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Articles

What’s New? What’s Hot? What’s Timeless?

This was the title of the workshop I facilitated with Ruth Reyes (Professor of Music Johnson University Florida) at the North American Christian Convention in Louisville, Kentucky on July 11th.
The description was:
In this worship workshop, you’ll hear about what’s current and cutting edge in worship ministry, as well as what’s enduring and ageless in congregational worship.  Come and have your ministry toolbox filled, as well as your heart enriched.
Ruth spoke about what was timeless in worship and I followed.
I hope you enjoy exploring this topic with me or appreciate my notes if you attended the workshop.

 

I recently sat in my living room in Colorado with a missionary friend and watched a video on his iPhone of him leading a class of Kenyan students in singing ‘How Great Thou Art’ with just an acoustic guitar and was moved to tears by the power of it, and the arrangement that they had organically embraced with echoes and simple harmony.

I remember back to 1996 when I was a long way from home in Rocky Mt Nat. Park CO, which is now VERY close to home at Praise In The Rockies 1st time overseas and feeling pretty homesick, walking up the hill to the main session venue and hearing worship overflowing to meet me:

“Shout to Lord all the earth let us sing, power and majesty praise to the king”… a song written just up the road from where I lived and ministered half a world away, was extolling the Lords greatness praising Him for His faithfulness right there in front of me reminding me that wherever the church is worshiping, I’m home! That’s timeless.

When the Lord inhabits our praises we glimpse and touch eternity we truly understand the timelessness of Worship.

It’s Appropriate to start with Timeless… because I feel like the first 2 are the wrong questions to be asking: What’s new, what’s hot? The better questions are:

What’s us, and what’s not?

Too often we are labeling our worship gatherings in unhelpful ways. The obvious examples are many of our churches that have a Traditional Service and a Contemporary service. When I arrived at LifeBridge 11+ yrs. ago, this had served a season of the church really effectively. When our senior pastor Rick arrived in ’91, rather than blowing up the church and changing the worship style to promote much needed growth and an outward focus, he honored the builders and embraced a 2-style format. In recent years we have dropped the contemporary label and simply called our 6pm Saturday night service and our 9.30 & 11am services on Sunday; ‘LifeBridge Worship’. We still have our Traditional at 8am.

I personally prefer the name ‘classic’ because then it doesn’t claim to be all that is Traditional in church music, which, of course is subjective, but only claims to be a ‘classic form’ of LifeBridge Worship.

Moving from ‘Contemporary’ to ‘LifeBridge Worship’ allows us to embrace our unique style and language of worship without any preconceived ideas of what is contemporary and what’s not. Right or wrong, people could come up to me and make judgment calls on how contemporary we are or aren’t. They cannot, however make those kinds of calls on what defines our unique brand or style. (Doesn’t mean they won’t 😉

As worship pastor & as a leader, part of my job is defining that. Whether that be:

A)   Regular vision casting and brainstorming with my staff team and community of volunteers

B)   The collaborative effort we embrace for service planning or

C)  Working on a document or manifesto that is ever changing and evolving that lays out the parameters for our style of worship,

It’s important to know what’s us and what’s not, otherwise you’ll be forever struggling with your corporate worship identity.

Recently we had 5 of our guys release a CD called the Southern Gospel A Cappela Project and perform a few songs from it in our Traditional Service. The congregation loved it. One of the guys was inquired as to why we didn’t have them in all our services, and because we have a good handle on what’s us and what’s not I was able to confidently and sensitively explain that the genre was outside the parameters of our general ‘LifeBridge Worship’ style and wouldn’t fit the overall experience and flow.

Incidentally, I came back to them and asked them to do a patriotic song for the weekend following July 4th, because that seemed like a way that we could make it relevant and work in all services without compromising our brand or style.

But you’ve got to have a good grasp on what that is to know what’s appropriate and what’s not.

This is the number one issue I find when travelling around other churches as I work with The Slingshot Group in assessing current status in worship ministries and helping them find staff that are going to be catalytic for change, growth, and development:

It’s a lack of corporate worship identity. When we ask what’s new and what’s hot instead of what’s us and what’s not we end up trying the next great and latest thing and not what’s right for our worship language.

For instance, Life imitates art… same can be said of the church… one of the latest and greatest sensations in the entertainment world is Mumford & Sons who took a timeless style in folk and fused it with rock and created a whole new genre that has brought a bunch of great bands out of the woodwork like ‘The Lumineers’ from Colorado, these bands have an amazing innovative sound that harnesses the new and the timeless… but now everyone wants to ‘join a Mumford band’ take a look:

Start Mumford Band

This is a secular ‘tongue in cheek’ parody, but it hits on what we often try to do in the church and equally often we don’t do it well at all – I’m sometimes surprised that we aren’t all growing Duck Dynasty beards and being Happy, Happy, Happyshould we not get ahead and let original art grow from our churches and SHAPE culture rather than imitate… sounds familiar doesn’t it? Take a trip to the Sistine Chapel and look up, there was a time when art grew up out of the sacred – sounds timeless!

Maybe your unique language is folk and that’s great – you don’t need to join a Mumford Band to express that.

Here’s another question we need to be asking:

What is creating fresh and authentic atmospheres to encounter God and steward His presence well?

NACC 2012

His presence corporately is our greatest asset, and the gut level longing for each person that attends our churches whether they know it or not, Ecclesiastes 3: 11 reminds us that ‘He has set eternity in the human heart’, or as James MacDonald puts it in his book ‘Vertical Church; ‘He has placed the hunger to feast on Him as reality, and that’s what we go to church to find’.

As a worship leader my biggest responsibility is to connect people with eternity and then get out of the way.

 

How? With a mix of vertical and horizontal worship, songs that are inclusive and sing of our shared faith journey and of who God is, and songs that are personal and sing as prayer.

Equally for me to worship Him vertically, but also to be aware of the room that I am leading and to be sensitive to whether they are following or not, also through a mix of elements that enhance flow and sensitivity to the spirit like;

–       Silence

–       Scripture

–       Prayer

–       Video

–       Environmental projection, and;

–       Feature music (that allows for reflection and message theme enhancement.)

What’s new and what’s hot is actually pretty timeless… there’s a gut level hunger for authenticity in worship.

I believe that’s maybe part of what made my leadership style attractive to Rick at LifeBridge Church 11+ yrs ago (contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just my good looks and fancy hairdo).

I also don’t claim to be authentic – that’s like declaring that I’m incredibly humble! Doesn’t work!

Australia however, culturally, is one of the few secular nations in the world, which has something to do with how we were settled; a bunch of convicts on a boat headed almost literally to hell. If they survived the trip, good luck surviving the incarceration.

This is foreign to the way the USA was settled – evidenced by questions I often get asked; do you celebrate July 4th & Thanksgiving? Seriously!

To attend church in Australia it costs something… you are making a statement.

Australians are a brutally honest and sarcastic people, if you’re doing well don’t expect encouragement, on the flip side, there’s an authenticity and acceptance that is infectious. Hillsong church may be the flavor over here, but they often cop a beating in the Australian media.

For 10 years I straddled the entertainment world and worship world in Sydney, which gave me clarity for the distinction.

LifeBridge was coming through a season where the lines had been a little blurred, Rick and I connected on an authentic level.

The biggest difference between entertainment and worship is what? Presence…what separates us from all other people groups on the planet is the presence of God manifest among us!

I remember grieving the mission field I had left behind in my entertainment work in Sydney – the opportunity to build relationships and share the hope that I had. Then I realized that I had a new kind of mission field and it was in the church – pew warmers who had maybe not really connected with the life shaking, altering presence of Jesus. A decade ago it didn’t cost as much to attend church, in fact it was more culturally accepted and easier to do. I don’t think this will be news to anyone in the room; life has changed in the last 10 yrs. and we are moving more in the secular direction which is why many churches are saying to me and the guys I partner with:

We just wanna be real in our worship.

We are looking for an authentic leader, we don’t want a show!

Don’t misunderstand me; there is a greater hunger for excellence, cause that’s also real!

Younger worship leaders that I connect with, coach, and mentor mainly struggle with engaging a room in worship.

They worship just fine, but there is minimal connection. I always encourage them to allow the congregation to have a ‘piece of you’. Share your own struggles, be a little self-deprecating in worship transitions & stories that are personal and conversational. There’s a reason that the bible is full of leaders that are broken and busted, because WE are broken and busted.

One of the best examples in the Old Testament is Moses, we relate more to the guy that lost control of his anger and ended up burying a guy than the great leader who had a trunk line to God almighty right?

The best way to break down the barrier between worship leader and congregation (that is the stage) is to allow people to breathe a sigh of relief and say; oh, he or she, is just like me. And then, like Moses, to be reminded that, we all have personal struggles, insecurities, and weaknesses but God promises what? Presence! I will be with you… I AM…with you always.

In asking the question what’s us, and what’s not, also provides clarity to find the right leader for your worship gatherings: A leader that can be true to what’s them and what’s not.

When working with worship leaders both in my own local church setting and when I have the opportunity to work with other churches, I encourage leaders to ‘find their voice’.

One of my worship associates has been with me for 8 years now and came, as an intern from Ozark Christian College and is incredibly gifted. When Luc first arrived he struggled to find his ‘voice’ aside from his amazing singing voice. Verbal transitions were a challenge. Then, embracing his love for hip-hop and rap (which I could never quite get my head around) he started writing poetry. Not only has this been a GIFT to our church but also it has released Luc to be Luc, and every area of his ministry has been impacted. AND spoken word has become part of our expression and an amazing way to bridge the timeless with the new:

Jesus Paid It All

Luc being free to express his gifts has been a gift, and been one of the new ways we have bridged the timeless and the modern. It was one of the ways we did this at last years NACC. We constantly asked the question, how can we honor the tradition of the North American and take people on a creative journey, hence the use of environmental projection to impact the senses and then taking songs like City Harmonics ‘Manifesto’ and right at the end of the convention unexpectedly dropping the traditional version of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ which was a throw back to how the convention was closed for many years and just as people were transported back, breaking out in Harmonics resounding ‘Amens’ as a benediction. We can do both and allow the presence of God to be honored and people to be connected to something so much bigger.

Until we work out what’s us and what’s not, we’ll live back in the worship wars of the 80’s and early 90’s which ends up focusing on giving people what they want in worship rather than giving them what they were created to long for! Which is what? Presence!

Here’s an interesting comment regarding what people want. Tom Lawson from Ozark Christian College recently wrote this on his blog:

adorate.org

Interesting! 48% for ‘blended’, I’m guessing doesn’t necessarily speak to the traditional & contemporary labels, but may speak more to a desire to do what’s right for a worship experience rather than what’s perceived to be new & hot.

26% liturgical speaks to the growing want (or a sustaining want) for liturgy in church services.  At least for music to seem more hymn-like and “less polished.”  That’s certainly “hot” right now (for those who are not happy that I may have strayed from my theme.) Good examples of this are:

Matt Redman’s writing style

1.Michael Gungor’s newest album called “a creation liturgy.”

2.Aaron Niequist’s “New Liturgy” at anewliturgy.com

3.Glenn Packiam short book called “Discover the Mystery of Faith” this is a good resource on articulating why the new liturgical movement is “hot” right now.

I was discussing this with one  my  worship leader friends in Orlando, FL at Real Life Church, Melissa Reyes, who expressed, and I agree that;

The neo-liturgical thing is a little ahead of the curve in terms of incorporating visual imagery, spoken word, psalms, hymns and prayers into a cohesive narrative, rather than stringing songs together thematically.’

I’m actually still in the process of figuring out how this neo-liturgical shift fits into the current worship model at the church I currently serve at, whether that’s loosely incorporating the psaltery and liturgical structure of the Book of Common Prayer, highlighting the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper, or perhaps using prayers of confession or the Nicene Creed in a denomination that has specifically shied away from the use of any creeds as a result of a “No creed but Christ” mentality.  I actually grew up thinking creeds were wrong and unnecessary, not even realizing that the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds were huge cornerstones in the foundation of modern evangelical beliefs!

This neo-liturgical shift is definitely gaining momentum and speaks to a trend that sees young restoration movement church leaders appreciating their roots more and more in simply wanting to get back to the practices of the early church in their weekend gatherings. Looking for ways to enhance the community gathering and make the worship experience more ‘authentic’.

Using new technology tools that aim to get back to timeless early church principles and allow for new and fresh experience, technology that gets out of the way, that doesn’t take center stage, that honestly connects us to the timeless.

They are looking for new ways to express and embrace how the early church practiced communion, sang, prayed, gave, & served.

This is easier to do in a smaller church environment. You need to get even more creative in a large room. One of the benefits of multi-site ministry is that you can try different things. Our north campus at LifeBridge recently embraced worship ‘in the round’ to enhance their corporate experience and to get back to the heart of the early church with communion and community as the central purposes of the gathering. It’s been effective in their environment.

Also take a look at:

4. http://tableproject.org/ & make sure you watch the video.

Glenn Packiam has helpful advice as we continue to work through what’s us and what’s not in his book “Discover the Mystery of Faith”:

As you ask why you’ve made changes, be suspicious of the pragmatic reasons. Don’t be easily satisfied with answers such as, “Because it works!” or “It’s reaching people!” Remember that as followers of Jesus we don’t gauge our success by results but by faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His remarkably different kingdom. His is a new way to be King, a new way to think about power and strength. Our grid is not numbers, so our goal is not “influence.” As a pastor now, and as a worship leader from time to time, I measure my life and ministry by how faithful I have been to         the Jesus Way. Don’t sacrifice the theology and content, the beauty and the narrative of our services on the altar of pragmatism. Think beyond what works.

One IMPORTANT last thing for worship leaders; don’t settle for 2nd hand experience of the Holy Spirit: God wants to speak and move through you in your local church community just as powerfully as he does through Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin. We’ve idolized these worship artists and the important truth is this – we have the same access to God and his life changing, altering presence and its NEVER 2nd hand!

Find out what your unique church worship language is and embrace it to facilitate and create authentic ways to experience Him in community. To worship in spirit and truth, when we truly do that we experience the greatest blessing and that is nearness to God, abundant joy and peace in His Presence!

I want to end with a quote from Vertical Church (James MacDonald):

“I have always loved the passion of British pastor and revivalist John Wesley (1703–1791). I’m humbled by the care he took in confirming his own salvation, his tireless work for the gospel, his faithful endurance through nearly ninety years on this earth. The first time I went to London, England, I found a way to get to the grave of John Wesley. Historians estimate that Wesley traveled 250,000 miles on horseback and preached more than 40,000 sermons. He was used to bring revival to two continents. As he lay on his deathbed, he gathered his family around him and summoned the strength to speak his last words. Here was a man who knew the Scriptures almost by heart and could have voiced a thousand truths in that triumphant moment. Someone present recorded that Wesley sat up in his last sixty seconds and said, “Best of all, God is with us,” then lay back and thrusting his hand in the air, using his final gasp to repeat it with emphasis, “The best of all, God is with us,” then he died.”

What’s new, what’s hot, what’s timeless… what’s best of all: God is with us!

 

 

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