Singability and Guitar Solos

What is this idea of "singability" in worship music? I've heard so many different points of view on this that I thought I would share my thoughts on the issue.

As far as music style, it is marginally true that some songs are easier to sing than others. The most significant variable that affects singability is familiarity. Hymns are some of the most difficult songs to sing when one is unfamiliar with them, due to the lyrical syncopation and accents that often run counter to normative diction (for example, the word "fortress" in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is sung in three syllables, requiring a sort of double tonguing of the first "r", not easily done unless you are familiar with the song, and one of hundreds of like examples).

And the debate on singability runs to and fro. Many who prefer hymns argue that choruses are "too simple and repetitive". And while modern/postmodern worship music is increasingly embracing hymnody and returning to values of complexity, intricacy, and depth in worship music, those who prefer simpler choruses argue for singability. And while there are good points to be made on all sides, in the end it truly boils down to taste and familiarity and circular logic. "I like what I know and can sing and worship to easily", "I can sing and worship easily to what I like and know", etc.

The idea that some songs are more worshipful or more conducive to worship than others is a truly flawed proposition. Worshipfulness is in the heart of the worshiper. Everything on the exterior is taste and familiarity. Hymns are not better or worse than Hillsongs in any spiritual way, nor are Hillsongs better or worse than Vineyard or SixSteps in any spiritual way. The only way they are better or worse than each other is in the way that they meet people's expectations and tastes, or put another way, in the particular language that they speak to particular people. You can read my post called "Music as Language" to learn more of my opinions on this idea.

However, I do feel that some songs, and especially certain lyrical styles, are better suited for leading worship. I believe that ALL music is worship. But not all music is best suited to lead others in worship. For example, I could write a song with lyrics about being addicted to drugs, and how I trust in God for deliverance... and when I sing that song, I would definitely be worshiping God with it. But it might not be the best song for me to use to lead others in worship. Certainly it could lead others to worship, and it would perhaps be awesome and powerful for those who could connect with it somehow and worship through it. But it would take a special connection that not everyone would have. So I see a slight difference between music that is designed and written for personal worship versus music that is designed and written to lead others in worship.

At the same time, during a church gathering there is definitely room for all kinds of music and worship styles. I have experienced great connections with God in personal worship through experiencing the talents and personal worship of others, even if I am not participating in it, but only watching it. When I hear an awesome guitar solo in church, it moves me to worship God all the more because of the amazing talents and gifts of creativity that He gives to us, and for the way that others use those gifts to worship Him. I don't have to participate in a guitar solo to be led in worship by one! But it is my personal choice to worship God for what He does. Some people might get distracted by a guitar solo, or be tempted to give praise to the soloist instead of the Creator who gave the soloist the talent. Some might make judgments about the soloist, assuming that he or she is looking for praise. Instead, I worship God for the talent He has given the soloist, and in my own way I join with the soloist in worshiping God. My assumption is that he or she wants to give God glory by soloing. That is AWESOME to me.

Is Bigger Better?

This is a topic that comes up a lot when people discuss churches. Are bigger churches better or worse than smaller churches? Is quality more important than quantity? Do size and quality correlate?

There is an awesome movement in church planting right now that emphasizes a "house church" model. The idea here is focusing on smaller groups of people with more intimate relationships. There is a lot to be gained by this, and I think it's awesome. And there are many variations on this model as well. Our church plant Ethnos is an incredible example of a hybrid of this model, where the focus is on home groups as the primary pathway into their larger gatherings. I get really excited by this type of ministry. And there have been hundreds of new churches started up all over the country in the last several years with similar types of house church ministry models. And of course there are any number of books on the subject as well.

But I see a problem developing among young church leaders (of which I am one!). The problem is that we tend to see our own particular model of ministry as the best, and as visionaries and leaders we talk a lot about why the way we want to do things is better than the way others do them. This is horribly arrogant and does a lot of damage to existing churches and ministries.

I can't count the number of times I have heard young ministry leaders speak with disdain about large churches like Saddleback or Willow Creek, or even local churches like Beaverton Christian or New Hope. We laugh about how out of touch their ministries are. We use terms like "modern" or "mega" as an insult. We belittle their commitment to discipleship and mentoring. We mock their music and their teaching styles. And all because we think the way we are doing things is better. It seems like the only way we know how to show the value of what we are doing is by denigrating the value of what others are doing or have done.

It seems silly to me. It's like arguing over music style or the color of the church carpet. There is no right or wrong when it comes to church model or size. How can it be wrong for a church to be 10 people or 10,000 people?? How can it be wrong for a church that is 10 people to want to be 100, or a church that is 100 to want to be 1000?

Well, one problem is if the motivation of a church leader is impure. If church leaders are motivated to grow their church for selfish reasons (pride, glory of self, etc.), then that is a problem.

But here's my beef. As leaders we sometimes think we are able to judge another leader's heart on these issues. When we see a church leader who is passionate about growing their church, we question that leader's motivation. I think deep down we assume that there can be no pure motivations for wanting a church to grow, that if we want our church to grow it is because we are seeking our own glory. First of all, it is wrong to think that there can't be pure motives for seeking church growth, or that church growth inevitably leads to bad things like consumerism or watered down ministry or less intensive discipleship. Not all big churches are bad... and not all small churches are good. That's obvious. Second, its wrong for us to judge another person's heart (unless we want to be judged!). And of course we all know this is wrong, so no one admits to questioning another's motives, but that's really what it boils down to.

If Christ is being preached, then it is not up to us to judge a church leader's heart and motives on this issue.

"But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice" Philippians 1:19

So small church people need to quit bashing large church people. And large church people need to quit looking down on small church people. We're not right or wrong, we're just different. Just be glad and rejoice that Christ is being preached, and let's focus on that TOGETHER instead of picking at each other about whose church model is superior.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Google Polling

Okay, here's a fun one for you. Have you ever done a Google poll? I recently discovered this interesting pastime and judged it worthy to pass along. Here's how it works.

Search Google for "michael jackson rules". When I did this today, Google told me there were "about 613" results for this search.

Now search for "michael jackson sucks". When I did this today Google told me there were "about 1,150" results for this search.

So the results are this:

Michael Jackson Rules: 613
Michael Jackson Sucks: 1,150

That's a Google Poll! Isn't that a whole lot of fun?! Now you have the power to almost instantly query the vast knowledge of Internet Public Opinion on any subject imaginable. I call it the "rules/sucks ratio". Here's a political one:

George Bush Rules: 663
John Kerry Rules: 347

George Bush Sucks: 555
John Kerry Sucks: 7,030

Wow! What a fascinating experiment. George Bush has a slightly favorable rules/sucks ratio of 663/555, which compares well to John Kerry's very poor showing of 347/7030.

How about religion? An interesting topic for me obviously.

Jesus Rules: 6,060
Jesus Sucks: 3,520

That's not a bad ratio at all. I hate to see that many "sucks" results though. It's hard to even type that phrase!

Christians Rule: 1,040
Christians Suck: 9,720

OUCH! Not what I was hoping for, but probably what I expected.

What does all this mean? I leave the results to the interpretation of the reader. I make no claims as to the validity of this polling procedure and will not be held liable for damages resulting from its use!

As a side note, I find it is useful to pluralize the topic if it is one that has rules. For example, searching for "tax rules" is not as worthwhile for our purposes as searching for "taxes rule". Use your own judgement here.

Go have some fun with this, and post any interesting results you find in the comments section for this post.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Passion Week

Our church is starting "Passion Week" on Palm Sunday. I'm getting really pumped about it because it has been such a powerful experience in the past.

This year we're changing things up a bit from years past (we LOVE to change things). We're going to have a series of lunchhour and evening gatherings through the week leading up to Easter. Each gathering will focus on a few key events during Jesus' last week of earthly life, giving us a taste for what He went through for us. In the past we have done this chronologically, looking at what happened on each individual day. This year we are focusing less on the chronology and more on the themes.

For example, on Sunday we'll be focused on the Garden. Jesus begins and ends His journey to the cross here on the Mount of Olives. He begins with the Triumphal Entry, weeping over the city as He sees it from the road on the Mount. And the week ends there as well, with Jesus "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" and sweating blood from the intense anguish.

On Monday we'll be tying together Jesus' anointing at Bethany with His washing of the disciples' feet, a very moving juxtaposition of Christ as Lord and as servant.

Tuesday we will be looking at Christ's teachings during this last week. What were His last words? What was He determined to say before the cross?

Wednesday, we'll compare and contrast two important moments in the lives of Jesus' disciples; Peter's Denial and Judas' Betrayal. What did they mean? Why did they happen? How do they relate?

Maundy Thursday will be a presentation of the traditional Jewish Passover Seder meal, with teachings and explanations. This was the Last Supper Jesus shared with His disciples, where He institutes the Eucharist and confronts His betrayer.

Good Friday may be the most powerful Passion Week gathering of all. The film, "Passion of the Christ" is based on the traditional "Stations of the Cross", and we'll be teaching through the nine Biblical Stations, with opportunities for prayer, meditation, and experiential worship. AWESOME!

I can't wait for this. I get so excited every year when we start the prayer and planning process for these gatherings. I am praying that God will use this year to change even more lives than last!