the baby and the bathwater


input
January 30, 2008, 8:09 pm
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input: the power or energy supplied to a machine

I was just about ready to do an article giving my considered opinion on the general content and approach of most worship training I have been to, and most books on worship that I have read recently.

Then I suddenly realised that I haven’t actually been to any worship training recently.

Or read any books.

OK so I’ve done a few seminars and workshops myself recently. But to be honest I’m not sure they were any good either. Not many people turned up. But then again I wasn’t doing a seminar on ‘how-to-write-a-hit-song-and-make-loads-of-money-whilst-at-the-same-time-remaining-
humble-and-not-really-being-concerned-about-the-money’. And I wasn’t doing a seminar on ‘how-to-make-your-band-sound-like-U2-whilst-remaining-strangely-unaffected-by-the-worldwide-fame’. And I had left the seminar on ‘how-to-make-a-big-brother-type-video-and-post-it-on-the-net-
whilst-recording-my-album-all-for-the-sake-of-encouraging-other-people-and-not-promoting-myself-at-all’ to someone else. So it was my own fault really. Should have chosen my subject matter more carefully. I did it on holiness, mystery and creativity. Schoolboy error….

Now where was I?

Oh yes, the quality of worship seminars and books.

You see my good friend, Naomi Lippett emailed me (as well a few other more qualified worship leaders than me) and asked what I would recommend to train up a number of young worship leaders in her church.

And that got me thinking about what influences I have had over the years.

Now I’ve been around the block a few times. I started leading worship, if you can call it that, when I was around 15 in the YPF. For those of you born this side of the 80’s, the YPF was the young people’s fellowship at church. I started by playing songs like ‘Do Lord, or Do Lord’ – you know the one about the arky arky, and ‘in nineteen hundred and sixty six there comes a new theology’ amongst others. I then moved on to university and played songs like ‘majesty’. Kendrick appeared and we were all asking Jesus to Shine, or talked about going out with joy. Then I moved on to my first big proper church we were being still, for the presence of the lord was there, and we sung about our problems disappearing – until we realised that they somehow remained. And of course we were still asking Jesus to shine.

Then I moved onto my second big church and we started to sing about the mountains and the seas, the river (which was here, of course), the fire, and the banqueting table. Soon after, thankfully, we stopped asking Jesus to shine, and the river was no longer here, but we had started to notice that the mountains were trembling and the dancers were dancing, and that we were all so happy, and we quite liked that. It was then that it all started rising up and falling down once again, and after a while we were all so sorry what we had made it. But then we seemed to get over being sorry about what we had made it and it all started again.

And I have been reflecting what actually encouraged me, what took me along the journey. And I think, actually, I have to say I come from the school of hard knocks when it comes to my worship leader training and development. No hang-around-in-coffee-shops-and-write-a-few-lines-of-a-song-no-one-will-ever-sing worship leader retreats for me. There was no ‘worship central’. In fact there was not even a ‘worship-on-the-rubbish-looking-industrial-estate-on-the-edge-of-town’ when I was in my informative years. I taught myself guitar (ok so no surprise there). And there was no ‘teach-yourself-cheesy-worshipful-facial-expressions’ dvd course in ten easy steps (for only £99.99). In fact there was no dvd at all. BetaMax video was the height of technological advances in those days….by ‘eck it were hard…..

But actually, there has been very little worship training, conferences or books on worship that have really made much of an impact – at least that I can remember. So what I am going to do over the next few posts is look at the things that I can recall as significant for me. I’ll let you know what I replied to Lippett, and maybe think of a few more things along the way!

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big up
January 24, 2008, 7:35 pm
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big up: respect, encouragement (innit)

In order to have a break from the seriousness of my blogging recently, and having finally got lament ‘off my chest’ I want to let you know about some songs and recordings from two of my friends that are coming up.

Many of you will know that I have been quite opinionated on the whole worship industry recently, but I am really excited about these two projects, as to me they are trying to model something that I think is really healthy for the church. They are projects owned and funded by local churches, but which then are working in partnership with a distributor who seems to be conceptually big enough to work in this way. And a big ‘Hip Hip Horray’ to the churches themselves who are also conceptually big enough to grasp that great worship doesn’t always equal big profits and are prepared to take a bit of risk in this whole thing.

This means that the songs and albums feel like they have a real integrity to them. There’s no sense of either of these artists doing an album for the sake of it, or because they need to do one to make money. They are reflecting what God is doing in their churches at the moment.

And even more than that, both of the worship leaders are very, very good at what they do.

And because they are both very humble types, it probably needs people like me to big them up, because they aren’t likely to do it themselves.

The first is DAVID GATE. In the next few weeks David will be starting work on a recording with my own church, Trinity Cheltenham. Many of you probably know that David joined our church having previously been with Soul Survivor in Watford, and has led worship at their conferences in the Summer. Although I decided to overlook that when I offered him a job 18 months ago.

Soul Survivor has produced some outstanding worship leaders and song writers in recent years. But in my mind David stands out as by far the most thoughtful and musical writer of them all. (Yes, even more than the ‘big two’). Many of his recent songs have come out of times of worship here at Trinity. One in particular – called ‘Bones’ – was written between the first and second morning services one Sunday recently. This is no mean feat, given that there is normally only 15 minutes. It has been a big song for us too.

If you are expecting a typical rasping guitar driven youth-type yawn worship album, then this won’t be for you. What it will probably be, though, is a beautiful, authentic, worshipful album. There’s not many of those about at the moment.

No pressure then Dave.

As it’s a church album, we are having to be very clever with the finances too (interpretation – the budget is tiny) so we are blagging everything we can along the way too. Which is sort of fun.

The second is NICK and BECKY DRAKE

Nick is the worship leader at St Paul’s Hammersmith, and led worship with me at New Wine a couple of years ago. But he is most noted for his liberal use of the word ‘dude’ in conversation. Close behind this is his ‘rock star’ hair (ie a bit all over the place). Despite both of these traits, he has managed to catch a really lovely wife called Becky. And between them they have produced a kidz album called ‘God’s Big Family’.

Now, one of the worst part of my job as a worship pastor is hunting out new kidz songs. You just can’t imagine the complete drivel I have gone through over the years trying to find good kidz songs to sing in church. So when Nick sent me a pre-release copy of his album I was slightly nervous. But within about 10 seconds of listening to the first track I was jumping with glee. Here is the first couple of lines:

You put the stars in outer space, You popped the freckles on my face
All the fish that swim and all the birds that fly
Were made from your incredible imagination.

Becky does most of the vocals thankfully (only a joke Nick), and her voice is just right for the job – full of life and sparkle. And the songs are equally full truth, and thankfully avoid the mindnumbingtriteness of probably every kidz album I have heard since Great Big God.

And as Nick has entrusted me with a pre-release version I also get to be one of the first worship leaders to use them in church, which should add a huge amount to my ‘cool and with it’ rating.

So there you have it. Two great authentic, original, musical, albums full of great songs on their way. And not a big record label in sight.

Hurrah.

The revolution has begun.



lament: a holy moment
January 23, 2008, 6:43 pm
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Sometimes God’s timing is incredible.

Last night we had our ‘hungry for God’ evening. As a church yesturday we also had a day of prayer and fasting for two main things – our up and coming building project and, more importantly, those in our congregation who are seriously ill at the moment. We have our ‘Hungry for God’ evenings once a month, where we gather to pray and seek God as a church. I love leading worship at these times – there always seems to be a huge anticipation for what God may do. And last night was no exception: the church was crammed with people wanting to meet with God.

After a time of worship at the beginning, we started to pray for those who were ill. And of the 150 or so people who came for prayer, there were many who were very seriously ill. There were others who also came forward for prayer who were representing loved ones who couldn’t be there for one reason or another.

It was one of those moments I will remember for a long time.

There I was singing and leading the band gently as others prayed, and I was able to look out over so many of my friends, some of them very close friends as they were prayed for, and as I say, some who were very ill, possibly with life threatening conditions. I was reminded again of the huge privilege it is leading worship for my church. But as I was sensing it was time to move on back into worship, the question was ‘what do I sing?’

In one sense, if ever there was a time for a song of lament, then surely this was it.

But as I stood there, I just knew that there was no way I could lead a lament. I couldn’t do that with my congregation, my friends who I loved.

I just had to sing a song of hope.

And it was as if God was confirming some of the things I have been challenged with over recent weeks. The theological exercise I had been going through was suddenly brought sharply into focus as I was faced with this very real situation.

It was a holy moment.

In that building last night we were gathered as a people with a huge range of life situations. Those dealing with painful situations were standing alongside those who were feeling stronger. We stood alongside each other and prayed with a passion. And there were many tears along the way. But last night we were still a church full of hope, and a people marked out by praise.

And as we sang a song of hope, a song of praise, the sense of God’s presense was incredible. And what a testament to those who were ill and suffering that they were praising with such a passion.

I was chatting with my friend and pastor Mark Bailey and sharing what I sensed, and he also reminded me of another time in our church. We were doing the funeral of one of the church members – a lady who had died relatively young and left a husband and family. Mark said that he had talked to one of the guests, who wasn’t a Christian, after the service who said something like this: ‘I wouldn’t mind coming to this church again – I had expected it to be miserable – but it was so full of hope’.

I have enjoyed this study. It clearly has not been as extensive as those done by others. In fact some may say that I may have only scratched the surface. But I am coming to believe that the focus that so many worship leaders and theologians have been trying to give to this whole area of lament is not just unhelpful, but is a big distraction to the real mission of the church.

So my request to the 5.2 worship leaders and a dog who probably read this blog is this: Please write more songs of hope. Please write more songs of praise. Please write more songs that help raise the levels of faith and the commitment to intercession and service in the world that grow the kingdom.

And to record companies, my request is this. Please never release another album called a ‘lament for a nation’ or any such title. Please don’t. It is a distraction. Don’t worry if it means loosing out on a few sales. Seek out songs of hope and praise.

You see, the church should embody the hope that is Jesus Christ. The church should be marked out by praise. And the church should be one that seeks the extension of God’s kingdom through the passion of it’s prayers and the sweat of it’s brow.

And as a worship leader who feels his primary purpose is to serve the church, this is where I want to focus my efforts from now on.

Hope.

Praise.

Growing the kingdom.

BRING IT ON



Lament: How Long?
January 21, 2008, 1:31 pm
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As you probably know by now, I have two daughters. And in many ways they are very different personalities. But there is one thing that they seem to have totally in common. There is one situation in life that they use exactly the same words almost without fail. And every time they use the words I feel my blood pressure rising.

It happens almost without fail every time we get into the car and set off on a journey as a family. And the words are repeated with a regularity that is utterly astounding.

The thing is, that I know I used the same words when I was young. And so did my wife. And I’m sure that we drove our parents mad as well. And I’m also pretty sure that one day our two daughters will be driven to the edge of despair by their children in exactly the same way.

The words seem to be handed down from generation to generation. It’s like we are pre-programmed with them.

And those words?

‘How long until we get there?’

Now basically, our children are quite good in the car. They get very silly sometimes, and get a little bit noisy quite often. But they travel quite well, and apart from one stressful trip to new wine a couple of years back (which, my wife reminds me was also typified by a lot of shouting from me), neither of them have been sick. And in fact things have got even better recently since we gave them each an ipod shuffle for Christmas. (provided they both don’t sing along at once to completely different tracks)

But even though they are quite good at travel, they don’t love it, and at regular intervals we get those immortal words ‘how long until we get there?’

In the Psalms we find that expression often too. Well, the ‘How Long’ part anyway. The psalmist may have also used the ‘how long until we get there’ line as well, but I’m guessing that such times weren’t considered worthy of recording for the benefit of future generations. But in most of the cases actually recorded, the psalmist is essentially asking of God ‘How long until You act?’ Whether that’s in showing His face (Psalms 13 and 89), in acting against wickedness or injustice (Psalms 94, 119), in stopping is anger (79) or in stopping those that seem to be against the psalmist himself (35)

When ever I have read these passages in the past, I have felt that in the main, the psalmist is somewhat resigned to his fate, generally praising along the way, but resigned. But as I’ve been reading them again recently, I’ve been sensing something else.

Maybe, just maybe, behind the often repeated ‘How Long?’ is not a complaint, but a prayer.

Maybe the ‘How Long?’ is not a mournful, resigned sob, but an intentional cry.

Maybe the psalmist is turning the apparent inactivity of God into a flexing of His faith-muscles.

You see, although we seem to have to live with pain, suffering and disappointment on this earth, we also know that we are called to engage ourselves in bringing about the growth of God’s kingdom on this earth. Because, although it could all happen without us, it seems that it won’t all happen without us. God has chosen us as co-workers in bringing about change.

And once again, I have to say that I am not sure that the church needs more songs of lament, but it certainly needs more songs that help us engage and pray for change, to plead for God to break through in power, to cry out to Him for the spring rain of His presence.



Lament: A people of praise
January 15, 2008, 3:53 pm
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In the 80’s we used to sing a song called ‘Jesus we celebrate Your victory’.

It went like this:

Jesus, we celebrate Your victory, Jesus, we revel in Your love
Jesus, we rejoice, You’ve set us free, Jesus, Your death has brought us life
It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery
So we’re rejoicing in God’s victory – our hearts responding to His love
His Spirit in us releases us from fear – the way to Him is open, with boldness we draw near
And in His presence our problems disappear – our hearts responding to His love

Now two things concern me about this song. The first thing that concerns me is that I must be so old that I can talk about songs that I used to sing in church 20 years ago. But the main thing that concerns me is that the theology is total baloney.

OK, it starts out well. The chorus is strong, talking about victory and freedom. The first verse builds on this really well. Then the second verse carries on the theme, and it’s all great, until right at the end it totally loses the plot with a last line that is just plain wrong.

Now some people, with the linguistic dexterity of Bill Clinton in his famous quote on Monica Lewinski, may be able to put some incredible spin on it so they could carry on singing it. But I never could.

Now I know I will have probably upset some people by saying this. The last time I questioned the theology of a song in a sermon I got emails complaining. You know the sort of email: ‘this song was the song I sang as I committed my life to the Lord’. ‘This was the song I sang when I got married to my childhood sweetheart’. ‘This song was sung at my great grand cousin’s funeral’. ‘This song was the single most important thing in my walk with God and you have rubbished it.” etc etc.

But just stay with me on this one for a while.

Our hope is certain. Absolutely. The Kingdom will come completely one day, and from that point onwards there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more death. We will be in the presence of God and all our problems will have disappeared. But until that day, we live in the times where the Kingdom has come, but not fully come. We live in times of partial sight, times of partial understanding. We may find a measure of understanding why they remain. We may even have enough faith to believe that in everything God will ultimately work things out for good. But a consequence of living in the now and the not yet of the kingdom is that problems will be a part of our lives until the day we die. Or as Jesus says. ‘In this world you will have trouble’.

And so when we gather as a church on a Sunday, we will gather as a people who will have a whole range of problems. Some may be those caused by our own sin or disobedience. Some will be caused by someone else’s sin or disobedience, of which we are innocent victims. Many will seem to have no immediate explanation whatsoever. But as we face up to those problems and situations, at some time or another our hearts will hurt. And when our hearts hurt, we cry, we grieve, we feel frail. And me, for one, wants our church, here in Cheltenham, to be a place where those with hurting hearts can come, and cry, and grieve and ask the question ‘why?’.

You see, to lament is human. The world understands grief and expressions of grief. The world understands pain and expressions of pain. Ever since Adam and Eve, lament in some form or another has been part of the life of every man and women that has walked the earth. Anyone who saw the expression of national grief in the US after 9/11 can see that people lament. Anyone who witnessed the extraordinary outpouring of grief in the UK following the death of Diana, has seen a nation cry. Anyone who has seen the media images of suffering in Darfur, or of hardship in Zimbabwi will have seen people who are expressing pain and suffering. The world knows about lament. And so to me, the thing that marks us out as Christians is not that we know how to lament. The thing that marks us out as Christians is that we know how to praise. Because to lament is human, but to praise is divine.

When I read the Psalms, the thing that seems to leap out of the text is not the words of sorrow, but the expressions of praise in the sorrow. Praise that is stirred by faith and fired by hope.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. (Psalm 43).

The church may well need a few more songs that deal with the now and the not yet of the kingdom. The church may well need worship leaders who are more sensitive to the real situations that people come to church with. We should and must deal better with these issues. But above everything else, praise needs to be on our lips, praise needs to be rising up within us.

Because the hallmark of the church is not so much its songs of lament, but its songs of praise.



Lament: A Church Of Hope
January 7, 2008, 9:45 am
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Sometimes I disappoint myself.

This Christmas we had our annual carol service at the Centaur, which is the concert venue at Cheltenham Racecourse. Approaching 2000 people from across the region joined together for a festive celebration of carols and readings. It was a great evening, full of sparkle and fun and lights and dancing and confettii! It was fantastic to work with such a team of wonderful people who helped make the event happen.

But this week we have been looking at some of the video footage. And now my team are calling me Mr Grumpy, because when I was singing the first carol (hark the herald angels) I look really miserable. OK, so most people wouldn’t have been able to see as close up as the video managed to get, and if truth be known, sometimes the build up to these events is so stressful that when you actually get started you are still in stress mode. And fortunately there were enough smily faces around me to make up for the frown that seemed permanently stuck on to my face.

But I was disappointed.

And I was disappointed because I am not sure that the way I was frowning helped contribute to one of the main purposes I think the church has: to be a place that in everything it does, expresses hope. My stressed out face may have been a true reflection of how I was feeling in that moment, but anyone seeing it close up would have probably not got the impression that I was someone full of hope.

OK so maybe I’m navel gazing a little. But let’s look at hope.

God’s kingdom is a kingdom where hope reigns. When people come into a relationship with Jesus, they become part of the kingdom of God which declares a living hope – Jesus Christ. But this hope is not a hope that the world immediately grasps the meaning of. When the world talks of hope, it normally means a hope for greater financial security, greater national prosperity, a better marriage, better educated children, for fitness and health. People hope they will win the lottery, that their children get into the better schools, that their investments will show a good return, that they will get that job promotion.

And there is nothing wrong with all of these things.

But if our understanding of hope is founded on these things, then ultimately our hope will probably crash around us.

There’s this classic quote from the film Clockwise, where John Cleese says this: ‘It’s not the despair: I can cope with despair. It’s the hope that is killing me.’

You see chasing after false hopes can be soul destroying.

But our hope, the hope of a kingdom people, is based on this: that our place in heaven is assured, and in the meantime God has a purpose for us. This hope is not a false hope, it is a True Hope. And this True Hope is worth chasing after, as it’s pursuing brings life.

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory (1 Peter 1 – message).

I love the last line of that verse. Too often we are tempted to judge kingdom life by the presence of gold, and not by the presence of faith. To often tie up God’s blessing with the trapping of a ‘successful’ life rather than obedience to God’s purpose for us.

But even more than this, my understanding is, however often that evil manages to frustrate or damage, however often our lack of prayerfulness hinders us, however often our disobedience holds us back, God’s promise never fails. For His people, His hope is rock solid.

And so what does the church offer to those who come through it’s doors in a place of brokenness, suffering, questioning, grief or pain?

True Hope.

What does the church offer to communities that have had their hearts broken?

True Hope.

What does the church offer to nations that have their very way of life challenged?

True Hope.

Not ‘Gold’. Not false assurances. But True Hope.

Many people encourage me to write songs of Lament. I still remain slightly sceptical. Maybe during the course of this study into lament over the coming weeks I may change my mind. But what I am sure about is this: as a church, we need to be singing songs of hope. We need to be a church that in everything it does, declares, and lives out, True Hope.

Mr Grumpy?