Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Worship Resolution for the New Year

And they sang a new song…” (Rev. 5:9)

The New Year is upon us and it’s time to re-group after the hectic happenings of the Christmas season. Pageants, musicals, choral programs, and special services fill the holidays with a lot of music. These highlights of the Christian year are wonderful, yet the next Sunday is upon us and Worship leaders and planners are often so busy during the holidays that there is little time to plan for January. The ebb and flow of Christian celebrations leaves no excuse to forget the relentless march of week after week of Sunday services.

One of the simpler resolutions worship planners and leaders can make is to learn and teach new music to the congregation this year.  You might question why I suggest this is “simple.” Let me explain the process that I have used effectively over the years to teach congregations new music and build the repertoire of the church.

First, let me remind you that we are not replacing the entire song list of your congregation.  Worship music must be balanced to contain familiar songs that bring comfort to the church members, as well as some new ones to keep them interested. And, that’s where new music can be incorporated effectively.  With that in mind, we can carefully introduce new songs that will become integral to the worship of our community.

To keep the introduction of new music simple, it must be limited. In other words, we are only going to teach twelve new songs in the entire year. That’s one per month. Why so few?  Primarily because our congregations are not made up of musicians who will pick up on a new song the first time it is sung. If picked carefully, even some of the musicians on the worship team will have to spend some time learning the music to lead it well.

To make it even easier to manage, split the year into quarters. By doing so you will only need to pick three songs right away for January, February and March, and then you can make a note on your calendar sometime in March to pick three more songs for the following quarter. This process can be repeated for each quarter and can help to keep the initial investment of time for each quarter to a minimum.

As for song choice, it’s probably not the best idea to listen to your Christian radio station or check the “Top 100” list at CCLI or some other Christian music source. Although many songs are popular, popularity does not necessarily make them sing-able for a congregation. You must understand your congregation and how well they sing. Many popular songs and choruses have obvious pitfalls: vocal range is too high or too low, the rhythms have too much syncopation, the match of melody and words is cumbersome, etc. Remember that our goal is for the congregation to sing and worship together, not for the worship planner or leader to lead their favorite songs or choose songs that fit their style or range.

I suggest looking around for music as broadly as possible. A new song for a congregation does not have to be a song written in the last few years. You may find that a song from a hymnal or older chorus book would really benefit your congregation. My point is that it will take some work to really find some well-written congregational songs that will fit for your church. You might even find a song writer in your own church.

Once chosen, the process for introducing the new songs is simple as well. In early January, have a soloist introduce the first song as a piece of special music. The following week have the worship team teach the song to the congregation. This might take more time than just singing through it.  Teaching the chorus first could work, while the worship team sings the verses and the congregations join on the chorus. It will depend on the song, but the rule is that the congregation will need to be taught the song. Don’t expect that they will just “pick it up.”

In week three, take a break from the song for congregational singing. It could be used as an instrumental prelude or offertory piece so attendees can be reminded of the melody. Finally, in the final week of the month, insert the song into the regular order of the worship music. In the following month, also use the song a couple of times in the regular mix of the worship. The first and third weeks are ideal for this since the new song being introduced does not require congregational participation on those weeks.

After this kind of exposure to a new song, many people in the congregation will know it and begin to sing with more luster and engagement. Trying to rush this process will end in frustration for many, and we are already seeing a huge decline in the desire of church attendees to sing and participate in worship. That is certainly a topic for another article.

Repeating this process month-by-month provides the potential of learning twelve new songs in a year without too much planning and overload. In fact, even though we are part way through January right now, it’s something that could be incorporated into your worship planning this week. And even if that feels too quick, start in February instead. Either way, this is a manageable and simple plan to teach new music to your church.


(Original Post on Jan. 7, 2014 at the Worldview Church:

Christmas Music, Worship and Culture

The celebration of Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier each year.  Radio stations begin playing music sometime after Halloween, and some stores begin decorating and selling Christmas products even prior to that.

Along with this commercialized jump start to the season come complaints from Christians and non-Christians alike.  Christians complain that Christmas has become so commercialized that Christmas is more about shopping than about Christ.  In many ways, of course, this is true – even in the lives Christians!  Non-Christians complain that Christmas is too much about Christ, and desire that we remove Christ from the holiday altogether and proclaim, “Seasons Greetings!” or “Happy Holidays.”

There are many other criticisms of the season, too, from whether we should shop on Thanksgiving Day, to the cost of the seasonal trappings, to the “joys” of being with extended family (which is not always joyous!).  This year, I thought we might want to consider why the early start of the Christmas season, and even the commercialization of it, might be a good thing!

I noticed the other day, while driving somewhere, that most Radio stations have some kind of Christmas music playing.  When I arrived at my location, which was a store (where their sole purpose is to expand their commercial enterprise and sell things!), I noticed that they also had some kind of Christmas music playing.  In fact, as I moved from store to store in my travels, had lunch, and stopped at the bank — each of them had Christmas music playing.

Even more interesting was the kind of Christmas music that was playing.  That is, the fact that Christmas music about CHRIST was being played in all of these places.  Songs about His birth, about His divine nature, about the sin that He came to conquer, about the salvation being offered to all mankind through Him, about the joy of His birth, about the miracle of the virgin birth, about the supernatural reality of Angels announcing his coming, about the poor and the rich bowing to Him as King!  All of this, and more, was being declared freely and without objection.  Truth was being declared.

I was reminded of Paul’s words (Phil. 1:8):

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.

Let me call on each of us to rejoice this Christmas.  Christ is being proclaimed, even by many organizations that would otherwise deny Him.  In some way, this seems to fulfill some other words of Paul, just a few verses later (Phil 2:10-11):

at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Worship and Christmas Traditions

In these few short weeks we enjoy one of Christianity’s most significant celebrations – the season of Christmas.  The celebration of the Incarnation of the Word.  Christ’s birth.  No doubt your church is filled with Christmas Carols, decorated walls and trees, and probably little children running around dressed as angels, shepherds, wise men, and maybe even farm animals.

I have no statistics (though I’m sure they are available), but it seems that the season of Christmas has produced the greatest number of traditions compared to any other season of the year.  Musical traditions, decorating traditions, family traditions, church traditions, shopping traditions, and even mythical traditions abound.  I’m sure you have your own list of traditions for the holidays.  Miss one of them, and something just doesn’t seem right.  Like the whole holiday is out of sync.

Well, traditions really are a wonderful thing – if we are careful to think through the implications of what they mean.  Our family started a tradition a number of years ago of staying at home.  No trips to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s.  No rush to see these friends or that family member.  In the hustle and bustle of our regular schedule, this tradition of just staying at home has made Christmas day a wonderful, close family time.  We eat breakfast together (one of the only days of the year we do this), reflect upon the Christmas story from Luke 2 (a tradition my wife brought to our family from hers), open the gifts, play, read, watch movies, take naps, or whatever comes up.  No pressure, no deadlines, just time together.  This tradition is positive in many respects, and the implications of our time together are numerous as we build memories with one another.

One of my favorite traditions is shopping the day after Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve.  For over 10 years I worked in retail sales.  Of course, Christmas was the busiest season for us.  The day after Thanksgiving was often the biggest sales day of the year.  I worked from 7 AM to 11 PM, often with few breaks.  Christmas Eve was another busy day early on, then customer traffic slowed later in the day as folks headed home to prepare for their festivities.  Where was I late in the afternoon?  Usually closing up one store or another, relieving other worn-out employees so they could be with their families after a long month of long days.  Thankfully, the owners were often very gracious and allowed me to leave early as well.  Today, I enjoy visiting the malls on these days, not to shop, but to just be there and know I don’t have to work.  Those years of experience gave me a real appreciation for the sacrifices that many workers make around the holidays.  My mall visits on those days remind me of that, and keep me thankful.

On the other hand, some traditions we keep only because they are traditions.  And they are hard to break.  These are the kind that often cause us to stumble in our faith, because we place more trust in the tradition than in God’s word.  We believe a fable rather than the truth.

One very obvious example of this from Christmas is our constant return, year after year, to the three kings that visited Jesus in the manger.  There they are in the church yard and the life-size nativity scene.  Here they are in the mall gift shop that sells a beautiful porcelain set featuring these three guys (as well as a very well-groomed Mary – Did she really just have a baby?).  I find these “Kings” in children’s pictorial bibles.  We hear about them every year as the congregation sings “We Three Kings of Orient Are…”

Well, I hope to not burst anybody’s bubble, but read the biblical account carefully and you’ll find that our tradition is far from the truth.  The “Magi” may have been kings, but are more accurately described as wise men.  There may have been three, but there is no indication of this in Scripture.  They did visit Jesus, but not at the manger, and possibly up to two years after His birth (that would make Him a toddler at the time!!).  (Oh, by the way, the shepherds never saw the star, according to the Bible – only in another traditional Christmas carol.)

Can I suggest a new tradition?  Set up your nativity scene on the West end of your house.  This works well for my family, since that puts it right next to the fireplace and in the same room as most of our decorations.  Then, grab the Wise Men, their camels, gifts, and whatever else seems to go with them specifically, and head to the East end of your house – even if that’s in a different room.  Now, put them there on a shelf, or dresser.  That way the wise men are in the right context according to the truth of the story – out in the East following the star.

When it comes to traditions, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our kids is not reject or accept them just because they are traditions, but think through them together.  Why were they established?  What did they mean originally?  Do they still mean the same thing today?  Can we recover the original intent if it has been altered?  Why should we hold to this tradition?  Is this tradition becoming more important than the truth?  These questions, and others, can help us discover our own motives for holding on to traditions.  Hold those motives up in the light of God’s word, and don’t be afraid to change if necessary.  This analysis and reanalysis is healthy in our personal life, our family life and our church life.

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