Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
It is always a stressful time for a church musician and church volunteer around Holy Week and Easter, but it is also meaningful.
It is meaningful for me to lead God’s people in song and to involve as many people as possible, while maintaining a high standard of music. Quoted from the fifth chapter of Matthew, verse 48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Just as we should strive to be like our heavenly Father in thought, word, and deed, so too should we strive to be as perfect as possible in music, for our Father is worthy of high praise! Yet, we are sinners and thus mistakes will be made, not only by volunteers, but also by the music minister. Thank God for grace shown through Jesus and also grace shown through the membership of this congregation. Take time to thank people you know that serve in the music ministry at Grace. They are amazing volunteers and we pray that we are encouraging you in your worship of God through the gift of music.
Being Grace’s music minister and director of worship is a challenging position. I receive a lot of questions and statements in regards to worship:
Why did you pick that hymn/song?
Hymns for the 8:30 AM service are always chosen to support the Word of God. We worship and sing to praise God! Familiarity of hymns is also taken into consideration. Attempts are made to make sure that no more than one unknown hymn is in a given service. If an unknown hymn is selected for the day, the organist will make efforts to introduce the hymn in a way so the congregation may learn the melody. This may involve a soloist or choir alternating with the congregation, the organist playing just the melody, or the preludes and offertory revolving around that unknown hymn.
If a hymn is unknown to you, don’t get upset! Don’t be afraid to pull out the hymnal in front of you! Take it as a learning experience. Ask yourself: why was this hymn chosen? How is this text supporting the Word today?
We have over 600+ hymns in our current Lutheran hymnal and many more are being written still today. This does not include the hundreds of hymns already written in other hymnals of other denominations.
You never know: the hymn that was most foreign to you today may be your favorite hymn tomorrow. Hymns such as “A Mighty Fortress,” “Thy Strong Word,” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” were all new hymns once upon a time. Crazy to think that! However, these given hymns have stood the test of time because their melodies were pleasing to the ear, their melodies were easily singable, and the text was meaningful (i.e. quoting Scripture).
Songs for the 11:00 AM service are chosen similarly as hymns are chosen for the 8:30 AM service. They are always chosen to support the Word of God. Also, effort is given to make sure songs are singable and that they reflect the given liturgical season, but in a modern way.
You may notice that songs repeat quite a bit in the 11:00 AM service. Songs repeat to encourage singing. Unlike the 8:30 AM service, the 11:00 AM service doesn’t have hymnals or music for people to follow along while singing. That makes singing a little more difficult. Also, people unfortunately are attending church less frequently than they used to. If someone comes to church on the first Sunday of the month and doesn’t come again until the fourth Sunday of the month, there is at least a chance the person will hear a song they know and will be encouraged to sing.
No more than one NEW song is chosen per service. If a new song is chosen, it always appears at the offering or during communion. Then, it will come back the next Sunday and the Sunday after that to provide repetition so that you can sing it with us!
The Praise Team was never intended to sing for you. It was and is designed to sing with you. So don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard!
That hymn/song was awful… OR That hymn/song was my favorite!
If I am receiving both compliments and complaints, I’m striking the middle. I was once told by a member that he/she liked “90% of the things I do.” If that’s the case, it’s a higher approval rating than the president. I’ll take it!
My job is tricky. I am called to lead the people of Grace in music. It is to serve God and to serve man. I find this balance difficult at times because our God deserves to be praised in many different and mysterious ways and our music shall reflect that. However, I am keenly aware that we like what is familiar to us.
I like to think in terms of our faith walk on this earth. It is not always easy and we will be challenged in our faith. I feel that by introducing new music, I am providing new opportunities for growth in our faith walk with Christ. New music introduces new texts and melodies, as well as new ways to worship. It may not be everybody’s favorite, or it may become everybody’s favorite. May the Holy Spirit guide me and you in worship of our Lord and Savior.
The music is too loud!
We do our best to make sure that the music is not causing you to go deaf. The organ does not blast on loud all the time, nor does our praise band. I try my best to save the loud organ settings for final verses of hymns, but sometimes I cannot help myself as the music and the Holy Spirit moves me.
We need more upbeat music.
Again, God is deserving of praise in many different ways. During the season of Lent, a lot of hymns and songs are not upbeat due to reflection upon our sin and the suffering that Christ bore on our behalf. Now that we are in Easter and post Lent, music should resume its upbeat tone.
But there is nothing wrong with a song of lament. And believe it or not, there are VERY few contemporary songs that talk about lament. We know that not everything within our lives is rosy and perfect. Our music should reflect not only the joys of life, but also the struggles of life and how our Lord leads us through those times. If a slow song is chosen, it may be an opportunity for you to meditate upon the text while singing. Ask: where is the Lord leading me through this song? How is the Holy Spirit working in my life today?
We’re singing too many verses.
If all verses are chosen for a hymn, (which is becoming rarer, the music minister is listening…), it is because the hymn is telling a story. Look at the verses of the hymn. How do they tie all together? How do they tie to the Word that you heard in worship?
Service should not go over an hour.
The worship portion of the service is aimed to go an hour. This does not include the announcements. Sometimes, our announcements may go over 10 minutes.
Sometimes, even within the music minister’s best intentions, the sermon may go longer on given Sundays. It is difficult to coordinate removal of liturgy after a given occurrence because of the coordination needed between the pastor and the given volunteer slide turner for the day.
When we know a service is going too long due to other additions to the service (examples: Mother’s Day, installation of teachers, baptisms, etc.), hymns are either shortened or removed and parts of the liturgy are either shortened or removed to try to make sure the service lasts no more than an hour.
Why are the liturgies changing so frequently?
Divine Services (8:30 AM only) rotate every month. January – Divine Service (DS) one, February – DS2, March – DS3, April – DS 4 And then we repeat. That way, we will get to sing each of the major divine services three times. If you really love the old liturgy (DS3), it’s coming back in July.
Why is communion “in the front” of the late service?
First of all, a reminder. The late service is a “contemporary” service. It will not follow traditional norms. It will not have a repetitive liturgy every Sunday. It will have modern music and it will push the traditional thinking of worship. However, it will not violate the doctrine of the LCMS and it will not be contrary to the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.
I first saw the concept of communion at the front of the service at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Bakersfield, CA. I was super curious of how it would work out. By the end I understood why it was put there and I loved the reasoning.
After we confess our sins, we receive absolution from the Pastor. The Pastor says, in one way or another, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We respond with “Amen, or ‘it is so!’ or ‘so be it!’’’
When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, we see from the Words of Institution, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night on which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” “In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave to them saying, Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is SHED FOR YOU FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
How awesome is it to actually TASTE the forgiveness of sins after being absolved and forgiven. We know that Christ is present in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We physically touch, see, smell, and taste the forgiveness of sins that Christ grants us through the Sacrament. After confession, it makes sense for us to eagerly go to the Sacrament to actually see forgiveness in tangible means by the work of Christ.
Could communion be put in the front at the 8:30 AM service? Of course! But it is the “traditional” service, and in that case, I will do my best to keep the traditional liturgy in order.
I underestimated how much of a culture shock that would be to a lot of people that attend our contemporary worship service. It showed me that we are a lot more traditional than I thought. If we want our contemporary service to be modern, we have to have an understanding that we may be challenged in our beliefs. I’m thankful to those who have asked why.
Whatever changes are made within either of our worship services, they are always done with intent and purpose, and I pray that the reasoning of those changes are given clearly during the worship service to describe Scriptural meaning and how it fits within our worship at Grace.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Yours in Christ,