by Doug Lawrence
Nelson Mandela's 8 Lessons of Leadership
Nelson Mandela’s eight lessons of leadership are truths that work well for world leaders, and also pretty well for church leaders...
15154 Views 3 Comments 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Speak
Ministry usually involves a lot of talking. We should see to it that our speaking meets our highest personal values and articulates our character well. Doug Lawrence gives good advice about how to do so.
7790 Views 5 Comments Can Teams Plan Worship?
Is worship planning with a team possible? Doug Lawrence provides a 7 step plan to make it work.
7505 Views 1 Comments Renewing Your Thinking About Transcendent Worship...
If we want people to have an opportunity to discover the inexplicable God, we have to create moments of reflection and awe
7024 Views 0 Comments 5 Observations about Worship
I spoke recently on the subject Worship Wars Today: 7 Ways to Protect Your Church from Collateral Damage. (Is this still a hot button? Oh yes, STILL!)
6159 Views 0 Comments 4 ways to Get Along with Colleagues you Wouldn’t have as Friends
Don't like the people you work with? Here are four ways to get along
5857 Views 0 Comments 4 Things You Must Never Do in Ministry
A list of four critical things to never do in your ministry...
5679 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions about Job Interviews
Are you ready for the interview that might land you the perfect church job?
5508 Views 1 Comments We Aren't So Faithful
The Hartford Institute for Religion Research documents, from various sources, that church attendance may be less than we thought it to be
5188 Views 0 Comments 4 Important Ways to Be Yourself in Leadership
Four important things to do when you are giving leadership
5060 Views 0 Comments 6 Thoughts About Surviving Criticism
Every church musician will face criticism—guaranteed—but how you handle it will determine whether you learn from it or it defeats you.
4998 Views 1 Comments For whom do you work?
Establishing for whom you work can lead to more success in your ministry. Here's some help for your decision process...
4943 Views 0 Comments 7 Rules for Being a Good Leader
Seven rules for leadership provided as an encouragement for you to be God’s person wherever you find yourself leading and ministering to people...
4785 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions about Using Media Tech in Your Worship
Every church employee needs to have at least a working knowledge of how this equipment can enhance ministry. These questions will help you gain a "critical mass" of that knowledge...
4736 Views 0 Comments Should Every Church in America Rethink Itself?
Doug Lawrence provides 5 resources to help churches rethink themselves. Use these resources to keep looking around regarding your POV and to shed light in the dark places.
4538 Views 3 Comments 7 Questions I'd Like to Have with God about Worship
I’ve always wondered if God sent His Son to visit one of our churches, would He have stayed until the end of the service
4507 Views 0 Comments The "Great Majority?" Humbug!
Are you weary of “one size fits all” worship? You may, as it turns out (thank God), not be part of “The Great Majority!” The good news, however, is that you may just be a leader!
4242 Views 2 Comments Don't listen to me…whatta I know?
Many pastors and their musicians are like oil and water (that’s not always true—thank God). Yet, they are incredibly fortunate to learn from each other. Learning to applaud differences is at the heart of a good relationship between Pastors and Church Musicians
4128 Views 0 Comments 7 questions you might ask to see if you suffered a failure to worship
7 Questions to help you avoid worship fail
4089 Views 1 Comments Pass it on...
Doug Lawrence says his greatest hope is that each generation of church musicians will love and support the next, without rancor, selfishness, or complaint about lost eras. If that’s what actually happens, imagine how many thousands of people will be encouraged, enlightened, and blessed as they pursue God’s call...
4065 Views 5 Comments 7 Ways to Manage Change in Ministry
Change is inevitable in life, and in ministry. Here are seven ways to manage change.
3989 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions to help decide whether multisite is for your church
7 Questions to deal with cautions that churches might consider before leaping into the multi site paradigm
3981 Views 0 Comments Getting Groups to Collaboration
Collaboration always and uniquely suggests that something will be created—something will come into existence. This is a very different process than working together toward the same end...
3936 Views 0 Comments Let Your Voice Be Heard...Sometimes
Every church musician has been through the frustration of trying to articulate vision for other members of the pastoral team or elders who are charged with oversight of worship programs. Whether the topic is re-building the organ or hiring a drummer for this week's worship band, often times there is an element of embarrassment or even ridicule for musicians who "don't understand" the issues involved (usually money). We know that church musicians participate in a wide variety of discussions, so here are some important suggestions to let your voice be heard.
3800 Views 0 Comments Building a Worship Portfolio
How to build a portfolio of worship that sustains you on the days when you find it difficult to worship
3720 Views 0 Comments 7 essential questions about the whys 'n stuff of worship
7 essential Questions to explore the whys and stuff of worship more deeply
3690 Views 0 Comments Life Insurance—Get Some Today
When we leave the churches where we have served, we become a “dead” person. We loved the family, but we can no longer participate in their future. We should take out some “life insurance” or “legacy insurance” before we go, in order to make sure people say, “He/she really cared about us.”
3662 Views 0 Comments Jesus Habits
You can learn a lot from what Jesus taught, but even more from practicing what He did. The more you devote yourself to emulating Jesus' habits, the more God will bless you.
3636 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions to Individuate Your Church's Vision
7 questions that address the issue of the "cookie cutter" syndrome which turns many churches into Xerox copies of one another. These questions are designed to stimulate conversations about how churches can individuate themselves in a time of renewal, outreach, and missional passion...
3628 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions about Basic Creativity and Imagination
Our imaginations are our chief tool for creating vital and engaging services, but in our “follower” culture, we may be losing our ability to imagine
3623 Views 0 Comments Why I Won't Go to a Church that Labels Me
We are naive, in my opinion, to assume that people will come to our churches because we advertise that such and such a service is traditional or contemporary, as though those were the only two meaningful words that describe our intentions for those worship services...
3499 Views 1 Comments Constructive Waiting in Worship Ministry
Our job when waiting is to let God be our waiting room. It is not a time for isolation. God designed us to wait on Him, not to wait for Him. A non-anxious worship leader is just that—non-anxious.
3269 Views 0 Comments What Christmas Teaches Us About Leadership
Doug Lawrence presents 5 leadership lessons that can be learned from Christmas
3136 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions that will Lead to a Stronger Relationship with your Senior Pastor
Seven questions that can help define working relationships (and facilitate better ones) between a church musician and a pastor
3103 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions to Help Revitalize a Church Staff
Longevity on any team is often a rare commodity, but where it exists, complacency can easily find the necessary window to enter. It's not hard to start doing things by rote and lose the "fire in the belly." Here are 7 Questions to revive the "tired" staff.
2801 Views 0 Comments 7 Questions to Ask about Your Church's Worship Health
Is worship the net result of what we're actually doing? These questions should function as a reality check for those of us involved in helping other people to have an encounter with a living God...
2751 Views 0 Comments Hearts of gold, feet of clay...
The sheer weight of ministry can be mind numbing. You work and work and work, and then it’s Monday again. One’s heart can be numbed too in this process and often is...
2612 Views 3 Comments When Jesus Comes!
Doug Lawrence says he's still anticipating the second coming of Christ with great expectancy, although he knows he may have to wait a long time. But there are some things he simply don’t want to wait for...
1991 Views 0 Comments I’ve always cried at Christmas
Doug Lawrence says that Christmas reminds us that our leadership is at it’s best when it’s at its softest and most humbly adoring
1384 Views 3 Comments Music Ministry Excellence on a Small Budget
Doug Lawrence provides some basic ways to assist excellence in music ministry with whatever resources you have available
1087 Views 3 Comments Love or Legalism
We need to let our volunteers be imperfect in order to encourage humility and the seeking of redemption every time we enter God’s presence to lead worship
877 Views 1 Comments
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Posted 294 days ago ago by Creator Staff 3 Comments
by William Hatcher
Writing about such a weighty topic carries a certain and obvious risk—for more reasons than one. First, I may praise that kind of music which you love—and you will feel comforted—but perhaps bored. I may criticize music which you love—and you may feel irate and question my taste and judgment. Mostly though, despite premiering many new works, despite my former grad students calling me “the Evil Knieval of choral music,” despite a continuing fascination for new and sometimes strange styles of choral compositions—I’m now thought of as a traditionalist! I’m your token legit guy!
But I’ve learned a few things: Growing old is not for sissies. Silence is sometimes the best answer. The people you care about most are taken from you too soon, and the less important people just never go away.
There have been more changes in worship music in the past 30 years than the past 130. Why? Or, one should ask—why not? Lets look at these changes.
Are we there yet?
First we need to take note of the various kinds of worship that have developed—some just in recent years. We’ll look at music that is seemingly appropriate for these kinds of worship, the apparent impact of these changes, and a wild guess or two about where we are going. I’ll also venture in with some ideas of this mystical process called music making, our passionate profession, the societal conflicts, and the challenge of enhancing worship through music.
We come from different denominations and, for one reason or another, from decidedly different forms or styles of worship. As suggested by Dr. Lawrence Roff, your congregation might engage in one of these:
liturgical worship—a fairly structured liturgy and music
traditional worship—informal dignity and a variety of musical styles
revivalist worship—gospel songs and evangelistic preaching
charismatic worship—spirit-driven, with a revivalistic focus
seeker worship—an atypical church atmosphere, with a desire to connect with the unchurched
blended worship—a blend of elements of many of the above forms
postmodern worship—interactive, participatory, media oriented, counterculture style
... and these various styles expect or emphasize different kinds of instruments, ensembles, soloists, choirs, types of songs, hymns, anthems, etc., ranging from “art for art’s sake” to “liturgical autopilot,” to a dismissal of choral music as “irrelevant” in favor of “love songs to Jesus,” to anthems being “another nice thing to do in the service,” to “anthemization”—the turning of a folk song, spiritual or chorus into concert music.
In a recent presentation by Dr. John D. Witvliet, Director of the Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College, he explained that worship historically hasn’t been merely a meditation on a profound idea, or a generating of a particular emotional state, or an aesthetic “high”—though these goals each have their values. Worship has been conceived primarily as the enactment of a divine-human relationship, an “interpersonal encounter” between God and the worshippers. A worship service is like a script of this interpersonal dialogue.
Music, and especially choral music, participates in the “script” of this divine-human conversation in what we would call an artful way. The texts of choral music either speak our words to God—or God’s words to us—or maybe we sing words of comfort and challenge to each other.
Dr. Witvliet also quoted Leo Tolstoy, who said that “art is a human activity that consciously, by means of certain external signs painting, music, drama hands on to others the feelings he has lived through. Others then experience and are infected by these feelings.”
Art in worship functions to enact the divine-human encounter. It is expressed on behalf of the congregation, rather than to the congregation. So—worship without art weakens the worship experience. Artistry effectively serves the acts of worship itself—whether it is confession, praise, prayer, and so forth. The problem can be that choral musicians are tempted to bring a “concert hall aesthetic” into worship—where the listener contemplates the music rather than praying or preaching by means of the music. The great clue to this problem is to ask whether your congregation applauds after an anthem. Maybe, in fact, it is time to call the piece a “sung prayer” or “proclamation in song”—something that points to its function in worship.
So, the claim that music in worship should express a congregation’s prayer or need, and enact the proclamation of the gospel has been commonplace across centuries. The problem is that our practice doesn’t always match our rhetoric.
Planning, Preparation & Programming
Here are eight simple guidelines to successful music ministry that have proved themselves to stand the test of time.
Summer is the very time of the year to do your critical planning. It is the time to meet with your pastor and hear his or her plans for the year—the themes, the special occasions, the scriptures—then let that be your guide for choosing music. What you want and what you need is a schedule of the September through May sermon topics, scriptures and themes lying on your desk by mid summer. No way? Then expert and inspirational negotiations are paramount. You must urge, wheedle, and plead to get that information. Point out that your music efforts will be wasted (and they will) if you cannot plan nor be supportive of an integrated worship experience.
• Be Selective
There are thousands of anthems in print—and you have the luxury of picking a tiny percentage of those for your particular context each year. You are free to choose music that meets textual, musical, liturgical, and pastoral criteria.
• Take time to choose music A warning: be careful about listening too often to the studio-produced CDs with those perfectly in-tune, almost vibratoless, gentle, warm, young voices! They, for the most part, are not like your choir! And, listening will erode your evaluation process. You need to evaluate the text/source, the ranges, the difficulty level, and quality of writing for any anthem you are considering. The examination must adhere to that the age-old criteria of the true “wedding of words and music.”
Because there are over 500 titles in the anthem library at our church, I recently played through some the anthems unfamiliar to me. But then I realized that, though it might be valuable later, I was looking for “nice pieces to sing.” In reading sessions, have you caught yourself thinking “that is a pretty anthem” without a clue whether it will serve and enhance your congregation’s worship? Choosing a “nice anthem” can be more akin to choosing music for a concert than for a worship service.
As you are setting goals for your choirs and assessing their abilities, think of this as a time to stretch and challenge yourself. We are a part of a vast multicultural society with an incredible mix of artistic heritage, which ought to inspire us in our choices of music! This might be the year to choose that anthem that you’ve always wanted to tackle. This might be the time to do a different style.
This is a time that you may find just the right anthem, but worry that it is too difficult (for you or the singers?). Before sighing and putting it aside, know that you can plan around that piece and effectively diminish its challenges. If you plan for that anthem to be sung on the second Sunday in November, you can start it at the Choir Retreat in September. You can subtly give it more time along the way. If a special program is to be performed on Palm Sunday, start in the fall, then begin rehearsing again in January. By doing this, you are completely past the “what” question and can focus on the “how.”
• Study and Rehearsal Plans
No matter how simple it is, know the music by analysis and by the uniqueness of rehearsing it. No two pieces should ever have the same step-by-step process. Just imagine the excitement of the following:
“ok, open the music; ok, sopranos, here is what your part sounds like as our accompanist plays it for you..... good. ok, altos, here is what your part.....ok, now lets try soprano and alto together...ok, now tenors... Isn’t that incredible?”
What is it that guides your plan—the rhythm, the chords, the text, the difficulty, the texture, the articulations, the structure, or the line or melody? If you do a Renaissance motet, it should be approached by its structure and line. If you do a Mendelssohn anthem, it may be approached by its text, its chromatics, its colors. If you do a contemporary song, it may be approached by its unique sounds, rhythms, or timbre. Even if two pieces are constructed in a very similar way, devise a contrasting rehearsal process for inspirational and/or educational reasons.
What do you say when an enthusiastic choir member asks, “What are we working on in the next rehearsal?”
I usually begin the first reading of an anthem (other than at a retreat) four weeks before it is to be sung. A reminder that this means that, if new, it was ordered at least 8 weeks before being sung, and service music three weeks before it is to be sung.
• Part Practice
If needed, have separate part rehearsals. If Robert Shaw’s professional choruses always had part rehearsals—then surely volunteer choirs are not above that technique. The benefits are many: more members assume a leadership role; the members of one part can focus upon their tone and their own peculiar challenges; they are active, rather than sitting listening to another section shop for their notes.
• Response Level
Be sensitive to the fact that the singers’ response level continually varies in a rehearsal. Don’t wear out one goal! Howard Swan often said that the best rehearsal technique was change. Know when to change your voice, speaking volume, pace, method, order of music, standing and sitting, seating, and especially when to stop. The technique of change should not be frantic, but the result of your constant assessment of the group’s response to your direction. And, remember that once you are preparing a particular selection, the pace/tempo of that music should guide your instructions and permeate your timing.
• They Came to Sing
The singers probably didn’t come to hear you talk. They didn’t come to hear another section practice endlessly. They didn’t come to watch you muse aloud as to the rehearsal problems. They didn’t come to hear you gripe that so-and-so didn’t show up. They did show up!
• Recruit in Every Possible Way
Use personal encouragement, letters, phone calls, ministry campaigns—all help. And, whether it is basketball, soccer, or choir—you must keep recruiting. Good singing on Sunday, won’t be enough.
And—you need to know that some folks are truly very insecure about their singing. As an example, here is a poem by Peter Schmitt called Tin Ear:
We stood at attention as she moved
with a kind of Groucho shuffle
down our line, her trained music
teacher’s ear passing by
our ten-and-eleven-year-old mouths
open to some songs now forgotten.
And as she held her momentary
pause in front of me, I peered
from the corner of my eye
to hers, and knew the truth
I had suspected.
In the following days,
as certain of our peers
disappeared at appointed hours
for the Chorus, something in me
was already closing shop.
Indeed, to this day
I still clam up
for the national anthem
in crowded stadiums, draw
disapproving alumni stares
as I smile the length of school songs,
and even hum and clap
through Happy Birthday, creating
a diversion—all lest I send
the collective pitch
It’s only in the choice acoustics
of shower and sealed car
that I can finally give voice
to that heart deep within me
that is pure, tonally perfect, music.
But when the water stops running
and the radio’s off, I can remember
that day in class,
when I knew for the first time
that mine would be a world of words
without melody, where refrain
means do not join,
where I’m ready to sing
in a key no one has ever heard.
Inspire Your Singers!
Be enthusiastic! Be excited about the quality of the music (how can we be inspired with music that is less than inspirational?). Some music is more immediate but may have a shorter shelf life—like our commercial and popular music. In fact, Barbara Holland in her book Endangered Pleasures writes that the music we listened to during ages 12 to 22 are the songs that will ring in the coils of our ears until we die. We may add a few songs but we don’t forget the age 12-22 songs. They are nontransferable; they belong to our generation, their shelf-life is limitless—and part of what makes us brothers and sisters to everyone else our age. If I play my songs—Rosie Clooney, Patti Page or Bill Haley—to our children or grandchildren, they would gaze in despair! Can you imagine that in the year 2059, when your teenybopper daughter gets to age 70, she will still be singing Britney’s songs?
And this brings us to the enfeebled music training of young people. Through budget crunches (which continue), the infamous Prop 13, and a general benign neglect, schools in California, for instance, are no longer as thorough in teaching music. In addition, our attention span now seems to last about 13 minutes—which is the length of time between television commercials. So—if we do not encourage a graded choir program in our churches—we had better stop complaining that our adult choirs can’t read music and that no one goes to concerts!
In a tiny town in Nebraska (where my high school graduating class numbered 20 !), my most memorable chorus experiences were singing Mendelssohn’s “He watching over Israel,” “Sanctus” by Gounod, and Mozart’s “Ave verum corpus.” I studied piano and voice, and attempted to play the spinet organ and direct the choir at church. I was one of the fortunate ones. I think that now there are not so many as fortunate.
What I am concerned about is:
...that music education has diminished...
...that tv, the internet, the quick fix, and instant gratification guides our lives
...that the immediacy, the emotional attraction of music has overpowered the aesthetic values. Take care: this is the definition of commercial music—that which is understood immediately, sells quickly, has a direct impact, and a brief existence...
...that church anthems are becoming not simple, but simplistic...
...that the clergy believe that popularized music increases attendance, and therefore is good...
...that even the “classics” are being made more “accessible.” Messiah is now available in a gospel version, a version with tracks, a version where all choruses are in lower keys...
...that dessert has become the main course...
So given this trend—where will be be in the next 30 years? Will there still be a choir? Will there be people who read music? Will pipe organs continue to be built? Will pianos still be necessary? Will screens completely replace stained glass? Or, will there be a neo-twentieth century movement? Will we all be digitalized by then? I don’t know, but I’m very concerned. The Dali Lama has said that we must open our arms to change, but must not let go of our values.
The curious thing is that very similar questions were being asked centuries ago. In a new book called God’s Secretaries, a fascinating narrative of the writing of the King James version of the Bible, the author Adam Nicolson describes the raging and often ugly conflicts going on between the various churches regarding baptism, whether to kneel, observing holy days, using a ring at marriage, whether the music be in Latin or English, the plainness or ornateness of the churches—on and on. Some things never change.
By the way, it was also curious to learn in that wonderful book that Puritan preacher John Lightfoot of Cambridge calculated in the early seventeenth century that God had created the earth on Sunday October 23, 4004 BC, at nine o’clock in the morning, London time, or, as Lightfoot wrote, midnight in the Garden of Eden. I looked it up on a globe. That means that the Garden of Eden was in Anchorage, Alaska. Hmmm.
We in music define ourselves not by our jobs but by our passions. We know that the body needs food, and the mind needs thought, but the soul has an absolute need for fascination. Thomas Moore, in The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, reminds us that as performers, we must have frequent opportunities for experiences that have more zest, more magic than practicality. We in performance, whether in a church or concert hall, are in a sense casting a spell upon our listeners!
I believe that our passion/profession is very different from most other pursuits and professions, because it deals with our innermost spirit and instrument—our voice to each other, to the world, and most importantly, to God. The trouble is—we “grow up,” we get “sophisticated,” which means we get “too smart” to have a sense of wonder.
Remember that Jesus said, “If you become as a child, you shall know the Kingdom.” All too slowly we have come to understand this statement—it does not simply mean to be a non-thinking body of belief. Jesus was also pointing out the incredible quickness and fascination of a child to learn. We can all benefit from a certain childlike wonder!
I would like to finish with a poem that has spoken to me about our day and incidentally about the composer I most admire. It is called:
At a Bach Concert by Adrian Rich:
Coming by evening through the wintry city
We said that art is out of love with life.
Here we approach a love that is not pity.
This antique discipline, tenderly severe,
Renews belief in love yet masters feeling,
Asking of us a grace in what we bear.
Form is the ultimate gift that love can offer—
The vital union of necessity
With all that we desire, all that we suffer.
A too-compassionate art is half an art.
Only such proud restraining purity
Restores the else-betrayed, too-human heart.
Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you. Let us always, always, have singing.
242 days ago
So - this is what you were trying to help me understand, so long ago! I am glad you were invited to put it down in print. Much of it parallels my own views. The rest will inform those views going forward. Thank You for once again contributing to my musical maturity!
244 days ago
Thanks so much for such wonderful clarification of the always present issues, sir! I am going to "require" my clergy to read this article.
245 days ago
Great article...a primer for church musicians of all kinds!