One of the things that fascinates me as I browse the internet in my free time is scientific studies. I love finding out how different aspects of the world and our lives work. And recently I've been intrigued by a number of different articles related to singing.
Over the past several years scientists have begun exploring the relationship between singing and the body. Researches at universities in Australia, the UK, and Sweden have performed several different studies designed to gauge physiological effects in those who sing in choral groups. Their findings have been nothing short of astounding. Singing with a group of people on a regular basis results in lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, decreased risk of heart disease and depression, increased lung capacity, reduced stress, increased immune system, reduced chronic pain, and an overall rise in life expectancy (just to name a few benefits).
If I could only find a way to bottle this stuff…
But beyond the health benefits, singing has a much deeper and significant effect on those who participate in it. This brings us to the last reason in our Why Do We Sing? series: singing is transformative.
Yes, beyond its physical effects, singing worship songs together transforms us more into the likeness of Jesus.
In the beginning of Ephesians 5, Paul encourages the believers in the church at Ephesus to "imitate God," and "follow the example of Christ." Throughout the rest of the chapter he gives them practical steps to do just that, telling them to avoid certain things and to embrace others. In verses 18 and 19 he contrasts two different, but powerful things that will influence a persons life:
"Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts." -Ephesians 5:18-19
Instead of allowing alcohol to influence them, Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to let the Holy Spirit influence and guide they lives. But what's interesting about these verses is that he connects being "filled with the Holy Spirit" to "singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Normally people have assumed that Paul is saying that being filled with the Spirit leads to singing, but in the original language, the grammar could also mean that Paul is saying that singing leads to being filled with the Spirit.
However we deal with these verses, there is a clear connection between singing together as a community and being transformed by the presence of the Spirit. You can't have one without the other. At it's essence, singing worship to God with other believers is a discipleship practice. The more we sing, the closer we grow to God. And the closer we grow to God the more we want to sing.
Now this isn't to say that singing worship songs can replace other important spiritual practices like scripture reading, prayer, generosity, or fellowship. But in the same way that most of us wouldn't consider these practices optional for growing into the likeness of Jesus, so too singing isn't optional either. It's one more integral piece to the discipleship puzzle that is necessary for all of us to become mature believers.
So as you come and sing at our services each week, you can take comfort in knowing two things. First, the more you sing, the healthier you'll be. And second, the more you sing, the more like Jesus you'll be. It's better than any bottled supplement you'll ever find.
One of the most interesting, yet least known, parts of European history took place in the small Baltic State of Estonia between 1987 and 1991. Under the authority of the Soviet Union for the previous three decades, the people of Estonia had been forbidden from singing patriotic or nationalistic songs by the USSR. But as the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 80s, Estonians saw an opportunity to reclaim their independence.
Over the course of five years they held numerous demonstrations and protests against the Russian government that all included one common element: singing. As an act of defiance the people would gather and sing the patriotic songs that had been banned. Eventually these demonstrations would lead to Estonia winning it's freedom, and later these musical demonstrations of the people would be referred to as the Singing Revolution.
I bring this up first because it's a pretty cool part of history, and second because it points to the second reason in our Why Do We Sing? series: singing creates community.
It is common knowledge among anthropologists that singing is a universal form of cultural expression. All cultures in all places at all times sing together. Singing helps establish identity, camaraderie, and unity among people who live and work together. And the people of God are no exception.
For ancient Israel the Psalms were not only songs of worship and praise, they were also unifying reminders of who they were as God's people. Psalm 47 gets straight to the heart of this when it says:
"Clap your hands, all peoples!
Singing was tied into their identity as the people God had rescued from slavery and to whom he had given the promised land.
The New Testament says similar things about singing as part of the life of the church. In Colossians 3 Paul writes to the church,
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." - Colossians 3:16
For Paul and the early church, singing was not just an act of worship, but also a reminder that they were joined together as brothers and sisters in Christ because of his death and resurrection.
Having sung in various musical groups and choirs for most of my life, I can say definitively that it's hard to sing with someone on a regular basis and not develop a deep connection with them. That is what singing is designed to do in our services. It unifies and connects us in a way that nothing else can. And when we sing about how Jesus has rescued us through his death and resurrection, it marks us out as part of the Church, God's people existing for his purposes.
As you come to worship with us each week, I encourage you not to think of the singing part of our service as an individual option, but rather to look at it as a way to become closer to those who are part of this community. Remember that we don't just sing for ourselves, but we sing together for the glory of God and the building of his Church. It's something that could literally start a revolution.
Why do we sing in church?
Have you ever asked yourself that question? It often seems as if singing and music in our worship services is somewhat taken for granted. We sing because that's what you do when you worship together. It's just a part of church life.
But is there something deeper to our time of singing than we've realized? Is there a more significant purpose behind out times spent lifting our voices?
I believe that scripture says there is, so over the next three weeks I'll be unpacking three major reasons we sing in our services, starting with reason #1 today.
The first reason we sing together is that it's biblical.
By biblical I don't just mean that singing is in the Bible, though it certainly is. Rather, singing represents a consistent thread through the whole narrative of God's people in scripture. It is an irreducible part of how God has chosen to engage with his people, and how his people have responded to him. More than any other artistic practice, singing is central to God's story.
For example, the command to sing occurs over 100 times in the Old Testament alone. Major events like the Exodus, the remembrance of kings, and the Exile were commemorated with singing. Most of the festivals of the Israelites included music and singing as part of the celebration and observance. In the New Testament, singing is a vital response to the work of God in Christ, and is commanded by both Paul and James.
Not to mention that most of the major biblical characters are recorded as singing:
-Moses and Miriam sing after the Egyptians are defeated at the Red Sea.
-Deborah sings after the Israelites defeated Sisera and King Jaban.
-David composed dozens of songs that became the worship music of the nation of Israel.
-Solomon wrote 1,005 songs that communicated the wisdom of God to his people.
-Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote their prophecies in songs that both called the Israelites to repentance and also promised hope of the coming Messiah.
-Jesus sang with his disciples at the last supper.
-Paul and Silas sang while they were in prison commanding the attention of all who heard them.
-The angels and archangels are singing around the throne of God right now.
-God himself sings over us and all his creation.
And this is just a small portion of those people that sing in the Bible.
So yes, we sing because that's what people do when they come together to worship God. But that heritage we've been given goes back to the very creation of the world. Singing is not just one more option of how we can honor God; according to scripture it is central to the worship of God by his people.
So whether you find singing your particular cup of tea or not, understand that when we sing praises to God as a church, we are continuing a story of worship that started at the beginning of time. So let us carry on that story as we gather together each week!
As we (hopefully) get closer to spring and warmer weather, it's also time for our annual worship team auditions. We are always looking for faithful, passionate, musically gifted worshipers to join our team. If that's you, please consider joining us on Sunday, March 16th, at 12:30pm in Rom. 214 for an informational meeting about joining the worship team.
We'll go over the team structure, expectations of members, and the audition process. We'll also answer any questions you might have about the team. We won't be doing any actual auditions that day so there is no need to bring your instrument or prepare music ahead of time.
If you have any questions in advance of the meeting please e-mail Steve Wilburn at the church office. We hope to see you on March 16th!
Happy New Year!
As always happens around this time of year, people have been busy making New Years resolutions to try and improve themselves for 2014.
It's often assumed that people almost universally fail at keeping their resolutions, but according to a study from the University of Scranton, people who make resolutions at the beginning of the year are 10 times more likely to achieve their personal goals that year than those who don't.
The most common resolutions fall into 3 categories:
personal improvements - like losing weight and staying fit
financial improvements - like saving for retirement or spending less on frivolous things
relational improvements - like spending more time with family or helping others
And yet, what if there was a different type of resolution that could do more to improve 2014 than any other? I'm talking about a Worship Resolution. What if we all resolved this year to intentionally and specifically praise God each and every day of this new year?
Psalm 113:2-3 says, "Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!
Each and every day, from the beginning to the end, we are called to worship and praise God. And yet, if many of us are being honest, it is incredibly easy to go through a day, or a week or even a month without praising God for who he is.
So for those of you who are up to it, here's a New Years Resolution drawn from Psalm 113. Right after you get up in the morning and immediately before you go to bed, spend some time praising God. It doesn't have to be long or complicated. You could say a short prayer, recite or sing the words from a worship song, or read a Psalm of praise to God. But whatever you choose, focus on how wonderful and powerful and merciful and gracious and loving and steadfast and righteous and great our God is. And then see what it does to you over the next 12 months.
That's a resolution that can really change your life.
Every so often I'll get a question from someone who attends our church regularly about some element of our corporate worship each week. Sometimes it has to do with song selection, or band arrangement, or the length of our worship services among other things. I'm very grateful for, and more than happy to answer these questions because it indicates that our congregation takes worship very seriously.
One of the topics that came up recently had to do with a regular feature of many of our song arrangements: instrumental solos. If you've attended Christ Community for any significant length of time you've probably noticed that a good number of songs (both contemporary choruses and traditional hymns) include some sort of instrumental section without singing. For some people these solos can seem awkward or even inappropriate in the service. They might see it as an unnecessary delay or even as a way to attract attention to individual worship team members.
If that's the case then why do we include them?
Believe it or not we include instrumental sections in our songs because it's biblical. Yup, it's in the Bible.
If you've ever read the book of Psalms you may have noticed (depending on your translation) a word that appears fairly often, offset from the rest of the text; that word is selah. Most of us pass right by this word when we read the Psalms because it's a Hebrew word we don't understand, and it doesn't seem to add much to the text of the Psalm itself. In truth, though, selah is an incredibly important word for how we understand both the Psalms and corporate worship.
Of course to understand how selah impacts our worship we first need to understand what it means. Unfortunately, no one really knows what the word means specifically. Scholars have studied the word for centuries and have come up with many different possible interpretations but no certain ones. There's still much disagreement about its translation, which is why in most of our Bibles it's just left as a Hebrew word.
Yet, even though we don't understand the specific definition, there are some things we know about this mysterious word. First, it's is almost certainly a musical/poetic term. It's only present in 2 books of the Bible (Psalms and Habakkuk) and in both places it fits within a poetic genre of literature. Second, most often selah divides established sections of the text. In other words the word shows up in a place that makes literary sense. Third, selah is closely related to other Hebrew words. Unlike in english where words arbitrarily sound similar, in Hebrew words that contain a similar phonetic structure often have similar meanings. In this case selah sounds similar to salah (to hang or weigh) and calah (to pause) which means it may have a meaning similar to or associated with those words.
With all that in mind, many scholars believe that selah refers to some sort of a musical interlude, either instrumental or vocal, that creates a pause in the music. This pause could be to express a spontaneous outburst of praise, or to reflect on the words spoken or sung before, or to engage with the music of the instruments. If this is the case then selah was an integral part in the way ancient Israel understood and practiced their corporate worship of God.
So to answer the question for us, we have solos in our worship music to provide an opportunity for selah in our services. By doing so we carry on the worship tradition of the Psalms and, in turn, the whole of scripture. The goal isn't to feature a single instrumentalist or even to lengthen the song, but rather to break up the text of the song to allow for space to contemplate, spontaneously rejoice and enjoy the music being offered to God in praise.
So the next time you're in one of our services and a solo comes up, instead of feeling awkward or anxiously awaiting for the lyrics to come back, I encourage you to do one or more of the following things:
1.) Reflect and contemplate on the words we've sung so far in the song.
2.) Offer your own word of praise and thanksgiving to God from your heart.
3.) Enjoy the music that's being played as a beautiful offering to the Lord.
In this way our worship expression can be deeper and fuller without having to add even a single word.
For the past 2 years the Christ Community Worship Team has joined with other churches in the West Chester area for a worship and charity event called Feedback. We not only spent time playing and worshiping together, but we also encouraged those who came out to bring canned and non-perishable food to donate to the West Chester Food Cupboard, an organization that provides food for people in need throughout Chester County. Our first year playing for Feedback we raised 850 pounds of food, and last year we raised just under 2000 pounds.
This year's Feedback is going to be a bit different than in years past. On October 12th, from 10:00am-2:00pm we'll be holding Feedback 2013 at the Artisan's Exchange Farmer's Market in West Chester, PA at 208 Carter Drive, West Chester PA, 19382. We're really excited to partner with Artisan's Exchange for this event, as they're one of the premier vendors of artisanal and locally grown foods in Chester County. We've also invited new groups to play with us including Calvary Fellowship Worship.
Please join us on October 12th, for Feedback 2013 and bring canned goods and non perishable food to donate. It's a wonderful concert for a worthy cause!
"It's just not my thing."
"What isn't your thing?"
"Oh that whole singing and worship part of the service. It's just not my thing. Don't get me wrong you guys do a great job, but I'm not really a singing person."
Every once in a while I'll have a conversation like this. A person with a good heart and an encouraging spirit, often someone who's been attending Christ Community for a long time, will come up and thank me for the music that I lead each week and then tell me they don't sing. It's a very interesting phenomenon because while I feel like this person is trying to be encouraging, their comments actually prove very disheartening for me.
What you may not realize is that my job as a worship leader is to get you to sing. It's to choose and play songs and then lead you to engage and participate in singing those songs with the rest of the congregation. If everyone were to just sit and listen to me sing, I would have failed at my job, regardless of how good I sound or well I play.
Scripture commands people to sing praises to God dozens of times from Genesis through Revelation. And it's not just individuals that are commanded to sing, but entire communities of people called to gather to praise God in song. Corporate singing is one of the most consistent acts of worship in the scriptures. And my job as a worship leader is to carry on the corporate singing tradition of the ancient Israelites, the early Christians, and the Church at large.
"But I'm not really the singing type. I'm not musically gifted and I can't carry a tune. Is it really that important for me to sing?"
Actually I'd argue it's more important, even more valuable, for you to sing. What do I mean by that? Consider that in the Old Testament worship of God was primarily sacrificial. People would come and offer something (an animal, some grain, money, etc.) as their means of expressing how important God was to them. Worship at it's very nature is costly. It requires something of us. And it's in that sacrificial offering that our worship demonstrates our hearts toward God.
So here's the kicker. It's not very costly for someone who is talented musically with a good voice to sing praises to God. For those people worship comes naturally and easily. But for those who are self-conscious about their voice, or not musically gifted, or not naturally expressive, singing praise to God costs them a lot. They have to lay down their insecurities and fears in order to sing in public, which is a challenging task for anyone. They have to not care what those around them think and even be willing to embarrass themselves a little. It's a true act of self sacrifice.
I'd argue that maybe, just maybe, God rejoices and delights in the songs of those people more than he does in those of us for whom singing comes naturally because they were willing to sacrifice for Him. When it's harder to do, it becomes much more significant. It's not that God doesn't want people with musical talent to sing. Certainly that's why he gifted them in that way in the first place. But I believe there is a special blessing for those who, without natural inclination or ability, choose to lay down their pride and lift their voices to God. And when they join as a community together, the sound becomes truly beautiful.
There's an old saying in the music world: The woods would be silent if only the best birds sang.
I believe similarly that our worship will be weak and insufficient if only the best singers in our congregation sing praises to God.
So as you come to worship with us this week, I encourage you to lift up your voice with the rest of our congregation in praise, especially if you don't consider yourself a musically talented person. Let us join our many different voices as one to bring praise to the one who sacrificed everything for us.
A couple of months ago I was attending a large worship conference in Lancaster, PA with a number of members of my worship team. One of the things I love about these conferences is the opportunity to learn at workshops presented by some of the best worship leaders and musicians in the country. One workshop I attended this year was on revamping hymns for corporate worship, and was led by a popular worship leader that I greatly respect. At the beginning of the workshop this leader took an improptu poll on how often the workshops attendees sang hymns in their churches. The poll went as follows:
How many of you come from a traditional church where you only sing hymns?
How many of you sing almost exclusively contemporary praise choruses?
How many of you do a mix where you still sing one hymn a week?
Did you catch that? Still. As if the incorporation of hymns into a contemporary service was an outdated practice.
Now I know a good bit about this particular workshop leader and I am convinced that he did not mean to make it seem as if singing hymns in a contemporary service was an outmoded practice. After all the whole workshop was on how to update hymns musically so they would fit contemporary contexts better.
Still, the assumption that blending hymns with contemporary music is either an unwanted compromise or a temporary fix to satisfy both sides of the worship wars, and that eventually we'll be able to get rid of them is a common one to many pastors and worship leaders. And it is one that I firmly disagree with, especially since we here at CCC intentionally sing at least one hymn a week in our services. Let me explain why.
There are two reasons we regularly include hymns; the first has to do with body composition, the second with Christian heritage.
First, we sing hymns becase of the make-up of our congregation: what I call body composition. One of the great strengths of our church is the fact that our services are multigenerational. We have people from every living generation (the builders, the boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, the Millenials, etc.) that regularly attend our church. Some grew up in contexts where hymns were the worship lifeblood of the church. Others grew up with contemporary praise choruses as their primary means of musical worship. Still others left the church at a young age and have returned looking for something new and fresh. And more and more I find young people looking for substantive, historically rooted worship expression. In order for our worship to be faithful to the many generations God has blessed us with, we need to do music that represents and speaks to each of those generations. Tha means we need to do both praise choruses and hymns to give a full spectrum of those generations that attend our church, and for our worship to truly be corporate.
Second, we sing hymns because they represent our Christian heritage. Hymnals are essentially living history books of the church. They represent the way the church has worshiped through the centuries and record the development of worship in that time. Singing hymns both remind us where we've been and also how we got where we are. Contemporary worship that ignores the historical practices of worship through the centuries cannot ever hope to represent the breadth or depth of the engagement with God that he desires from his people. We need to remind ourselves of where we've been so that we know our place in God's great story. So we sing hymns to recall those that went before us and remind us of the truths they have passed down through the generations; truths that often we need to hear all over again.
So when the servey in the workshop was taken, I proudly raised my hand at the last question. Yes, we still sing hymns. As long as I am a worship leader we will continue to sing hymns: nothing unites us and grounds us more than those songs that have been common to Christians through the centuries.
And my hope is that 100 years from now (barring the return of Jesus) when some young worship leader is sitting in a conference workshop, and they ask whether his church still sings at least one hymn a week, he will raise his hand as well.
Last year I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the National Worship Leader Conference in Leawood, Kansas. One of the largest worship conferences in the nation, the NWLC is annually stocked with some of the best teachers, leaders and bands in the world of worship. Yet, last year when I was there I had a bit of a surreal experience. After attending the second worship concert of the week, and worshiping with some of the best worship teams from around the country, a thought hit me: why are all team members on the stage attractive 20 somethings? Almost without exception, each band that night consisted almost exclusively of young men and women who looked like they could have been actors or models. It made me wonder where all the middle aged, seasoned musicians were who are so prevalent in the vast majority of American churches.
There has been a push in recent decades to make worship culturally relevant by making it cool. Find the latest trends (not just in music, but in style, language and culture) and then inject them into your worship team. The thought is that for unchurched people, seeing musicians who look like the pop stars on TV will help them feel comfortable and at home in the church on a Sunday morning.
But is that really the way worship leadership should be?
In a recent article, worship leaders Scott and Vonda Dyer have challenged the pursuit of "cool" in worship leadership as a distraction that takes away from the heart of God's plans for his people. You can find the article here, but its main point is that in order for Christian worship to be faithful to God's intentions, it has to be inclusive of all people who have been called and gifted to lead regardless of their "coolness" factor. The church worship team should adequately represent the church itself including age, gender, ethnic and class differences.
On our worship team here at CCC this has been and will continue to be our goal. we have people on our team right now that span 3 different generations, from young teens to upper middle-aged musicians (I'd love to get some seniors on our team if any of you are interested). We don't do this to meet some sort of subjective quota, but rather because these are the people God has gifted to lead us. An unchurched person that attends our service won't see a group of people on the platform that look like television stars; instead they'll see a group of people that look like Christ Community Church: young, old, male, female, rich, poor, cool, uncool. Our team represents who we are as a community of God's people, blemishes and all.
So if you've ever thought about auditioning for our team, but decided not to because you thought you weren't cool enough, I have great news for you: none of us are cool enough. That's what makes our worship team so special.
Well after almost a month of audition meetings and a wonderful Easter season, I can finally finish my series on how I pick new worship songs. The first three criteria I use are accessibility, theology and artistry (which you can read about below). After looking at those elements of a potential song I finish by assessing its particularity.
By particularity I'm talking about how unique the song is among all the other songs in our church repertoire.
Six times in the Psalms we are instructed to sing a "new song" to the Lord. This idea of a new song, a new melody, new lyrics is an important response to the reality of God as a living, active, saving God. More often than not the worship songs recorded in the Old Testament were written in direct response to some powerful, saving act of God. For example, the songs of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15 were in response to God's victory over the Egyptian army at the Red Sea and the salvation of his people. When scripture commands us to sing a new song to God, it's basically instructing us to tell the new stories of the way God is working in the here and now in a new way.
One of my all time favorite hymns is "The Love of God" by Frederick Lehman. It contains one of the greatest final verses to any song I've heard:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above, would drain the oceans dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky
Years ago I was speaking with Mark Beazley about this hymn and was remarking how incredible it was that we could spend all eternity proclaiming the love of God and never scratch the surface. To which Mark replied, "And we'd never have to repeat ourselves." The call to sing a new song is to declare that the works that God has done, is doing, and will do are so great and awesome that in singing about them we will never have to repeat ourselves.
That's why when I look for new songs to add to our repertoire, I look for songs that are unique. Perhaps the lyrics give a new wording to an old concept, or musically they bridge barriers of genre or style. Maybe the song structure itself is fresh and invigorating, or maybe it brings something ancient and true into our modern context. Whatever it is my goal is to have a repertoire of songs that are each unique in the way they lead us to God. Unfortunately many of the worship songs released today sound very similar to each other and often repeat phrases or rhyming schemes that are on the verge of being cliche. But every once in a while a new song shows up that breaks out of the repetitious cycle. Those are the songs that I choose.
So as you come to worship this week, my encouragement to you is to sing a new song. Let the freshness of the words and music lead you to God in a new way, so you can marvel at his amazing works and enter his presence in a new way.
This is the third post in a series on how I pick new worship songs. You can find the first two posts below. After looking at the accessibility of a song and the theology of the lyrics, my next step is to look at the artistry of the song.
Artistry is basically another word for assessing the beauty and musical significance of the song. This may seem like a strange category to include for the selection of a worship song, but it's actually very biblical. After the Israelites had been freed from Egypt and received the ten commandments, God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle to be the place where his presence would dwell among the people. The instructions for its construction are recorded in Exodus 26. As I read that chapter one of the things that strikes me is the sheer beauty of the tabernacle. Gold, silver and bronze metals, purple, blue and scarlet yarns, acacia wood and goats hair were all used to construct this house of God. Not only that but the work featured intricate embroidery and metalwork by skilled artists. This same materials and level of craftsmanship were then used in the construction of the Temple by King Solomon.
In our day it is easy to assume that God does not care much for beauty. We live in a world where function is often seen as more important than form. Yet the biblical story is one where beauty on the earth is a small, faint expression of the infinite glory of God in the heavens. As we experience the beauty of God's creation, we get a small taste of the beauty of God. It is no wonder then that beauty is something the apostle Paul encourages us to think on in Philippians 4:8.
As I select music I want to make sure the songs contain a certain element of beauty. This doesn't mean they have to be Beethoven's 9th symphony, but rather there should be something in their melody and lyrics that is lovely and artistic. Many well intentioned songwriters end up using repetitive chord structures, monotonous melodies, and cliche lyrics as they write worship songs. While their hearts are in the right place, I am looking for something beautiful for our congregation to offer to God because in that beauty we get a small glimpse of Him.
So as you come to worship this week, take time to enjoy and experience the beauty of the songs that we sing. And in that artistry you may just see God.
Last week I started a series of posts on how I choose new worship songs for our Sunday morning worship services. I start by looking at the accessibility of the song, specifically in terms of whether our congregation can sing it. Then I move to my second criteria: theological accuracy.
One of the most interesting elements of music is its ability to teach and instruct. Think back to your days in elementary school, and try and remember one specific lesson your teacher taught you. If you're like me, you can probably remember certain principles or subjects, but individual lessons are difficult to recall. Now try and remember a song you learned in elementary school. That's easier to do. You may even be able to remember a few songs. For some reason music lodges itself in our minds in a unique way, allow us to recall it more easily.
At it's heart music is pedagogical, meaning it aids us in learning and internalizing concepts and ideas. This is why in scripture many of the core principles are communicated through song lyrics. One of the most famous examples of this is Philippians 2:5-11. This passage is known as the Christ Hymn because it is believed that the early church chanted or sang it at their gatherings. In this case the song is about the incarnation and exaltation of Christ, topics that were theologically central to the apostolic church's understanding of Jesus. It was in the song that it was passed down to Paul who then passed it on to the Philippian church.
When I look for new songs it is vitally important that what we sing reflects what we believe as a community about God, ourselves, and the world. Most worship songs aren't full of heresy or bad doctrine, but sometimes the way a songwriter expresses a thought or an idea can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. Other times lyrics come from other Christian traditions that may affirm different points of doctrine than we do. We always want to make sure that the words we are teaching through the songs match what we believe, so I'm very careful in choosing songs that are faithful to our own convictions.
So this week as you come to worship corporately, remember that our songs aren't simply meant to inspire but also to teach. You're probably learning more theology than you realize.
Every once in a while people ask me how I choose new songs for our worship on Sunday morning. Other times people point me to great worship songs they've heard and then they wonder why we don't start singing them on Sunday morning. Every year hundreds of new worship songs are released by talented, Spirit-led songwriters, and unfortunately I can only choose a handful to add to our church repertoire. So I thought I'd do a series of posts on how I evaluate and choose new worship songs. Hopefully this will not only give you insight into my role at Christ Community, but also aid as you engage with worship week to week.
I have 4 main criteria I use to evaluate new worship music. The first is accessibility.
Accessibility basically refers to how easy it is for people, especially non-musicians, to learn and sing a particular song. One of the common themes about corporate worship in scripture is that it is exactly that; corporate. It is meant to be participatory and inclusive of as many people as possible. Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Each person in the church is to minister to one another by joining in singing together. Singing is something that unites us as a congregation and as God's people.
Sometimes I'll attend a church service where very sincere, faithful worship leaders are doing their best to lead worship, yet the songs are either so complicated or unpredictable or high that the congregation can barely keep up. In my mind this ends up being less than what God intended for the worship of his people. I'm not calling into question the motives or hearts of those choosing the songs or leading the music as I'm sure they all mean well. But I do believe that in order for worship gatherings to give God the glory he deserves, it takes the voices and presence of each member of the congregation.
We try and use songs on Sundays that are relatively easy to learn and sing together. Of course it takes more than just the right songs for that to happen. We also need congregation members who come to our services bringing their voices to add to the chorus to minister to one another and worship God.
Do you come to our services ready to engage with the music and play your part? We do our very best to keep our music accessible for just that reason.
Last week I wrote about how corporate worship is fruit. It is the outgrowth of the lives that we've lived in relationship to God in the days between our Sunday gatherings. If you want your Sunday morning worship to be more powerful and expressive, pursue God fervently during the week.
One of things that's always fascinated me about fruit is the seeds within. I remember as a young boy being told that each of the seeds in my apple could grow to be a huge tree that produced hundreds of more apples in its lifetime. When I was first told that the dozens of little specks on a strawberry were actually the seeds I couldn't believe it. And of course no childhood would be complete without the fear that swallowing a watermelon seed would lead to a large green gourd growing in your stomach. I was amazed at the power and potential of these tiny seeds. In truth I still am.
In the same way that fruits contain their own seeds, corporate worship is itself both a fruit and a seed. What does that mean? In the same way that worship is the natural response to our relationship to God, it also contains the potential to deepen that relationship in the future. When we worship together well the power of God's Spirit moves and prepares us for all that's going to come our way in the coming days.
Acts 4 recounts the story of Peter and John on trial before the Jewish council for preaching the gospel of Jesus and healing a beggar. This is one of the first times the Church was facing persecution for proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. By the sovereignty of God they were set free, but then they met with the believers to tell them what had happened. As the young church processed the new reality of the persecution they would face for Jesus, they had only one response: Worship. Praying together they praised the goodness and sovereignty of God and asked for boldness to speak His word to all who would listen. In that moment the Spirit of God showed up and gave them the power they needed to do the mission God had given to them.
Worship works the same way for us today. When we truly engage with God as a body of believers in our gatherings, God is faithful and his presence empowers us to be the people and live the lives that he's called us to. This is why in both Ephesians and Colossians Paul encourages the churches to minister to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We strengthen one another as we sing and proclaim the greatness of our God, the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whatever you're facing this coming week, whether its in your job, your relationships, or your connection with God, worship is the seed that will produce the fruit God desires for you. Come this week and worship. Come and engage with the one who meets with us as we gather and leads us into his presence. The power and potential are unimaginable!