Simple Musical Settings of the Communion Liturgy

This year for Advent at my church we’re going to be singing these new settings of the communion liturgy that I wrote. Since Advent is a short season, there’s not much time to teach/learn new melodies for familiar liturgy, so I went with a simple melody that can hopefully be picked up pretty quickly. In many spots it’s just a repeated 1-2-3-4-5 musical scale.

Here’s a video showing how they go.

And here are the chord charts and lead sheets.

Nerdy liturgical note: There are two versions of the “memorial acclamation” in that video and in the PDF of chord charts/lead sheets. The first one is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, that’s used in “prayer A”. The second one, “We remember His death, we proclaim His resurrection, we await His coming in glory” is used in prayer B, often used in seasons like Lent or Advent and that’s the one we’ll be singing at my church for the next four Sundays.

Three Signs You’re Leading Rehearsals Well

Effective rehearsals have many characteristics. They have a clear leader, they start and end on time, they’re organized, they’re light-hearted, they’re focused and efficient, they zero in on what’s not working, they don’t waste time on over-rehearsing what’s working fine, and the people who attend them are expected, encouraged, and equipped to be prepared for them and to work on their own parts on their own time.

These kinds of rehearsals are an art, not a science. It takes time to learn your own style, and for your team to follow you. Here are three signs you’re leading rehearsals well:

They end early every once in a while
Just because your rehearsal says it goes until 9:30pm doesn’t mean it has to. Or just because you rehearse before the first service doesn’t mean you have to rehearse right up until the first service. If you’re managing time well, if your team is prepared well, and if you don’t waste energy on things that could be skipped, then you’ll find yourself ending rehearsal early from time to time. Even ending just five minutes early sometimes sends a message to your team that you’re confident in them. And it means that the next rehearsal when you use up the whole time, they’ll know you really needed to.

There’s laughter
Everyone loves to laugh. Rehearsals that have moments of laughter, perhaps when you’re poking fun at yourself (or the drummer), or making a dumb joke, are rehearsals that people want to come back to. Musicians can be prone to take themselves way too seriously. Keep looking for those lighthearted moments when people can just relax and laugh. They’ll sit up straighter when you ask them to focus again when rehearsal gets back on track.

The first service doesn’t feel like rehearsal
At my church, I rehearse our instrumentalists from 7:30am – 8:15am (give or take) every Sunday. Then we have a 9:00am and 11:15am service. I know I’ve led a good rehearsal when our 9:00am service doesn’t feel like a rehearsal. We feel ready, relaxed, and confident. But if that 9:00am service has lots of missed cues or rough transitions, then I know I could have done a better job. When your first service starts, and your team is ready to go, then you know you’ve led a good rehearsal.

Perhaps the simplest way to know whether or not your rehearsals are working, is whether or not you and your team look forward to them. People should actually want to come to rehearsals. They know they’ll be stretched, encouraged, and noticed. They know you’ll lead them well. They know they’ll be making a contribution. And they know you’ll honor their sacrifice of time. Who wouldn’t want to come back to that kind of rehearsal?

Recommended Anthems for Choirs and Bands

IMG_0645Over the last few years, since arriving at my church in the summer of 2014, I’ve been enjoying leading worship every Sunday morning alongside a wonderful choir whose legacy stretches back many decades. My colleague Andrew Cote and I have been committed to a true partnership and convergence of musical styles, old and new, traditional and modern, choir and band, all together in one unified expression.

To that end, we’ve been on the lookout for anthems that work well for modern choirs and bands to present together. We still use a significant amount of choir-only anthems, dating back several centuries, but we also use a significant amount of anthems designed for choir and band. Below is a long list of those kinds of anthems that we’ve enjoyed using once or twice, or are thinking about using in the future.

First up are anthems/arrangements by my good friend Joshua Spacht.

Crown Him with Many Crowns (purchase here)

Nicely done and energetic arrangement of this hymn with an added chorus.

O How Good it Is (purchase here)
A fun arrangement of this Townend/Getty modern hymn with an Irish flair.

Behold the Lamb of God (purchase here)
A beautiful anthemic ballad focused on the cross. We used this on Palm Sunday in 2018.

The Cross of Christ Shall Stand (purchase here)
Another great anthem focused on the cross. We used this on Palm Sunday in 2017.

All the People Said Amen (purchase here)
A fun call to worship song that the congregation can join in on when the chorus comes.

Nkosi Jesu (purchase here)
This one is really fun. And really hard. A great anthem (in Zulu) for adult choirs, kids choir, and percussion. Our church loved this one.

In the Beginning (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel II project)
This is one my favorite anthems of all time. A masterpiece.

O Come Medley (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)
Beautiful medley of Advent hymns.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)

A hauntingly beautiful new musical setting of this great Christmas text.

Little Town (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)
Only Joshua Spacht could take this text and put it to this kind of musical arrangement. It works! We’re doing this on Christmas Eve this year.

Next up are anthems from a variety of authors, with arrangements by my friend Trey Tanner at Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta. If you’d like to explore purchasing any of these arrangements/orchestrations by Trey, let me know in the comments and I’ll connect you with him.

Chain Breaker

Great song, perfect with a choir, and will definitely engage your congregation.

Under the Shadow
Our church loves this one. Great for a soloist on the verses and choir on the chorus.
Let Everything that Has Breath
Oh my goodness this anthem is ridiculous. 

We Cannot Be Silent
This one is super fun.

Matthew 28
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. We did this on Easter in 2017 and I still get comments about it. Really powerful when/if you can pull it off.

God, Great God

Fun call to worship or mid-service anthem for choir and band.

Psalm 63
This is Trey’s arrangement of this Prestonwood anthem, and I love it.

The following anthems were arranged by Bradley Knight.

Jesus Brought Me Out (i.e. Now I’m On My Way) (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
This is such a great, fun, joy-filled anthem.

Psalm 34 (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
We haven’t used this yet, but I’ve heard many churches already incorporating it. Very well done.

Psalm 23 (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
Another great setting of a Psalm for band a choir. Not easy! We haven’t used it yet, but I love it.

He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need (purchase here)
Bradley Knight outdoes himself on this one. 

Praise His Holy Name (purchase here)
Our choir has grabbed onto this anthem well, and with piano/organ accompaniment, it really soars towards the end. 

Thou Oh Lord (purchase here)
This is another one of my favorites. Our people have loved it.

Sold Out (purchase here)
Super fun gospel anthem.

The Cross Medley (purchase here)
We haven’t used this one at my church yet, but I love this medley of cross-centered hymns. Would be great for Holy Week and/or Good Friday.

Holy (Sanctus) (purchase here)
Another one we haven’t used, but it’s an anthem that shows how it’s possible to have a choir sound like a choir, and a band sound like a band, and to have it work when you put those pieces together.

You Are Worthy (purchase here)
We haven’t used this one yet – and it will be a fun challenge when we do – but I love this convergence of choir and band, with a great text!

We’ve also enjoyed these anthems out of Prestonwood Church in Plano, Texas:

Let the Redeemed (purchase here)

All the Praise (available for purchase as part of Prestonwood’s “Horizon” project. If/when this song becomes available as an individual purchase, I’ll update the post)

Psalm 103 (also available for purchase as part of Prestonwood’s “Horizon” project. If/when this song becomes available as an individual purchase, I’ll update the post)

And finally, here are anthems from various sources that we’re either planning on using in the coming year, or have used and enjoyed.

Is He Worthy (purchase here – I recommend the Brentwood Benson arrangement)
I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson for his whole career – and I think this is his best song yet. Absolutely stunning. We will use this on the fourth Sunday of Advent this year.

I Will Bless the Lord (purchase here – I was pleaded with the PraiseCharts arrangement
A great call to worship. Easy for choir, fun for band, and a great way to start a service.

How Excellent (to purchase this Bradley Knight arrangement, I recommend going to www.davidbscott.com and using the “contact us” link. That’s what we did!)
I saved one of the best for last. This is an absolutely amazing anthem for choir and band, and I love the spoken word portions at the end as well. 

Jesus Does the Impossible

A few Sundays ago I preached on Mark 10:17-31 at my church’s evening service. This is the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus with the all-important question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”.

In my sermon, I suggested four lessons Jesus teaches us about entrance into his Kingdom in response to that question, and in the ensuing conversation with his disciples. He teaches us that we can’t do enough, that we can’t have other idols, that we can’t lose by sacrificing, and that Jesus does the impossible.

You can hear it here:

Remembering and Rejoicing

In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul makes a really, really, really important point.

Twice.

In the first half of the chapter, he paints a dire picture of the gravity of our condition outside of Christ with four stunning words: “And you were dead” (Ephesians 2:1). After explaining a bit more of what “dead” means, he then draws our attention to the glory of our Savior with two history-changing words: “But God” (Ephesians 2:4). He then goes on to proclaim just how glorious Jesus is.

In the second half of the chapter, Paul again paints a dire picture of the gravity of our condition in verses 11-12. He says “Therefore remember that formerly you were separate… you were excluded… you were foreigners… and you were without hope and without God in the world.”

And then, just like earlier in the chapter, he draws out attention to the glories of Jesus beginning with two words: “But now” (Ephesians 2:13).

Remember… But God!

Remember… But now.

Notice the pattern here?

Remember the gravity of your condition. And rejoice in the glories of your Savior.

A heart that is not warmed to worship Jesus is a heart that has been made cold by forgetfulness. There is a direct correlation between a lack of worship and a lack of remembering.

Think about the day – in the future – long, long in the future – when the Washington Redskins – someday – win the super bowl. Why will we so fervently celebrate their decisive victory over the Dallas Cowboys? Because we know the gravity of their condition.

I need to hear this reminder every day. My official job title at my church is “Director of Worship and Arts”. I am literally paid to worship Jesus. But I forget. And when I forget the gravity, I’m not captivated by God’s grace

And David got this. David knew this reality. That’s why David wrote in Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and FORGET NOT all his benefits.” He had to literally tell his own soul: “Don’t forget!” He forgives all your iniquity. He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the pit.

Don’t forget that he redeemed your life from the pit. Look back at the pit – then look up to Jesus – and rejoice.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

We can’t rejoice without first remembering. When we remember the gravity of our condition, we are all the more ready to rejoice in the glories of our Savior.

Hosanna (For Two Percussionists)

Yesterday morning at my church, our prelude was an instrumental piece entitled “Hosanna (For Two Percussionists)”. My colleague Andrew Cote composed this piece for Palm Sunday this past March, and is one of the guys playing the song in the video below. The other guy is Joseph Connell – the drummer at my church for the last 25 years! I love these guys.

Andrew describes the piece this way:

When I began working for Truro Anglican Church in 2016, I began a tradition of writing a percussion duet for myself and our percussionist, Joseph Connell as a call to worship for our Palm Sunday services. This piece is an attempt to capture the energy of the crowd welcoming Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.

Here’s a rough iPhone video of the song from yesterday.

You can purchase the arrangement here.

What Liturgy Should (And Shouldn’t) Aim To Do

My very earliest memories of corporate worship are from the small Episcopal church my dad pastored in Clewiston, Florida, from the time I was born until I was three years old. I have fuzzy memories of the smells, the baptismal font, the rows of wooden pews, and everyone standing up and holding books in their hands. I mostly drew in coloring books and/or ate Cheerios.

When I was a teenager, God’s call on me to serve the Church as a worship leader became increasingly clear. Since that time, I’ve only ever served in liturgical Anglican churches, with the same kinds of smells, baptismal fonts, wooden pews, and books in people’s hands. And while a lot has changed in the way corporate worship looks and sounds, the liturgy has mostly remained the same. There have been revisions here and there, different rites, liturgies from other parts of the world, and certainly many controversies, but by and large, the liturgy that guides the weekly worship of my particular branch of the protestant Church looks remarkably similar to how it did decades ago.

Liturgy has become more popular in recent years, so much so that now even many of my Baptist and non-denominational friends openly embrace the word, want to employ various liturgical elements in their services, and see its value. I think we all recognize that every church has a liturgy, after all. From the highest of high churches to the lowest of low churches, we have patterns, routines, traditions, and ways of doing things that end up becoming our liturgy. With that recognition comes a right and good (I just threw in a liturgical phrase for my Anglican nerd friends) desire to make sure our liturgy is intentional, rooted, pastoral, biblical, and effective in shaping people week after week with the good news of the Gospel through its pattern, structure, and substance.

For those of us who employ elements of a more traditional liturgy in our services, it’s worth asking the question from time to time, what should our liturgy aim to do? And on the flip side, what should our liturgy NOT aim to do?

On the positive side, a more traditional liturgy should aim to do a number of things:

Keep us rooted. Psalm 145:4 says “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” By sharing a liturgy that stretches back hundreds of years, we allow generations that have gone before us to commend God’s work and mighty acts to us now.

Keep us telling a story. It’s tempting for pastors and/or worship leaders to get stuck on their own hobby horses, their own favorite topics, and their own musical styles. A more traditional liturgy can keep us in the habit of telling a story when we gather, with a robust diet of Scripture, creeds, and prayers.

Keep us responding. We hear who God is, and we respond in confession. We hear that we are forgiven in Christ, and we respond with praise. We hear God’s his Word, and we respond in proclaiming what we believe. We hear the story of our redemption, and we respond with thanksgiving. The whole service is a dance of revelation and response, and revelation and response again.

Keep us focused on Jesus. The best thing liturgy can do is point us away from ourselves and to the glory of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. For example, the Church Year itself, from Advent to Pentecost, annually walks us through the story of God’s redemptive plan through Jesus’ coming, living, dying, rising, ascending, and sending of His Spirit. For a forgetful people who are prone to wander, the insistence of liturgy to point us to Jesus is a great gift.

But on the flip side, there are a number of things liturgies of any kind shouldn’t aim to do.

Impress God. This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways: our liturgy does not impress God. The beauty of our worship, excellence of our music, smells of our incense, or modernity of our technology does not impress God. We do not employ liturgy to impress God, we employ liturgy because it’s a gift from God to help us worship God. We worship God, not liturgy. God accepts our praise through Christ, not through a formulation of beautiful words.

Impress people. Liturgy is the plate, but God is the feast. It would be ridiculous for me to ask guests at my home to eat the plate on which I serve them their food. It’s similarly ridiculous for us to ask worshippers to be impressed with our liturgy. When our liturgy becomes the feast, we’ve got it all wrong. God is the feast, and we feast upon him in his Word. Liturgy is just another tool to help people “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s living and active Scripture.

Impart faith. Saying the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed will not impart faith upon those who recite it. Saying ancient prayers will not cause a person to mean them. Listening to the words explaining the meaning behind communion will not bring a person to put their trust in Jesus. Over time, these liturgical elements may certainly help a person make sense of their faith, learn some helpful patterns of prayer, and understand what communion is all about. But liturgy should never be expected to impart faith upon people simply by being included in a service for years in a row.

Enliven stale services. The old saying goes “the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart”. That goes for worship services too. Simply tinkering with different factors – like musical styles, service times, set design, and liturgy – will not enliven stale services. Those factors are all very much secondary. The factor of first importance is the heart. The human heart is only ever truly satisfied by the One for whom it was created to glorify and enjoy. We start with the heart: helping people see, savor, sing, and celebrate the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us even more clearly.

Then our liturgy will be seen in its proper place: as a tool that we can use as much or as lightly as needed, keeping the main thing the main thing, serving those people in our pews every Sunday, even the little kids with their coloring books and Cheerios.