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Evangelical Music/Worship

Greg Strand – May 21, 2014 5 Comments

Jamie Brown recently attended the National Worship Leader Conference and he wrote about his reflections: Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship.


What he observed, he concludes, was performancism and it troubled him.


It’s the theme of performancism. The worship leader as the performer. The congregation as the audience. The sanctuary as the concert hall.


It really is a problem. It really is a thing. And we really can’t allow it to become the norm. Worship leaders, we must identify and kill performancism while we can.


It’s not rocket science.


Sing songs people know (or can learn easily). Sing them in congregational keys. Sing and celebrate the power, glory, and salvation of God. Serve your congregation. Saturate them with the word of God. Get your face off the big screen. Use your original songs in extreme moderation. Err on the side of including as many people as possible in what’s going on. Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology. Tailor your worship leading, and the songs you pick, to include the largest cross-section of your congregation that you can. Lead pastorally.


Two brief comments.


First, to be fair, what he attended was not a corporate worship service, so it is not completely accurate to draw hard and fast conclusions from a conference designed for this purpose to the local church. But what often happens is that whatever one experiences at such a conference or event, that experience is brought back and superimposed on the corporate worship service in the local church. That can and often does become problematic. Rather than something like this being the model for who the corporate church is and what the corporate church does, since we are an outpost of heaven we reflect now what is happening there, since, according to Hebrews, “you have come” (Heb. 12:22-24). 


Second, the conference and the title refer to “Worship Leader” and “Evangelical Worship.” In both instances the term “worship” refers primarily to music. And yet, biblical worship consists of much more than this: praying and preaching to name just two. One of the problems is that the definition and understanding of worship have become reductionistic. Many good books have written about this, and it is vital to bear in mind.


What do you think of this assessment?

Music, Singing and Emotions

Greg Strand – May 9, 2013 Leave a comment

In 2011 the Moore College School of Theology hosted their annual conference addressing the theme, “True Feelings: Perspectives on Emotions in Christian Life and Ministry.” The lecture series was later published in a book under the same title.

Michael Jensen, editor of the book, introduces this topic in the following manner:

There is no place, it seems, in which feelings do not run high about feelings. The whole of western civilization is still caught between adoration of the emotions as sublime and denigration of them as merely animal. Can we trust our feelings? Should we suppress them or should we indulge them? In what part of our persons do feelings occur.

Contemporary Christianity is no less vexed about emotions. The rise of the charismatic movement in the late twentieth century, with its emphasis (many would say overemphasis) on experiential Christianity, ash led to an equally strong reaction of suspicion against talk of the emotions as significant for the Christian life. Though these question have an everyday, practical importance, they also point to the profound theological questions about the nature of the triune God and the ascription of emotions to him in the Bible. Does God himself have feelings?

In this conference, various topics were addressed: cultural overview, theological anthropology, the question of divine passions, the emotional life of Jesus, the Spirit’s work in perfecting emotions, preaching the Gospels for divine effects, and the place of emotions in corporate worship including connections with singing and music.

It is the last topic that I focus on in this post. Rob Smith, from whom I posted earlier this week, lectures in Systematic Theology and Music Ministry at Sydney Missionary & Bible College in Sydney, Australia. At this conference he presented the lecture on “Music, Singing, and Emotions: Exploring the Connections,” which was then published as a chapter in the book, and subsequently was also included as an article in Themelios.

He approaches the intersection of music, singing and emotions in a threefold way.

Firstly, I wish to offer some reflections on the world that God has made, drawing on some of the less controversial findings of various musicological, psychological and neurobiological studies. Secondly, I will offer some reflections on the word that God has spoken, exploring some of the links we find between music, singing and emotions in the Old and New Testaments. Thirdly, I want to offer some reflections on the history of Christian thought, drawing on the insights of a number of theologians who have wrestled with these matters-despite coming to differing conclusions.

At the end of the article Smith draws two important conclusions, personal and corporate. I include only an excerpt under both points.

Implications for Personal Growth: In short, we should recognize the good gift that God has given us to nourish our emotional health and be open to Jeremy Begbie’s thought that music and singing may need to play a larger part in your Christian growth that you have hitherto allowed or imagined. It is one of the means that God has provided and that the Holy Spirit uses to help make us people who feel and respond in ways that please him.

Implications for Church Life: In terms of the implications for church life, it should be clear that music and singing whilst not of the esse (i.e., essence or being) of the church are vital for the beneesse (i.e., the health or well-being) of the church. So we would be foolish to neglect them-particularly when Scripture commends them so strongly. At the same time we must also be careful to protect them-for there is always the possibility of misusing music and song. As Jeremy Begbie astutely observes: ‘If the orientation is askew, or the emotion inappropriate, then manipulation, sentimentality, and emotional self-indulgence are among the ever-present dangers.’ But these dangers can be avoided and, indeed, must be avoided so that as we sing the living and life-giving word of God, music and song can fulfil their divinely appointed office of reintegrating and reorienting us both personally and corporately, binding us together in prayer and praise to God and drawing us out of ourselves and toward each other in genuine love and sympathy. . . . But if the thrust of my argument in this essay is correct, then I think we can and must say this: if it is important enough to be said, then it could (and in the right manner, time and place should) also be sung. Why? Because singing helps us to process and express not only the cognitive dimensions of truth but also the emotive dimensions as well. Such are the God-ordained connections between music, singing and the emotions.

I would strongly encourage you to read the whole thoughtful and thought-provoking essay.


As a follow up to yesterday’s post on the singing church, Rob Smith helpfully addresses “The role of singing in the life of the church,” The Briefing 401 (September-October 2012).

Here is Smith’s introduction:

One of the chief things that Christians are renowned for, both historically and universally, is singing songs and making music. This is in contrast to Islam, for example, where many regard music as haram (forbidden), and singing does not normally feature in Mosque practices.

Now there are all sorts of reasons why Christianity is a singing faith; for the practice of making melody to the Lord, and of hymn singing in particular, has many purposes. My intention in this article is to focus specifically on congregational singing (rather than Christian music generally), and to open up its three principal purposes; the three main reasons why, according to Scripture, God has given us this ability and called us to engage in this activity. These reasons are: (1) to help us praise, (2) to help us pray, and (3) to help us proclaim. So let’s look at each of these in turn.

What follows is Smith’s three points with his outline delineating the points:

  1. Singing and praise
    • Singing is a vital form of praise
    • Our constant battle with praise
    • Biblical strategies for engaging in the battle
    • How, then, shall we sing praise?
  2. Singing and prayer
    • Singing is a form of prayer
    • Many hymns and songs are prayers
    • What are the implications of this?
    • Singing and thanksgiving
  3. Singing and proclamation
    • Singing is a form of word ministry
    • Teaching one another in song
    • Making it work in practice

In sum, Smith points out that a few of the many blessings of corporate singing as the people of God, the church, are “praise, prayer, and proclamation.” Here is Smith’s conclusion about this “very great gift” given by God:

In giving us the ability to sing and make music, God has given us a very great gift. In calling us to utilize this gift in our church gatherings, he has provided a way of praising him, praying to him and proclaiming his word to others. This not only unites us together in our prayers and praises, and not only helps us to teach and remember his word, but assists us (both personally and corporately) to embrace the emotional dimensions of the truths we sing, so that we might love and serve God in the fullness of our humanity, with heart, soul, mind and strength. This, then, is a gift to treasure dearly, use wisely and protect carefully. The words of bishop J. C. Ryle form a fitting conclusion to all that we’ve seen (“Toplady and his Ministry,” in Christian Leaders of the 18th Century [Banner of Truth, Carlisle, 1970], 382):

There is an elevating, stirring, soothing, spiritualizing, effect about a thoroughly good hymn, which nothing else can produce. It sticks in men’s memories when texts are forgotten. It trains men for heaven, where praise is one of the principal occupations. Preaching and praying shall one day cease for ever; but praise shall never die. The makers of good ballads are said to sway national opinion. The writers of good hymns, in like manner, are those who leave the deepest marks on the face of the church.


Redeemed people of God sing. We sing individually, as families and as the church. It is to be as spontaneous as breathing. If breathing is a natural response indicating life, singing is a supernatural response indicating new life in Christ.

The people of God are a singing people. A major section in the Bible is considered the Christian’s songbook, the Psalms. This is the book from which Jesus sang as part of the Passover meal on His way to the cross (cf. Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26 [the “hymn” they sang is likely from Psalm 113-118, the Hallel Psalms, i.e. the Psalms of praise]). This is also consistent with the teaching in the New Testament (cf. Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). It is also reflected in numerous hymnbooks and chorus books. In contrast, one has noted, atheists have no songbook. There is no one to thank and praise but oneself, so every song is a solo. Not so the people of God!

Our corporate singing reflects an eschatological reality. When by grace through faith in Jesus Christ we are justified, the end-time verdict becomes a reality today so that we believe, live and experience life based on that truth. This has a profound impact on what and how we sing. There is a confidence, a certainty, an assurance in God that marks our corporate expression in song.

And even though that verdict of having been justified is a reality, which gives us confidence and assurance in God and His sure and certain promises, we do not yet live in the new heavens and the new earth. In the person and ministry of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God was inaugurated. There is a now-ness to the kingdom. But because we live between the first and second comings of Jesus, there is also a not-yet-ness to the kingdom. This means we are in the state of redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified, and though the effects of sin on this world are overcome in Christ, we await the final consummation when all will be made right.

Some of what we sing reflects the truth of having been justified, the presence of the kingdom in our lives individually and corporately. This is why it is appropriate to sing songs reflective of that truth, songs of praise, thankfulness, confidence, assurance, and certainty. But because we also live in the not-yet-ness of the kingdom, where we live with and not exempt from life in a fallen world, we express trust in the Lord in the midst of life, which consists of both good and bad, encouraging and discouraging, glorying in and groaning over, growing and grieving, rejoicing and weeping. Our corporate response in song ought to consist of both kinds of expressions.

As you reflect on the music you sing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it consist of one kind?
  • Do you provide opportunity to sing both?
  • If one only or primarily sings songs that reflect the now-ness of the kingdom, at the expense of the not-yet-ness of the kingdom, what will be lost? (hint: This denies the reality that we still live in a fallen and broken world which has been affected by sin with hurts and pains and sorrows. It fosters a pollyanish existence in that Christians are afraid and ashamed to share their hurts, pains, struggles and sins with other Christians because all of these things are to be past. And it means we don’t long sufficiently for the return of Christ, the consummation of the kingdom, when, and only when, there will be no more death or crying or pain or sorrow (Rev. 21:4). At that point we will only and for always sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and honor and adoration.
  • If one only or primarily sings songs that reflect the not-yet-ness of the kingdom, at the expense of the now-ness of the kingdom, what is lost? (hint: This denies the reality of the experience of having been justified, the eschatological, end-time verdict being a reality now. And it betrays in life the truth of the presence of the kingdom in the coming of Jesus as the gospel transforms lives. For now, these sorts of songs sung with the reality of the pain but with the certainty of God’s goodness who is working out His good and sovereign plan is acceptable worship (Heb. 12:28-29; 13:15-16). It is not a lesser than genre of corporate singing.)