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!!

Songs of Ancient Israel

Have you ever wondered what it was like to sing the songs that Jesus sang? What was it like to sing the psalms of David? What did they sound like? What kind of instruments did they use? What was the phrasing like? If you’re passionate about worship and music, these things may intrigue you. From the digging around I’ve done, I’ve found this intrigue is actually common in this age! A lot of people share this same interest!

It’s been fascinating to find that there are artists that still sing songs in Hebrew. I haven’t found anything concrete on the inspiration behind the melodies, unfortunately! A simple search on Youtube will turn up similar performances of different psalms. If you’re interested in singing the songs in English, I’ve found a few projects revolving around that idea too!

There’s an artist known simply as “Shane” that’s setting all the psalms to contemporary worship style music. His endeavor is called “The Psalms Project“. As of this post, he’s put out three albums that span 30 psalms. He’s planning on composing material for all 150 psalms. This ambitious idea is tentatively going to take over two decades should he get the opportunity to finish it. Check out his progress on Spotify!

There are numerous guides out there too. There’s lots of information to be found about Gregorian chants, developing a meter, the history of psalms as worship, so on and so forth. All these things can be found easily by a google or YouTube search. There are some resources on Amazon for the scholarly artists among us as well.

I haven’t checked them out yet, but I’ve heard that the Sons of Korah have done some arrangements of the Psalms too. There’s also some arguments to be heard about exclusive psalmody (worship exclusively through psalms) and inclusive psalmody (including the psalms in worship). Here are a few resources to mull over:

Psalm Singing and Scripture Study
Worship From Genesis to Revelation
Music, Song, and Worship – A Brief Overview
Inclusive Psalmody

Streetlights Bible

One of the best things about living in this age is our access to so many different mediums to get our fix of God’s word. We have our traditional bibles, audio bibles, digital bibles on the web, bible apps for our smart phones, and a endless supply of gospel presentations streaming on various websites. It’s an amazing time for Christians to arm themselves with truth so that we can honor God in ways that please Him and effectively love one another. Even if you don’t have time to read or stream, there’s something out there that’ll help hear the words of God.

All that said, dramatic readings of the bible typically aren’t my cup of tea. I normally don’t like the music that accompanies some scenes or I just feel like the inflection of the reader doesn’t match the tone of the passage being read and I just get really distracted. The plain readings literally bore me to sleep, so that doesn’t help me either (I’m not saying those aren’t generally useful, they just don’t work for me). Luckily for me, I found something that I think is a really creative way to share the scriptures.

Streetlights

From the website: “Producing an urban tailored audio Bible with multimedia tools is a monumental task. It requires vocalists, musicians, producers, videographers, writers, and editors working in conjunction to produce the multiple projects Streetlights offers. The result of professional gifts merged with the powerful content of the Word of God is dynamic! You have to listen, watch and engage to truly understand. The driving force behind Streetlights is our passion to see youth with low reading levels and limited knowledge of the Bible engage and learn the Word of God.”

Streetlights is an audio bible read by professional vocalists over hip-hop beats. These aren’t poorly produced tracks voiced over by lazy rappers looking to make a quick buck, either. The tracks are all really high quality. As for the readings, I think they’re really well done. There are even different vocalists for the different characters in the stories being told, which is really helpful when you’re listening and not reading.

Best yet, that’s not all they do. About their mission from the website: “We believe in life-on-life discipleship. Our tools are created as simple studies to help spark Biblical conversations in your discipleship relationships. We see our lessons to serve as a spring board for deeper conversation.”

All the readings are free. The only thing that costs is the discipleship program they offer, which is comprised of 32 lessons. There are 16 Old Testament lessons and 16 New Testament lessons. Their material is available on their website, on Spotify, and on their mobile app. Did I mention this is all free?

As of this writing, they have not yet recorded the whole bible. There’s a good bit to get some conversation started, though. And, for those curious, they read the NLT translation. These guys are also affiliated with Humble Beast! Go give this project a listen. It would make for a great conversation starter among friends.

It’s Not Enough

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17

Some people have the world at their disposal. They could have any and everything imaginable that rests under the sun. Glamour and luxury is commonplace for them. Flashing lights, social status, first class flights, professional chauffeurs in the most extravagant vehicles, the most exquisite food and drink is an every day reality for them. Even the common person, happy with their means can feel like they have everything under the sun that they could ask for. So, why do we want more?

For some, it might be the bigger house. It might be the fancier car. It may be that potential promotion that’s so diligently worked for. It might be that dream home or vacation. Some of us dream of a perfect wedding ceremony and a family thereafter. Athletes determine to score more points, musicians aim to sell out arenas, actors pursue that illustrious Oscar nod, and it goes on. No matter what your occupation is, there’s a desire to do better and want more from it than what you started with.

“They tryin to get they ones, I’m tryin to get them M’s
One million, two million, three million, four
In just five years, forty million more
You are now lookin at the forty million boy” 

“One million, two million, three million, four
In eighteen months, eighty million more
Now add that number up with the one I said before
You are now lookin at one smart black boy
Momma ain’t raised no fool
Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll triple my worth” – Jay-Z in “U Don’t Know

Some of us are insatiable like Jay-Z. What’s he got to prove? Why is he still hustling? What does he really have want for? Some of us squander our resources like the countless celebrities that have lived outside of their means and ended up with nothing. Then there are the thrill seekers. Nothing fulfills them enough to satisfy them, so they start pursuing stimulation in bizarre places (think about all the celebrities busted with prostitutes). Lastly, and most tragically, there are those that have the world at their finger tips but feel so empty, that they don’t hold on to the life that they have. Those people are the suicide cases no one understands.

I’ve seen it in my own life. I’ve traveled over a lot of the country and it made me happy, but it was not enough. I’ve been to concerts in the hundreds, something that I love to do, but it was not enough. In the worst parts of my life, I drank a lot. I never found a bottle big enough to satisfy me. I gave myself over to lust and there was no lasting pleasure to be found in sex. I couldn’t make enough friends or throw enough parties. My very soul cried out for more. This unsettling feeling of needing more out of life and it feeling like an unattainable goal led me to behave very recklessly. I’m lucky to be alive to share this right now.

What I had to learn was we’re not made for these things. They’re not supposed to fulfill us. Finding your identity in things and/or activities cannot satisfy. It’s a false premise to build your life off of and those things will eventually fail you. What’s left for you when the very thing that you define yourself by fails you? For me and and some others, it led to what felt like an endless despair.

Material things, money, relationships, success, entertainment, transportation, a home, security, fashion… all those things are good things. Those are things we can use to make life better for ourselves and for those around us. All those things can potentially be blessings. But, we must see those things for what they are and see ourselves for who we are.

Who are we? We’re people made in God’s image. God freely gives us all of our blessings. It’s consistent that this same God says “it’s more blessed to give than to receive”. That’s why we celebrate the charitable and chastise the greedy. We were made to build one another up with our blessings and find our lives in Christ. Anything less will never truly satisfy. Anything less is not enough.

Come All You Weary

“All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:27-29

What makes you weary? What do you struggle with? We live in a world wrought with sin. People become sick and die. Fathers abandon their wives and children. The rich oppress the poor. People love things and use people. Addictions can take hold of a person and change who they are. The innocent are punished in place of the guilty. Sickness, disease, and famine afflict a land. Our hearts are broken by those close to us and far away from us. So, I ask again: What makes you weary?

Are you wrestling with the guilt of some sin in the past? Are you not able to forgive yourself? Are you wrestling with a sin that has a grip on your life right now? Have you hurt someone or has someone hurt you? Are you bearing the consequences of someone else’s sin? Do you ever find yourself not able to sleep at night? Is it you that’s sick? Are you bearing the burden of some permanent physical impairment?

We all have to face tremendous struggle in this life. Sometimes, we have to face more than we’re capable of handling. It’s in these times, the words of Jesus in Matthew can either make or break us.

How many of us have ever felt the way this man has? You can have everything your heart desires and still not be satisfied with this life. That’s why suicide is so common among the wealthy. Of course, it’s not limited to them. People that are young, beautiful, and full of potential do it too. There are people among us that throw away our lives. We just give up in the face of adversity. It seems as if there is no real rest. There’s no hope. Things will only continue to get worse. For those of us that go down this unfortunate path, it’s here that we’re broken by the words of Christ, because we don’t heed Him.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1-2

For those of us that do come to Him, we have these words of assurance. If you cast your burdens on Him, you will find rest. Let no one coddle you with sugar coated lips. The struggle won’t end until we meet up with Him again, but the hope and spirit within is what fundamentally changes our reactions to very same struggles we came to Him with. Suddenly, meaning and purpose is given to our circumstances. Love covers a multitude of sins.

There can be love in the place of pain, love in the place of sorrow, love in the place of hatred, love in the place of addiction, and so forth. There’s no need to bury your pain. There’s no need to throw your life away. There’s no need to wrestle with guilt. All who come to Christ will have their bondage taken. That’s His promise to His sheep that have not entered His flock yet and that’s His reminder to those of us that have wandered away. Be set free to live free. Come all you weary.

Christafari

I have eclectic taste in music that never fails to show itself when I’m running sound at the church I attend. I’m always looking for something different to grab people’s attention and prepare them for praise before the worship team takes over. Thanks to Spotify, I have more songs that I can ever possibly listen to to choose from. If you looked up a song like “Amazing Grace”, you’d find a plethora of variations of just that one song. That’s how I came across Christafari. I was looking for a version of “10,000 Reasons” that I thought was refreshing and exciting.

Reggae worship music?! I couldn’t believe my ears. Not only was it something drastically different from anything I’ve heard in the world of Christian music, but it was actually good. I played the song just to get people excited about hearing the gospel and planned to move on, but I was approached by several people in the congregation for more. Before and after the service that Sunday, I played nothing but Christafari. People sang, people danced, and people had fun in their worship. I was elated!

The initial appeal of them were their renditions of popular Christian songs like “Oceans“, “Revelation Song“, “How Great Thou Art” and even more. Their Anthems album is amazing. It’s a beautiful fusion of hymns, reggae, ska, and soul. They dabble in a little dub too for the dance hall kids. What they do is just what I was looking for to both entertain and evoke a sense of the joy in Christ in the congregation. It worked.

Upon doing a little digging on this group, I found that they’re about much more than doing reggae remixes.

“Christafari is a Christian reggae band formed in 1990. It is centered on the personality of ordained religious minister Mark “Tansoback” Mohr (born October 23, 1971), an American, born-again Christian. Until the age of 17, Mohr was a Rastafarian. The essential goal of Christafari is to promote Christianity to all people; including Rastafarians.

Initially Christafari’s lyrics were characterized by a heart for Rastafarians, a passion for reaching the drug-afflicted counter-culture and a distinctly evangelical Christian message. Two examples are the songs “Why You A-go Look?” (WordSound&Power) and “Teachings of His Majesty” (Reggae Redemption Songs II), which use the words of Haile Selassie I (former Emperor of Ethiopia) to challenge the veneration of this Christian king as Almighty God incarnate.” – Via Wikipedia

Rockin’ Resurrection Day

The joyful act of worship I have the pleasure of taking part in is assisting the worship team almost every Sunday. I mix and balance sound during the services, and I play music before and after each service. With today being Resurrection Day, I thought I’d have a little fun and treat those that were lingering around to a song that I typically wouldn’t play.

It got a rise out of some people. I knew the lyrics wouldn’t be understood, but I just could not resist sharing this today anyway! I thought I’d share the lyric video here so that the significance of the choice would be more obvious. This is the take on the resurrection story that rocks!!