Songs And Arrangements (Connecting with your people!)

 Tom Lane/Article from Worship Musician Magazine:

Songs are amazing vehicles that deliver heart, passion, truth, doctrine, and so on. My brain is full of them and there’s a running soundtrack for my life recallable at any time. People connect with good songs and like what they like, often without any explanation. Though not all have the same tastes, the power of songs affects us much the same; deep down, permeating the soul and manipulating our emotions. So needless to say, how we approach and play them is worth consideration.

Arrangements give life to songs, sometimes elevating them from their original form, but not always as it can also work just the opposite. Once songs are completed and chosen for whatever purpose, the arrangement is usually the next step in presenting it. In the same way that I can say something and it be taken one way, you could say the exact same thing and it be taken completely differently; arrangements influence perception and emotion.

It’s been said of worship songs that they are tools to help us communicate and engage with God. They can help or hinder, encourage or discourage, connect or NOT. For sure there are songs that seem to have a life and sweep through the church at large. The Church has always had favorites, and the cycle normally goes; we use them continuously, wear them slap out, shelve them, and the really great ones come back around and live on in history.

There is some tension in the Church regarding worship and it’s nothing new. It’s the ongoing reality that as one generation ages, another is taking it’s place. God’s desire is that they be joined and connected, not divided. Transition is always awkward, but doesn’t have to be a fight. Both generations deserve the freedom to be who they are, but also the honor and support of the other. What kills unified worship in The Church is the spirit of Criticism! Especially for what we don’t like, but God doesn’t ask us to worship Him only if everything is as we like it.

As mature believers and worshippers of God we should be able to get beyond the style and delivery of a song, and engage with Him in worship. If we can’t then the issue is not ultimately the song or the leader; in essence we are giving the power to someone else to dictate our response to Him. Sadly there are many that miss the point and place such expectations on worship leadership to ‘get them there.’ Songs and leaders can help but do not negate personal responsibility and will! The attitude and posture of our own hearts is solely up to each of us.

That said, we can help encourage unity by how we lead and what we sing. Songs are good connectors, and arrangements can actually help us build bridges among the generations represented in our churches. As a worship leader I communicate with my teams that my preference is, for them to know the song and it’s sections more than the arrangement. The main reason being it leaves me free to be more sensitive to the people I’m leading. If the band is listening to me, and to each other then we all move together dynamically. So the arrangement we played in the 9:am service could be totally different in the 11:am service and we didn’t have to rehearse it. But there are also times I’ll have them learn an arrangement and stick to it for any number of reasons.  There is time and place for both, and the bigger picture is that I want the song to serve the need and moment, more than I want the band to play it exactly like the record.

If we’re sensitive and caring of those we minister to and lead, we’ll not simply inflict our own preferences on them; with no regard to where they come from, who they are, and what they relate to. Not everyone loves the four on the floor kick drum at 120-130 BPM at 9:AM on Sunday morning, or the tribal toms over ethereal pads and eighth note guitar lines—for hours on end. Likewise if there are young people in your midst, they likely don’t relate as much to hymns and older songs, or pipe organs. The goal is to find what is the most helpful and authentic where we are.

It’s awesome to see younger and older leaders serving the other with grace and humility, even when it’s not their vibe or comfort zone. There’s much to be said for honoring the context and culture of others, for in doing so we bestow honor on them! “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Ps. 133:1

From Within

Article by:  Tom Lane

We used to live a world where hymns and a few choruses were what we had and largely deemed acceptable for use in worship services.  But for the past 15 + years we’ve seen an influx of songs as God once again, like in times past, turned the heart of his people back to himself.  Now there are more songs than ever and most churches have the top CCLI list in constant rotation.  All that’s a good thing and it’s amazing how God has used some of these songs and the leaders who’ve written them. 

One thing I’m personally passionate about is seeing the indigenous expression of any people group arise from their own creative community.  It is powerful to be around the world somewhere and all be able to sing the same song in many languages.  Used to be no matter where I went it was almost always 90-99% songs from the west that had been translated.  Hardly ever would I hear a worship song written from within.  As I’d get to know the musicians I’d find out they had volumes of music of their own just that little of it was ever used in their church.  So a long time ago I started asking Why? 

There’s always been a bit of a rub between musicians and the church.  We’re historically very good at building boxes to put stuff in and anything outside the comfort zone is awkward.   A brief look into history paints the picture of an ongoing struggle for artists and musicians in the church family to find their place or their voice.  So it’s nothing new!

What I do hear is the discontent from both sides; the artists/worship leaders and the leadership who are looking out for their people.  Both are scared to push the envelope too much for many different reasons.  Can’t cover all of the reasons here but would like to talk about what we can do to encourage the new, unique, fresh, innate, creativity that should be flowing from the ground up in the Church.  And being that we’re a diversely gifted group, thankfully it’s going to look different from one body to another. 

Which leads to another?  Why do we primarily look outside first?  I understand not every church has a writer in the midst and by all means we use what we have available.  But we should always be looking for it within and mining for it, even if it takes years to see the fruit.  We tend to be importers more than exporters yet every church has something to give away.  Again I get it but should and does it have to stay that way?  Some of you have long been determined to change that and are doing a wonderful job.  For others it’s still in the infancy but hopefully we can agree on the need. 

Some things we can do if we are willing to make some room.

1.     Plant some seeds: It starts young needless to say.  Begin making an investment now into your future leaders and artists.  Buy a sound system and donate a room, somewhere The Yoots can come make some noise.   Try not to attach a bunch of strings either, let’em run free a bit.  The point at this stage is not to only have them replicate what our older folks are doing.  In the next 10 years it’s gonna shift again and we may not recognize much of what is now our normal.  That’s OK!  Many well known bands/artists have come from the church, unfortunately not many stay in the church.  Some of that has to do with our own inability to allow and provide for an environment of true friendship to grow up in.  We need to embrace the apprentice mentality; lead and instruct yes, but don’t tie their hands behind their backs, prohibiting them from being the unique bird they are.

2.     Venture a go at it: In addition to learning the top 20 CCLI, begin to prioritize the incorporation of new songs from your own people.  To do that you may need to educate both your writers and your people. (There’s a seminar a minute for just such!) For sure we need to become less critical and people pleasing in worship.  Of all places there should be a safe and welcoming atmosphere in the church to receive what’s coming from one of our own.  Instead of an immediate judgment of its worth in comparison to our favorite worship song or leader.  It will be clumsy, messy, and not always good, but are we at least making room to try it?  See it as tapping a well; in time if you keep priming the pump you’ll have water coming from your own cistern!

3.     Build community and friendship locally/regionally: When we pool our resources and band together the impact is deeper and wider.  Though we normally want to see it as our own thing, in truth we’re only a part of THE Church in our cities, no one of us has or owns the domain.  Think about starting a local or regional gathering on a regular basis to exchange, encourage, and inspire each other.  Pray and worship beyond your differences and ask God to be at work within your own area through your creative community.  Great things have started that way and we all share it the benefits.

More than ever the world needs to see a band of united Christians loving and embracing our own well.  Unfortunately the road is littered with too many that have witnessed the opposite of unity and run the other way.  Sadly, many of those are some of the most creatively gifted the world’s ever known.

The work starts at home, it comes from within.  We can only give away that which we have, so let’s go get it!