In today’s radio spot with Monk Boone on WSTS 100.9 FM we talk about getting the word of God to dwell richly in us through church music through appropriate use of music styles.
I don’t consider myself a songwriter. I do write songs but a “songwriter” is someone who is known for it. I’m certainly not known for the songs I’ve written! A cyber-friend (did I just make up a new term???) of mine, Bobby Gilles, has posted an extremely beneficial post concerning lyric devices that any and all who write songs should feast upon. Bobby and his wife Kristin are a part of the Sojourn Community Church music ministry in the Louisville, KY area. He has been kind to direct others to my blog in the past but that’s not why I’m featuring him in this post. It would be well-worth your time to subscribe to his blog, “My Song In The Night” whether he had promoted this site or not!
I will give you the first few examples here and you can click here for the entire list:
Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of a word, like the “H” sound in “Hark the herald angels sing” or the “L” in Stephen Foster’s “Open thy lattice, love, listen to me.” Count all the alliteration in this brief part of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom” (look for B, F, D,S and M words):
Far between sundown’s finish and midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashin’
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sun
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Anadiplosis: Repeating the last word or phrase of one line at the beginning of the next one:
suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
– Romans 5:3-5
Poor man wanna be rich
Rich man wanna be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
Till he rules everything
– “Badlands,” Bruce Springsteen
Anaphora: Repetition of the same words at the beginning of successive lines. Martin Luther King, Jr. used anaphora repeatedly in his “I Have A Dream” speech. Fanny Crosby begins “Redeemed, How I Love To Proclaim It” with three successive lines starting with the word “Redeemed.” And Charles Wesley uses anaphora well in “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus“: “Born Thy people to deliver/ Born a child and yet a King/ Born to reign in us forever.” Look at the way Bill and Gloria Gaither repeat the title song phrase of “Because He lives” in their chorus:
Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I Know He holds the future
This life is worth the living, just because He lives
Antimetabole: A figure of speech in which the same phrase or idea is repeated in transposed order, giving the second phrase a different or deeper meaning:
- You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl
- “He lived to die; let us die to live”
Antistrophe: Similar to antimetabole, but more limited in scope. Antistrophe occurs when words are repeated in reverse order, meaning essentially the same thing each time:
- One in Three, and Three in One
- All for one, and one for all
Antithesis: The use of opposites in successive phrases, to highlight the distinction or difference:
- “Ah, but I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now” — Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”
- “Vile and full of sin I am/ Thou art full of truth and grace” — Charles Wesley, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul”
Click here to read the entire post
In my first post on this subject, I began to deal with the concept that the impact we have on a congregation is more seen than heard. We can have all of our music elements put in place in an excellent way but through deadpan facial expression or too much body language we can discredit the truths we are singing.
One question I often ask our choir is this: If the sounds were removed from viewing one of our song services, what messages do we send to an observer? Would the observer be able to tell that whatever the text might be, we are overjoyed at that text or are we blatantly apathetic?
To look at what God’s word has to say about it, I wish to draw your attention to the following from the first chapter of Philippians:
27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (bold mine)
The immediate context of this passage is dealing with suffering. However, a secondary and very important application dealing with our subject does apply. Are you leading the song service in a “manner worthy of the gospel”? Are the homiletics, if you will, of your song leading appropriately pointing to the greatness of Jesus and His saving work on the cross? Do unsaved visitors in your church services see that Jesus is worth following by accurately being reflected on your face?
Of course, balance is very important. Just as apathy can be a distraction so also can too much exuberance be. Just as we don’t want to send non-verbal cues that Jesus is just a “ho-hum” we also don’t want to tell folks that He turns us into mindless freaks. Depending on the culture of your congregation, what qualifies as a worthy manner of our behavior will vary from congregation to congregation.
It is worth mentioning also that on a much broader scale that if a congregation only has warmth and positive body language but is cold, distant, and indifferent to others outside of the confines of the song service or church service, it negates anything that would try to be done during the services. It is my assumption while discussing this issue that a church is striving to live out the gospel at all times with their communication.
Worship is a response and if your church’s Music Department has no visible response in body language and facial expression during the service then it’s hard to see how it is leading anything to encourage the congregation to also respond to God and His word.
Brother Music Minister, teach your Music Department the primary importance of leading the music in a manner worthy of the gospel.
I know you think I’m posting this video just to poke fun at this poor chap. I’m not. The scriptures exhort us to “speak the truth in love”. The most loving thing that could be done for this gentleman is for someone to sit him down and kindly say “you cannot sing and it is possible that you think too highly of yourself”. His issue is not so much that he cannot sing but in the seeming arrogance of a competing spirit and “I’m gonna blow you away with this” body language. Maybe I’m reading way too much into it but I just don’t see how this is serving the church.
I’ve worked with plenty of folks who were not the most talented. I’m probably one myself. But serving with a selfless, God-centered approach will testify to the greatness of Jesus Christ much more than this example. There’s no way I can know the singer’s heart–I can only go by what I see on the video. I pray that he does love the Lord and is seeking to honor the Lord in his singing.
It’s also my prayer that this gentleman has some accountability and does serve the Lord in other ways besides this. He might need to get some help in harnessing his gifts and include more character before he showcases again.
It’s also worth mentioning that a singer who has exceptional talent doesn’t guarantee spiritual success, either. Regardless of talent, no one has any business in thinking he or she is something because of talent (or for any other reason) 1 Cor. 4:7. We are mere stewards of talents and gifts and no amount of polish or expertise gives anyone the option of playing the pride card.
Please forgive me if I am speaking to anything out of context. Hopefully having more context would help me understand this video better.
Brother Music Minister, serve the folks in your church by establishing an atmosphere of speaking the truth in love. Strive to remove as many distractions as possible from the music that is presented in your services.
As promised, today I’m going to deal with the issue of why church/worship music must be presented skillfully. Before I do, because we are so prone to misunderstanding (myself definitely included), I am going to establish once again some assumptions:
In dealing with musicianship I am assuming that (1) the content is truth-driven, (2) the style is in accordance with the conscience of the church, (3) the text of the music is primary, and (4) the singer/presenter is glory-of-God driven and presenting the music from a selfless mindset. If those things aren’t in order, there’s no sense in going any further.
Let’s now look at why music of the church must be of an excellent standard.
Standards of excellence remove attention from the musician . I know this seems like a paradox because we are so used to seeing secular musicians “perform” to bring glory to themselves. But in God’s economy and by His Spirit, it works conversely. On the other hand, how many times have we seen a worship leader or singer struggling with the music side of things only to leave the congregation totally unfocused on truth and the glory of God? One way to guarantee that you are noticed is to present a shoddy, ill-rehearsed offering.
Standards of excellence draw attention to the Lord. When presented in a humble, contrite spirit, a Music Department that is excellent musically causes a congregation to glory in the blessings of God and to be freed up to pay proper attention to the text (that should be biblically- and truth-driven).
Standards of excellence are in response to our excellent Savior.
Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Ps 150:2
Of course, the primary application of this verse is to praise God with excellence of spirit, i.e., with the totality of our hearts, minds, and souls. But I believe that it also is a secondary application that in terms of music, our response should be excellent in quality. God is worthy!
Standards of excellence are a witness to unbelievers. Poor organization and poor quality of our buildings and grounds are an incredibly poor witness to the lost who visit. Why wouldn’t we consider the quality of our music in the same way? (Please don’t think that I am trying to subjugate the preaching of the Gospel here!) Consider the following verse:
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:12
Obviously, excellent behavior has to do with a lifestyle that is of high character and saturated in love. However, I believe that “good deeds” here can also include excellent music! A well-presented, prayerful, Spirit-anointed, truth-driven song service can help a lost person tremendously in regards to being prepared to receive the Gospel. Just don’t trust in a song service to actually save that lost person.
I’m very familiar with folks who ask this question. The basis of their concern is a valid one. They contend that music that is artistically and aesthetically pleasing is also carnal, regardless whether it is that of Josh Grobin or Johannes Brahms. These same folks then react by only presenting music in their churches that is rough-cut, rugged, and less exact. I deeply appreciate their desire to remove anything that might be confused for carnality. In that item, I find enthusiastic agreement!
However, lack of skill in musical ability is not the qualifier for serving as a musician in church. In fact, there is only mention in the scriptures of having skill in this regard. Consider the following verses:
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with a skillful psalm. Ps 47:7
12 The men did the work faithfully with foremen over them to supervise: Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites of the sons of Merari, Zechariah and Meshullam of the sons of the Kohathites, and the Levites, all who were skillful with musical instruments.
2 Chron 34:12
5 All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer to exalt him according to the words of God, for God gave fourteen sons and three daughters to Heman. 6 All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the LORD, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king. 7 Their number who were trained in singing to the LORD, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288. 1 Chron 25:4-7
3 Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy. Ps 33:3
29 Do you see a man skilled in his work?
He will serve before kings;
he will not serve before obscure men. Prov 22:29
I hear you replying that all of these references are from the Old Testament. That’s also the same argument that denominations use for refraining from using instruments altogether! In fact, the New Testament is curiously silent on the use of music in the church. I don’t think that is oversight on the part of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration! There are so many things in the kingdom of God that are of higher priority in the scripture. Why, then, are there so many churches in an uproar over a subject about which the New Testament is so silent?! (Sorry about chasing that rabbit!)
I would respond that those who are so adamant against the use of skilled musicianship in the church are just as proud as those who are adamant on the other extreme—that of only using classical music in the church! We all fall prey to that weakness. To prove my point, I bet you have your own idea of what type of music will be in heaven! Don’t be surprised if you never hear any of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I also doubt you’ll hear any Southern Gospel! Do you really think that the Lord’s Heaven is so finite to be limited to this world’s music? (Sorry about also chasing that rabbit!)
Don’t get me wrong….I’m not dismissing the use of folk music in the church. However, Folk music and untrained or poorly presented music are NOT synonymous. I’m all for many styles of music—as long as they are presented in a skillful and worshipful manner.
Why? I’ll get to that in my next entry!
Finding balance between being structured without being stiff and being spontaneous without being chaotic seems sometimes like a razor-thin line. Knowing when to stick methodically with the planned Order of Service and when to “let our hair down” and sing one off the cuff can feel like a shot in the dark. I’ve seen ministers who just had an intuition on how to do it and others who confess that they don’t have a clue.
How does all this work? In case you don’t know, I was first a worship leader in the Assemblies of God (A/G). I’ve led music on services where there was very little of an Order of Service!! In my early days, I would just scratch out a list of songs on a little piece of paper with the band not even knowing what we were singing!! Seldom would the song service stay with that list. Usually, I would start with it and then follow the leading of the Lord where the service would end up totally different than the way I had it written down. Nevertheless, order was in operation and a good flow occurred. How different things are for me now! Let’s talk about principles involved with “order” in regards to a song service.
1. If you have no order, you have no worship. God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Chaotic services breed only distraction, promotion of self, and anything but biblical worship. Our carnal natures that we’re still chained to (Rom 7) still need to be held in check by order. Look at the earthly ministry of Christ. He always conducted Himself in an orderly way (feeding the five thousand, the Sermon on the Mount). Look at the early church. Although they were a part of a brand new organism, they still were striving to organize and bring structure to Her foundation and leadership (Acts 6:1-6). Look at heaven. We see lots of structure and order and designation in the glimpses given us in scripture to that glorious homeland.
2. The amount of spontaneity you can do is in direct proportion to the size of the Music Department. Back in my A/G days, I was in a much smaller church with only a few players in the band. It was much easier to communicate to them by hand signals and intuition where I was going extemporaneously. Plus, everyone in the band played by ear and we had a firmly established repertoire. It had much less to do with the denomination. Today, I direct an orchestra of approximately twenty and a choir of approximately one hundred. That’s the size of the whole A/G church that I led!! There is no way to direct a song service “off the cuff” with that many “leaders” involved. (Remember—everyone on the platform is a leader!) It would come off like a train wreck!
3. God speaks in the planning stage. If He didn’t and we just showed up on Sundays with no game plan or vision from the Lord as to what He wants to say through the song service and sermon, my earlier description of a train wreck applies. Very little worship would be facilitated. Most of everyone’s attention would not be on Christ and His glorious redemption. It would be on the chaos! I can’t imagine what a service here at GLC would be like without any planning! I would probably take a vacation that week….
4. God speaks in the spontaneous. If He didn’t, we would get the vision in the planning stage and tell the Lord, “Thanks for the order. Now, leave us alone—we’ll take it from here”. We would not stay dependent upon the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Because God speaks in both the planning and spontaneous we stay utterly trusting and dependent upon the Lord for the direction and power to move upon His Bride and to say what He wants to say. I’ve seen churches that take great pride in their planning and just dare God to interrupt their order. I’ve seen other churches just as arrogant in their lack of planning, mistaking laziness for humility. To be properly biblical, depend on the Lord from beginning (planning) to end (spontaneous). After all, He is the Alpha and Omega! (I realize that that designation speaks of Christ being the Author and Finisher of our faith so forgive my use of it here.)
I continue today with the original question from a pastor/elder on how to help a brother who is leading music at this church for the first time and seems to be locked in on his own personal style that doesn’t quite serve as a source of good communication and edification. (Notice that I say it “seems” to be that way. There’s no way I can truly know the whole story without being there—but for the sake of teaching we’ll make that assumption.)
I hinted in my last post on this subject that I would look at 1 Cor. 12-14. Paul, in this passage is dealing with the surface issue of the use of the gifts (primarily glossolalia or “speaking in tongues” and prophesy). However, it matters not so much as to the gifts that brought problems to the surface. It matters everything that we understand the principles that were being violated by the Corinthians and how it might apply in answering the question. (I will do so with my best attempts to avoid the very controversial subject of cessationism vs. continuationism.)
In Corporate Worship, Personal Edification Must Occur In The Context Of The Body. The problem with the Corinthian Church was not tongues or any other gift. The problem was selfishness. Whether you want to believe or not that Paul was taking a stance on tongues, what you must see that Paul was teaching that there were lots of folks who came to their gatherings with their own agendas and expectations that did not include the entirety of the congregation.
How does this apply to a Music Minister? I must not sacrifice a congregation on the altar of my musical expression. My primary “natural voice” musically may be country. But if I’m trying to serve a congregation that most predominately has classical music tastes, then I better begin to learn some classical literature if I am to best serve them. (I totally “get” that bridging that musical difference may be next to impossible—please just humor my extreme example.)
Getting to the question that was asked, the “screamo” style that your Music Minister is using may be edifying to him but if it is creating distractions to your congregation, he must deny himself those expressions not because they are sinful in themselves but because they are not the wisest forms of leadership. “The Body is not one member but many.” (1 Cor. 12:14)
In Corporate Worship, The Body Must Celebrate The Diversity Of Each Of Its Members. As a balancing principle, Paul also reminds the Corinthian Church that while subjugation of personal gifting for the sake of corporate edification is crucial, it is also crucial for the congregation to treasure an individual’s uniqueness. To translate Paul’s teaching on submission of personal edification as homogeneity is bad exegesis. In God’s economy, Individuality must pull towards and celebrate the Corporate; but the Corporate must pull towards and celebrate Individuality as well. There must be healthy tension there. Where each church lands in this area depends on many factors including (but not exhaustively): age of the church, length of the Senior Pastor’s term, size of the congregation, maturity of the congregation, etc.
While I am suggesting that this brother deny himself using his talents in ways that are most natural to him for the sake of the Body, the Body may need to, at rare times, allow this brother a time to express his unique talents (maybe as a special or at an outdoor, outreach event—for the sake of giving some examples). The same God who tells the Corinthian Church to speak with a clear voice also tells them that “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1 Cor. 12:18) and that one member cannot tell another member “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21). Paul didn’t tell the Corinthian church to cease all their unique gifts—he told them to use them properly (1 Cor. 14:26-33) with the central principles being “let all things be done for edification” and “God is not a God of confusion but of peace”.
As a church allows both of these tensions to work in body life, in God’s economy, it should—over time—pull that congregation into biblical balance.
There is so much into putting together a song service….I’ve written quite a bit about at already at this site. One element that I failed to mention and is seldom mentioned is the relationship between the song service and the sermon.
If you are a Music Minister who works within the liturgical framework, this post may not be as important to you. However, if you are one who usually works within orders of service that don’t use the liturgy, then I may give you points to consider.
At Grace Life and in other churches that are more akin, the centrality of preaching is obvious. Everything is centered on the pulpit. We believe that the highest form of corporate worship is the preaching of God’s word. You may disagree and it is a healthy discussion to ponder that element. That’s just where we’re at.
With that in mind, let’s look at how the centrality of preaching affects the role of the Music Minister.
Secondary. If preaching is primary, then singing is not. I’ve served in churches where the song service was basically given the same importance as preaching. I’ve been a part of well-meaning services where it was almost considered a compliment if the congregation was so engaged during the singing that we never got to the sermon. Song services are very important and should be truth-driven. However, a song service does not a sermon make.
Succinct. If preaching is primary, then singing must be appropriately kept in proper time restraints so as to not take away from allotted time for preaching. Many times, I am tempted to extend out corporate singing but I know that if I do, I might cause the preacher to have to rush through the sermon. If I do, I might have taken away the congregation’s attention span. There must be balance of course. There are times when it is right and good to repeat a verse or to reprise with an a capella song. But if preaching is primary, then I’ve got to make sure that I am supplementing the sermon—not distracting from the sermon.
Set-up. If preaching is primary, then singing must do everything it can to set the table for the sermon. At Grace Life, we generally prefer the congregation to be singing right before the sermon starts. That’s not to say that a special is wrong to do at that time but predominantly we sing our weightiest and deepest congregationals just before the sermon begins. A heart that has had its affections stirred the most is most apt to receive the preacher worshipfully.
Please don’t take this information as dogmatic. I have great respect for those who follow a liturgy. I’m not trying to talk anyone into veering from another service order—but I am asking those who view preaching as the center of the gathered church to consider what I’ve said. Brother Music Minister, make sure that you’re not swimming upstream.
I have written a bit about this in the past and today’s entry will not be the end-all on the subject. But let me give you a few tidbits to consider when wrestling through the issue of vocal ranges for congregationals:
**Just because a song fits your range, as the Music Minister, doesn’t mean that it will fit the congregation’s.
**Conversely, if you are trying to lead a song that is very much out of your range as the Music Minister, it could be a distraction to the congregation.
**Just because your choir or praise team can pull off the range selected doesn’t mean that the congregation can as well. Your congregation’s vocal ability will most likely not be as versatile.
**When selecting the proper key of a congregational, it is just as important, if not more important, to consider the “tessitura” of the song and not the range. By tessitura, I mean the average pitch of the song. By range, I mean the highest and lowest pitch of the song. A song may have a moderate range but if it consistently places pitches within the upper part of that range, it may be more difficult than a song that has a lower tessitura with one or two higher pitches in passing.
**It is best to help a congregation to sing in the “wheelhouse” of their vocal range so as to not be hindered with struggling or straining to sing. It also helps a congregation to “thunder” those truths more effectively.
**It is best to place a congregation singing the deepest, richest truths in vocal ranges of second space A and top space E on the treble clef. In other words, it would be probably inappropriate to mumble a truth such as “My sin—oh the bliss of this glorious thought—my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more”! So why would we sing that text in a low, growling range? We should be singing such lyrics in vocal ranges that allow us to joyfully resound the accompanying truth.
**You must also consider the tempo of the song and how it relates with the pitches. A high F or G on one beat at 120 beats a minute is much more doable than that same pitch on a whole note at 60 beats a minute!
**Don’t be afraid to stretch a congregation’s range from time-to-time. Just don’t make a habit of it.
**One example: Our congregation began singing “The Glory Of The Cross” by Bob Kauflin much more effectively and affectionately when we raised the key from E to G (up a minor third). This took the tessitura of the song from regularly singing low C#’s and B’s on the verses to singing low E’s and D’s on the verses and only raised them up to high D’s and a few high E’s on the chorus. We have found that the song now is much more of an encouragement to one another as we sing it with more volume and confidence—while also marrying those pitches with incredibly rich gospel truths (specifically redemptive grace).
**There is no way that these few tidbits will solve all your vocal range issues but hopefully they have given you some extra information to consider.
If you have any other thoughts on the subject, please feel free to add a comment here or at this link on Facebook.