There is no “Generation Gap” in God’s Kingdom

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

Maybe you’ve noticed it as I have. Popular music really hasn’t changed much in the last forty to fifty years. Sure there are new fusions of multicultural influences, and techno influenced styles that have formed new sub-genres, but by in large, popular music is generally the same. Pop bands are often still dominated by a rhythm section with one or more singers. These male and female singers generally sing in about the same register (much too high for most males and often too low for females). We can expect simple harmonic structure and repetitive lyrics that provide a “hook” needed for mass audiences. Contemporary Christian music is no exception. Musically, there has been little change.

While many trained musicians often think this makes popular music (secular or otherwise) boring, I think it means that there is more common ground musically than there used to be among our living generations. For instance, when I was growing up, my Boomer parents loved music from the 50-60s-especially doo-wop. There were beginnings of rock in some of the music I heard, but there was a major shift during the formative years of the Boomer generation in popular music. As my parents aged, the popular music of their day shifted. Much of the music I (as a Buster/Generation Xer) listened to growing up is similar in many ways to what’s currently on the top 40 radio stations.

Why is this important? Well, I believe that the youngest living generations have more in common musically than our older generations. This realization can help bridge gaps in the church as well. This is good news as we move forward, especially since the quality of both text and music in contemporary worship music has risen exponentially in the last decade.

Even so, your church may be filled with people who do not listen to any form of popular music. In fact that are stuck musically in a decades-old musical style. They couldn’t care less that popular music hasn’t changed much. What they want from church is FAMILIARITY!

Familiarity is two fold:
First, familiarity means what you’d expect it to mean…it’s something you know. For instance, I had a long conversation with a gentlemen regarding this a few weeks ago. He wanted to know why we didn’t sing more old hymns. He’s argument was our people sing with more enthusiasm when we sing old gospel hymns. I simply said, “yes, that’s true, but that’s only because the songs are very familiar.” What I explained to him was while the energy is not AS high on newer tunes, I am careful to choose newer songs that I believe will LAST and will eventually become FAMILIAR parts of our hymnody.

Second, familiarity is a general feeling of “this sounds like something I’ve heard before.” This is what I’m referring to in regards to how music has stayed similar-ish over the last several decades in both popular secular and Contemporary Christian music. The mood, the affect, the instrumentation, the vocals all play into creating familiarity that are “familiar” to our youngest generations (remember this is now adults 50s and younger).

Capitalize on both types of familiarity to make inroads into closing that generation gap because all people are vital in the Kingdom of God. Living in harmony means being even more creative as a worship leader in how you create familiarity in a worship service with many varied backgrounds and experiences. A great way to bridge this gap (as an example) is to use a familiar song with instrumentation/popular musical “style”/ vocals that are more in line with what’s present in popular music. Updated “contemporary” hymns are often great ways to accomplish this, but there are others. What would you add?

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!

Shared Leadership

If any church claims to be truly intergenerational, her leadership must reflect the generational diversity of the church. To be clear, there is little need for an 8 year old with limited perspective to make unilateral, major decisions requiring a broader perspective of someone older. However, there are definitely ways that folks of all ages can be integral in shaping the vision and practices of many church ministries. The concept of “shared leadership” simply means that folks from all backgrounds (and ages) have the opportunity to lead (both in planning and execution of various ministry areas). Music ministry is a great way to implement the use of shared leadership. Here are are a couple of considerations when implementing this strategy:

  1. Implement worship leadership planning team(s) with members from all generations.  In this process those seasoned leaders invest in the younger, while the younger gives fresh ideas. This is potentially tricky, but allow those younger members opportunities to look at events, programs, and times of worship with fresh perspective. As a seasoned leader, ask questions of those younger members about their understanding of the worship experience and what might resonate with them to help them connect to God. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

    My 10 year old son LOVES to doodle and draw during a sermon. Having plenty of room for notes (not always text notes—but pictures) allows him to stay focused and engaged. If your church doesn’t have room on your worship guide for this, consider having a separate worship guide for those creative types. In fact if the theme/scripture/application for the day may be added to this guide, that would help engage those (adults too) that are primarily visual and kinestetic learners.

  2. Develop musical leadership from all generations in your church. We value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s a very intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We do this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way. Sometimes, for instance, the developing leader gets very excited about trying something new, but hasn’t considered the theological content or the context of the situation when giving leadership to planning and executing worship experiences.

Next week, I will discuss some of the tensions and struggles that may arise from developing nextgen leaders and how we as seasoned leaders can encourage without stifling the energy, creativity, and passion of these budding leaders.