A New Vision for Worship (4.1)


I’m not sure if you remember the series I did last spring on what worship looks like, so to jog your memory a little bit let’s remind us what was discussed.  In short, we talked a lot about the whole issue of having a “blended” service and I made the comment that I wanted us to move away from the term “blended” and more toward the word “unified” in how we described our service.  Here’s the definition I gave last year in regards to what a “unified” service means,

 “I prefer the term ‘Unified’ worship over ‘Blended’ worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term ‘Blended’ worship does not necessarily mean that it is ‘unified’ worship. The best way to describe ‘unified’ worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the ‘best of the best’ from the past and the present.” (Scott Wesley Brown)

This summer in my studies I “stumbled” across this verse in Matthew (and I put stumbled in quotation marks because if you believe it happened by chance I would tell you I don’t believe in chance…)

“Then [Jesus] added, ‘Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.’” (NLT)

That verse is Matthew 13:52.  When I read it I had a picture of what music in a church should look like – it should be a unification of the “old” and the “new”, which for music in our terms means the “traditional” and the “contemporary”.

Which is one reason why choir will not sing in every service in the fall.  We’ve decided to try something new in our effort to unify the worship experience at Landmark.  What you’re going to see beginning October are two different musical styles in the worship service.  On the First and Third Sunday of every month we’ll have a traditional service, which will include the choir and orchestra – similar to our current setup but a little more traditional than we are doing.  On the Second and Fourth Sunday you’ll experience a more “contemporary” service with a praise band – those are the weeks the choir will not sing in the service.  For those months with a Fifth Sunday the youth will lead our musical selections.

We’re attempting to balance the two facets of worship: that facet that says worship is vertical and God-centered while also understanding the equally important truth that corporate worship is horizontal and is supposed to allow us to minister to each other.  By offering these two different “styles” in musical options we’re trying to better reflection the diversity that exists within our congregation.  Please pray for discernment and wisdom for your church leadership, and for me as the music director, as we journey down this uncharted path together.

Patriotic Music in a Worship Service


David Manner has an excellent post on the use of patriotic songs in worship services.  You can read the entire post by clicking here.  Here is one quote I believe is important, and on which I want to reflect a little and share my personal feelings on this controversial topic.  Manner writes:

If the purpose of Christian worship is the celebration of God’s story are we crossing the line in patriotic worship services in the American church?  Who or what is the focus of our worship when in the context of a worship service we sing, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing?”  Are those congregations who choose not to sing and play patriotic songs such as this (even when July 4 falls on a Sunday) viewed as unpatriotic?  Are those congregations who choose to devote their entire worship service to patriotic songs and actions ever considered idolatrous?

He brings up an excellent point.  In the hymnal my church uses (The Celebration Hymnal), the following songs are listed under the “Patriotic” section: America the Beautiful; Heal Our Land; King of the Nations; The Star Spangled Banner; If My People Will Pray; Battle Hymn of the Republic; If My People’s Hearts are Humbled; O Canada!; My Country ’tis Of Thee; Eternal Father, Strong to Save; and God of Our Fathers.  For the record, this topic is one I struggle with greatly as a worship leader and planner, but the more time I spend reflecting on and praying about this topic the more convinced I become of how it needs to be approached.

I remember the first time it struck me that this was an issue.  I was living in West Palm Beach, and the church I attended was doing a patriotic set one Sunday (it was Memorial Day or 4th of July, can’t remember which one).  We were singing, America the Beautiful and I found myself deeply offended at the words within the context of the service.  The song was not a song of worship of God but of our country.  Yes, there is the token, “God shed is grace on thee” thrown in at the end, but the focus of the song was not a petition to God for our country, but an exaltation of how great our country is. That’s when I became offended by it.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the song, and I love singing the song.  Yet I don’t view the song as “religious” any more than I would view a song such as Bye, Bye Love or The Lion Sleeps Tonight as “religious” (both songs I taught all my guitar classes when I taught guitar).   Nothing in the songs that is wrong in, and I love to sing them, but I’m not sure they’re appropriate for a worship service.  As an educator (and one with a background in music education) I believe it is very important for people to learn and sing patriotic songs – in particular, the national anthem – but do they belong in a worship service that is supposed to worship God?

So here’s how I have decided to deal with this issue (at least for the time being!): if the song’s focus is America then I will not plan it for a worship service, and I will not plan worship services that are taken over with a patriotic theme.  I will, however, use “Patriotic” songs if their focus is on God.

Easier said than done.. Here’s an example…  Last year for Veteran’s Day I planned two “Patriotic” numbers: Eternal Father, Strong to Save and God of Our Fathers.  Both are songs that are strongly patriotic, yet their focus is a petition to God and not a focus on our country.  The first is a prayer for those who serve our country, with one verse focusing on those serving in the navy, army, and air force, and then a final verse that encompasses all of them.  The second song, again, is a prayer for the people for our nation.  It’s focus is not our country (as America the Beautiful is) but on God.  Read this verse: “Thy love divine hath led us in the past, In this free land by Thee our lot is cast; Be thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay, Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.”  And the fourth verse closes the song by praying, “Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way.  Lead us from night to neverending day; Fill all our lives with love and grace divine; And glory, laud and praise be ever Thine!”

These two songs, though “patriotic” in nature are sung to God and are about God’s grace and mercy; they do not lift up our country as an idol (as Mr. Manner warns in his post).

The question also needs to be answered in light of the culture of the individual church in which it is being asked.  The local church is a family (or should be a family), so we also need to understand the question in terms of the family dynamics.  For example, does your family (ie, church) regularly celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays throughout the year?  If the answer is yes (and they are celebrated in a God-honoring way), then it will be easier to insert patriotic selections into services.  If, however, your church does not do those things then inserting patriotic songs into a service will seem almost out-of-place not because they are patriotic, but because they are out of character.  I think it is perfectly acceptable to honor our veterans and thank them publicly in church for their service to our country – but we should also be honoring mothers on Mothers’ Day, fathers on Fathers’ Day, our pastors during pastoral appreciation month, etc.

This question about Patriotic music can not be answered in isolation from the rest of the church year.  It is never appropriate to sing a song that worships anything other than God in our service, but is it wrong to sing “Happy Birthday” to the piano player on her birthday or to the pastor on his?  If that is okay, then it should be perfectly appropriate to sing “Happy Birthday” to America on her birthday.  But just as we would pray for God’s guidance and blessing for the pastor, so we should also pray for it for America.  The issue is so much bigger than Patriotic music – it’s about music in general and understanding the text of the songs we sing.

It also is worth mentioning that if something is important enough to do once it should be important enough to repeat.  One thing I have tried to schedule throughout the year are regular Concerts of Prayer during our evening service times (generally 3-4 a year).  Each one has a different focus, but the focus is often related to “patriotic” issues.  For example, we have generally done at least one a year (and not around a patriotic holiday) that focuses on prayers for our leaders – from our local council members up to our national representatives and the President); we do another one at the beginning of the school year where we pray for our teachers and our school system (both private and public).  We have also done one focused on our church leadership and the missionaries we support.  The key here is taking something and making it routine enough so that it is familiar.  We don’t pray for our country just on the 4th of July, but we pray for our country all year round.

What I would really like for someone to do is put together a patriotic cantata that truly focuses on God and not America.  I’ve had people every year request we do a patriotic cantata on the 4th of July and I have shied away from them because I believe they focus too much on worship America instead of praying for America and worshiping God.    Perhaps one day I’ll find one that does this (and if you have any suggestions please post them below so I can look at them!)

I go back to that old saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  For us, the main thing is Jesus – if the song takes our gaze to anything but him and his work on the cross then it is not appropriate for a worship service.  If we keep that attitude in mind when we plan, though, it will be hard to go wrong.   The difficult part is explaining to some members of the congregation why a certain song may or may not be appropriate for a particular service.

Music Selection in Worship (Issue 1.23)


Originally Written for 3/1/09

I’ve found in speaking with people that sometimes they wonder how I choose music for the morning services, both congregational and choral, so I figured I’d take a little time to explain my process and use next week’s music (March 8) to illustrate my process.

First, I find out from Bill what his over-arching theme for the week is going to be, and then I work to narrow down songs that fit that theme.  My search for songs looks at a couple of different criteria.  First (and foremost), the text.  Does the text communicate a truth we are trying to address in the service?  Does it have a solid foundation in scripture and in our own church’s theology?  What is the “direction” of the text (is it sung to God or to others)?  Second, I look at the tune – do we know it or not?  Is it a tune that fits the mood of the service?  Finally, I look at the key relationship of the songs and see how they fit together – will transitions be smooth and easy or will they require some work?

Let’s take next week’s music as an example.  Bill will be speaking on spiritual warfare, specifically putting on the armor of God (unless, of course, he’s changed his mind <grin>!)  Since this is not what I would consider an “easy” theme to construct music for, I decided to look at each of the pieces of armor and find a song that fit the truth conveyed through that armor.  We start the service singing “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” as the call to worship by the choir, and then more into music for the congregation.

First is the song “Redeemed”, which focuses on the theme of Salvation (Helmet of Salvation), followed by “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (the Shield of Faith).

After the offering we do a couple of more songs, beginning with “It is Well” (The Gospel of Peace on our Feet) and then “Jesus Loves Me” (Girding our Loins with Truth – what more important truth is there than understanding the fact that God loves us and sent His son to die for us?).  Finally, the invitation song for the week is “Whiter than Snow”, focusing on the Breastplate of Righteousness (Christ has made us righteous in God’s sight through his Blood).  This also piggy-backs the choir anthem of “Power in the Blood” – we are free from sin (and, therefore, made righteous) through the blood of Christ.

Finally, I have two goals going into each service with the music.  First (and foremost) is to usher the worshiper into the presence of God so they can truly worship Him.  Second, it is to prepare the hearts of the worshiper to receive the truth that is set forth in both the spoken and sung word (sermon and song).

I do invite your feedback on the music selections for the service, particularly letting me know if I am accomplishing my two goals listed above.

Music Selection in Worship (Grace Notes Issue 1.23)


Originally Written for 3/1/09

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

I’ve found in speaking with people that sometimes they wonder how I choose music for the morning services, both congregational and choral, so I figured I’d take a little time to explain my process and use next week’s music (March 8) to illustrate my process.

First, I find out from Bill what his over-arching theme for the week is going to be, and then I work to narrow down songs that fit that theme.  My search for songs looks at a couple of different criteria.  First (and foremost), the text.  Does the text communicate a truth we are trying to address in the service?  Does it have a solid foundation in scripture and in our own church’s theology?  What is the “direction” of the text (is it sung to God or to others)?  Second, I look at the tune – do we know it or not?  Is it a tune that fits the mood of the service?  Finally, I look at the key relationship of the songs and see how they fit together – will transitions be smooth and easy or will they require some work?

Let’s take next week’s music as an example.  Bill will be speaking on spiritual warfare, specifically putting on the armor of God (unless, of course, he’s changed his mind !)  Since this is not what I would consider an “easy” theme to construct music for, I decided to look at each of the pieces of armor and find a song that fit the truth conveyed through that armor.  We start the service singing “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” as the call to worship by the choir, and then more into music for the congregation.

First is the song “Redeemed”, which focuses on the theme of Salvation (Helmet of Salvation), followed by “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (the Shield of Faith).

After the offering we do a couple of more songs, beginning with “It is Well” (The Gospel of Peace on our Feet) and then “Jesus Loves Me” (Girding our Loins with Truth – what more important truth is there than understanding the fact that God loves us and sent His son to die for us?).  Finally, the invitation song for the week is “Whiter than Snow”, focusing on the Breastplate of Righteousness (Christ has made us righteous in God’s sight through his Blood).  This also piggy-backs the choir anthem of “Power in the Blood” – we are free from sin (and, therefore, made righteous) through the blood of Christ.

Finally, I have two goals going into each service with the music.  First (and foremost) is to usher the worshiper into the presence of God so they can truly worship Him.  Second, it is to prepare the hearts of the worshiper to receive the truth that is set forth in both the spoken and sung word (sermon and song).

I do invite your feedback on the music selections for the service, particularly letting me know if I am accomplishing my two goals listed above.