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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Leading the music at church.

People sometimes assume that I lead the music at my church often. I actually only do it about twice a year, mainly because I'm frequently on the road, and when I'm home I don't want to do something so similar to what I do when I'm gone.

But I've been home for a couple of months, so I led the music this past Sunday at church. For those of you interested, here's our order of service, including my song selection and thoughts. For those of you not interested in such things, you should probably stop now to avoid being bored stiff. Perhaps go ogle some Macs.

Reflection and PreparationThis is usually a couple of quotes to prepare for worship. This week there was one from The Edge, and one from Jesus. Our pastor chooses these.

Call To Worship

Songs Of Praise
-Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing
-Grace Greater Than Our Sin

The Nicene Creed
We recently switched from the Apostle's Creed to the Nicene. I dig it. It's longer than the AC, but doesn't have that line about Jesus decending into hell. (Yeah, yeah Calvin, I know what you have to say. I still think it's out of sequence and distracting.)

Song of Praise
-In Christ Alone
This is probably my church's favorite song. We sing it often and we sing it loud. And it gets Presbyterians to raise their hands. I think it will go down in history as the definitive hymn of our generation, and it is certainly just as good as any of the 300 year-old hymns that I love.

Scripture Reading
Corporate Confession
Silent Confession
Assurance Of Pardon
The corporate confession and assurance of pardon is my favorite part of our service. Our pastor writes them, and they all have such an amazing clarity, identifying who I am and the lies I try to tell myself, and contrasting that with who Jesus is. They are to the point and pull no punches, and it is always what I need to draw me out of myself and direct my heart towards Christ.

Song Of Renewal
-How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds
I'm kicking myself for not checking our church database about this one, as it only has five verses. If I had caught it in time, I would have added the other two verses back in. Note to song leaders: when the verses are this good (and this short!), just do all seven. It's weird to me the preconceived "rules" people have, like "don't do all the verses" or "our service needs eight songs." My favorite verse is the last one:

Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thought
But when I see Thee as Thou art
I'll praise Thee as I ought

It's a great reminder that it's not the fervency or strength of my faith, but the object of my faith (Jesus), that matters.

We have instrumental music during the offering. This week it was just the music for "How Sweet The Name."


This is the part of the service where the pastor talks for a couple of minutes about the vision of the church, and takes a few questions. Sometimes he'll take questions after the sermon, which I like even more.

Pastoral Prayer


The Lord's Table
-Thy Blood Was Shed For Me
-Come Ye Sinners
-In Christ Alone

Communion is my other favorite part of the service. We have it every week. Real bread. Real wine (as well as juice for the Baptists). We line up and go take it at the front, and an elder tells us something true about Jesus as we take it. By the way, if your church has a weekly "altar call," but not weekly communion, there's a problem. Maybe a topic for another post.

We usually have instrumental music during communion, but this week I wanted to sing songs with words that people could meditate on while they were waiting in line (we've been running into the problem of people starting to chat with each other in line since it takes so long). I had only planned to play "Thy Blood" and "Come Ye Sinners," but had to call an audible and reprise "In Christ Alone" since people had not yet finished. I played "Thy Blood" in a very different way than on the record, slow and tender instead of fast and desperate. I slowed down "Come Ye Sinners" quite a bit as well. I think both hymns are very appropriate communion meditations, to acknowledge that we feed spiritually on Christ and rely on his shed blood for our rightness before God.

Song Of Commitment
-Nothing But The Blood
Not sure why we call the song we sing during this part of the service a "song of commitment." But it does work best when we sing a song about Jesus' commitment to us and our salvation.


Musically, we normally have two female singers, one or two male singers, electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, and piano (keyboard actually, but the piano sound on it). When I lead, I like it to be more simple. The room we rent for church is very "live," and it's easy for the band to drown out the congregation. This time I sang and played acoustic guitar, had one female singer, keys, piano, and electric guitar.

This reminds me of another point. While my church (and many others in Nashville) has an abundance of great musicians, others don't. This is especially true if you live in a rural area. For those churches, I think simplicity in music is a very good idea. Too many churches want to do "contemporary" music, and immediately think that means elaborate instrumentation. Unfortunately, too often the music suffers as a result of inexperienced musicians. Most churches would benefit from having fewer instruments in worship, but played by exceptional players. I would rather have one 60-year-old grandmother who plays piano by ear and listened to The Beatles when she was a teenager than bass, drums, and electric guitar played by young guys who don't play skillfully.

I hope this has been helpful (or at least mildly entertaining!). I'm not an expert by any measure.



Blogger travis said...

This sounds very similar to my church, Christ The King PCA in Houston. I completely agree with the alter call comment!

8:21 PM

Blogger travis said...

... I agree with altar call comment also!!


8:23 PM

Blogger Brian T. Murphy said...

reading this post reminds me how many great songs we do not have in rotation at red mountain.

1:55 PM

Blogger Nan said...

Thanks for outlining your church's service. It sounds much like our own (at our humble little PCA church).

You have made many good points, almost all of which I agree with. I too love the modern hymn, "In Christ Alone." It is my current personal favorite song to sing in worship.

Hey, if you are ever in Calgary, AB and you need a church to worship at (or if you're itchin' to lead! HA!) join us. www.nrpc.ca

Grace and peace,

10:04 PM

Anonymous Joe P. said...

Hey Matthew, Joe Poppino from Auburn, WA, here (though now I'm from Mt. Vernon, WA)... great blog, and I wish I could come and participate in services like that.

I just wanted to comment on your singing during communion because of the "problem" of people talking... isn't communing with God AND each other the whole point of communion? Paul talks pretty extensively in his letter to the Corinthians about remembering each other, and remembering Jesus also seems very tied to taking care of each other and being together as a body...

Just a thought...

Hope you're doing well, let me know if your ever in the Northwest again.


3:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I don't know you but I happened to stumble on your blog and completely agree. I have lead music and played piano with my own PCA church for many years and find that many musicians like to "perform". The worship molds more into a concert that highlights the musician, rather than the music pointing to the content of the service. Thanks for your blog. :)

9:13 PM

Blogger Matthew Smith said...

Joe-- good point. I think if people were communing over the Lord and His Word it would be appropriate for that time. Mostly people just chatter.

Jeannette-- I'm not sure what you're commenting on, I don't think I mentioned anything about the performing aspect in my post.

6:40 AM


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