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?

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?

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank – Part 2

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank – Part 2

Last week reminded me how powerful and personal gospel music is. Musical artists we’ve never met can feel like family, because we’ve heard their voices as often as family. In short, these lists are personal and that’s what makes them so different and so revealing.

We’re looking at artists that paved the way for the Kirk Franklins of today. Many of you responded with your own lists and they were great. Names like Thomas Dorsey, Roberta Martin, Alex Bradford, the Fairfield Four, and the Blendwrights, to name a few.  All great names.  In the future we’ll look specifically at choirs, quartets, COGIC artists, and Adventist artists.

But although all of the pioneers were groundbreakers, some of them faced extra-ordinary criticism from the religious community for their music.  When I hear artists like Jonathan Nelson, Karen Clark, the Walls Group, and J.Moss sing at the Oakwood University church, I can almost hear the legendary pastor of that church, Elder Eric Ward, turning over in his grave.  At one point, they not only banned drums in that church, but they banned audio tracks that had drums on them! Times have changed.

It’s that element of Kirk Franklin’s genius that I see reflected in the people on this list of 7. Artists who were ahead of their time. Artists who endured until their ministry went from extreme to standard. Artists who were banned but who are now honored. We started with Thomas Whitfield, Mahalia Jackson, and Edwin Hawkins. 7 is not nearly a long enough list, but let’s go.

James Cleveland

A native of Chicago and pianist for the legendary Albertina Walker and Thomas Dorsey, most people don’t realize how monumental the ministry of James Cleveland actually was. He strained his voice at an early age, but it left him with that signature “voice of gravel” that was a gospel music staple.

Cleveland was the driving force behind the birth of “contemporary” gospel music. He traveled the country with the Cleveland Singers and the Southern California Community Choir performing to crowds of thousands. He won 4 Grammys and was the first gospel artist to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Today his influence lives on through the Gospel Music Workshop of America that he founded with Albertina Walker. Today it has over 200 chapters with 30,000 plus members.

Andre Crouch

His songbook is broad and reads like a contemporary church hymnal:

  • The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power
  • Soon and Very Soon
  • Jesus Is The Answer
  • Take Me Back
  • Through It All
  • My Tribute (To God Be The Glory)
  • It Won’t Be Long
  • Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus
  • Let The Church Say Amen

His music not only brings back memories, but it brings back emotions, and musicals, and graduations, and funerals. Andre Crouch music was practically the sound track for black church life for years. But it was not without controversy. He was the principle figure in the Jesus music movement that brought contemporary music into the church in the 60s and 70s. He was also the first major black artist to cross over into the Anglo Christian music market. (CCM).

His music is heard in the films, Color Purple, The Lion King, and many more. He worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross and a long list of secular artists. But it’s nearly impossible to find a gospel artist that does not list him as an influence or trailblazer.

The Winans

I was helping a church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi one summer and went to a radio station to record a radio spot. They gave me some new albums to choose my music from and I picked up, “Introducing the Winans.” For the next hour I couldn’t get past the first track, The Question Is. It was amazing.

Over their career, those 4 brothers from Detroit won multiple Grammys, Doves, Stellars, and a host of other awards. They were known for their crossover appeal and often appeared on R&B charts, collaborating with Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and others. They are still impacting gospel music today as solo artists along with several of their siblings, including B.B. and C.C Winans.

It’s important to note that they were introduced to the music world by Andre Crouch. No Andre Crouch, no Winans. No Winans, no Commissioned or Witness. No Commissioned, no Fred Hammond or Marvin Sapp…and on it goes.

John P. Kee

“How did he get on the list?” I hear some of you. Here’s why:

  • First, I love him!
  • Second, I think he’s one of the best combinations of traditional, contemporary, quartet, and choir music ever.
  • Third, at his height-and I’ve heard them all- he was the best live performer in the business, and Franklin’s early concerts were a rip-off…I mean “homage” to Kee. (You didn’t realize gospel music fans could be so snarky….get over it!)

When Kirk Franklin first arrived with the Family, John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir were the hottest young act in gospel music. His energy, his grooves, his dancing, his jokes, his musicianship, his business genius…have all knocked down walls for the Kirk Franklins of this world.

A former drug dealer turned preacher, he is currently the Senior Pastor of New Life City of Praise. He continues to travel and perform across the country.

Ok, that’s it. I gotta stop. I could really double this list and still not be done. As I said, gospel music is powerful and personal. So, who’s on your list? Who would you take off of mine? Comments?

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank

“7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank”

My Public Evangelism class was about to start and we were discussing contemporary gospel music. Kirk Franklin will be in Huntsville this year during our annual Alumni Weekend here at Oakwood University. Franklin, of course, is arguably the most powerful figure in black gospel music today. He has won numerous awards, including 12 Grammys and a host of Stellar Awards, Dove Awards, and Billboard awards. Since his debut album Kirk Franklin and the Family in 1993, he has stayed at the top of the gospel music world.

But it occurred to me as we spoke, that Franklin is almost 50 years old now. So I asked the students, “ How many of you are Kirk Franklin fans?” Most of them were, so I pushed it a bit further.

“ Name some gospel music artists who were popular before Kirk Franklin.” Silence.  

“ Have you heard of Mahalia Jackson?” Nothing.    

“ Edwin Hawkins?”  Blank stares.

“ What about James Cleveland?”  One of my students responded, “ Yeah, I think I read about him in my class on The History of African American Music.” Oh, that hurt. It made me feel as old as I actually am. I had a mind to flunk the entire class. What are we teaching these kids!!!!

So, of course I adjusted my blog schedule to address this blasphemy. Let’s take a look at some musical pioneers who laid the foundation for the Travis Greenes and Ty Tribbetts and Tasha Cobbs and Walls Groups and countless others. Let’s look at 7 artists that Kirk Franklin and an army of other contemporary gospel music artists should thank.

Thomas Whitfield

Last week Kirk Franklin did a tribute to the Top 5 Gospel Legends on his Sirius FM radio channel.  He noted that Whitfield had the greatest impact on his music. A strange name to some but an absolute legend to many. From his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, Thomas Whitfield literally changed the direction of black gospel music.

From the Clark Sisters, to Commissioned, to Vanessa Bell Armstrong, to the Winans (all 100 of them), to Yolanda Adams, to Paul Morton, to Donald Lawrence, to even Aretha Franklin. Every one of them had a little Thomas Whitfield in them.  The “Maestro” as Whitfield was affectionately known, was a singer, arranger, writer, and innovator, who produced for each of those artists and many more.

In 1977 he organized the legendary Thomas Whitfield Company with his friend Tyrone Hemphill, and for the next 15 years they influenced the industry with classics like: Precious Jesus, Walk in the Light, and Oh, How I Love Jesus. Whitfield passed in 1992, but the Thomas Whitfield Company has continued to sing and keep his memory alive.

Edwin Hawkins

I distinctly remember black Adventist church music pre and post Edwin Hawkins. Before the Edwin Hawkins Singers exploded onto the gospel music landscape in 1968/69, most Adventist choirs thought they were hot when they sang “ Elijah Rock” or “ Soon ah Will Be Done.”   And the closest we came to contemporary gospel was “Father Abraham” at M.V. But the Hawkins family changed it all.

Edwin Hawkins was the originator of urban contemporary gospel music. It sounds strange to say “was” because he passed away less than a month ago. Born in Oakland, California, he played the piano with his family and other gospel groups from the age of 7. But in 1968 he produced an album with the Northern California State Youth Choir (COGIC), and later the Edwin Hawkins Singer that included the groundbreaking, “Oh Happy Day.”

The song, “Oh Happy Day” was the forerunner for every contemporary gospel song that ever crossed over onto the pop charts. It was an international hit selling over 7 million copies worldwide.  In 1969 it was the number one pop song in France, Germany, and the Netherlands and number two in the U.K. and Ireland. Amazing for a simple, straight- forward gospel song that declared:

“Oh, Happy Day, Oh Happy Day…. When Jesus washed…. He washed my sins away…. Oh, Happy Day.”

Mahalia Jackson

You could make the argument that it all started with Mahalia Jackson. (Although I’m sure some Thomas Dorsey and Rosetta Tharpe fans will disagree.) But Mahalia Jackson took the same kind of hits from the church in the 50s and 60s that Kirk Franklin took in the 90s. She was the recognized Queen of Gospel Music, but she was under constant criticism for,“ bringing that jazz into the church.” Sound familiar?

Born in New Orleans but raised in Chicago, she was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall. At her height she toured America and Europe  billed as the World’s Greatest Gospel Singer. She was also in a number of motion pictures including the timeless tear-jerker, Imitation of Life. The legendary Harry Belafonte once described her as,” the single most powerful black woman in the United States.”

Mahalia Jackson recorded more than 30 albums during her lifetime. Her hits included:

 

  • How I Got Over
  • Holding My Saviour’s Hand
  • Amazing Grace
  • Remember Me
  • Roll Jordan Roll

 

But in 1948 she recorded the William Herbert Brewster classic, How I Got Over, and it sold more than 8 million copies. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame In 1998.  All of her professional career she was pressured to follow the money and crossover into “secular” music, but she resisted. The greatest pressure came from her husband Ike, and they eventually divorced over the matter in 1941.

Mahalia Jackson was a pillar of the civil rights movement. In 1963 she sang at the historic March on Washington before Dr. Martin King spoke. And at the end of his message it was Mahalia Jackson who inspired him when she shouted out, “Tell them about the dream Martin!” And he did.

So, there you have it. Those are my first 3, with 4 to come.  Do you agree? Disagree? Who’s on your list?