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Serving by singing


Serving by singing

“The sight and sound of God’s people singing is a powerful, stirring exhortation for struggling hearts to believe the truths they hear sung around them.”

I was incredibly encouraged by many things at the recent Doxology and Theology conference.  Over the next few weeks I'll try and blog some highlights and reflections, and you can watch some quick summaries here on my Facebook page.

But probably more than anything, I was deeply encouraged and moved through the message about Christ dwelling richly among us as we sang together (Col 3:16).  Those leading us from the front did an amazing job - because it wasn't so much their contributions that impacted me...but hearts and voices of the people around me.  

We can often be so focused on our own personal experience and engagement with God as we sing that we can loose sight of the gift our singing is meant to be for those around us.  For those of us who 'lead' the church in singing - we need to prayerfully and skilfully facilitate, exhort and spur our churches on to serve one another like this.  But having said that, every one of us needs to remember that we're on the 'music ministry team'! 

This blog from Matt Damico puts it so well, that I'll let him do the rest of the talking!  Read more...


But what if I just don't like singing...?


But what if I just don't like singing...?

I really enjoyed a workshop I ran at Figtree Anglican Church last weekend - we had some great discussions on a bunch of issues (I think the audio might get posted online soon...I'll add a link if and when that happens).  But in the midst of all this discussion about how we - as singers, musicians and sound engineers - can equip and encourage our churches to worship God in singing together, someone raised the question "But what if I just don't like singing....?"

From memory, my response was pretty brief (as I'm constantly running out of time in these workshops), but a recent post by prominent author / blogger Donald Miller has sparked a lot of discussion on this very issue that I think we can learn a lot from - both as 'worshippers' and those who 'lead worshippers' in a church context.

Below are the links to a few posts.  Firstly, Millers original post and a follow up he posted responding to various comments he received.  After that are two different responses - both which in general disagree with Miller's position but helpfully look at ways we, as the church and as individuals, can learn from his critique.

If this is a question you've wondered about - either for yourself or for those you seek to lead on a Sunday - these blogs might be a helpful starting point for more thinking and discussion.

(11 Feb - I've just added a really helpful post from Bob Kauflin pointing to the biblical reasons why we should sing)

I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

So yes, I think Miller needs to be challenged and corrected. But I also think his comments reveal the tragic lack of spiritual formation in many of our churches today. They remind us that many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.

Contrary to popular sentimentalism, we are not singing for “an audience of one.” While we do sing to worship our Savior, we also sing to rehearse the truth of the Gospel together and be sanctified by it. We sing to remind ourselves of the great and glorious prize at the end of this race and encourage each another to keep running.

To say that I will not gather to sing with the local church because I don’t connect with God that way is immature consumerism at its finest.

We need each other. I need you. You need me. We are living stones who gather to build one another up in love. If I choose not to show because it’s not how I feel like I best connect with God, not only do I miss out, but the people I have been called to build up in love miss out. A significant piece is missing.

Furthermore, when I come to church and refuse to sing, not only do I miss out on personally rehearsing the truth, but the people around me miss out on my voice encouraging them to keep their eyes on what is excellent, true, right, honorable, and good.

The singing in your church may be dreadful. Your voice might sound like a cross between a beached whale and an alley cat in heat. Singing might make you feel uncomfortable. Those who lead the singing in your church might do it poorly. And if there’s anything we can do to change the situation, we should.

But our confidence and comfort in singing comes from this: Jesus, our great high priest, makes all our offerings acceptable to God through his perfect life of obedience and his perfect sacrifice of atonement. The Father loves our singing not only because it’s sincere, but because when offered through faith, it sounds just like his beloved Son.

And besides. One day we’ll all have better voices and our songs will far surpass anything we’ve sung here. It’s then we’ll realize that eternity won’t be long enough to contain the songs worthy of the Lamb who was slain.



Worship, music and Col 3:16 - Prezi link

For those who have been to one of my workshops or training days, here's my prezi looking at some of the key things we can learn from Col 3:16 about how important music and singing is in our churches lives, and some things to think about as we prepare and serve in this ministry.

Some of it won't make much sense without me speaking to them.  For those who have been to a workshop recently...hopefully this is enough to jog your memory on the kay points.  For those who haven't - I will try and update the prezi file with more titles and notes so its a bit more self-explanatory!



Worship Band Roles and Tips

Worship Band Roles and Tips

When I'm running church music workshops, one of the most helpful things time and time again is discussing the particular roles that the different members of a contemporary worship band play. Here is a quick summary...if you want to find out more, you'll have to come to a workshop!

So who's the most important person or role? God, of course! Yeah, I know it sounds like a Sunday school answer...but we can get so tied up working on the parts and lines and grooves, and forget who it is all for. It would be like working so hard on your harmonies for happy birthday, that you forget who's birthday it is! How are you preparing your hearts for leading worship? How are you practicing humility? Repentance? Dependence? Adoration? How do the songs your going to sing or play express your own worship to God? How are you preparing to make Him look great, not you?

Who's next? Well, let me tell you, they never show up for rehearsals or workshops. They probably never practice. They are a real bunch of amateurs. Its the congregation. Your role as skilled and experienced singers, musicians and leaders is to equip and encourage (generally) unskilled and inexperienced singers to sing and worship with passion and abandon. Some things to think about...

  • Are your song choices easy to learn and 'own'?
  • What keys work best for them? This is both an issue of vocal range (a general guide is to try and keep it between A at the bottom and D/E at the top) and finding out what works best for the song - ie is the chorus in a good register to 'belt out'?
  • Is the structure and leading clear for them to follow? Do you lead them into the chorus, or do they unwittingly find themselves in it a few bars in?!
  • Do your musical arrangements lift their voices and hearts?
  • Are you leaving room in the musical 'mix' for their voices to fit in?

Next we come to those standing at the front - the song leaders / worship leaders / worship servants / lead worshippers... In the end, they are the ones charged with the responsibility to lead the congregation, and keep thinking about all these issues above - so as musicians, we need to serve them and make their job as easy as possible. We can do this by...

  • Making rehearsals great! Prepare in advance, come knowing all the songs, don't noodle when they're trying to direct things, respect and follow their decisions about arrangements.
  • Filling them with confidence. Mostly this comes down to you being confident - knowing the songs and structures...but then following their lead if they choose to do something else!

Now to the drummers. You have so much influence. A consistent tempo and groove, and clear structural signposts make it really comfortable and intuitive for the congregation to join in singing. On the flipside, if the tempo is shakey and the structure is unclear, people will feel really uncomfortable...even if they can't articulate it as such! Here's some basic things to be aware of...

  • Keep it simple - play what is appropriate for the song, not what shows off your amazing chops.
  • Own the tempo. Use a metronome / click if you need to.
  • Dynamics and orchestration. This is not just a volume thing - for example, the amount of high frequencies you bring in through the cymbals make a big contribution to the energy of the arrangement.
  • Play in the pocket. If tempo is all about bar by bar rhythmic consistency, playing in the pocket is all about rhythmic consistency within the bar or groove.
  • Signpost the structure. You, probably more than any other instrument, give aural cues to the structure and where things are going. So make sure you know where you're going! For example, if you open the hats in the last two bars of a verse, everyone's going to the chorus, whether the song leader wants to or not!

Bass players

  • Keep it simple!
  • Like a tree with shallow roots will fall over, a band without strong root notes will feel precarious. Make sure you're confident and consistent with the chord changes.
  • People often talk about 'locking in' with the drummer - but that sounds a bit lifeless and regimented. I prefer talking about 'dancing' with the drummer (if that's not too weird!). You need to operate and move as one unit. Don't just think about the kick drum either. How can you bring life to the snare drum by when you choose to lift your notes?
  • You own the low frequencies - you can create dramatic variations in the arrangement by when you choose to add - or subtract - the low frequencies from the mix.
  • Following from above - try thinking about spaces as much as notes - like the musical equivalent of a Henry Moore sculpture!

Now to guitars and keys. Up until now, we have form, but not much colour - this is where you guys step in, adding tones and timbres to the framework set up by the rhythm section. But there's one big thing to watch out for in common for keys and guitars. When you learn piano or guitar, you generally learn it as a 'solo' instrument. Having such a wide frequency range, and the ability to easily play big chords, you can hold it all down yourself - the melody, the bass line, the rhythmic energy and the chords to fill it out. But this is probably the opposite of what you want to do in a band context! Here's some things to be aware of...

  • Frequency clashes. This is particularly important in the lower frequencies - two notes a semitone apart can sound OK up high, but the same notes can bring on convulsions in the lower the basic rule is let the bass player play the bass! Also, be aware of getting too full in the mid frequencies - where the vocal ranges usually fit. This can be a big issue for electric guitars - distorted sounds can quickly become dense and impenetrable Try and avoid close chords - ie stacked with how you can spread them out a bit.
  • Rhythm clashes. Again, this is a matter of letting the drums own this, and work around what they are doing, rather than trying to duplicate (and muddying) the rhythm. In particular, pianos can try and force the rhythm by heavily emphasising the 2's and 4's - the snare drums role. Also, be aware how the acoustic guitar can sit in the same frequency range, and play a similar percussive role, as the hi hats. One common clash is when the drummer is playing a straight rhythm on the hats, and the guitarists is shuffling can get really messy!
  • In general, think about how you can strip things back in order to have more impact. Rather than throw your weight around, chose your notes and moments to cut through. Fight like a ninja, not a sumo! Look out for opportunities to add melodic hooks and riffs. Use your colour to really give life and shape to the arrangements. Its getting late, and my illustrations sketchier, but I think you know what I mean!

So there you go - there's a few of my thoughts for what its worth. But I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions as well...what do you think?



Jonathan Edwards - Praise in Heaven

As you might have gathered, I'm reading a bit (actually, a lot) of Jonathan Edwards for a project at college. Was moved to tears this morning by this quote from one of his sermons. If you, like me, seem to struggle so often with a "dead, dull heart" towards God, and long to praise him more fully, then I hope this will encourage you as much as it did me. Stick with the language...its worth it!

IV. In the way of CONSOLATION to the godly! It may be matter of great comfort to you, that you are to spend your eternity with the saints in heaven, where it is so much their work to praise God. The saints are sensible what cause they have to praise God, and oftentimes are ready to say, they long to praise him more, and that they never can praise him enough. This may be a consolation to you, that you shall have a whole eternity in which to praise him. They earnestly desire to praise God better. This, therefore, may be your consolation, that in heaven your heart shall be enlarged, you shall be enabled to praise him in an immensely more perfect and exalted manner than you can do in this world. You shall not be troubled with such a dead, dull heart, with so much coldness, so many clogs and burdens from corruption, and from an earthly mind; with a wandering, unsteady heart; with so much darkness and so much hypocrisy. You shall be one of that vast assembly that praise God so fervently, that their voice is “as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of might thunderings.”

You long to have others praise God, to have every one praise him. There, there will be enough to help you, and join you in praising him, and those that are capable of doing it ten thousand times better than saints on earth. Thousands and thousands of angels and glorified saints will be around you, all united to you in the dearest love, all disposed to praise God, not only for themselves, but for his mercy to you.
— Jonathan Edwards - Thanksgiving Sermon, Nov. 7, 1734



Jonathan Edwards - Glorious Grace

More gold from Jonathan Edwards - worth meditating on...and then shouting about!

“III. Let those who have been made partakers of this free and glorious grace of God, spend their lives much in praises and hallelujahs to God, for the wonders of his mercy in their redemption. To you, O redeemed of the Lord, doth this doctrine most directly apply itself; you are those who have been made partakers of all this glorious grace of which you have now heard. ‘Tis you that God entertained thoughts of restoring after your miserable fall into dreadful depravity and corruption, and into danger of the dreadful misery that unavoidably follows upon it; ‘tis for you in particular that God gave his Son, yea, his only Son, and sent him into the world; ‘tis for you that the Son of God so freely gave himself; ‘tis for you that he was born, died, rose again and ascended, and intercedes; ‘tis to you that there the free application of the fruit of these things is made: all this is done perfectly and altogether freely, without any of your desert, without any of your righteousness or strength; wherefore, let your life be spent in praises to God. When you praise him in prayer, let it not be with coldness and indifferency; when you praise him in your closet, let your whole soul be active therein; when you praise him in singing, don’t barely make a noise, without any stirring of affection in the heart, without any internal melody. Surely, you have reason to shout, cry, “Grace, grace, be the topstone of the temple!” Certainly, you don’t want mercy and bounty to praise God; you only want a heart and lively affections to praise him with.
Surely, if the angels are so astonished at God’s mercy to you, and do even shout with joy and admiration at the sight of God’s grace to you, you yourself, on whom this grace is bestowed, have much more reason to shout.
Consider that great part of your happiness in heaven, to all eternity, will consist in this: in praising of God, for his free and glorious grace in redeeming you; and if you would spend more time about it on earth, you would find this world would be much more of a heaven to you than it is. Wherefore, do nothing while you are alive, but speak and think and live God’s praises.
— Jonathan Edwards - Glorious Grace (Sermons and Discourses 172o-1723)