7 Things Praise Teams Should NOT Do

“7 Things Praise Teams Should NOT Do!”

You probably know by now that I love hymns. That’s right.  If I hear the number 499, my eyes glaze over and I just start singing “Sound the Battle Cry” at the top of my lungs!! (That might not be totally accurate.) I love hymns.

But I prefer my hymns in the middle of a good praise and worship set. I prefer praise and worship. And believe me, I’ve heard it all. From dark suited deacons droning through devotional songs on Sunday morning, to gifted choristers at 11 o-clock on Sabbath, to “Father Abraham” at AYS. They all take me to a happy place, but for me, there’s nothing like a good praise team with a tight band.

That said, as a pastor/professor/worshipper and shameless self-proclaimed authority on every known genre of church music and worship, let me list 7 quick things that praise teams should not do.

Don’t Neglect Your Personal Worship

Excellent corporate worship is an extension of consistent personal worship. If you wait until you arrive at the church to begin to worship, it’s already too late.

Don’t Miss Rehearsal

We can tell if rehearsal began when the praise team got up. Take a quick Old Testament glance at the importance of the Levites, psalmists and musicians and you’ll be a better steward of your gifts and opportunities.

Don’t Put Too Many Songs in the Set

Praise and worship might be a favorite part of the service but it’s not the only part of the service. Be considerate. And if you tell me the Spirit is leading you to go longer, I’ll remind you that the person who prayed too long just said the same thing!

Don’t Walk By The Mirror

Your appearance can be an attraction to the excellence of your God and worship, or a distraction that squanders a God moment. Modesty -in context- is the order of the day. Here’s a simple suggestion. When in doubt-Don’t!

Don’t Talk Too Much

Enough said.

Don’t manipulate

As a person who has led praise and worship to a bunch of statues, I feel your pain. There is nothing worse than trying to engage a lifeless church. At times, everything is working against you; their religious background, the band, the lighting, the sound man, the placement of the set, the length of the service, and on and on.

And then we’ve inadvertently trained members that corporate worship is like a trip to Burger King. They can have it their way. Not so. One of the distinctions between personal worship and corporate worship is that corporate worship is designed to be done…corporately! Together.

But manipulation doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t work for long. Folk get sick of the clichés. Church members have heard it all, “If we were at a Knicks game, we’d be on our feet ……” Well, I’m not at a Knicks game. And if I was at a Knicks game I’d be eating a hot dog and soda….and not listening to you. You get the picture.

Don’t Take It Personal, Make it Personal!

It’s hard to share a praise and worship set with a congregation that seems disconnected and uninterested. Ask any preacher who has made a passionate appeal, and no one moves a muscle. The temptation is to take it personally, but don’t.

There are a thousand and one reasons that people respond to certain sets or songs. This doesn’t eliminate the need to pursue best practices for praise and worship, but it’s rarely just about you. If we could pull back the curtain, we’d see the issues of life that preoccupy the best of us.

Here’s the thing. Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 both remind us that the congregation is a very important audience. But they are the secondary audience. God is our primary audience. Our worship begins and ends with Him. Our primary goal is to worship Him.

Praise and worship at its best is overflow. It’s sharing with the congregation what has already impacted you.  Nothing gets folk involved quite like that. It says, “We want to do this together, but He’s so good, I’ll thank Him alone.”  It’s a contagious attitude. It’s personal gratitude shared with a corporate group. When God and the congregation are placed in their proper order, something happens! Don’t take it personal, make it personal.

So, what do you think? What are some of your favorite praise and worship songs? Who are some of your favorite praise and worship leaders and singers?

The Great Controversy: Hymns Vs. Praise Worship

“The Great Controversy: Hymns vs Praise & Worship!”

Intro: The battle is intense, bordering on comical. Praise and worship has been blamed for everything from declining church attendance to the Kennedy assassination.  And when some people hear “hymns”, they see bonnets and white beards. What’s a church to do?

Last week we looked at some of the distinctions between hymns and praise and worship songs. Hymns are songs of adoration and praise to God. They are generally more formal, classical, and liturgical than praise and worship songs. Praise and worship songs are generally more intimate, contemporary, approachable, and repetitive.

Now, I am to the left of most folk when it comes to church music and worship.  If it’s too loud for you, it’s probably just right for me. My playlist has gotten me into trouble for years. But I absolutely love hymns!

  • I love the theology of hymns.
  • I love the gospel of hymns.
  • I love the structure of hymns.
  • I love the harmony of hymns.
  • I love the depth of hymns.

I also love the memories of hymns. And therein lies a challenge. I think we should acknowledge that a strong element of the appeal of hymns is nostalgia. Hymns take us back. And since most of us suffer from “selective amnesia”, older is generally better.

But don’t confuse nostalgia with the Holy Ghost. There has always been this drive to hold on to the past. In 1723, Thomas Symmes was writing new music-hymns. Look at the criticism he recorded:

  • “It’s not as melodious as the usual way!”
  • “There are so many new tunes, we shall never be done learning them.”
  • “It’s a contrivance to get money.”
  • “The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly!”
  • “It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it!”

 

I love it! That was the criticism that your hymn writers got when they introduced “new” music. Certainly, some of the criticism then and now is warranted.  There are strong hymns and sentimental hymns. There are good praise songs and some not so good. But we generally prefer old wineskins to new, even if the old wineskins are tired and ineffective.

No one fully understands what Paul meant in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 when he encouraged the church to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” But it is clear that he’s encouraging variety. Frankly, we need good hymns and great praise and worship. We need variety. There are 4 gospels, not 1. Each with a different perspective of the good news. There are multiple generations in our churches, not one.

I’m not advocating for an eclectic service that has a totally different feel from one week to the next. But it’s important to realize that God is God to us all. Young and old. Traditional and contemporary. As much as I love hymns, my default is to favor spiritual songs-new songs.  I believe God’s priority is for us to sing a new song, do a new and fresh thing, Ps.96:1, Ps. 105:2. Even if that means breathing new life into old lyrics.

I teach Christian Worship and Black Liturgy. In his book, Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin reminds us of several healthy tensions or balances that churches should establish with their music and worship in church.

Head and Heart

Our music and worship should engage our entire being. It should reach our emotions without stooping to emotionalism. This is incredibly important for a generation that values a tangible experience with God. Some of us are much more comfortable in a fairly cerebral worship setting. That’s good but not good enough. We are holistic beings and God wants to impact every part of us.

Vertical and Horizontal

God is our primary audience in worship. It’s what distinguishes our worship services, hymn singing, and praise and worship from empty entertainment. ( Sidebar. There is a legitimate and productive role for entertainment, but that’s for another blog.) But although God is our primary audience, He is not our exclusive audience. We have a responsibility to lift each other in our worship services with song, testimony, exhortation, and word.  

Ephesians 5:19 encourages us to sing to “address one another”, in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” In other words, it’s not enough to focus our attention solely on God with our music and worship. God says we need to also focus on how our music and worship can lift up the church.

Rooted and Relevant

Hymns are appealing because they have rich theological roots. They also remind us that we are a part of a body of believers that is much older, and broader, and bigger than our local church. Hymns carry memories and traditions that we value.  But hymns can fade into traditionalism when they are unfairly compared to spiritual songs of a new generation. They both have their place. Roots without relevance is useless.

When modern worship and contemporary praise and worship songs are strategically sprinkled with classic hymns, it is a recipe for a spiritual feast.

So, what are your thoughts? What would you change about the music in your worship service? Is it rooted? Is it relevant? Is it too cerebral? Too emotional?  Share/Comment/Thanks

What Happened to My Hymns?!

What Happened to My Hymns?!

I miss my hymns. That’s not nostalgia, that’s a need. “Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…”  Colossians 3:16

So, I’m preparing for this blog and researching the most popular Christian songs of all time, and the list is long:

  • “ I Just Need You.” Toby Mac
  • “ Shackles” Mary, Mary
  • “Oh, Happy Day” Edwin Hawkins
  • “I Can Only Imagine” Mercy Me
  • “Oceans” Hillsong

Just to name a few. Really? Those are great songs, but if I’m in a dark place, I seriously doubt if I’ll have Kirk Franklin’s “Stomp” in my headphones! “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave can inspire me in a single service, but “Redeemed How I Love to Proclaim It!” by Fanny Crosby has inspired me for a lifetime. It’s the power of hymns.

A hymn is a song of praise and adoration to God. In ancient Greek culture, hymns were not necessarily Christian. Hymns were melodies praising the gods of the day. It seems that Christians shared the practice and directed attention to the one true God. Sounds like Kirk Franklin or Lecrae, but that’s for another blog.

Hymns are generally more formal, classical, and liturgical than spiritual songs. They have been a mainstay of Christian worship services for generations.  But they seem to have fallen on hard times.  Praise teams gather where the chorister once stood. The sale of hymnals has plummeted. And for years churches have chosen to drop the morning hymn from their order of service.

But change is in the air! Robert Webber, David Brooks, and other Christian writers and researchers have noted the beginning of a postmodern return to more traditional and historical worship forms. Hymns are growing in popularity among young and old alike, and not a moment too soon. Because hymns play a unique role in the Christian life. What’s so special about hymns?

Hymns Teach Scripture

The late minister and educator R. W. Dale once said, “Let me write the hymns of the church and I don’t care who writes the theology.” Dale understood the value of hymns for teaching the Bible. Hymns from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, to “Break Thou the Bread of Life,” to “Holy, Holy, Holy,’ can teach more theology in 3 minutes than many people hear in 3 months.

Hymns Round Out God’s Personality

Hymns, spiritual songs, and praise and worship songs are different by design. They highlight different attributes of God. Different shades of his character. Praise and worship songs remind us of the nearness of God. They are intimate. We need that. But God is more than my “buddy”, God is my King. Hymns are more transcendent, more mystical, more majestic. We need that too.

Hymns Encourage Depth

I mean no harm, but if I hear one more lazy lyricist tell me, “One of these days and it won’t be long, you’ll look for me and I’ll be gone”, my head is going to explode!  In some of our services, we are drowning in clichés:

  • “Touch your neighbor!” “Turn to your neighbor.”  “High five your neighbor” (You get the picture)
  • “Won’t he do it?”
  • “Give God some praise.”
  • “I’m gettin’ ready to close” “…. I’m gettin’ ready to close” “…..I’m gettin’ to close….”

Hymns are a refreshing return to phrases that actually mean something! The lyrical content of hymns is generally richer and more intricate than praise and worship songs. Not better, necessarily. Just richer, deeper. We need that.

Hymns Add Variety

Don’t get it twisted. I’m still a fan of praise teams and I prefer my lyrics on the screen. I love my hymns, but not as much as Tamela Mann, Thomas Whitfield, John P. Kee, Hillsong, Vincent Bohanon & SOV, Sir the Baptist, and a grip of other Christian artists too long to mention. But variety is not only the spice of life, it’s the salvation of a predictable worship service. Do yourself a favor and spice up the service with a well -placed hymn.

Hymns Make You Sing!

The Bible is saturated with song. It seems that a happy heart Is inspired to sing. And talent has nothing to do with it. Hymns were written and structured to be sung with other believers. Not alone, but together.  Of course, that’s a goal in praise and worship also. But what many of those songs lack is familiarity. Great hymns are stamped in our memory banks.

Hymns Connect Generations

The only thing more challenging than leading a multi-generational church is leading a multi-generational worship service. What pleases one group is a problem for another. Solution? Try weaving familiar hymns into the order of service or the praise and worship set.  Grandma might not know, “Hallelujah! We Have Won The Victory,” but she does know, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!” Sing them both.

So, what do you think?  What are some of your favorite hymns and why? What memories do hymns bring to mind? Are they still singing hymns in your church? Would they work in your service?

What Memphis Reminded Me

What Memphis Reminded Me

Yesterday brought back strong memories. I can still see the face of the television newscaster fighting back tears and announcing, “Dr. Martin Luther King is dead.” Just 10.5 miles from my home in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. King was cut down by an assassin’s bullet, April 4, 1968.

50 years later, I’m standing about 300 yards from the Lorraine Motel balcony where he was shot. Thousands of us have returned to that spot to remember that giant and that day. The speakers were amazing. Jesse Jackson, James Lawson, Sister Peace, William Barber and others walked us through the history of a civil rights movement that changed this nation. They pushed us toward the ballot box to continue the fight for change.

At 6:01 PM the bells began to toll and the crowd hushed. They recognized that at that very moment 50 years ago a shot rang out and King crumbled on the balcony. Moments later the mood changed as Al Green sang songs that lifted our spirits and launched us from that place, determined to keep the dream alive.

I announced that this week’s blog title would be, “ What Happened to My Hymns?” I’ll get to that next week. Being in that historic gathering yesterday in Memphis reminded me of a number of things. Some important. Some, not so much. Here are a few.

There is nothing quite like the Black Church

There was one thing that most of the civil rights leaders past and present had in common. They were children of the black church. Even the ceremony itself reminded me of the magic of that institution. At times like a lecture. At times like a revival.  The music, the preachers, the fraternities, the speeches, the emotion, community, the choirs. Then and now there’s nothing quite like it.

We don’t realize how good the Aeolians are!

Where did that come from? Well, I was listening to the national HBCU mass choir sing, “Beams of Heaven” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and it occurred to me that I was missing something.  What was it?  The Aeolians. The HBCU mass choir was fine and twice the size, but not even close!  It reminded me again why the Oakwood University Aeolians are the 2017 Choir of the World. I’m afraid we take them for granted.

The more things change, the more….they don’t! 

Dr. King was in Memphis in 1968 supporting city sanitation workers. They were underpaid, disrespected, and the targets of systematic racism. King died supporting workers. 50 years later, Memphis is 64% black but 88% of senior managers in the city are white. Those are plantation percentages. The problems of crime and poverty and unemployment plague the city, but the downtown area is a growing shrine to gentrification. There’s work to do.

Movements are messy, and leaders are flawed. 

King was no choir boy. The leaders of the civil rights movement- male and female- were a mixed bag of energy, ideas, courage, and cowardice.  They were deeply flawed, but like the early Christian church they turned their world upside down. If you’re looking for a perfect movement, you’ll be waiting.

Friends come in all colors 

The bells tolled at 6:01 pm. It was the most important moment of the rally yesterday. Ironically, the speaker at that time was not a black pastor or politician, but a white Roman Catholic priest, Michael Pflegar. He has been an important player in the black community for years in Chicago. He wasn’t a token, he earned his spot.

The crowd began to boo when the mayor of Memphis and governor of Tennessee-both white- began to speak.  On the surface it seemed like a racial statement. But the jeers turned immediately to cheers when congressman Steve Cohen followed them. He has been a warrior of a representative for the black community-and he is white. You might not want to identify the friends or enemies of a movement by the color of their skin.

Our ancestors did more with less 

I was struck by the fact that most of the “builders” on the platform were in their golden years. They were recognized for the colleges, businesses, fraternities, and service organizations they had sacrificed to build. I’m afraid that sacrifice is a profanity to many in my world. We usually worship in churches and study in universities that our parents and grandparents built at great sacrifice. Of course, there is the problem of debt and the declining dollar. But the greater problem is a black community that is at times all talk and no action.

The power for change is still the power of God 

To the natural eye, the answers to the problems in the black community are obvious: economic investment, quality education, voter registration, etc. Those are powerful and legitimate answers. But James Lawson and the senior statesmen of the movement reminded us yesterday, that while we are pursuing those legitimate resources, the real answer comes, “not by might, nor by power” but by God’s spirit and power. Sound silly? I’d rather do it the way King did it than the way the scoffers and complainers aren’t doing it!

So those are a few of my thoughts about King and the movement. What do you think?