Archive for February 2013


February 28, 2013

Keith & KristynAs follow-up to a recent conference in which Keith Getty and I participated, I wanted to ask Keith questions related to his work and life.

Paul:  Now that you have moved your American home to “Music City,” do you sense an increase in pressure to commercialize your music more?

Keith:  Not really, no. I haven’t a strong interest in country, CCM, or pop music anyway. It has been a refreshing experience getting to know some of Nashville’s folk musicians; americana, bluegrass, and other ethnic folk players. Just this morning Stuart Townend said to me on Skype that my music seemed to have gone more American in it’s folk influences than Irish. So every artist is constantly learning and the influences I have had in Nashville have been very positive, but not in any way commercial.

Paul:  You have indicated in your speaking and through your concert practices a clear commitment to choirs in helping to lead worship. Talk about why you have this commitment, and how you have seen choirs serve the churches’ worship in your experiences.

Keith:  My love for choirs is on several levels. The first one is very personal – I have sung in choirs all my life and I love the sound – I love the harmony, I love the contribution they make to a room, and most especially how they can set a congregation up confidently to sing well. When the choir is used as a tool for leading congregations, I think it’s actually at it’s strongest in terms of local church usage. When it becomes a choir more interested in pure performance, I still think the sound is great but it is of less kingdom value.

Paul:  (a follow up question) What would you say to Church Worship Music Leaders who face the struggle of enlisting and maintaining choir singers, especially from among the younger adults in their churches?

Keith:  Its tough in these times for many reasons – many churches are small and at best not growing. Choral music is less preeminent in our society, from education to church to it’s place on the wider concert platform. Additionally people are much busier than they ever were. In the 50s, singing in choirs was a popular hobby in a relatively uncrowded marketplace. Today people probably have twenty times the option of what to do. I think above all of these things though, choirs have lost their sense of confidence and role in church life and so most people see it as less of a priority. There is an educational process at that level to be done, but I do think at the every day level striving for excellence and a fun sense of community is always huge. My most memorable choir moments were either getting to sing in great halls with great musicians or else just being with groups of people who enjoyed each other’s company, laughed and socialized together – singing became a means of friendship and fellowship.

Paul:  Given that you co-write a lot with Stuart Townend, others, and of course, with Kristyn, are there specific theological and/or personal themes that you feel you tend to bring to the mix and those that each of your co-writers tend to bring?  (and a follow-up – if so, what are those themes and do you have a sense of perhaps why?)

Keith:  In terms of individual contributions, my only real lyrical contribution is at the broad level of concepts and ideas. Stuart and Kristyn have all the gifting when it comes to poetry. I think at a general level as a team, the contributions we’ve made have been more of breadth and depth than of specific soapboxes or subjects. We’ve tried to write widely about the character of God, about the human experience, and to cover as many concepts from the Christian calendar as possible. We’ve tried to write more deeply about the subjects knowing how important it is to how believers think.

Paul:  What advice would you have for those Worship Music Leaders who have difficulties with philosophical, practical, stylistic, or even personal relationship issues with their Senior Pastor?

Keith:  Gosh, that’s not an easy one. I think we all have to begin from a position of acknowledging that relationships are difficult. Even a simple relationship between two people is actually two sinful people trying to co-exist in a functional way with each other’s sins and failures. That’s why grace and grace expressed in healthy communication is so important.  I do think weekly accountability and periodic goals help at a functional level to see above the immediate concerns, but ultimately if we don’t share common faith and pray together, it’s going to be an awful lot more difficult.

Paul:  In your experience what are some factors that contribute to churches where congregational worship singing is robust, and what are contributing factors where congregational worship singing seem lethargic?

Keith:  When I think of robust congregational singing, the first four or five churches that come to mind represent the whole spectrum of the scale; from churches that are acapella, to black gospel music, and from the smallest to the largest of fellowships. In other words, and this is important – congregational singing does not need megachurches nor does it need professional musicians. The most professional productions I have seen both in the contemporary American megachurch world as well as the British choral world have in fact had the most lethargic and almost uncomfortably bad congregational singing. What the robust churches all have in common is that between pastor and all musicians involved in leading the service, there is an excitement about singing top to bottom. It is modeled, it is preached, it is prayed for, it is prepared, and it is well set up – whatever the style of the church. When you think about it, 8 people in a room singing Amazing Grace with all their heart is as an exhilarating experience as I can imagine. That’s the great thing about congregational music – it’s for the people, God’s people, it’s our holy privilege.

Keith’s responses above reflect something of the thinking, reflection, and character of this modern hymnwriter who has something crucial to share with the Church and church leadership.

Those who live in proximity of Nashville , Tennessee will not want to miss the St. Patrick’s Day hymns concert and singalong with the Gettys at the famed Ryman Auditorium, March 17, at 7:00pm.


February 25, 2013

Father Son Coloring A wise mentor once helped me consider the way God made creation to work.  Such pondering included thoughts about processes as well as thoughts about dramatic moments.  Certainly God’s power is uniquely evident in the flash of lightning and the deep bass rumble of thunder.  We are brought to our knees in the tornadic winds or the piercing rain of a hurricane.  Even when we are sheltered during storms, we are likely to call out for God’s protection, and wonder if He is trying to get our attention.  The concentration my granddad was encouraging me towards, though, was the slow growth of a seed into a stem into a twig into a tree.  He wanted me to think about leaves and fruit, grass that is mowed only to grow to need cutting again.  He wanted my thoughts on sunrises and sunsets, puppies and old dogs, hay bailing and hog-slopping were included as well, though he admitted those were partially to motivate me to help him get them done.  I did not really need prodding to help him, because in doing that work I got to be with him, hearing his funny stories, listening for insight in the school of life, experiencing his love expressions which were subtle, but none the less potent.  Ordinary stuff, grace gifts of life, evidences and reminders that God is always at work.

I am afraid that in our day we are too often prone to think that God is only worshiped in the “Wow” moments, and then we begin to feel pressure as musician-ministers to “produce” those moments.  We confuse inspiration and worse yet, cheap thrill with Spirit power.  It is this kind of thinking that causes us to concentrate more on what happens on the platform than in the pews.  It is this “searching for wow” pressure that has us thinking a big crescendo holds more power than encouraging fellowship among the worshipers.  Rhythmic song tries to compensate for lack of any true celebration of life.  Drowning decibels from the woofer and line array speakers or the organ attempt to mask the fact that few worshipers are singing the worship song.  We feel we have to make something happen, or at least make it appear as if it is.  That pressure may come from within, fueled by our feelings of inadequacy, or from without, prodded by a senior pastor who is fueled by his own inadequacies, or by congregation members who are self-appointed critics.  While chasing the approval of malcontents, we may miss the “ordinary” miracle of a child discovering their head voice, or a sincerely warm handshake between disparate worshipers.  We may be distracted from noticing a teenager enthusiastically singing a traditional hymn, or a senior adult engaged in a modern worship song.

What if we actively pursue the joy of the ordinary? What if in this season of Lent, when we verbalize our “ashes to ashes” condition, we give God glory for the profound nature of His handiwork without feeling that we need to embellish and amplify to a point of such over-stimulation that steadily numbs the human senses God has given.  What if we spend more of our creative work equity to re-engage people’s imaginations in worship instead of trying to impress them with our own?  What if we call worshipers’ attention to the joys of ordinary moments in ordinary days that God turns into extraordinary by His work of grace.  A father doing artwork with a son becomes a discussion of how God made the world.  A mother – middle schooler trip home after school becomes an exchange regarding how people treat one another.

Look at Titus, who the Apostle Paul appointed to minister in a common town among common people where there was unfinished business, problems and opposition, but who needed someone to help them do ordinary life in Jesus with love for God and each other where they live.

It goes without saying, you and I are God’s creation.  We are created to be human.  I certainly pray that those who serve in worship ministry leadership have a strong sense of calling to that responsibility.  That is the only way we can keep our head in the game, and on straight.  I preach that sermon as oft as I am given opportunity.  Our responsibility, however, is limited to the human side of the equation.  God alone retains the power to transform life, and blow the wind of renewal through the Spirit.  Our calling is to serve out our ministry as a human being trusting in the Lord to bless the work of our hands, and praying for His divine intervention.  So, do not despair when it seems “nothing is happening” in your ministry.  God’s call to you and me, as human beings, is to serve faithfully and trust Him to do His work.  Whether you are in the storm or the mundane, weekly work, trust Him.  As a pastor in our state recently reminded a group of pastors, we need to wait – watch – and worship.


February 18, 2013

Two Men Talking It happened again this past week.   A conversation with a fellow ministry leader led us both to confess that the marks of ministry effectiveness left in the tracks of our years of service in churches were pretty non-grandiose, even downright mundane in nature.  We both recalled anniversary year receptions, or services commemorating years of service as we prepared to leave one church field to go to another.  We joked at how much time and effort was spent in preparing for large-scale music productions, weekly anthem presentation, and how little notoriety these activities produced for either of us compared to the simple and human ministries of presence, prayerful concern, and nurture.

The two of us together have racked up a pretty good pile of years of ministry service.  With that much experience to draw from, and openness of relationship to share, we each recounted the joy in the non-spectacular nature of our ministry lives.  He talked about people who remembered when he showed up in hospital rooms, at funeral services, or prepared music for weddings.  I responded with similar reflections and added remembrances of teens whose parents had blessed me by sharing thanks for a ministry of time investment in the lives of their “kids,” who were now parents themselves.  It felt good to confess the absence of our own celebrity.  It was edifying to find joy in the simplicity of the work of our hands; visiting the sick, tending the sheep, recognizing, teaching, and developing talents in the area of our craft, as well as making spiritual application.

When this brother headed for the elevator I mentally relived moments shared in a hospital room with one of his children.  The remembrance stirred again some of that heart-burning confidence like I sensed in the scenario itself that I was recalling.  The source of the stirring was easily identified.  You see on that day in that hospital room I knew Jesus was there with him, his wife, his child, and with me.  I recall so well feeling a helplessness in my own power, but a confidence in the Lord’s love.

In the early pages of his book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, Zack Eswine lays out solid reasoning for ministers to understand that we are not God.  He distinguishes between aspects of God that are communicable and incommunicable.  Being made in His image reminds us that He is personal, creative, loving, rational, truthful, and willing.  These are characteristics with which we can identify and in our best humanity have capacity to reflect.  On the other hand, we are NOT infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present.  These incommunicable attributes belong to God alone.  Sadly, church culture, coupled with what is arguably our most tempting area of sin as ministers, prods us to grasp for these attributes and urges us to try and achieve them, or give appearance that they are already ours.  We are tempted to order our calendars and schedules as if we can be everywhere.  We act confident so as to imply that if we do not know everything, we are at least working toward it.  What’s more, the knowledge we do have may be serving more to prop up our charade than to actually aid our follow-ship and knowledge of Jesus.  Living in this sinful condition we become trapped – left protecting our own image, rather than reflecting the image in which we have been made.  “Loving our neighbor as ourself” too sadly downgrades into appearing to love neighbor in order to build up ourself.  Like Adam and Eve we are tempted to believe the devil’s lie, “If you eat of this tree you surely will not die, but will be like God.”  Thinking this way is sinful and kills.

For Worship Music Leaders as for pastors there is a severe danger in this dreadful arena.  The pressure to present a certain image is epidemic in today’s church, and the image that is expected, I am saddened to say, does not appear to be much like Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.  At the risk of being misunderstood, think openly and analytically about the trajectory of many present-day worship environments.  What is the image presented?  Is it crystal clear that we are seeking to make much of Christ?

We need the grace of God.  We need a Savior to deliver us from expectations that were never meant for us to have, to return us to a grasp of our humanity.

In his book, Eswine reminds us that only by surrendering to our proper human place can we glorify and enjoy God the way we say we want and the way He requires.  He points to the freedom and joy of re-positioning ourselves to be fully human, which takes place in worship as we see God for Who He is in His proper place of Lordship, and seek to serve Him through the life He has given, the work of our hands, and the joyful devotion of our surrendered heart.  Surely, as this pleases Him, this is what it means to worship.


February 11, 2013

Band from back  Worship Leader is a term that remains in vogue today to indicate the person responsible for leading music for worship services.  Like one of its derivatives, “Lead Worshiper,” it seems fraught with theological issues that tend to go largely ignored.  Those issues are generally sidelined in order to distinguish worship musicians from an older paradigm in which the leader was called “Minister of Music.”  Of course there are still those whose title remains Minister of Music, while others have changed to some variation of one of these terms.  I admit having wrestled with all these and never really settling on a best practice for a moniker to be applied to those who lead their congregations in the music of weekly Sunday worship, or who give pastoral care and direction through worship planning and leadership in the arts.  I find myself calling our leaders “worship music leaders,” “worship ministers,” or “worship pastors,” when writing or speaking.  I certainly do not desire that anyone would become self-conscious about their title.  This article is not really about the title, but rather seeks to address some practices that seem to have followed along with the verbiage changes that have been made.  Some of the practices can have dire consequences for the worshiping church.

There is a vast difference in seeking to worship with a congregation and worshiping at them.  When planning and leading so as to join with a people gathered for Christian worship, there is a sense of discovery and journey.  Mutual purpose is sought through encouraged common participation and contribution.  I believe this to be reflected in Paul’s writing to the Colossians when he encourages them to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  This is very different from performing for those gathered for worship.  This performance mentality is a serious danger regardless of music style.  Different music styles simply change the ambiance of the wrongly-directed focus.  Whether art song, Gospel quartet style, choral concert, or modern worship band rock or acoustic style, performance at the congregation or crowd of gathered worshipers is wrong-headed in approach.  I would go as far as to say that well-meaning “worship leaders” can easily border on steering worship toward an idolatrous end.  Whether the performer’s point is to draw attention to themselves, or to give the people what they want, either way the one being served seems to be other than the Triune God.  Gathered worship is never about watching a band “get their worship on” as I once heard a teen describe it.

In last week’s Text & Tune for Today’s Church Conference at Carson Newman College, sponsored by the Ball Institute for Church Music, attendees were reminded repeatedly of the need to evaluate worship from a different perspective than is far too common in present-day church culture.  Dr. Constance Cherry, author of The Worship Architect, reminded us of a powerful question:  “What is worship to be and do from God’s point of view?”  Referencing numerous scripture texts she stated that “Good worship is all about facilitating relationship: vertical (God to human, human to God) and horizontal (people to people).”  She hit a landmine in calling us to stop trying to create worship, but to realize that “worship is.”  In addition to profoundly thought-provoking questions, she gave practical suggestions based on the metaphor of an architect’s job, as used in her book.  (see links below)

Other presenters included UK song-writer, Graham Kendrick, whose songs like Shine, Jesus Shine, and All I Once Held Dear, among many others have been part of worship language and included in numerous hymnals for sometime.  Graham’s gentle demeanor along with his reflections on psalms, as well as his leading of some of his newer songs was encouraging to the artist within, and challenge to those called upon to plan for worship.  Another musician from the UK, Organist/Director of Music at All Souls, Langham Place in London, Noel Tredenik addressed issues related to songs, singing, and creative uses of music for worship from his unique perspective.  Our friend, composer, and writer of modern hymns, Keith Getty, addressed a variety of issues related to songs for worship and their singing, as well as other creative and theological issues related to art for worship.  Keith and Kristyn Getty closed the conference with a grand concert of their hymns and ministry songs in which those gathered sang in the richly resonant acoustic environment of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Tennessee, adjacent to the college campus.

The conference presented opportunity for professional and personal growth.  There were clear biblically-rooted challenges for those who lead music for worship, no matter what their title may be.



February 5, 2013

Praying RecievingOver the years much attention has been given to postures in worship.  I am old enough to remember well the 70’s and 80’s when Baptists were fearful of “those charismatics,” who were easy to spot because they raised their hands during worship.  In more recent days in many churches there is actually a strong expectation that worshipers will raise hands in worship.  Worship leaders may unconsciously see this as a kind of evaluative test for worship.  I also know of many churches that have installed kneeling rails to encourage altar prayers at appointed times in worship.

Surely every worship music leader has dealt at some point with the issue of standing verses sitting during worship singing in a service.  I know of churches who have done away with the pews in worship to give more flexibility to seating and to allow sufficient room for worshipers to move about facilitating interaction among worshipers, and providing opportunity to attain different postures in the course of worship participation.

These issues certainly are appropriate considerations for church leaders, but easily present a misplaced focus if we are not careful in our rubrics for measurement.  The larger question is what is the posture of worship most pleasing to God?  This, in fact, I believe, poses the fundamental question of worship itself, “What is our position in relation to God?”  The real question is much less about physical posture than about spiritual condition.  I believe it helps us toward the descriptor given by Jesus Himself when He told the woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar,

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.   God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.  – John 4:23-24

 Through worship in spirit and truth we are reminded of our position or posture in relation to God.  Meriam Webster’s definitions for “posture” are rich with indication for us in relation to worship.

 1pos·ture (noun)

1          a : the position or bearing of the body whether characteristic or assumed for a special purpose <erect posture>

b : the pose of a model or artistic figure

2: state or condition at a given time especially with respect to capability in particular circumstances <maintain a competitive posture in the market>

3: a conscious mental or outward behavioral attitude

 In definition 1a, there is the implication of the physical body posture.  We adjust our physical position in worship to indicate response.  The New Testament word most often translated for worship is prokuneo` which is a verb that implies an act of homage or reverence.  When we think about physical positions that reflect a spirit of worship we likely think about kneeling, bowing down, or placing hands in a raised position or perhaps a position of reception.  This thinking is no doubt the reason that if you google the word “worship” you will likely see pictures of people striking such poses.  In definition 2 we perhaps get closer to an understanding of worship I am trying to communicate.  Worship “in spirit and truth” implies “state or condition” to me, most especially the state or condition of our heart.  Of course, definition 3 “conscious mental or behavioral attitude” implies the status of our free will in response to God and His actions toward us.

Old Testament words for worship indicate posture and action as well: Barak meaning to bow down or kneel in reverence, Shachah indicating prostrate position to demonstrate loyalty or humility toward God, Todah an extension of the hand to express adoration, and chuwl which is a spinning dance.  None of these single words translates “worship,” by itself, but together with the other numerous Hebrew words for prayer, posture, and actions in the Old Testament we get a strong sense of the spirit and position called for in the worship of Almighty God.

As worship music leaders we have responsibility and opportunity to call for participation in worship through singing and other acts and expressions.  We must never forget that the miracle of Christian worship is that our God is with us!  While we cannot determine a person’s spiritual condition based upon their outward posture, we can help our people learn from biblical models and attitudes and guide our community of worshipers toward a heart-driven response in spirit and truth to the living God of the Gospel.  Let us strike a posture in relation to Him that will be pleasing to Him.

St. Patrick’s Day evening with the Gettys at the Ryman

February 2, 2013

Great opportunity to spend the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.  Keith and Kristyn continue to give us singable, theologically rich modern hymns for the church.


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