Archives For worship music

Worship w video projectorImagine this: There was a rule passed in your church business meeting that only the trained worship staff or musically auditioned laity of your church was permitted to sing in worship. It sounds preposterous, but it actually happened.

Let’s rewind the calendar about 1,650 years to the Council of Laodicea (363-364). The leaders of the church who sought for quality and reverence in worship were troubled because the untrained congregation sang loudly and so badly that something had to be done to restore beauty. A canon (practice) was adopted in the Catholic religion that continued until 1903 which left congregational participation to a minimum.

There were serious penalties for those who disagreed. Jon Hus, Czech theologian and hymn writer (1369-1415) was martyred for his views on congregational participation. The focus on who is singing was changing.

It was not always that way. In Jewish worship and early Christian worship, the congregation was biblicaly mandated to joyfully participate. Psalm 149:1 says “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. (See also Psalm 33:1, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

The restoration of congregational participation in worship was one of the radical reforms of Luther and later Calvin, and not without controversy.

Gains of the Reformation may be endangered by current musical trends

Luther wrote hymns with instrumental accompaniment. Calvin only allowed metrical psalmody set to a cappella tunes. Isaac Watts dared to write humanly composed hymns for churches that previously sung only psalms. Fanny Crosby was criticized for writing subjective songs that dealt with human emotions.

The praise and worship movement added the element of personal devotional singing to the Lord and not just about him. Despite these disagreements over the content of songs, post-Reformation congregations held common: participation by the people was paramount. The focus of what we sing was changing—until now.

Charles Finney (1792-1875) is the one credited with being the father of modern Revivalism. The music and congregational singing in Finney’s revival services were purposely intended as a spiritual warm-up so the congregant would be ready to receive the Word. It was very effective as many people were converted.

Many Baptist and protestant denominations adopted this design of worship which is still very common in churches today. Their rationale is that good, energetic music will prepare the attender to receive the sermon. The return to the professional leader had begun. The focus of why we sing was changing.

The seeker movement of the 1990’s unintentionally fostered the pre-Laodicean model that worship should be well done and presented to the audience. Many aspects of current worship trends contribute to a lack of participation.

Because of the digital age, there are now not just a few hundred songs in the hymnal, but hundreds of thousands from which to choose. Therefore, many people are unfamiliar with the music selection. Cover songs from well-known recording artists, often in keys which are too high for the average congregant, are regularly chosen. The bright lights of the stage combined with dim seating discourages involvement. The concert style of worship where the worshiper receives more than they give discourages participation. The focus on how we sing is changing.

In an interview with The Gospel Coalition (Feb. 2017), theologian and hymn writer Keith Getty said, “I would dare to say less than five percent of our reformed churches are taking congregational singing as seriously as any of these guys [reformation fathers] did. I’ve heard Ligon Duncan say, ‘There is no part of the worship life more in need of reformation than congregational singing.’”

If most agree that congregational singing needs to be reformed, what can be done?

Getty says, “The biggest challenge is for pastors to actually take the lead. Period… The churches with great congregational singing are the churches with the pastor who really, really cares. Music can be contemporary, traditional, black gospel, unaccompanied psalm singing, with or without choirs, leaders, sound systems or hymn books. It doesn’t matter.

“Luther prioritized choosing the hymns his churches would sing,” Getty said, “explaining why they should sing, and then setting to work on teaching and encouraging his people. That’s the single thing that needs to change most.” Getty notes that “worship should begin with the holy act of God’s people singing as the center of the musical experience, and then work out from there.”

Is congregational singing dead? “Congregational singing is far from dead,” Getty concluded, “mainly because it’s connected to a source of life higher than cultural trends or modern comparisons.

–Steve Hamrick is IBSA Director of Worship and Technology

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/62112542″>CMD 2013 recap</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/ibsa”>IL Baptist State Association</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A story is told every year around this time, about a little girl from an IBSA church who knocked on the door of a crisis pregnancy center one Saturday in March. She wasn’t alone; bolstered by several others her age, she answered the question, “Who is it?” with a bold proclamation:

“We’re missionaries!”

It was Children’s Ministry Day, and the young missionary was delivering handmade blankets to mothers and babies in need.

Hundreds of kid took up her rallying cry in mid-March, as the third annual IBSA Children’s Ministry Day sent 900 volunteers into five communities. At the Mt. Vernon site, IBSA’s Rex Alexander told the story to help motivate more than 200 kids who gathered at Park Avenue Baptist Church before scattering to their ministry sites.

“The church is often guilty of overlooking children when it comes to mission action,” Alexander said later. “We send youth and adults on mission trips, but we limit mission involvement with children to teaching ‘about’ missions.

“Our kids are very capable of serving the Lord outside the walls of their church and having an impact on their world.”

Children’s Ministry Day is an Illinois expression of a nationwide initiative created by Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for missions, has let the statewide project from the beginning, when it started in 2011 with several projects in the Springfield area. Children’s Ministry Day expanded to three last year, and this year, host associations coordinated various projects in five cities – Bourbonnais, Carbondale, Mt. Vernon, Springfield and Troy.

A total of 903 volunteers, including kids, their leaders and host site helpers, served at the most recent event, a 25% increase over last year. The number of churches represented also increased, from 50 to 64.

For more about Children’s Ministry Day, see the upcoming issue of the Illinois Baptist, online Friday at ibonline.IBSA.org.

Other news:

Alabama cop turns over badge
But Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy did so willingly. While speaking at First Baptist Church as part of the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama, Murphy (right in photo) gave his badge to U.S. Rep. John Lewis (left) and apologized to him on behalf of the police department, Baptist Press reports. The Georgia Congressman and long-time Civil Rights activist was beaten along with other Freedom Riders at a Montgomery bus station in 1961, while Montgomery police stood down. “He us my hero,” Murphy said of Lewis. Read the full story at BPnews.net.

NAMB sends Bibles to every church
The North American Mission Board will send this spring a case of New Testaments to every Southern Baptist and Canadian National Baptist church. “If your church hasn’t been out in your community sharing Christ in a while, we think these Bibles are a great tool for outreach,” said NAMB President Kevin Ezell. The New Testaments are part of NAMB’s vision to see every Christian sharing the Gospel by 2020, and should arrive in churches by early April. Read more at BPnews.net.

Tomlin gives spotlight to God
On any given Sunday, worship artist Chris Tomlin’s songs are sung in at least 60,000 churches. And it could be as many as 120,000, estimates Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). In a recent CNN interview, Tomlin said he likes stepping back from the microphone during his concerts so he can listen to others worship. “It’s about a greater name than my name,” he told CNN. “My name is on the ticket, but this is about a greater name.” Read more at CNN’s belief blog.