Search this site
My Book

Entries in calvin symposium on christian worship (5)


Watch the Fascinating Discussions I Had at Calvin

One of the joys of both being on and moderating a panel discussion on worship issues at a place like the Calvin Symposium is that you're bound to talk about things you didn't imagine would be on the table. Such was my case as I moderated "The Worship Leader as Pastoral Musician." So many important issues were brought up, and our hearts were on our sleeves. Many sensitive topics were not navigated around, but through. 

One of the things I love about Calvin is its diversity. The annual Symposium is a place known for creating "irenic friction," the kind of rub that is truly productive, sharpening, and formative. So few places can achieve this balance. They usually slip off the tight rope either on the side of homogeneity (everyone looks the same and says the same thing), or relativity (conviction-less "blah blah" where everyone's opinion is so validated that no truth-planes are ever landed). I think, in my panel, you see that kind of irenic friction happening between panelists and the great questions that were being asked from the audience.

I would love your thoughts about what stood out to you from this discussion. What new insights did you gain? What do you agree and/or disagree with? What would you add to the discussion? Where would you have wished it would have gone? What needed to be said that wasn't said?

I imagine that with my book coming out this October, I'll have the opportunity to engage in more of these kinds of discussions. Check it out and comment below, please!

(Oh, and go pre-order The Worship Pastor on Amazon now!)


Worship Leader as Pastoral Musician from Calvin Worship Institute on Vimeo.


Reflections on the Calvin Symposium 2016

The Calvin Symposium simply has to be named among the best worship conferences out there. The challenge of getting so many different voices and perspectives in one place engaging in convicted yet loving dialogue is difficult, but the folks at Calvin have done a remarkable job of creating that space and setting the tone. My own experience as a conference attender, worshiper, panelist, and breakout session leader was shaped therefore not only by the content of the conference but the actual people in the room. I will share my impressions of the panels and breakouts I was a part of, for what they’re worth to others.

David Bailey, Sandra Van Opstal, Rawn Harbor, Myself, Monique, Ingalls, (not in picture) Ed Wilmington, Wen Reagan

I participated in four events and sat in on a host of others. Some of my highlights were being led by Bruce Benedict and his Hope College crew, deftly blending their band with the organ in a pipe rock extravaganza. It was also great conversing with worship scholars like Wen Reagan and Monique Ingalls about the national and global contemporary worship movement (check out this book that they both contributed to for fascinating historical and ethnomusicological insights into contemporary/modern worship). Another fabulous highlight was sitting in on Sandra Van Opstal’s pretty remarkable exposition of her new book, The Next Worship, which I look forward to reading and reviewing in more detail—there is a lot for me to learn under her tutelage.

Worship Leaders are Eager For This

The big surprise for me was to find how many people packed the lecture hall for my repeated workshop on “The Worship Pastor.” The room was electric, and people were resonating with what we were talking about. I was talking with individuals for long after the breakout ended, and I was hearing similar stories: “I’ve been feeling like what I’m doing has pastoral impact on people, and what you’re saying really helped define and awaken those thoughts.” I talked to lead pastors, as well, whose eyes were being opened to what the vocation of their counterpart worship leader really is.

Worship leaders are ripe and ready to take on the pastoral mantle. I’m not talking about formal ordination and formal “pastor” in their title. I’m talking about ownership…ownership of the reality of what they are already doing, shepherding souls, impacting faith-walks, and making disciples.

And Finally…My Hero

Dr. William Lock, my vocal and church music professor during some very formative college years

Most people didn’t know that a quiet legend was walking among us at the conference. His name is Dr. William Lock, who faithfully taught voice and church music for over 40 years at Biola University. And Dr. Lock has left an indelible mark on my life. He taught me to think critically about worship, church, and culture, and he was one of the first people to really encourage me as a writer. He gave me space to grow and wings to fly, and it’s high time I give this great mentor of mine a major shout out on this blog, which owes way too much to this man. 


Join Me in January!

I'd love to invite you to two different opportunities to connect and grow in worship leading and songwriting. I'll be collaborating with some great institutions to do some important teaching and reflection on our craft, and I'd love for you to join me! The first will be an opportunity for a more intimate gathering, and the second will be one of the best mega-worship conferences on earth.

Writing Songs for Today's Church

Trinity School for Ministry (Ambridge, PA) | January 4-6, 2016

This will be a more focused and intimate gathering on the campus of an established Anglican seminary outside of Pittsburgh. I will be joining veteran worship leader, songwriter, and thinker, Andy Piercy, and author and Yale professor, Dr. Maggi Dawn. We will all be bringing some pretty unique perspectives to songwriting, and I think that the coming together of these angles will yield some fascinating discussions. I've been to one of these seminars before as a participant, and my favorite part was the interaction with the great group of folks in the room. I've made some lasting friendships and partnerships in this venue.

My angle will be in talking about the nature of songwriting in interaction with the hymn tradition, "Making Old Things New." The cost is $120 for the three days. Read more about it here.

Calvin Symposium on Christian Worship

Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) | January 28-30, 2016

I love this conference. It is massive, deep, and rich. There is something for everyone, and you won't be disappointed. I will be participating in three things:

Thursday Morning: Best Contemporary Worship Music You May Not Know
A panel discussion with David M. Bailey, Bruce Benedict, Emmett Price, Wen Reagen, Sandra van Opstal, moderated by Monique Ingalls

I love these people. This will be a fascinating discussion. 

Thursday Afternoon: The Worship Leader as Pastoral Musician
A panel discussion with David M. Bailey, Rawn Harbor, Ed Willmington, Monique Ingalls, Sandra van Opstal.

Ditto what I said for Thursday morning.

Friday & Saturday Workshop 
The Worship Pastor: Thinking Through the Pastoral Dimensions of Worship Leading

This will be my seminar where I explore many of the themes in my forthcoming book, The Worship Pastor. Here's the description:

Whether we know it or not, we worship leaders are pastors. The services we plan and lead have a formative effect on the worshipers with whom we gather weekly. The question is not if people are being formed by our leadership, but how. In this workshop, we will explore various vignettes, different lenses through which we might see the pastoral ministry of worship leading. In a mixture of biblical framing and practical application, we will look at the Worship Pastor through metaphors like Prayer Leader, Theological Dietician, Caregiver, Mortician, War General, and Emotional Shepherd. 

As you can imagine, I'm pumped about this one. 

The good news about this conference, too, is that if you don't like me, it's so big you can totally avoid seeing me altogether and still get a lot of positive things out of this week! :) Check out the conference website here.



If You're Trying to Think More Pastorally About Worship...

If you’re trying to think more pastorally about worship, then you should read this interview.  It is both a model of what pastoral thinking looks like and a display of some application of thinking pastorally in the local church context.  Bobby Gilles, over at My Song in the Night has a great set of Q & A with Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia.  My favorite two parts of this interview:

Bobby Gilles: What do you say to a pastor or worship leader who says “Hymns won’t work in my context. People here want new music”?

Bruce Benedict: I’ve been reading through Jamie Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom getting ready for the Calvin Worship Symposium coming up.  In the book he talks a good deal about how our world does a better job of recognizing and forming our desires than we often realize.  And how the church needs to begin to treat people as more than heads on sticks.  Our worship/music ministries really reveal this.  People want new music in church constantly because that is largely what we are used to being fed by the world.  Even my work-week is typically filled with the latest album and records coming out…

Bobby Gilles: What do you think is the relative importance or balance in the relationship between singable tunes and interesting tunes? 

Bruce Benedict: Great question! This is something I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately. Especially as I’ve realized that what will sound great on a recording isn’t always what will work well for corporate singing…and I think we have to be honest about how each approach requires a different mindset when we sit down to song write.

Because so much of what we are writing is also what we are thinking about, in terms of recording, we can get ourselves into trouble. I think this often provides much of the rub, too, between what we like to sing and what we want to write to record.  This is a tension we need to talk and think about a lot more…especially in terms of being intentional about how we write.

So much of our life is spent listening to music and we are often hard wired to think about what kind of music sounds interesting to us.  Thinking about what is singable is a lot harder.  I often chart out songs I’m working on in a notation software as part of helping me to think through ‘singability’.  I also preview a lot of new songs in monthly potlucks with my musicians where we talk through new songs.

Read the whole interview.



Hillsong vs. Getty: A Contrast in Melody-Writing

Circulating through many of my favorite worship blogs is the distillation of Keith Getty’s presentation on songwriting at the National Worship Leaders Conference.  It is getting widespread press for good reason—Getty’s insights are golden.  With particular regards to melody-writing, Getty had to say:

“To write strong melodies remember that folk melody has to be passed on orally (aurally). I try to write songs that can be sung with no written music. I imitate Irish folk melody, with a great deal of contour, of rise and fall.”

When I first heard Getty talk about this in January at the Calvin Symposium on Christian Worship, my mind was immediately flooded with the modern worship songs which don’t live up to this criterion and yet seem to still gain momentum in churches.  Of particular prominence in my mind was the material of Hillsong and Hillsong United.  Many of their songs’ melodies would fall flat without their music.  And, though filled with melodic leaps, I would not characterize their vocal lines as having “a great deal of contour, of rise and fall”…at least in the way that I understand Getty to mean it.

When I hear the melodies of Getty, I am always struck by their melismatic richness and flowing elegance.  They are “easy on the voice.”  They rise and fall step-wise with minimal intervallic gaps.  Leaps, when they happen, are intentional and cautiously used (“In Christ Alone” would be a perfect example of this).  Such melodies certainly stir the senses and move the heart.  They arouse the more elegant folk sensibilities in me.  To describe them in a nutshell: Getty’s melodies express through refined artistic beauty.

When I hear the melodies of Hillsong, I am always struck by their emotional immediacy and speech-like, colloquial accessibility.  There is something more basic and instinctual in me that resonates with the stuttering rhythms and jolting intervals that characterize the melodies of Hillsong (for an example of this, listen to “Freedom is Here”).   Their melodies arouse the more earthy, “tribal” sensibilities in me.  To describe them in a nutshell: Hillsong’s melodies express through raw human emotion.

Must these worlds be at odds?  Some say yes.  My more intelligent and analytical friends would be quick to (correctly) point out that the melodies of Getty will stand the test of time while those of Hillsong won’t.  In their minds, it would logically follow that, for that reason, one should favor Getty.  But, while my classical training and artistic sensibilities agree with this, on an existential level I can honestly say that something basic to my humanness would go unexpressed if all I sang were the refined, lyrical melodies of Getty.  Folk-influenced melodies pull back some of the emotive punch I would want to express in my musical worship unto God.  Sometimes, with Hillsong melodies, they come close to being shouts barely bound by pitch and key…and any honest reading of the Psalms shows that Scripture affirms this type of raw emotion.

I’ve noted that my more artsy friends have been quick to dismiss much of the Hillsong repertoire because it lacks melodic and musical sophistication, so they say.  They consider it poor songwriting.  But I wonder whether their criteria are formed in an artistic bubble such that they can’t see the obvious evidence: Hillsong’s music is sought after and passionately sung by (I would speculate) millions of people globally (yes, even in non-Western countries…check out their “I Heart Revolution” DVD).  Hear me out.  This is not as simple as an it’s-popular-so-we-should-do-it argument.  It has more to do with how the rhythms and contours of the melodies (wedded, of course, with the texts) tap into something deep in the human spirit (check out Sarah Mac’s post saying this very thing). 

Let me put it another way.  As I think about the complex faculties that make up my humanness, I can make this observation: With Getty’s music, my brain sings; with Hillsong’s music, my gut sings.  Again, I am talking about melody, not text.  When I hear/sing these melodies, different faculties in me are stirred emotionally.  With Getty, my refined, cerebral emotion is stimulated.  With Hillsong, my basic, instinctual emotion is stimulated.

Here’s where this all gets intensely personal for me.  I’ve been planning and visioneering our second hymns album (which we’ll begin production on in January 2011, Lord-willing), and I’m settling on a songwriting and production approach which mirrors much more what Hillsong is doing from a musical standpoint.  My hope is to make hymns palatable to Hillsong junkies and modern worship exclusivists.  More than that, I’m excited to move into uncharted waters in the convergence of old hymns to modern music—not only am I writing hymn-tunes which are “contemporary” and accompanied by rock band instrumentation, I am writing them in a contemporary style that many think is impossible (or foolish) to wed with such texts.  The people-pleasing side of me (which I need to repent of) knows that I will not be looked upon favorably by the hymns movement guys and gals I so respect and admire, because they tend to fall in line with Getty’s melody-writing philosophies (not to say that their albums and production all sound the same, because they don’t).  So perhaps my above reflections are an attempt to justify the musical validity not just of Hillsong but of my own new risky endeavor.

What’s frustrating to me is that I don’t hear anyone talking about this kind of thing.  Just as there have been worship wars between traditional and modern music sentimentalities, so I’m witnessing mounting polarities between mainstream modern worship and the modern hymns movement types.  I desperately want the camps to come together, mainly so that the latter can speak into the former.  But right now, there’s a lot of critical rhetoric out there from the hymns movement folks without any counterbalancing of encouragement and appreciation.  The hymns movement is reacting to mainstream modern worship prophetically (which is not without merit), but they need to couple that with a pastoral approach, as well.

I’ll conclude with a fictional encounter that illustrates my fear: While having coffee with some leading figure in the hymns movement, I ask them “So what do you think of Hillsong?”  They either respond with, “Hill-Who?” or “I don’t listen to that trash.”