the baby and the bathwater

Leading Worship COE style – Preparation
March 19, 2008, 1:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

preparation: any proceeding, experience, or the like considered as a mode of preparing for the future

Ok, so all you worship leaders out there, be honest with me, be really honest this time.

How much time do you spend preparing to lead worship?

Because, let’s face it, the more we do this worship leading thing, the more we get pretty sick and tired of choosing songs. We all look down our song list and our hearts sink. there just seems to be nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing that really grabs us.

Then you try and think through new ways of playing those songs, and we maybe start to see a glimmer of creative hope. But then you realise that your drummer, Hit-Spray Simon, only knows one rhythm – 4/4 – and he plays exactly the same rhythm for every song, even the 6/8 songs, and when that doesn’t work he looks at you and scowles like it’s your fault, moans about the quality of his foldback, and then tries to cover up his inadequacies with the drum fill from hell. Finally he always speeds up so that even though the song started out as ‘purify my heart’ it ends up more like ‘the happy song’.

And so in the midst of your preparation, you start to feel a bit more depressed.

And then you remember the bass player, One-Note Nigel, who should be playing with you that week. I say ‘should’ because you are never sure if he’ll turn up, and even if he does he will always be four minutes late. To the dot. And you know that when he comes in he’ll be wearing that tee-shirt that says ‘bass players don’t need music’ and wearing that silly beenie. And then of course you’ll have to have that conversation about why tuning the bass is really quite important after all. And you long for him to smile, but know it will never happen as it’s a genetic malfunction that requires surgury, deep prayer ministry, or in the last resort, death, to rectify,

And the clouds descend.

Then you remember your electric guitarist, Thrasher Thomas, only has one volume – ear bleed – and also has that common electric guitarist syndrome – noisy-jack-lead-itus. The combination of the ear-bleed volume and the noisy-jack-lead last week caused Auntie Phylls and Great-grandmother Silvia to convulse, and the amp to blow. Although the blown amp didn’t seem to worry the guitarist who just turned up the volume and now calls the sound it produces as ‘quite grungy’.

And your shoulders slump.

Then of course there is your keyboard player, Bumble Hands Harry, who has twenty fingers. At least you think so given the number of notes he seems to be able to press all at once, covering the entire frequency range with one swoop. And then there’s that rack of sound modules that seems to try an emulate the national philharmonic orchestra, whale music, and the Irish international pan pipers all at once. And of course, even if all of these are turned off, there will always be the continual, never ending, drone of the special ‘worship pad’ that is used with astounding regularity because the keyboardist thinks it actually generates the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the services.

And if things couldn’t get any worse.

You remember which Pastor it is leading the service with you. Mr Warble-Voice. He thinks he has the gift of prophetic singing and regularly gets up to the mike in times of worship and presents his most recent offering. The said pastor keeps telling you that ‘God has given him a song’, and all you end up concluding is that ‘God only gave him that song because God didn’t want it himself’.

Then just as you are about to get started on that song list again you remember who is on the sound desk: yes it’s Feedback Fred. Feedback Fred has two main inadequacies when it comes to mixing the sound. First, he doesn’t know how to mix. And second he doesn’t understand sound. So you know that this service the congregation will have to go through the entire morning with a sound mix consisting of one of the floor toms combined with the low hum of feedback from the backing vocalists. Nothing else. Just floor tom and feedback. All the way through. Still, at least the one glimmer of hope is that it will mean that no one will be able to hear Mr Warble Voice.

Your preparation is ruined.

‘Leading Worship C of E style’ recommends a significant amount of preparation for worship. But what is the best preparation that any of us can do?

And in my mind it’s this: preparation that increases our ability to hear the voice of God; preparation that tenders our hearts to sense the presence of God; preparation that fires our souls to worship God. You see as I look around the modern church and modern worship scene at the moment I see many many people who are very good at what they do. They know the chords, they know the rhythms, they’ve got the beats. But what I think the church is crying out for is not so much people who are very good at what they do, but people who allow God to do what he is very good at doing. And so any preparation that increases our dependence on God is probably preparation well spent.

And actually, Hit-Spray Simon, One-Note Nigel, Thrasher Thomas, Bumble-Hands Harry, Mr Warble Voice, and Feedback Fred may well need to work harder, and pursue excellence in their ministry. But if, through all of that, the voice of God is lost, then they will have failed. Miserably.

Because excellence at the cost of encounter is pure folly.

[all these characters are entirely fictional and any similarity to any worship team member I have worked with, present or past is purely co-incidental. Except Hit-Spray Simon. He is real]


Leading Worship COE style: Liturgy
March 15, 2008, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have a couple of things in common with the Bishop of Gloucester (who wrote the note that I have called ‘leading worship CofE style’). One of those is that we both belong to the Church of England, and have pursued a calling within that church which has taken a huge amount of commitment and service and devotion to duty. OK so he’s ended up with the bigger house and sexier job title, but I’m in no way bitter about that.

The other thing we both have in common is that we are both liturgists.

Yes really.

I am a self confessed, card carrying liturgust. I have the T shirt, the DVD, the car sticker, I am part of the facebook group. Everything.

I am a liturgist because I write songs for people to sing in church.

And I recon the type of liturgy writing that I am involved with is probably the fasted growing, increasingly influential liturgy in the modern day church today. Far more influential than anything that is in the Anglican prayer book or book of common worship. You don’t believe me? Well, if you ask most worship leaders these days to recite the ‘prayer of humble access’ they will look at you as though you need counselling. Ask them to play ‘heart of worship’ by Matt Redman and they will be able to sing and play it word and note perfect, in the right key, with all the same arrangements and dynamics as any other worship leader in virtually any other country in the world.

Ok so my songs aren’t quite as influential as Matt Redman’s. But then his are pretty good.

But it does lead me to ask this question: what makes good liturgy?

Well let me suggest a few things.

Good liturgy has it’s inspiration in the work of the Holy Spirit, who is always looking to glorify God. He is a creative Spirit and a sign of His activity is in the newness of the things He creates though His people. When liturgy isn’t inspired and anointed by the Holy Spirit, however technically good it is, it will not be full of life and will tend to point to people or things other than the One it is meant to point towards.

Our churches and songbooks are full of liturgy that shouldn’t be there because they were born of man and not the Spirit. One worship leader friend recounts the time when a songwriter came up to him, played some dreadful worship song that he had written, and then declared ‘God has given me this song’. My worship leader friend says how he had this thought: ‘well, if God gave that to you, it was probably because he didn’t want it!’ Yet another time, a songwriter came and played him a song and said, with a hint of false humility ‘it’s not me that wrote this song, but God’. My friend said that his initial reaction was ‘well it’s not that good!’

Joking aside, though, it is very probably true that too much of our liturgy has a little too much of the inspiration of man in it, and probably not enough of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in it. ‘Good and clever’ just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to liturgy. In fact ‘good and clever’ on it’s own is probably more annoying than anointed.

Good liturgy is full of truth. It draws together the truth of God’s gloriousness and the mystery that surrounds Him and entwines itself around the heart of the worshipper, compelling it to praise. Like it or not, liturgy sinks deep into people’s hearts and stays there, stoking passions and driving activity. That’s why any writer of liturgy needs a strong theological framework and preferably a few other theological brains around them to check things out.

Good liturgy gathers a whole bunch of people and voices and hearts into an expression of unity. And as the church recites it’s liturgy it finds a common ground and declares to God and to any human ear that is listening that it is better off being together than apart.

Good liturgy serves the church and it’s mission, packaging the things of God into a form that the world can relate to. It can’t sit outside culture, it has to be part of it. Once our liturgy has ceased to be accessible to the outsider, it needs to be revisited, refreshed, enlivened, or discarded. Liturgy is never sacred.

But above all.

Way above all.

Liturgy should sweep up the worshipper into an encounter with God, and then should fade away into the background as a truly divine exchange unravels. Heart to Heart. Deep to Deep. Because the real feast begins where the liturgy ends.

Leading Worship COE style
March 10, 2008, 7:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was given a copy of a note that has been circulated by the Bishop of Gloucester to all the clergy in this diocese. It was entitled ‘Leading Worship’. I found it really interesting, and thought it was worth sharing. Of course you need to get into more traditional anglican mode, which is of a vicar, with an organist playing the hymns (maybe now and then with a music group playing some songs).

I think it may be worth looking at some of this again in future posts?

1. What is the task of the leader in worship?
– to work with the Spirit to bring the worshippers through Christ to the Father.
– to draw the liturgy into unity and the congregation into community
– to ensure that there is a sense of welcome and inclusion
– to be sensitive to those who may be lost, confused or on the margin

2. What is required of the leader of worship?
– prayerfulness
– openness
– a handful of confidence and a pinch of reticence- but just sometimes a pinch of confidence and a handful of reticence
– preparation – including familiarity with the text
– being at ease in one’s body
– serious intent – a desire to draw into the mystery of God
– sensitive antennae
– warmth, joy, more warmth, more joy
– love of the Lord and love of liturgy

3. Some first questions early in preparation
– for whom is this service principally intended
– what is the nature of this community
– in what season is it set
– what is it’s particular emphasis or theme?
– how long should it be
– how confident will the congregation be about it’s worship
– does it need high or low profile leadership

4. Some questions as the service order comes together
– does this service feel like a joyful celebration of the people of God
– will the service have a sense of wonder and reverence
– what will be the balance between my leadership and the input of others and between what an individual speaks and what the congregation says, sings or does
– will the elements of penetence, intercession, thanksgiving and praise be present
– will the gospel of Christ be proclaimed
– what will be the teaching element in the service
– what expression will there be of welcome and of fellowship

5. Some final questions
– are there any ‘stage directions’ i need to have given
– will questions about standing, kneeling, sitting be clear
– are there any questions about visibility, furnishings, sound that need attention
– where do I need to stand! and to sit
– will my one-liners help draw the worship together or destroy the flow?
– have I allowed time to pray before people arrive and to stand at the door and greet people before we begin

6. A rogue question
-how much of this applies in a very informal service, perhaps not even in a church