Are You a Needy Person?

Most of us know at least one person who is “needy.” Needy people

  • Take more than they give
  • Base their self-image on the opinions of others
  • Take advantage of friendships
  • Do not have appropriate emotional and personal boundaries

Truly needy people often cannot recognize their own behavior for what it is.

Every one of us, however, is a “needy” person spiritually.  

Spiritually we all

  • Are completely reliant on Christ for salvation
  • Are completely dependent on Christ to provide for us
  • Are lost without Christ’s guidance throughout life
  • Are ultimately unfulfilled and defeated without Christ

I consistently have to remind myself that I need God. Recently a new worship song on the scene has been helping me to remember that I need Christ every day.

All the People Said Amen

Lord, I Need You, recorded on All the People Said Amen by Matt Maher and written by Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves, Kristian Stanfill, and Matt Maher, is reminiscent of the classic hymn I Need Thee Every Hour (a favorite of mine), yet remains completely original, borrowing only a few lines from the hymn.

Here are the lyrics:

Lord, I come, I confess
bowing here I find my rest.
Without You I fall apart;
You’re the one that guides my heart.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh, God, how I need You.

Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more;
where grace is found is where You are.
Where You are, Lord, I am free;
holiness is Christ in me.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh, God, how I need You.

So teach my song to rise to You
when temptation comes my way;
when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You.
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh, God, how I need You.

You can buy the recording here.

In recent weeks this song has given me a lot of encouragement.  The words, “My one defense, my righteousness,” and “Jesus, you’re my hope and stay,” have been a rallying cry for me.

A few items are of particular interest to me as a musician, worship leader, and composer:

  1. The melody remains low for the first verse , the first chorus, and half of the second verse. The melody rises on the lyrics “Where you are,” highlighting the distance between us and Christ and how Christ lifts us up.
  2. The bridge, with the lyrics “So teach my song,” beautifully paints a picture of how we stumble through temptation and difficulty. The meter throughout the song is 4/4, but here the meter alternates between 3/4 and 4/4, giving the music a halting cadence.
  3. “Where grace is found is where you are” is terrible grammar, but the lyrics perfectly communicate that Christ is the source of all grace. If you experience grace, you are experiencing God.
  4. The melody spans a 12th, making the song difficult to place vocally and sing, but I am certain this song will be sung by many congregations in spite of that because of the incredible composition that it is.

This song is a beautiful reminder of our need for Christ.

What songs remind you of your need for Christ?

Refueling Your Artist’s Soul

Do you know what fuels you? I am an introvert, which means for me that quiet, time alone, and forms of art are some of the best ways for me to refuel.

I love movies and I enjoy reading books, but looking at fabulous art is one of the best ways for me to juice up the artistic batteries.

The art of Makoto Fujimura, introduced to me by a colleague, inspires me greatly. Take a moment to browse through his website. One of the world’s foremost contemporary artists and a member of the National Council on the Arts from 2003-2009, Fujimura employs an ancient form of painting called Nihonga in unique, contemporary ways.

I was especially inspired by the connection between art and his faith in his 400th year commemorative illumination of the Four Holy Gospels.

Makoto Fujimura - Four Holy Gospels

Makoto Fujimura – Four Holy Gospels

When I lived in Rochester, NY, one of my favorite artist outings was a trip to International Art Acquisitions, Inc., a fine art gallery in the Pittsford suburb.

Joan Miro

Joan Miro

How do you refuel?  Share some examples below.

Music Preference in Worship: Name It and Claim It

Recently I wrote a post on musical style and the response was astounding. In almost two years of blogging that post received the most hits. Why is that? Why is style such a hot topic in worship?

The answer is an often-reviled word: preference. 

The word “preference” is often spat out rather than spoken. In arguments “their” preferences are pitted against “my” preferences, “they” get preferential treatment, and so on and so forth.

Preference is getting a bad rap. The truth is, we all have preferences, and that is a God-given gift.

Think about it. If Adam had not had preferences, how would he have named all of the animals?

God: “Adam, go name the animals.”

Adam: “Nah. I want to lay out and catch some rays. You go name the animals. I don’t care.”

Really? Take a moment and name all of the animals you can remember. Listen to the incredible diversity of sounds coming from the different names. Listen to how each name describes the animal owning that name.

Then God created Eve and Adam immediately gave her a name, as he had done for every other creature on earth.

Adam cared, and he had preferences from the beginning. You and I also have preferences.

Here are some of mine:

  • I prefer to live to eat rather than eat to live.
  • I prefer to stay up late.
  • I prefer contemporary and modern art over representational art.
  • I prefer Betthoven and Prokofiev over Bach and Mozart.
  • I prefer steak that is medium to medium rare.
  • I prefer congregational songs with ranges from c-d1.
  • I prefer U2, Coldplay, and Norah Jones.
  • I prefer worship services brimming with art, media, music, and stories.

Does this mean I limit myself to these preferences? Absolutely not. I limit my eating, try to get to bed at a reasonable time, listen to many styles of music, eat meat as long as it isn’t crawling off my plate, and enjoy leading worship and visiting churches even when very little art is present in worship

What are your preferences?

Every human being has preferences, and the sooner we become comfortable with our preferences the sooner we can move on to more meaningful discussions.

Discussions such as:

  • Who has God called us to be as people and as a church?
  • What is my role in this church?
  • What is my role in the world?
  • How can I reach the next generation?
  • How can I love the older generations?
  • What can I set aside in deference to my younger or older brother or sister in Christ?

The evil one likes to take the very things God has given us for our good and turn them against us. Instead of letting the evil one get the best of us, let’s reclaim preference for the beautiful description of individuality God meant it to be. Let’s not use preference as a weapon.

List some of your preferences below. Keep the language factual and not argumentative.

A Tension to Manage or a Problem to Solve?

Do you know that some tensions are never meant to disappear?

Here are a few of the tensions we experience in life:

  • Relational tension. Human beings are imperfect, and so tensions will arise within friendships and marriages.
  • Work tension. At work we may discover that our bosses have different expectations of us than we do, or we may have a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Cultural and Social tension. Christ-like living is contrary to many of society’s norms; choosing Christ often means choosing conflict with our society. Artists sometimes have to choose between creating art they can sell and art that says something meaningful.
  • Parental tension. As parents we are called to first lead, train and discipline our children; friendship is secondary, although very important. Choosing to parent well often means choosing to create tension with our children for their own good.
  • Theological tension. God is sovereign, but bad stuff happens to good people. God has chosen a good path for us, but human beings have free will. Many issues in theological discussions involve tension.

Some of these tensions can be resolved.

  • Relational tension. Christ calls us to take the initiative in making peace with those who have sinned against us. We need to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we need to confront those who have wronged us. In marriage spouses must constantly be checking to make certain they are speaking the same language and holding similar expectations of each other.
  • Work tension. If we have conflict with a co-worker we need to resolve it. If we discover that our expectations do not match those of our boss, we need to take action to bring our expectations into alignment.

Some of these tensions, however, cannot be resolved.

  • Marriage is the combination of two individual people with differing tastes and preferences. While hopefully a marrying couple has many of these in common, some differences will always exist. One may like beef and the other one chicken. One is a night owl and the other is a morning person.
  • As Christians we are called to engage culture and make an impact for Christ. Because culture has so many negative components, however, many Christians try to completely disengage from culture. I believe Christ’s call to be “in and not of” the world requires us to walk the difficult grey area of engaging culture while remaining firm in our beliefs and principles.
  • Parenting is tough. Being a friend and support to your children while disciplining and guiding them is a difficult tension to manage. As a father I want nothing more than to play with my kids and give them everything they want because I love them so much. Because I love them, however, I have to discipline them and train them.
  • God is a Spirit. Jesus revealed himself in the form of a man, but he was fully God as well as fully man. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us power to overcome the evil one. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people. The way to life is narrow and few find it. Those who truly receive Christ’s offer of salvation will spend eternity in heaven, and those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell. Theology and the spiritual life is full of huge tensions, most of which are beyond our comprehension.

Deciding which issues are tensions to manage and which issues are problems we can solve is in itself a tension to manage.

Christ, however, enables us to experience his peace in every situation because his peace is based on him. Christ does not change. Christ was, is and will be forever the same. For that reason life with Christ is peace and joy, even in the midst of some of the hardest tensions life can throw at us.

Our goal, then, is not to resolve every tension, but to find peace and rest in Christ, who is the calm in the middle of every situation.

Are you trying to find peace by resolving unresolvable tensions, or are you finding peace in Christ, who does not change?

How to Evaluate Worship Songs, Part 2

Thousands of songs are being written every week, and choosing which ones to introduce to your congregation is like the cliché: searching for a needle in a haystack.

Choosing the right songs usually focuses on the merits of the song itself, as we discussed in a previous post. The individual merits of a song, however, are not enough to deem a song appropriate for your congregation.

After evaluating songs for Quality we must also evaluate them for Fit. 

What does Fit mean?

Think of this analogy. When we hire a new employee we not only look for their professional qualifications and recommendations but also their fit with the existing staff. Does the potential employee complement the skills of the existing staff? Is he aligned with the mission of the organization? Does he add to or detract from staff chemistry?

We must evaluate songs in the same way.

Here are 5 things to consider when evaluating a song for Fit:

  1. Alignment. Does this song promote the current purposes of the church? Just as every staff member and volunteer must be moving in the same direction, every song must support the same mission.
  2. Chemistry. Does this song meet a specific need or address a particular weakness in the current repertoire? Types of needs could be tempo, theme, style, instrumentation, and so forth.
  3. Style. Is this song within the stylistic spectrum of the church? Every church has a stylistic fingerprint, and each song should reinforce the fingerprint.
  4. Difficulty. Is this song at an appropriate difficulty level for the worship team? Is the melody learnable for the congregation? Many great quality worship songs are just beyond the ability of a worship team to handle. Israel Houghton’s band will be able to do more difficult music than most bands, for instance.
  5. Stretch. Is this song intended to stretch the congregation or worship team in some way? While numbers 1-4 focus on a song’s fit within the current musical repertoire of a church, some songs should stretch those normal boundaries in appropriate and thoughtful ways. NOTE: “Stretch” songs should be few and far between.

What other criteria do you use when evaluating a song for Fit?

How Our Church Recruited Worship Volunteers, Part 5

A month has passed since the Arts in Worship recruitment campaign at our church and I want to share some of the lessons we have learned. Review is an often-skipped-but-very-necessary stage in wrapping up an event or campaign.

Here are the posts leading up to this one:

  1. The Plan
  2. Why Technical Arts?
  3. The Campaign
  4. The Follow-Up

Let’s begin with what went well.

  1. The visibility of arts in the church went way up. The excitement of those several weeks was tangible and planted seeds in people’s hearts about the role of arts in worship.
  2. More people stepped forward to share their artistic talents in worship leadership. We had good responses, particularly to Musical and Visual Arts.
  3. Artists engaged in meaningful spiritual connections. I enjoyed the spiritual and personal conversations that happened throughout those weeks, both with our arts leaders and with interested artists. The campaign drew people in from the fringes.
  4. We stretched boundaries. This campaign was the first of it’s kind at our church, and people loved it. The Live in the Lobby portion of the campaign was a new idea and well received.
  5. Artists of all ages got involved. Throughout the campaign we had teenagers as well as senior adults making meaningful contributions.
  6. We did well on follow-up. In almost all of the cases we followed up promptly with interested individuals to see their interest level and to answer questions.
  7. The First Step Weekend was a good idea. Although not all of the arts areas had good experiences on First Step Weekend, the idea and energy there was positive and worth revisiting.

Now for some of the things that did not go so well.

  1. Promotion was weak. Because we ran the campaign on short notice our promotion suffered. More advance time would have meant better element planning for the services to support the campaign. On the Musical Arts week we had special music and on the Dramatic Arts week we had a dramatic reading of Scripture, but these things were last minute and happened to work out. In addition, we had no real connection between the in-service promotion and the Live in the Lobby piece. They coexisted rather than working together.
  2. Response to Technical Arts was almost non-existent. We did not portray Technical Arts visibly, they had no presence in the Live in the Lobby portion of the campaign, and Technical Arts are largely invisible in church as it is.
  3. We had lots of no-shows for our follow-up meetings and auditions.
  4. Live in the Lobby did not work well for Dramatic Arts. Doing dramatic sketches in a noisy lobby does not work as well as doing live music. What did work for them was walking around in the lobby in character and engaging people in conversation.
  5. The lobby was not large enough for the Live in the Lobby presentations. While we cannot do much about this piece at this point, we realize that the arts presentations were a bit cramped.
  6. Our location was not central enough for Live in the Lobby.  Being off to the side minimized interaction.
  7. We had too few interactions with The Visual Arts and Dramatic Arts Live in the Lobby experiences. The buzz created by having live art in the lobby was wonderful, but  connections were primarily with other artists, family, and friends.

With those things in mind, here are some of our takeaways.

  1. Plan ahead. Advance planning, as usual, is critical to the success of a campaign like this.
  2. Clearly connect all of the elements of the campaign. Verbiage, visuals, and handouts should clearly connection the experiences in the auditorium during services with the experiences in the lobby between the services and any other pieces to the campaign.
  3. Have clear opportunities for interested people. Dramatic Arts follow-up responses would most likely have been much better if we could have told interested people that we have sketches and productions already planned for the next 6-12 months. Then follow-up meetings become a casting call rather than a get together of people who do not know each other.
  4. Personally recruit people for invisible ministries like the Technical Arts. Personal invitations and recommendations are critical for this challenging ministry.
  5. Do drama differently in the lobby. In the future, should we do this again, we will focus on actors in character interacting with people in the lobby rather than trying to present dramatic sketches in a noisy environment.
  6. Do something. While we have much to work on, the experience and responses were wonderful and demonstrated a big step forward for Arts at our church.
  7. Artists are here. We now realize we have more artists in the seats than we thought. We would not have known this if we had not asked.
  8. God is active. Throughout the spiritual conversations, auditions, and performances, God made his presence known.

We definitely have a lot to learn when it comes to recruiting and empowering artists to use their gifts in worship, but this campaign has given us some valuable insights.

What have you learned about recruiting artists?

How to Evaluate Worship Songs, Part 1

Evaluating new worship songs for congregational singing is a never ending job.  Every day more great songs and lots of mediocre ones are being written, and worship leaders have to sort through them all.

My process of looking for new congregational songs contains two simultaneous processes.  For me to present a song to our senior pastor for consideration it has to pass muster on a Quality Evaluation and a Fit Evaluation.

Quality Evaluation is examining the craft of a song from the lyrics to the harmonies.  Fit Evaluation is deciding whether or not a song is appropriate for our particular church, given our history, culture, background, and so forth.

For this post let’s take a look at the Quality Evaluation.  I will address the Fit Evaluation in a following post.

In a Quality Evaluation I look for five things:

  1. Great Lyrics. Theologically sound and emotionally gripping. Grammatically clear.  There is some give and take in quality between elements of a song, but certain things, such as the theology of the lyrics, must never be compromised.
  2. Great Melody. Natural phrasing, reasonable range, fits the text well.
  3. Great Harmony. The harmony does not need to be complex; it simply needs to take us somewhere. The harmony needs to be married well with the text, just like the melody.
  4. Great Rhythm. What is the overriding rhythm to this song? Does it stick in your head and your gut? Does it match the mood of the text?
  5. Great Hook. A memorable song has a great musical gesture, whether that gesture is in the introduction, the melody, or some instrumental interlude somewhere in the song.  Some songs can survive without a great hook if all the other elements are excellent.

Once a song passes muster on these five points you can then do a Fit Evaluation.  We will take a look at that process in a later post.

Browse through your songlist (if you are a worship leader) and see how the songs measure up in these five areas.  If you are comfortable with it, please share the results and your action plan with us.