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?

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Re-Post: Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Trying to understand how to grow your church’s worship ministry can be challenging and overwhelming.  Anyone, however, can discover how to take their worship ministry to the next level by applying six simple steps.

I distinctly remember the feeling of wondering how in the world I was going to unearth the next steps for my ministry.  I had been at this church for five years and now they were applying a new accountability structure requiring me to really understand where we needed to go in worship.

Not knowing what steps to take, I was completely overwhelmed by the untold possibilities.  What kinds of new music should we introduce?  What kinds of physical improvements did we need to make to the auditorium?  Should we keep the pews or go with theater seating?  Should we replace the aging projectors with HD or standard definition projectors?  What role should the choir have in the next five years?

Nothing had prepared me for these kinds of decisions.  Nothing in my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, in my two professional music degrees, or in my year at Bible college had hinted at resources for making these questions.

Of course, the congregation and leadership had plenty of ideas, which only made me feel more overwhelmed.  One person was certain they had just found the sound technology our church needed.  Another well meaning person had very strong suggestions about the kinds of music we should use and how loud it should be.  Others said, “Make up your mind and don’t worry about the nay-sayers.”  Elders urged caution.

Over time I began to get a sense of how to move forward without being overwhelmed.  Below are six steps anyone can take to get a grasp on where God might be leading them.

  1. Pray.  So often this is the last thing on our list, even as ministry leaders.  Solomon, near the beginning of his reign, asked God for the wisdom and understanding to rule the people of Israel, and God granted his request.  Jesus also reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”
  2. Study God’s Word.  Learn what God has to say about worship and it’s place in the church and in our lives.  God is your ultimate leader.  Know what is close to his heart.
  3. Study your senior pastor.  Regardless of whether your church is elder-led, pastor-led, or congregation-led, your senior pastor is going to set the tone and agenda for the church.  He is the one God has set in place to lead your church.  Get to know what is on his heart.
  4. Study your church vision.  Everything you do in the future will need to be in service to your church-wide mission.  Dig into it, even if you think you already understand it fully.  Take it apart with your senior pastor so that you can understand how to apply it accurately to your ministry.
  5. Study the health of your ministry. The growth your ministry needs may be more internal than external.  Some seasons are for growing in size and others are for strengthening what we have.  Endeavor to know your ministry better than ever before, whether you have been leading it for two months, two years, or 20 years.
  6. Study your personal health.  We often forget that we can only lead within our capacity and experience.  Sometimes the best growth steps for our ministry involves growing ourselves in order to improve our leadership.

Through prayer and study God will begin to reveal to you the areas of your ministry that need shoring up and the areas that are doing well.  Over the next week we will dig deeper into how you can plan the next steps for the ministry you lead.

Which of these six steps needs attention in your ministry, and how are you going to address that step this week?

Re-Post: Cracking the Multi-Generational Worship Nut

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Recently I enjoyed listening to a Worship Team Training podcast dealing with the issue of multi-generational worship, and it got me thinking about my own experiences in dealing with multi-generational worship.

Multi-generational usually means multi-stylistic, because every generation has “their” music.  More is at stake here than music, but we will keep to music for now.

Every church has to decide how they are going to approach this issue.

Here are a few approaches to multi-generational worship:

One service, many styles

Some churches call this style of worship blended.  Add two parts rock, 1 part hymns, and 3 parts country, mix with ice and good old Gospel, and purée.  What comes out is blended, but not much of anything else.  Bland comes to mind.  Spiritually this can look a lot like unity=uniformity.

Other churches go for a more eclectic style of worship, attempting to mix authentic styles side by side in the same service.  At a previous church we once performed Bach and U2 in the same service.  Challenging, but rewarding.  Unity does not equal uniformity in this model.

Still other churches have a radio station style of worship: one style one Sunday and another the next.

Many services, many styles

Many churches choose to have preferential worship: multiple services catering to individual styles.  Modern and Classic; Contemporary and Traditional; Contemporary, Rock and Traditional; many mixtures exist, each attempting to accurately match the primary preferences of the congregation.

The message is the same, but the packaging is different.  More media for the Contemporary worshippers, less media and more liturgy for Traditional worshippers, and so forth.

One service, one style

These churches are usually laser focused on a mission to reach a particular demographic.  They choose to limit their offerings with the goal of providing better quality and connection with less on their plate.  Names like seeker and missional get thrown around here.

One style for adults, one style for youth

Any of the above churches can choose to have simultaneous separate youth services, lessening the pressure to have widely varying styles in the main worship services.

Some churches have separate youth services just so that they can address the same topics in a more youth-friendly way.

What’s right for us?

How can you know which to choose?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Who is attending your church?  Always begin with who you have.  If regular attendees are not engaged, guests will not be drawn in.  Find out what kinds of music your core people like and use that music.
  2. Who are you trying to reach?  If you are primarily a church for senior citizens, don’t play David Crowder Band.  Pull out the organ.
  3. What can your church do?  If your musicians consist of a rock vocalist, an accordion player, and a tuba player, you might want to avoid playing Bach.  Just a suggestion.  Work with what you have and be realistic.
  4. What do you, the leader, like?  Do not lead music you cannot authentically own.  This is not to say you should never learn music outside your comfort zone.  You must always be willing to grow and try new things.  You must, however, be honest about your tastes and views.  If you think a piece of music has really bad lyrics and you cannot sing it with a straight face, admit it and make a change.  If the pastor consistently wants you to do music that makes you grimace, either you two need to have a heart to heart or you need to go.

Funny story.

Choir members at a previous church will remember the Easter I decided to end the service with the Hallelujah Chorus, but precede it with a ripping Brooklyn Tabernacle tune.

I have done a number of successful classical + other style pairings, but this one was ill fated.  The Brooklyn Tab tune was a fast paced, big band Gospel number with screaming high trumpet parts and a full jazz horn and rhythm section.  It was hot.

The Hallelujah Chorus was not.

I should have known.  When I did the two songs back to back in rehearsal I started involuntarily laughing to myself, and when I led it on Easter Sunday several weeks later I cringed each service when I made the transition.

Picture it: loud, raucous, upbeat praise song slams to a halt with a big hit, and then . . .  Ba-dum-bum ba-da-dum . . . In comes the polite, Baroque-styled strings announcing with starched collar, “Hallelujah . .”

You won’t always get it right, but don’t avoid the issue.  Make a choice about how you are going to deal with the multi-generational issue and see how it goes.  You can always change it.

How do you deal with multi-generational worship in your church?

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?

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?

A Leader’s Two Best Friends

As I mentioned previously I recently began a new position as Interim Director of Worship at Covenant Life Church in Sarasota, FL.  This position is my first step back into senior level leadership since 2009, and while I am excited about what God is going to do, I also know I have challenges ahead of me.

As a result I have been spending a lot of time writing and thinking about what it takes to grow a worship ministry.  So far I have written about

In order to lead well, however, I am finding I need to have close friends.  These friends are not the financial officer of my church, the executive pastor, the senior pastor, or even the chairman of the elder board, although good relationships with these leaders are highly necessary.

I have written several times about my mistakes when I began a new position in 2010.  I plowed ahead with my agenda, pulling everyone with me.  When I finally began to listen to my volunteers I was able to make changes and avoid burning everyone out.  I would have done well to engage the help of two friends right from the start.

These two friends are Questions and Observation.

Questions

Making questions your friend means focusing on asking questions rather than making statements.  Questions do several things:

  • Invite interaction.  A good question fosters communication and collaborative effort.
  • Demonstrate humility.  Asking a question shows people you do not have it all figured out and you are willing to learn.
  • Unearth information.  Obviously, asking a question guarantees you will learn more about those around you.  Refusing to ask questions prevents you from truly understanding your surroundings.
  • Direct discussion.  Sometimes the best way to lead a discussion is to asking a carefully crafted question.
  • Create ownership.  If you engage a volunteer in conversation with a question, that volunteer will own the ensuing decision.

Observation

Observing people and systems reveals critical information you will not discover by reading the employee handbook or studying staff biographies.  Here are just a few benefits of observation:

  • Reveals hidden attitudes.  Body language comprises the majority of our communication.  Watching body language in a conversation gives a much better picture of what the other person is thinking and feeling.
  • Reveals unresolved issues.  Avoidance, for instance, can communicate unresolved tension or a lack of interdependence between separate ministries or departments. Other behaviors such as sarcasm, avoiding eye contact, or abrupt communication can also tell you that something is not right.
  • Reveals broken systems.  If I observe, for instance, that the song lyrics displayed on Sunday are not in the correct order, I discover that either I did not give the proper information to the projectionist, the projectionist was not at rehearsal to fine tune the lyrics, the projectionist messed up during the service, or I made a change from the stage and the projectionist was not able to follow.  That observation can lead to a discussion that will improve the flow of information and guarantee better projection on Sunday.
  • Reveals pain.  If you observe that a co-worker or volunteer is more subdued than usual, a good question can often lead to an encouraging discussion and even prayer.  Worship leaders need to be particularly observant of the people they are leading in worship in order to respond and lead more effectively during the service.  Many people are hurting and need to know they are not alone.
  • Shows that you are listening.  In order to observe you have to stop talking and listen.  I am amazed at what I hear and understand when I shut my mouth and listen.  People love a listener, as I am certain you do, too.
  • Reveals what is going well.  As a teacher I was often reminded to “Catch someone doing something right.”  This rule applies in leadership as well.  Catch your volunteers doing something right and congratulate them.  Smile and cheer when your choir shapes a phrase correctly.  Be a cheerleader for your volunteers, friends and family and they will follow you wherever you go.

What other “friends” have helped you in leadership? 

Relationships in Life and Ministry

Finding our way through relationships in life and ministry can be a sticky business.

We, as a culture, are obsessed with finding our way. Google, Mapquest, TomTom, Rand McNally, Magellan, and so many others have made their fortunes telling us which way to go.

We treat the Bible like a spiritual atlas, a training manual, and proclaim finding our way in life the highest purpose of sacred writings.  When we inevitably lose our direction the fault lies with God and religion rather than ourselves.  A religious center in it’s own right, Apple has been criticized for pushing out a less than perfect maps app because of the problems people have had finding their way.

Churches are no different.  Leaders spend thousands of dollars travelling across the world to hear other leaders speak about what God is doing in their churches and in their lives.  We benchmark and read and compare and do case studies all in hope of finding the next step up for our ministries.

Did Jesus die on the cross just so he could get permission to put up road signs in our lives?  Did the Father sacrifice his only son so that we could feel better knowing where we are going now or in the future?  Better yet, have countless numbers of Christian believers over the centuries been martyred for the sake of a driver’s safety course?

Perhaps not.

What if how you find direction in life is more important than what direction you take?  What if who you travel with is more important than your destination?  What if God cares more about you than he cares about your direction in life?

I am as guilty as anyone else of chasing after direction rather than chasing after God.  Instead of drawing me nearer to God, sometimes advance planning and vision casting turn into daydreaming and organizational lust.

The human condition defaults us towards fulfilling personal dreams rather than dreaming the dreams of God.  Selfishness is a tricky fellow who has learned to hide in the nooks and crannies of our visioneering and direction seeking.

Every now and then we need a vision root canal, a time where we dig the selfishness and direction addiction out of our souls and re-orient towards the primary direction and director, Jesus Christ.  This root canal requires only three tools:

  • Time.  Set aside blocks of time with no distraction (including electronic devices) and bring only your Bible and a notebook and pencil.  Go to a private and reflective place where you can rest and sit in God’s presence.
  • Repentance.  Acknowledge where you have let your agenda, your selfishness, cloud over your vision.  Ask God to forgive you and give you a fresh start, then commit to doing what he tells you to do.
  • Openness.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an uncommonly open and sensitive heart to whatever God may want to reveal to you.

I remember taking a day away a number of years ago.  I walked into my room with a list of things I wanted God to answer, directional issues where I felt I needed a divine road sign.  As I spent time in silence, rest, reading and prayer, God somehow impressed upon me how insignificant my issues were in the grand scheme of his universe, and how much he just wanted me to be with him.

What he provided that day was so more worthwhile and effective than any answer I would have gotten to my list of questions.  Oddly enough, as I embraced the way he had spoken to me that day the easier my decisions became.  I got the direction I needed, but out of a relationship with the God of the universe and not through searching my Bible like a road atlas.

Where have you allowed direction seeking and vision casting to take priority over a deep, meaningful relationship with God?