New series – Thoughts on church and worship, discipleship and more

Given the recent discussion on our post “Bored of contemporary worship” we wanted to start adding some posts that help us examine our theology in relation to worship and church. Musicademy’s approach to DVD training has always been essentially practical and we want to bring some of that practicality to the discussion on worship theology.

Over the years Andy and I have worked with lots of different churches, some of which have been exploring their theology on worship. One has kindly given us access to some of their writing which has been developed into ministry and training material for their church community. Over the coming weeks we will post excerpts from this material for your contemplation, encouragement and comments.

By grounding the posts in an exploration of how one community outworks these thoughts in practice, we hope that it will help you will move beyond cerebral contemplation to inspiration of actual on the ground ministry.

We have decided to start with a piece about how the church has gone about establishing guidelines for music and worship. We’ll then look at their model of a community worship service before moving to other things.

Now bear in mind that our feeling is that there are many legitimate ways of “doing church”. What we present here is the journey of one community. Please do take from it what you would like and do use the comment box to add your thoughts.

Some recommendations on music for a 21st century church community

Singalongable, memorable and anthemnic folk melodies that are just as compelling when sung a cappella as they are with musical accompaniment. Melodies that imply the undergirding harmonic foundation – that allow for intuitive musical accompaniment, ease of vocal harmonization and creativity when it comes to antiphonal improvisation. Sung in a key that allows the subset of vocal ranges to participate comfortably, more specifically between B flat and D, a 10th higher.

Lyrics that are low in cliché and high in poetry and theology, that tend more toward ascribing praise direct to God and focusing on his character rather than expressing our desire to worship or describing the act the worship or listing the benefits of worship. We prefer to find that kind of spiritual release that is invoked by truth about God rather than by us resorting to feverish human attempts to stir up our emotions by singing about our desire for our emotions to be released.

A healthy mix of inside and outside songs
When it comes to outside songs our bent is toward “much older” rather than “recent hits”. We are encouraging or writers to work on rewrites of traditional hymns – new hymnlike, anthemnic melodies to ancient hymn texts.

Folksy musical ensemble – preferably more than one guitar, keys, bass, PLUS djembe and multiple hand drums forming a strong percussive base. Not rock or pop!!

Output that is high enough for the worship leader and band to stick out and enable the community to sing out loud with confidence and without feeling vocally exposed, but not too loud that the community cannot hear themselves sing – a tall order!!

General Principles
With the commercialization of worship music and the establishment of the highly produced thirty minute rock ‘n roll worship set as “the norm,” we are in danger of losing the glory of participative worship to the lesser experience of becoming fans of a genre. We want to reclaim the kind of priestly participation described in the New Testament! Rather than scheduling a worship-leader to pre-plan a seamless worship set each week, we prefer for the musicians on our team to come prepared to initiate musical expression in an open format. This does not mean that we are shutting down the idea of the extended seamless worship set altogether. We just do not want that to be our default format each week. There will be times when we gather for worship and not sing one song. There will be times when we will put aside time to party the night away in musical celebration. And, when we have multiple communities and we gather these communities together in large numbers for citywide celebrations, the dynamics of these larger celebrations will be different.

We believe that leading out in musical worship has a lot more to do with the ministry of encouragement and hospitality than it being a transcendent musical activity that invokes the presence of God. In Hebrews we learn that it is the blood of Jesus that makes the presence of Jesus accessible to us. Placing musical expression alongside the blood of Jesus is, at best, theologically dubious.

We are eager for our worship to be filled with spirit and truth. Therefore, we encourage musical expression that is sensitive to the mood of the Holy Spirit, with lyrical content that is appropriate and biblical. We marvel at the shortage of songs that we have in today’s world that ascribe praise and honor directly to God. We seem to have an abundance of songs about God, about the benefit of experiencing God and about our desire to encounter God. We are always on the lookout for songs that are easy to remember and easy to sing out in those “close your eyes and put your hands in the air and ascribe praise directly to God” moments. We encourage those on our team that feel inclined toward leading out in musical expression to make a short list of these kinds of songs for easy reference and have them on their person at all gatherings so that they can be ready to lead out in song in these moments.

We also encourage our musicians to create such repertoire lists and to throw these in the trunks of their cars so that they have them on hand at all times. They would need to email an electronic version of these lyrics to our production team for entry into our projection software. We ask them to choose keys that are good for the diversity of vocal ranges in a community – singing in the range of B flat to D and not putting everyone through the vocal stress of trying to sing outside these parameters. We also ask our musicians to bring their instruments to gatherings, arriving early to sound check before pre-meeting prayer and the visitors’ arrival.
When there is just no momentum in a meeting and it feels appropriate to summon the community to offer up a sacrifice of praise in an effort to break the impasse, we encourage our musicians to be clear about the call and to prepare everyone for the change in pace. We ask them to be comfortable for this sacrifice to be what it is and not trying to turn every song into an extended time of improvisation. Short, bold music segments are valid and can be extremely powerful. And, when we do improvise, we ask our musicians to do so in keeping with their musical abilities.

It is a beautiful thing when a worship musician is comfortable to retreat during a song and let the community continue worshipping without being continually directed from the front.

When someone steps up to a microphone while a musician is playing, we encourage the musician to give this person the right of way, and to continue playing in the background just in case the contribution stimulates a resurgence in the flow of worship.

It would be great to have your thoughts on this post – please add them to the comments box below.

We’ll be adding to this series over the coming days so do sign up to our RSS or email feed to be updated on new additions.