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What Every Church Music Leader Should Know About Preparation

A few days ago I ran across a copy of the Boy Scout handbook. It bought back memories of designing pinewood derby cars and earning merit badges for successfully completing a practical skill.

Be PreparedI even remembered the Boy Scout Promise:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Looking back at that promise, I can see how important those basic ideals were in shaping my life. The organization may have strayed since my memories of those days but the one fundamental truth or motto lives on.

“BE PREPARED”

I read in the Bible of two men who helped me understand the importance of preparedness. This understanding helped me to be a better music leader and in return, benefited our church ministry.

The first man is Rehoboam. This was Solomon’s son, the last king of the united nation of Israel. The Bible doesn’t have much good to say about him for several reasons:

  • He followed unwise advise from his friends and which ultimately divided the kingdom
  • He married heathen women, as his father Solomon had done
  • He abandoned the worship of God and allowed idolatry to flourish

In II Chronicles 12:14 we read that Rehoboam “did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord”

The second man is Jehoshaphat. Now, Jehoshaphat’s story glows with his devotion to the LORD. He never once fell into the pagan religion or practices that plagued neighboring Israel, and many of Judah’s kings as well.

There are very good things found about Jehoshaphat:

  • He strengthened the cities to protect the land and the people from their enemies
  • He sought the God of his fathers, such as king David did
  • He walked in God’s commandments (was obedient and loving)
  • He didn’t follow the ways of the corrupt kings of Israel
  • He didn’t seek false gods or follow the nations who worship Baal and other things

The differences between the two men boil down to a matter of the heart and preparedness. In Chronicles 19:3 we see concerning Jehoshaphat,hast prepared thine heart to seek God”

The lesson I see from these two men is two fold:

  • An unprepared heart could lead to evil practices
  • A prepared heart could lead to accomplishing some good things for God

Let me apply this to the area of our music ministry. Just like the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” we have a responsibility to do our best in planning and organizing our music ministries. In order to accomplish this, we must first consider the preparation of the heart of the minister of music.
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Highlights of Our Website Redo

Updates to Our Website

Recent Updates

Over the past several months I have been working on making our website more useful for you and your music ministry.

Here are few highlights that I’m sure you will benefit from, and more to come!

  • Improved product searching – Our music has been divided into different categories (SATB, SAB, Two Part, Mission Related) so you can easily search for music that best fits you group.
  • Music Downloads – If you need an arrangement fast, we now have our music ready to be downloaded as a PDF file to be printed when you need it, providing copyright laws are followed.
  • Orchestrations – Orchestrations are available for most of our arrangements, especially those arranged as mission conference themes.
  • Free Sacred Music – It’s just a start, but there are some great arrangements out there available for free. Check often for new listings.
  • Guest Writers – I asked several of our arrangers to write guest posts for us this year. Look for their posts and other interesting articles related to the ministry of music.
  • Easy Share Buttons – We have made it easy to share posts and products with your friends on your favorite social networking site.

How You Can Help

  • Your input is important to me – Let me know how I can be helpful to your ministry. Your ideas will guide me as to what articles would be most beneficial to post.
  • Yes, we are accepting submissions - If you have sacred music arrangements for voice, piano, or other instruments send them my way. We are looking to increase our catalog this new year.
  • Sharing is caring – Help us  spread the word about our music to the people you know through your social networks. This will help greatly in ranking higher the Google search engine.

 

Does God Care About How We Use and Select Worship Music? Part 2

Does God Care about our worship music part 2

God Wants Us to Reject Our Own Methods of Worship

Lev. 10:1-3 helps us understand this truth

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.

In verse one; we see that man has the tendency to worship God his own way (1). Coincidently, Nadab and Abihu worshipped God their own way (1a). They both offered a “strange” or an unauthorized fire to the Lord.

Some possibilities of this strange fire may have been:

  • going into an unauthorized place in the sanctuary
  • offering certain coals that were from outside the temple
  • offering the incense at the wrong time of day
  • using their own ingredients for the incense for their own purposes

[1] Although both men seemed sincere in their worship, a sincere heart still falls short of an obedient heart which God wants from each one of us (I Sam. 15:22). Nadab and Abihu also disobeyed God in their worship. They “offered strange fire before the LORD, which He commanded them not to do” (1b).

In Exodus 30:9, 34-38, God clearly commands Aaron and his sons to follow His exact ingredients and regulations. It is also clear that they are not to offer strange incense to Him made by human creativity. God also explicitly states the consequence of the offender who disobeys His command “will be cut off from his people” (Exod. 30:38b). [click to continue…]

Verses You Didn’t Know Were About Worship Music (Part II)

About Worship Music

In the last post, we saw how Paul made a deliberate decision to exclude the human tools of rhetoric from his preaching of the gospel of Christ. He knew that by adding a heavy emotional pull to his evangelism, he would see people come to Christ simply because they were caught up in a state of heightened feeling.

Instead, Paul made sure that what affected his audience members was the power of God that was behind the gospel. Just how did he do that?

The Power of God

First of all, let’s establish what Paul was not saying. He was not stating that our worship and proclamation of the gospel should be void of emotional content. How could it be?

Our salvation from eternal condemnation and our restored relationship with God should inspire great emotional response. Paul frequently uses beautiful, poetic language in his letters to show just how deeply God’s love has touched his heart.

Consider these passages written by Paul, which are beloved by all true Christians:

  • “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)
  • “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:” (Philippians 1:23)
  • “Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,” (Ephesians 1:16-19)

The issue that Paul is getting at in I Corinthians 2:1-5 is one of clarity. The emotion that he revealed while preaching the gospel was never in danger of obscuring the truth of his message. He made sure that he did not bring a crowd to tears with skillful speech and then invite them to give their hearts to God. When someone fell before the Lord during a sermon of Paul’s, it was because they had been touched by God’s supernatural working, not by Paul’s ability to turn a phrase.

This is the mystery of the gospel—that it is foolishness to the lost but the power of God to those who know Him.

If a particular style of music or method of presentation “fits in” with what most people in the lost world enjoy, it is by definition not foolishness to the lost.

Ministers of music should be extremely cautious about using such music in a worship context, and even more cautious about using it for evangelism.

Paul’s focus in this passage is on evangelism, and we understand that worship, in contrast, is primarily intended for believers and directed toward God. But the root principle is unmistakable:

Human devices that arouse the emotions are very dangerous when combined with the testimony of God. The moment emotion moves from a supporting to a leading role, it derails our worship and turns it into a human-centered experience.

It is up to us as ministry leaders to constantly monitor the response of our congregation to our musical presentation, looking for indications that we might be moving people with the wisdom of men instead of allowing God to use His power to move them.

To lost humanity, affecting the emotion is the supreme goal of art. Painting, acting, poetry, and especially music are all directed toward altering the feelings of those in the audience. When worship of the one true God is the goal, however, even emotion must assume the role of a servant.

Just as we desire for our church members to look past the people on the platform and see truth about God instead, we should endeavor to present music that places God’s majestic attributes front and center.

If our worship is genuine, there will be an appropriate emotional content to it automatically. However, deliberately using the most powerful emotional tools that our culture has been able to design will almost certainly take the place of whatever words we are singing.

There are a myriad of specific applications that Paul’s warning should inspire. My prayer is that each person who leads God’s people in worship would humbly seek to present truth about God while keeping emotion in the correct balance. The result will be worship that the world does not understand completely, but that brings true believers closer to their Lord.

Does God Care About How We Use and Select Worship Music? Part 1

Does God care about how we use and select worship music?

Does God Care About Our Methodology?

Does God care about our methodology in how we use and select music in our worship today? This is a question that we often do not ponder upon enough or dismiss quickly since we erroneously tend to assume that the Bible does not answer this question. Christians are all too eager to embrace the new and relevant in order to reach the lost, while not giving much consideration to the heartbeat of the local church; worship.

The Heartbeat of the Local Church; Worship

Worship comes from an old Anglo-saxon word, weorthscipe, which conveys giving worth, respect, and reverence to the object of one’s worship which for a true believer is God. There are 110 verses in the OT and 72 verses in the NT where some form of the word worship is used.

It should be noted that in most of these passages, no specific mention of or even an ambiguous reference to music can be found. Rather, the crux of these passages seems to on obedience, humble submission, praise, prayer, and pleasure toward the object of our worship, God.

The focus on worship should be on giving to God and not on getting from God. It must be understood that worship is not merely an event; it is a lifestyle. Thus, worship is both corporate and personal. Therefore, our greatest need is to know God intimately and accurately so that every area of our lives (including our worship) would reflect an accurate view of God according to His Word (Jer. 9:23, 24; Eph. 3:19).

Dr. Michael Barrett correctly concludes, “True worship, therefore, arises from the knowledge of God. The greater the knowledge of God, the greater will be the exercise of true worship.”[i] Therefore, the knowledge of God is essential in understanding how to worship Him. Ron Owens is correct in his premises that “we must know who God is if we are going to worship Him as He desires.”[ii] [click to continue…]

Verses You Didn’t Know Were About Worship Music (Part I)

verses about worship music part 1

Worship Music

As church musicians, we sometimes long for more specific, direct instruction from God’s Word on what our music should sound like.

As we try to balance energy with reverence, new with established, simple with complex, and a myriad of other considerations, it can seem that things would be much easier if the Lord had given us an Epistle to the Music Directors.

Yet, as in so many areas of ministry, there is sufficient direction in Scripture on what our worship music should be like…if we skillfully apply God’s principles.

I would like to introduce you to a passage that you may not have ever thought about in connection with music, but which on closer look has a great deal to say about it.

The Wisdom of Men VS The Power of God

The second chapter of I Corinthians begins this way:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

Let’s establish exactly what point Paul is making with these statements. It is a critical point because, as the conclusion of the passage notes, it affects whether the Corinthian church places its eternal destiny in man or God. That critical point is the manner in which Paul communicated to his audience the gospel of Christ.

Paul is not making a difference between messages, as he does in Galatians 1:6-7 (” I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ”). Rather, he is talking about two different ways in which he could have conveyed the true testimony of God.

Wisdom of Men

The first way would have been that of “excellency of speech” and “enticing words,” summarized as the “man’s wisdom.” Don’t skip over these terms, because they refer to a massively important part of that day’s culture.

Just as our culture enjoys music, film, and theater that awakens emotion within us, Greeks and Romans of Paul’s time were entertained by masters of rhetoric. Audiences willingly allowed these highly trained orators to take them to the depths of sorrow and the heights of ecstasy with their carefully worded speech.

It is difficult for us to understand the popularity that these orators held, but we can get some idea by looking at the way the public today esteems artists that have the power to affect their emotions. Country singers, skilled actors, and others with the ability to draw a tear or a smile are today’s equivalent of Greek and Roman experts in rhetoric.

It’s likely that Paul could have skillfully used the tools of rhetoric on his audience if he had wanted to. He was quite capable speaking in public, even to members of royalty. His education was stellar, and the mastery of Greek that he displays in his letters shows that he could use language with expertise.

But what does Paul say about oratory as it relates to the gospel of Christ? He flatly refused to employ it. He made a conscious effort to avoid using rhetorical devices that might sway his audience members’ emotions without truly changing their hearts.

The Application

Proponents of worship music that employs popular music styles often point to the fact that audience members clearly have an intense worship experience with God. They contrast “dead” traditional services with their energetic worship style.

But signs of emotion are not always signs of truth-based, God-centered worship. Even a song with a doctrinally sound text is capable of distracting a person from the Lord instead of directing them toward Him if the music’s emotional “punch” drowns out the text’s message.

Remember, Paul talked about refusing to communicate the testimony of God using men’s rhetorical devices. He knew that clothing the gospel in emotion-heightening language could easily inspire his listeners to respond with a faith that would, in the end, be rooted in Paul’s ability to speak instead of in God’s ability to save.

In the next post, we will examine the other side of the coin—the power of God—and consider how we can ensure that our music ministry gets its power from God instead of men.

Dr. Dwight Gustafson Will Be Missed and Well Remembered

Dr. Dwight GustafsonAbout 1:00 pm Tuesday morning I received a phone call from a former teacher and friend, Mr. Alex Fields. He was calling to inform me of the passing of Dr. Dwight Gustafson. The last time I had seen Dr. Gus was at the Wilds in 2013. He was at the camp signing copies of his book, “A Brighter Witness: Conversations on the Christian and the Arts.” His book is a collection of essays that recount his memories—moments of art, music, and family.

I remember watching him move to his seat slowly as he was greeted by so many of his former students.  The fond memories of my college days and the interaction we had during countless productions came flooding back to me. Dr. Gus was a godly man whose charm and gracious ways would endear you to him almost immediately.  I loved the way he could paint a picture in our mind with the music he wrote and how he made the life of Sheffey come alive with his masterful film score. On a funnier side, I loved to see him be crazy when he acted out “My Old Flame” for a student body assembly.

His life touched thousands of students over the years, including me. Dr. Gus alway taught us to strive for excellence and to live our lives to bring glory and honor to the Lord. He has set us that example for sure.

We will miss you!

I would love to hear about your memories of Dr. Gus too.