The Original Psalmist Was an Angsty Hipster

The Original Psalmist Was an Angsty Hipster

Posted by on Mar 13, 2012 in Church Music, Psalms, Songwriting | 2 Comments

Much of the church music we sing on Sundays is inspired by the Psalms.

Typically, from a single verse. Typically, from near the end of the Psalm.

The only problem with this approach is that the entire Psalm is the song – written by one of the original songwriters, King David.

And when we pull a single beautiful line from the Psalm, and center a new song around it, we lose all context of the original.

Because often in the Psalms, David expressed doubt. Fear. Anger. Confusion.

Real emotions. The reality of his heart in the midst of the reality of his circumstances. And only after that emotional release – his honesty before God – is he eventually able to return to a realization of the sovereignty of God – the love of God – despite his circumstances. And give us those beautiful one-liners we focus our songs around today.

But we have removed the prelude. The doubt. The fear. The anger. The confusion.

Because those emotions seem inappropriate for Sunday morning. Yet, they are real.

There are those of us who wish our church music would revert back to the glorious hymns of the past. I want to go back much further – to a time when the original Psalmist was writing angsty hipster music – and bring back true outcry to the modern worship experience.

NT Wright on Church Music

NT Wright on Church Music

Posted by on Jan 19, 2012 in Church Music | No Comments

Yes, it might be the British accent. But, everything this man says sounds right.

If We Moneyball’d Church, Would We Still Sing Songs?

If We Moneyball’d Church, Would We Still Sing Songs?

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in Church Music | 3 Comments

For those who saw the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ brilliant book “Moneyball” this past year, you probably shared my reaction when you saw the old baseball scouts sitting around the table talking about how to find the next great ball player.

Superstitions and traditions based on the best technology available 40 years ago – their gut instinct.

And we smile and shake our heads realizing that our own industries we work for suffer from the same myopia, because they too were created before the dawn of the technological revolution. We write press releases the way we did 40 years ago. We teach children the same way we did 40 years ago.

And if Moneyball has taught us anything, it’s that, rather than tweaking, the only sensible thing to do is say,

“If were starting over from scratch today, what would we build?”

So, what about the church?

If it’s possible to forget about our recently created Americanized traditions, start over and say,

“If the role of the church is to create disciples, what should our weekly gatherings look like?”

And if you start from scratch, with no preconceived notions, do you really put music there?

How to Select Worship Songs for “Your” Church

How to Select Worship Songs for “Your” Church

Church song selection has a lot to do with your philosophy on the power of music.

If you merely want songs to be theologically accurate and emotionally powerful, most CCM songs will do.

But, if you believe that music can be more powerful than the sermon – that the words in the songs we sing can be more impactful than the big 3 takeaways on our handout – song selection becomes a greater responsibility.

Then you choose songs with lyrics that match the spiritual reality you want your congregation to embrace.

For a church struggling with humility, sing songs about the depravity of man and the need of repentance.

For a church struggling with faith, sing songs about the sovereignty of God.

For a church struggling with love, sing songs about community and connection.

And if you can’t find songs to match what your congregation needs to cry out, write them.

What Will Church Music Look Like in 10 Years?

What Will Church Music Look Like in 10 Years?

Posted by on Oct 20, 2011 in Church Music | 4 Comments

Historically, church music seems to follow/mimic/react to mainstream trends.

So, if we look at indie music today, can we predict what our church music will look like 10 years from now?

Here are two potential paths I see the evolution of indie music performance taking us.

Foster the People – Pumped up Kicks (Live on SNL) 

Typhoon – Sickness Unto Death and The Honest Truth medley


Both great songs. Incredibly different performance styles.

Which one would you prefer your church be 10 years from now? And did you know you get to help decide?

Wanting a Racially Diverse Church that Prefers White Music

Wanting a Racially Diverse Church that Prefers White Music

Posted by on Sep 2, 2011 in Church Music, Worship Music | No Comments

When I first moved back to the Chicago suburbs, I attended a black church for a little more than a year. It was an amazing place. The people were passionate. The pastor provoked you to growth. The music was performed with excellence.

And my wife and I were the only white people in the room.

Our pastor often spoke of our vision for “becoming a church that looked more like the rainbow – more like what heaven would be like.”

I led worship a couple of times. Everyone was polite. A very few number of people told me that’s how they wished we would worship every week. But it was clear the vast majority didn’t care for it.

So, I met with my Pastor and asked him about his vision for the church and the role that music plays in it.

As I began to explain my thoughts, he interjected with, “You know Eric, if I change the music to what you like, I’ll have a bunch of people say, ‘they’re the only white folk in the room,’ Why are we changing to please them?” I was caught off guard, forgetting that pastors are so often bombarded with requests to change service specifics to their personal preference, he assumed that’s what I was after.

I told him I absolutely agreed, and that wasn’t what I was asking for. But that we might have to give up on our vision for becoming a racially-diverse church. Because in reality, what we’re asking for is a racially-diverse, culturally homogenous church.

We want white people that love Gospel music. We want black people that love Hillsong.

If we actually want a racially-diverse church, we need to expand our musical repertoire. If we don’t want to do that, we have to be ok with the Sunday segregation.

Is Your Worship Team Made up of Musicians or Artists?

Is Your Worship Team Made up of Musicians or Artists?

Posted by on Aug 18, 2011 in Church Music, Worship Leading | No Comments

Do you know whether you’re a musician or an artist?

No, it’s not a loaded question. “Artist” isn’t the better answer. But, it’s a different one.

For example, let’s say someone at your church tells you they play the flute and are interested in being a part of your praise team. Obviously, you say “no”, because the flute is a stupid instrument….just kidding. But, it’s important you understand what this person means by “they play the flute”. Does this mean they can proficiently play sheet music? Or that they can play recorded parts by ear and improvise within a scale, even in songs where the recording does not contain that instrument.

Those are 2 completely different players. And you have probably have some of each on your team.

The “musician” will spend time on their own before practice perfecting how the recording band plays every solo. They will work to match their drum beats and fills to the recording. They will strain to hear the female vocalists on the CD and try to precisely match their harmonies.

The “artist” hears things. They want to change things. Not because it’s better. But, because it’s theirs. They have a desire, not to recreate, but to create.

And when you force one of these people to be like the other, there is going to be tension.

What if We All Sang to Each Other?

What if We All Sang to Each Other?

Who should our Church songs be written to? Not “who should they be written for?” But, who should we be singing to?

God? Ourselves? Each other?

In a congregational worship setting, we largely sing songs about the grandeur of God. Less often, our songs are prayers – personal confessions of weakness written broadly enough for a congregation to be able to internalize. Much less often, our songs consist of exactly what Jars of Clay has created with their latest album, Shelter.

They wrote lyrics that are meant to be sung AT each other. Go check out the lyrics to Jars of Clay’s latest album, Shelter, and see what you think.

Stylistic Snobbery

Stylistic Snobbery

Posted by on Jul 13, 2011 in Church Music | 2 Comments

One thing I’ve had to be incredibly careful to avoid (and have failed to on countless occasions) is a variation of what C.S. Lewis called “Chronological Snobbery“.

Chronological snobbery is the dismissal of things belonging to a past age as being inherently inferior to those of today. In my case, having moved from a church where Gaelic acapella psalms were the order of the day – to a church where we now have drums and electric guitars, it’s very easy to slip into stylistic snobbery. Stylistic snobbery says that “We’ve got the style right now, and this is the only way to do it”. In an American context, you might want to replace “Gaelic acapella psalms” with “Stuff written by dudes called Wesley” or “Stuff that was penned before the Clinton adminstration”.

The point is that style is just that. It’s a way of doing something. But remember, It’s the ‘something’ that we’re doing that makes worship worship. The heart of worship is that worship is from the heart.

Contributed by Iain MacKinnon, Worship Leader, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Matching the Mood to the Meaning

Matching the Mood to the Meaning

Posted by on Jul 12, 2011 in Church Music, Songwriting | No Comments

One reason some people don’t like drums and electric guitars at church is that it doesn’t match the “reverence” they’re looking for when singing about the holiness of God.

Whether or not you agree, there’s a universal lesson to be learned here.

Try singing Amazing Grace to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.”

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”

It almost hurts your soul, doesn’t it? To take those beautiful lyrics and place them within that sea shanty?

This is an extreme case. But, it’s a great lesson when writing to make sure the mood matches the meaning.