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!
As a worship leader, one of the questions I regularly reflect upon and speak to other worship leaders about is how can we make our worship services more meaningful and engaging? What songs, instruments, liturgical elements, and atmospheric effects can we use to aid in creating a worship time that is inspiring and challenging for our congregations? All of these elements (and many others) play an important role in leading worship.
Yet, over the years I've discovered that perhaps the most important element in creating a powerful worship experience is actually outside of my, and every worship leader's control: the time spent by the congregation in between worship gatherings.
I've come to realize that corporate worship is actually a fruit. It's not something that stands in isolation, nor is it a means to itself; rather it is the outgrowth of the rest of our lives. And just as Jesus talks about good trees and bad trees producing good and bad fruit, so too does good corporate worship come from lives of worship lived out the rest of the week.
Several years ago a group of Christ Community Worship Team members went overseas to lead worship at a conference for western missionaries working in closed Muslim countries. These were faithful believers stationed in some of the most difficult regions in the world, often cut off from family and friends, and isolated from other believers. As our team led the conference in worship on the first night they were blown away by the response. The missionaries had never heard these songs and yet they were singing so loud, the band could't hear themselves on the stage. When the conference attendees didn't know a melody they would sing whatever came to mind until they learned how the song went. They were in every posture imaginable, sitting, kneeling, standing, prostrate on the ground, praising the God who had carried them through the previous year and hungry for his mercy and grace to replenish them. Their corporate worship was the fruit of their faithful service to God, and God's faithfulness in the midst of impossible circumstances.
This experience reminds me of the story of Paul and Silas singing hymns in prison in Acts 16. Scripture tells us that not only were Paul and Silas singing praises to God in such an unjust situation, but that all the other prisoners were listening as well. How could they be worshiping God in such a powerful way that it held the attention of the criminals around them and would eventually lead to a jailer's conversion? I think it was because their worship was the fruit of lives lived out in worship, serving God and others for the sake of Christ.
As a worship leader I work very hard trying to create the right atmosphere for people to encounter God corporately on a weekly basis. And yet I know that what I and our worship team bring to each service is far less important than what our congregation brings. When individuals who have spent the previous week pursuing God gather together on a Sunday morning, the fruit of worship generated is far more powerful than just the songs sung or the prayers prayed or the scripture read. It is the joining of voices of people who have experienced the grace and love of the One who sent his Son to redeem us and offers his Spirit to make us new again.
Do you want to experience the presence of God when we gather on Sundays? Then pursue him passionately the other six days of the week.
Do you want to feel his love and grace wash over you in a tangible way in our services? Learn to embrace his love and grace every moment of every day, and then share it with others.
Do you want to know the joy that Christians have experienced for centuries as they gathered in the name of Jesus? Seek the joy of the Lord in good times and in bad putting all your trust in him.
Then when we gather, our corporate worship will result in much fruit.
The new year is always a great time to reflect on our lives and contemplate God's presence and role in the way we live each day. We recently spent time in our first Sunday services of the year acknowledging an important spiritual reality for each one of us: Praise Goes First.
Many Christian pastors and writers have observed how easy it is for people who profess to love and follow Jesus to go through their days without praying to, thinking about, or acknowledging his existence in any meaningful way. It's not because people have malicious intentions or are nominal in their faith. Rather it's that it is so easy for life to simply get in the way. By the time each day is almost done, we realize that we spent very few of the minutes and hours actively seeking the presence of God and his power in our lives.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Time and time again scripture points us to the simple, yet profound solution. Praise goes first. At the mountain of Sinai, at the Jordan river, at the dedication of the temple, at the manger in Bethlehem, at the tomb on Easter morning... time and again whenever God's people sought to do anything they began with praise. They began by acknowledging the God who brought them to this place and would lead them through whatever lay ahead. They began with thanksgiving and worship. They began by pursuing God.
2013 will be another year full of business and distractions. Thousands of voices around us will battle for our attention and time, and as so many people often remark, it will often seem as if there just aren't enough hours in the day. In the meantime God will be waiting for us to acknowledge the goodness he has shown, and his sovereignty over what lies ahead.
So this year let us begin with praise, worshiping the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who has given us life and light to share with the world.
As you wake up each day: let praise go first.
As you go to work or school: let praise go first.
As you spend time in relationships with family, friends and enemies: let praise go first.
As the world sends trials and difficulties your way: let praise go first.
When God seems close and when he seems distant: let praise go first.
Each and every moment of each and every day: let praise go first.
Let's make 2013 the year of praise and worship that God so greatly desires, and that we so desperately need!
It's hard to believe it's already November and most of the leaves have fallen from the trees already. Of course this means that the holidays are just around the corner, and as usual our Worship team is busy preparing for the holiday season here at Christ Community.
On December 14th and 15th at 7:00pm we will be presenting our annual traditional concert, this year called "Let Us Adore Him". Our Vocal Ensemble, Brass Ensemble and other instrumentalists and vocalists will present a collection of traditional Christmas favorites and new classics as we reflect on the glory of the birth of Jesus. There will also be an opportunity to sing many favorite Christmas carols and hear reflections on the birth of Jesus from Christians throughout history. It will be a wonderful celebration!
Then on December 24th at 4:00pm, 6:00pm and 8:00pm we will be presenting our Christmas Eve services called "Behold the Lamb of God". Written by Christian musician and songwriter Andrew Peterson, these services will retell the Christmas story in a way unlike any other. Featuring 2 dozen of our sunday morning team members, and led by Pastor Billy Burch, we will tell the "true myth" of Christmas that has changed the world. Bring your family and friends as this is a night you won't want to miss.
And of course in our regular Sunday services through December we will feature Christmas songs and carols as we look forward to the birth of Jesus in this wonderful season. Christmas at Christ Community is always an incredible time of worship and we look forward to seeing you all this year!
3 years ago musicians from a group of churches in the West Chester area came up with an idea to give back to the community through music. They developed Feedback, a concert of worship to bring the Christian community of West Chester together and collect food and donations to help the West Chester Food Cupboard as they provide nutritional assistance to families in Chester County. It was a wonderful time of worship, service and community and a great opportunity to spend time with people from other churches in our area.
Last year Christ Community was invited to join worship teams from Westminster Presbyterian and the Baptist Church of West Chester for Feedback 2011. For several hours at West Goshen Park we sang, played and collected donations. Representatives of the WCFC collected more than 850 pounds of non-perishable food to assist families in these difficult economic times.
For Feedback 2012 we have made two major changes. First, we will be holding the concert here at Christ Community Church on the front lawn. This will allow us to set up games for kids to make the event more family friendly, offer snacks and keep the cost low. Second, we are raising our collection target to 2000 pounds of food. We know this is an ambitious goal, but we can't think of a better way to bless the community of West Chester than to donate literally a ton of food to help families in need.
So join us on Saturday, September 15th, from 2:00pm-6:00pm for Feedback 2012. Bring a blanket, a lawn chair and a bag of non-perishable food to donate with you. It's going to be an incredible day, and you won't want to miss it!
It's easy to worship when things are going well. When God shows up, when life turns out as you expect, when the miraculous happens worship is the most natural response. But what about the times when things don't go as planned? It's hard to worship when you're tired, frustrated, discouraged or doubting. How are we to respond in those times?
Several weeks ago we introduced a new song in the service that seeks to answer that question. "10000 Reasons" is a song by prolific worship songwriter Matt Redman and his co-writer Jonas Myrin. Based on Psalm 103, the song is a call to sing God's praises "whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me." In the chorus we minsiter to our own souls, encouraging them to "bless the Lord," whether we feel like it or not. Even in the face of death our calling is worship God because he is worthy of our praise for all eternity.
The question is, how do we respond when we don't feel like worshiping? Can we say with David that, "the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love," (Psalm 103:8)? Though in this world we have troubles of many kinds, our hope is firmly set in the one who is faithful, even when we don't undertand his purposes. And to him alone we offer songs of praise in each and every circumstance
10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)
Last week I had the tremendous priviledge of attending the 6th annoual National Worship Leader Conference in Leawood, Kansas. 1700 worship leaders and church musicians from around the U.S. and the world gathered to worship, learn and encourage one another as we all are charged with the humbling task of leading God's people into his presence in worship. The NWLC is always one of the highlights of my summer.
This year's conference theme was "in remembrance of me." As Pastor Scotty Smith explained, the idea of remembering in scripture is not merely a cognitive act. It's not like remembering the capital of Wisconsin or when the war of 1812 was fought. Instead to remember in the Bible is to bring the realities of both the past and the future into the present. So when we take communion together in remembrance of Jesus, we don't merely remind ourselves of what happened in the past, but rather participate at the table as if we were there that very night Jesus broke bread with his disciples.
The same is true when we gather together to worship on Sunday mornings. We sing lots of songs that both recall the mighty acts of God in the past, specifically through the person of Jesus Christ, and also look forward to all the things he is going to do in the future. But when we sing the point is not simply to mentally affirm the history or the promises of God. Instead we seek God's action in the present moment. We ask for his salvation in this very second as if we were coming before him for the first time. Likewise as we sing of his promised return, we don't just affirm it's going to happen, we experience, in part, what that glorious event is going to be like.
So as we go about our daily lives, how are we remembering God in each moment?
Today is the first day of spring, but it actually feels more like the beginning of summer at the moment. The warm weather and clear days have been a welcome beginning to one of the most important times of the year for myself and believers all over the world. This season is one of reflection and contemplation and also joy and celebration as we remember the wonderful tragedy of the cross and the world-changing triumph of the resurrection of Jesus.
Here at the church, I and the worship team are busy preparing for services meant to allow our community of believers to worship and respond faithfully to God's greatest gift of love.
On April 6th at 7:00pm we are having our annual Good Friday service in the multi-purpose room. This year's theme is "Stories of the Cross" and our time together will be spent hearing the stories of those who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and its implications for their lives. That evening we will also gather around the communion table together as our response to this amazing sacrifice.
Then on April 8th at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00am we'll celebrate the resurrection at our three Easter Sunday services. These services are our biggest celebrations of the year at CCC and they are the perfect time to bring a friend or loved one who doesn't normally attend church.
We hope that all of Holy Week will be a special time of worship for you and your family and that our Good Friday and Easter Sunday services can be a part of your engagement with God in this season.
Have a blessed spring!
On Saturday, July 16th, the worship team from Christ Community Church joined together with worship teams from Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church of West Chester for Feedback 2011, a worship cocnert to benefit the West Chester Food Cupboard. WCFC is an organization that seeks to assist individuals and families at risk of going hungry in the West Chester area by providing food and other resources. Members from all 3 churches gathered in the amphitheatre at West Goshen Park and for 3 hours we sang the praises of our God together as a community of believers. We also asked those in attendance to bring canned and non-perishable food to donate to the food cupboard. Our goal was to raise 500 pounds of food. All together we raised over 850 pounds, which was a huge blessing for the food cupboard as donations tend to drop off and needs tend to rise in the summer.
We had a wonderful time not only worshiping God with our voices, but also worshiping him through our acts of charity and our care for the least of these among us. Thanks to all who attended and donated food. We're already looking forward to Feedback 2012!
Spring is here again which means it is time for our annual worship team auditions. We are looking for talented instrumentalists and vocalists to help us lead worship for our Sunday morning services. If you are a musician at least 13 years of age with a heart to serve God with your talents, we'd love to see if you are a fit for the team. Please consider joining us on Sunday, March 13th at 12:00pm in room 214 for an information meeting about the audition process. We'll talk through all the requirements of the audition and cover the expectations of each team member. I'll also answer any questions you have about the audition process or the team itself.
Thanks and I look forward to seeing you on March 13th!