MWM: Kudos to West Side

[This is an installment in the periodic Monday Worship Music series.  Find other, related posts through this link.]

Having 3.5 years’ worth of distant history with the West Side Church in Searcy, Arkansas,  I blogged gratefully about it here.

Then, having returned to that church for a visit more than a quarter-century later, I took it to task (in a long paragraph of this blog) for some ineptitudes one particular morning.

Now, I’m returning again to be nice.  Consider blogs # 1 and 3 to be happy bookends for the one negative experience.  🙂

After seeking nausea relief medications for recent congregational singing experiences at a larger church ‘cross town, Jedd and I ducked in to West Side on the evening of July 20 and found, to my great spiritual and psychological pleasure, these things:

  • a capable, young song leader
  • music notation available for every song (and only a couple flubs in the PowerPoint operation)
  • most important, three of the four songs we sang were of high quality!!

How few Sundays in my experience involve an appreciable amount of high-quality, worthwhile worship material?  Let’s put it this way:  like 9.5 out of 10 are disappointing.  So, needing some encouragement, but not really expecting to find it, I couldn’t have been happier with the above items.

The leader appeared to be in his early 20s and used his hand and voice well.  He wasn’t directing any particular aspects of the singing after beginning each song, but he did nothing distracting, and I’m more than willing to give him a few years to be able to lead with a little more intentionality.  He really did quite well.  This was the most pleasantly surprising song leader I’ve experienced in more than a year, anywhere.

The availability of music notation needs no further comment here.  (See blogposts available at this link for some rather redundant, yet rather necessary-in-my-view, feelings on this topic.)  Kudos to West Side, for recognizing that notation helps congregational singing.

Addendum 7/24:  Randall, a regular blog reader, has provided this link to a very worthwhile treatment of the value of hymnals.  While the emphasis on printed media is not often my emphasis, and while I think the blogger is a trifle too inexperienced to say a few of the things he says, he has provided a really fine, rational,  overall approach.

The songs we sang were these, in order:

Lord, We Come Before Thee Now

There Is a Place of Quiet Rest

Love for All

Heaven Came Down

In two of the above, there is a significantly worshipful God-awareness component.  In the other, a focus on communicating with God in prayer.  And in the first three, some well-composed music:  more or less hymn-style, harmonically interesting but not too difficult.  Although I don’t connect personally with the final song, it could have been a lot worse.  The leader showed some maturity and discernment in his selection — and I do believe they were his selections since they didn’t appear to complement the sermon in any direct way.  Again:  good for West Side in allowing worship/singing to stand on its own without subservience to the preacher and sermon.

All in all, it was a good evening, and I was glad to have been able to sing with these believers at West Side.

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8 thoughts on “MWM: Kudos to West Side

  1. thejaigner 07/28/2014 / 12:17 pm

    Hey, thanks for the shout out to Ponder Anew. “Inexperienced” in this context is probably a bit relative, but in any case, someone has to start the conversation. Glad you found the post helpful.

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    • Brian Casey 07/28/2014 / 1:57 pm

      Your reaction to the hastily written descriptor “inexperienced” was very gracious. I should have given that more thought. You’re absolutely right that it’s relative, and it would have been more apt of me to say something like this: “This blogger’s opinions stem from a set of experiences that overlap, but do not match, my own; plus, he appears to be at least 15 years younger than I, so he might not have experienced the breadth of churches and worship practices that his well-spoken manner seems to indicate.” 🙂 Please forgive me for being too careless with a word there.

      For the record, here are some other comments I made to my friend about your blog, which was really quite worthy:

      “This blogger has presented an enviably thorough case for hymnals, whereas I tend to focus on provision of any kind of music notation. I think a couple of his later points (e.g., sanctuary aesthetics, distractions, and “new songs”) are weaker than most of the others. [snip] … he clearly has something worthwhile to say! I wonder if he has ever come across projected music notation (not just words only), which is readily available, although probably not as common as it should be.

      On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 12:17 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

      >

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  2. thejaigner 07/28/2014 / 2:06 pm

    LOL…I’m not offended in any way. Also, those pictures are nearly six years old. I’m honored by the things you’ve already said, and am glad you included my post.

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  3. warsinger 07/28/2014 / 4:36 pm

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on consistency in worship leading. As you visit congregations do you know whether the leaders are the same ones every week or if they have a rotation (large or small). And maybe you’re hitting on one of the weaker in the rotation where if you were there the following week you might have been more “impressed.”

    I’ve struggled with the idea of having 1-3 leaders who are the very “best” vs. a rotation of 5-6 (broader if you include PM services) where you get a different experience (style and execution) every week.

    My suggestions for a smaller rotation come up against wanting to not hurt anyone’s feelings by telling them they can’t serve in this capacity.

    I can guess what you’ll say based on your past writings but it’s been on my mind and heart for a couple years now (really longer, spanning 2 congregations) and this seems like a safe place to share my thoughts and release some steam.

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    • Brian Casey 07/30/2014 / 10:06 am

      I’m so glad you feel this is a “safe place.” That’s gratifying to read. Not that I’m necessarily the guy to facilitate, but I’ve often wished for dialogue on certain topics and haven’t gotten as much discussion as I’ve envisioned. At any rate, thanks for writing.

      This is a good question, too — and not one with easy, cut-and-dried answers.

      I’ve been in only a few CofC congregations in which a single worship/song leader was used to the exclusion of others. One of them was my own, and that leader was my father, not me. It was roughly the time when I was a teenager and college student, and the elders specifically asked my dad, who had been the deacon responsible for scheduling himself and a handful of other leaders, to be the only leader himself on Sunday morning. He did this, with some embarrassment, for a period of a year or three. There was more continuity, and I daresay better quality on Sunday mornings. But I can’t help but wonder whether that era set up a negative undercurrent that lasted for a couple of decades after that. Dad continued to lead among 3-4 others (including myself) on Sunday mornings, and most of those guys plus another 6 or 8 were rotated in on Sunday nights and for some Wed. night devotional times. I have the distinct sense that a small segment of the church — a segment I might describe as part of the “core” group but ideologically a bit more shallow — came to feel that Dad exercised too much control.

      These scenarios all have their own personalities and characteristics, and I imagine you’ve experienced some similar things. My own feeling, as you might have guessed, is that the people (plural, if possible) with the best abilities in song and worship leading should be the ones who lead singing and worship. I think it’s unlikely to be a good situation if only one person does this all the time, so if there are two or more with reasonable gifts, i.e., that don’t fall all over themselves trying desperately, and failing, to get things done well, it’s better to have a plurality of leaders.

      In non-*a cappella *situations in which groups lead, there is most often a designated “worship leader.” This person may do nothing more than plan the sequence or “set” and be the lead singer. Or, s/he may more actively lead, cast vision, play, sing some of the time, mentor other, developing worship leaders, and shepherd other participants in a very real sense. When there is a paid/staff worship leader, the whole situation intensifies. I don’t suppose I’ve visited too many places where the main worship leader had a worse voice, or a lesser spirit, than others in the group. But I imagine just as readily that others could have been offering other gifts to the congregation. I get really uncomfortable when any single person is set up above others.

      This of course goes to the whole preacher/pastor thing, which is a different, but related, discussion.

      By and large, and in general, I am supportive of “small rotations,” and the problem of hurting others’ feelings can be mitigated by careful, loving conversation in which those men are a) affirmed for who they are and b) given other opportunities for which they are better suited. I don’t have much personal experience with shepherding someone into another area of service, but I have to believe it can be done well!

      Do you think I’ve been off-base in any of this? What thoughts do you have?

      On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 4:36 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

      >

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    • warsinger 07/31/2014 / 1:01 pm

      I appreciate your input and experience. You are right that there are no simple answers as there never are when you get a group of people together. I will continue to do the best I can and look for ways to help “train” others. My son is 15 and has started leading one Sunday night a month so I definitely have an influence there.

      It’s always a struggle for making things well planned and purposeful without trying to be “professional”. Like many things, the tension between the two poles is a reality and helps keep us in balance.

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    • Brian Casey 07/31/2014 / 4:27 pm

      Keep up the mentoring with your son — and maybe with his friends, if any of them are getting into leading.

      I like the ideal of “well-planned and purposeful but not professional.” Well said.

      Re-reading your original question … you might have also been interested in what one can tell when visiting a church for the first time. I think it’s typically possible to tell whether the leader is the only one — if not the first Sunday, at least by the second. 🙂 I’ve wondered, though, whether it might be beneficial for a church with, say, 3 leaders of decent skills and insights, for each guy to have a month at a time. This might give more continuity, enable a congregation to follow one leader to a greater degree, and facilitate the introduction of new songs that one leader knows. Just thinking out loud….

      On Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 1:01 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

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