New Setting of a Very Old Hymn

Last year, I was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of North America. I first sensed the call to ordained ministry in my teens and 20’s, but was reluctant to say “yes” to the Lord. Long story short: God eventually got my attention! I said “yes”, and was honored to be ordained in 2021.

There’s an ancient prayer and hymn of the church called “Veni Creator Spiritus” (or “Come Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire”). You’ll often hear this hymn in liturgical churches on or around Pentecost. And in the Anglican tradition, it’s also sung in an ordination service for a priest.

For my ordination service, my friend Zach Sprowls and I wrote a new arrangement for this ancient text. I took the first stab at it, then Zach improved it, and made it much less boring! Zach also then arranged it for a string quartet. I was delighted to have another good friend of mine, Jordan Ware, sing it in the service.

The lyric video is below, as well as the orchestration (score, lead sheet, piano chart, and string parts). If this would be useful for you and/or your church, then please feel free to use it!

Download the free orchestration (PDF)

Rejoicing Our Way Through 2020

After a seven-month-long absence of any kind of new posts on this blog (it’s been a little crazy… anyone else?), I wanted to dust things off around here with a quick word about rejoicing. Because, for most of us, when we think back over the last seven months, perhaps the LAST word that would come to mind is “rejoice”.

If you’re a worship leader and you’re reading this (or involved in ANY kind of church ministry), this has been the hardest, weirdest, longest year yet. And it’s not over yet!

And yet we have the Apostle Paul to thank for this exhortation, to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

So how can a person rejoice, when all around that person are reasons not to rejoice?

When things are truly hard. When circumstances are truly difficult. When everything around you has been shaken. When everything in your daily life has been shaken. When everything in your church has been shaken.

How can we rejoice – and not only that – but rejoice always – in the face of such difficulties? To “rejoice in the Lord always…”

Therein lies the challenge. And therein lies the secret to it all.

The challenge is to rejoice. The secret to it all? Three words: In. The. Lord.

Yes, everything around you, and everything in your daily life, and everything in your church has been shaken. Yes, things are truly difficult. And we feel all that we’ve lost, and all of the upheaval, and all of the waiting. And we grieve and lament the sadness of it all.

But for those who belong to Jesus: Those who know that they know that they know that he is Lord over all, then even in the face of brokenness and darkness and sadness – maybe even especially in the face of those things – we are called to rejoice in the Lord.

This is a subtle distinction that really has the power to change your daily life during these difficult days. To give you the countenance, and the confidence, and the persistent joy of a man or a woman anchored to something unchangeable in the midst of constant change.

No matter the circumstance, no matter the loss, no matter the pandemic, no matter the brokenness, no matter what, we are secure in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Quick reminder, that as Paul wrote those verses, he was writing them from prison! We should listen up when someone writes us from prison and tells us to rejoice. And he was rejoicing! That the Gospel was advancing, that for him, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

He demonstrates that, when we are secure in Jesus Christ, then we can rejoice through the darkness. We can worship through the despair. We can praise through the sadness.

I love how Andrew Peterson puts it in his song “Rejoice”:

And when the peace turns to danger
The nights are longer than days
And every friend has a stranger’s face
Then deep within the dungeon cell
You have to make a choice

Be still and know that the Father
Will hasten down from His throne
He will rejoice over you with song
So set your face against the night
And raise your broken voice
And again I say
And again I say rejoice

May we continue to rejoice our way through 2020, whatever else it may bring. We are secure in the Lord. And so we rejoice in him.

Don’t Waste Your Livestream

This past Sunday – and for the foreseeable future as the world grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – my church, like thousands of other churches around the globe, livestreamed its worship service. With just a few days’ notice, we scrambled to buy a camera, test the audio and video, figure out which streaming platform to use, and find ways to communicate this to our congregation.

Praise God, it worked. And we had overwhelmingly positive feedback. Of course there was a lot of room for improvement, and in the weeks to come, as this crisis looks to be long-lasting, we will be working to make our livestreamed services more well-done. And we anticipate continuing to live stream at least one of our services going forward, even when our congregation gathers together again.

It’s occurred to me many times over the last week or so – as I’ve thought through our own livestreaming approach, and as I’ve read and watched how other churches did theirs – that this crisis is a moment in which worship leaders are being given such a rare and profound privilege.

Think about it, worship leaders: you are being streamed into peoples’ homes. Into their living rooms, their bedrooms, their kitchens. Into environments where there is increased tension, anxiety, and fear.

And there you are, right in the middle of their home, with your guitar, or sitting at your keyboard, leading them in worship via the miracle of livestreaming. What an opportunity. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

If we do this well, all around the world, gathered around sofas and coffee tables and kitchen islands, stressed-out, worn-out, and socially-distanced people will be lifting their voices in worship together. They’ll be remembering and proclaiming what is true. They’ll be re-centered around the One who holds all things together. They’ll be filling their homes, in those few precious moments, with the praises of God.

Do everything you can to facilitate small group singing in homes, even as people watch you on TV or on their laptop. Make it easy for them. Go back to the basics of worship leading.

Here are four really important components to remember whenever you lead worship, but especially when you’re being livestreamed into living rooms. Remember:

Have an invitational tone. Not only should you invite them to sing with you, but then as you proceed to sing the song, sing in such a way that the average singer (or non-singer!) at home can sing along with you without feeling silly. The more you deviate, the more you improvise, the more impressive you come across, the more opportunities you give the person in the pews (or in this case, in their PJ’s on the couch) to stop singing.

Keep the range “from C to shining C”. You can dip lower and you can jump higher. But don’t hang out too low or too high, or people will just sit there and watch.

Choose songs that are biblically faithful, musically accessible, and congregationally edifying. Point people to Jesus. Work out smooth transitions between keys, tempos, and time signatures.

May God give us humble hearts, before the Lord, between our colleagues, and on whatever physical or digital platform we’re given. Pray for the invitational heart of David to say “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Psalm 34:3). And for the deference of John the Baptist to say “ He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Oh, what a privilege and rare opportunity we have during this crisis, to simply, pastorally, carefully, and humbly facilitate the praises of God by the people of God, now scattered into living rooms, soon reconvened into sanctuaries and auditoriums, and one day gathered around the throne of God.

Be Thou My Vision

I was born with terrible vision. By the age of two or three I was in glasses to help me with my extreme nearsightedness, at the age of seven I was in soft contact lenses, and at the age of 13 I was in what are called “rigid gas permeable” (i.e. “hard”) contact lenses. My vision was about negative 15 in each eye, and I had severe astigmatism in both eyes as well. Over time, through high school and on into my twenties, after wearing hard lenses for 14 hours every day, I developed chronic dry eyes, redness, swollen eye lids, warped corneas, and experienced constant pain and discomfort every minute of the day.

Because of this, I was an eye doctor’s nightmare. My terrible vision and multiple other eye issues confounded most of the ones I visited. It wouldn’t take me long to be able to tell when a particular eye doctor had run out of ideas of how to help me see well, or which lenses would be best for me, or which issue with my eyes should be addressed first.

About a year and a half ago, after an eye doctor had tried to get me back into soft contact lenses with little success, she basically broke up with me as a patient. “Mr. Brown”, she said, “I don’t think I can help you anymore”. She was the fourth or fifth eye doctor to say that to me. I left her office discouraged, depressed, and hopeless.

That night I googled (for the hundredth time) a particular kind of eye surgery that would allow for my terrible vision to be corrected. It wasn’t a laser surgery (my eyes were way beyond their reach), it wasn’t a common surgery (my eyes required a very specific and rare kind of surgery), and for about 15 years since I became aware of this surgery’s existence, it wasn’t FDA-approved. But on that particular night, after that particular eye doctor had given up on me, I googled it again. To my delight, it had been approved by the FDA just two days earlier. And to my further delight, there was an eye surgeon about five miles from my house who performed the surgery. First thing the next morning, I called him.

Fast forward to this past June. After about 9 months of tests, treatment, poking, prodding, dilating, and staring at a lot of bright lights for a really long time, I woke up early on a Monday morning, drove with Catherine and my brother Matt to a surgery center, and received the gift of clear vision. Just before surgery, the surgeon took my hand and we prayed for each other, and thanked God together for what was about to happen.

I had prayed for God to heal my eyes from the time I was a little boy. I’d kneel in my bed and beg for healing, I would go up for the laying on of hands at different church services or youth retreats and ask for healing, and I’d dream about the day when I could just wake up, open my eyes, and see.

God heard those prayers, and he answered them in his time and in his way, thanks to amazing advancements in eye surgery, and using the hands of a wonderfully kind and compassionate eye surgeon five miles from my house, who just so happens to love Jesus. After making a small incision in each eye, he implanted a lens, and inserted it between my natural lens and iris. I was blind – but then I saw.

The adjustment is still ongoing. I still have to wear glasses to see clearly long-distance. I have significant halos in low-light or nighttime settings. There is still some fine-tuning to do. Maybe some future minor surgeries. I take a few different kinds of drops a few times per day. But the difference between what my vision used to be like – and what it’s like now – is staggering.

I now live with a daily reminder of how God gives vision. Of how God makes the blind see. And of who gets the credit for that vision.

The gift of clear vision was literally implanted into my eyes. It wasn’t something I was born with, it wasn’t something I could acquire on my own, and therefore it’s not something I can boast about. It really is a gift. It came from outside of me. My vision now is not really my vision. Because my natural vision is terrible. My vision now is a supplemented vision. It’s a replaced vision. A restored vision. My natural (i.e. terrible) vision has been made right, thanks to what was implanted.

And isn’t this just how God works in us? He comes to us in a state of deadness, of blindness, of hopelessness, and speaks his life and light into us. Paul put it this way: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Whatever vision we have, whatever knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that we have, comes from outside from us. It’s surgically implanted. And we don’t get any credit for having it.

And this is applicable for those of us in ministry as well. This is our prayer: That whatever vision we have, whatever clarity we have about a way forward, and whatever calling God has on us at a particular time for a particular people and/or season, is given to us by God. That it comes to us from outside of us. That God plants it in us. He gives the vision, he accomplishes it by his hand, and he gets the glory in the end.

God gives vision. God makes dead people alive, God makes blind people see, God gives vision-less people vision. And because of the life and light that he infuses into us, we walk forward in faith and with praise to him for what he’s done.

The story of my eyes is the same as the story of my (and your) salvation, and of how God sustains us in ministry: “this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8a-9). All glory to one who does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.

Consequences of Musical Divorce

In many ways, the worship wars of the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s were like a marital conflict. The conflict grew so intense, and dragged on for so long, that reconciliation no longer seemed possible. Eventually, hearts were hardened towards one another, and what was once just separation was finally codified in divorce.

Different services, at different times, in different venues, with different musical styles, as a way to appease and appeal to different segments of the congregation, avoiding any one particular side having to lose the kind of style they preferred. In many churches across the globe, a cease fire was cemented into this kind of musical divorce.

And yet the partners didn’t move into different houses. They stayed under one roof and lived at the same address, but came and went at different times, spent time in different rooms, avoided each other as much as possible, and learned how to tolerate each other at Christmas and Easter. Family members had to choose sides, assets had to be divided up, and what was once a loving home was now a tinderbox of awkward dynamics.

This is a picture of churches whose musical conflict turned into musical separation and was codified by a kind of musical divorce. On the surface, conflict was resolved. Below the surface, conflict continued. But this time, the conflict was covered up and ignored. Churches believed that this would bring peace to its members and position them to reach different people with different preferences. And those pragmatic aims may very well have been achieved at some measurable level. People weren’t as angry anymore, and the traditional and contemporary services were free to attract their own constituencies.

But church-sanctioned musical divorce sends three dangerous messages to its own congregation.

First, we can’t do hard things. Because of the considerable baggage and history of musical conflict in the Church, putting traditional and contemporary music together in one service is hard. It’s much easier to separate them. When we separate them, we give up on having hard conversations, on expecting our musical volunteers and staff to work together like brothers and sisters in Christ, and on the messiness of change and experimentation.

Second, we enable dysfunctional behavior. Instead of lovingly, firmly, and biblically addressing the wrong attitudes, prejudices, and behaviors on each side, we reward those attituded, prejudices, and behaviors by protecting them and giving them their own service. Rather than removing mold from our walls, we simply paint over it. But the problem has not disappeared.

And third, we are short-sighted. In the short-term, having separate services makes things easier. But in the long-term, it kicks the can down the road to another generation to have to figure out what to do when all of the current players have stepped off the stage. Rather than serve the generation that comes after us with a biblical foundation that can be built upon, we serve the current stakeholders with a model that may only have a shelf-life of another decade or two at best.

In addition, church-sanctioned musical divorce causes long-lasting damage to its congregation in two unfortunate ways.

First, we institutionalize the separation. Once something happens one time in a church, it’s a tradition. This is why churches should always be careful about starting new traditions. It’s much easier to start a new tradition than it is to end one. The same principle applies to institutions. No pastor wants to be the one responsible for ending a beloved tradition, or dismantling an institution. When we institutionalize musical separation, we set up a load bearing wall that will be incredibly difficult to someday tear down.

And second, we become separate congregations within a congregation. Instead of a congregation becoming centered around the preaching of God’s Word, and interconnected in community with one another, a church with separate services based on musical style enables the creation of mini-congregations centered around which service they attend, what style they prefer, and interconnected within those sub-congregations.

Any church that offers multiple services experiences this side-effect, even when those services are identical. But when those services are not identical, they become like divorced former spouses still living under the same roof, demanding that the relatives choose to whom their allegiance will belong.

Perhaps most tragic of all is that church-sanctioned musical divorce is a willful ignorance of the clear call of Scripture to unity, to mutual edification, to whole-hearted praise, to cross-generational exhortation, to musical variety, and to God-glorifying singing.

We would do well to heed the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10 who said: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” In those early days, Christians embraced divisions along the lines whom they followed, be it Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. Paul’s admonition was to “be united”.

The consequences of musical divorce are more damaging to the Church than the worship wars were. For pastors and worship leaders to choose to walk the path of uniting these two musical languages into one expression may very well be one of the most difficult paths they will walk, but it is the path towards helping their congregation experience that there is a better way.