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.

Birthdays and Mother’s Days

Today would’ve been my mother’s 69th birthday. It’s been just over 5 years since she passed away from a heart attack among some of her closest friends at a local restaurant in my hometown.  Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. Special days, like today, are even tougher. My mom’s birthday is very close to Mother’s Day. A double whammy! My birthday is tomorrow, the day after my mom’s birthday. A triple whammy! I miss celebrating our birthday’s together.

In full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was not always glad our birthdays were a day apart. What child doesn’t get excited about his birthday days before the actual day? Add a cool birthday party in there, and the celebration can go on for weeks! BUT, I was reminded (often) that my mom’s birthday was first and I needed to remember to celebrate her birthday without constantly talking about MY birthday. Point taken, but as a child it was hard nonetheless. My mom always made my birthday special, often using her own birthday preparing for my birthday. So today, I will not forget celebrate her birthday even though she is worshiping at the feet of Jesus today. Happy birthday, mama!mama

To celebrate her today, I wanted to write a post about my journey these last few years.  As I thought about it, I remembered that three years ago I wrote a “note” about Mother’s Day and the sadness I felt the first few years without my mom to “celebrate.” The Lord spoke to me clearly that He has provided surrogate mothers to fill the void in my life. I knew I needed to share this note again because there are many of us without earthly mothers that have special mother-figures God has used to encourage and love. I truly believe in each generation pouring wisdom and influence into another—a symbiotic relationship, if you will. These women have certainly encouraged and invested in me and I hope I have done likewise.

Here’s the note from May 2015:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother’s Day coming up next weekend. Many of you know I lost my Mom tragically two years ago. The anniversary of her death was just a few weeks ago and it was hard; it always is. While next weekend we will celebrate Mother’s Day, it also would have been her birthday next Saturday. To say I miss her is just inadequate.

You know, she was probably the biggest influence on my decision to enter vocational ministry. She would faithfully sit and listen to me practice piano scales, etudes, sonatas or some vocal solo because I preferred having an audience 😆. I’ll never forgot the times we’d be riding in the car and we’d be singing and she’d look over at me and say, “Will, I hope you know your talents are a gift from God. I pray you always use them for His glory.” My mom was my biggest fan and encourager.

In the midst of several pity parties over lost time with her, I have felt the Holy Spirit remind me that He has put strategic “mothers” in my life; a few just in the last few years. I think of three immediately:

First, if you are a part of our fellowship at Ivy Creek Baptist, you know Wylene. Wylene is our office admin. and a mother to all of her pastors (other sons as she calls us). She, too, has known the loss of a loved one fairly recently. She has the biggest heart and she loves just doing big and little things beyond her job description to demonstrate that love. Even though I haven’t know her long, you wouldn’t know it. Thank you, Wylene for loving me and taking care of me, even when I’m stubborn!

Second, Susan Rihner came into my life the summer after my mom died. I immediately liked her. She is fun, loyal, and has the most gregarious laugh, much like my mom did. She never hesitates to tell me how she feels, but tempers it with love. Sometimes I have to catch my breath when I’m with her, because she’ll say or do something exactly like mom. Susan, thank you for reminding me how full of life my mom was and how she told me what she thought, even when I didn’t want to hear it.

Third, how could I forget my precious mother in law, Margaret? I hit the mother load with her. In the twenty years I’ve know her, she has loved me like one of her own from day one. She, too, has had her share of heartache recently, but she remains a rock–unwavering in her faith and nurturing ways. Thank you, Margaret, for loving me as your own all these years.

Doubtless, some of you all are without biological mothers on this earth. It stinks; I get that. However, let the Spirit speak to you and reveal those precious ladies in your life that God puts there to fill that void and thank them royally this coming Mother’s Day.

I am blessed to have many, many “moms.” I appreciate all they have done for me. I want to challenge those reading to consider those who have invested in your own life. Have you thanked them? Likewise, if you are in a place of leadership, what are YOU doing to pour into the next generation?