Week 5 Chronicles: Hymns Old and New

Week 5 Chronicles is an occasional series on experimental worship formats whenever there is a fifth Sunday in a month.

Someone once said that a hymn is theology set to music. Others say that, in contrast to much of modern worship’s being deeply personal, a hymn is an expression of objective praise. That is not all together true, of course, because many hymns contain lyrics with a deep subjective element (for example, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine…”).

There is a certain quality to a song that makes it a hymn. Theological richness is one aspect. Another perhaps is a developed narrative which often puts story to theology. Yet another is a simplicity of structure.

Many hymns have stood the test of time (and presumably, like all categories of worship songs generally), some have not. Those that have endured have left a rich heritage of faith for the generations that have come before us. There are also great hymns being written today that will carve a legacy of fresh faith for the generations to follow.

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of leading an all-hymns worship set at Faith Community Church, Perth. It was a refreshing departure from the usual two fast songs, two slow songs worship mode we had become accustomed to. But whilst I was keen to design a set around hymns only, I thought that it would be apt to also recognise more contemporary songs which I would also characterise as hymns, such as Brooke Ligertwood’s “King of Kings”.

So, I called the set “Hymns: Old and New”.

It was an amazing time of worship. The singers and the music were on point. And the congregation was in full roar. It was one of my most enjoyable worship sessions in memory.

But memorising the lyrics was a killer. Sessions like these make me extremely grateful to our media team who run the confidence monitors.

The songs were:

Amazing Grace (acapella) (D-E)
This I Believe (The Creed) (A)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (D-E)
Nothing But the Blood (E)
What a Friend We Have in Jesus (E)
‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus (E)
In Christ Alone/The Solid Rock (E)
King of Kings (E)

Here is the recording.

Special thanks to the team for making it all happen.

Vox: Me, Ritchell, Lydia, Crystal, Joanna
Keys: Joe Lyn, Joseph
Guitars: Keegan, Marcus
Bass: Addie
Drums: Ephraim
Cello: Tiffany
Sound: Senny
Stage: KK
AV: Marco
Lights: Daniel

 

Week 5 Chronicles: Classics Sunday

Week 5 Chronicles is an occasional series on experiments in worship format whenever there is a fifth Sunday in a month.

Psalm 145:4 says:

One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.

I have been leading worship for over 20 years. In that time, I have seen the landscape of church worship shift significantly.

I was blessed that, in my early years,  I studied under an established older worship leader who used a lot of songs from the 1970s and 1980s as well as some of the more contemporary songs of his era. It meant that I was collecting a song vocabulary that extended well into the generation before mine.

There are many reasons why I love the old songs. I believe it’s not just because I grew up with them and that they have somehow been locked into a sacred chamber of my memory. It’s because the songs were written with a strong congregational focus; with simple, predictable melodies and hooks and uncomplicated, repetitive lyrics.

But times have moved on. We can’t keep doing the old stuff. We don’t want to live in an old, worn-out culture. We want to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing today. We can definitely learn from, and honour, the old, but we must live in the new. Old wineskins cannot contain the new wine.

So that’s why last Sunday, we did a “classics” set – a set of enduring songs from the last 20 to 30 years of the praise and worship movement; songs that most of us who have been in the church for a long time would have grown up with; songs that have shaped the worship landscape and paved the way for what God is doing today.

It was also a way for us educate the younger generation to help them understand where they came from and the sacrifices the older generation have made so that we can worship the way we do today.

What constitutes a “classic” of course is difficult to define.

In the end, we left it to our worship pastor to craft the song list. Even though Ps Dave Wong is only 26 years old, he practically grew up in Faith Community Church and so was completely immersed in the songs of the church over the last 20 years. If anyone had authority to speak to the “classics”, it was him.

The song list was:

  • Jesus You are So Good (F) – Jamie Harvill
  • God is Good All The Time (F) – Paul Overstreet and Don Moen
  • For All You’ve Done (F) – Reuben Morgan
  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (F-G) – Isaac Watts
  • I Give You My Heart (G) – Reuben Morgan
  • Majesty (G) – Jack Hayford
  • He is Exalted (G) – Twila Paris

There were many, many songs that missed the cut, perhaps paving the way for another Classics Sunday next year.

Here is a recording of the session: 

We were blessed with an amazing team, which included a guest appearance from our old friend Luke Tan on electric guitar.

The team was:

Worship leaders/Vocals: Dave Wong, Susan Cai, Sunray Zheng, Lydia Ling, me
Music Director/Bass: Addie Choon
Drums: Caleb Leong
Electric Guitars: Luke Tan, Joash Ang
Acoustic Guitar: Dave Wong
Keyboards: Samuel Ng, Su-Ern Lee
Cello: Tiffany Foo
Sound: Samuel Oh and Liimei Lim

There was quite an intense moment during “I Give You My Heart” as we recalled how, over the years, many of us would have rushed to the altar to that song. Much of the church was on their knees. And we experienced a beautiful time of consecration.

After the worship time, Dr Dan Mo gave a stirring message on “Catalysts of Revival”. When he gave the altar call, half the church stood up and flooded the altar. In my five years at Faith Community Church, I have not seen anything quite like it. Many cried hot tears as we committed ourselves to be world changers and history makers.

It was a significant Sunday.

We have reached back into history to give us an impetus for the future. May revival fire fall once again!

(Photo credit: Shane Wee)

Week 5 Chronicles: Acoustic Worship

Acoustic worship

Today, I want to start a new occasional series called “Week 5 Chronicles”. In my church, we organise worship teams in four bands. Band 1 plays on the first Sunday of the month, Band 2 plays on the second Sunday and so forth. Every three months, however, we have a fifth Sunday of the month for which no band is rostered. We’ve now been using Week 5 as an opportunity to experiment with different worship formats.

If you attend a contemporary church, chances are your worship will involve singing 2 fast songs and 2 slow songs, accompanied by a band situated on the stage, led by a worship leader. The size of the band will often depend on the size of your congregation, but the usual setup will include singers, guitar, keyboard, bass and drums.

The congregation would face the stage and stare at a screen on which the lyrics to the songs are projected.

There’s nothing wrong with this and it seems like it has been the preferred format for congregational worship since the adventĀ of the praise and worship movement.

But you’ve got to ask the question: where in the Bible do we find such a description of the church’s worship? In fact, whilst the Bible informs and reveals principles of worship, the New Testament is almost deliberately silent on format. This, at least, suggests that there is an almost boundless freedom in the way the church today is able to express its worship, be it in the Charismatic “in-the-spirit-spontaneous” worship, indigenous chants or liturgical high church mode.

The Week 5 Chronicles series then is an attempt to bring you on our church’s journey in experimenting with different ways of doing congregational worship. We’re not compromising on principles, because the cross of Christ and God’s glory must always remain central to our worship. Hopefully, however, it will inspire you to see that worship can be done in different ways and encourage you to “mix up” your church’s worship expression.

Change is actually a good thing. I know of one church which deliberately changes the way it does its services, even when it’s working well. This teaches the congregation to be flexible and willing to embrace new things.

Last Sunday, we stripped it back a little and did an acoustic, chapel-style set. The stage was set up with a lit-up cross at the centre, and a small group of musicians (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, cajon, keyboard and singers) sitting in a semi circle around the cross. The set up had the cross between the musicians and the congregation so that cross was (in effect) in the centre of the gathering.

For a while, even as our music team has been growing in technical excellence over the last many months, I’ve wondered whether our church has really understood the real meaning of worship, of bringing their own sacrifices, that ultimately, it didn’t matter about the music. Paring back the music was an opportunity for the congregation to hear their own voices fill the atmosphere with praises to God. It was a reminder that, sometimes, we can mask our praises underneath the sound created by the few (the musos on stage) whereas God has always been after the heartfelt offerings of the many.

So here is our songlist from yesterday’s session:

// This I Believe (The Creed) (G)
// When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (G)
// Scripture Reading – Phil 2:5-11
// This is Our God (Chorus only) (E)
// Broken Vessels (Chorus only) (E)
// This is Our God (E) (Reprise)
// No Other Name (E)

And here’s the recording:

What other ways have you tried to do your Sunday worship services differently?