A Modern Puritan

Lost in wonder, love and praise. Follow along as we seek to uneclipse Christ in our lives.


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An Open Letter to Praise Bands

Great article by James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2012/02/open-letter-to-praise-bands.html

Dear Praise Band,

I so appreciate your willingness and desire to offer up your gifts to God in worship. I appreciate your devotion and celebrate your faithfulness–schlepping to church early, Sunday after Sunday, making time for practice mid-week, learning and writing new songs, and so much more. Like those skilled artists and artisans that God used to create the tabernacle (Exodus 36), you are willing to put your artistic gifts in service to the Triune God.

So please receive this little missive in the spirit it is meant: as an encouragement to reflect on the practice of “leading worship.” It seems to me that you are often simply co-opted into a practice without being encouraged to reflect on its rationale, its “reason why.” In other words, it seems to me that you are often recruited to “lead worship” without much opportunity to pause and reflect on the nature of “worship” and what it would mean to “lead.”

In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

So let me offer just a few brief axioms with the hope of encouraging new reflection on the practice of “leading worship”:

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.

Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.

In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And whileyou may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.

3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity–even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

Please consider these points carefully and recognize what I am not saying. This isn’t just some plea for “traditional” worship and a critique of “contemporary” worship. Don’t mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn’t with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we “lead worship?” If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God–that worship is not merely expressive but also formative–then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums.

Much, much more could be said. But let me stop here, and please receive this as the encouragement it’s meant to be. I would love to see you continue to offer your artistic gifts in worship to the Triune God who is teaching us a new song.

Most sincerely,

Jamie


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4 Dysfunctions of Congregational Singing

There are times when sitting in a sanctuary or community center or reissued movie theater on a Sunday morning is nothing less than an affront to the ears. All around us our brothers and sisters mumble and slur their way through the songs, while everyone tries to keep from being distracted. There is a lack of quality singing in churches each week. So do we need to give our congregations singing lessons? That would be hilarious! By quality singing, I don’t mean vocal excellence. What they need is not singing lessons but rather the permission to sing. Just like in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “Happy Birthday,” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” If your church doesn’t sing it’s probably because of one of two things: either they haven’t been invited to sing or the obstacles to their singing have not been removed. I have identified four things that hinder congregational participation.

4 Dysfunctions of Congregational Singing:

1. Not realizing the congregation is present

Great communicators, actors, comedians, professional singers and yes, great pastors are aware that there are actually people in the room. As in any gathering the crowd must feel welcomed and comfortable. So is the case with congregational worship. An intentional, warm welcome is important. I am not saying that a “greeting” has to be the opening of the worship experience but a nice smile goes a long way, then clear direction as to who is singing and who isn’t. Though the trend is not to over direct people, clear direction as to sitting and standing is surprisingly important. Corporate reading of Scripture is also an important activity toward congregational participation.

Note: It’s my opinion that in an intergenerational congregational context, that 12 minutes is a good amount of time for people to stand. Standing longer than that will affect the concentration level for many people. In a crowd filled with younger age demographic this really doesn’t matter.

2. Vanilla song choices

The process of finding great songs is extremely important. Oh it’s easy to follow the normal path to find songs, but to find great songs that are congregational in their appeal is an entirely different story. I have a friend who is a photographer with National Geographic and he told me that to get 30 pictures for a National Geographic article, he took 14,000 pictures. Finding great songs requires a lot of time. The lesson here is, don’t settle on the easiest way to find good songs. Recruit people to help you and take the time to find great songs. As well, do not just depend on your own personal tastes in choosing songs. You will be fooled.

3. Bad key choices

Really? Why does this matter? Well it doesn’t matter at a rock concert or in an auditorium filled with 18 to 35 year olds, but church has wider age span. So the rule of thumb is that men sing higher than women and women sing lower than men. Crazy? Oh but it’s true. Just take note the next time a female is leading worship. The songs will, for the most part be in keys that are more singable for the intergenerational congregation. Most male worship leaders, in order to sing more comfortably put songs a higher range. When this happens, the congregation often is left behind. This rule does not apply for well-known worship artist concerts. In this case everybody in the room knows all the songs and can sing them in any key. Be intentional about key choices for your congregation.

4. Music that is too “busy”

In a contemporary worship band there is a tendency for everyone in the band to play too many notes at the same time. This can be helped by “thinning out” the arrangement. Change the parts that band member plays from verse to verse, chorus to chorus. Add things, take things out. Be creative with this. But most of all avoid the “sameness.” This takes a lot of thought and experimentation, so most of these ideas need to come prior to the rehearsal. But the congregation needs to hear themselves sing. And the congregation needs to be inspired by the music. Just like in the movies, music embellishes the moment. But playing “too busy” causes numbness, and boredom sets in. As the jazz legend said, “It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.”

Theologian, John Calvin says, “singing subdues the fallen heart and retrains wayward affections.St. Augustinesays, “Singing is praying. When one sings one prays twice. While singing in the front of the Lord, we are in touch with the deepest center of our heart.”

Col: 3:16 - Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

-Stan Endicott
Complements of: http://worshipleadermedia.com/congregational-singing-lessons/


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An Interview with Keith and Kristyn Getty: Part 2

Baptist Press: What distinguishes a hymn?

Keith Getty: There’s no scientific answer. If you go to England, they will tell you that hymns are songs in the English tradition of hymn writing, and something like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” or “I Come to the Garden” or “Because He Lives” are Gospel songs, and modern worship songs are worship songs. If you go to America, everything written before 1980, for the most part, is called a hymn, and everything written after about 1980 … suddenly is a worship song. So everybody has a different definition of it. Because they have an artistry that is slightly more timeless and slightly stronger, I kind of gravitate toward [hymns]. And I think there is something to be said about valuing the heritage that we have. I walk around Nashville, and there are all sorts of heritage sites — civil war battlefields, buildings, that represent something of our heritage. It seems a curious arrogance to me that musicians only want to sing songs that are contemporary; I say that to myself as well, because I’m a writer and I want to use my own songs. We need to have some understanding of the past that we can learn from, because each generation will be visited through the eyes of history as having its strengths and weaknesses.

Baptist Press: So you see that we lose something when we don’t sing hymns?

Keith Getty: I think when we don’t listen to those who have gone before us and we don’t have some sense of understanding from the past …

Kristyn Getty: And we don’t acknowledge that we’re part of something greater than ourselves. People have been creating music and art for generations. We can’t assume that we operate in a vacuum and are not connected to anything but ourselves. [Singing hymns and recognizing the past] helps us be better, it helps us not be arrogant in how we consider ourselves. And it helps us also be mindful of what it is we’re passing on to the next people.

Baptist Press: When you’re writing a hymn, what is the goal?

Keith Getty: To write a piece of art that somehow helps a congregation of people be illuminated by some character of God, and respond to it in a song. In congregational worship, you’re writing for an artist, and that artist is singing to an audience. In congregational worship, the artist is the congregation and the audience is God.

Interview by Michael Foust
Part 1 here: http://modernpuritan.com/2011/11/08/getty-1/
Part 3 here: http://modernpuritan.com/2011/11/11/getty-3/
Complements of: http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=36478
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