The importance of turning it up

M83 speaker stack by Matt Biddulph, Creative Commons

WARNING: This is a shoot-from-the-hip rant about instrument volume during worship time, inspired by a conversation in Vineyard Worship Leaders’ Facebook Group. Any attempts to make this a constructive dialog will be ignored. Just kidding.

This week, a friend and fellow worship leader had a discussion with his pastor and other church leadership about stage volume. I pass no judgment on this situation. The pastor is also a friend I’ve known since childhood. It turns out, though, that I have very strong feelings about volume during worship sets. I strongly believe in the freedom of loudness and noise. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe every worship time should be loud, but I do think that should be a decision the worship  leader is allowed to make. Honestly, if you trust them to be on stage, representing your church at all, why spend energy reining them in? Why not let them have the freedom to lead? I hear often enough that “people have a hard time with it being so loud”, or “you’re really there to serve the body, so you should turn it down because people are having a hard time worshiping.” Why not ask the church body to open up and appreciate something beyond their precious, calm, non-threatening, non-offensive worship time? It doesn’t have to be every week and there still be some variety, but really: why not? Everybody seems to know that God speaks in a still small voice, but he also came down in fire and smoke on Mt. Sinai. He was loud and scary at times, but also loved a good celebration. Think of all the instruments described by the Psalms. The fact is, the instrument names chosen by those men who translated the Bible into English were their best guesses really. Where they picked lyre, harp and tambourine, I believe what God really meant was Telecaster w/Overdrive & Fuzz pedal, Bass and Drums. The Hebrew is a little imprecise though.

I spent my first post on this site talking about how the intimacy of worship at the Vineyard first drew me in, and that’s most of the story, but I did leave one part out. I was about 12 years old when I first came to that church. I also happened to love guitar driven rock music. Since my parents limited me to Christian music, it was mainly Petra for me at the time (btw, I can’t believe they’re still making music!!!!). Vineyard was also the first place I ever saw someone use an electric guitar in worship. It’s hard to explain how close God felt to me because of that one simple thing. It’s not just the fact that the guitar was there, but that you could actually HEAR it. It was a dominant part of the music! In short, it was loud. I had a similar experience a couple years later at a Vineyard youth retreat in Indiana, only more prominent. I would’ve called the music heavy metal back then, but grunge would be more accurate. Again, Jesus really showed up for me there, and I was able to meet with him in ways that were very deep for me. Years later, when I first heard Faith and Devotions of a Satellite Heart by The Violet Burning, I cried because it felt like a love letter from Jesus to me. It was like him saying all over again that he really does care about my heart. It was also around the time Matt Redman released The Father’s Song, which is about the idea that worship is our response to the song the Father sings over us first. I believe when it comes down to it, this preference is more than just my taste. It’s about what speaks to my heart – the heart that Jesus gave me through his death and resurrection, and it’s truly a response to him anyway.

When it comes down to it, I have no more defense for my conviction than my experience, so you can take it or leave it. The fact is, God, my Father, put a love for loud, noisy music in my heart and used uninhibited worship times at Vineyard to help wake me up, and as a result, I’m in a position to pass that gift on, about one Sunday a month. I know for a fact there are people at my church – young and old – who really need to know that they’re welcome too, that worship is meant for them to connect too, whose souls connect with the same music I do.

For that reason alone, I’ll keep fighting hard to keep the volume loud.

 

 


What do you really think about Jesus?

Photo by И. Максим

Photo by И. Максим, Creative Commons license

This is probably too obvious to state, but it turns out your view of Jesus shapes how you worship him. I’ve had the benefit of growing up around people who emphasized relationship with Jesus above everything else, and yet I still find subtle ways in which I don’t treat my relationship with Jesus as if it were real. It still sometimes feels like I’m relating to an idea  or a historical figure, not a person I can really know right now.

My wife and I are currently helping to lead a small group, where we’re going through John Eldredge’s “Beautiful Outlaw” (affiliate link). This is not my first time through the book, but I have to admit it has taken several times through to really sink in. It’s like wading into water – it starts out light, almost too shallow, and suddenly you’re in up to your neck. I think the genius of the book is in asking people to step back and consider what they’re reading when they read about Jesus. It took a few times through to appreciate that Christians almost never do this – at least most of them I’ve met. For some reason, people tend to dissect and look for the deeper meaning without considering that they’re reading a real story about a real person. Honestly, you’d be even better off if you would at least read it like you would read a novel and simply take it at face value.

On to the point though. How we think about Jesus matters, and I think it really matters that you remember his humanity. Consider this excerpt from Chapter 5, entitled “The Most Human Face Of All”:

“One of my favorite Christmas meditations comes from this passage by Chesterton (he is speaking of Bethlehem, and what it held in its foothills that fateful night):

The strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.

Savor that passage for a moment. The manger Mary used as a bassinette held something more human than humanity?

Do you think of Jesus as the most human human-being who ever lived? It’s true. The ravages of sin, neglect, abuse, and a thousand addictions have left us all a shadow of what we were meant to be. Jesus is humanity in its truest form. His favorite title for himself was the Son of Man. Not of  God— of man.”

And yet, how often do we think like this in worship time? This seems to be under-emphasized in most of the worship songs I know. This is not to under-emphasize Jesus’ glory, and the fact that he was God and man at the same time, but I think our current culture has swung a little too far in downplaying his humanity, and that fact has deep consequences in our worship. If you don’t believe God actually loved us enough to come down and truly be human – to grow in a womb, be born, go through childhood, and grow into manhood, I’m not sure what we’re doing here. It’s important enough to keep pressing into and contemplating and acting on.

The book goes on to emphasize Jesus’ personality – his playfulness / sense of humor, his fierce intention, his extravagant generosity, disruptive honesty, his scandalous freedom, his cunning, humility, and the one I think I love the most – his trueness. Having covered these topics, Eldredge devotes the rest of the book to what it means to really love Jesus the way he wants to be loved, which as a worship leader, I think is my most important job.

He includes this prayer as a help:

“I renounce every limit I have ever placed on Jesus.

I renounce every limit I have placed on him in my life.

I break all limitations, renounce them, revoke them.

Jesus, forgive me for restraining you in my life.

I give you full permission to be yourself with me. I ask you for you— for the real you.”

He recommends praying that prayer more than once, and I couldn’t agree more. I should be praying it every day, and probably a lot more.

How about you? How do you think of Jesus? Is he near or far? Knowable or unknowable? How do you think he actually wants to be worshiped?


Worship after you leave the stage

Today’s post comes from Jamie Kocur. Jamie is a singer, songwriter and self-identified recovering worship leader who shares her insights at rebootingworship.com. Once you’ve had a chance to read some of her story here, please take the time to drop by her site. I promise it’s worth your time.

  • Nathanael

 


The music used to really move me.

Any time I set foot in a contemporary worship setting, I was completely swept away. My hands rose as high as they could, I closed my eyes tight and shut the world out, and the Holy Spirit felt like it pumped through my veins.

It was awesome.

God blessed me with a voice, and I longed to be on stage, singing for His glory. I volunteered with my church choir and praise band, and eventually took a part time worship leader position. I majored in music, and received a church music degree from Florida State University. I enjoyed being on stage, in the spotlight, using my voice to lead everyone into the presence of Jesus.

Worship was going to be my life. Then something changed.

I wasn’t sure what changed at first. All I knew was that what used to inspire, move, and energize me left me feeling empty and cynical. The worship that used to be so meaningful now seemed like one big show. I became sensitive to the performance aspect of it all and cringed when vocalists sang like they were on American Idol. I wanted nothing to do with the music that used to reach so deep in my soul. I left services frustrated, wiping away angry tears. I felt empty. I walked away from worship leading. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I knew I needed to process through the gunk. So I began to write. I’ve been writing for a couple of years now, and I’m happy to say that I’ve dug deep enough to uncover a few key elements.

1) I was getting swept away in the emotional high.

Worship music contains a certain element of emotionalism. I became too focused on the high. I reduced worship to a warm fuzzy, a pick-me-up. I think God took that feeling away to teach me a few things. When it was gone, I wasn’t sure how to worship.

2) Church politics.

I watched the church I love make some decisions that I couldn’t support. Some dear friends were deeply hurt by these decisions. I wasn’t directly impacted, but I still felt betrayed and hurt. I had a hard time opening up and being vulnerable after that. I’m still learning to forgive and let go.

3) As an introvert, it’s hard to fully engage in energetic contemporary worship.

I’m settling into my introverted shell more as I grow older. Things that I used to enjoy in my young, more energetic teenage years don’t appeal to me anymore. When I’m expected to clap and sing as loud as I can, I shut off. That’s not genuine worship for me. I prefer quieter, more intimate settings now.

Where do I go from here? I’m learning that it’s okay if I don’t connect in the usual contemporary worship service. Just because my hands aren’t raised does not mean I love Jesus any less. I have other ways that I connect with and love on Him; writing, taking long walks in a park, photography.

I still use music in worship, but for this moment, it’s not on stage. My soul finds peace as I sit on the floor in my music room, strumming my guitar and writing simple songs. I still sing and long to use my voice for God’s glory, but not as a contemporary worship leader. And that’s okay. Perhaps one day I will be back on stage, leading a congregation in worship, but for this season, I’m content to stay in the shadows, out of the spotlight.

Jesus is there too.


Getting what I always wanted

GiftboxWhen I was a young worship leader and a very new musician, I think I had this picture in my head of my ideal band. I knew from the first time I was given a bass and was able to play it competently that I was gifted. The truth is, I also probably had an unreasonably high opinion of my own abilities.

On the other hand, I also genuinely loved to worship. For me, there was an ideal of awesome, intimate worship with close friends with whom I could grow musically.

The reality hasn’t really turned out that way. My dreams, at this point, haven’t really come true.

Or maybe they have.

I remember C.S. Lewis, in one of his writings – maybe more than one – saying that God giving us the desires of our heart doesn’t mean that we get what we want on the surface, but we do get what we really wanted all along, in the deepest, truest part of our hearts.

That’s what I’ve found in leading worship. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve gotten to play with some very gifted people over the years and I’ve had plenty of fun, but there has also been plenty of adjustment, either in not being able to play with musicians as skilled as I’d like, or, more often, with musicians as good as or better than me who don’t necessarily share my musical tastes or vision. The gift, for me, has started to come to fruition mainly by learning to share the platform. A few months back I started really taking some risks in letting other team members lead songs. It turns out our team members have a lot more to share than I might have given them credit for in the past, and even the ones who have some growing to do have risen to the occasion and doing an outstanding job.

I don’t want to oversell the point though. I still have a long way to go. I can still be a pain to work with as a leader. I can still be arrogant and demanding and all about “my vision” as a worship leader, but I’ve at least gotten started I think.

The moral of the story is, I really wanted to be a good worship leader more than I wanted to be an awesome musician, and in the end, I think I’m actually a better musician for it too.

My question for you is, do you feel the same? Do you feel like God has adjusted your dreams? Or maybe he’s just been asking you to give up what you think you want for what you really want?

 


Leaving Room

This post also appeared here as part of the Worship Wednesday series at thejoshcollins.com

 

Praying senior in mountains

I’ve led worship teams at a Vineyard church for about 15 years now, and this past February was the first time I ever attended a Vineyard Worship Leader’s Retreat. This one was held in Cannon Beach, Oregon, not too far from where “The Goonies” was filmed. It was beautiful – right on the ocean, and raining almost constantly.

It was an interesting experience and I’m not sure these events ever turn out how you’d expect. Honestly, I was kind of surprised at what came out of me. Some of it was insecurity, a lot of it was spiritual attack. On the positive side, though, I was able to find something I had been missing for a while: space.

What I mean by “space” in this context is simply slowing things down and simplifying, not feeling the need to constantly sing or talk, choosing some songs with fewer words that get to the heart of the matter. I believe worship is primarily about your relationship with God in the same way prayer is. It’s a conversation. Choosing songs with some space leaves room for God to speak as well. It can be tough and uncomfortable at times, but worth the effort.

When I was in Cannon Beach, in the middle of our first worship time, I remembered what first made me fall in love with worship all those years ago.

This is the song that did it for me at the conference. Take a listen:

Face to Face (Live) [feat. Hannah Daugherty]”Face to Face” (written by Adam Russell, sung by Hannah Daugherty)
“Face to Face” (written by Adam Russell, sung by Hannah Daugherty)

And it’s the simple first verse that gets me every time:

All I want is to be with you

This is the type of song that made me first love worship, first really connect to Jesus through music. Very early on, songs like “Isn’t He” by John Wimber did the trick. In fact, it’s the simplicity of the expression of love to Jesus that Vineyard Music was first known for.

The secret is in the repetition of a simple line that brings you back to what’s most important. Also notice how much space there is for God to speak to you. I believe he wants to.

So, how is it for you lately? Is there enough space in your worship time? What other songs are out there that help facilitate that quiet space? If so, what do you hear God saying to you?


Picking a good set

StageWithGuitarPicking a set is one of those things I love and hate as a leader. Sometimes I have a song in mind I’ve been waiting to do, sometimes nothing sounds right, but it’s often somewhere in between.
Usually it starts with having a good song filter, and that comes down to these questions:

  1. What do I want the set to feel like as a whole? Does it seem like an upbeat week? A quiet, reflective week? A week to pour our my heart, good bad and ugly? Does the song I’m looking at fit that feel?
  2. Is there continuity between this song and the rest of this set with regard to flow of the service or meeting? Can it be played in a key that fits and makes for smooth transitions?
  3. Is a song I’m choosing a good song? Meaning, does it stick in my head? Is the melody actually good and desirable in some way? This does not mean happy or sunny necessarily, just its ability to be considered a “good” song. I realize this may seem arbitrary and completely subjective, but it’s not – at least not completely. In other words, does the melody speak to me and connect with my heart?
  4. Can I and the band play it? Not everyone on the team is at the same skill level, and I myself am not as skilled as others might be. If every song involves bar chords sliding up and down the fret board, my hand will probably cramp before one song is over.
  5. Are the lyrics actually theologically sound, to the best of my knowledge? This one can be tricky, I think, but again, ask yourself, do the words really reflect God’s heart as you best understand Him?
  6. Are the lyrics personal? In other words, are they about my relationship with God and promoting that? I’ve heard plenty of complaint over the years about “girly” worship songs, and I tend to think that complaint is way over-blown. If you want to know how personal and intimate and “girly” God can be, try reading the book of Hosea a few times through.

Whether you start with individual songs or with the set as a whole, you need to give some thought to the set as well. It helps me to think through these questions too:

  1. Assuming this is a Sunday morning, if I know something about the theme of the sermon, I try to keep that in mind, at least a little bit. Honestly though, I usually don’t know, and knowing doesn’t always help anyway.
  2. If I’m talking to God about the set, what do I think he’s saying about the feel of it? Usually, this gets me matched up to the set in a way I obviously didn’t plan. I like this way better and I think it’s the better way anyway. The most I can take credit for is listening to and following Him the best I know how, which is kind of the point, right?
  3. If I need to adjust anything when we get there, do I have a backup plan? This usually involves cutting a song or sometimes rearranging the set.
  4. Are the songs arranged in a way that fits the flow of service? For instance, at my church on a Sunday, it’s usually like this: 1 song opens up, usually mostly upbeat, then announcements, then sermon, then we get called back up to play, but we have prayer ministry time up front, so the next 1-2 songs are softer and more reflective to allow good prayer time. Then we have 2-3 more songs, and usually gradually move toward more upbeat and celebratory to close the morning, though not always.

Those are really the most important things I can think of when it comes to picking a set.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? How do you pick your own sets?


Worship, Art & Discomfort

I believe in the power of art to disrupt your life, and I believe your life needs disrupting.

This is why I believe in musical expression in worship. Few things have the same power as music to dig in deep, to bypass the rational side of you, to change your perspective.

I’ve found this can be done one of two primary ways:

  1. By drawing you in with sheer beauty, like a slow, lingering kiss.
  2. By knocking you off your feet, like a smack in the face, followed by a deep, greedy kiss.

There’s a time and a place for both, especially in worship times. I think they’re both equally important and they both express intimacy with God in their own way.

I think the second is better for busting open a dusty heart that needs Jesus to come in.

Then again, the first kind can be like a warm summer rain.

They beauty is that Jesus will actually meet you in either place.

The question for you is, what’s been working for your lately?


How I first learned to worship

The following was originally written as a comment I left here, and is adapted to fit here instead. Thank you Andy Traub for starting the conversation.

I have loved worship time since age 11, when I first set foot in Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I’ve been in church my whole life, with a variety of exposure to worship music, mostly of the Pentecostal / Charismatic variety. In fact, the church we had left a few months earlier had a very elaborate worship band. Keep in mind, though, this was around 1988-89, long before Chris Tomlin or anyone like that ever came on the scene. So we’re talking full orchestras, singers dressed up in “sunday best”. In other words, very elaborate, and to me, especially at my age, unapproachable. I hated it and I was bored.

What they did differently at Vineyard was that they put the relationship with Jesus first, and put polish way down the list. No suits. No ties. No dresses. Not even khakis. Jeans, shorts, t-shirts, etc., were the dress code. And the songs were definitely “love songs”, but the kind that only seem shallow if you have no context for them. And they used guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, etc. I’m sure that seems trite now, but in 1989, especially in the Midwest, it wasn’t.

The most important thing, though, is that we actually met with God during those times. I learned to really love Him out of those songs. People would stick around for 45 minute worship times every Sunday because Jesus would show up, they’d feel His love, and they’d actually go away healed. They would actually have a relationship with Him that stuck. It actually changed how they lived, myself included. I can thank my dad for giving me his perspective. He always emphasized that what brought him to Jesus wasn’t something intellectual, it was because of the love he felt. It was about a relationship.
This is why I didn’t give up on learning to be a musician and worship leader myself. I now appreciate much more deeply what goes into that process from the other end, and believe me, it can get much harder to keep perspective when you’re the one trying to pick songs and listen to Jesus in the process.

So I guess what I have to say is if you don’t experience that intimacy in your singing, you should probably spend some time trying to figure out why. It could just be that you’re just singing the wrong songs, or maybe you just don’t know what a good worship service feels like. It may very well be you need to leave the church you’re a part of to start the search, but I think you shouldn’t stop til you’ve actually found it.

So my question to you is, what has your experience been like? Has worship been positive or negative? Do you really meet God there?