Creative Ideas For Leading Corporate Worship Without a Song Leader
May 19, 2017
This is mainly directed toward helping pastors and ministry leaders that find themselves in the scenario that their church is without a worship leader or a team of musicians to lead the congregation (though I would argue that the lead pastor is himself the de facto worship leader, so perhaps I’ll say “chief musician” instead).
How do you conduct effective corporate gatherings of worship when you don’t have a chief musician?
How do you incorporate times of singing without it coming off as cheesy, contrived, or low quality?
Chad Jarnagin, David Santistevan, Rory Noland, Sam Hargreaves, Paul Baloche, and Gareth Goossen have all shared great ideas over the years to help us creatively express worship as a gathered church along these lines, and I’ve compiled (read: blatantly copied) some of their favorites here.
Here are 20 options for you to consider:
1. Engage With Scripture
Effective worship leaders lead them to the truth. The Word is where worship is inspired.
Leading the gathered believers by not only pointing them to Scripture but helping them connect with it is never to be undervalued.
“Though you may be struggling with this fear, remember the truth of Psalm 27: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Imagine leading this moment. Depressed eyes begin to lift. Trembling voices begin to shout “Amen”. And it’s not because we’re hyping up the room into a frenzy. We’re gently delivering a promise from God that speaks to their situation. No need to preach a sermon here.
2. Empathize With Emotions
Before a room will worship with you, they need to trust you, especially if you’re not usually the one leading them in what we commonly call our corporate time of worship. You wouldn’t get into a car driven by a complete stranger, right? (Uber and Lyft members need not respond!) Attempt to connect with people on an emotional level.
Pray and ask God what this particular congregation needs. After sensing His leading, connect with people on that topic. For example, if God wants to help people overcome their fear, guide them with an encouragement formed from your own vulnerability:
“I know many here today may be struggling with fear – fear over the economy, fear about your son or daughter’s salvation, fear that you might fail, or fear about something you’re afraid to admit. I feel this fear every day.” In acknowledging these needs aloud, you relate with where your church is at and you build trust to move forward in other means of expressing worship.
3. Express Physically
This is where the power is. Worship is a choice; it’s a decision. After you empathize with their emotions and engage them with scripture, lead them to an action step. What do you want them to do? A physical response is part of how the Lord describes how He likes to be worshipped. It is often both vocal and physical in nature.
Rather than lament the loss of time to be led through a few songs, shepherd your flock to encounter the truth of God through how He tells us to seek Him. One example is to challenge people for the next 30 seconds to lift their voice and cry out to God. To cry out to Him for His presence and power, trusting that as we cry out to Him together that He will flood our lives with His peace. To call out loudly before him, as scripture tells us to do.
4. Psalm Remix
Have each person choose a Psalm and read it through on their own, then rewrite it in their own words. Encourage them to reference situations from their own lives, use their own phrases, and relate it to their modern day faith. Encourage them to read their versions back to God as part of worship.
5. Prayer Walk
Take the people for a guided prayer walk outside the confines of your sanctuary or usual worship location, and encourage people to have their hearts, eyes and ears open. Ask God to show your church things to praise him for, things to ask him to change, and things that challenge the way you live now. Talk to God as you walk together.
6. Song Stories
Look up the story behind some songs you particularly like. Often the background to these songs of faith opens up new levels of meaning. When you find one that inspires you, share that song story with the church, ask them to reflect on it and then sing it together acapella.
7. Quiet Time
Just like when we were in kindergarten and needed to calm down, some quiet time is good for our souls. Put on some quiet instrumental music, turn down the lights and dedicate some time to tuning in to simply resting in God’s love for us. For those who struggle to focus, provide guided reflection on some Bible verses, such as can be found here - http://www.openbible.info/topics/god_loves_me
8. Lord’s Prayer Reflection
Spend 5 minutes praying through the prayer slowly, reflecting on each phrase, letting God speak to you as you do.
9. Celtic Prayer
Go to http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/ and choose the Morning, Midday or Evening Prayer depending on the hour of your worship service. Take your time praying through the prayers and readings.
10. Acts of Kindness
Lead the church in praying and asking God to inspire acts of kindness they could do secretly for someone that coming week. Have them write down the ideas, commit in prayer to carry out the acts of kindness that week, and plan time the next week in service to give the glory to God by having church members share some of the ways they found to show love in practical ways.
This is almost certainly going to be a challenging one: share the stories of Miriam leading the people in worship through dance, and of David dancing before the Lord unashamed and undignified. Put on some upbeat music and lead the people in trying out some moves to dance to the glory of God! Acknowledge the awkwardness and just let it happen. (Perhaps showing a video clip of the dance instruction scene from the movie “Hitch” may help)
12. Newspaper Prayer
Pass out copies of a national or local newspaper. Have people go through and either circle or tear out stories that touch you as they read them. Encourage them to listen to God for his heart for the situations. Have them write or draw prayers over the stories using felt-tip pens, and post these stories/prayers on a wall for reflection and continued prayer.
13. Biblically Directed Worship Response
Read a passage in the Bible and interactively ask the people to consider - what worship response does it suggest? Should you confess sin, praise God, offer thanks, express sadness and sorrow, question and doubt in God’s presence, intercede for a situation...? Then lead them in doing what you think fits the text.
14. Physical Posture
Suggest some ways of praying and worshiping God based on different hand and body positions. Spend a few minutes to teach the implications of different physical postures to the church, to help them in bodily expressions of worship and prayer: arms & hands lifted in praise, clasped in confession, push into your palm with a finger to reflect on the cross, bowing, kneeling, etc. Showing the Tim Hawkins video on hand raising may help encourage an atmosphere of willingness to try out new postures together.
How often do we actually just sit in God’s presence in silence and meditate? Intentionally carve out a time of being still before the Lord and let Him lead the church into worship by His Spirit alone.
15. Food Fellowship & Worship
Have a simple but substantial meal based around bread and wine (or grape juice). Use it as an opportunity to reflect or talk about the Last Supper, the cross of Christ, other symbolic references to bread and wine, and what these mean for us today. Relate the experiences of the early church as they met in each other’s homes and fellowshipped over meals daily.
16. Artsy Reflection
Provide art materials or rip pictures out of magazines, and a dedicated space of time in service to let people create art that expresses to God how they feel right now. Make a collective picture or collage collection to be displayed as an offering to Him. Alternatively, paint or collage prayers for other people, or reflections on a Bible passage.
17. Reciting Scripture
Saying passages aloud together can be an expression of worship. Though this is very ancient in practice, it may be new for many. It is a beautiful and unifying way of responding with each other.
18. Poetry or Spoken Word Readings
This can be a unique way of offering worship. Poetry is practically a lost art within the Church. Encourage poets from within our own communities to write responses of their heart, life, and connection to what God is doing, and recite them in Church. It’s another way for us to commune together and with God.
19. Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Lord’s Table
Whatever your name for it, it is a wonderful expression of worship, union, and response. We can even celebrate coming to the table in various different ways, instead of always using the same approach. Passing the plates/cups down the rows, coming forward together row by row, receiving at our own pace throughout the gathering time, having different stations in different places in the church, members serving one another (instead of deacons, ushers or whoever “the professional” communion servers in your tradition are), etc.
20. Old Fashioned Acapella Call It Out Song-Sing
This requires hymnals or songbooks to distribute, or someone who is an absolute whiz at visually projected media to pull off. Read Ephesians 5:19 to the church. Encourage people to call out the name of a song they’d like to sing together in worship. The caveat: whoever calls out the name of the song has to stand up front and lead the church in singing it. If you spend a few moments preparing the church’s hearts to embrace this time, it can be a very strong of community building and a sweet time of corporate worship as folks whom don’t normally lead do step forward in boldness to try it out.
Serving With Passion – Be That Person
Serving With Passion – Be That Person
January 9, 2017
Realizing that many articles out there on worship ministry matters focus on addressing problems, I’d like to take a few moments instead to celebrate a success story. And encourage each of us that this success story is entirely within our own capacities to achieve ourselves.
There’s a guy with whom I had the delight of serving alongside for a number of years.
This guy gets it.
He understands the heart of ministry, which is serving others and doing everything he can to make everyone around him successful.
He serves with a passion that is born purely of serving the Lord and His people. There isn’t any way to explain it, other than God works powerfully in and through this man, who wholeheartedly pours his effort into the work that Jesus has prepared for him to do, because he knows Jesus well and follows Him closely.
This guy. Let me tell you about this guy.
This guy. Showed up consistently even when he wasn’t scheduled, because even when he had no direct responsibilities for the church service we were preparing for as a team, he counted himself as part of the team and wanted to offer support to other team members, while building companionship and camaraderie within the fellowship of believers hard at work for the Lord. Showed up because he wanted to be part of the devotional study and prayer time before rehearsals.
This guy. Took initiative to find the equipment manuals & learn them, so he knew exactly how each piece of gear worked and could show and teach others all the capabilities to deliver the maximum of excellence possibility.
This guy. Actively sought out training opportunities to grow in his craft and gifting. I often found out about conferences and training events first through him passing along the info to me.
This guy. Actively sought to pass it all on to others, actively inviting others to join him in serving, and in humility making himself available to train others with what he knew.
This guy. Actively sought to assist others at rehearsals & services, making sure all the musicians had what they needed, helping them get their gear set up & dialed into the system, putting their instrument cases put away for them, running cables and setting up stations and troubleshooting technical issues.
This guy. Actively sought out to encourage others, coming alongside them personally with warmth and love and compassion and prayer. Big bear hugs. Sharing his life. Giving testimony to the Lord working.
This guy. Available to help others outside of rehearsal (real life stuff), helping folks move their family across town, get food if they were hungry, fix stuff that was broken. Johnny on the spot for whatever was needed.
This guy. Active in other ministries of the church – both the local gathered body and the extended family of Christ followers. Leading a Bible study for men on Saturday mornings. Connecting with other believers and engaged in evangelism through Bikers for Christ. Unashamedly telling others how much he loves and appreciates his wife and his brothers and his church family and most of all his Jesus.
I’m not going to rob this guy of his blessing by telling you his name. We can just refer to him as “Mr. Above and Beyond”.
But though I’m not going to tell you who he is, I do want to proclaim how encouraging it is to see the Lord working through him to build up the saints, and I definitely want to challenge each one of us to be this person!
This is the sort of example Paul spoke of when he said “follow me as I follow Christ.”
I’m so blessed to have seen this guy in action in real life, and to have him as a friend and brother in the Lord. He inspires me to want to be better because I see Jesus in him.
Be this person.
God wants it.
Our brothers and sisters deserve it.
Who Should Pick The Songs?
(originally published by Worship Leader 3/31/14)
How can you determine what songs are best for your church?
Who ought to be selecting them?
Is it best that you do it by yourself, or by working with others in the worship ministry to select the songs for each week, so the songs selected are not all songs you personally select?
There are many Scriptures that speak to making wise plans by relying on others:
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14
For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. – Proverbs 24:6
There is obviously wisdom and safety found in the multitude of counsel. As it pertains to the crafting of the congregational worship experience, it can be beneficial in a variety of ways.
For one, having multiple sources of perspective collaborating together does tend to make it easier to examine possible problems with a particular song. Is it biblically true, and doctrinally accurate? Does it serve to illuminate the scripture being taught that weekend? Do its themes serve the season that the church body is in at the moment? Is it a familiar enough song? Is it accessible for the average person to be able to actually sing it? Is the melody simple enough to be memorable? Is it too technical of a song for the worship musicians to be able to give it proper service? Does it reflect traditions of the church that we desire to retain as part of our church makeup? Is it a new song that needs to be taught or reinforced through repetition? Is it a song intentionally included in high rotation? Is it obscure? Is it the best song choice, given the limited amount of time available in the weekend service devoted to worship music?
With leaders of different perspectives adding their individual voices to the conversation, different flavors are contributed which may not have been present had only one person been involved in the song selection process. Different genres of music might be represented in the mix that might otherwise be absent, and more creative approaches to the big picture of the flow of worship, not only for a particular weekend, but for coming weeks and months, can be brought to serve the needs of the church as a whole.
Bringing multiple leaders to reason together is a good exercise for the leaders themselves. Working out that sharing muscle, cooperating together, being co-laborers in Christ, and learning to play nicely in the same sandbox with the other kids, is a very good thing. Different opinions can be shared, and yet the leaders can work together for the common goal and achieve greater unity for the sake of God’s purposes in this body. It is also helpful for these leaders to see the long-term view, keeping in consideration the Bible verses which are coming down the pipeline, and forecasting together which song selections will best serve the body as those verses are taught. Agreeing together which new songs will be introduced, and which older songs will be refreshed and brought back to life.
The team approach is helpful for the growth and development of younger worship leaders, so they can see the example of more mature leaders working together and cooperating to craft worship for the church, learning to plan out in advance. In our church in particular, that would be especially beneficial.
The team approach is helpful for the one given the responsibility of oversight, because it provides safety, in that it takes away a possible area of contention that members of the body might have personally as a result of song selection that they didn’t agree with. When there is a group selecting the songs together in consensus, while one person may have to give the final approval or make a judgment call, the unity of the group in agreement provides strength and legitimacy to the selection. There is no one person to blame or to applaud. It doesn’t fall on just one person’s shoulders to catch the criticism for a set of songs poorly received, nor is that person at risk of getting an inappropriately prideful attitude for a set of songs received with gladness.
The team approach is helpful as well for the body in this regard – if there is not a single person to blame or to applaud, it takes away a distraction that the enemy could use as a foothold to drive a wedge of disunity into the body. It’s not as easy to attack or gossip about a group of people as it is to attack just one person; word gets around faster when more people are involved, so there is motivation to not be a gossip or slanderer in the first place. Plus, if there is a solid group of leaders working together for a common purpose, there’s a higher amount of regard and respect paid for their efforts, as compared to how people may perceive the efforts of just one working alone.
On a biblical note related to this question, there is not anything particularly wrong with the person given the responsibility of oversight of worship for the church body actually being the person to pick the songs for the church body, especially if he works in partnership with and submission to the lead pastor to ensure the songs serve the needs of the body, work in conjunction with the scripture being taught, and are approved by the lead pastor. It’s simply that working in isolation is not the most beneficial approach to leadership. It’s not only that a team approach has greater benefits, but that it also helps to prevent burnout and failure!
When you back up and look at the scenario from a different perspective, it seems rather silly that someone would take the teaching pastor to task on his own selection of the particular verses of scripture he was teaching on. He has been given oversight for that particular ministry and entrusted with that responsibility, so he should exercise oversight in that area. It is reasonable and prudent.
Similarly, it is reasonable and prudent for the leader given oversight of worship to exercise the actual oversight of worship, and select the songs being utilized in service. There is nothing wrong with that. Certainly any worship leader can approach God directly in prayer and contemplation and ask the Lord for wisdom in selecting songs. How much more so then, one given oversight by the church and entrusted with the responsibility?
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5
At my own church, for three years I made it a consistent weekly habit to review all song selections with my lead pastor and get his approval before sharing them with the team for that weekend. I normally find out the scripture verses he will be teaching on well in advance (sometimes up 8 to 10 weeks in advance) and begin studying those scriptures, researching worship songs that might be born from those verses and usable for the services, looking for themes in the passages that certain songs would support and reinforce.
Additionally, I do take into consideration the season the church is in: are people hurting or wrestling in particular areas as a whole? Are there certain songs that seem to be resounding with the majority of the church body, serving to lead them more effectively into worship than other songs? Are there songs that do not seem to be received well, which need to be dropped from the roster? Are there older songs that should be included to reflect the traditions of the church? Are there newer songs that people would want to sing, that they’ve been hearing on Christian radio or worship albums? Are there songs generated from within our own church body that would serve to usher the family into God’s presence?
I made it a habit to meet quarterly with all the worship leaders at CBC together as a council, to discuss worship in the various areas they are entrusted with, as well as worship for the church as a whole. I have made it a habit to meet with some worship leaders weekly, or multiple times a week, to discuss worship for the church. I’ve routinely asked for input from members of the worship ministry, other ministry leaders, and church members. Song selection had never truly been mine alone.
However, given the wisdom and safety and the benefits to the body as well as to the leaders, myself, and our lead pastor, it made sense to form a creative team that would collaborate solely on song selection and worship service flow. I approached several people to invite them to be part of a monthly brainstorming session, providing input and perspective in the process of selecting songs to be used in worship at our church. We started with the more mature worship leaders first, and it has thus far been tremendously positive for all involved! The meetings are encouraging and fun, and extremely productive – knocking out a month’s worth of song selections at a time! We’ll be inviting the developing worship leaders to participate down the line as well, so they can benefit from the process too, learning how to cooperate and collaborate together as they grow in their gifts.
So how are you selecting your songs? Do you include and empower others to participate in the process? If you don’t, I challenge you to examine closely your process, and see if the Lord might have a better way for you to accomplish this important task of selecting the songs. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised and blessed!!
A Misunderstanding of Repetition in Music
(originally published October 18, 2013)
Many pastors, teachers, and shepherd trainers of shepherds have each taken time to speak on the subject of “vain repetition” with regard to their perception of its implications to worship music. Rather than impugn their intentions to build the Body, I would merely point out that even the most godly learned men are still imperfect and possess an understanding of God’s creation and God’s worship that is continuing to develop throughout their lifetimes. I would not attempt to instruct some of them on any subject, except that which they are not an expert on; and it so happens that many of these who speak out against repetition in music are not themselves experts on music.
This is not a problem in most senses, as their primary responsibility as teachers is the training and equipping of God’s people to do the work of ministry they have been called and created to do. Their main job is not teaching musicians to do music, nor is it teaching worship leaders in the art of worship as it pertains to music specifically.
However, some of their expressed opinions on music disturb me, because many people closely associate the opinions of their pastors with Biblical truth, and this is one area where the opinion is often just a matter of preference at best, and unbiblical at worst. I realize that’s an inflammatory thing to say about a teaching pastor, and again – I do hold my fellow teachers, pastors, and shepherds in extremely high respect as those who have been passionately pursuing Scripture truth for years, some for more years than I’ve been alive. That being said, many opinions on music are rife with misunderstanding, and I’m bothered that some particularly ignorant statements regarding music would be taken up as gospel truth by others, who lean heavily upon such words as ammunition in fights over what is and what is not Biblical worship of God.
I submit simply and humbly that some – indeed, many – simply do not understand music. Note that I do not say they do not understand worship. Music is not worship; it is a vehicle by which worship may be expressed, but it is not in itself worship. Worship can utilize music. However, being a scholar of worship does not automatically qualify one as an expert in the musical expression of worship.
Some may take offense at this. I can hear the initial responses now... “Who is this person to take anyone to task?”, “Who does he think he is?”, and the like.
Well I’m simply one who should have spoken up long before now. I’m one who has sometimes failed to speak up when other church leaders I respected misused their position and no one had the courage to speak up when they said or did wrongly.
I’m a musician, a worship leader, and a pastor. I’ve been a musician for over 30 years and I can speak with authority to this point. I’ve been a worship leader for over 20 years and can speak with authority that that point. I’ve been a shepherd pastor for over 15 years and can speak with authority from that point as well. So for the time being, let’s just agree that I have a unique perspective, being able to address this issue from several angles that not every pastor can.
Music is designed to evoke, express and convey emotion. DESIGNED to. Music without words has been doing this since our earliest recordings of its use. In the Bible, Saul was comforted when David played music for him. We are not told that he sang to Saul, but that he played an instrument. Music can soothe, inspire confidence, make one sad, make one happy, fuel rage within us, create distemper and unsettle us. Music uses repetition as a key element of its very nature.
Exactly like poetry, which also uses devices and formulas of repetition to convey a message, music uses different forms of repetition to convey a message.
We do not have the written sheet music for the Psalms. We do have notations such as “selah” which many scholars ascribe the meaning “musical rest” or “musical interlude” – in other words, describing an instrumental performance or musical solo interlude, or perhaps simply a musical rest.
In his book, “Worship: The Ultimate Priority,” John MacArthur discusses vain repetition in music as frivolous at best and dangerous at worst, associating it with demon worship and occult influences.
At the Strange Fire conference, the following conversation took place publicly:
<<Friel: Let me play devil’s advocate. “Your problem, Pastor MacArthur, is you like organs and cellos. This is our way of expressing ourselves in worship. What’s the problem with our way of worshiping?
MacArthur: It’s mindless emotional hysteria. It’s not about worship. Worship only goes high when understanding goes deep. The deeper your understanding of the truth of God, the higher your worship goes. Worship is directly correlated to understanding. The richer your theology, the more elevated your worship becomes. You don’t have to turn the music on for me to worship. In fact, I sometimes wish the music would all go away, and that I didn’t have to deal with sensations along with my thoughts. Low understanding of God, superficial, shallow understanding of God, leads to shallow, content-less, superficial hysteria. That’s not worship. Why have you been singing hymns this week? Because there is rich theology in hymns. We don’t have to go hysterical. We want your mind fully engaged.>>
My commentary on this discussion: Worship does not happen solely from the neck up. The greatest commandment prescribes our worship: Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s a whole body charge to us, not just an intellectual exercise. Worship in spirit and in truth, as the Lord demands, is neither purely a cerebral exercise void of emotion nor an emotional exercise devoid of the intellect. God does not ask us to check our minds at the door when we worship Him, nor our hearts either. Certainly He demands our hearts first (Psalm 51:15-17 and Matthew 22:27) and foremost.
I’m totally on board with the precept of being theologically, intellectually engaged in worship – but to throw away or dismiss emotion as unimportant is to deny the heart of the Father who rejoices over us with singing, the God who wept, the God who comforts, the God who created us as emotional beings in His image.
<<Friel: So why is this bad? David danced before the Lord.
Steve Lawson: It’s mindless. It’s a-theological. There’s no Christ. John spoke about that this morning from 1 John 4. That’s just responding to crowd-control—mind-numbing music. I think you have to be emotionally unstable to even want to be in that.
John MacArthur: The thing with David. David, in response to the truth about God expressed himself physically. That’s all that’s saying. That kind of dancing is not sensual dancing or stupid, out-of-control behavior. It’s just that with every means he had humanly available, he expressed his joy and gratitude to God. >>
Obviously David did dance in an unrestrained, undignified, embarrassing way. He described it that way himself, and his wife had a major issue with it. To say otherwise is not being truthful.
To teaching pastors such as these, who hold to such convictions, I say this: either you do not understand music, or you do not approach this argument with intellectual integrity. Frankly I prefer to believe the former rather than the latter. There is no shame in admitting that.
Music and poetry are most often composed with repetition of patterns. Rhyme and rhythm, repeated. Psalm 136 is a perfect example of a repeated pattern. In it is repeated 26 times the phrase, “His steadfast love endures forever,” yet it is not vain repetition. It is poetic and it reinforces the main idea of the song. Why repeat the same idea 26 times? Because people learn from repetition. How do we memorize our multiplication tables as children? Repetition. How do we memorize Scripture verses at any age? Repetition. Why do we sing the same songs in church over centuries? Because they teach us Biblical truths through – you guessed it: repetition.
You say that you do not like modern songs because you think the pattern and formulas they follow exercises too much repetition, and you say that is an example of the “vain repetition” the Bible speaks against. Yet I attended a service at Grace Community Church where John MacArthur serves as pastor, where the choir sang a song in service that repeated the word “hallelujah” over 60 times. (I counted). Both MacArthur and Lawson were there in attendance. Neither seemed to have a problem with that repetition.
Let’s take a quick peek at the lyrics of some of our most stalwart traditional songs of the Church:
“Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.”
Or how about...
“It is well, it is well, with my soul, with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
So if we’re really being honest, it’s really just a matter of style, not substance. To those who pull the “vain repetition” card on modern music in their preaching: You don’t really have a problem with repetition. You have a problem with style and have a poor or inconsistent understanding of music, and the sooner you admit that, the better off the Church will be for it – as you are persons of influence. Your words before the Church matter. Your words fuel fights and in this case, a bad philosophy of worship based on poor hermeneutics. That horrifies me, and it should horrify you as well.
I do not appreciate you misrepresenting the Lord’s Word to apply your own opinion. That’s eisegesis, and you’re better than that. Be men of exegesis. Stick with that. It’s honest and simple.
<< Friel: Why are young people drawn to that?
MacArthur: I don’t think it has to do with what the teachers are saying. I think it’s the music. It’s like getting drunk so you don’t have to think about the issues of life. If you shut down the music, turn on the lights, and have someone get up there and try to sell that with just words, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have some way to manipulate their minds.
John Piper: And all the healing crusades I’ve ever been to have always got the music going. Extended repetitive music that lulls people into the first stage of hypnosis. Disengage your mind and thought. You now become susceptible. And there are a lot of psychosomatic healings, all the time. But you don’t see medically documented healings. People are very susceptible to emotionally-driven music that goes on for 17 minutes. It wouldn’t work without the music.
John MacArthur: You won’t find that music in a Reformed church. Why? That’s not who they are. They’re going back to all the great Reformed teachers. Their world is sound theology, Bible exposition, obedience, discipline, order. This is a completely different stream. This is the world invading the so-called church and carrying it away with things that have nothing to do with the kingdom or the history of the church or sound doctrine.
TP: The New Testament shows two groups of people. Those who aren’t saved are driven by their feelings and emotions and their body’s appetites. And those in Christ are driven by their minds, by their understanding of the truth. There’s nothing about the mind in any of that [in the video].
John MacArthur: The attraction is the same thing as in a bar. It’s a sensual experience that disconnects you from the realities of life.
Friel: This is Jesus Culture asking to be filled up. [Shows video] This is wildly popular. I’m a parent. Some of what they say is good. My child loves it, should I be concerned?
MacArthur: Obviously you’re concerned. A broken clock is right twice a day. If you never say anything that is acceptable, you’re not going to be accepted [i.e., so we should accept that they get some things right]. But that [what we saw] has nothing to do with Christianity or with God. I’d be afraid to put my mind in neutral and start yelling, “Fill me up.” I think you’re inviting a spirit, for sure, but it isn’t the Spirit of God. This is paganism. This is the Kundalini cult. This is paganism. This is what Hindus do. The mindlessness of this. And if you accept any of it, if you say, “Well, there’s some good in it,” you literally have left your young people open to demonic powers. I would run from this so fast. >>
And yet, in your own church, John – people “mindlessly” sang “Hallelujah” over 60 times in a song that lasted nearly 20 minutes. You’re being a hypocrite here.
You have no clairvoyance or authority of omniscience to say what was in these folks’ minds when they sang the words, or to call them mindless. You simply don’t understand the music being performed or you just don’t like it. There is absolutely no difference between what Jesus Culture does in that song, and your own choir singing repetitively. The style is different. The chant is not.
<< MacArthur: I would go so far as to say that evangelical noncharismatic churches are using music that is unacceptable to draw people in. They’re using the music of the world to suck people in as if somehow people would get saved through the music. The two have no connection. This is so close to what’s in a normal evangelical environment that it’s a very small step to getting sucked in, because the style is the same. That’s not heavy metal or extreme rock-n-roll, it’s melodic. But the theology inherent in it is unbiblical.
Friel: Well Dr. MacArthur, the Bible never says there should be organs and hymns with four-part harmony.
MacArthur: Well, the Bible says we’re to use instruments in worship, especially in the Old Testament. And I don’t think the New Testament cancels that out. The organ is just another instrument, a wind instrument, along with wind instruments, pipes, and horns as we see in the Bible. And the reason the church found its way to organs and instruments were because they were following the biblical pattern. Psalm 150, you take every possible means there was. I even think guitars and modern electronic instruments can be used to praise the Lord. But they’re only accompaniment. The primary praise God wants in their ears is not instrumental but lyrical.>>
Clearly, you have never paid attention to the volume of a symphony orchestra is when all the horns blow loudly. The Bible describes 200 trumpeters playing at the same time as 200 singers, with the clashing of cymbals and beating of tambourines. Without modern amplification, it is a big stretch to think that 200 voices could come even remotely close to being the predominant sound when all of those instruments were played in unison. The idea that the primary praise God wants is only lyrical is not biblically accurate, when He prescribes specifically how He wanted His worship to be sung – to the sound of many LOUD instruments that would plainly compete out the sound of singing. Like the roaring of many waterfalls. With or without singing, as the verbage of the Hebrew words tehillah, shabach, shaown, patsach, machowl, yadah and nagan define for us the worship God wants. Loud & emotional, with dancing and shouting.
You express a preference for musical style. There is nothing wrong with having a preference, and there is nothing wrong with someone else having a different preference. What is wrong is condemning another for a different preference and implying theirs is bad, when that’s just your opinion and not “thus saith the Lord” – all the while implying wrongly that the Lord did thusly saith.
Vain repetition as described in Matthew 6:7 is not condemning someone who sings Biblical truth over and over again because they love the Lord, they love His truth, they love singing to Him, and they love singing with His Bride. Exegesis helps us understand the Word in its clear plain meaning, within its context, as it would have been heard and understood by the original hearer, and the clear plain meaning of Matthew 6:7 is precisely applied to people who think they need to go on and on while praying aloud or else they will not be heard by the Lord. Its specific application is not to corporate worship in song. Its general application could be applied to sung prayer, but that would be derivative and not the direct implication nor context. To imply otherwise is faulty hermeneutics.
He who sings prays twice – is that vain repetition?
I would instead assert it’s the act of someone who loves the Lord.
Don’t Play The Comparison Game
(originally published 3-13-14 at worshipleader.com)
Q. How many guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One to screw in the light bulb, and four to watch him and say, “I could do that better.”
As this old joke goes, comparing ourselves to others is often a part of being a musician – but if we’re not careful, we can tread into dangerous ground of unseemly pride.
When I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be able to do everything my guitar hero at the time was doing. I couldn’t afford the same gear, but I bought gear that would let me approximate his sound and style as closely as possible. Later, as I found my own feet and matured as a guitarist (don’t laugh at the use of ‘mature’ and ‘guitarist’ in the same sentence!), I became less concerned about mimicking others or comparing myself to others, and more concerned about being able to do what I needed to do in the context of my own band, my own writing, my own church.
And yet, today we see and hear all around us the comparison game going on. We hear folks putting others down because of style, perception of poorly executed musicianship, or simply because their delivery of a song was different than the original recording or performance. That’s definitely off base from where we ought to be. There’s plenty of room for appropriate musical and technical critique – in fact, it’s necessary, in order to hone our craft as musicians – but there’s a line that gets crossed when we start to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. This puts us in direct violation of God’s command to us in Romans 12:3, and it can lead nowhere good.
The temptation is to try to make our church be that other church, to make our band be that other band, and that may be fighting the wrong fight. There’s nothing wrong with insisting on excellence in musicianship, or establishing a particular style of music that fits the corporate expression of our body. Where we get off kilter is when we try to make our church body fit the mold of a unique work that God has done elsewhere, without seeking first what His unique vision for our particular church body is. It may sound simplistic, but we need to recognize that God will be uniquely working in our local church, and that it will look different from that church down the street or across the country.
When we make that other church the measuring stick, we often are using an inappropriate benchmark. That can fall on either side of the pride equation: “our church is better than that church,” or “our church is not as good as that other church.” Both are different expressions of inappropriate levels of pride.
Let our church be our church, and let God be as uniquely creative with our church as He is with others.
Even within our church, there can still be some comparison stuff going on that can be detrimental, and it all falls soundly around that poor exercise of inappropriate pride. It can manifest itself in an individual saying something along the lines of, “I don’t get why so-and-so gets to play so much, when I’m a much better musician.”
Ring-ring! Cluephone. It’s for you. And the answer probably has to do with a swollen ego making you a poor choice to serve. We're told not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, and to let others bring us forward to the place of honor - not to insist upon it ourselves. When we do either of those things, we appear foolish to others and it never works out well.
If you are at a church with multiple worship teams and you ever find yourself saying to others, “our worship team is the best one at the church” or “when we led worship, it was the best our church has had in years,” then can be certain you are 100% in prideful sin for having that attitude. It may be factually true, but you have absolutely no business expressing that thought. It does not serve to build up or encourage others, and only makes you look bad, tarnishing your reputation in the eyes of others, which will make you less effective as a leader in whatever area you serve.
If you find yourself wanting to form a worship band around yourself for the purpose of ‘showing up’ the other bands, you are definitely in sin. The Lord will never bless that effort.
If you find yourself wanting to lead because in the back of your head has crept the thought, "anything you can do, I can do better," then congratulations: you've succumbed to the exact same sin that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven. Worse, if you find yourself acting on that thought in such a manner that you'd intentionally tear down someone else who is serving the Body of Christ so that you'd have a shot at their position.
Warning: The Lord hates the one who causes division or dissension in His church (Proverbs 6:19). Pay close attention here: He doesn’t just hate the sin, He hates the one who stirs dissension. He makes it personal, because you’re making it personal in causing problems in His Bride. He defends His Bride and treats her with honor, and being part of the Bride yourself, you need to be aware of that and be especially careful about your heart’s motives.
Don’t cause division. Don’t compare yourself with others, or others to you. You are never the benchmark. Period.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Ever notice God repeats in His Word the things that are important for us to learn about him and how He works? This warning is in Scripture three times. Pay heed. You have the ability to choose the path of humility, or another road that leads to destruction. Choose wisely.
Comparison that falls into healthy territory has a heart response that goes something like this: I see that other person using their gift to glorify the Lord and to bless, edify and build up the Church, and that inspires me to want to grow in my gifts or use them more effectively for the same purposes, getting in behind the leading of what God is obviously doing and following wholeheartedly.
Let us all strive for a heart attitude that embraces the varied gifts of excellence in others and seeks to beautify the Church by adding our unique complementary flavor to the mix without seeking to remove the flavor that is already stirred in.
6 Steps To Introducing New Songs
(Originally published October 9, 2014 on worshipleader.com)
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
We love singing a new song to the Lord, because He has put it in our hearts to do so. Indeed, the Lord has commanded us to do so in our corporate gatherings (He tells us 13 times in the Bible that He wants us to do that!)
However, that does not mean that every time we sing a new song as a congregation for the first time, that it’s going to go well! As lead worshipers, we need to exercise wisdom in planning how we introduce new songs to our church. Proverbs impresses on us the importance of exercising careful planning as we consider those whom we’ve been given stewardship of leading, and I’ve heard prominent church leaders say, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” With that in mind, we do well to not just wing it when it comes to introducing a new song, but to be wise in how we go about it.
Here is a short checklist of practical steps to introducing a new song. It’s by no means a list of completely original ideas, nor is this the only way to do it, but many lead worshipers use variations of this plan and it works well to help them serve their churches.
1. Prepare the Ground
Be strategic: Have a plan to work the song into the church’s sense of familiarity, long before you actually introduce it as a worship song in the service. Intentionally have the song play in the background for a number of weeks, before services and after services, at events, etc. The church members may not register it consciously, but hearing the tune repeatedly over many weeks does help them to know the melody before you ever sing it live.
2. The Soft Introduction
Use the song as special music during communion, offering, or as a closing song. Give the church the chance to hear you play the song and acclimate to it, without necessarily putting the pressure on them to learn it or sing along yet. It’s much like when you introduce new fish to a tank – you keep them in their own bag of water, separate from the rest of the tank, until you allow enough time for the water to become the same temperature... it makes for less of a shock to the fish when you do release them into the open water of the tank. In the same way, give the church the chance to acclimate to the new song, so they transition into singing the song naturally and smoothly.
3. Soft Introduction, Part 2
Playing the song at full force during a special event, night of worship, or in one of the smaller group settings such as Mens/Womens Ministry, Youth, College age, etc., can be a strong way to introduce the song into the worship of the church. The fact is that those who are at these smaller gatherings are often more committed to their spiritual growth and maturation, and learning new songs will come easier to such folks. They’re more serious worshipers than the ones who only casually attend service. If you take the opportunity to teach the more committed ones the new song first, you’re going to have at least a small group of people who will lead from the pews and sing it passionately when you introduce the song for the first time in the larger assembly of believers.
4. Main Introduction
Be up front. Tell the church you’re going to teach them a new song.
Teach the chorus to your church as if they’ve never heard it before.
Sing it over them once to teach them, then repeat and invite them to try it along with you once or twice. Then encourage them to listen to the words of the verses as you play the song for them, and then to join you on the chorus. Repeat the first verse instead of doing multiple verses the first time around. Make it easy for the church to join in together as you repeat the verse and chorus. Afterward, thank them for joining you in singing it and applaud their participation. Make it a positive experience for them. No one likes to repeat something they didn’t do well, so make it possible for them to do it well, and use positive reinforcement when they do! Make it a wonderful experience for them as they worship our wonderful God with a new song.
5. Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Keep the song in high rotation for several weeks in a row at least to give the church the chance to sink their teeth into this new song. Remember – as musicians preparing the song, we listen to it and play it dozens and dozens of times. While we already carry it in our hearts, our church will generally need longer to grab on to it. We need to give them the opportunity and be patient with them, while paying attention to their responses to the song.
Discuss the song with your pastors & ministry leaders, worship team members, and church members; see if they think the song is effective to its purpose: is it a community building horizontal song that teaches about God & His attributes and reinforces theology? Is it a vertical song that offers praise directly to Him from His people? Is the church connecting with the song as a vehicle to express their worship?
If it is working well, great! You have a new song in the repertoire of your church’s praise vocabulary. You’re living out God’s desire for his people expressed in the Psalms (33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, etc). If the song is not achieving its purpose, then be willing to set it aside for the sake of the church and perhaps revisit it later. Maybe now just isn’t the season for this song... or maybe this song in particular just isn’t one for your church in particular. Be willing to serve the church by using the best possible song choices, and be willing to walk away from the ones that fall short of the best possible response.
Blessings to you as you serve our Lord and His Bride!
Jeans & T-Shirt Pastor