Impressing pastors, parishioners, and accountants

The card shown below (front and back) appears in the pew of a large institutional church near us.













Prior to the appearance of these cards in the pews, I imagine there was an extended conversation in the regular Tuesday morning church staff meeting.  Let’s listen in on the meeting. . . .

Pastor Being:  So I assume most of you have noticed that our offering is dropping off.

Staff of 19 (not including the custodial staff of 5) [in unison, sighing ] Yes, we know.  What can we do? 

Advisory Accountant:  So glad you asked.  Here is a graph of the weekly and monthly figures leading up to Reformation Sunday.  We are off 20%, especially after that sermon series on Ecclesiastes.  Ahem, sorry, Pastor Being.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, A.A.  Now let’s get down to business.  We at RLSC¹ need to find a way to ensure that everyone feels the tug to give.  I mean, it’s good for people to be involved, and to hear sermons and all that, but we can’t do any of this unless we put forward a new pitch for pesos, if you know what I mean.  A decisive dash for dollars.  A bigger buttload of bucks.  (Smiling winsomely) . . . hey, this Christmas, if there’s no cash-y, there’s no creche-y!

Staff of 19:  [collectively, aggrandizingly]  Hahahahaha! 

Advisory Accountant:  Projecting out current trends, it is a distinct possibility that we’ll have to cut 25-35% on holiday expenditures.  The issue, if you ask me, is accountability.  Everyone’s concerned about privacy and identity theft, so donation practices are more private then ever.  I mean, how can the left hand know what the right hand is doing if all the giving is done on an app in the privacy of one’s home?  That doesn’t make a good impression on visitors . . . and what are the pastors supposed to think when the plate is passed through the pews and only 40-50% of the parishioners are dropping in cash and checks?  We need more accountability!

Pastor Being:  Based on A.A.’s recommendation, I support the notion of accountability.  Something doesn’t smell right about the left hand and right hand thing there . . . I’m not sure why . . . but I agree that the impression left when fewer hands touch the collection plates is a downer.

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Growth class last semester that if funds are being contributed by less than 75% of the membership, there is less than a 25% chance of growth during the next two quarters.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, P.I.  We definitely need a steady growth rate if we’re going to break ground next year on the new office annex, and if we don’t increase the rate, we can kiss the organ loft and pastor bonuses goodbye.  

Staff of 19:  [Collective sigh and downcast countenances]

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Methods class last fall that organs and choirs . . .

Pastor Being:  [interrupting]  For the moment, we can’t expect to have much esprit de corps unless we all have a shared sense of everyone else’s giving.  You know, like the workplace that displays a United Way contributions thermometer, coloring in the increasing level as it moves toward the goal. . . . 

Staff of 19:  [collectively]  Hahaha! 

P.B. [continuing] I’ve been wondering about those internet-savvy hipsters, working in tech companies and carrying the latest devices.  How do we know if they’re contributing regularly?  

Lead Tech Pastor:  Some of them might have encryption devices, or they might know how to disable our spyware so we can’t track their use of our new donation app.  For the run-of-the-mill donor, we are working on flash projection, using the robotics we use with the cams for the worship team.  When the team is taking a break, we can live-stream the contribution amounts in real-time, moving the screen down the row on the robotic arms in sync with the collection plate.  Later on, we can add the number of new donation app users as a sort of soft incentive.

Pastoral Accountant:  Studies have shown that people feel more obligated to give if everyone around them is giving.

GenX Involvement Pastor:  Seriously?  We’re going to make people feel uncomfortable?  I guess so, if we have to.

Creativity Pastor:  I was talking to the Pastoral Accountant after I saw the contribution figures last Sunday—thank goodness for our lay accountancy team that counts the money during worship.  Anyway, the P.A. and I both think we need to develop a card or some object that everyone who contributes online can drop into the collection plate on Sundays.  It would be symbolic, but it would increase the pressure on others to donate, too.

Pastoral Accountant:  Absolutely.  I think it should be a card that says “I give electronically.”  A card is heavy, so the sound of them being dropped into the plates will add sonic stimuli.  An additional benefit of a card would be that it gives the lay accountancy team something more to count, and that makes them feel more involved, and then they’ll probably give more money, too.  

Pastor Being:  What biblical passages can you think of that support such a card?

Biblically Learned, Subservient Pastor:  Hmm.  None, really.  Not even a principle that I know of.  Come to think of it, not even 1 Corinthians 16 . . . 

Pastor B:  [interrupting] Well, we can keep researching that.  Surely there’s something. . . .

Devoted Sheep among the Staff:  There is another way, you know.  Has anyone read about Francis Chan’s new movement? Check this out.  According to this report, “Chan leads a house church movement in San Francisco called We Are Church.  There are currently 14 to 15 house churches, he said, and 30 pastors (two pastors per church) — all of whom do it for free.  Each church is designed to be small so it’s more like family where members can actually get to know one another, love one another and make use of their gifts.”

Pastor Being:  [Never having considered a simpler, less costly way]  That seems sort of pie-in-the-sky, doesn’t it?

Assistant Pastoral Advisory Accountant:  You can’t be serious, little follower-sheep!!  What would that kind of model do to our cash flow and our end-of-decade projections?  We would experience more decline in our contribution income, and we would default on our installment notes.  Two or three banks would accelerate the balances on our loans.  We’d probably have to tap into our investment funds—or worse, go into hock with HQ.  The tax returns would be a nightmare!  Who would want to consult for us next quarter or serve as our independent auditors if we’re right around the corner from filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy??!

Pastor Being:  [continuing and calming the others]  Okay, okay. . . .  We all know we have this wonderful facility, and we’re not going to lose it just yet.  You know what?  Look around you.  There are some really well-to-do people in our immediate vicinity.  I see no reason the Lord wouldn’t want us to reach out to them just as much as to the lower classes. 

To inspire and to impress—our twofold mission.  We as a pastoral staff do the inspiring, and that impresses our parishioners to the point that they in turn are inspired to impress all those around them by giving more.  Everyone is inspired by all the giving, and more giving is the result of that, and that surely impresses our visitors and God, too.

All:  Amen.

P.B.:  All right, it’s settled then.  Let’s develop these contribution cards and roll them out in first month of the fourth quarter.  Then we can engage independent teams of auditors and church growth consultants to study the effects on cash flow and institutional involvement. . . .

For the complete blog referred to by “Devoted Sheep among the Staff” above, click here.

For a prior blog specifically about e-giving, click here.  Near the bottom are two additional links to posts about 1Cor 16:1-2, often cited in support of Christian contributions to churches.

Annnnd . . . I had last written about contributions and tithing in institutional churches here.  That piece was a protracted tearing-apart of a very poorly done brochure.  At the end, I expressed that I hoped I had the restraint, when coming on this topic again, merely to refer to that post.  Unfortunately, the sighting of the cards above brought the topic back, and I was compelled to speak against it.

¹ RLSC:  Reformed Large Swanky Church


Over-emphasized (?): church roles in 1Tim and Titus

Over-emphasized (?):  Church Roles in 1Tim and Titus

Or, The Aging and Negative Development of Christian Thought

The letters known as First Timothy and Titus are typically the first points of investigation for anyone wanting to explore biblically based roles for elders/pastors/shepherds and deacons/servants.  Other, possibly related bits may pop in from Acts 6, Hebrews 13, and other spots, but 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1 appear to house the most extended treatments of these roles.

It is not my intent here to examine the veracity of this or that document (as though I could).¹  I merely want to suggest a possibly altered view, sort of wondering out loud.  Could it be that the probable later writing of Timothy and Titus compromises how we should see them?  Do they suggest specific or rigid ideas about the church elder/pastor and deacon roles?  Put another way:  could it be that Paul’s and/or his trusted companions’ thoughts on these topics became crystallized, over-codified, or even obscured over a period of decades?

Earlier this week, I heard a fine Christian speaker put forward the idea that Paul must’ve been so proud of a church’s health because it had progressed to the point of having elders and deacons.  From an institutional standpoint, I get that.  But my negative view of hierarchies and most letterhead-designated roles has me doubting that cause/effect relationship.  A movement may be responsive to developing needs in a cultural context, and the existence of recognized elders and deacons at Ephesus or Philippi might well have signified something positive.  Still, the presence of designated leaders who have certain traits (or “qualifications,” preferred by some) does not necessarily imply progress, let alone proving a singular reason for Paul’s joy.

I myself feel gladness in learning of a church that has multiple leaders instead of a single pastor-in-charge, but an oligarchy is only a slightly better model for a church than a (human) dictatorship, no matter how benevolent.  Mutuality and general Christian influence, a la Paul ⇒ Philemon, are more to be relied on than positional authority and power.  Practically speaking, leaders will arise within groups, to one degree or another.  Leadership has various faces, including some agreeable ones.  The real problem is when one person, by virtue of a title and/or a position, has (or is seen as having) comprehensive or absolute authority.

In probing these things, I might ultimately reveal a bias toward original intent in terms of what church was to be, and how it was to go about its business.  Whether we can accurately determine original intent or not, I should think Jesus’ and Paul’s and Peter’s (and James’s and Barnabas’s and Philip’s, etc.) ideas are inherently more valuable than the ideas of church leaders in the 3rd or 10th generation.  I’d further assert that it may be observed, no matter one’s organizational, theological, or ecclesiological bias, that things changed notably by the second century CE—and even more so in the succeeding centuries.  By the time of Constantine and Theodosius in the fourth century, important moorings had been sacrificed, and as the Dark Ages began, much light was lost for centuries.

Assuming for the moment the reality that things and situations do change over time, and further assuming that entropy plays a role here, would it not be rational to think that Paul’s ideas on “church governance” (for lack of a better term) could have gotten just a little over-codified or over-emphasized by a well-meaning person who collected some sayings and put together a document from memory, a decade or even a century after Paul’s death?

I take as a given that popery is a skewed manifestation of “church leadership” and that its appearance resulted in a centuries-long blight.  [I also take as a given that there are some very sincere believers, some of whom I have been privileged to know, that remain attached, mostly for reasons of family history, to the Roman organization, but that is beside the point here.]  I further assume that all highly “clerical,” hierarchical leadership patterns are more or less antithetical to principles of New Testament scripture.  There are degrees of variance from the original, whatever the original was, but no de facto or de jure structure that employs positional power can be a good thing in the Lord’s eyes.

We are dealing here with substantive concepts around the nature of scripture, God’s sovereignty, and how God’s Spirit works in the ekklesia (called-out people who profess faith, i.e., the church).  I believe in the reality of an open God who allows for human free choice.  So, for instance, when I question how “original” and how important the 1Tim 3 description of a bishop/overseer is, I am necessarily dealing with the nature and provenance of scripture, but I am also assuming a sovereign God who chooses to allow changes and developments among His people.  I’d actually prefer to put the nature of scripture and canon and God Himself on the sideboard, intending instead to place this question on the table in plain view:   Could the elapsing of time have compromised some of the principled undergirding of various Christian writings, given that some documents were authored as early as 15 years after Jesus’ death, while others were not finalized for several decades?  More specifically here, does Paul (and does Jesus?) expect that every growing, mature church will have such designated leaders as bishops and deacons, as described in two letters that were written into specific historical and cultural situations, sometime between 60 CE and 160 CE?

In general terms, I find that we may observe a negative impact on the status quo during the passage of time after the first and second generations of Christian believers.

B. Casey, 5/21/17, rev. 6/7/17

¹ The letters purportedly from Paul to Timothy and Titus are letters of disputed provenance.  They might not have come as directly from the mind or dictation or pen of Paul as did Galatians and Philemon and 1Thessalonians and Romans, for example.


Brief debriefs

Here are three reactions for posterity after various church visits.

After the middle-aged “Bible” class at “Athens” Church:

If that was text study, I can see why the younger people wanted something different and started their own discussion group.  I wish I’d found a different class upon walking in the door.  But then there was the assembly proper (beginning with the third of the three triple whammies described here) and that would’ve put me into a spiritual fit, anyway.

After “Bible” class at “Western Farms” Church

If some people weren’t so insistent on continuing to talk in order to prove they know something they don’t know after all, God might be able to speak through the text.  (But, boy, was I pleasantly surprised and gratified when the sort-of-teacher’s-helper came to me as I left the room and thanked me for bringing him “back to the Bible” in my 2-minute comment toward the end of class.  [Sorry if that comes off as boastful. I mean mostly to call attention to a little oasis in this particular desert.  Once in a while I need to remind myself of a tad bit of personal worth.])

After Creektown Church’s “singing”:

Most churches fall somewhere between mildly disappointing and stultifying in many activities.  The singing aspect of this church’s gathering, experienced for a grand total of five minutes this very morning, didn’t come anywhere close to either of those.  It wasn’t even embarrassing.  It was an utter travesty, and doubly so because no one seemed to be aware of how bad it was.

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Did that make any sense?  Didn’t think so.  The singing at this place was like that:  nonsense.  The reasonable-quality gospel song sung from a poor-quality hymnal should have been familiar to at least half the people in the room, but the “leader” had not a fraction of a clue.  This was not your garden-variety obtuse or relatively unskilled leader.  This was like a paraplegic in a relay race or a short-order cook negotiating a nuclear treaty with the dictator of a 2nd-world communist country.  “Face to Face” ended up sung to a mixed-up, bad-form version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and believe me, no one intended that—or registered a quizzical look when it happened.  It was melodically confused and harmonically chaotic.  The next song, the Gaither favorite “He Lives,” began in at least three different keys with equal melodic confusion.  And no one even seemed aware.  And that in itself should be embarrassing.  Maybe I should have left out the 2nd half of this paragraph.  Nah.

I have purposefully avoided identifying any of the three churches with its actual name; no human soul will be able to figure out the actual name of more than one of them, and I can think of only one person at one of these churches that has even a remote chance of seeing this post.  The point is certainly not to make anyone feel bad.  I mean mostly to blow off steam, I suppose . . . although it would probably be advisable for a good number of my readers to stand back at their churches to measure the purposefulness, effectiveness, and quality of various aspects.

Maybe you have some influence where you are?

B. Casey, 12/11/16


Another blogger once referred to “tending” her blog; that expression has stuck with me for years.  Earlier this year, when I added two additional blogs to my framework, I had to consider seriously the “tending” factor.  Would my felt need to “tend” exceed the actual need to tend?  And would either one of those exceed my available time and energy?

There are many things to be tended to—too many, I think, for most people.  We tend to our houses/homes, our cars, our relationships, our personal finances.  Some of us add community groups such as service clubs, churches, sports organizations.  We tend to our health (more or less).

Where the pastor role exists in a local church, that person should by all rights “tend” the flock in some real sense.  I would go so far as to say that the basic meaning of the word “pastor”—both etymologically and contextually—in pretty much every NT passage in which the word “pastor” or “shepherd” appears is in fact tend (or, in the noun form, one who tends).  Yet when most staff pastors refer to having “pastored” a church, they seem often to be referring to administering facilities and institutions and programs more than to tending to people.

And I see that as a problem.  [Aside:  this observation demands further challenge to amalgamated titles like “executive pastor” and “administrative pastor.”]

I suppose those institutions and programs also need tending to, if they are to survive and thrive.  But the existence of institutions is not by any means essential in the kingdom of God.  Ironically, the most institutional churches and their “tenders” combine to constitute a major reason I tend to wander (1) away from them and (2) toward more organic groups that do not have, or need, official titles and roles.

I figure this way:  if the institution makes it difficult to envision a relationship with the One Tender and Guardian of our souls (1Pet 2:25), that group is presenting an obstacle that this particular sheep doesn’t need to try to hurdle.  Can this be indicative of a b-a-a-a-d attitude?  Maybe, he acknowledged sheepishly . . . but he doesn’t enjoy wool over his eyes.

Crossing lines (or, none of my business)

The crime drama Crossing Lines is intriguing in that various countries are involved.  (Donald Sutherland always seems to draw me in, too.)  The principal characters work for an international agency and regularly cross national boundaries in order to halt multinational criminal activities.  Those lines should be crossed at the right time by those people.

Some other lines probably shouldn’t be crossed at all.  Some matters that draw our initial attention turn out to be none of our business.  And it’s probably a sign of maturation when one can discern what’s what, turning his attention away more often than not, not crossing the line by meddling in someone else’s business.  I myself am a recovering meddler.

Once upon a time, I recall (immaturely) sneaking a peek at a letter—a letter sitting out in “plain sight” but which I shouldn’t have read after the initial, unintentional glance.  The letter was from a preacher in a little church an hour away, addressed to the elders in my church; it was warning of impending infiltration by recently divorced/remarried persons.  Those remarried people were coming our way, the preacher warned.   I think that preacher meddlingly crossed a line by informing our elders like this:  “Here’s who these people are, and here’s what we did to them, and this is why you should refuse them in your congregation.”  It’s not as though there were child abuse or embezzlement involved; it was a matter of “doctrinal” opinion.  The warning letter amounted to meddling at best, and I might even go so far as to depict it as vindictiveness enveloped in “Christian concern.”  I really don’t think it was any of that first church’s business.  And it wasn’t mine, either.  Not at that point, anyway.

That was a couple decades ago.  In the intervening years, I have often become troubled, and sometimes have offered unsolicited suggestions, to church leaders and others here and there.  These days, when I discover an issue in a church I visit, unless it involves egregious fraud or illegal activity, I figure it is probably also none of my business, so I rarely will cross the line, not meddling unless a door is opened to me.  Whether it is

  • evidence of tyranny or something else authoritarian
  • the stubbornness of warring parties, or some other sinful attitude
  • nepotism or something similar (congregational in-breeding can be divisive)
  • something technical, such as poor use of PowerPoint or lack of proper equalization settings on the sound board
  • something procedural or logistic, such as the inconsistent restriction of women from certain serving roles (when they are freely allowed to serve in other roles)

… it is probably not my concern to help straighten it out, unless asked.  At one point I needed to hear myself saying this out loud.  I am an analyst, a fixer, and a critic by nature, and my strong inclination is to approach folks about problems and issues, with a view toward improving the situations, rooting out the erroneous influences, and correcting the flaws, no matter how minor.  Now, I generally leave other institutions’ problems alone.

Even as I was drafting this little essay while sitting at a professional conference, I was thinking of a minor detail or two that the conference venue could have improved, such as a speedier refresh-rate on the electronic signage, and keeping traffic away from the break-out lecture rooms, so the hallway noise wouldn’t distract those inside the rooms as much.  But I refrained from making any un-requested suggestions.  To bend someone’s ear about things like that would’ve been crossing a line.

At least, when the matter doesn’t directly concern me, i.e., in a church I’m visiting, it’s better just to let it go.  It’s none of my business.

B. Casey, March 2014 (rev. Sep 2015 & Jul 2016)

[1] I got the impression that the now-remarried man and woman were on the receiving end of so-called church discipline and had been withdrawn from (a/k/a “dis-fellowshipped”).  This action would once have been quite common in the denomination in which I was raised.[1]  Basically, if you didn’t toe the line on any of several dozen issues, and didn’t respond to a private conversation or two with minister and elders, you were considered for surgical dismemberment.  I witnessed one of these actions in my own church, for much greater “cause” than the one referred to above, and it did not have the slightest positive effect at the time.

[2] I’m pleased to say, given my moderate view of some aspects of divorce and remarriage, that my church did not continue the pattern of withdrawal of fellowship.  The new couple was accepted, and they became relatively active members.

On Conducting (7): Leading

P1120278A conductor is a leader.  He leads.

He also monitors, responds, and facilitates, but he certainly guides and leads every time he is on the podium.  Each musician’s individual capabilities contribute to the whole, and a conductor realizes both the aggregate and individual gifts of the ensemble, working to enhance and synthesize those capabilities.

The conductor’s leadership involves words and nonverbal guidance.  It involves relationship, communication, and perception.  The conductor’s leading is simultaneously a practical and psychological—and perhaps even spiritual—enterprise.  Here, I should acknowledge that many have undertaken to speak and write about leadership, and some of the common (or uncommon) wisdom is applicable to the conductor’s leadership.  It is not my purpose here either to re-appropriate or critique the counsel of corporate leadership gurus, no matter how apt that advice might or might not be.  I will rather speak more specifically to aspects of leadership widely and specifically recognized as central in the conducting enterprise.

The elements of music have been collected into lists; while these lists do differ, here is a solid one:

  1. timbre (tone color)
  2. frequency of vibration (melodic pitch, harmony)
  3. intensity (dynamics)
  4. time (duration, tempo, rhythm)

When a conductor aurally apprehends a given timbral combination, or if he detects a nonstandard, uncharacteristic timbre, he may wish to influence it.  I recall that, as a young horn player, the faculty conductor of my college band gave me a back-handed compliment, speaking to timbre in such a way as to influence me but not embarrass me in front of peers.  It was sort of a “he who has ears to hear” sort of thing in that only a few would have been cognizant of what he was saying to me.  My timbre was strained and thin, and he said something about liking that “tense sound you’re getting” in a lyrical, upper-register solo.  I have never forgotten that, and I’m perhaps more recalcitrant than I need to be these days about any hint of strain in my high range.

A harmonic aberration may fairly leap out of the acoustical environment into the conductor-leader’s consciousness, demanding attention.  Many conductors hear harmony well, experiencing vividly as a vertical reality.  Others seem more attuned to melody.  Few there are  who work as devoted phrase-influencers—at the nexus of melody and harmony and dynamics and other expressive aspects of music.  Narrow is the gate that leads to phrasal leadership!

Dynamic relationships—both the combined ones heard 1) in an instant and the kinds perceived 2) over a period of time—are significant in terms of pedagogy, decibel-measured quantity, and expressive potential.  Although even the highest-level ensembles need dynamic guidance, the wind band institution stands in particularly frequent need of serious dynamic reshaping.  Choirs and orchestras need help in achieving effective dynamic expression and balance, but bands notoriously play too loud too much of the time, rarely exploiting softer dynamic levels or giving meaningful shape to crescendos or diminuendos.

While all of these elements are significant in terms of musical “product” and leadership, the time-related, rhythmic aspects are the most readily addressed and influenced by the conductor.  It is rhythm and tempo that I will address next.

MWM: Teaching a new song (2 of 2)

Last Monday, I suggested that it’s possible to teach a new song in the vein of group worship.  In other words, the activity of learning a new song need not be relegated to some lesser-attended occasion seen as “instructional.”  Rather, learning something can be quite worship-filled and inspiring.  Now for a description of a methodological mode.

This method is not one that I’ve had much recent opportunity to use, but I have worked like this some in the past, and I’ve been in enough different leadership and worship and assembly situations that I believe this is both valid and viable.

The method, put simply, is to line it out.  In other words, break it up into short segments.  It’s more than segmenting, though.  It’s learning how to infuse “instructions” with exhortations to worship.  This doesn’t have to be a pedantic or overly technical activity.  Learning a song can actually be simultaneously satisfying on both emotional and spiritual levels.  It can enhance congregational esprit de corps.

img_20160307_093938_093.jpgWith a song text that’s as concise (the whole song is pictured here) and full of meaning as “We Praise Thee, God,” nothing is really sacrificed when individual lines or sub-phrases are sung separately.  Each expression can stand on its own.  (It’s a little different—easier, in a way—when using a song with more regular rhythm; then again, there is more to teach in a song longer than the one used here.)

The instructional time could go something like this (blue/bold is sung by leader; purple/bold/italicized are all-sing lines):

“Listen to the first line.  It goes like this:”

We praise Thee, God.

“Now sing it with me:”

                                We praise Thee, God.

“Great.  We can say that together with ease and with heart.  Sing it again with me:”

                                We praise Thee, God.

“Yes.  Now here’s the next line:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“This one is a little harder, but not much.  The rhythm is a lot like it would be if you simply spoke the words.  Listen again:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Now sing it with me.  Don’t worry about missing a note; just sing it to God:”

                We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“OK, good.  Some of you went up on “acknowledge,” but it actually goes up on ‘be’ instead.  Think of it like an emphasis on the fact that He is the Lord—we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.”  Here’s how it goes:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Hear how it stays on the same note until the word ‘be’?”  It’s not a big deal if someone hits the wrong note; I do that sometimes, too.  But it’s good if we try to be as ‘together’ as we can be when . . . “

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Now let’s sing it again together.  We’re saying something important directly to Him.”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Good.  Ready to put it together?  Even now, we can praise God in a way that’s pleasing to Him.  Let’s sing the first two thoughts:”

We praise Thee, God.

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Great.  Now we go higher, both musically and conceptually, expanding the praise:”

All the earth doth worship Thee.

“You can almost feel the strength of the collective praise in this line.  Together now. . . .”

All the earth doth worship Thee.

. . .

You get the idea.  One might call this “didactic worship leading,” teaching the music along with the concepts.  I would use the method next Sunday if I had the opportunity.  Can you do this in your church?  Probably . . . although you’ll have to deal with a few naysayers.  (Instead, you might deal directly with the purported leaders who are afraid of the few naysayers.)  Personally, I had the most “success” with this kind of methodology in working with a) younger Christians in b) settings that were seen as relatively informal.  This observation begs several questions:

  1. What makes a setting “formal” or “informal”?
  2. Who determines the above, and why?
  3. Why were young people more likely to experiment freely than older people?
  4. Am I even correct in asserting that worship occurred in others’ hearts in the “didactic” context?
  5. Am I right that times intended for “learning new songs” are never as well attended as other assemblies?  Am I also right, then, that learning new songs on other occasions could contribute to the further marginalization of some people?  In other words, if only those who consider themselves the “singers” of the church learn the new songs, the rest of the people are left out more decidedly.  Why do things in such a way as to divide singers from those who consider themselves non-singers?

I’ve never been sure why there seems to be an obsession with the relative newness of songs.  As is often said, “at some point, ya learned the songs ya know now.”   In other words, everything was new at some point.  Why do we need to worry about a little discomfort in learning something new?[1]  Obviously, a trained, highly literate, broadly experienced musician will be comfortable with new music, and most others are not.  Still, the leadership method and the (sense of the) setting are key factors.

I will say that some songs are more singable than others.  Some are more tuneful than others.  Some may be introduced with more ease and an instant “catch-on” factor than others.  So, some discretion is advisable when bringing new songs to the church in this way.  We shouldn’t proceed with a devil-may-care attitude about new songs.  On the other hand, with an attitude of comfortable experimentation, perhaps those who are naturally resistant to new songs may be ushered, in a worshipping mode, through new expressions into more comfort.

The idea to “Sing a new song to the Lord” was never about separating the more musical men from the boys, making the less literate feel uncomfortable.  To my knowledge, no scripture passage suggest that any times are more, or less, appropriate for singing new songs than other times.  The regular introduction of new songs can actually imbue the praising God with newness, energy, and life.

I have long wished I were part of a group characterized by comfortable, purposeful experimentation.

[1] The answer, it seems to me, lies in two areas:  a general laziness found in most people, and the over-zealousness of some leaders in pushing too many new songs at once on a group.

MWM: Teaching a new song (1 of 2)

Some years ago, I posted on an assembly in which I led worship and misjudged the familiarity of a particular song.  That particular song “flopped,” creating far more distraction than inspiration (presumably hindering the overall assembly experience for some).  The main issue on that occasion was my miscalculation—leader error—and not the mere newness of the song in question.

There are ways to predict (which I had simply ignored that one Sunday) and then to enhance familiarity.  I submit that it is possible to be both strategic and inspirational vis-à-vis the introduction of new songs.

There are better and worse methods for introducing new songs.  Let’s take a relatively simple song—the chant “We Praise Thee, God.”  This song, quite unfamiliar in recent decades, would be relatively easy to introduce—primarily because of these factors:

  • It is short.
  • Its text is meaningful (bearing repetition).


So, how to try introducing a new song like this?  I remember hearing,  years ago, that Matt (someone whose family I was acquainted with) introduced a new song, “on the spot,” with his church.  On that occasion, he hadn’t known a certain song that was suggested, but he examined it, found it valuable, and helped the congregation learn it.  I gathered that it wasn’t a very formal occasion, so Matt was able to be natural, dropping whatever “guard” he has as he agreed to try the song.

It’s good to be genuine and transparent, even if you’re not the most confident music reader.  Learn the song in advance, of course, if possible.  There’s no merit in embarrassing yourself or the congregation.  But it’s just as helpful to establish an attitude of comfortable experimentation, and making an honest mistake in front of everyone is not that big a deal.

Now, before you shut me down, either because you think your church won’t buy into anything that seems informal, or because you yourself find some level of experimentation irreverent, consider this:

A sincere heart learning to worship God, faltering through a new expression, is just as pleasing to God as a sincere heart who knows the song already, singing “perfectly.” 

Maybe more pleasing!

Next Monday—a suggested method 

Demand should affect supply

Picture yourself shopping for shirts or pants.  Ever notice how the most in-demand sizes vanish from the store’s racks and shelves?  I wonder why the stores don’t realize they need to supply more of those sizes.

Yesterday I ate at a pizza buffet and made a special order, not seeing much of what I preferred on the buffet.  Leaving alone that the nice lady looked at me funny when she heard pizzamy request, the pizza was made within 15 minutes  Then I noticed that it, like the popular pants sizes, disappeared very quickly—other people besides me ate it, too!  Perhaps the pizza chain’s idea of what’s in demand isn’t what’s actually in demand.  (I’d say they should supply more thin-crust pizza that’s not as meat-heavy, because people apparently want it.)

Many times every week, I also wonder about church “offerings.”  Different sizes and flavors exist, but the lion’s share of what is “supplied” church-wise is roughly the same as all the rest.  I have to wonder what would happen if people stopped consuming the standard fare because it no longer met their dietary wants or needs?  Or what if they just wanted a different size?  Even more significant:  if just one different flavor were requested and “consumed” within a short period of time—i.e., if everyone flocked to the new pizza or church type—would church leaders take notice and realize that the actual demand isn’t necessarily what they’d always assumed it to be?

It seems to me that people making decisions—in clothing departments, in pizza stores, and yes, in churches—ought often to rethink what is being supplied.  The actual “demand” might surprise them.




Dependency: not just a “substance” issue

Very often, I think about what is being termed “simple/house/organic” church.  I’m persuaded that many who are content in institutional churches may not understand what it is that makes their churches (more or less) institutional.  They may even bristle inwardly at the suggestion that their churches are more organizations than organisms.

Aside:  a church that believes it is nondenominational may in fact resemble a full-blown denomination.  The noticing of this resemblance can cause similar resistance, excuses, and concocted explications, but the alarm doesn’t negate the resemblance.

Once or twice a month, posts from Roger Thoman’s blog come to my inbox.  Thoman is not a particularly active writer, and I suspect he is more engaged in living out “simple church” than he is in writing about it, yet I infer that he feels a sense of responsibility to share thoughts periodically.  Personally, I would have much the same bent without having read Thoman, but he has helped to form my thinking with some well-placed words in recent years.

From time to time, I have republished Thoman’s thoughts.  (This link will bring you to a listing of prior posts.)  Before giving you a link to a recent post of his, I’m spotlighting some thoughts from the article that I find the most salient. . . .

I think people today have trouble being who they really are because as social creatures we live in a hierarchical world in which we’re highly dependent on others.

. . .

. . . In other words, at some level we are comfortable with hierarchical structures because they meet our need for external affirmation and approval.

As long as we need our approval and identity to be affirmed by externals, we will likely create hierarchical type systems to be part of–even in simple/house church models.  As long as we need our approval and identity to be affirmed by others, we will probably relate wrongly to spiritual authority including genuine, servant, spiritual authority.

The answer, therefore, is not simply to reject forms of church that are hierarchical.  Nor is the answer to reject community all together.

. . .

In other words, just attempting to come out from under “hierarchical, unbiblical church structures” does not get to the root of the issue. . . .

Emphases in bold are mine, not Thoman’s.

To read the full post, click here:  Roger Thoman:  Hierarchies Create Dependency