Tag Archives: church music

Learning Each Other’s Songs

Yes, friends, it’s true. I didn’t preach a sermon this week. We had a “hymn sing” at First UMC New Ulm, and it was not like any hymn sing I’ve ever experienced, I can tell you. For one thing, it was hard to hear the congregation actually singing.  For another, we discovered that we don’t really know each other’s songs very well. What is near and dear to the heart of one may be totally new to someone else. It makes us a little nervous to sing songs we don’t know – which may be one reason why the volume level was pretty low as we bravely muddled through the unfamiliar.

We had plenty of opportunities to share. In fact, there were more songs and hymns listed on the chart paper at the front of the sanctuary than we had time to sing. As you might expect, most of the favorites came from the Methodist Hymnal.  As you might also expect, a number of selections from our own “Songbook” of collected worship songs made it to the list. What surprised me was the relatively few number of songs chosen from one of the denomination’s “more contemporary” songbooks, The Faith We Sing. But what really surprised me was the number of songs that were noted on the list, but no one seemed to actually know. When I asked for a show of hands on one of these, only one person claimed familiarity – presumably the person who wrote it on the list before worship began.

What does this tell us about the songs we sing together in worship, and what we value about those songs? Sadly, it means we don’t know each other’s music, and after years of worshiping together, we haven’t bothered to learn what our fellow worshipers find … worshipful. It isn’t a matter of having different musical tastes, or even different theological approaches to singing our praise. It’s a matter of failing to listen to each other with our hearts wide open. And if we aren’t listening to one another’s heart songs, how can we expect to hear God’s voice, singing into and over our lives?

We’re doing this again on August 31st. May God open our throats to sing with gusto, and may God open our hearts to hear one another’s songs with delight instead of fear, so we can sing along with each other as brothers and sisters who worship a living God, a God who sings, who delights in singing.

Ground Rules and A Clarification

Thanks to all of you who read yesterday’s inaugural post, and especially to those of you who offered encouragement for this endeavor!

Now for some ground rules as we move forward:
1. I promise to post regularly, but never on Sunday.  Probably not on Wednesdays, either.  I’m a part-time worship pastor, and these two days comprise 70% of my workweek hours.  In other words, I’m kinda busy on Sundays and Wednesdays, and that ministry is my first priority.

2. Yesterday’s post was an anomaly: I won’t be using old material, as a rule. “God sings!” seemed a good introduction to my personal theology of music and worship. It tells you a lot about who I am, and who I think God is. I wanted to get that foundation laid right away, but now it is my hope to build on that foundation with new bricks.  One by one.

3. This blog is not about me.  I have avoided creating a personal blog (until now) because I know how easily I can be sucked into narcissism, and expounding daily about my personal inner life seems oh-so-narcissistic to me.  But this blog is really an invitation to conversation, so I invite you to leave me comments and interact with what you see here.  I especially invite you to disagree with me – we all need more frank discussion in our lives, I think.  “As iron sharpens iron… (Proverbs 27:17).” I promise to respond.

4. That said, let’s keep our discourse civil, shall we? I am blessed to serve in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and one thing we affirm is something called “Freedom in Christ.” You can learn more about it here. That freedom allows us to differ on non-essentials while we agree on this fundamental belief: Jesus Christ is Lord. (We agree on some other stuff, too, but this is enough to get the conversation started.)

Four Rules is plenty.


Yesterday I mentioned that Luther Seminary had “announced that it is eliminating it’s graduate program in church music next year.” That was a mistake.  They are not eliminating the Master of Sacred Music program, but they do plan to suspend it while they figure out how to move forward after Paul Westermeyer retires.  Here is what they posted on the Luther Seminary Facebook page on Thursday:

Luther Seminary’s Sacred Music program has been very influential in equipping excellent leaders for worship, music and the arts. We are proud of this contribution. In recent years, we’ve seen significant changes. Churches tell us their worship and music needs are changing. We’ve also experienced a decline in the number of students coming to Luther Seminary’s Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.) program. And, Paul Westermeyer, our respected colleague and leader of the Master of Sacred Music program at Luther Seminary, has announced his plan to retire in June 2013.
Given the changing congregational needs and Paul’s upcoming retirement, we have decided to not recruit new students for our Master of Sacred Music program for the 2013-2014 school year. We will, of course, ensure that our current students continue to receive an excellent education at Luther Seminary and complete their degrees in the M.S.M. program.
The faculty at Luther Seminary is committed to establishing a vision and moving the study of worship, music and the arts forward at Luther. As part of our overall curriculum revision work, we will take this next year to explore ways to proceed and build on the excellence we’ve established in equipping leaders to meet the critical needs of worship and music in the church.
Please keep this process in your prayers as we seek God’s guidance for how we can best respond to the changing needs of the church.

Please do keep this fine program in your prayers, and pray especially for those who have worked so hard to build it into an exemplary training ground for church musicians.  I lament that Bethel Seminary, where I received my MDiv, offers no courses related to worship planning, worship elements, or music in worship.  I hope Luther recognizes its important role in the broader faith community, and handles this transition well.

What should be included in a pastor’s musical training?  What is the best way to teach pastors how to lead worship? Please share your thoughts!