Passive-Aggressive Worship Wars

“I don’t like the electric guitars…(or the pipe organ)…”
“Oh, he’s preaching? I guess we will miss this Sunday…”
“I like it when she leads worship – she’s better than that other singer…”

“I follow Paul…”
“I follow Apollos…”
“I follow Cephas…”

For the past six weeks our pastor, John Wood, has been preaching through the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians. I encourage you to listen to or watch those sermons, starting with August 7, 2016, at

First, let me be clear: Paul is addressing the church in Corinth; he is not writing about the worship wars of the American church. He is talking about the foundational and counter-cultural message of the cross of Christ. As a prelude to this message, Paul has denounced the dividing of the Church that happens when people declare their allegiances to different leaders due to their particular gifting in rhetoric, personality, or other attributes. This is still happening today, and it is still frustrating and heart-breaking.

The other day I received a note in my box that complimented me personally on the music for the worship service the previous Sunday, and then noted that part of the reason it was better that day was that the electric guitar player was absent and “the voices could be heard.” In other words: I follow you, not that other musician. To get even deeper, I believe that the writer meant: I “worship” better when I get what I want.

While this is an isolated incident, it’s not nearly as isolated as it should be. It also points to the need for constant vigilance against division in the church, especially in the area of music. We all have our personal likes and dislikes about music, but the thing about our personal likes and dislikes is that they don’t matter.

Passive-aggressive attacks disguised as compliments reveal our hearts. They show us when we have taken music and made it into an idol. My very livelihood consists of serving as a musician of the church, but hear me say: do not worship the music, the organ, the guitar, the gifts of the singers or the style of the songs. Encouraging those who lead worship is a wonderful thing, but it is turned to evil when it contains words truly meant for division.

We are to work for unity in the Body – setting aside our personal preferences (which tend to be like a child who only wants to eat their familiar favorites) and embrace a larger vision of God’s kingdom. Music can be a wonderful part of worship, but it is never to be worshiped itself, nor are we to use it to split the congregation into factions. When we preach Jesus Christ crucified, we gain an eternal perspective and abundant joy, abounding in power and truth. Let that be our focus, and let that be our life.

Soli Deo gloria.

Airtable and public views

imagesOne of the cool recent discoveries that I have made with Airtable is that you can publish and share selected information easily through sharing a view and embedding it or linking it on other sites. What this means for me is that finally I have an easy way to create a list of upcoming choir anthems with recording samples, YouTube links, and publisher links and share that with my choir members so that they can review the music during the week or see what anthems are coming up next. Very cool!

I am also using the ability to password protect pages on our church website in order to share a basic choir directory (with information from Airtable) with just our choir members. And with AirTable’s recent gallery view, this could become a very easy way for folks to learn names and faces when they are new.

The ongoing weakness with Airtable is its printing – still very basic and honestly, only barely useful. Maybe this will be fixed in the future… but for now I am still having to rely on CSV exports to be able to do fancy printing when needed. Thankfully, that’s not very often.

Quick playback options in Sibelius

When I write and arrange using software, one of the advantages (and indeed, a constraint sometimes) is that the computer is able to play back via midi/plugins the music I have written. Just like in a rehearsal, though, I like to be able to isolate parts to identify problems or voicing issues. Here’s how I do that in Sibelius.

Thanks for watching, and I hope you found this helpful.

Youth Choir worship

No, this post is not about worshiping your Youth Choir. Instead, this is what role worship has within a youth choir program.

For many years, my youth choir programs consisted of committed young men and women who generally liked to sing. They also generally believed in the messages of the songs that we were learning – which were mostly musical settings of Psalms – as well as hymn arrangements, spirituals, and generic-Christian gospel songs. Rehearsals opened or closed with prayer, and often I would touch on the text during rehearsal in order to have a teaching/devotional moment with the choir. The rest of the spiritual development I left in God’s hands.

On tours, we would have devotionals every evening, announcements, and usually recognize a senior or offer a goofy prize for something that had happened during the day. The students and chaperones were always so tired though that sometimes it felt like a final hurdle to overcome before bedtime. On retreats (when we had them), I offered more intentional worship opportunities – and was always a little disappointed when they felt sterile or foreign, which was just about every time. I think that because of this, I backed away from incorporating worship into the regular life of the youth choir.

At some level I must have decided that developing a spirit of worship within the choir was not worth the time. Besides, we had too much music to learn to spend time on it. Our tour days were too full to add worship to the itinerary. I didn’t always feel like worship myself.

I now kneel, humbled and ashamed, and ask for God’s forgiveness for the years of missed opportunities. Lord, have mercy upon me, a proud, busy, self-confident sinner.

I realize now that I was asking the choir to run before it could even crawl. I was offering a rich banquet of food to a choir of people who had only experienced graham crackers and apple juice.

We who lead choirs are leading worship, and that doesn’t mean music. The first priority of the choral ensemble is to be united in worship, lifting up hearts and voices to God. We must practice it. We must develop it and make it a regular part of our time together. I must embrace worship with the choir, knowing now that rather than a burden, it is such an opportunity to allow God to speak to our very soul.

There are always notes to learn. Time is always limited. It will never be perfect. But the time spent in worship with my choir is a treasure that surprises and leads me into the very presence of God.

When you experience the transformational power of worshiping with your choir, you will be amazed at the way God leads His people. Don’t let the years and opportunities go by, and don’t get your priorities backwards. Lead, develop, and model worship and pray with your choir – knowing that our Heavenly Father uses all of our gifts for far more than we can ever hope or even imagine.

(One resource I recommend is the Passion-Driven Youth Choir)

Choral anthem: Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name

I am a fan of (among other things) early American hymn tunes, Sacred Harp singing, and the music of William Billings, who lived from 1746-1800. Learn more about Billings at Wikipedia.

Our choir will be singing one of Billings’ tunes, MEDWAY (not the MEDWAY you may know), and I have typeset it to fit on one page front and back. The text comes from Isaac Watt’s paraphrase of Psalm 95:

Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name,
And in His strength rejoice,
When His salvation is our theme,
Exalted be our voice.

Download the PDF: Billings – Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name – MEDWAY.
Need it transposed? Just ask in the comments below.

CPDL has two other versions of this piece by Billings: Standard Notation, G; Shape Note, G


Pipe organ reed repair

Got a note that won’t play? Here’s how to potentially save your church a lot of money and time!

Occasionally all organs that employ reed-based pipes (most commonly trumpets) will run into trouble with a note that doesn’t sound. I’m not talking about a note that is out of tune – just one that doesn’t sound at all. When this happens it is worth checking out yourself if you are reasonably confident of your abilities working with slightly more advanced than medieval technology, and if you can physically fit into and work safely within the pipe chamber.

Put some ear-plugs in and have a friend at the console to play notes. Here is what you are generally looking for (follow your ears first):

The reeds in this picture are the silver pipes with resonators. They are tuned with a tuning wire that comes out of the block below.

Once you have located the non-working pipe, lift it out of position and carefully remove the boot that covers the reed assembly. You will now have something that looks like this:


On the right is where the air enters the pipe and causes the reed to vibrate. Because of the tight tolerances of the tongue of the reed and the shallot (the wood backing the reed), any little piece of dust that happens to enter and get lodged can cause the reed to stop vibrating, silencing the pipe. Take a clean piece of paper and gently insert it sideways, flossing out the area from the end of the reed to the point where the tuning wire presses against it. Replace the boot and reseat the pipe – it should be fixed and ready to go!