Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2 Songs from Holy Week

Here are two of my favorites from our Good Friday and Easter services.  Theo Campo sings the lead on "Majesty", and Jessica Martinez leads "Up From the Grave He Arose."  If you go to St. Andrews and haven't yet picked up a CD, you can get one at the kiosk!  Enjoy!


Friday, September 14, 2012

Great Article From One of RUF's Campus Ministers

One of our youth sent me this link, and I thought there were some very good tips for worship leaders (that includes choir members and instrumentalists!!)

Thoughts on RUF's Philosophy of Singing, Song Choice, and Leading
by Brian Habig
RUF Campus Minister at Vanderbilt University

God's people have always been a people who sung, so it seems more appropriate to ask for a defense of why we wouldn't sing together as a ministry. Singing together is biblically commanded and edifying to the brethren.
In singing together, we engage in corporate worship, not stated worship. That is to say, our worship of the LORD is never to be seen as a replacement for stated times of meeting for worship in local churches; it is, though, corporate worship in the sense that we are engaging in worshipful song (see below) and doing so corporately (together, as a group). The only exception would be on those occasions when a retreat or conference treats its Sunday morning meeting as a stated worship service, in which case the singing (as well as all the other aspects of the service) are done under the oversight of a teaching elder in the PCA.
Worship at its core is the proclamation of the glories of the One to whom such activity is due. Note the language of the worship of Jesus Christ presently occurring in heaven: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Rev.5: 12). We are proclaiming and rejoicing in His "worth-ship" (from which our word "worship" is derived).
Accordingly, this has implications for the sorts of songs that we make use of as a ministry. It is not enough that a song merely mentions God or Jesus Christ, or that it picks up on biblical themes about Christian living. We strive to use those songs that are lyrically God-centered rather than man-centered. In addition, we strive to use God-centered songs that are theologically strong and substantial in their content (the more God-centered they are, the more this should hold true!). This accounts for why R.U.F. tends to make use of hymns more than gospel songs, psalms more than choruses. We welcome gospel songs and choruses that are God-centered and substantial in content, but we also strive not to compromise our standards in the interest of what is easier.
Lyrics are not the only criteria for song choice. Songs should also be excellent in their accompanying music. Since Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth and rules over all (Mt.28:18; Eph.1:20-22; Phil.2:9-10), He is the Lord of music as well. Therefore, we want to make use of tunes that are of good quality and capture something of what the lyrics convey. This has several implications. First, this means that in some instances the original tune for a hymn or song will be used, since it is so appropriate for the message it accompanies. In other instances, though, a new tune will be used, since the old one may be so alien to our way of singing that it has the net effect of quenching the hymn, psalm, song, etc. of its potential for helping us worship. Second, this also means that as a ministry we strive to help students begin weaning themselves from more child-like tunes (which will almost always be more familiar) and to begin developing a "taste" for more substantive ones. This is a difficult area and sometimes unavoidably subjective, but feedback from those who are both younger and older helps to inform our decision-making.
Leading is both a solemn and joyful task. It is solemn in the sense that one is entrusted with the responsibility of leading and assisting in the worship of our Almighty Father and King, and it is joyful in the sense that such worship is to be just that -- joyful!
As one leads the singing at a meeting of R.U.F. (large group bible study, Sunday night meeting, weekend retreat, summer conference, etc.), one plays a large part in what sort of spirit the singing will be done. If the leader conveys an attitude of apathy and routine, then the attitude will probably be "contagious" to the group being led. On the other hand, if the leader adopts a false sort of excitement as he leads singing, the group will either be put off by what they (rightly) perceive as insincerity, or they will be pressured into a mistaken understanding of lively worship (i.e., "If I'm fired up, then I must be in a worshipful frame of mind"). Both extremes are to be avoided! There is nothing boring or routine about worshiping the Living God, our Heavenly Father, with song -- we will enjoy it for an eternity! Accordingly, we want to do everything possible to avoid directing attention to ourselves (as song leaders) and to direct the group's attention to the God whom we are worshiping. How is this to be done?

Some practical hints for song leading:
1) Pray before engaging in song leading! Ask the Holy Spirit not only to enable and empower God's people to sing worshipfully, reverently, and joyfully, but also for His blessing on those leading as well. Pray that He will prevent you from becoming so preoccupied with the task of leading that you yourself are not singing unto the Lord!
2) Preparation beforehand will bless both leader(s) and those being led. This will involve several aspects:
a) Make sure that all the guitar players know the correct chords, and that any song leaders know the correct tune!! This may sound like stating the obvious, but since many campuses sing the same songs with subtle differences, these differences can emerge in the midst of song leading and confuse the group. Get these wrinkles ironed out beforehand.
b) Make sure all instruments being used are in tune. If possible, tune the instruments in a quiet room before leading.
c) Make sure either overheads are within everyone's sight or songbooks are within everyone's reach. If using overheads, print the lyrics as large as possible, and have someone move the overhead up as the song progresses.
d) Make sure sound equipment (if any) is working and ready.
Again, these may sound like obvious steps, but they are often neglected, and we are striving not to hinder worship.
3) The leader needs to lead decisively. This doesn't mean taking on a bossy persona; it simply means the leader needs to know what singing is to be done, how that singing helps us worship our Father, and what the group is to do. Both timidity and bossiness are inappropriate; leading is to be done humbly yet decisively.
4) Avoid wordiness! The group neither needs nor wants a sermon between each song. If it seems that pointing out a particular lyric or appropriate verse of Scripture will contribute to the group's worship, then do so concisely. Also, don't chastise a group for its singing; an appropriate exhortation ("let's sing out on this one") is adequate.
5) Don't neglect your own soul. This may be the most important aspect of song leading. If the leaders are not feeding on God's Word, how will they direct others to the God who reveals Himself in His Word? If they are neglecting private worship in their own closets, how will they be equipped to lead public worship? There is no substitute for genuine nearness to God.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Post From Another Blogger and Worship

I met with a new friend of mine over lunch at Moe's today.  He and I were discussing how our ministries were going, family life, and other.  We got on the subject of his seminary education and how he decided to enroll.  For him, it wasn't so he could be smarter, it was so he could be a better help to those he ministers to.  One of the ways he's seeking to do that is to try and do things that help them worship outside of the normal Sunday morning worship service.  Think about it: if music directors (or creative arts pastors, worship leaders, whatever you want to call it), only help our congregations worship on Sunday mornings, that's only 1 hour and 15 min out of a 168-hour week!  Can we really expect to help people become worshipers of God in that short of a period of time??  I'm not saying it can't happen, but my friend's point was that there's A LOT more a "worship leader" can do to help their congregation "worship" God than play music on Sunday mornings.  The rest of our conversation will have to be saved for another post, but I thought this post from another blogger is a good example of what it looks like to be a worshiper outside of that 1 hr 15 mins.  It's somebody who's becoming convicted about sin and idolatry on a normal day of the week.  Someone who's coming to new realizations about God and who He is.  Someone who's seeking the Lord and growing when no one else is around to prompt them to do so.  I'm not saying that true worshipers are able to grow without the help of the Body of Christ, because that's not true.  However, they are, to some degree, able to self-feed themselves without someone watching over them 24/7, and that takes good leadership.  Chances are, that person is in a church or has been in a church where the leaders were doing a good job of building week-long worshipers.

Girls, this one's for you!


Monday, August 27, 2012

Looking Back and Looking Forward...

I've been a Christian now for about 13 years (so I consider it).  It was the summer of 1999 when I remember my faith in God became real, that I actually wanted to know Him and live my life under His lordship.  Being a musician, the memories I have of my Christian journey are ALWAYS accompanied by music.  When I think of my early Christian years (high school), I think of dcTalk, Hillsong, Passion and Caedmon's Call.  My middle years (college and a few years after), I think of artists dedicated to "right theology", such as Derek Webb, Indelible Grace and Red Mountain.  Currently, well, that's why I'm writing this post.

If you're paying attention to my timeline, you might notice a stark contrast between the early and middle years:  CCM vs. Hymnology.  Or, as I remember it, emotionalism vs. "headiness".  I've been to both extremes.  In high school, I was that guy with my hands raised and eyes closed.  Most of the time I was genuine.  Sometimes I wasn't.  In college and after, I was that guy who looked down on those with hands raised and eyes closed.  It wasn't about emotion anymore, but ONLY about theology and understanding.

Before coming to St. Andrews, I had contemplated leaving church work (but not the church) and using my music in other ways.  I was burnt out.  Leading worship was no longer exciting to me.  I had done the emotional thing.  I had done the heady thing.  Both had grown old in their time.  I had lost my passion.  Then, something happened.  It's quite funny and at the same time humbling when I look back on it. God wouldn't open up any other doors.  Do you know that, since graduating college, I attempted to enter 3 different graduate schools to study jazz and become a Nashville session player, and all 3 times, the door closed?  First it was Belmont, right in the heart of the music city.  God called me to a summer in Thailand instead - from which I will never be the same.  Next, it was Middle Tennessee State, another breeding ground for "jazz cats" just a half hour or so outside of Nashville.  No one ever called me back.  I'm serious.  Lastly, it was U of Alabama.  Closer to home, but still providing a quality education.  Again, no call back.  Really?

I think the reason for those closed doors is now obvious.  God knew what he had called me to do, and he allowed me to experience the heady and the heart to get to what our pastor calls "the third way."  I began to realize that you can have both, and that Scripture even commends both.  I can be David and Paul at the same time - a skilled musician and a growing theologian.  Worship was never intended to be exclusively emotional or exclusively heady, but both.  Thanks be to God!  It was all part of the growing process.  I've now come to view the Hillsongs and the Indelible Graces in a new way - through the eyes Scripture, not the culture around me.  Not that the surrounding culture of friends and worship leaders who listen to this music doesn't help.  I need those people.  But I've also let "extremists" (those who go too far to one side, and I've been one twice!) influence my view on worship, and that wasn't good.

Maybe you're in that boat.  Maybe you've allowed the culture around you to influence how you view worship.  Don't do that.  Let me recommend a great book to you - Bob Kauflin's Worship Matters.  Bob is my new hero.  He is a great model of someone who loves to be moved by great worship music, and at the same time, is more committed to the primacy of God's Word in worship than any other contemporary guy I've heard of.   Another book that has had a huge impact on me is Christ-Centered Worship by Brian Chapell, where the history of music in the church is explored, along with (obviously) keeping Christ in the center of our services.  I'm not just thankful that God has kept me a music leader in the church.  I'm even more thankful that he's committed to growing my view of Him through His Word, 'cause truth is, His Word is teaching me more and more about what Biblical worship looks like, and I can't get enough...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Paint or Portrait?

Remember the days when you bought a CD just because you liked the artist?  You weren't concerned about whether or not you'd like every song on the album.  You were just a fan of the music, and you wanted to hear the latest stuff.

Then came the Preview Era.  It started when when the bookstores were plugging in CD players and leaving one jewel case unwrapped so you could preview the album.  Then, iTunes added the preview feature.  First it was 30 seconds.  Now it's 1:30.  You can practically listen to half of an album before even buying it.  The idea (I think) is to let the buyer decide which songs they like and don't like.  They even show you the popularity of each song so you can stay away from the ones that supposedly suck.  If I'm the artist, I'd be shouting at the top of my lungs, "Wait, I didn't spend countless hours with a pen and paper piecing my thoughts together and late nights in the studio slaving over these songs for you to only buy 1 or 2.  I've got something to say!!"

I will be the first to admit taken advantage of these perks.  I've been curious to hear an album (especially if it's a new artist) before I buy it.  I've made the mistake of buying an album based on it's cover art or because of a hit song on the radio (See Eve6 and Cowboy Mouth - remember them?)  However, those instances don't seem to occur that often.  More often than not, we do ourselves a disservice by choosing not to buy an album simply because we didn't like what we initially heard.  I will give you an example:

Sovereign Grace recently released a new album called From Age to Age.  I previewed it on iTunes.  Didn't love all of the songs, but because I'm always looking for new music, I decided to get the whole album anyway.  I burned the mp3s to a CD and took them with me on a recent vacation.  I was in the car all by myself for 8 hours up and 8 hours back.  You know what happened?  The songs that I would've initially brushed grew on me.  I began to get a sense for what the song and the album was trying to communicate.  The strange guitar licks became less strange, and the irregular meter went from "out of place" to "beautifully innovative."  In essence, I got the context of the album.  I felt as though the artists have took me on their spiritual journey, and I can now, to an extent, relate to what they're thinking and going through.  And to add to it, I now have more songs to use in worship than if I had brushed it off from my initial listening experience.

I know it costs more to get the whole album.  We're all trying to pinch pennies these days.  But the next time someone gives you an iTunes gift card or you find yourself browsing about, consider buying one album instead of 5 individual songs from different artists. Listen to the whole album on a jog or during a lengthy car ride.  You might decide after a few listens you don't dig every song, and that's highly likely.  But you might also find that you've looked into a beautiful portrait instead of thumbing through paint samples.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Practice, Practice, Practice"

"Practice, practice, practice"  These were the 3 words Bruce Hornsby wrote on one of our pastor's business cards at the request of an autograph.  It wasn't for him, though.  It was for me.  Finding himself behind Bruce at the Miami airport, he asked for an autograph, mentioning that I was a piano player and was greatly influenced by his work.  So, having insight into who I am, Bruce wrote, probably without thinking, those 3 words.  Needless to say, I don't have to go back and look at that business card to remember.

This wasn't a new idea for me, but rather, a reminder.  A reminder of how an artist remains proficient at their craft.  Because I play piano in front of a church congregation almost 50 times a year, I get asked alot, "How do you learn to do that?"  My response is always the same: years of continual practice (key word - continual).  I usually will liken it to learning a foreign language.  Hopefully none of you were so unfortunate as I was to have taken a year of Latin in high school, but maybe you took Spanish.  You remember that, in order to even have a chance at passing that class, you had to be continually practicing writing and speaking that language.  The more you did it, the less foreign it became.  The less you did it, the more it would begin to slip.  You may also remember that it came very slowly.  That's hard for us, because it requires mental sweat.  Yet, the reward is great.

As a worship leader, I have to balance my time between a lot of things, and sometimes practicing can slip through the cracks (add a baby into the mix and it falls deeper).  Because I've become proficient at my instrument, I'm able to spend time doing other things.  However, it doesn't mean I'm free from practicing anymore.  In the same way that a person will lose their Spanish if they stop using it, I will slowly begin to lose the brain/hand connection if I don't practice.  Maybe you lead from a piano, or guitar, and maybe even another instrument.  I challenge you to practice your instrument during the week so you can let your heart be set on the Lord when your congregation gathers for corporate worship.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Act of Congress Coming to St. Andrews!

St. Andrews folks - listen up!  Act of Congress (my best friend/brother-in-law's band) is going to be performing at our church on Wednesday July 18, 2012 at 7pm.  You know you were gonna be here for Wednesday night supper anyway, so mark your calendars!!  Admission will be free and a love offering will be collected during the performance.  The band released their second album on March 27 and it is KILLER!  You can download it here.  Although you probably won't hear their music on "Christian" radio (more likely folk or indie stations), the group members are professing Christians and active in their local church.  Here's a little video to get you psyched!!  You can also visit their webpage at here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This past Spring our young adults group did a study/discussion by Paul Miller called The Person of Jesus, particularly, the Passion. If you're not familiar with any of Paul Miller's work, you should check it out. Our discussions about Jesus' emotional state during those last 24 hours were so moving that I wanted to somehow seal those discussions into a piece of art that would help us remember it. Needless to say, when I now read the words "troubled in spirit" or "distressed" as they pertain to Jesus, they now carry a lot more weight.

This piece was originally intended to be solo piano, but as I was running through it one last time our electric player, Tom Lippincott, began to improvise over the chords. I'm usually not one to throw in a last minute change to a service we've been planning for months, but what he was playing was sooo good, I never hesitated.

The piece has 3 movements (1. Distress, 2. Sweat-drops of Blood, 3. "Is There Another Way?") and was recorded during the Good Friday service on 4/6/12.