and Receiving

Christmastime is a season of giving and receiving gifts.  Usually we dread giving gifts because of how much money we have to spend, but we look forward to receiving gifts.

We are much the same in relationships.

Humans prefer to have someone give, give, give to them and be on the receiving end of attention, encouragement, and friendship.  Sometimes, though, we forget that in order for someone to receive love and affection someone has to give that same love and affection.

For a relationship to be healthy we need to give attention, affection, and warmth to the other person at least as much as we receive that attention, affection and warmth.  A relationship without a generous atmosphere of sharing is a dysfunctional relationship; the person giving the most will eventually burn out and the habitual taker will wonder what happened.

Besides, Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, English Standard Version)

This Christmas, as you are shopping for gifts, take a moment and think about giving the gift of time and affection to your friends and family.  That gift will be worth more to them than all of the gadgets and toys money can buy.

To whom can you give the gift of love this Christmas season?

Planning Center Online: Where Should I Store My Files?

Planning Center Online (PCO) provides many options for storing media files and other documents.  The challenge is utilizing the different levels of storage to your advantage.

Here are the options for storing files.

Songs

For every song there is a Main Page where copyright and other universal song information is stored.  To the left side of this page is a place where you can store attachments related to this individual song.  To store an attachment here, simply click the “Add an Attachment” button and follow the prompts.

At the bottom of the Main Song page is a place to add arrangements.  If you go to an arrangement page you will find a place on the left for attachments at the arrangement level.  As above, click the “Add an Attachment” button on the left side of the screen and follow the prompts.

Because you are adding this file at the arrangement level, when the file has been uploaded a little button to the right of the title will say Arrangement as the default placement for the file.  If you click on that button you will also find that you can store the uploaded file under a specific key.  If the arrangement has more than one key, you will see every key as an option storage location.

Once you select the proper key or simply the arrangement the file will appear on the left side of the screen under the proper designation.

Plans

Attachments may also be added on the right side of the main plans page.

For instance, when I click the Plans tab for Worship Ministry at my church, a screen comes up that has My Schedule at the top and then the three headings we use below it: Classic Worship, Modern Worship, and Special Services.  Under each header you will find the list of services associated with that header.  You will also find a window specifically for storing attachments to the far right side of the screen.  Attachments that are stored in this area automatically appear on every plan you create under that heading.

In my case, under our Classic Worship header I store our Choir Schedule for the year and Leadership Notes for our Classic Worship Leaders.  If I click any plan those attachments will be located to the bottom left of the screen under Attachments / Classic Worship Attachments.

Just below this area on the bottom left of every plan is a place to add attachments just to a particular plan.

Media

When you create a new media piece you can add attachments for that particular entry on the left of the page for each specific media piece.

But how do you decide what file to store where?

I’m glad you asked.  Here are a few guidelines I follow.

Songs

  1. Only store files at the Main Page level that are universal for every arrangement under that song.  An example would be the master lyric projection files or background images for a song.
  2. Under the Arrangement level attach files that are universal for that arrangement.  An example would be the primary recording on which you are basing your arrangement.
  3. If you have multiple keys for an Arrangement, store key-specific files under the proper key.  If the song, for instance, is in A but the melody is too high you may want to do the song in G.  In that case you would want to store the original mp3 under the key of A, then click on the up-down blue arrows just to the right of the mp3 in order to transpose the mp3 to G.  The transposed mp3 will automatically appear under a different key heading to separate it from the original.

Why store attachments under specific keys rather than just on the Main Page or under the general attachment heading?  The answer has to do with how those charts are accessed on the service flow page.

When you add a song to the service flow you will be prompted to choose the proper key.  For instance, at our church we do the song 10,000 Reasons in F and G.  When I have chosen the specific key the files related to that key as well as any universal Arrangement files AND Main Page files will appear.  If you store files for a different key on the Main Page or at the universal Arrangement level those incorrect files will appear with the correct ones, confusing the musicians.

Plans

  1. Store attachments that are universal for every plan under a specific header at the header level.  An example is a choir schedule or general guidelines for worship leaders.
  2. Store attachments that are specifically related to one plan only at the plan level.  A great example here would be rehearsal recordings for that week or the stage diagram for that particular Sunday.

Media

Here every file is stored in one place for each individual media piece.

In summary, PCO gives you a lot of flexibility.  Spending a few minutes ahead of time to think through how you store your files can save a lot of confusion for your volunteers in the long run.

How do you use the storage options on Planning Center Online?

God’s Call to Action

For decades now I have been praying the armor of God in Ephesians 6 over myself nearly every day, and today I realized something new.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV 1984) says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here are the components mentioned in the above passage, with my non-seminary observations:

  • Truth.  This is God’s perspective on anything and everything.
  • Righteousness.  This is right standing with God, which we receive only through the grace and sacrifice of Christ.
  • The Gospel of Peace.  The good news is that God has reconciled us to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, thereby giving us peace with him.
  • Faith.  Hebrews 11 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV 1984)  While my thought had always been that faith is the one “act,” if you will, that Christians “do” when they accept Christ as Savior, it was pointed out to me recently that in Ephesians 2:8 the grammar actually states faith itself is a gift of God.
  • Salvation.  Again, this is the work of God in our lives; we cannot save ourselves.
  • The Spirit, or the Word of God.  God’s word, the Scriptures, penetrates to the core of our soul and reveals God’s truth through the Holy Spirit.

In the past month or two I have become more aware of how every component of God’s armor is something he does for us.  This morning, however, something else became clear to me:

Our shoes, the gospel of peace, give the expectation that we will spread peace to each other and with God everywhere we go through the good news of what God has done in our lives.

Think about that for a moment.  Do you bring peace to every situation you enter?  Does your story of what God has done for you permeate everything you do?  When people look at your life, do they see someone responding to God’s gift of peace with him by acting peacefully with everyone, or someone taking advantage of the peace of God in their own lives but refusing to allow peace in their everyday relationships?

I would propose that putting on the shoes of the gospel of peace is similar to wielding the sword of the Spirit; they are both offensive, not defensive, parts of our lives.

  • We are to engage culture, not retreat from it.
  • We are to take steps of faith, not simply hold our position.
  • We are to enter into conflict, not avoid it.
  • We are to forgive, not hold a grudge.
  • We are to speak and act peacefully, and not just when it is convenient.
  • We are to share what God has done for us, not keep it to ourselves.

For me entering into conflict rather than avoiding it is something I regularly have to choose; it does not come naturally.  Sharing my faith outside of church is hard for me, not easy.  Taking steps of faith is difficult for me.  I am grateful, however, that God has been helping me to grow in these areas.

God will help you in your unique situation; all you have to do is ask.

In which of these areas do you need to grow?

My Top Five Reasons to Be Thankful

Few things can change an attitude or brighten a day like gratitude.  With Thanksgiving Day dawning in just a few hours I thought I would share what I am most thankful for.

I am thankful for the grace of God.  So many times God has enabled me to get through difficult times, provided for me in lean times, and given me healing when I did not know how to ask for it.  Lord, thank you for the strength and life you have given me.

I am thankful for my dad.  This fall dad had open heart surgery to replace a valve and fix five blockages.  Many people simply find out their father has had a heart attack.  By the grace of God I was spared that tragic news and given instead a dad who is stronger than ever and who has a new lease on life.  He has also not lost his wacky sense of humor and ability to give wise advice.  Dad, I love you.  Thanks for sticking around.

I am thankful for my girlfriend.  Being able to spend Thanksgiving with your best friend and girlfriend is pretty special.  She is gracious, loving, supportive, a thinker, a learner, a good listener, playful, serious when it’s needed, a wonderful speaker, a confident leader, my closest friend, and, most importantly, mine.  Thank you, sweetheart, for blessing me this holiday season with your friendship and your love.

I am thankful for my family.  Whether we are discussing my two boisterous, fabulous boys, or my sweet sister or generous brother, I consider myself blessed.  Thanks, Isaac and Timothy, for making me a better person and for teaching me how to laugh.  Matt and Shelli, thank you for blessing me with the best family I could wish for.

I am thankful for work I love.  I am entering the holidays employed full-time in the work I love most: worship leadership in partnership with quality leaders.  Thank you, Covenant Life, for giving me a place to lead and grow.

Many do not have easy lives this holiday season.  I am thinking in particular of those still struggling in Sandy’s wake.  If you are dreading the holidays, I encourage you to find one thing for which you are grateful.  I may not have been in your place exactly, but I know that in my darkest hours I could always find at least one thing to be thankful for, and I was better for it.

What about you?  What are you grateful for?

When God Becomes a Show-Stopper

What would it be like for the glory of God to fill our churches on a Sunday morning to such an extent that we would not be able to continue the service?

Exactly that scenario happened thousands of years ago when King Solomon dedicated the new temple.  His father, King David, had spent years preparing the plans and provisions for building the temple before Solomon became king.  After Solomon became king it still took him over four years to finish preparing to build the temple, after which it took another seven years to actually build the temple.

Once the temple was finally built the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the Tent of Meeting, which had been in use since it was constructed in the wilderness under the guidance of God and Moses, to the new temple on Mount Moriah.  On the way King Solomon sacrificed so many sheep and oxen that they lost count!  Then the Ark was placed under the tall, gold-plated cherubim in the temple’s Most Holy Place and the priests came back out to do their duties.

At that time all of the musicians along with 120 trumpeters led worship singing

“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

At that moment

“the house [of the Lord] was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”  2 Chronicles 5:13b-14 ESV

Wow.  I have heard of people pastors and other people stopping a service because God told them to.  I have been present when services were stopped because of technical snaffoos.  I have even been present when services were stopped because of fire alarms.

But I have never been present in a service when God stopped the service himself by just moving in and making it physically impossible to lead in worship.

What would that be like?

The Contemporary English Version says “The light from [God’s glory] was so bright the priests could not stay inside to do their work.”  2 Chronicles 5:14

After Solomon prayed fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifices.

The people fell down and worshipped.  There was probably such a sense of awe from God’s show of power that the people could not help but bow down and worship.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people were even terrified.  Imagine if God showed up on the platform at church and said to the pastor, “Move over, buddy.  I’ve got something to say.”  I think we all would be awestruck and terrified.

Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6 and he is immediately aware of his sinfulness.  I imagine some of the people became painfully aware of the sin in their life when the holy God of the universe showed up.

I expect that kind of encounter with God would be very emotional, the kind of thing that would make the your hair stand on end.  Any time you get 120 trumpeters and a large number of other singers and instrumentalists together in the same worship service you are going to get an emotional response simply because of the sheer volume.

Fortunately it was outside, but that barely lessens the sound.  Imagine the soundtrack for the yearly 4th of July fireworks display.  That’s probably the right category for this thunderous worship service.  In his book Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven Rory Noland makes the comment that many of us may be surprised when we get to heaven by the volume of the worship.  It will not be quiet.  Millions of people singing and playing instruments at the same time makes for decibel-meter-breaking volume.

Shock can probably be expected.  People showed up that day expecting to see a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a lot of bloody sacrifices, and a lot of pomp and circumstance.  Imagine the local butcher putting the sign in the door, “Back in 1 hour,” and thinking the whole time of all the work that needs to be done, the carcasses hanging back at the shop waiting to be cut up and sold.

Then God shows up.

When God tears the fabric of time and space and physically appears, shock follows.  That kind of reality is a shock to the system.  Suddenly the work at the office isn’t that important.  Suddenly the argument with your friend or spouse seems trivial.  Suddenly your craving for the latest iThing seems really silly.

Then God.

I am thinking right now that my commitment to God can probably be measured by the size of the shock I would experience if God appeared before me.  If I am just doing my own thing then God’s presence would be greatly disturbing.  If, on the other hand, I am living a life that is, to use the words of Philippians 4, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise, I really do not have anything to worry about.

Caveat: if you have not placed your faith in Christ for salvation, no amount of good living will prepare you for the presence of God.  Nothing you do can win you a place in heaven.  Good living just gets you a place at the back of the line.  God’s gift of salvation received by faith alone is all that guarantees a relationship with God and home in heaven.

So how about you?

How would you react if God appeared in your worship service and took over?

A Guide to Planning Center Online Permission Levels

NOTE:  I have updated this blog post based on Aaron’s comments below.  Thanks, Aaron, for the clarification!  Maurice 

Planning Center Online (PCO) is a powerful resource for churches, but it can also be complicated.  Permission levels is one of those potentially confusing features.

PCO provides multiple permission settings for each person.  For instance, if your church is like ours, several ministries use PCO.  At our church Worship Ministry, Children’s Ministry, and Student Ministries use PCO.  As a result every person has four permission settings:

  • Site Permissions
  • Children’s Ministry
  • Student Ministries
  • Worship Ministry

The other day I noticed that our setup of PCO had 10 people listed as Administrators at the Site level, which is inviting disaster to camp out on your doorstep.  I have since adjusted permission levels accordingly.

Let me share my reasoning with you.

Several years ago I was editing categories for my people on PCO and I decided that a particular category was incorrect – not matching across the program.  I deleted it.  Then I found out that I had just deleted all of the activity under that heading throughout my PCO history.  Oops.

Those are the kinds of things that can happen when someone has Administrator privileges and does not know what they are doing.  Needless to say, I am much more careful now, and I train people to watch out for those hiccups.

PCO provides four permission levels in addition to Administrator.  Here are the permission levels in PCO, with PCO’s own descriptions:

  • Scheduled Viewer: Can only view plans that they have been scheduled for and that the notification email has been sent.
  • Viewer: Can view all plans & songs.
  • Scheduler: Can view all plans & songs. Can edit & schedule people.
  • Editor: Can edit all plans, people & songs.
  • Administrator: Can change permissions for the service (templates & categories).

I find it helpful to think about the different levels this way:

  • Scheduled Viewer: Use this level if you want the person to only have access to song, plan, media and people information when they are scheduled for an event.  At all other times they will only be able to access their own personal contact information and calendar.
  • Viewer: A person with this permission level can always access songs and media, view plans, and see contact information for other people, whether or not they have been scheduled.
  • Scheduler: Use this level for volunteers who help you schedule people.  They can edit people information, but they cannot edit anything else.  In every other area they are at the same level as a Viewer.
  • Editor: Volunteers who help with service planning, people management, and song entry need this level of permission.  These people are only restricted from global ministry category and template editing, which is reserved for Administrators.

The Site level permission setting determines the default permission level for the person throughout PCO.  If a person is set as a Viewer at the Site level they will have Viewer privileges in every ministry.  If a person is an Administrator at the Site level they will have Administrator privileges in every ministry.

In order to manage these different levels of permission PCO also provides two other permission modifiers:

  • Disabled: User cannot login and is excluded from all emails and is not able to be scheduled.  This modifier is only used at the Site level.
  • Same as Parent: Will use the same permissions as the group above that service. If there is not a group above it, it will inherit the site permissions.  This modifier is only used at the Ministry level and is the default setting.

I recommend Scheduled Viewer as the default setting for every volunteer and guest artist.

If you have people who are Administrators, Schedulers, or Editors you will want to decide if you want them to have those privileges in every ministry or just one ministry If your answer is every ministry set the Site permission level to the proper setting and leave the Ministry permissions at Same as Parent.  If your answer is just one ministry, then set the Site permission to your default permission for everyone (in my case, that is Scheduled Viewer) and then give them the proper permission level for the specific ministry.  Then make certain the other ministry permissions are set to the default level as well.

Finally, if you have a volunteer who moves out of state and no longer serves in your ministry, DO NOT DELETE THEM from PCO.  If you do you will lose all of their serving history.  Simply change their Site permission level to Disabled.  Their name will disappear from the People contact page but will remain in the history.  If you ever need to pull them back up you can go to the upper left hand side of the People page and select “View disabled accounts.”

A few important comments from Aaron Stewart, Product Manager for Planning Center Online:

Permissions are also what give people access to the main top tabs (Plans, Media, Songs, People). If you set a site or ANY permission to Viewer, those people can now access everything on the songs tab, the media tab, and the people tab. They can listen to and access any files and get to other people’s contact information. For this reason, we generally recommend you leave the site permission set to Scheduled Viewer unless you really want the person to access everything in all the other tabs.

From a song copyright standpoint and a people privacy standpoint, it’s usually not ideal to give this access to your regular volunteers. There is a way for you to change a master site setting so that Viewers can’t see the people page, but they will still be able to get to the song and media pages.

What strategy do you use in handling PCO permission levels?