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.

Five Common Rehearsal Killers

1I am a big believer in short, effective, enjoyable rehearsals. They should be short because you want to honor your volunteers’ time. They should be effective so that you actually accomplish something. And they should be enjoyable so that your musicians (and tech crew) look forward to them and want to come back.

In my experience, there are some common mistakes I’ve made, that I suspect other worship leaders make as well, that kill rehearsals. here they are:

1. Rehearse every song in full
There are certain songs your musicians know well enough to play in their sleep. If you’re confident in their confidence, you are well within your rights to say “do we all know this song? Yes? OK, great. Let’s skip it.” They will thank you, and you will have just saved five minutes.

2. Get bogged down in the mud of opinions
You want to make sure to encourage creative participation and the open sharing of ideas, particularly by not shooting down every idea that comes your way, or by never asking for input. But don’t hesitate to go against a strongly-shared idea, or even a consensus from your team, if you feel strongly otherwise. Make a joke, make sure you smile, give firm direction, and move on.

3. Don’t have songs picked or music ready in advance
Your song list should be finished at least (!) 2 or 3 days before rehearsal. Your chord charts/sheet music/etc. should be in the correct key, readable, in the order you’ll be singing them, and available to your team to have in advance. Every ounce of preparation you put into rehearsals, especially to help your musicians prepare at home, will yield great fruit later on.

4. Let the clock get away from you
There is no reason why 60 minutes isn’t enough time to have a complete worship team rehearsal.
– 7:30pm: Set-up, tune, get situated
– 7:05pm: Sound check/monitor check/etc.
– 7:10pm: Pray and start first song

See how rehearsal is starting 10 minutes after the hour? Yours should too. The more you allow set-up/sound check to drag on, the less effective rehearsal you’ll have. Even if your musicians are running late, just start without them.

– 7:10 – 7:50pm: 40 minutes to talk through each song, work on rough parts, smooth transitions, do three or four songs all the way through, etc.
– 7:50 – 8:00pm: 10 final minutes to review particularly tricky parts and emphasize what needs to be paid attention to, before a final prayer.

Look at that! A worship team rehearsal in 60 minutes. If it needs to go longer, it can, but give people a 10 minute break after an hour. Keep it fun and stay light-hearted, but keep the train moving.

5. Lose traction in between songs
Don’t let the space in between songs become chit-chat time, improvise time, or random question time. Keep it moving. When you finish one song, move on to the next song and they’ll follow you.

If people are fiddling around on their instruments while you’re trying to talk, here’s a tip: just start playing and singing the next song. That will quiet them up and keep things from stalling.

Never stop refining the craft of running short, effective, enjoyable rehearsals. Long, ineffective, unenjoyable rehearsals can create such a heavy drag on your team and ministry than can be hard to overcome. Take control, keep it moving, make sure you’re prepared, stay light-hearted, and keep your eye on the clock.

My Upcoming Sabbatical

A little over a week from now, Catherine and I will be embarking on a four-month faith journey with our three girls, while I take a sabbatical from worship ministry. I thought I would tell you a bit more about why I’m taking a sabbatical, what exactly I’ll be doing, and also ask if you would be praying for me!

Why a sabbatical?

Two reasons. First, I have been leading worship nearly every weekend of my life since the age of 13. To use a football analogy, I was “handed the ball” as an eighth-grade boy, and I’ve been running down the field ever since. These last 20+ years have been incredibly rewarding, as God has matured me, allowed me the privilege of serving at wonderful and dynamic churches, and given me the most precious gift of Catherine and our three girls.

But these last two decades have also been incredibly exhausting, and God has been speaking clearly over the last year or so, that for the sake of my own health, my ability to serve in ministry for the long haul, and my role as a husband and father, I need to take a time out. I need to put the ball down, step out of bounds, rest, and get ready to get back on the field for another stretch. Otherwise, I’m headed for inevitable ministry burnout. Catherine has affirmed this need for a sabbatical, and so has the leadership of Truro Anglican Church, where I serve. They have encouraged me to take it soon: from February – May.

Second, in the summer of 2010, I became a seminary student at the Washington D.C. campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. Through RTS, I am pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion, after which I feel called to discern whether or not God would lead me to become ordained in the Anglican Church.

I am now halfway through my seminary studies, but with the demands of full-time worship ministry, and family responsibilities, I simply don’t have the margins to take more than perhaps one course per year. It is time for me to focus more intentionally on making significantly measurable progress towards completing my seminary studies.

So this sabbatical is dual-purposed: First, to give me a rest from the weekly demands of up-front ministry, and the space to heal from some of the wounds and exhaustion. Second, to provide me the space to take a full semester of seminary classes.

What will we be doing?

Next week, my family and I will be temporarily moving to Central Florida, so that I can take a full semester of classes at RTS Orlando during their spring semester. We are looking forward to spending a season as a family outside of the pressurized environment of Northern Virginia, and being close to the water. I have been counseled by friends and mentors to devote evenings to Catherine, and weekends to my daughters (and the beach). On Sundays, we will worship at Celebration Community Church, and I hope to sit in on some of their elder meetings, so that I can learn from a church outside of the Anglican context. I will also be intentionally spending time with several mentors in the Orlando area, and enjoying time with some family who live close by. This will be a season for rest, study, family strengthening, and for experiencing an extended season of not standing on a platform every Sunday.

How you can pray for us

Catherine and I would be incredibly grateful for your prayers in these areas:

For me : That I am able to get meaningful rest from up-front ministry, rewarding times of theological study, space to process, grieve, and heal from the last 20+ years, and a renewed energy for the future.

For Catherine: That God grants her all the peace, energy, and wisdom she needs as she helps move our family for four months, homeschools our three girls, and helps them adjust to their new surroundings.

For our marriage: That God protects, strengthens, and renews our love for one another.

For Megan, Emma, and Callie: That they adjust well to their new/temporary home for these four months, and that God helps them handle this significant upheaval.

About this blog
I started this blog in July 2009 with a simple purpose: “to help worship leaders lead well”. I have every intention of continuing to write here for that purpose, and offer whatever help, encouragement, and resources I can to worship leaders. Catherine has encouraged me not to give up writing on here during my sabbatical, so in the weeks and months to come I hope to share some of what God is teaching me and showing me, and occasional updates about a worship leader gathering I’ll be hosting in Atlanta in July.

Finally, I do apologize to my readers for how quiet things have been here lately! Now you know a bit more of the reasons why. Thanks for your understanding, and most importantly for your prayers.

Beautiful Baby Boy

Eight years ago, just a couple of months after our first daughter was born, I found myself seeing and reflecting upon the incarnation of Jesus Christ with fresh eyes. As a first-time dad I was not prepared for the profound sweetness, tenderness, and innocence of a little baby. I had an overwhelming love and affection for this beautiful, soft, little girl.

It made me think how Mary must have felt when she cradled baby Jesus in her arms. And felt his warm little breaths on her arm as he slept, or heard his little cries when he was hungry, or stroked his smooth little chest. One day that beautiful baby boy would be nailed to a tree as the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. One day his soft little lips would speak forgiveness and proclaim good news. One day those little arms would embrace the sinner.

So I wrote the song “Beautiful Baby Boy” as a reflection on the very real incarnation of Jesus into the very real form of a beautiful, precious, tender baby boy. And I wrote it as a reminder that he came for a purpose, and that his destiny even from the time he laid in a manger, was to be a crucified and risen Savior.

You can listen to the song here (special thanks to Joshua Spacht for the string orchestrations):

Click here to download the mp3 from iTunes.
Click here to download the free chord chart.
Click here to download the free lead sheet (thanks, Zach Sprowls).
And here are the lyrics:

Beautiful Baby Boy

His tiny little hands will be nailed to a tree
His precious little feet will be pierced through for me
And His soft little lips will bless and forgive
Oh beautiful baby boy

His tiny little chest will be whipped and flogged
His precious little head will be stained with his blood
And His soft little cry will beg for my life
Oh beautiful baby boy

Oh beautiful baby boy. Oh holy Lamb of God
Away in a manger lies our perfect sacrifice
Oh beautiful baby boy

His tiny little eyes will seek out the poor
His precious little arms will welcome the whore
And His soft pudgy face is the image of grace
Oh beautiful baby boy

And we were dead in our sins, and we were lost on our own
And we were children of wrath, and we were all without hope
But God rich in mercy, but God great in love
But God full of kindness gave us His only Son

Words and music: Jamie Brown. © 2011 Worthily Magnify Music.  All rights reserved. CCLI song # 6026925

The Capital Equation

Several years ago at my previous church we devoted an entire Sunday morning to one big, combined worship service to record a worship album. We never did this sort of thing. We never combined our services, we never devoted an hour and a half to music, we hardly ever got that loud for that long, we never sing that many new songs in one service, and we never pushed the envelope that much in a two-hour period.

It went really well. It was a ton of fun, it was the middle of the summer, and it was the right thing for that one Sunday. But it was very, very different.

The week after this big extravaganza I was sitting in my pastor’s office debriefing the whole experience. He told me how much he enjoyed it, that he was excited for the new album, and that we had all done a good job. Then he asked me what I thought. I said how thrilled I was with it all, and how grateful I was that he let us do it.

Then I said: “I woke up on Monday morning and thought to myself ‘well, I just used up all my capital for the next year!'”.

He looked at me, smiled, and said: “you sure did.”

We were both happy with how well the whole thing had gone. But we both knew that we had pushed the congregation. And that if I was smart, I’d ease off the gas for a little bit.

Worship leaders must learn the capital equation. Which is: Build capital. Spend capital. Build back capital. Repeat as needed.

When all you do is spend, spend, spend capital, you’re operating out of a deficit. People don’t trust you, they’re worn out, and you’re not going to find them all that adventourous. Too many new songs. Too loud. Too much liturgy. Too many hymns. Too many electric guitars. Whatever it is. You’re spending too much, too soon, too often, and maybe too recklessly. Be smarter.

Likewise, when all you do is build, build, build capital and never take any risks or push people anywhere, then you’re wasting opportunities. Safe choices, same songs, no creativity, no one is upset with you, bored musicians, ho-hum services, and no lost sleep over a risky idea.

Do both. Spend capital! But once you’ve spent it, then ease off the gas and build it back. Feel it out. You’ll almost certainly lean too much in one direction before you realize it and then make a correction.

And that’s why regular conversations with your pastor are so important. So you can debrief, be honest with one another, and be receptive to his counsel about when he thinks you might be need to do some spending, or some building.

How to “Sing Like Never Before”

Like millions of other people, I’ve enjoyed Matt Redman’s song “Ten Thousand Reasons” ever since he wrote it in 2011. I’ve sung it a lot, led it a lot, listened to it a lot, and been helped by it a lot.

But one of the lines in the chorus has kind of always bugged me.

“…Sing like never before, O my soul…”

Like, sing louder than I did last time? Or with more feeling? Or more genuinely? How can I – even after having sung this song something around 10,000 times – “sing like never before”? At some point, won’t I have reached the point of having sung like I can sing?

No. I can always sing like before. But… how?

I came across these two quotes recently from commentaries on Psalm 145 (one of the Psalms in which David talks about worshipping God every day, forever and ever, etc.) and they helped answer that question:

The first from Matthew Henry:

God is every day blessing us, doing well for us, there is therefore reason that we should be every day blessing him, speaking well of him.

And the second from John Calvin:

Since God is constant in extending mercies, it would be highly improper in us to faint in his praises. As he thus gives his people new ground for praising him, so he stimulates them to gratitude, and to exercise it throughout the whole course of their life.

So, in other words, God is always blessing us, always extending new mercies to us, always stimulating us to new gratitude, so we can always “sing like never before”.

Because since the last time I sang that song, God has shown me ten thousand new mercies, has blessed me in ways I’m not even aware of, and has been faithful to me with such constancy and love that would absolutely floor me if I knew the reality of it.

So, yes, whenever I sing Matt Redman’s well-known song, or really any song of praise for that matter, I can “sing like never before”, not necessarily louder or prettier or more impressively, but with reasons and causes and mercies that I hadn’t known before, for “ten thousand years and then forevermore”.

Songs of Lament: An Interview with Rachel Wilhelm

Several years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Rachel Wilhelm, who at that time was living in Northern Virginia with her husband and kids, and was helping to serve as a interim worship leader of sorts at my church when I arrived. I was instantly struck by her giftedness, her voice, her wisdom in worship leading, and therefore was very bummed when she and her family relocated to Minnesota. Rachel recently released an excellent album, Songs of Lament, and I asked her some questions about her background, her passion for the biblical expression of lament, and her new project.

1. Tell us about yourself. 

I’m the Director of Worship Arts of a lovely small church in Minneapolis. I am also co-founder of the Roots Worship Collective, Minneapolis Chapter, consisting of a pool of worship leaders and church musicians who care about Church unity by leading local hymn sing events with the object of getting different denominations to sing together on days other than Sunday. I really love the Church. Sometimes I don’t know why because the Church can be a place where you can get hurt badly if you dare open up or put yourself out there. But the Church is beautiful because Christ says it is. I think I am a person who is learning all the time about grace and how deep and wide God’s love runs.

2. What has your worship leading journey looked like?

Well, it’s been interesting. I’ve been on worship teams since I was in junior high, singing for my youth group’s team in California. In a lot of ways, I think that is what kept me in the Church. Through the years I vowed I would never lead worship, but only be on teams since I thought that worship leaders only attracted drama, and some got this diva complex. Eventually I started going to some churches where women couldn’t technically “start” a song because it looked as if she were exercising authority over men. It bothered me that there would be no judgment if she sang at a bar, but if she started a song at church? Eventually my family landed at a church where the pastor approached me to think about training under him to lead music since he needed help. It actually was a terrible experience, but very good for me. When that stint was over, I quit going to church for six months. It was one of those times lament made an appearance. I was angry at God for trudging me through the mud when I obeyed Him. After that six months, my family moved closer to an Anglican church where we had some friends and low and behold, they needed a music person. That experience humbled me greatly. It was probably the best time in my worship leading journey. I learned to set boundaries for myself, think theologically about song selection, and unfortunately, judge other ways of leading worship. Years later I met you at Truro, and learned in my interim position there that a “hymns only” approach is not for everyone. God loves diversity. That sounds trite. But I took leading music so seriously that I wanted “to do it right.” Grace on myself and everyone else has been a huge part of my worship leading journey.

3. You have a passion to help the Church recover the biblical expression of lament. Where did this passion come from? 

You know, it is super hard for me to give you an exact answer to that. Minor keys chimed when I was born or something. Since I was a small girl I have written music, and mainly in my head. I didn’t play guitar until I was an adult, so I memorized melancholy movements of my songs in every instrument on my long commutes to church and school in the back of the car, often lying down (before seat belt laws) or looking out the window. I came from a very low income background, so obtaining an instrument seemed impossible. Forget lessons. I was a very worried kid. I think if anyone were to diagnose me I would have had extreme anxiety. I worried about things a kid had no business worrying about. So I turned to the Scriptures because I really felt hopeless. And the passages in Jeremiah, the Psalms, and other prophets relating any kind of destitution, sorrow, pain, worry, et cetera really hit me as the most beautiful pieces of literature I’d ever read. I think I appreciated how real it was, how honest these people could be to God and He did not strike them down. From then on, that is how I talked to God myself. Later, in my worship leading journey, I noticed that most songs people loved to sing were just the upbeat happy songs. It seemed like people wanted to go to church to escape the rest of the week. Then I realized where it is so natural for me to just “go there” with vulnerability to God about my own weaknesses, it is not so for others. In fact, denial is huge. I think sometimes people don’t heal because they don’t lament to God. Sometimes you have to crack open that wound on purpose, clean it out, and sew it up to make it right again. You can’t just leave it like that. Leading worship in an Anglican church also taught me about how lament can be liturgically appropriate. That is when I realized that there was or could be a real place for it.

4. What are some of the common questions or misunderstandings you run into with regards to this topic? 

Lament is bad because it is complaining. I think people forget that Scripture is God-breathed and righteous complaint is all throughout the Bible. They cite the passage about grumbling and complaining and end it there. I’m sure some of our modern misconceptions come from the bad theology of positive confession. People love denying the harshness of real life. Look at how packed Joel Osteen’s church is. I have been saying lately that complaining is not a sin. It’s who you complain TO. God can handle it. He wants to handle it!

People also think that lament is solely tearing our sackcloth, patting our heads with ashes, and crying for hours. I’ve heard that lament is not about justice even when the word complaint is a very courtroom term. I’ve also heard people ask me what lament even means because they have never heard the word before.

5. Tell us about your album, Songs of Lament

The record came from seeing the need for lament to be addressed in the worship music genre. I don’t think I would have made an album if there wasn’t a need. I have such a high view of God’s Word that I think it is tragic that there are not more Scripture songs being sung (like during the Jesus Movement of our parent’s time). The Psalms are meant to be sung. There is power in singing God’s words back to Him. Something mysteriously healing happens.

My album has songs from Ezekiel 16, where God laments, Jeremiah 8 & 9, Lamentations 1, four movements of Habakkuk, Psalm 13, and to end, Psalm 139, which is to me, the resolve of lament. Some of the songs were written when I was a girl, some just last fall!

My hope is that some of the songs can be used corporately in church and others can be for personal devotion


Rachel, thank you for your ministry to the Church, and your passion to help congregations recover the biblical necessity of lament.

Download Songs of Lament on Bandcamp.