The Importance of Quiet

Psalm 46: 10 (NASB) Cease striving and know that I am God…

Contrary to what some may think, I’m really an introvert. I discovered this shocking fact in my 20s when I took not one, but four different personality tests (I’m an overachiever extraordinaire!) to give insight into what makes me tick. In case you’re interested, I’m an ISTJ. I was worried that being labeled an introvert would make people think that I hate being around people, but that is not the case. After doing a little research (I do love to read since I’m an introvert, right?) I realized that the biggest difference between me and an extrovert is that I get my energy from being alone as opposed to the extrovert who is charged by being around people. Make no mistake, I love people…but I’m often exhausted after being around people for long stretches of time. I CRAVE time alone. My extroverted wife spent our first few years of marriage worried that I didn’t like spending time with her when I needed some space.

Thinking back to when I was a new Christian, I remember I would read my Bible in my closet at home; yes, my literal closet. I went to a conference once that talked about developing a prayer closet and I wanted to grow in my relationship with the Lord, so I got in my literal closet (again, an overachiever and a rule-follower-HA!) and studied the Word. Freeing myself of distractions was just what I needed. I’m a distractable person, frankly. I’m also quite task-oriented, but need quiet to keep focus. Sometimes I would study and pray for long periods of time. I WAITED (tarried) for the Lord to speak to me through the Word and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Those times shut away from the noise of life helped shape me into who I am today. It was also in those times that I heard God speaking to me to enter vocational ministry.

Most anyone who knows me well knows that I love to run. Most weeks I log 35-40 miles. Sometimes more, but not usually less. I haven’t been a runner all of my life, though. I didn’t start running until my early twenties when I realized I was addicted to sugar and headed straight for type two diabetes. I got hooked very quickly and haven’t stopped since. It may seem counterintuitive to some that running recharges me. While physically I may be tired when I finish running, I’m mentally and spiritually full. I do not listen to music when I run, which surprises some because I am a musician, but I want to be quiet and hear what God might be saying to me. While running is not a substitute for personal Bible study, it is a great place to pray, think through problems and frustrations, and gain perspective. Sometimes, though, even this time to be quiet is not enough…

Being in ministry, a father, a husband, and a teacher to name a few, it’s incredibly difficult to find time just to sit and be quiet with the intention of hearing a Word from the Lord even though I read my Bible daily and pray. Going through the motions of these holy habits, I wouldn’t miss what God might be trying to say to me if I’d stop overthinking and allowing distractions to confuse me. The enemy would love nothing more than to distract and create NOISE and confusion in my life and yours. I struggle with the NOISE people, and I don’t mean obvious things not of God. I struggle at times discerning what I should spend my time doing. I’m a severe people-pleaser. I want to do ALL I can to build the Kingdom, but I can only give so much time, effort, and energy to a finite number of things. I am reminded of Psalm 46:10 that reminds me that I must CEASE STRIVING or BE STILL or as another interpretation says LET GO, RELAX and know that I am GOD. I must dedicate time (no matter how long) to be quiet and to listen to the Lord for clear direction to the things that the Lord wants me to pour my time and energy into. It seems counterintuitive, but necessary.

The key to cutting through the noise, my friends, is to dedicate time alone with God that is unhindered. Patiently wait for the Lord to speak. This noise is the enemy’s way of confusing the believer by making clarity impossible. Hear me: OUR GOD IS NOT A GOD OF CONFUSION. If you’re confused in decision-making or what to do or how to do it, don’t change anything unless sin is in the way of a reconciled relationship to God. Pray for forgiveness of sin then pray for clarity, listen for the voice of God to break through, and ask for wisdom.

We Must Reflect the Glory of God to the Next Generation

Religious people are a very noisy, wordy, and active people. But activity for activity’s sake is not of God. We might first clear away the idea that church is a social club…We are a holy people, a royal priesthood, a holy generation called out of darkness to show forth the glory of the One who called us out…a sanctified people that are mirrors of the Almighty to reflect the glory of the most high God…to do less than this is to fail utterly, to fail God and to fail our Lord Jesus Christ who redeemed us. It is to fail ourselves and it is to fail our children…if a local church in one generation fails of its high design of worship, the next generation in that church will depart from the faith altogether. As a result the present generation succumbs to liberalism and does not preach the Word of God at all.

selections from A.W. Tozer from The Purpose of Man

 

A few weeks ago, my two teenaged sons went to another church with a friend’s family. Like a good father, I asked them what the experience was like. Their comments, which were not coerced, were enlightening to me.  Here are some of the things they said:

  1. We went with our friend’s family but as soon as we entered the building, we all headed to various worship experiences. It concerned my boys that the family did not worship together (I’m glad they recognize that!)
  2. Once they got to their “youth worship experience,” they were not welcoming at check-in. The check in person simply wanted their information and offered no special word of greeting to them as first-time guests.
  3. The musical portion of their worship experience began with a secular song, which my kids found odd. They didn’t understand the purpose of doing a song that didn’t at least have a biblical theme.
  4. The band members were younger adults and not youth themselves. In their words, “there wasn’t any youth in the band.”
  5. The “lesson” portion of the experience only included one bible verse and was only loosely connected to the theme of the lesson.

After talking with them about it for awhile, numbers 1 and 5 seemed to bother them the most. They didn’t understand why the worship experiences couldn’t be combined, especially since they felt the music for all the services was similar in “style.” I tried to explain to them that the church they were attending believes the Sunday morning experiences is not the same as having a small group or Sunday School class…although they felt they were in a Sunday School class more than a worship service. I also mentioned that grouping in affinity/age stratified groups helped make the learning environments more “appropriate” for “educational” purposes. Still, they weren’t buying the idea of being apart (good boys!) Nevertheless, they had a blast. This church gets big points for making church fun!

Secondly, the lack of biblical depth concerned them greatly. They wanted more meat; they wanted to be challenged and changed from the Word (good boys!). We are thankful to be in a church fellowship that values the exposition of the Word. The Word doesn’t have to be dressed up to be relevant!

My concerns, which I already knew existed in this church and others like it, is the lack of biblical discipleship in the worship experiences. This lack of biblical discipleship affects the lack of intergenerational ministry as mentioned in the first point. The surface level biblical teaching does not bode well for our rising generation of believers. Knowing only some biblical concepts creates confusion for the young believer who does not know the Truth in its fullness. Just as Tozer rightly states, without a strong biblical foundation, liberalism abounds. It’s time we reverse this trend and take the in-depth study of the Word seriously…for future generations.

Are Solo-Driven Choir Songs Anti-Intergenerational?

Have you thought about how many songs your choir sings that feature a solo that “drives” the song you are singing? I don’t mean a simple verse solo or a small section in the song, but a full-song solo where the choir essentially takes a “back-up” choir role. If you are in my choir, you’ll sing plenty of these types of tunes. There are a few reasons this is the case in my choir and possibly yours as well:

  1. Some of the most popular songs for choirs today have solos that drive the song. I’m not in a popularity contest, but there are some great church choral songs (new and not so new) that have solos in them. I want my choir to learn lots of great things that have great texts and are solid musically.
  2. I can because I have lots of soloists. Having lots of great soloists makes it easy to present these types of songs, especially when you have some that really communicate the message in a special way…like Spencer in the feature photo here.
  3. Sometimes they are easier or faster to learn because the soloist has the bulk of the song. Sometimes the hardest part of learning a choral song are verses because of the variances of texts and rhythmic structures that can be tricky. If the choir is learning choruses only, which often repeat, the process of learning the song is expedited.

While we enjoy the flexibility to do lots of solo-driven choral literature, I am often conflicted about over-using these types of songs because of my commitment to value the contributions of all the singers in my choir. It’s a constant battle; one I’ve been contending with for years. When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia in 2014, I asked the leaders of those choirs how much of their own choral literature was solo driven.  Here are some results:

  1. Over half of them indicated that they only used solo-driven choral literature in about 20 percent of their anthems.
  2. About another 25 percent of those interviewed said they used solo-driven literature up to 40 percent of the time. 
  3. Smaller church choirs sang fewer solo-driven anthems than the largest church choirs.

A couple of observations from this data…

  1. Solo-driven literature does not “generally” dominate the choral offerings of churches that are intergenerational.
  2. Small church choirs probably have fewer soloists than the largest church choirs. Therefore, it’s plausible that more soloists could possibly equated with more opportunities to sing solo-driven literature. 
  3. There were no indications that age of leader or choir members had any bearing on the percentage of solo-driven anthems used.

One area that seemed to have a bearing on how much solo-driven choral literature was sung was the publishers frequently used. Those leaders who frequently purchased from more traditional publishers rarely used solo-driven anthems. Conversely, those who used only one or two publishers from the evangelical side reported much higher use of solo-driven anthems.  My personal observations (a quick count at any current choral pack from any publisher will reveal) Prism, Word, and Brentwood-Benson publish more solo-driven literature than other evangelical publishers (Lifeway, Lillenas, Praisegathering). I love, and use music from, each of these publishers, so do not think I am speaking negatively about any one publisher. I am simply commenting on what I see when I open their choral club packets/boxes.

The long and short of it? Broaden the number of publishers you listen to as you search for choral music for your church choir so you may find all types of songs—especially if you find yourself leaning towards solo-driven literature all the time.  This it is often hard to achieve, but necessary for balance if your goal is to create an atmosphere where all members of the choir feel valued and important.

Personally, I am guilty of relying on solo-driven literature at least 40 percent of the time, sometimes more. We sing tunes from every one of the above publishers and I love the variety of music types that can be found, but often I find some of the best tunes I can find (in my opinion) are solo-driven. But, since I firmly believe that valuing all in my music ministry is important, I know I must be careful to look for balance, which includes purposely looking for choir only literature that fits our context.

As a side note: thankfully, some solo-driven songs can be adapted to include more of the choir. For instance, verses that a solo would normally sing could be sung by the women or the men. I’ve done that on several songs and it has worked very well.