Here’s this week’s version of Tuesdays With Tom and Monk on WSTS 100.9 FM. Today I share my humble top 5 contemporary hymns that should be sung by every church congregation. However, the first few minutes are dedicated to Monk picking on my request for a theme song and minor surgery I had on my big toe yesterday. It’s about 5 minutes none of us will ever get back.
Not much time to write a blog entry as I’m at our Students Summer Camp this week. Here’s an older article written by Bob Kauflin and I thought it worth your time:
Kevin sent in a question after attending two conferences. At one, the corporate worship times were about 90% congregational with a few special songs that everyone sat and listened to. At the other, the attendees only sang about 40% of the worship time. The rest was choirs, special numbers, and soloists. Here’s his question.
Is one “better” than the other? I lean quite heavily toward the participatory level; I want my people worshiping together, participating together, not simply watching (they can do that at home on TV or video). This topic has come up a few times within our Worship Ministry Team meetings and I’m quite interested in your input.
Here are some principles I’d think about in processing this question.
1. There are examples in Scripture of people listening to others singing God’s praise. The Levites at the temple were responsible for ministering to the Lord with sung and instrumental praise (1 Chron. 16:4). Singers, choirs, and instrumentalists were appointed to praise God while others listened (Neh. 12:46).
2. The purpose of gathering together is not simply to fulfill external actions like singing, but to see God’s glory in Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), to build one another up (1 Cor. 14:12), and to spur one another on to good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
3. Congregational singing seems to be the norm in Scripture, especially in the New Testament. We’re commanded numerous times in the Psalms to sing to the Lord. Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, the two passages that directly address singing in the New Testament, say we’re to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. In Revelation, all of creation joins in to worship God in song.
4. Col. 3 and Eph. 5 don’t specify that everyone has to sing at the same time. Singing to one another could mean taking turns, a solo or group singing to everyone else, or singing antiphonally.
5. We live in the American Idol, iPod, downloaded MP3 culture, where music is everywhere and its primary purpose is to keep us entertained.
6. Our own sinful hearts tend to like it when others notice us, think we have a great voice, or comment on how much they loved our contribution.
7. A large part of a how a song is perceived is the way it’s done. When I see a musician move erratically or excessively, I’m more aware of them. If instrumentalists never sing the words, I’m more aware of the music. But if musicians move naturally and seem engaged with the words, I tend to think about what they’re singing.
All that to say, in congregational settings I’d lean towards mostly congregational singing. We meet as God’s people to proclaim his praise, not only listen to it being proclaimed (Ps. 40:5).
But listening doesn’t mean that people aren’t participating. If we can worship God while listening to a message being preached, we can probably worship God while listening to a God-honoring songs being sung. Solos can be used effectively if they’re done humbly, presented wisely, and direct people’s hearts to savor Jesus Christ. We’re giving folks an opportunity to hear God’s word in song, so that they’ll be encouraged to worship him with their own songs and lives. We often project the lyrics to any special song that’s being sung. That’s one more way of directing people’s attention to the truths they’re hearing.
Another way we can help people in this area is to tell them what they should be doing while a song is being sung. Something as simple as, “Let this song you’re about to hear remind you of how merciful God has been to you.” We can also emphasize the right things when a song is over. It’s fine to say, “Let’s thank the choir for a great job and all the hard work they put in!” It’s better to say, “Let’s thank the choir for reminding us of how great a salvation God has given us in Jesus Christ!”
As leaders, we want to do everything we can to remind the church that every part of our meeting, whether we’re speaking, listening, singing, or playing, can be an act of worship to our glorious God, made acceptable through Jesus Christ.
As far as my input goes, I agree with Bob wholeheartedly. In defense of doing specials, many times I have been the most moved and edified when listening to someone else sing rather than singing myself. That may have something to do with the amount of singing that I do. I can’t be for sure. As I have said at this blog before, I also love the idea of using specials to teach future congregationals. Most of the solos that are sung at GLC are ones that I hand-pick and assign to specific soloists to work to that end. I also have our choirs and praise team teach future congregationals.
I hope you enjoy this rich hymn sung by Huw Priday, a marvelous tenor
He sings a verse in gaelic and then sings these two verses in English written by William Rees (1802-1883):
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
There are two more verses, possibly written by William Williams
Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee, ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory,
Nothing in the world I see.
Thou hast cleansed and sanctified me,
Thou Thyself hast set me free.
In Thy truth Thou dost direct me
By Thy Spirit through Thy Word;
And Thy grace my need is meeting,
As I trust in Thee, my Lord.
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and power on me,
Without measure, full and boundless,
Drawing out my heart to Thee.
Here is Sovereign Grace’s version of the same hymn:
If you sat down and thought about it, would there be 10-15 worship songs that would fit this criteria: (1) Easy to play (3-4 basic guitar chords), (2) easy to find on ITunes, (3) easy for a pianist to read and play and (4) theologically solid?
The most difficult element to deal with for me is number 3 b/c it’s hard to know the playing ability of any piano player (do they play from charts? From sheet music?). With that in mind, I would think this list would serve well in a church plant environment or for a new pastor wanting to breathe some life into his new church’s repertoire. If I had to start with ten easy worship (non-hymnal) songs that fit the criteria in the question, here’s where I would start:
**How Great Is Our God—Tomlin
Chords needed: Bb/Gmin/Eb/F w/o capo (A/F#min/D/E capo first fret)
**Blessed Be Your Name—Redman
Chords needed: A/E/F#min/D
**Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)—Tomlin
Chords needed: Eb/Ab/Bb/Fmin w/o capo (D/G/A/Emin capo first fret)
**Your Love Oh Lord—Powell
Chords needed: E/A/Bsus/C#sus/F#min
**You Are My King (Amazing Love)—Foote
Chords needed: D/G/A/Bmin
**The Wonderful Cross—Tomlin
Chords needed (without a key change): C/F/G (or D/G/A)
**Nothing But The Blood—Redman
Chords needed: A/F#min/E/D
**The Glory Of The Cross—Kauflin
Chords needed: E/A/C#min/Bsus/F#min
**God Of Wonders—Byrd
Chords needed: Dsus/Emin/C/G/Amin
**In Christ Alone—Townend, Getty
Chords needed: D/A/G
In my next entry I will give you my top ten starter hymns (with a slightly different criterion).
It seems more and more that I have songs pitched to me to sing at Grace Life Church that have the following theme:
I know how hopeless feels
When you’re staring at the bottom
Of an empty heart
And in my life I know
How forgotten feels
Wond’ring if the world
Even knows who you are
But I’ve never known anything
Or felt anything
Like the love of Jesus
And it’s hard to describe
What’s happening inside
Right now, all I know is
It feels like redemption
Raining down on me
It feels like forgiveness
Has come to set me free
All my chains have been lifted
‘Cause when the hands of love
Touch a broken life
It feels like redemption
Written by Sam Mizell and Matthew West (pictured above)
You can watch a YouTube video of the song here
Again, please don’t be offended by what I’m about to say. Stay with me on this one….
This song does not speak of scriptural redemption. It does not declare the gospel. What it does do is cater to one who is prone to self-pity and a victim’s mindset. The gospel does not call out to those who have been “forgotten” or to those who the “world” doesn’t “know”.
The gospel does call out to all men. But it does center on those who are “weary and heavy-laden”. But that weariness and heavy heart is from the mindset of one who has loved the world, loved their sin, been an enemy of God (James 4:4; Rom. 5:10), and has come to the end of themselves. I would suggest to you that these lyrics are not describing such a person. In other words, there is a difference in a hopelessness caused from a frustrated self-love and one that is seeing the impending wrath of God upon them.
Unfortunately, I can’t just pick on this song. I have far too many songs with this theme that are suggested to me as possible choir specials or congregationals. In contrast, I would like to quote the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, section XII:
…that the inability which the Scriptures ascribe to fallen men to fulfill its precepts arises entirely from their love of sin Rom. 8:7-8; Josh. 24:19; Jer. 13:23; John 6:44; 5:44
This is what it means to come to the end of oneself. It is that a soul, by the aid of the gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, realizes that he is a lover of sin and not of God and that he is totally filled with an inability to fulfill precepts of the Scriptures. With that in mind, please compare with me, especially the first verse (which gives context to what the writers mean in the rest of the song), if these lyrics are true to the gospel.
I much prefer the following lyrics:
What wisdom once devised the plan where all our sin and pride
Was placed upon the perfect Lamb who suffered bled and died
The wisdom of a Sov’reign God whose greatness will be shown
When those who crucified Your Son rejoice around Your throne
Written by Bob Kauflin
The video of this song can be watched here
Brother Music Minister, please make sure you know the difference between lyrics that appeal to a victim’s mentality and the truth of the gospel.
I guess you have noticed at this blog that I think a lot of Bob Kauflin. To be honest, I have only been under his ministry directly at Together For The Gospel. But his vision for Sovereign Grace Music has had a profound effect on my life. So often he can say very effectively what I stammer and struggle to say….Today I share with you four items from his latest blog entry on his reflections on turning 55. Enjoy!
Music can become boring—Jesus can’t.
It’s not the latest songs, creative arrangements, or unique sounds that make corporate worship amazing and awe-inspiring. It’s a clear and compelling picture of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. As long as I have that understanding, leading songs will never become routine or banal, and my worship of God will never be dependent on musical innovation. So I value truth over tunes.
Worship leaders can be cool. Biblical worship can’t be.
By nature, “cool” describes something that the world esteems as hip, desirable, elitist, and perhaps elusive. Biblical worship is very un-hip, hated by the world’s value system, and a gracious gift from God to those he has redeemed. It involves magnifying the glory of Christ and minimizing our own glory. It means acknowledging our sinfulness before a holy God, expressing gratefulness for the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for our sins, and responding in humble obedience to his commands. All very uncool activities. So, no need to worry that I’m twice as old as a lot of the people I lead corporate worship with.
Experience, planning, and skill are no substitute for the Holy Spirit.
Experiences have taught me a lot over the years. Planning ahead is a way of serving the people I lead. Skill is a vital component to leading worship effectively. But ultimately, only God’s Spirit can give people a knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). It doesn’t matter whether I’m leading 5 people or 5,000, my need for God’s empowering presence is the same. So I pray.
God isn’t seeking worship leaders; he’s seeking worshipers.
Since “worship leader” isn’t even a biblical term, I don’t want to find my identity in being one. I’m happy to use my musical gifts to draw people’s attention to the greatness of Christ, but there are plenty of other ways I can do that, too. Loving my wife, speaking kindly, being generous, sharing the gospel, caring for the poor, to name a few. In At the end of it all, the only ones worshiping God are bondservants (Rev. 22:3). So I seek to serve for the glory of God.
Well, maybe I’ve finally made it….Here should be the third and final entry dealing with a series that developed (unintentionally on my part) out of a comment that I made at Bob Kaulfin’s blog. The first two entries are here and here. We’ve been focusing primarily on the following verses:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 1 Cor. 14:24, 25
I shared with you from this text (and others) that (1) the centrality of the gospel is everything for corporate worship and that (2) we shouldn’t construct worship services around unbelievers. By that, I mean we shouldn’t be driven by what appeals to unbelievers in the music we select nor in the means that we use.
So now, we are at my third point:
The Way A Congregation Worships Should Convict Unbelievers.
It sounds very similar to the second. But by saying it this way in my third I want to focus on believers and how they are to properly minister to unbelievers during corporate worship.
Invite. Notice that Paul’s assumption of unbelievers being present during corporate worship. This most likely includes both those who are living on a false conversion and those who are un-evangelized. An unbeliever cannot be ministered to if not given the invitation to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, either through personal evangelism or through an invitation to church. A church that is not reaching out to the lost is in gross disobedience to the gospel.
Unite. Notice the word “all” in these two verses. Paul is calling a congregation to an “all” participation. If you are one who is not participating in corporate worship, you may be a hindrance to unbelievers in your midst. Paul is exhorting us to a total sell-out to the idea that “by all” giving their hearts to a song service, to prayers, and to the preaching of God’s word, “all” are calling an invitation to those who are unregenerate amongst us.
There may be nothing more distracting to unbelievers in a church service than seeing those who profess Christ but seem to be disengaged during that service. If you are one who has the habit of showing no facial expression, no effort in singing, no feedback during the sermon (verbal and/or non-verbal) you might be surprised at how much unbelievers notice.
Contrite. True humility is a rejection of any hope in self. It is when a man has, as Calvin said “contemplated the face of God and come down after such contemplation to look into himself”. Humility is not loss of self. It is keeping self in its proper place—where the gospel says self belongs. True biblical humility finds its joy only in Christ and in His good news of redemption.
It is in that spirit of humble, unified, inviting corporate worship that is most effectual to an unbeliever. Paul is not telling us to be “bible-thumpers” looking for every heretic and pagan simply for the pleasure of calling them out. He is telling us that the biblical way for a congregant to convict an unbeliever is to not even direct their worship at that unbeliever. The congregation is to direct its worship to Christ. That is the essence of humility. And it is that humility that will break the hardened heart of one filled with depending upon his own efforts to save himself.
An unbeliever in a church service is called to account by all declaring Christ’s ability to save. An unbeliever is convicted by seeing “all” expressing their deepest affections “cross-ward”. An unbeliever’s heart will be disclosed through faithful preaching of the scriptures and a congregation embracing that preaching.
Oh that the Lord would raise up more congregations with this focus! I also pray that this little look into these two very revealing verses in 1 Cor. 14 have been as big a blessing to you as they have to me.
Here’s a great article from a while back by Bob Kauflin on how graciously (or ungraciously) we discuss opinions of music. I promise, I’ll get back to the final installment on how a corporate worship is to relate to the unbeliever soon….
I’ve been musing recently about how we express our musical opinions. Why do we feel so strongly about songs, bands, and styles? And why do we draw conclusions so quickly? Someone plays a new song or band for us and we have an immediate response:
Nope. Don’t like it.
I can’t stand that kind of music.
You like that stuff?
Is there anything wrong with raving about the music/artists we love and being swift to trash those we despise?
If we’re Christians, yes. Let me suggest ten reasons why musical forbearance might be good for our souls.
1. Being a self-appointed music critic is often just a sign of pride.
Using exaggerated or biting words to put down certain songs, styles, or artists can be a symptom of selfishness, laziness, or arrogance. Music is a vast topic, and no one knows everything there is to know about it. I know at times I haven’t taken time to consider whether or not my assessment was accurate because I was busy sharing my opinions. (Prov. 18:2)
2. Music doesn’t define us.
Why do we become offended when someone critiques our favorite song, group, or style of music? Often it’s because they feel like they’re insulting “our” music, which means they’re insulting us. The problem might be that we’re viewing music as an idol, the thing that satisfies us and gives meaning to our life. Music isn’t our life — Christ is. (Col. 3:4).
3. Great songs don’t always sound great the first time through.
Some songs require repeated listenings to appreciate their value. Albums and songs often grow on us over time. Is the best music always instantly accessible or appealing? If we’ve learned anything from hundreds of years of music making, the answer would have to be no.
4. Listening to music the masses have never heard of doesn’t make us better.
Some of us derive a particular joy in finding and listening to obscure, undiscovered artists. I sure like coming across a great band I’ve never heard of. But finding an unknown artist isn’t admirable in and of itself. Some bands are undiscovered because they’re not very good. And if we do happen to discover a talented unknown band, it’s an opportunity to serve others, not look down on them.
5. Listening to music that is massively popular doesn’t make us better.
This is the opposite craving of the previous point. It’s the mindset that says if the song or artist hasn’t been on the radio, at the top of the charts, or on TV, it’s not worth listening to.
6. Learning to appreciate unfamiliar music is one way to prefer others. I can find this hard to believe at times, but not everyone likes the music I do. And patiently seeking to understand why my friends like the music they do will not only cultivate humility. (Phil. 2:4) It might broaden my musical world!
7. Learning to like other kinds of music can open my eyes to God’s creativity.
In his book, Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best addresses musical elitists. “Among all this stuff that needs aesthetic redeeming, there is also goodness, a whole lot of integrity and honesty, from which they themselves can learn.” (p. 89) That means I can actually enjoy music that is less sophisticated than what I’d ordinarily listen to.
8. We may have to eat our words.
It’s happened more than a few times. I mouth off about how bad a song is, and later on start to think it’s actually pretty good. Or I tear up a song on my blog and later find myself talking to a person who loves it or the person who wrote it. Oops.
9. We might be missing an opportunity to be grateful for God’s gifts.
Our tendency is to assume that God’s gifts all look and sound the same. They don’t, and that shouldn’t surprise us. What would happen if the first time we heard a song we were grateful rather than critical? James 1:17 tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Those good gifts might include that new song that sounds so strange to our ears.
10. Being opinionated about music can affect our ability to worship God corporately.
How many times have you heard the first few bars of a worship song on Sunday and thought, “Oh no…I can’t stand this song.” Or maybe you’re talking with a group of friends at lunch on Sunday, and you’re letting them know which songs you really didn’t like. In either case, we’re giving more value to our musical preferences than God’s command to sing his praise and to love him with all our hearts. Do we really want to let our musical opinions keep us from worshiping the God who gave us music in the first place?
Let me be clear. No song is above evaluation and some songs are better than others in a particular genre. But we just might serve others and ourselves more effectively if we expressed our musical opinions with a little more grace.
Not long ago I made a comment at Bob Kauflin’s blog “Worship Matters” in regards to using songs on Christian radio in our church services. Here is the comment that I made with the most important point in bold:
We are all dealing with, to a certain extent, Christian songs that are being written with a broader market base in mind. In other words, more and more “industry” people are looking for songs that non-believers can also sing/listen to with their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse in mind so that it will sell more. Thus, the language in songs has become more and more vague. I don’t mean to throw everyone “under the bus” on this. All I’m saying is that we must have great biblical knowledge and great discernment in our repertoire selections. I constantly ask myself in looking at songs this question: Does this song I’m considering, so unmistakeably declare biblical truths about Christ that it would be difficult to sing it to/about anyone else?
To expand on that last sentence, I would like to ask you, does your church’s music center on Christ so overtly that you couldn’t sing it to your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend?
Here’s an example of a very well-written song by Kelly Carpenter:
Draw me close to You
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear You say that I’m Your friend
You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace
Help me find the way
Bring me back to You
You’re all I want
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near
What I want to suggest to you is that this song is not clear enough as to whom it is sung. It might be a bit of a stretch but I could almost sing this song to a lover (my wife). You might respond, “But isn’t heart passion directed toward Christ important? Isn’t He the ‘Lover of my soul?” I would say “absolutely”. But our relation to Christ is in relation to His death, burial, and resurrection.
It is not specific enough to regularly sing nebulous songs of emotion toward “You” (whoever that may be) that is not rooted in the Gospel. Why are there more and more songs being written in this vein? I go back to what I said in the beginning of my quote. The Christian music industry is constantly looking to expand its market. That market has very little to do with whether or not it is selling to regenerate or unregenerate customers. Dollars are the bottom line.
So in selecting the music for your church’s song service, make sure that if you use a song like “Draw me close” that you have adequately declared the gospel so that your congregation is singing to “You” in that context. We don’t do this particular song at
Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the Mount—I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love
Before you make the mistake of thinking that I’m purposefully selecting an old hymn over a newer chorus—don’t. There are plenty of new, glorious, wonderful songs that more directly, more overtly, more purposefully express a gospel-centered affection.
Brother Music Minister, make sure that the music your church is singing cannot be sung to or about anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ!