Monday, July 26, 2010

MWS503 Project - A Proposal

What we sing about God is what we know about God. This is especially true in a contemporary worship setting. The songs we sing and the way we sing them shape our view of God and the part we play in Worship and His Story. If we are looking for a renewal of worship we need to start with the songs we are singing. With purpose, intention and time contemporary songs can be used, in context, to reshape our view of who God is in a very positive and healthy way. In a contemporary setting, worship renewal really begins with a song – not just a song, but an arc or flow of songs - So, what happens to Renewal when we have to run a Summer Student music ministry team? The team is out on the road, playing in situations where Worship Renewal, God’s Story and Worship flow may not be understood. Since Worship Renewal is also relational and requires commitment and care, and the summer ministry context is short, (for example, you are at a camp for one week) is it possible for this team to convey Worship Renewal at all? I don't know if they can in the way that Worship Renewal is usually spoken of but they can plant seeds of Renewal. And everything the team does should be focused around planting those seeds. But if a team is to plant they must be willing to step into the current of God’s Story and own it themselves. If the team is on board, God’s Story will flow wherever they go.

So here is what I am thinking - In a College Music Ministry context - Shifting from Modern/Pragmatic (Emotional/Popular/Topical/Situational) music sets to a Narrative/Story driven worship flow.

This project will focus on the following areas:

-During team training help team members engage in God’s Story for possibly the first time through digging into personal context and attempting to see how our stories fit into God’s Story.

-To help exemplify God’s Story in a corporate contemporary worship music setting.

-Restructuring and critiquing common thought progressions concerning the purpose of corporate contemporary worship music.

-Apply above points in a College Music Ministry context (camp/retreat/gig) where worship may not seen in light of God’s Story and individuals vary in their own story in the worlds of Modernism and Post-Modernism (or as Weber puts it Traditional Evangelical, Pragmatic Evangelical, Younger Evangelical)

-Create song and set lists that convey God’s Story so that the Story can be told even in a 15 minute set.

I will also explore the following questions:

-How has the shift from Modernism to Post-modernism changed the way we minister to youth? (The Younger-Younger Evangelicals :) and is this change in the way worship ministry is done even necessary.

-What is God’s story and how do we fit into it?

-Why is telling God’s Story important in worship; either corporate or personal?

-What are some examples of Narrative driven worship?

-What are some common misconceptions about the purpose of corporate worship; specifically in the contemporary realm?

-Is it possible to develop a ministry team through narrative based training as opposed to text book step by step training?

-What are some of the challenges of Worship Renewal in a summer ministry context?

-How can we overcome these challenges?

I would like any help I can get with this so if anyone has experience in this area, or thoughts on any of my purposed questions please let me know!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do you understand the words you are putting into my mouth? Part 2

As someone who has worked most of my life in the arena of Christian worship I know that one of the biggest struggles in worship planning, whether people know it or not, is song selection. Two posts ago I wrote about contemporary worship music and finding value in some of the more popular songs. So how does this fit with what I was rambling about in part one? It is easy to select songs on auto pilot, to just pick a song because it is powerful or emotional or says some nice things. Even when being intentional, song selection is a difficult task. This past Sunday I was in a service where a song contained one line that referenced something from the parable of the Prodigal Son, one line that referred to some Old Testament prophecy about Christ dying and one line that was something nice Christian people say – kind of like “Pray a hedge of protection.” (that wasn’t the line, but you know what I mean… who says hedge of protection anyway??). I felt like you needed a degree in Biblical Literature to figure out what the song was about. The point is, as lead worshipers, we cannot just pick songs on auto pilot, shove words, terms and phrases into peoples mouths and expect everything to be OK. Picking songs without considering its inherent context and then neglecting the context of your congregation is a travesty. Moving to a model where all imagery and metaphor is left out is not necessary. However what is needed is for song selection to become more of an art form rather than a "thing to do."

Every person has their own context; their own story. But that doesn’t mean we water down the message – Service content and structure is the most important thing. Songs shouldn’t just be thought of thoroughly, but I would take it a step further and suggest that everything that happens in a corporate worship service must flow from the same point.

The purpose of a corporate service should be obvious not because the pastor says so half way through, but because there is a clear focus on the content of worship. The beauty liturgy is that everything focuses around the content – living out God’s story for the world. The beauty of freedom in worship is that we can tailor the structure around that content to fit our local context and community. Even if common sense is untrustworthy we are not left to our own devices. Things like Calvin’s Five Points or the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (scripture, reason, tradition, experience) do come from men but have proven themselves through time. We can also look to the early church fathers and even Christ as our example. Even then we are one with Christ through the Holy Spirit. But as leaders in worship we need to start with self sacrifice; we lay down personal preference and truly consider the community. The truth in the message may only count in the hearts and minds of a specific community, so we must be careful – truth may end up being missed all together. I don’t think corporate worship will ever be perfect until we reached heaven, where we will no longer be corrupt and faulty. But I do think we need to consider the whole person, physically, mentally and spiritually, into account before when planned how they will meet God as a community.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Do you understand the words you're putting into my mouth? Part 1.

(Disclaimer – The following needs to be taken in the context of this blog. This Christ-centered blog about Christian worship and culture and should be considered as part of a whole. If it doesn’t seem like I am explaining enough it is because I have already or will eventually. Anyway, it is a blog so take it as seriously as you take any other form of unregulated media. Thank you.)

This is a two part post – one on common sense and personal responsibility and one on corporate worship song selection. I have been wrestling with these topics over the past few weeks and in only the last day or two have I realized that they really go together and are actually un-separable.

Let us start with my first proposition: Common Sense isn’t Common. I hear about “common sense politics,” and “common sense understandings.” Common sense is even used to bypass policy and structure. I have been a part of churches where the question has come up, “Who gets to get my kid out of Sunday school/Nursery?” and the answer is “Well, let’s just use common sense, we’re a church.” It can be seen that “Common Sense” isn’t only uncommon but almost impossible to achieve. Not only that; fully flowing with common sense can even be dangerous. What is understood as common sense is a community understanding of what is right and what is wrong. What happens when that community is entered into from the outside or broken up? The understanding is no longer common, but learned and adjusted to or recreated by the new members. I have started to see that there is some tension when “common sense” is laid out as an overarching standard – if there is true common sense, it cannot be totally lived by because everyone comes from a different culture or community. Maybe more importantly, common sense cannot be a standard to live by because there is sin in the world. Yes, there may be grace that has been revealed to us all but in light of sin we are all corrupt. As a Christian I say, “yes we are all sinners.” However we are not just the perpetrators of sin but also the victims. This victimization affects us so much that even our basic common sense based decision will be corrupt. Not just corrupt in that we do bad things, but corrupt to the point where we do not even physically and mentally function properly; even down to our common sensibility.

Here is where I start feeling tension. I identify with many people who are strong evangelical Christians. The big thing they talk about when personal problems arise is personal responsibility and common sense. You have this problem? Well, it is because of sin. Be a responsible person, follow the common sense rules revealed in the Bible and you are good to go. We have grace but as long as you follow the logical path of personal responsibility and common sense you are good to go; if you slip up that means you are falling back into sin. It is almost like Jesus is the Jiminy Cricket of common sense. This sounds great, but this is where things get tricky. These particular evangelicals don’t seem to take seriously issues like the diseases of addiction, depression, mental illness or cultural/community driven differences. Even though our bodies can be healed by medicine and therapy, for some there is no room for these kinds of treatments when it comes to the brain. In these circles the brain, actions and decision are all spiritual and personal and have nothing to do with a possible physical flaw. Psychological study may have neglected the spiritual side of humanity, but great segments of Christianity have neglected scientific understandings of the brain.

What does any of this have to do with leading corporate worship…. To Be Continued.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Results are In

I am now posting the long awaited results to the project I was working on earlier this year. My last two posts entitled "Picking the Best" were mainly thoughts and ideas on corporate worship song selection and from those thoughts this project was born.

This project was twofold –

1) The first mission of this project was to gain some perspective on CCLI’s top 15 Hot 100 songs. I really wanted to dig into the content of the most popular contemporary worship songs and find out what makes them tick. Why are they popular? Are they fertile soil for the growth and renewal? Do they foster an understanding of worship essentials? This was a very humbling experience as I had to take an honest look at songs I liked and didn’t like.

2) As someone who would like to teach Worship Studies, I thought this project would be a great place to test the waters of worship renewal facilitation. In this project I lead some of my friends through a similar journey of critique. Not only did I gain perspective by doing this project with others but I was able to educate those around my by giving them a venue where they could think and grow as they studied these songs. Through this group aspect I gained experience helping lead a worship renewal project.

We ran all of the songs through the criteria mentioned above. The list of questions is not perfect but was intended to be a starting point for song critique. The criteria come about originally when Dr. Brian Walrath and I wanted to put together a filter for our college's summer worship ministry teams. Instead of having the student leaders pick whatever songs they liked we really wanted them to think about the content – they aren’t there to just lead kids and kill time, they are shaping the spiritual understanding of thousands. I applied this same idea as I led my friends through this project.

As I went all through all fifteen songs the group members went through three songs each. The data I collected came to two reviews of each song. “Picking the Best,” wasn’t meant to be the end all for a song but a flexible magnifying glass where we could ask specific questions and come to our own, educated, conclusions on a song’s value. I didn’t really know what I would find in this project. But I did come to a few overarching yet important conclusions about contemporary worship songs in general:

1) The way a song is used can make or break a song. These songs were written for specific purposes and with specific ideas in mind. Scripture should not be used out of context for our own ends, the same goes for songs for worship.

2) Very few of these songs can stand on their own. For a song to be used appropriately it needs to be paired with scripture or strung together with other songs to tell a story. It need to be put into context.

3) Popular worship songs are just that, Pop-Worship. The music is catchy but weak, the content is weak, but they say nice things that are hardly disagreeable on first listen.

4) If we desire worship education through renewal, many of these songs are poor selections because they do not pursue renewal. I found more worship renewal through education in my group’s dissection of these songs than I have ever seen in people actually singing them.

5) If it is true that what we sing about God is what we know about God, then we are in trouble. Much of the content of these songs focuses on an extremely personal God who seems to owe us blessings.

6) These songs have become traditional standers for churches without traditions. In the contemporary church we criticize liturgical congregations for not being free and authentic. We mock their memorized prayers and creeds by saying “you don’t even know what is coming out of your mouth.” But at the same time, we are singing these songs that have less meaning and we never ask why.

7) There is still hope. While I will probably toss many of these songs right out of my repertoire, some of the songs are very solid. Songs like “How Great is our God,” and “Jesus Messiah,” may have a there faults, but they are Biblically solid and theologically true – however, as always, context is important.

8) Any person in a position of leadership over corporate worship needs to build a team whose sole purpose is to examine the content of every song that is sung. Prior to this project I already had some biases for and against a few songs. Through the eyes of others some of my speculations were confirmed. But in many cases things were pointed out that I hadn’t even thought of.

All in all, this project was extremely edifying. It was a challenge coordinating five others in this project. It was also difficult seeing the diet of the typical American contemporary congregation. But I learned a lot and I got to see my friends gain an understanding of worship renewal and see what I am doing at the Institute for Worship Studies. I felt like I really got to put my new found knowledge to practical use. At the same time I was able to include others on my journey and see them grow. If nothing else I am very glad for that.