Doesn’t Modern Worship Miss God?

No, not unless it’s telling you to miss God.

New Life (Colorado Springs, CO) worship leader Glenn Packiam is in the middle of a great two-part piece about modern worship, entitled “The Problem With Our Critique of Modern Worship.” Whether you’re a worship leader or a worshiper (hey, that’s every Christian) I would recommend reading it.

I know why Glenn’s writing this. It’s the same reason I would write something like this. Because when you’re in a place of leadership in an evangelical Christian church, every congregant has an opinion of how church should run, and their way is inevitably the “right way.” Much of this stems around the worship style.

Because we’re Christians, we can’t just tell people their ideas are stupid (even though plenty are). We need to be kind. And because we’re leaders, we must have a thoughtful response.

With regard to modern worship style and contexts, some people feel it’s missing God. They ask questions like, “Why do we need lights?” and “What’s up with all that bass?” which inevitably leads to “Are we running a rock concert or a church service?”

Assuming you already paused long enough to read Glenn’s article, his first point citing where critics often accuse modern songs of having “too many eruptions of repetitive monosyllabic sounds” is brilliant.

“Because it’s Biblical.”

And he brings in quotes from Fuller Seminary’s Old Testament professor John Goldingay to make the point. What might surprise many Christians today is that ancient Hebrew worship music was even more rhythmic and less melodic than anything we have today. And, if I might add from a modal study, our music has far more major chord voicings than anything they used in Middle East traditions, past or present.

But I’d like to offer a few additions to Glenn’s second point regarding the common accusation that our services are “too much like a rock concert.” Glenn does a great job of discerning how Christians can “inhabit the form” of something from the world while not being of the world. Like metaphor and diverse expression, the Church is a wonderful vehicle for an array of communications.

Here’s some more food for thought.

Firstly, what is so bad about a rock concert? Or any concert for that matter? Somewhere, the term “rock concert” has become synonymous in certain Christian circles as being “of the devil.”

News flash, and I know this might be a shocker, but I’ve been to hundreds of rock concerts and I’ve never seen the devil. I’ve never been encouraged to worship the devil. And I’ve never felt the devil. Granted, I may not have gone to the “proper rock concerts” to experience this, but even that proves my point: not all rock concerts are bad, and similarly, not all church services are good. So making a broad generalization is poor grounds for any argument.

Secondly, I’ve seen some amazing things in rock concerts. I’ve seen how lights can be used to minimize distractions and draw a crowd’s attention to something important. I’ve seen how quality mixing, thorough sound reinforcement, and poignant visual and video effects can provide an audience with a memorable, life-altering experience that they’ll never forget.

Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to do in the church?

So if the question isn’t one of style, but really—if we’re being honest—of content, then what are we promoting with all this technology?

I’m not sure about your church, if it falls into the “modern worship” context or not, but yesterday at mine, our worship leaders talked incessantly about Jesus, lead the church in songs about him, shared scriptures from his Bible, exhorted the church to pray and intercede for the perishing in our community, and prayed for the congregation.

Huh. I’ve never been to a rock concert where that happened. Unless you’re talking about a CCM concert, which I don’t think that’s what critics are trying to cite as evidence.

The truth is, I’ve been to secular rock shows where the front man was more humble than some pastors I’ve met on a Sunday morning. Again, not all, just some. Content always trumps environment.

Why am I so stumped when critics draw the awkward and ill-informed rock concert comparison? Because they’re choosing to use broad strokes when really all they need to say is, “I don’t like electric guitars.” Now at least that would be an honest, accurate statement that we could have a discussion about. Or just say, “I’m always going to think that things were better [in whatever decade they were saved in].” I can work with that! I’m sure that I’ll always think the 90’s were the best. (But they really weren’t).

When we use stereotypes in place of facts, it’s usually because we have not thought out our arguments and believe that generalizations will further impassion our plea. The opposite is true: they undermine our arguments and turn well-meaning people into cause-driven fanatics.

If we’re going to critique anything, let it be whether or not we see the love of Jesus at work among his people. Whether or not we see people using their creative gifts to full effect in directing attention to God and creating an unforgettable experience for others. And whether or not people walk away remembering how exciting it is to see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Guitars For Glory: Guatemala Documentary Short

Guitars For Glory Documentary: San Cristobal Verapaz, Guatemala from Sprig Music on Vimeo.

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Giving stuff away is amazing. Way better than getting something yourself. (It’s almost like Jesus knew what he was talking about).

Jennifer and I had the honor of representing Guitars For Glory during our recent trip to Guatemala last month. This meant surprising three people with brand new guitars. We made sure the cameras were rolling, and managed to produce something we’re all proud of. (Thank you, Sprig Music).

Sure, who wouldn’t like a free guitar?

But what the documentary doesn’t show is all the back-story behind the recipients. Like how Rudy’s father abandoned his family for the US, and Rudy was left to be provider for his four siblings and mother; today, he’s a pillar in his family and his church. Or Roger, who’s given himself fully to educating children, and makes in one year what I make in three weeks. Then there’s Willy, who’s always wanted to lead people in worship on guitar, but knew it’d be impossible, seeing as how it’d take him and his entire family over a decade to save up enough combined money to buy one.

The stories are real. The tears are real. Because the people are real.

And that’s the power we have as being part of the world’s wealthiest people.

Please watch the video. Then thoughtfully consider three things:

1.) Giving to Guitars For Glory so they can continue to spread the message of hope in Jesus through music.

2.) Sponsor a child with Inn Ministries, our hosting organization in Guatemala. I can’t say enough about these people. They’re the real deal, and you’re having a daily impact on children when you give toward their education.

3.) Let me know what you think—about all this. I’d love to hear.

You were born to rock. So get to it.

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Why Teams Always Do Things Better

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There’s an old adage:

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

I’m pretty sure there’s another one. At least there is for me:

Anything worth doing well is worth doing as a team.

And maybe better still:

Anything you want to do well, you’d better do with a team.

Last night, the team pictured above rallied to put on one heck of a show at Indian River High—the largest campus in our county. The event was one of our youth ministry’s LIFTED events, which mixes music, worship, drama, dance and video to support a Gospel message, concluding with an invitation to accept Jesus.

Here are a few reasons I resist doing things without a team:

They’re Smarter Than I Am

When things go wrong and systems fail, I want to be around people that are smarter than me. Or, at the very least, will look at things with different eyes. This allows problems to be treated with new solutions that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

We had a few unforeseen system integration audio issues during set up last night; work arounds came much faster because ideas were shared quickly and freely. We checked one another’s work and talked through some of the more complex signal paths. Because the teams trust each other and are not threatened, even people not on the audio crew were getting involved and doing their best to serve and troubleshoot.

Humor

When the pressure gets high, you need people around you who can make you laugh. The only other release for pressure tends to be rather destructive: you allow it to mount until you snap. And people or things usually get hurt.

Keeping things fun, even in highly stressful scenarios (and I’d argue especially in highly stressful scenarios) is absolutely critical. Dedicated, hard working people who have a lighter side, and know when to augment situational tension with a bit of levity are crucial for letting teams reset and keep things in perspective.

Humor is also a great way for you as a leader to let your team know you’re not drowning in frustrations when things go wrong. At one moment last night when things were especially difficult, I just decided to start dancing. No music. No beat. Just my moves (which are in themselves hilariously pitiful). It made people laugh and reminded us all to keep the main thing the main thing—our core message: we’re here to share the Good News of Jesus with teens.

Ownership

At the end of the day, saying, “I did all that,” gets rather boring. Not because you’re suffering from a lack of ideas, but because you have no one to share it with.

Doing things together means more people are taking pride in what’s happening. And people that do things together end up building stronger bonds because of the process.

This sense of community not only makes the end product more vivid and colorful, but it’s essential in spreading whatever core message you’re attempting to promote.

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Doing things as a team says to history, “We were here. We had something so important to say that we needed many voices to say it with.”

May history never forget us and the future never forsake us.

What are some of the favorite teams you ever worked with? What made them special?

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Quiet But Busy

I’ve had a few close friends note that it’s been quiet around here lately. Quiet, yes. But by no means fruitless. As any who know me might well surmise, my energies have been consumed by other more-pressing activities.

For one, I’m still writing—quite a lot, in fact. But not much of it, if any, is ready for daylight on a public forum. I’ve been writing daily, mostly of theology. While The Sky Riders II is in process, I’m simultaneously working on at least three other non-fiction works, as well as some writings for future songs and messages, all content that I feel needs addressing for the sake of Christians I find myself mentoring and pastoring. This has been further inspired and somewhat initiated by an uptick in my reading and processing of older Christian texts.

Apart from the reading and writing disciplines of my life, I’m in gaged in numerous New Life church activities, all of which have been large in scope and demanding of time. A vision to reach mankind with the Gospel and to make disciples should require nothing less. Our current production of A Watertown Christmas hits this weekend to two sold out audiences. On top of regular Christmas activities, as well as preparations for January’s series and annual fast, my team has had their hands full.

The businesses (CiCis Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery) have also consumed more of my creative attention lately, as I’m overseeing new directives to meet with school administrators and church leaders to ascertain how we might be able to serve their food needs and create win-win scenarios in the community.

I’m also fully engaged in one of my more favorite enterprises at the moment: overseeing the final phases of construction for Sprig Studios, due to open mid-winter. The final electrical work begins today, and we’re building all the custom light fixtures on site. The studio, by nature, begets newfound ventures of music creation, which are also simmering behind the scenes at home and in various nooks of the church.

Life is full and rich, made the most so by my wife, children and close friends, and reminds me of how truly blessed I am to be surrounded by constant beauty, creativity and mission. 2014 holds more adventures still, with calls back to Central America and Europe. May the God of the nations receive the glory that he’s due.

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New Look, Same Incredible Resource: Nina Hopper Vocal Studios

I’m very proud to announce that my amazing, talented, and enigmatic mother – from whom so much of my personality is derived – has officially begun taking new vocal students here in Northern New York.

For those that know about Nina, her diverse musical background, and her history in the greater New York music community, this is an obvious blessing for those in her new home of Jefferson County. Since moving here 10 months ago, I’ve been eager to see what she (and my father) will impart to this region to enrich and beautify the lives those who live here; the joy of appreciating and creating music being just one of those contributions.

For those who don’t know about her, I’m excited to see their response, for she is one of the most talented, enthusiastic, joy-filled people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. And her passion for the arts is certainly one of the main reasons I am thriving as an artist today. I owe her a deep debt of love.

So help me spread the word, if you don’t mind; at the very least, tell those you know in Northern New York about her website. She’s accepting new students at the moment, and getting a terrific response. I’m so excited for her, and for those whose lives will be touched by her just as mine has.

Go make some noise!

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Ignite: Musicians Conference

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My home church, New Life, hosted the first Ignite: Musicians Conference on our campus in Watertown earlier this week on Tuesday. The heart was to invest into the training and betterment of artists and engineers in our county by bringing in high-end, Christian teachers and coaches at no expense to attendees.

The night consisted of two parts: breakout clinics for individual disciplines, and a group clinic on the main stage with the entire team.

We also asked the teachers to come in early so they could offer private lessons to people in the community (*the only paid portion of the event, with payment going directly to the teachers).

I think the event was a win-win, allowing musicians in our region free access to quality training, and giving teachers a chance to impart their skills to willing players along with giving them a revenue stream.

Here are some pics from the event that I posted on Instagram. Enjoy!

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Sing Hallelujah

Mike Kim and Nate Cronk performing “Sing Hallelujah” at Red Booth Studios


My buddies Mike Kim and Nate Cronk just released their new single together, Sing Hallelujah. Go snag the track on iTunes, and watch the music video on YouTube. (You may or may not see a crazy bald white guy in the video). The video was shot on-location at Red Booth Studios in Rochester, NY – shout out to the notoriously good-looking Brian & Kim Moore.

Hope it blesses you and all those you know.

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What’s the Opposite of Communism?

If you wanted to take over the world, what would your agenda look like?

Try this on for size:

Infiltrate the press. Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, policymaking positions.

Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.

Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. Eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.

Control art critics and directors of art museums. “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.”

Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship” and a violation of free speech and free press.

Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.

Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy.”

Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social” religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity which does not need a “religious crutch.”

Are these shocking because of how brash they seem? Or is it because the reality of their materialization is a little too close for comfort?

Like, it’s already happening.

These are just eight of the Communist Goals as recorded by U.S. Congressman Albert S. Herlong, Jr. of Florida (Congressional Record Appendix, pp. A34-A35, January 10, 1963). The full list can be found in numerous places on the internet, including here, here, here and here.

Yeah, 1963.

It’s taken a while. But here they are. And here we are.

Knowing the enemy’s plan, however, is not only good for staying it off, but for countering it. Just try the inverse:

Support the freedom of press. Submit book-review assignments, editorial writings, and esteem policymaking positions.

Work to serve the public through key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures by creating virtuous content.

Continue affirming American culture by supporting all forms of creative, artistic expression. Eliminate all bad sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute beautiful, graceful and meaningful forms.

Proliferate art connoisseurs and directors of art museums. “Our plan is to promote beautiful, tasteful, meaningful art.”

Support all laws against obscenity by calling them “morally degrading,” and a violation of human decency and press-worthy virtue.

Build up cultural standards of morality by discrediting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.

Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “abnormal, unnatural, unhealthy.”

Promote churches and replace “social” religion with joyful worship of God. Promote the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual understanding and divine experience of the Lord.

Now that’s something to dedicate your life to. It’s called The Kingdom.

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Europe In Pics

I just got in late last night from Europe.

Exhausted.

But as a Christ-follower, having one’s life spent on the welfare of others is one of the greatest blessings imaginable.

Speaking and leading worship at the Radikal For Jesus youth conference in northern France is always inspiring. I’ve rarely attended a more spiritually-free gathering anywhere in the world. Nations represented include Scotland, Mexico, Spain, Belgium, Congo and Switzerland.

I managed two quick stops in Madrid and Brussels on this trip too. Always great photo-ops.

Among my favorite moments were the messages, the 4-hour long worship sets, 1 planned baptism and 15 spontaneous ones, and celebrating my 10th year of working with Church Without Walls in Longwy, France.

Here’s my trip in pics.

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It Feels Like a Crossword Puzzle (Worship Song Writing with Brenton Brown Day 3)

Today wraps up my third and final day of posting notes taken from the worship song writer’s workshop I sat in on with master song writer Brenton Brown. Of his three points, this was his shortest, but poignant nonetheless.

In fact, I’ll leave it worded exactly as he delivered it.

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It Feels Like a Crossword Puzzle

Sometimes writing a song is like trying to fill out a crossword puzzle. Which I suck at. The puzzle says, “Name a five-letter word for a flat service.” After drilling my brain for hours, I decide there simply is no such word. Then in desperation I walk around the house asking people, “What’s a five-letter word for a flat service?”

Table.

Man, what didn’t I think of that? Because I wasn’t really dedicated to hunting the word down. I just wanted it easy.

Stop rhyming the last word in a stanza with praise, and name, and grace – there are other words out there that work. Please hunt them down! Work at it!

‘Nough said.

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It Feels Like Preparing a One Point Sermon (Worship Song Writing with Brenton Brown Day 2)

This is a continuation of my 3-day series on notes taken from Brenton Brown’s workshop on worship song writing at CMS in Buffalo, NY.

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It Feels Like Preparing a One Point Sermon

Songs are short. They use 100 words to make a point.

What’s the main point of your song, and the reasons (sub clauses) for the main point? How tightly argued are the successful songs you know/write? The reasons behind them?

How well a song is received is determined by how strong and concise an argument it makes.

-Brenton Brown

To lead people in prayer you need to give them a clear prayer.

Find out what’s not being said doctrinally around you. Because you’re actually responsible for teaching them doctrine in your songs. And even more severely:

People remember your songs long after they remember your sermons.

-Brenton Brown

Ask your teaching pastor where your church is lacking. Writing worship songs shapes the way people think about the Lord – it’s a teaching role.

The first gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to communicate with people in their own languages. Likewise, how are you pursuing trustworthy communication?

Writing a worship song is composed of three core elements:

1.) Have something worth saying.
2.) Say it in a way people will understand.
3.) Say it persuasively.

Don’t waste one word.

As you come out of a verse, just before you sing the chorus to a song you’re writing, say, “And that’s why I want to say…” Then you’ll have your chorus.

-Brian Doerksen

The song Here I Am to Worship has 11 sub-clauses to support the reason to worship right now.

Repetition also serves as a type of sub-clause.

Example: let my life revolve around you, be my focus, be the center, be the most important thing in my life. All saying the same thing, just different ways of saying it.

The Koran is not allowed to be translated; meanwhile Pentecost opened up Biblical (and dangerous but potentially powerful) re-interpretations.

David Wilcox (folk music writer) tries to fill 3 legal pads with a single theme of thought.

Storytelling worship songs are difficult to write, and not popular in pop music (almost exclusively in country, however). But they’re extremely effective. To work in worship, they must encompass a universal theme (Example: I Coming Back To The Heart of Worship: first the music faded, then You searched deeper, now I’m coming back, etc).

Universal themes are essential. During a particular songwriting competition we held back in England, we had one great entry that had a bogus ending: “God you’re amazing / Your power is awesome in the place / You heal your people / And my cousin Dave.”

How to chose your topic? Yes, some songs flow Pentecostally and just “happen” to us; but others we must labor over. Start to think about your songs as you would a sermon: it makes it easier. Like Alister McGrath said about writing sermones, at a certain point in writing a song you’re going to have to study.

Lastly, try lowering your goals as a writer. For example, yes, everyone wants to write a collection of songs in a week that are worthy of recording on a CD; but how about just vowing to write one good song a year – one song you’re really proud of and that stands on it’s own. Now that’s a solid goal.