Moving OVER, but not OUT

I wish we sang something in my church that I know.
I don’t know any of the new songs and no one around me does either.
I wish we would sing some/more hymns…you know, something with lyrics that don’t repeat 700 times?
We want the young people to participate, but we don’t want them to play too loudly.
We want the young people to participate, but we don’t want them to take our solos, spots on instruments, etc. 

Have you ever heard phrases like this? I’m sure I could fill much space with comments from our older generations. I’m not deceived, even as a Gen Xer, I’m officially an “older generation!” Let’s face it; we’re all prone to preferences. We all long for the music and worship atmosphere that feels safe/holy/familiar. Certainly, none of us “older” saints wants to feel irrelevant, either! I’d probably still think I was cool except my teenage sons remind me daily that I’m not. Truthfully, I never was, but I digress…

From a worship setting standpoint, I believe worship settings should err to the “younger look” while still maintaining an older presence. Here’s what I mean: I’m not advocating a particularly musical style. I’ll say it again, the local church musical style should reflect the context and demographics of the church and surrounding area more so than just what’s popular. That’s why we do old and new, because that’s who we are as a suburban, intergenerational church. BUT, the platform should include YOUNG and OLD worship leaders. There should be intentional opportunities for the young to learn from the older worship leaders (vocal and instrumental). Further, this intentionality goes beyond just platform presence, it should reflect the musical interests of our emerging generations, as well as tried and true. Sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96) AND The great hymnody of the faith.

Scripture is clear; it is the responsibility of the older generation to teach the younger generations, but doesn’t mention anything about music style, right? Nevertheless, the opening of Psalm 78 paints a beautiful picture of the what it DOES mean to investing in the young:

2I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
    the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
    which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
    and arise and tell them to their children…

The other day, I read an interesting portion of a book that really brought this home to me. The author referenced Numbers 8:25 as he reminded the reader than the Levites were to stop working at age fifty, but should switch their role as “leader” to assisting, empowering, inspiring, etc. While I hope I’m still “working in the service of the Lord at age 50,” it does bring home an interesting point…once we’ve reach a certain age, hopefully wiser as well, we need to mentor the next generation(s) to do the work of the Lord. Will their work be different than our work? Absolutely! But, we aren’t trying to create musical clones of ourselves, we are to teach/invest in their lives spiritually and, if you’re a worship leader like me, perhaps incredible musicianship rather than a particular style. At some point, my friends, each of us will realize that it’s time for us to move over and hand the “baton” to someone else. Don’t lose heart, you aren’t washed up, you’re role has just shifted to being a helper to the next generations.

Developing an Orchestra in the Intergenerational Church—from 7-30+ players in five years.

When I arrived at my current church 5 1/2 years ago, I was tasked with developing an orchestra for our church. At the time, there were about 7-8 players (all but two were not adults) and they had met a few times of the fall prior to my arrival with the goal of playing for the Christmas season of 2012. Prior to that, the church used piano, organ, and a drummer to accompany congregational song. Needless to say, I had to come up with a plan to utilize these willing players so they felt confident and ready to lead in worship. This task was already tricky since we were utilizing not only varying generations, but varying skill levels as well. After some trial and error and now several years reflecting on how we got to almost 35 players in our orchestra in about 5 years, I’ve come up with some points that helped us along the way. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful if you’re starting an orchestra:

  1. Pray, Pray, Pray. I literally cried out to God to send us players with servant hearts, musical skill, and commitment to be in rehearsals and services. From the beginning there were some critical instruments/people we needed to move forward and I know God’s hand of provision is why we are where we are today. I’m still crying out to God today even though we literally are out of space AND we’ve already extended our platform once!
  2. Use your current players as scouts for new players. Those first players were so excited to be playing in our church and regularly looked and listened for others in our fellowship who had played before to invite to our team. Within the first six months of my time here, we had added at least 4-5 players. In fact that’s about how many have been added each year since I’ve arrived. MANY of these players come because someone in the orchestra found out they played and invited them to check us out.
  3. Rehearse them to confidence and fluency. After I arrived, the orchestra played every week. We had long rehearsals where I was very detailed in my instructions of  the “road map” of the song. We played things multiple times so the fluency was there. It was tedious but necessary. Basically, we spent 75 minutes a week on 4 tunes for the congregation. Aiming to forgo distractions in the worship service was my number one musical goall. We started with easy congregational songs (even familiar hymns) to build confidence. That confidence resulted in better playing. Better playing resulted in higher quality offerings to God in worship. As soon as our quality started getting better, we needed fewer “scouts” because people just started inquiring about playing. Excellence breeds excellence!
  4. Challenge them but don’t overwhelm them. We use a variety of charts from various publishers with a varying degree of difficulty. In the beginning I aimed to balance out more complicated with simple orchestrations. Likewise, we didn’t even attempt to accompany the choir until about 18 months after I arrived because I wanted to make sure they had learned/rehearsed/played/led the roughly 125 tunes in our congregational song corpus. Even that first anthem we played for, the Word publication of the tune By Our Love, was chosen specifically because the orchestration is relatively simple. Today, we can handle most anything the church music publishers write. It’s fun to think back at the evolution.
  5. Feature them. After we started playing regularly for the congregation AND choir, we started playing stand-alone orchestra preludes/features, etc. It’s giving them a place to “shine” and greater ownership of the orchestra ministry.
  6. Use all your generations. At this moment, four generations in our church play in our orchestra. Ten of those players are under the age of 20; all my string players (7) are students. The students who play for us are excellent players and the sight-reading they get to do for me helps them in their school bands and orchestra. Without using all our generations, we wouldn’t be an orchestra…we’d be a band…we’d be smaller, less effective, and have less color/timbre. Teach them to serve for life. Invest in your students.
  7. Love your orchestra family. Make sure you love on these players as much as you would your choir members. They have at least as much to learn as the choir each week and are just as important to the music ministry team. Be involved in their lives. If you use care group leaders, as I do for all my groups, make sure you USE them to help you do care ministry for these players.

In my next blog I want to talk about some of the actual literature we used (congregational song mostly) as we moved forward. Our church has ALWAYS been intergenerational so they’ve never been through a musical style split. They embraced changes in music even before I got there. However, when the “sound” of the songs, arrangements, number of players, etc. began changing, some finesse was necessary. Even with our varied musical styles, there has always been the push to be more traditional or more contemporary from some. So, I will talk about how we embraced our intergenerational context to be who WE ARE, not any other church. I’m still a student of who we are…partly because who we are is constantly evolving; we are double the size we were when I arrived. Stay tuned!

One Body with Many Parts

Sometimes I like to read through familar passages of scripture using different translations than I normally use. Recently, I’ve been using the CEV version while reading through some of Paul’s letters. When I got to 1 Corinthians 12, I was particularly moved by the syntax used to describe the function of the Body of Christ. While I’ve read this passage numerous times, the words seemed to take on deeper meaning for me this time.  Here some of the passages from 1 Cor. 12 (CEV):

14 Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 15 Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? 16 Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? 17 If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. 18 But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19 A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20 It takes many parts to make a single body. 21 That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. 22 In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest…. 24 put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 27 Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.

My heartbeat is helping every person in my sphere of influence find where they fit in the body of Christ, particularly as it relates to music. No matter what age one is, there’s a place for serving. It pains me to see music ministries in churches that underutilize the gifts and talents giving to church members by relegating music leadership to only a few. I’ve heard many fine singers and players wax nostalgic of the days when they could play and/or sing in their church music ministry. Nowadays, they sit in their seats because they are no longer valued. Paul thinks differently…just because you aren’t a rock star singer doesn’t been you are not a part of the body (v. 14 my paraphrase). I couldn’t agree more. Furthermore, the personalities, timbres, musicality, etc. of the WHOLE body may not be a perfect musical offering, but it’s an authentic one for sure. Paul speaks to this in verse 22 when he says, “in fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest.” WOW! Then I love what he follows with, “He [God] did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others.” Anyone else hear what I heard? Love your neighbor as yourself…consider the interests of others other than yourself…live in mutual submission to one another. Hurt when others hurt…live in unity together. Folks, we need to get serious about truly caring about others in the body. I’m ALL for evangelism and reaching out, but when we focus entirely on reaching out and not loving/caring for our own people, the unbeliever will not see the love of Christ being displayed. Scripture reminds us that the “world” will see Jesus in our love for one another. We MUST be unified before we are able to reach others for Christ

To live in unity takes work. A few days ago I was saddened by a conversation I overheard from a small group of older adults (not at my church or by my church members) that basically trashed contemporary forms and expressions of musical worship. The argument was completely selfish. I was saddened because these folks, by estimation, were believers. They had no interest in working together with other parts of the body to seek to understand the musical expressions of many generations. Don’t think I’m pointing fingers at older adults solely; these types of behavior are found in people of all ages. Anytime someone(s) think they are/viewpoint or style is more important than someone else, the body is not in unity.  Even Paul reminds us that the parts of the body that seem insignificant are actually important.

It takes all parts of the body to live in unity. For those churches that are not thriving, my questions are: is your church unified in purpose? Are there folks like the ones I mentioned that are unwavering in their desire for anything in their worship service to change because they don’t LIKE it? Are the various generations in your church valued? Are the older generations investing in the younger generations…not just by giving leadership over younger members, but actually working together by valuing contributions from all? If not, then this lack of humility may be used by the enemy to destroy the body from within.

I don’t know about you, but I would imagine if I couldn’t smell, I may not realize the joy of fresh baked bread, flowers, and cookies in the oven. If I could hear, I would’nt hear the music that I such an intergral part of my life and ministry. Would I be alive? Yes, but I would not be WHOLE. If we miss the JOY of developing relationships across generational lines, we miss the wholeness of being a part of the body of Christ.

TOGETHER (not apart) we are the body of Christ. EACH of us is part of that body. EVERYONE.