WORSHIP & These songs, curated by a team of neuroscientists, create a sensation scientists call “frisson” – a feeling or sensation of excitement, emotion or thrill.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Today there is a great deal of discussion about online worship and if it can be as powerful as face-to-face worship. Students of music theory have known for a long time that a powerful musical experience can be experienced in the concert hall or over headphones. Part of this is because the human brain is designed to react to certain surprising musical motifs and chord progressions. Read this article to learn more about “frisson” and how to incorporate it in the songs you write.

This 715-song playlist is scientifically verified to give you the chills, thanks to “frisson.”

by Sam Gilberg, The Big Think, 5/17/22.

… “Frisson” derives from French and is “a sudden feeling or sensation of excitement, emotion or thrill,” and the experience is not confined to music. Historically, frisson has been used interchangeably with the term “aesthetic chills.”

According to a 2019 study, one can experience frisson when staring at a brilliant sunset or a beautiful painting; when realizing a deep insight or truth; when reading a particularly resonant line of poetry; or when watching the climax of a film.

… Other reliable indicators include the entry of one or more instruments or voices; an abrupt change of tempo or rhythm; a new or unexpected harmony; and abrupt modulation. Music psychologist John Sloboda found that the most common types of musical phrases to elicit frisson were “chord progressions descending the circle of fifths to the tonic.” This is a deeply affecting chord progression common in many of Mozart’s compositions.

The 715-song playlist was curated by a team of neuroscientists and is available on Spotify. It includes some of my favorites (below):

  • Twist & Shout, The Beatles
  • The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky
  • Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton
  • Toccata and fugue in D minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Appalachian Spring, VII, Aaron Copland
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Across the Stars: Love theme from Star Wars, John Williams
  • One for Daddy-O, Cannonball Adderley
  • Moby Dick, Led Zeppelin
  • Wonderwall, Oasis
  • Fields of Gold, Sting
  • Walking in Memphis, Marc Cohn
  • Vincent, Don McLean
  • The Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel
  • This Must be the Place, Talking Heads
  • Rhapsody in blue, George Gershwin
  • Finale, Les Miserables
  • Battle cry, Imagine Dragons.
  • One Day More, Les Miserables
  • Untitled Hymn, Come to Jesus, Chris Rice
  • Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday
  • Sleigh Ride, the Ronnettes
  • One, U2
  • Walk on by, Dionne Warwick
  • Awaken, Yes
  • Oh Come All Ye Faithful, traditional
  • Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
  • Things we said today, The Beatles
  • Born to run, Bruce Springsteen
  • Across the universe, the Beatles
  • Song for the King, Michael W Smith
  • I can’t get no satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
  • Living for the city, Stevie Wonder
  • Ripple, Grateful Dead.
  • Living on a Prayer, Bon Jovi

Read more at … https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/frisson-song-playlist/

MUSIC & Jesus, Country Music, and the Spiritual Classics.

by Tom Crenshaw, Presbyterian & Vineyard pastor, Certified Missional Coach, 1/25/22.

What am I going to write about? Each morning I wake up early with the goal of writing something worth reading, something that will encourage you, challenge you, and hopefully point you to Jesus. Sometimes words come easy, and I know right off what I want to say. Sometimes, however, I struggle, and I am not sure what to write or where to begin.

This morning was one of those days. I lay in bed wondering what to share and the thought of music came to mind. Not just any music, but country music and specifically the spiritual side of country music.
Those who know me, are aware that I am passionate enthusiast of classic country music. I’ve attended concerts of Reba McEntire, Don Williams, Randy Travis, Merle Haggard, Travis Tritt, Brooks and Dunn, and my favorite concert of all, George Strait’s Farewell Tour. There is something about country music that speaks to me. I suspect it’s the stories in the music that moves my heart.

I have been rewatching Ken Burns 8 part documentary on Country Music, and if you haven’t seen it, it is must watching. I promise you that whether you enjoy country music or not, watching this documentary will give you a new appreciation for this music genre. I bet by the time you finish watching it, some of you will be up and dancing to Boot ‘Scootin’ Boogie by Brooks and Dunn.

But as I lay awake this morning, I started reflecting on country songs that carry a spiritual message, ones that have drawn people closer to Jesus. I scrolled through a number of songs, listened to a few of them- and while I knew most of them, there were a few that were new to me. Having done so, I came up with “Crenshaw’s Country Spiritual Classics,” songs that I thought you would enjoy, but more importantly that would point you to Jesus.

They include Carrie Underwood’s, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” recently voted the 4th best country song of the decade and the song that kicked off her career as a country music super star. Also on the list is one of my favorites, “Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis whose music career was sadly cut short by a stroke. Included on my list is Brooks and Dunn’s , powerful rendition of “Believe,” and Alabama’s “Angels Among Us.” On that list is Steve Wariner’s “Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” one of my all-time favorites. And who could forget the gospel classics, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “The Family Bible” by two of country’s greatest singers, the late Johnny Cash and George Jones?

I can guarantee listening to Vince Gill sing “Go Rest High on That Mountain” will bring tears to your eyes. It was written for the funeral of the late Keith Whitely who died far too young, and it was sung at the funeral of George Jones by Vince and Patty Loveless (bring the tissues). Josh Turner, a strong believer, has two of my favorites on the list, “The Long Black Train” and “Me and God.” George Strait has a powerful rendition of “I Saw God Today,” and included on my list is “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
I listened to a few songs that I had never heard before that are worth listening to: Brad Paisley’s “When I Get Where I’m Going,” John Michael Montgomery’s “The Little Girl,” “New Again” by Sara Evans and Brad Paisely, “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott and the Scott family, “Something in the Water by Carrie Underwood and one I especially loved, “When I Get Where I am Going,” by Brad Paisely and Dolly Parton.

And when you have listened to all of them, I suggest the following: Garth Brooks, “Unanswered Prayer,” Merle Haggard, “Pray”, Tammy Wynette, “Precious Memories,” Willie Nelson, “Uncloudy Days,” The Carter Family, “Can the Circle be Unbroken,” Dolly Parton, “He’s Alive,” Kris Kristofferson, “Why Me Lord,” Hank Williams, “I Saw the Light,” and the all-time country classic, “The Great Speckled Bird” by Roy Acuff.

That’s enough to get your day started with a little “singspiration.” Let me know what you think about my choices, and be sure and include your all time spiritual country classics.

CONTEXT & What these rappers taught me about church planting. A guest post by #theCharlieMitchell

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Someone you should follow on Instagram, who has amazing insights and a beautiful way of explaining them, is Charlie Mitchell, founder & lead pastor of Epiphany Church in Baltimore. You can find him on Instagram at: theCharlieMitchell. Below are important insights, stated exceptionally well, on the power of context in church planting and planning.

MUSIC & The impact of the faith & music of DMX

by T.C. Moore, Religion News Service, 4/14/21

The Gospel of John tells the story of the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist, describing him as “the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’” paving the way for Jesus the Nazarene.

Hence, his other, lesser-known title: John the Forerunner. John’s fearlessness and bold announcement of the coming of the Messiah tilled the soil of hardened hearts and planted the seeds Jesus would cultivate into his world-changing kingdom of God movement.

Earl Simmons, better known as DMX, was my John the Forerunner.

In the wilderness of my gang-involved teens, DMX was a voice unlike any other, piercing my defenses and opening me up to the work of God that would eventually convert me into a devoted follower of Jesus.

DMX burst onto the hip-hop scene in 1998 with an utterly unique debut album, “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.” It was at once a raw testament to DMX’s story of suffering and survival while also sounding a faith-filled and hopeful note.

It wasn’t as if God was a stranger to hip-hop lyrics: Tupac Shakur, whose posthumous 1996 album “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” depicted the rapper on a cross on its cover, had often invoked God and heaven, to say nothing of the “Five Percent” theology that pervaded so much of East Coast rap.

But what “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” had that no other could claim was a distinct and overt Christian — maybe even charismatic — spirituality. DMX spoke directly with God in “The Convo,” in a lament worthy of Job (“Why you chose the hood for me?”) and wrestled with satanic temptation in “Damien” as Jesus did in the wilderness. “The Snake, the Rat, the Cat, the Dog / how you gonna see him if you livin’ in a fog?”

DMX wrote hauntingly about death, summoning the anguish of Jesus praying passionately in the Garden of Gethsemane. “You give me the Word / and only ask that I interpret / and give me the eyes / that I may recognize the Serpent.”

The only child of a schizophrenic single mother, I’d experienced more than my fair share of abuse and neglect. For a teenager wrestling with his own inner demons, DMX opened up a way out of the game through faith. If he could loft his questions about the problem of evil directly at God and rebuke the devil who tempted him to sin, maybe I could too. “Somebody’s knocking / should I let him in? / Lord, we’re just starting / but where will it end?”

Later that year, DMX dropped “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood,” which, like “Hell Is Hot,” topped the charts. When the criminal community to which I’d fled for safety began to unravel and my own choices landed me in one too many potentially deadly situations, the lyrics of “Slippin’” hit me like prophecy: “See, to live is to suffer. But to survive, well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering.”

About this time, my childhood friend Nate invited me to his baptism at a Pentecostal church. I heard God’s voice through the pastor. It called me like the voice of God in DMX’s music. After I was baptized, I encountered a new version of myself. On repeat on my Sony Discman, meanwhile, DMX was telling the story of a prodigal come home: “My child, I’m here as I’ve always been / it is you who went away and are back again,” he said on “Ready to Meet Him.” I tagged my first Bible with a sketch of myself drenched in blood like the cover of that album.

Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2021/04/14/dmx-was-my-john-the-forerunner/?utm_source=

Is worship becoming a “slog?” Don’t stick with “Largo tempo” worship songs. Use these 3-steps to intersperse worship with exciting uptempo songs that unite, inspire and awaken. #SundayMorningHacks

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 6/28/20.


Leading worship is something most church leaders delegate. Yet it is also something that a church leader needs to understand and to give leadership.

One of the most confusing areas for church leaders who are not musicians is the importance of tempo.  First I will explain the basics of the song tempo. And then I will show the importance of evaluating it and giving leadership in an area where the church leader may not (yet) have expertise.

Having evaluated hundreds of churches, I find that in many plateaued or declining churches their worship leaders are choosing songs in the Lento/Largo tempo (40-60 beat per minute), which means “very slow.”  And even when worship leaders pick up the tempo, they usually only do so slightly, to the Adagio tempo (66-76 beats per minute) which is “slow and stately” or Andante (76-108 beats per minute) which is “at a walking pace.”

Now, there is nothing wrong with worship songs in these “slow and stately” tempos. But in the plateaued or declining church a lack of higher tempo songs (in tempos which are more celebratory) creates a sense of “slogging” through a worship package.

Worship in the scriptures clearly at times involves an uptempo and celebratory spirit. Look at Psalm 150:1-6…

Praise God in his holy house of worship,
    praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
    praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
    praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
    praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
    praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
    Hallelujah!  The Message Bible 

Monotony can be elevated when a preacher also preaches in a “slow and stately” or “at a walking pace” tempo.  In one client, I witnessed how the entire service seemed laborious, forced and tiresome. The preacher was a gifted and stately speaker. But coupled with a slow and stately worship package, the entire service seemed tiresome. Rather than the preacher’s slow and stately preaching offering a respite from uptempo music, the worship package of only slow and stately music created a Sunday service with little variety, but much monotony.

For many leaders they will want to encourage the worship leaders to intersperse Moderato and above tempos (108+ beats per minute) into most worship lists. This creates ebbs-and-flows during the worship package with both …

  • celebration/reflection,
  • excitement/calmness
  • energy/stillness
  • structure/flexibleness

Here is how a non-musical leader can evaluate worship (and what they should do if they need to lead improvements).

  1. Record each song and measure each bpm (beats per minute). Applications are available to measure this.
  2. Is there a variety?  When do songs under 108 bpm occur? When do songs over 108 bpm occur?
  3. What needs to change?  Are uptempo songs needed during the worship package to energize the worshippers?
  4. Find songs in the tempos needed to create variety and inspiration.

Here is a helpful chart of the most common tempo markings with definitions and bpm:

  • Prestissimo (> 200 bpm)   very very fast
  • Presto (168 – 200 bpm)       very fast
  • Allegro (120 – 168 bpm)    fast
  • Moderato (108 – 120 bpm)   moderately 
  • Andante (76 – 108 bpm)   walking pace
  • Adagio (66 – 76 bpm)   slow and stately
  • Lento/Largo (40 – 60 bpm)   very slow
  • Grave (20-40 bpm) slow and solemn

Remember, every leader may not be a musician. But every Christian leader is called to be a worshipper.

Read the original article on BiblicalLeadership.com https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/how-to-keep-worship-from-becoming-monotonous/


SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Did you know Charles Wesley wrote a song “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.” It is more popularly known as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

by Jeffrey Barbeau, Christianity Today, 2/14/19.

…John Wesley’s subsequent “conversion” at Aldersgate Street in London is well known, but fewer realize that Charles experienced his own “heart strangely warmed” experience only a few days before. On Pentecost Sunday (“Whitsunday”), May 21, 1738, Charles attained what might alternately be called a deepening of faith, a new birth, and an assurance of God’s love that helped launch one of the great revivals in modern Christianity.

As he lay sick in bed, Charles experienced what he described as a new “Pentecost.” He heard the voice of a woman, calling out to him: “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise, and believe, and thou shalt be healed of all thy infirmities.” Charles records in his journal: “The words struck me to the heart.” In a moment, Charles, with “strange palpitation of heart,” declared “I believe, I believe!”

Three days before John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, Charles beat John to the punch. He came to recognize the love of God in the presence of the Spirit, dispelling the darkness of doubt from his heart.

The event was so moving that he later memorialized the day in one of the great hymns in Christian history, “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion,” more popularly known as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

In fact, the hymns of Charles Wesley are replete with references to love. At Easter, Christians around the world repeat the words of his most famous composition, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and declare “Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!” Elsewhere Charles praises “Love divine, all loves excelling” and honors God’s great and “universal love.”

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2019/february/charles-wesley-romance-love-sally-wesley.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=20830743&utm_content=635605081&utm_campaign=email

WORSHIP & Should hymns maintain the theology of their author? Experts weigh in, but #JohnWesley thought they should.

by Morgan Lee, Christianity Today, 8/10/18.

… Should hymns maintain the theology of their author? Or are they theologically neutral—a gift to the wider church, even—that can be modified at will?

CT asked experts on hymnody to weigh in. Answers are arranged (top to bottom) from those who favor hymns staying constant to those who favor their malleability. And they begin with John Wesley himself.

John Wesley, songwriter and evangelist, from the pre­face to the 1780 Col­lect­ion of Hymns for the Use of the Peo­ple Called Meth­od­ists:

Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honor to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse.

Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favors: either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.

Read more from “John Piper Changed ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness.’ Experts Weigh In” at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/august-web-only/great-is-thy-faithfulness-john-piper-lyrics-hymns-theology.html

CONTEMPORARY MUSIC & The founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become …

by Ryan Vlastelica, AVclub.com, 3/19/18.

Who was Larry Norman? He’s one of the fathers of spiritual rock music, “the Forrest Gump of evangelical Christianity”—which puts him on the front lines of America’s culture wars, though on whose side it’s hard to say—and the subject of Gregory Alan Thornbury’s fantastic new biography, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? The book, titled after one of Norman’s best-known songs, draws extensively on Norman’s personal archives, where he was thoughtful and introspective about his beliefs, work, and doubts, giving Thornbury’s work a level of insight and intimacy that’s all too rare among recently published artist biographies. When it comes to telling the story of an artist, what makes a good biography is not the fame or even the talent of the book’s subject, but the complexity of the figure and how that manifests itself through their life and work. Norman’s story has this in abundance. Why Should The Devil also serves as a primer on Christian rock, a critical analysis of the genre, and a compact history of Christianity in the latter half of last century, a period where Jesus went from a counterculture hero to all outcasts to a cynically deployed tool of the religious right.

Today, Christian rock is closer to sub-emo and ska in the extent to which it is maligned by mainstream critics, a statement Norman himself would’ve likely agreed with. (He died in 2008). He was a man of faith but also an artist of integrity, who wanted to push music forward and saw no reason why spiritual music couldn’t challenge audiences and rock at the same time. He played on the same bills as The Who, the Doors, and Janis Joplin, and later jammed with members of the Sex Pistols, and appeared onstage with Pixies frontman Black Francis. Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney were fans; U2 and Gun N’ Roses both cited him as an influence.

There are a number of fascinating through-lines in the book, each of which arise organically from the material and are explored in depth by multiple articulate perspectives; this isn’t a book of cheap shots.

One theme centers on religious pop art in general, and whether it should be accessible enough for secular audiences or geared toward the converted, and if so, whether it should challenge or celebrate one’s faith. On top of that, there’s an analysis of faith-based art on artistic grounds, with the argument it lacks the kind of inspiration or technical skill that would make it of interest to those who appreciate craftsmanship but aren’t there for the sermon…

Norman, who pushed the envelope both artistically and thematically, is at the heart of these debates. He wanted it both ways, Thornbury writes: “He wanted to rock and he wanted to talk about Jesus, he wanted to follow Jesus and to offend other followers of Jesus, for people to enjoy his music but also be discomfited by it.” Of course this pleased no one; he was “too edgy for the Jesus people and too religious for the run-of-the mill rock fans.” Christian stores didn’t stock his records and secular ones didn’t know how to categorize him. (“‘Christian psychedelic’ was hardly a category.”)

Read more at … https://www.avclub.com/the-founder-of-christian-rock-music-wouldve-hated-what-1823533655

MUSICAL PREFERENCES & They May Crystallize Around Age 23.5 According to Research (A Leadership Exercise)

Every culture is made up of behaviors, ideas and products (Christian anthropologist Paul Hiebert defined culture as people who join together because of “shared patterns of behavior, ideas and products.”1. One of the most powerful and cohesion-generating products is music and the celebration that accompanies it.

Holbrook and Schindler’s research suggests that a musical preference begins to crystallize in the early 20s and hardens throughout the rest of a person’s life.

This is important to know when attempting to understand worship wars. Rather than trying to attract people to into adopting music from a different culture, it might be more helpful to find touchstones and points of agreement between the music of their youth and the music of your youth.

So if you’re trying to reach out to another musical generation, begin by studying the music of that generation’s 20something years.

Try this leadership exercise to see if this research can be confirmed with your team members.

A. Ask your team members to share the year in which they were born.  If do not want to do so, graciously excuse them from the exercise. Try to get at least two or three participants.  Write down their birth year next to their name.

B. Next, ask your leaders to name their favorite musical groups and/or singers. Write these down next to their name. Each person should select three or four examples.

C. With your team (or later on your own if you prefer) go online and locate in which years  those musical groups were the most popular.

D. Then correlate the year range of artist popularity with the period in time when the team member was in their 20s.

E.  Finally, ask yourself, “Was there a correlation?”

There seems to be so, about 60 to 70% of the time. This is enough to say that Holbrook and Schindler’s research may be partially reliable and valid. But of course, more research is needed. That’s why I ask my students to undertake this leadership exercise. It can add to their experience and to their  emerging theses (a thesis is basically a scholarly hunch 🙂 And at the very least, it can make them more sensitive to the musical products that are prefrered by members of their teams.

1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1976), p. 25.

2. M. B. Holbrook & R. M. Schindler, “Some exploratory findings on the development of musical tastes,” Journal of Consumer Research, (1989) 16(1), p. 122.

BLENDED WORSHIP & To Blend or Not To Blend: Here is a better option for small churches

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/51/15.

Let me share about blended worship and the evangelistic prowess of blended services (which I prefer to call “unity services” rather than blended – but for this discussion and clarity I will use the latter).

I’ve made clear in my books (“ORGANIX,” “Cure for the Common Church” and “The Healthy Church”) about the lack of evangelistic efficacy of blended services, but often smaller churches (as I mention in “A House Divided”) have trouble having enough people to move to two services.  In this scenario the better option to the blended format is the compartmentalized format.  In this strategy the key will be to compartmentalize your service until you have grown sufficiently to launch two services.

One client had a pre-glow contemporary music component from 10:10-10:30, and then their standard traditional service from 10:30-11:30. This meant those who didn’t like modern worship didn’t have to sit through it. I have also seen this work as an after-glow too (though with a bit more difficulty).  Eventually as growth occurs the two services grow into two worship alternatives.

The reason this is necessitated is that people worship most passionately without alien (to them) music and culture invading. That is because we worship more readily and unhindered when surround with familiarity. Thus separating the two segments (rather than blending them into some sort of muddled goo) allows people to worship more passionately.  Biblically, we see Davidic worship very different than New Testament worship.

Thus, many churches will need to follow this strategy to grow. An area growing with younger families may especially require this. As you know in my book I show you how with about 100 people you can readily go to a second service. This is the ultimate way to dissuade the cultural music wars 🙂  Until then, the compartmentalized format will help smaller churches grow with some degree of cultural anonymity.

MUSIC & Comparing Troubadours from Different Cultures. A Leadership Exercise.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/10/15.

A friend of mine, Dan Kimball, encouraged me to listen to some of the lyrics of John Mayer. I first thought he said “John Mayall” a great blues-rock musician from England in the 1960s (http://www.johnmayall.com). But, he meant the more modern singer John Mayer.  As I listened to this latter day troubadour, I found a very poignant song by this young songwriter that juxtapositions generational predilections.

Here are the song lyrics from two representatives, each of a different generation (in fact I included this comparison in my book “Preparing for Change Reaction”). Weigh the lyrics of Boomer musicians Paul McCartney and his colleague John Lennon, against the Postmodern Xer lyrics of John Mayer:

Getting Better by Paul McCartney and John Lennon (The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (London: Parlophone Records, 1967).

Me used to be angry young man.
Me hiding me head in the sand.
You gave me the word I finally heard.
I’m doing the best that I can.
To admit it’s getting better, A little better all the time
To admit it’s getting better, It’s getting better since you’ve been mine.
Getting so much better all the time.

Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer (John Mayer, Continuum (New York: Sony Records, 2006).

Me and all my friends we’re all misunderstood.
They say we stand for nothing and there’s no way we ever could.
Now we see everything that’s going wrong with the world,
And those who lead it.
We just feel like we don’t have the means,
To rise above and beat it.
So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change.
We keep on waiting, waiting on the world to change.

A Leadership Exercise:

What do you think these lyrics can tell us about each generation?  And, can the plaintive muse (of John Mayer) be Christian (can you cite Biblical support), or adapted as such?

Write down your thoughts and share with other leaders (or fellow students).

Note:  As you may remember, I’ve included these lyrical comparisons in my book, “Preparing for Change Reaction: How To Introduce Change To A Church” (The Wesleyan Publishing House, January 1, 2008).  If you are interested, you will find in that chapter questions for discussion to get your lay leaders discussing this topic.

WORSHIP & Hits and Misses: What We Can Learn From Worship Disasters

Worship!  What a great experience!!

But, in addition this may be one of the church’s most explosive topics to date.  Elmer Towns is famous for saying, “The first murder in the bible took place over forms of worship (Genesis 4:1-16)” (personal conversation cited in my book, Growth by Accident, Death by Planning, Abingdon Press).

In my seminary courses, I regularly ask my students to share their thoughts on worship “hits” and “misses.”  In my book Growth by Accident, Death by Planning I explain that “worship misses” are some of the most far-reaching missteps churches will make.  From moving worship times around capriciously, blending different genres to poor effect, proud posing on the stage, etc. it often seems the purpose of worship to usher congregants into an encounter with God is undermined.
To help alleviate worship “misses” I ask my students to pick one (1) of the two following questions to answer.

1.)  Relate a story explaining how a worship celebration (either in the planning or execution) was handled poorly.  Tell us what happened, why it happened (in your mind), and what should have been done differently.

2.)  Or, relate a story about how a worship celebration (either the planning of it or in its execution) was handled well.  Then tell us what was (in your mind) the cause of the positive outcome, and what all churches could learn from this story.

Try this yourself and send me your experiences.  Some of my students’ responses are below (anonymously);

Subject: Re: Worship Hits and Misses by Student A
The worship “mis-step” I participated in occurred last September on Labor Day weekend – unfortunately we had quite a few guests that Sunday.  The worship leader and his team were not prepared for what was about to unfold.  The service began with a congregational singing of the hymn “Solid Rock”.  Verse 1 went well, but the power point slides for verse 2 never showed.  The worship leader paused and looked to the back for help.  The technician who tried valiantly to find the slides quickly realized it would take a few moments so he yelled to the congregation: “just hum the tune while I look for the slides” and the worship leader went along with hit.  Two verses of humming was all the pastor could take and he finally stood and interrupted the rendition.  The pastor then tried to use a video clip to visualize a point of his sermon, but the video clip wouldn’t play.  After again several long pauses and attempts, the pastor relayed verbally “what you would have seen if the video worked….”  The video eventually did play but after he had relayed it verbally – and he told the technician to just forget it.  The service ended with the pastor asking the worship leader to close in prayer.  He was clearly scattered by that point and had a difficult time focusing. The prayer went on and on and on with many long, silent pauses as he was trying to bring reverence back into a tough situation.  People began to sit down and collect their belongings.  He finally said “Amen” to bring the service to a close after four “Amens” were heard from various points throughout the audience.  Unfortunately, the service created memories of laughter and joking rather than reverence and awe.

What could have been done?  Technical difficulties arise and this was one time we should have scrapped technology and opened a hymnal (which we happen to have).  I’m sure the pastor in retrospect wished he had taken control of the service, skipped the video and closed himself.   Because everyone was going to make a joke about the “humming” and long pauses, the pastor or worship leader could have made the joke themselves – making light of our weak human efforts –  and then brought it around to close on an up beat.

Bob W – Lesson:  Be careful you do’t lean too much on technology, or get frustrated when it goes awry.

Subject: Re: Worship Hits and Misses by Student B
This reply is not of a serious nature.  I figure everybody might need a laugh.  We were having candlelight service one Christmas Eve and one of our deacons had an “on fire experience”.  This gentlemen was a practical joker but the joke was on him.  After tiring of the service, which he was good at, he leaned back against the wall .  The next thing Roy had caught his leisure suit on fire with one of the candles in the window.  It did cause quite a disruption in the service but everyone got a good laugh at Roy having so much spirit he was literally on fire.

PRAISE & What SDG & J.J. Meant to Johann Sebastian Bach

by Bob Whitesel, 10/20/14

This man’s proficiency at balancing numerous tasks (much less performing them on the organ), makes him worthy of our scrutiny. Here is a scripture and a story that sums up the Christian faith that Johann Sebastian Bach embraced.

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Johann Sebastian Bach is considered one of the greatest composers in history. The sheer number of his works is staggering, including cantatas for every Sunday and Church festival of the year. Bach was prolific in other areas of his life as well, often working a variety of jobs while parenting twenty children (probably the inducement for so many vocations). But it’s Bach’s skill at composition and creative arrangement that has secured his place in history. A generation later Ludwig von Beethoven observed that, “His name ought not to be Bach (Bach is the German word for brook), but ocean, because of his infinite and inexhaustible wealth of combinations and harmonies.”

At first glance it might seem that Johann Sebastian Bach easily penned his many sonatas, orchestral suites, choral works and fugues. But at many times Bach had difficulty summoning the creative energy and insight to compose. At those times, Bach found inspiration and illumination in the Bible and through prayer. His manuscripts were frequently peppered with the initials, “J. J.” Latin for Jesu Juva … Help me, Jesus.” And upon completion of his endeavors he routinely signed his works “S.D.G.” which stands for Soli Deo Gloria – “To God alone, the glory.”

To dwell on the pleasant things of life should not be limited to a creative device for composers. Oftentimes a short respite to dwell on what Philippians calls “whatever is true, … noble, …right, …pure, …etc.” can be a powerful tool for peace and composure. Can you recall a time when you were in need of some peace and serenity, and dwelling on the beauty of life might have helped?

The next time you’re facing difficulties and challenges why not spend a few minutes of reflection on the good things in your life? The Bible will often provide a wonderful point of departure. The wellspring from which Johann Sebastian Bach drew his solace and inspiration can be the fountainhead of your inner strength.

HUMILITY & How Felix Mendelssohn Championed the Music of a Rival

by Bob Whitesel 10/20/14

Here we uncover the story of a man whose selfless acts would ensure that his place in history would be downplayed, and that the memory of an earlier rival would be esteemed.

This Christian’s story is drawn from the annuals of musical history, a genre that some may deduce to be a rather unlikely arena for a course on church leadership. But this man’s aptitude toward honoring others makes him worthy of our scrutiny.

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in his mighty heavens…

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150. 1, 6 (NIV)

What kind of humility does it take to overlook your own emerging career and champion the artistic efforts of an earlier rival? Felix Mendelssohn was not only one of the most successful composers of his time, but also a champion of the all but forgotten works of Johann Sebastian Bach. By Mendelssohn’s time, Bach’s brilliant concertos, fugues and symphonies had suffered decades of obscurity. Mendelssohn, due in part to a strong religious faith he shared with Bach, sought to reintroduce the world to Bach’s genus and skill.

Mendelssohn’s letters reveal a deep and abiding faith in God. The Bible served as not only the cornerstone of his life, but also as the inspiration for his work, such as the celebrated oratorios Elijah and Saint Paul. Once when a librettist altered the Biblical text of his composition, Mendelssohn observed, “I have time after time had to restore the precise text of the Bible. It is the best in the end.”

Mendelssohn had been impressed since a youth with Bach’s The Passion According to Saint Matthew. From the time he first sung it as a young choirboy he had been touched. As a successful adult he set out to “recover” and champion Bach’s neglected music. He personified the admonition of Psalm 150 to “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” He sought to breath new life into the majestic compositions of Bach, reintroducing them to a new generation and assuring these majestic praises would be given a voice for posterity. So impressed was Mendelssohn by one of Bach’ choruses that he wrote, “If life had taken hope and faith from me, this single chorus would restore all.”

It required a great degree of humility and grace to champion the genus of an earlier rival. Today we recognize Bach as one of the greatest composers of all time chiefly because of Mendelssohn’s efforts. Mendelssohn’s labor might best be summed up in the verse “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.”

Sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge others in lieu of ourselves. Such modesty and humbleness allows others to share in our successes. When you feel envious or resentful of another’s talents, the best remedy may be to focus on the giver of those capabilities.

ATTRACTIONAL & How To Keep the Focus Off of the Musicians

By Bob Whitesel, 7/6/14

While researching young growing churches I found that they often diligently work to keep the focus off of the musicians (and subsequently more on the supernatural presence of Christ). At Mars Church in Grandville Michigan the platform was in the middle of the sanctuary with congregants on four sides when I visited. It might be expected that the band would face outward on each of the four sides. But instead the band faced inward toward each other. Turning their backs upon the audience allowed the focus to be upon the large screens above them with the lyrics. The result was the focus was on the lyrics, not the singers.

At Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz the band was off stage out of the limelight on my forts visit. A simple cross was central on the platform. Dan Kimball even preached from the side of the stage, mentioning that his purpose wa to allow the cross to take the central focus.*OC Cover 64K

Not long afterward, I found a similar strategy at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. Here, like Mars Hill, the stage was in the middle and the audience surrounded it on four sides. But the band was behind the audience along one of the walls.

In these and many more visits to young congregations over the years I have found similar strategies to downplay the musicians and up-play the presence of Christ (for more details on these and other examples see my “Inside the Organic Church” by Abingdon Press).

Here are two ways you can start to get the focus off of the musicians.

1) Don’t put the musicians onstage and/or on the video screens. I believe this propensity for focusing/broadcasting the musicians comes from our cultural infatuation with concerts and popstars. It is hard to concentrate on Christ when a 15ft tall image of a musician looms above our heads, even if the lyrics are superimposed.

Instead, put the musicians off stage or off center, and put an icon relevant to the message/theme center stage (such as Vintage Faith’s platform-central cross).

2) If you don’t have room to move the band from the central platform, take the front lights off of them. Instead, put backlighting on the band (that means lighting them from behind with the lights shining on their backs). This creates a silhouette or outline of the band and worship leaders where their posture of worship is visible but not the nuances of their facial expressions. Some think musicians will not be able to see their music this way. But actually backlighting puts more light on their sheet music and less on any unintended facial frustrations.

The idea of putting the band offstage is not new. 35+ years ago I noticed the same strategy at one of the central churches of the 1960s Jesus Movement. Calvary Chapel was the California epicenter of this movement and was the magnet for California musicians both famous or unknown. But Pastor Chuck Smith regularity led the worship himself wit the musicians tucked away from the platform. The strategy took the focus away from the many professional yet hidden musicians and upon the singing of the 7,000 attendees.