Developing a Theology of Worship

 

This is for Jacob Ross and all those that appreciated my contributions to worship during my tenure at Midtown. A lot of thought and work went into what I did, and much of it was inspired by Phil Kirk. Of anyone I’ve ever discussed worship music with, I’ve found that my taste is the closest to his. Not only that, he introduced me to a lot of music I may never have heard otherwise.

Starting out, I played the role of Midtown’s equivalent of K-Love. I wasn’t familiar with much contemporary worship music and I had no idea how to go about selecting songs for the intermission or post-service. I just played whatever was popular at the time, which was pretty boring for me, and probably for everyone else too. Luckily for me, I got to sit in on a discussion about how Phil chooses worship music and how he narrows the song bank down weekly for the service. His thoughtful and meticulous approach inspired me to explore the world of worship music more.

In the beginning, a lot of things I tried fell flat. I would sit behind the board and watch to see how people would react to the music and they seemed bored or indifferent. If it was really bad, I had a certain someone in my ear to tell me about it, which helped a lot in the refining process too. Over the next few months, I began to experiment with the sounds of different genres and artists, and the results were hit or miss. I was seeing some progress, at least. Things wouldn’t take a turn for the better until I had a dream that had a song in it that bores me to tears.

The song in question is “10,000 Reasons”. I’ve always found the song really boring and it just aches my soul how popular it is in Christian circles. Having a dream about it changed the way I went about doing everything. I wanted to incorporate the song into what I do since other people like it, but there was no way I’d volunatarily suffer through it weekly. That’s when it dawned on me: Spotify has made many different versions of popular worship music available to me! I went on a search for a version of that song that I could tolerate and I stumbled across Christafari.

I found that not only did they have a version of the song that I actually like, they had versions of other popular songs that were being incorporated into worship every week. I tried it out to see if the congregation would like it, and it was a hit! People loved it! That Sunday, a lot of people even requested that I play nothing but them for the service. It was then that I hit my stride.

That week, I pillaged through Spotify playlists for variations of songs incorporated into worship regularly and I began playing them. From there, the reactions became a lot more positive. People began to approach me every week asking about the different artists and songs I chose, and that motivated me to keep pursuing that new approach.

Along the way, I learned a lot about traditional hymns and contemporary worship. I learned about psalmody and the what the discussions were about all those things. From there, I got even better. I was able to find songs of different eras that appealed to different members of the congregation, and the effort resonated with people. I was engaged by different people telling me stories of growing up listening to different songs during worship. It helped them to feel that their presence there was noticed. That also altered my course a little bit.

In the end, I learned to think on my feet and take a lot of things into account. Who was leading worship and what are they like stylistically? What was the sermon topic that day? Is there something in my song bank that’s congruent with both of those things? It was important to me to help create a cohesive worship experience every Sunday, and those are things I thought about. Once in a while, a song would even be mentioned by name within the sermon itself, so of course I’d have to scramble to find it to play immediately following the doxology.

I’ll give an example of what I did the last Sunday I was there. The sermon was about being content in Christ despite our circumstances, based on a text out of Philippians. In that we see Paul suffering a lot, but still having the peace of Christ. The worship leader on that day has a sound similar to Shane & Shane, so I had to keep that in mind too. I hastily threw together a playlist in my head as Corey prepared to give the benediction and followed with songs that tie together the message and worship pretty nicely if I do say so myself, lol:

Sovereign Grace Music – To Live is Christ
The Modern Post – It’s Not Enough
Jimmy Needham – It is Well
Dream Theater – The Bigger Picture

If I had more time to think this through, I would have played “Fix My Eyes” by King’s Kaliedoscope, but I didn’t think of that until I had already left. A lot of my thinking is on the fly for better or worse.

In closing, the last song I played for the last two months before shutting everything done was “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas. I always played that song last as a way to remind whoever else was left and myself that despite whatever struggle we were going to face throughout the day, peace is promised to us. There is no circumstance or sin too big for our God, so we’re free to lay our weary heads on Him.

(Note: I always thought it’s fine to play songs that aren’t exactly Christ centered like that at the VERY end, when most of the congregation is there. Though the songs have a Christian message, I wouldn’t want to distract people from their worship experience with music that doesn’t directly exalt Christ.)

Here’s the playlist, which will probably always be a work in progress, minus a few songs I only play for special occasions (Easter, Christmas, etc).

So, there you have it. A journey through my thought process behind the music that made people love what was different about me being behind the board. It didn’t happen overnight.  The current playlist is the fifth build (or something like that). At the beginning, a lot of things I tried didn’t work. Some of those same things that didn’t work then cause people’s faces to light up now because they know to expect something a little different from me. Thanks for challenging me to learn more and encouraging me when I was doing things that resonated within you all! There is still more to come. 🙂

Now that I’ve finally written all that, I need to read Justin’s parting gift to me: a book called “Theology of Worship”. I’m sure after reading that, I’ll end up again revising the way I do things. Thanks again, guys!!

We Are Midtown

When this is posted, I’ll be visiting Midtown Church for the last time as a regular attender. It’s going to be a very difficult and bittersweet day for me. I can’t imagine the emotions I’ll be feeling. I’m leaving a body of believers who have loved, encouraged, strengthened, and embraced me in ways I haven’t been able to accept up until my first visit. I have learned and grown a lot in the past two and a half years. The next steps I’m taking wouldn’t be without the experience I had there.

I remember my first visit very clearly. All I wanted was to have temporary fellowship with other Christians. I had plans to join another church I already had an existing relationship with, but it wasn’t possible at the time. I was just passing through, and I made it clearly known to anyone that approached me. I didn’t tell anyone, but I wasn’t even going to return a second Sunday. Their love for me, a stranger, changed my mind and my heart.

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I joined the congregation for the first time on December 7th, 2014. It was a dark season for me, which was one of the many reasons I had for never intending to remain there long enough to be known. Christmas was getting ever so nearer and things were just getting worse inside of me because of it. I just wanted it all to be over with so that the reminders of my struggles at that point would disappear. I was alone and approaching despair. The sooner Christmas could be over, the better I’d feel about the isolation I was in at the time. I was ready to force it to be over, but that’s when I got a message that changed everything.

Christmas Eve came and I was on the verge of despair. “I’ll just sleep through this”, I thought. I had a bottle of Captain Morgan on hand ready to knock myself out with. The second I opened the bottle, I got a private message on Facebook. To my surprise, it was from Corey Smith, the pastor at Midtown. He asked me for my phone number so he could give it to someone he had introduced me to. I gave it to him not thinking anything of it and I went on with my uneventful night. I wouldn’t return to that bottle again until the next day.

When I woke up Christmas Day, I contemplated all the things I could possibly do with other people before deciding I’d rather be in my shell. I went to that bottle and picked it up again, but I was interrupted by another message. This one was an invitation to join a family from the church for dinner. Strangely for me at the time, I felt compelled to accept the offer. With a sigh of exhaustion I asked aloud “You really don’t want me to do this, do you?”. I ended up shelving that bottle again that night and instead went to have dinner.

They were so gracious to me. So gracious, I was internally bewildered. I didn’t know how to respond to strangers inviting me into their home and treating me like family. I did not understand this kind of embrace. There I was coping with what felt like a life long war with acceptance issues while I was sharing a meal with them and celebrating the birth of Christ.

My plan failed. I wanted to be a ghost, but how could I after experiencing that? It took Midtown only two weeks to penetrate my heart. The love there enticed me to stay, so I did. Even more shocking to me, this kind of affection was not limited to just that family. Many times over, I was invited to be a part of fellowship people were having in their homes for Christ’s name sake. I was welcomed to do so much with so many that I never really had the chance to take it all on. Slowly, but surely, I was beginning to understand why this church had such a different air about it.

“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. – John 13:35

It would take some time for me to set my pride aside enough to accept that this truth was being revealed to me right before my eyes. In my habit of returning to my isolation, I got myself into a lot of trouble. I caused much grief to people that care for me and would have been there if I allowed them. My selfishness could have ruined my life, or worse yet, the lives of some innocent strangers. It all happened because I refused to be truly seen.

The first chance I got to share my experience with Corey, I did. He preached about walking in the light that Sunday. It was fitting that I confessed my sin to anyone that would hear me that day. In turn, some secret sins were confessed to me. It was then that I was truly a part of the body. I was seen and I was allowed to see some unpleasant sides of people that I was growing to love more and more. We confided in one another and trusted one another. It was intimacy I never thought possible, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I had to continue to push myself. I had to serve this church.

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It was then I was given the opportunity to run the soundboard, which was a huge blessing for me. It was behind that board that my love for music, my desire to serve, and being a witness to the love that’s at Midtown all came together. Sometimes, I would find myself still sitting behind that board an hour after the services were over just watching people. I would watch people I don’t even know show their affections for their friends and family, I would marvel at it. It made me feel so blessed to be a part of the church.

There’s no way I could end this without saying just how much fun it was to entertain the congregation. I would play some songs just to see how people would react (which thankfully was positively that vast majority of the time). From Johnny Cash reading the gospel to John Petrucci shredding it up in a song about faith, I kept things pretty unpredictable and diverse. I made it a point to choose songs that would tie into the day’s sermon if I was quick witted enough to figure something out too.

There were lots of tedious little things going through my mind that influenced what was being played.. nevertheless, what kept me motivated to keep getting better were those special reactions I would get sometimes. Some people would sing, some would dance, some would come to the board to ask me about the artists I was playing (especially Christafari!). Every weekend was truly a blessing to be part of that atmosphere. It helped me to understand what it means to have something “make your heart glad”. Alas, after being a regular for two and a half years and serving for roughly two of them, my time is coming to a close.

People of Midtown, your for love not only for one another, but the world around you is nothing short of astonishing. I truly believe the hand of God is on you and empowering this love to make a great change to anyone exposed to it. Without God using you in this way, I still would not be able to accept what it is to truly be a part of the body of Christ. That is what I wish to take with me on my walk from here on.

This isn’t goodbye by any means. There’s no such thing as such for us Christians. One way or the other, we’ll have fellowship again. Until then, thank you.