Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Worship Wednesdays - Sing a New Song, Bible-Style - Part 1

As songwriters, we love the words "new song." In our home, we compare new songs to the smell of fresh-baked bread - filling every corner of the house with goodness and warmth. I love waking up in the morning to hear a new guitar riff drifting out from Gerald's writing room. And we love the feeling of singing a brand new song together, discovering the harmonies and the little ways we can shape the melody with our voices.

We consider songwriting to be scriptural. If you search "new song" in the NIV translation, you'll find 9 references to singing a new song unto the Lord. (Some translations give 10.)

I thought it would be fun to look at each of these verses and see what message they might hold for contemporary songwriters. Here we go:

Psalm 33:3
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

As we sing our new song to the Lord, we are also asked to 'play skillfully'. All offerings that come from a worshipful heart will be accepted by God, but why not offer Him our best? Learn your craft. Practice your instrument. Warm up your voice. Manage your tech. Let's raise our talents to their highest level when offering them in worship!

Psalm 40:3
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. 

I love the image of God putting a new song 'in my mouth.' Legendary songwriter, Harlan Howard, used the following as his epitaph, "He wrote the songs; I held the pen." God has melodies and words ready for us to receive. Sometimes our job as writers is simply to listen.

Psalm 96:1
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

I love the invitation in this verse for 'all the earth' to sing. Are we writing songs that are inclusive and invitational? Are we creating words and melodies that will cross boundaries of age, nationality, gender, and denomination? Are we writing for both the lifelong Christian and those who have never set foot in a church?

Psalm 98:1
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

He has, hasn't he? Sometimes the best songs to write are simply sharing the wonders of God. We can write a list song of the beauty of creation, or craft a story song sharing our personal testimony of blessings. "How Great Thou Art," "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "Indescribable,""How Great is Our God," - the list could go on for days, and still there are always new praises to sing!

Psalm 144:9
I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you.

Could this verse be any more perfect for guitarists?? Okay, substitute '6-stringed' for 'ten-stringed', but you get my point. We sometimes only think of 'singing' as 'praise', but for instrumentalists, worship can come through the strings of the guitar, the keys of the piano, the skin of the drum, and the tone of the flute. Let's never forget the prayers and praise that can soar through a pure melody or an instrumental offering.

That covers 5 of our quotes! 
What are your thoughts on these verses?

Tune in next week for Part 2 ...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Worship Wednesdays - How to Sing 2000 Years Worth of Music on One Sunday Morning

This past week, I greeted our congregation by saying, "Today, we'll take you through the ages with our music. We'll sing one song that's so old we don't even know the author, and one that we finished just a few days ago."

Over the course of the hour, we sang words directly from Scripture, hymns from Victorian worship, praise choruses made popular by worship bands, and as promised, we debuted our brand new song, "Turn This Water Into Wine."

In choosing songs from different times periods, we reflect the voices of worshipers throughout the centuries. We're also able to connect with the various generations represented in our pews.

But how do we sing such a variety of material without sounding disjointed?
Here are a few techniques we like to use...

#1. It's All Worship!

This is the key to it all! If you think of your set list as a disjointed collection of songs, that's exactly what it'll feel like to your congregation. Remember that each song is an act of worship that not only reflects its time of creation, but is also a voice for worshipers today.

#2. What is your "Worship Voice"?

How does your congregation engage in worship? Are they strong singers, or do they need encouragement? Do they like jump-up-and-down praise, or do they prefer a meditative tone? Combine their worship style with your personal musical skills to create a signature sound for your church. Use feeling, groove, and tempo to create a worship environment where all songs can find a home.

#3. Shake Up Your Instrumentation

One of the fun ways to enliven songs from different ages is to shake up the instrumentation. Why not ask the worship band to jazz up that ancient hymn, while the pipe organ adds some majesty to a contemporary praise chorus? If you only lead with a solo instrument - piano, organ, or guitar - try bringing in a guest musician with a 'colour' instrument like saxophone, violin, or some percussion.

#4. Train Your Congregation to Listen

I remember seeing Bishop T.D. Jakes in an interview about worship music. He said that his church deliberately uses a variety of songs for worship because "we don't know when the Holy Spirit is going to show up, and we don't want to miss it when He does!" Encourage your congregation to seek God's presence in songs of all generations.

#5. Create New Music for Ancient Words

A few years ago, Gerald and I started writing our own settings for the psalms. We now have over 20 psalms that we're able to use in congregational worship. Let's face it, if we've been singing the same words our whole lives, we sometimes start to tune out the message. In singing these traditional words to new tunes, we refresh the message for lifelong Christians, and introduce ancient worship to new believers.

These are just a few thoughts on how to blend the ancient and the modern in your worship. 
Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section!

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Worship Wednesdays - How Do We Lead Worship When We're Hurting?

We've all been there. The days when going to church is the last thing on your mind. It could be the job you're about to lose, the love that just walked out the door, the diagnosis that was revealed, or the fear that came true. Whatever it is, it's huge and it's overwhelming, filling your body with aches and your heart with pain. And the last thing you want to do is put on your Sunday best and exchange pleasantries in the pews.

But you can't stay home from church. You're the worship leader. Not only are you expected to attend, you're suppose to lead everyone else in worship!

How do we lead worship when we're hurting?

It's easy to lift our hands in praise when things feel glorious, but it's a completely different act when we're in pain. And to lead others in this state is another thing all together. It challenges us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Here are a few thoughts on how to lead worship when you're hurting:

Pray About It

It's my go-to response for everything, and it never lets me down. When I'm going through a difficult time and I'm called upon to lead worship, my first act is to pray in private. I ask God to infuse me with His peace and strength. I ask Him to lead when I cannot. We know that Jesus wept as he moved through his ministry duties. Your pain is not foreign to him.

Talk To Your Team

Remember when we spoke about relationships and prayer with your team? Well, this is where it comes into play. Say to your team, "Today's not a good day for me. We buried my best friend this week. I could really use your prayers today." Just knowing you're surrounded by love can make a world of difference.

Ask Someone Else to Take the Lead

Gerald and I are always aware of raising up leaders within our teams. Maybe this is a good week for you to ask someone else to lead for you? They might just lead one song, or they might take over one task for you - for example, they could take the instrumental lead while you continue in your role of singing and praying. Your load will be lightened, and you'll also practice trusting your fellow musicians, something that can only grow and strengthen your team.

Remember You're Singing to Broken People

Some people will tell you, "There's always someone worse off than you." I hate this statement. It gets us into this weird my-pain-is-better-than-yours competition. Perhaps there's a different way to approach this idea. Here's what I do:

Find some quiet time before your worship service. Ideally, sit in the sanctuary and look over the pews. Think of each person who will sit there during the service. Think about the things that they are going through - their grief, their loneliness, their illness, their struggles. Now, think about how much they need to worship. In this moment, I always remember my calling, my authority, as a worship leader. God has called each of us - leaders, singers, musicians - into this role. Those hurting people need to worship, and we have the honour of trying to lead them closer to God today. For whatever reason, this always locks me into place. 

Step Down If You Have To

Maybe it isn't just a bad day. Maybe you're truly in a time of depression and long-term struggle. Find some time to speak with your pastor. Seek some counselling. In consultation, consider taking some time off. It's better to take a break and care for yourself than risk the harsh reality of burnout.

Remember to Worship

Worship leaders and Christian artists are notorious for allowing the performance aspects to distract us from actually worshiping. It's easy enough for it to happen - how can I get swept up in worship when I have that key change coming up at bar 34? But on rough days, it's even more important that we are not just worship leaders, but lead worshipers. Cry out to God. Sing His praises. Give thanks for your blessings. You will draw closer to God and, as promised, God will draw closer to you. And in your authenticity, those you are leading will draw closer to God as well. I don't know quite how that works, but it does, and I'm so grateful for it.

 I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you've lead worship in difficult times. 
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: One Perfect Life, by John MacArthur

One Perfect Life chooses a unique and thoughtful way to tell the story we all know so well. I'm sure you're familiar with the parallel Gospels - those books where we see the various events in the life of Jesus laid out in columns, showing which stories appear in which Gospels. It's a way of tying the voices of the Gospel authors together. Well, what if there was a way to meld all the voices of the Scripture writers together, to tell the whole story as one story?

This is what John MacArthur has accomplished in One Perfect Life. Each chapter represents a piece of the life of Jesus. It starts with the prophecies and need for a Saviour, moves through each story in the life of Jesus, and ends with New Testament reflections on the life of Christ. MacArthur doesn't paraphrase, but actually takes verses from the various books - from both the New and Old Testaments - to construct each chapter. Each line is vigorously referenced and footnoted.

It's a hard book to describe, but a beautiful book to read. It's an engaging way to see the fullness of the Gospel, and how the diverse books of Scripture tie together to tell one biography. You can read it quickly for the story or slowly as you digest the thick and informative footnotes. I can imagine it being used in as a daily devotional or in small groups for discussion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Worship Wednesdays - The Creation of "There's A Light At The End Of The Tomb"

Today we feature a guest post by my husband and partner in all things Infinitely More, Gerald Flemming. Gerald is an accomplished and passionate songwriter, and I've asked him to join Worship Wednesdays to share his knowledge and insight into writing Gospel-inspired songs. Here's the story behind this year's Easter creation, There's A Light At The End Of The Tomb....

I’ve always been an enormous fan of setting myself challenges that require public responsibility.  This spring I had set it on myself to write a song for the Easter morning service.  A song that would represent where the Church was and something that was specific and profound enough to be worth the time on that blessed morning.

The first step is finding something that has enough power and grandeur to even be considered worthy.  If anybody knows me they know first and foremost I seek a great idea through whatever means necessary.  There are consultation moments and prayer moments and as in this case, being at the right place at the right time moments.

The Church was seeking a photograph that could be used to advertise for the Easter services.  Catherine, our church administrator, brought in some really beautiful and vibrant images.  There were crosses on the hill at sunset, and a shot of a solo cross at sunrise.   However there was one in particular that spoke to me the moment I saw it.  It was a photo of stone steps ascending towards an entrance way that was illuminated.  It hit me almost instantaneously…

‘The Light At The End Of The Tomb.’ 

The image that inspired the words... 

Substituting the word "tomb," in the oft used phrase, for the word "tunnel" gave it a deep feeling of possibility…the sense that after the darkest of times that there is an ending and a mercy and grace in this life and the next.  The idea was immediately embraced by the Church leadership to spearhead the campaign for Easter, and in my head I knew I had my idea for the song.

When I first approached the writing of it, it was obvious it was going to be a retelling of the story.  But how do you draw them into a story they’ve heard a thousand times?

‘The darkest night in the history of the world,
They lay his broken body in the cold, cold ground…’

By calling it "the darkest night in the history of the world" you immediately lend it the kind of gravity that is undeniable.  It immediately engages the listener because you’ve started the song at a defining moment.  In this case, a moment that is an epoch of the Christian faith.

The chorus of the song came very quickly...

‘There's a light at the end of the tomb
The risen saviour breaks the bonds of an empty room
Every face will be amazed 
And God's glory we will praise
As the Son of God is lifted from his doom
There's a light at the end of the tomb’

There’s some tricky internal rhyme in there as well as using the plosive nature of some of the consonants to create a dynamic rhythm.

As often happens, Allison came in and heard the pieces of the song in their formative moments and wiggled her way into the process.  And the song is infinitely better for it.  The second verse returns us to a place where Mary goes to the tomb to mourn and administer burial rites.  She, of course, is unaware of the miracle that just happened.  This was the perfect and necessary choice for the second verse because you’ve already revealed the miracle in the first chorus.  How do you get people to re-engage with the resurrection?  By actually showing the moment of discovery as a beautiful and intimate encounter with Mary, the angel and Christ.

‘The breaking light reveals Mary’s tears,
With spices in her hand to anoint the master’s head…’

The chorus is referential and hyperbolic whereas the second verse is poetic and anecdotal.  And Allison wrote a beautiful verse for the song…thanks, honey.

The rest of the song was very simple.  As the music swept us away into Hallelujah’s, a key change chorus and then a tagged ending.  All the trappings of an uplifting song laid out for the congregation to hear.  And then they blessed us with applause.  Anglican applause is a very rare and valuable commodity and I will treasure that sound and that moment forever.

There’s no question in our hearts that 
‘There’s a Light at the End of the Tomb’ will be on our next CD.  
This will be coming, God willing, in 2014.                         

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worship Wednesdays - 5 Ways to Shake Up Your Summer Worship

Summer is a tricky time in churches. Vacations and blooming backyards pull people from the structure of the sanctuary to the heat-induced malaise of patios and pitchers of icy sweetness. (I’m drifting to Harper Lee’s description of ladies wilting “like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” What an image...)

Most churches pull back in summer. They go from three services to one, opt for casual wear, and fold the choir. Since we’re already taking a break from routine, why not use these months to explore new ideas of creativity, church, and community?

Here are 5 ways to shake up your summer worship:

#1. Go Outside!

Offer worship in the parking lot. Hold Bible study on the sidewalk. Host a hymn-sing on the lawn. Not only will going outside add new dimension to your worship, it will also show your broader community what the church looks like in “real life.”

#2. Offer Summer Concerts.

Take advantage of that quiet sanctuary and put on a concert series! Create a schedule, advertise to the community, and take an offering to support the musicians. Not only will you support the artists in your city, you’ll also offer a non-threatening reason for people to walk through your front doors.

#3. Invite Guest Musicians.

Your band needs a break and your music director needs a vacation, so take advantage of that timing and invite some guest musicians to play on Sunday morning. Choose locals or find out who might be touring in your area. This is also a fun way to introduce new music and styles of worship to your congregation.

#4. Take Song Requests.

Everyone loves to sing their favourites, so let them! Let the congregation know that each Sunday’s music will be chosen from their requests. Collect song titles via email, social networking, or slips of paper. A great way to involve the congregation in the worship planning process!

#5. Start a Post-Cottage Service.

If your congregation is missing Sunday mornings to lounge by the lake, meet them on the way back with a Sunday evening service. They’ll still be in shorts, so keep it casual and relaxing - prayer, uplifting music, and a relevant message. Think about offering cool drinks and snacks so people can share those great fishing stories...

I’d love to hear what your church is doing this summer! 
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below…

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!