New Archbishop of Canterbury

The Telegraph reports that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has been named: Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham.

Sources have confirmed that the Eton-educated bishop will be announced as successor to Dr Rowan Williams as early as Friday, after the Crown Nominations Commission put his name forward to Downing Street.

It marks a meteoric rise for the former oil executive who has been a bishop for only a year, but insiders described Welby as “the outstanding candidate”.

The full article is here.

Memorizing a Bible verse in a congregational setting

We’ve done some Scripture memory in chapel two times in the last two weeks. It’s been fun to learn the Bible together, which helps to reinforce our common language as worshipers. This week we had our congregation of worshipers learn Proverbs 8:17.

I had us say it out loud five or six times, each time in a different way:

  • once or twice just to get it in our heads
  • once standing
  • once sitting
  • once shouting (and, wow, did they shout!)
  • once whispering

My hope was that the variety of recitations (and the amount of them) would help us all commit it to memory, potential cheese factor notwithstanding. It’s a short verse, so I think the five or six times we said it out loud together (with the text on the screen) was sufficient.

Here’s one other way we could have learned the same verse, a method we employed two weeks ago with another (longer) verse.

This slide shows up first. We say it together once or twice. Then we move to this slide, saying it together again:

Then this:

Finally this:

Each of these methods–the repetition at various volumes and in various postures, as well as the slides with diminishing amounts of texts–seemed to work well for the congregation. I’d imagine this could even work well for solo memorization of Scripture. And I’m looking forward to exploring additional methods for leading congregational memorization of the Bible in the future.

“So we made a rule: no overdubs”

A new Gungor book and album released yesterday. Michael Gungor writes:

I was actually writing about all of these ideas about art and how it should be more human, soulish and vulnerable while we were on tour, recording the album that was released yesterday. And I was faced with a decision. As I listened to the recordings of the evenings, there was a raw energy about them that I really liked. But I also heard our humanness. I heard little things that I knew we could easily “fix” with a few overdubs. There were moments where we could have inserted crowd samples to make the crowd sound even more excited and pumped up. But I was right in the middle of writing this book that is addressing how our most popular art continues to become more and more plastic and less human, and I just couldn’t do it. I felt like I needed to let the recordings stay as live and authentic as possible.  So we made a rule: no overdubs.

Read the whole thing here.

“Worship that Welcomes”

Furthermore, what are we teaching our congregations about worship music? If it is always the same thing over and over again; isn’t this unfair to them? We say things like, “we are multi-generational,” “we are racially diverse,” “we are multi-ethnic.” We say, “we are global Christians” (of course what we probably mean is that we sent a mission team to the Caribbean this summer) and the list goes on and on. Yet, our setlists never change.

David M. Edwards raises some interesting questions (and explores answers) in his post, “Worship that Welcomes.” I don’t agree with everything here, but the issues he brings up are good ones for worship leaders to consider. The full article is here.

What makes a worship song good for congregational singing?

What makes a worship song suitable for use in a corporate worship service?

I’ve been mulling this question over lately, trying to articulate what is often largely an intuition for me as a worship leader. Here’s a first go at it. (Thanks to my friend Steve for sharing some good thoughts with me on this.)

The song needs to be neither too low nor too high. Worship leader Jamie Brown has what I’ve found to be a helpful guideline for what range of notes to cover: “From C to shining C.” He puts it well, so I quote him here:

My rule of thumb is “C to shining C”…, meaning that the lowest a song should generally go is a C (one octave below middle C on a piano) and the highest it should go is one octave up from there. I’ll still use songs that dip a bit lower than a middle C or jump up to a D, Eb, or even an E from time to time, but I want to make sure the song isn’t “hanging out” up in the stratosphere or down in the depths.

Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United both sing their songs pretty high. Just try doing “From the Inside Out” in its original key!  (Or, rather, don’t. Drop it down a few steps before leading a congregation in it.) Same with Charlie Hall–love his music, but I often change the key before leading others in his songs. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s an important part of my job as a worship leader to make sure the range of the song is singable for a congregation.

The rhythm and lyrical cadence ought to be simple. Too many dotted eighth notes or too-fast moving lyrics are difficult for a group of folks to sing well together. I often slow down “Blessed Be Your Name” and “Everlasting God” when I lead them for this very reason. I want to make sure we have time to savor the lyrics we’re singing, and not feel rushed to squeeze them all in to the song.

If it’s new, teach it first. I wrote about this last week here.

“More stepwise motion and fewer big leaps up or down.” This one is from Steve. It articulates well what is often intuition for worship leaders. Simpler is better. An example:

Thanks to some students with whom I lead worship in a Christian college setting, I’ve really gotten into the band Gungor recently. I love their song “Dry Bones.”

This song has quite a few “big leaps up or down” and not a lot of “stepwise motion.” It’s hard for me to imagine a congregation singing this in a worship service. But I will blast it through my speakers when I am feeling the need for God to breathe life into my dry bones! I might even rock out to it on guitar with a fellow worship leader, or in a jam session. Great for in car, perhaps not for in the chapel.

I hesitate to use Gungor as a foil, especially since he’s one of the most thoughtful contemporary music worship leaders I know of. His We Will Run, on the other hand, is a great song for congregational singing–especially with its focus on repentance of sin and corporate turning back to God. Listen to it if you like:

Notice that “We will run” is one note, then “to you” is just a half step down:

That same pattern is then repeated a few notes higher: “Turning from our” is one note, “our sin” is just a whole step down.

Simple.

What would you add to this list?

Teaching a new worship song to a congregation

This morning I had the privilege of teaching our worshiping community this song:

Because I had guessed it would be new to the majority of our congregation, I decided to teach the song before we sang it all the way through. There are at least six things I like to try to do when teaching a new song:

1. Split it into pieces. I had the chorus for All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises on two Powerpoint slides. So I sang through the first half of the chorus (one PPT slide), stopped, and invited the congregation to sing that same part with me:

Then I repeated that same process for the second half of the chorus:

This way the congregation had heard the chorus once and sung it once.

2. Teach it not in order. This helps me and hopefully others remember that we’re actually working on learning the song. It also keeps us attentive to what part of the song we’re working on. We’ll piece it all together only once we’ve learned the component parts.

3. Highlight the lyrical content. If the tune is new, the lyrics likely are, too. At least they were in this case. So because this song speaks of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, I took the opportunity to highlight that. I actually read some of the song lyrics before teaching it, and connected them to something my church says in our weekly worship: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I mentioned that like 1 Corinthians 15 and Luke 24, this is one of the great summaries of our faith that can unite us across multiple denominations and Christian backgrounds.

4. Teach it with a conversational tone. I can’t think of any other way to teach a song than by actually talking with the congregation about it, what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, etc. I find a friendly, inviting, conversational tone works best. At least it feels right to me when I am teaching a song!

5. Affirm the congregation. Our worshiping community picked this song up so fast today (some knew it already, I think) that this was easy to do. I actually cut short the process of teaching the song so that we could begin from the beginning singing it all the way through. This was due to the fact that as I began teaching the verse (i.e., “I’ll sing so you can hear it”), I could already hear folks singing along. It would certainly not be out of place to sincerely say something like, “You all are good singers!” (Provided it’s true.)

6. Have them hear the song even before I teach it. For example, I had All the Earth will Sing Your Praises played over the speakers as they were leaving worship Monday, knowing we’d be learning it today. It’s a little thing, but it helps. Other options could have been playing it as the prelude today, emailing a Web link to the tune, etc.

The bottom line for me is: if we’re doing a song that I think will be new to most in the room, we highlight it as such and carve out time to work to learn it together. Then singing the new song from start to finish is not only easier, but feels like something we have worked at together in a way that draws us closer as we worship.

“Thinking Through the Benefits and Necessity of Liturgy”

Amanda MacInnis blogs wonderfully about the “benefits and necessity of liturgy.” On this Worship Leading Wednesday, I refer you to her. She has good things to say.

The money quote:

And so, even those who chafe at the thought of liturgy in Church, who balk at the use of liturgical texts on a weekly basis, are being profoundly shaped by the liturgy of being anti-liturgy.

Read the article in full here.

Creation… Fall… Redemption… Consummation. (Another one hour worship service from scratch)

On Sunday I led a group of student ministry leaders in worship for an hour. As in the time I described in this post, it was a one hour worship service from scratch. In other words, I was invited to plan and lead the hour of worship from start to finish. In my previous post I mentioned one way to give shape to what otherwise could be unstructured worship, using the A.C.T.S. acronym.

Here’s how I opted to structure the hour together with this same group this year. This is a version of the run sheet the worship musicians and I had before us.

Intro: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation

  • What it is: way of understanding the whole sweep of the Bible (explain each part briefly)
  • Why it’s important: tells us God’s story—and our place in it.  Situate selves at start of new year.
  • We’ll weave between Scripture and Song and Prayer, standing and sitting, together and alone

Creation

Fall

Redemption

Consummation

  • Scripture: Revelation 21:1-5
  • And so our prayer, “Make all things new” is finally answered.
  • Moment of silence to reflect on “I am making all things new.”
  • Song (standing): Grace Like Rain

Conclusion: Close in prayer