Make Your Worship Song Slides More Appealing

The First NoelIf you are a visual/tech person for an a cappella church, you may be interested in this post. Otherwise, this is a fun exercise in graphic editing.

Many churches are using worship song slides that include music notation. Quite often, there is somewhat of a debate between the people who like the notes and people who want pictures and words. Some need the intellectual stimulus of singing parts from a prepared arrangement while other prefer the visual stimulation of nature, colors, backgrounds, etc. It’s very hard to find common ground. This is a tutorial on how to create song slides that appeal to both tastes.

This will not be an all-inclusive tutorial. I will proceed on the basis that you are aware of some fundamental aspects of editing graphics, and I will be using Photoshop CC 2014 as my graphical interface.

To begin, you’ll need a song. Some churches create their own notation. If so, more power to you. That’s not what I’m covering in this tutorial. If you don’t have the ability to create notation from scratch, take a look at Paperless Hymnal or A View of Worship. Both offer excellent arrangements in pre-formatted slides. For this illustration, I will be using Paperless Hymnal’s version of In Christ Alone.

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The High Calling of Worship Leaders

worship leaderIt seems that worship wars will never desist. They only move from one front to the next. Satan allows no cease-fire.

I was recently reading a post by Jamie Brown entitled, “Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship.” Jamie had just returned from the National Worship Leader Conference, hosted by Worship Leader Magazine. In his article, he reflected on the state of worship, specifically regarding the role of worship leader.

He picked up on a theme that has been building in the church universal for a while now, which he referred to it as “performancism.” The worship leader as the performer. The congregation as the audience. The sanctuary as the concert hall.

I agree. It’s a worrisome thought and it’s something I’ve also seen growing in the past decade.

Where did it come from?

How did this tendency arise? That’s a tough question. I suppose the easiest answer is that anything God intended for good can be turned bad by the father of lies. I will be the first to admit that standing before hundreds of people to lead and direct their worship by using your own talents is fertile ground for the seed of pride to root and grow. It is something that all worship leaders must guard their heart against.

I also believe that the rise of worship music as a popular medium has also contributed to performancism. Before I get bashed here, let me first say that I love worship music and it’s an important part of my life. There’s nothing better than dialing up KLOVE or Air1 in the car. It’s meant to be uplifting and it is.

But again, anything good can be turned to bad with the wrong heart direction. In the early 2000’s, we saw the rise of Chris Tomlin, Lincoln Brewster and Michael W. Smith’s worship albums. There were others who shared in the same vein. This was quickly followed by “worship-oriented music” by Building 429, Casting Crowns, Jeremy Camp and others. Many of these songs were adopted into corporate worship, and rightfully so. The model of worship-minister-turned-professional-musician was born.

While I’m certain most, if not all, of these professionals you hear on the radio came into their international recognition with a good heart, great intentions and amazing results, it’s still easy to see how this would be enticing to the everyday worship leader who’s muddling away in the trenches on a weekly basis. The opportunity to be seen and heard on a larger scale is a desire for most musicians out there, and desire can easily become a temptation.

What should it be?

I need to stress that performance of Christian music is not bad in and of itself. I did it for 11 years all over the world. Still, there is a distinct difference in the performance of Christian music and the leading of corporate worship. I certainly believe that everything we offer God, especially in corporate worship, needs to be of the highest caliber. I am a big devotee of Willow Creek and their approach to the quality of worship arts, but there is much more to consider when leading worship than the presentation of good music and how good the “performance” may be.

Let me quote Jamie on this one:

“Sing songs people know (or can learn easily). Sing them in congregational keys. Sing and celebrate the power, glory, and salvation of God. Serve your congregation. Saturate them with the word of God. Get your face off the big screen. Use your original songs in extreme moderation. Err on the side of including as many people as possible in what’s going on. Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology. Tailor your worship leading, and the songs you pick, to include the largest cross-section of your congregation that you can. Lead pastorally.”

The leading of corporate worship is a high calling and one that should not be taken lightly. Our job is to point people to Christ. If that leads to a larger audience, then let the glory be to God. If not, you’re calling is already fulfilled.

The Church and the Art of God

finger of god

God creates.

He is the ultimate artist.

We are made in God’s image.

The Church should do more to reflect God’s artistic nature.

There. That could be my entire post in four lines. So you can stop now if you want. But I will continue.

I’ve been reflecting on the role of the arts in our corporate worship and church community. Certain events have spurred my thinking on this, events such as a Gungor concert (which was an amazing event in itself), a recent letter from our church eldership addressed to the youth committee, my work in the studio for Chasing David and similar work with my quickly-growing children (now 18 and 20) as they pursue their artistic endeavors through music and video.

I was raised in a church community that was cerebral-oriented. Sure, we had pretty good singing (it was an a capella church), but for the most part the focus was on teaching. Education was king.

Don’t get me wrong. I think a thorough examination of scripture and growth in the Word of God is of utmost importance. The trouble is, our church (and I feel 90% of the rest of the churches in America) spends an overwhelming majority of their corporate worship and bible class time catering to those who need some form of spiritual mental exercise… or at least those who think they do because that was the way they were raised.

With the notable exception of a few churches like Willow Creek (Chicago) and North Point (Atlanta) and their associated churches, our church experience on the whole seems to neglect the creative arts. Yes, we may have a few good songs during our worship time and they are meaningful and moving. And often formulaic. Maybe that’s not bad. Maybe musical liturgy has a place. But I digress.

The depth and breadth of what God has created is astounding. He paints such beauty across the sky in a west Texas sunset or sunrise that it’s almost breathtaking. The mountains that stretch across our continent are sculpted with a dramatic precision which nothing can come close to matching. The movement of weather patterns across the world is an intricate dance of material that is at once impossible to hold and powerful enough to level towns. The ebb and flow of ocean currents crashing against our beaches and shoreline create movement and flow that is simply mesmerizing.

And this is only what we can see. Until relatively recently, there were a multitude of astounding works of art that were only visible to the eye of God. The Hubble telescope has opened a vista of majestic art millions of light years from our tiny world, art that boggles the mind. For whom was that created? The flow of blood within our own bodies and the way it interacts with our musculature and skeletal systems… for the most part, this is still beyond our view without massive disruption of living tissue. Who gets to see this amazing interplay? The dance of uncountable atoms bouncing off each other in everything… the essence of all existence… who gets to stir that paint? Who gets to mix that clay?

Don’t even get me started on the music of creation. It is everywhere.

Again I say, God is the ultimate artist. We are made in the image of God. We are a people made to paint, mold, draw, dance, flow, interact, sing, and play. The ultimate offering of praise is to return our painting, molding, drawing, dancing, flowing, interacting, singing and playing to One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

What does that look like in our church community? I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear you tell me…

Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church

I ran across an excellent article by Manuel Luz, the Creative Arts Pastor for Oak Hills Church in Folsom, CA. I thought my readers might find it interesting and applicable. I hope you enjoy it. Please look at his bio below. He has much to say on this topic and more.

keep-calm-and-practice-7-habitsMy last blog post, 81 Things You Can Do To Be A More Artist Friendly Church, is easily the most popular to date. Thousands of you hit that post, and I appreciate the many reposts and comments and likes. I think it’s because it hit a nerve for many artists of faith, as well as those who lead them, both inside the church and out.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a short list of principles and practices that drive the list. I’m not big on “How To” books and articles without also understanding the deeper, more substantive “Why” issues. Because without a proper understanding of the foundational tenets, you can just as easily misunderstand, manipulate, and abuse the artist of faith instead of encourage, disciple, and applaud them. So here’s a short list of driving principles and practices behind becoming an Artist-Friendly Church.

1. Don’t Treat Artists of Faith Like Commodities

I was talking to a friend recently and I mentioned that I often mow my neighbor’s lawn. We both agreed that it was a good thing to do, one of those simple acts of being Jesus to those around us. But then he added, “So do you think you can get him to go to church?” I replied kindly, “I don’t mow his lawn because I have an agenda for him. I mow his lawn because it’s the right thing to do.”

The evangelical church, steeped in centuries of pragmatic modernism, is utilitarian by nature. It is often results-oriented and agenda-driven—which are not necessarily bad things in and of itself—but as a result, it has a tendency to value the arts not for the sake of beauty and as an personal expression of faith, but as a vehicle for a message. In other words, the arts are seen as a commodity to be used, not as an expression of life lived in Christ.

If art is commodified in the church, so then is the artist. Too often, the church treats the artist of faith as someone who can be put to use. As a result, artists often feel used, taken advantage of, or valued only for their ability to further the agenda of the church. Musicians and visual artists are valued only to the degree that they fit into the worship service. Theatrical artists are only valued when the Easter or Christmas play comes around. And poets, dancers, sculptors, etc. often find no place at the table. Clearly, something is askew when artists of faith aren’t able to express themselves in their own faith communities.

But something different happens when you simply validate the artist that God made him or her to be, and encourage that person to dig deeper into that calling. Acceptance and approval is the two-faceted language which speaks to artists of faith.  The Artist-Friendly Church accepts artists for who they are, not for what they can do for the church. (Hit it here for a more in-depth discussion of this.)

2. Create and Lead Authentic Arts Communities

The calling of the Artist-Friendly Church should be threefold. One, be a venue for the art (a place, a way, and a time). Two, be an audience for the artist, for the church needs artists to fulfill their God-given role in the body of Christ, to reflect, to interpret, to express, and to inspire. And three, be a Biblical community with the artist, offering friendship, encouragement, training, and discipleship.

I really do believe that you must have all three of these to have a fully functioning arts community in your church. It is important to allow your artists to express themselves to the church, to give them venues and opportunities and audiences. At the same time, you can’t give artists carte blanche in your congregations either—That would be disastrous. Artists can be temperamental and self-absorbed and be quite demanding of your time. Artists are messy. But then, simply living in community is a messy thing.

Artists need grace-filled leadership in order to thrive, both artistically and spiritually. The Artist-Friendly Church has leadership that patiently and lovingly validates and encourages as well as grows and disciples the artist. Such leadership understands the importance of inviting artists into inclusive and authentic Biblical community.

3. Understand and Teach a Theology of Beauty and Creativity

When you think of the word “Creative,” do you think of God? For most, the answer is yes. Now, think of the word “Creative” again—does the word “church” come to mind?  Why not?

Deeply imbedded in the DNA of an Artist-Friendly Church is a foundational understanding of our place before God as creative beings. The first five words of the Bible describe God as the Eternally Creative One, and as we are made in His image, we are both endowed with a creative disposition and charged with a creative mandate. There is far too much here to cover in a blog like this, but let’s simply say the the Artist-Friendly Church has a well developed theology of the arts, and it undergirds all of it’s programs and ministries, from what happens in children’s classrooms and youth assemblies to what goes on in the worship service to what adorns the walls of the lobby. The Artist-Friendly Church indwells a vibrant expression of this theology, teaches it from the pulpit, models it in the services and programs, and spills it out into the community.

4. Uphold Excellence While Ruthlessly Ridding Perfectionism

No one doubts the power of the arts to emote, elicit, and engage. And sitting here at the beginning of the twenty first century, the modern church is once again beginning to see the importance of Excellence in the Arts. (See this link if you want to read more on the dangers of Christian art being mediocre, derivative, out-of-touch, overly sentimental, or propaganda-driven.) “Excellence,” as stated by Willow Creek Community Church, “honors God and inspires people.”

But there’s a huge difference between excellence and perfectionism. Excellence is an understanding that you are doing the best you can with the people and resources God gave you. Perfectionism is the unrealistic drive to try to attain an unattainable standard.  Excellence honors those artists of faith who seek to be excellent. Perfectionism dishonors artists of faith by creating unreasonable demands. Excellence is fueled by grace; Perfectionism is fueled by legalism. And some artists of faith, those who are already driven by these demons, often find themselves in an abusive relationship with the church when the church strives toward perfectionism.

We need to understand what the true product of ministry is. The product of a creative arts ministry, just like any other ministry, is the hearts of the people. Great art then is a by-product of hearts which are growing in Christ. The Artist-Friendly Church focuses on the hearts of the artists, not the art. But here’s the thing—it’s only when you focus on the hearts that you have the potential for ridiculously great God-honoring art.

5. Encourage Artists Of Faith To Go Out Into The World

One of the questions often asked to me when I speak on faith and the arts is this: “What do I do if there’s no place for my art in my church?”

And my response is typically not what they are hoping or expecting—for me to criticize the church. Instead, I remind that person that the church is not the end game. In other words, as Christ followers, we should always see ourselves as being called out to make a difference in the world, and that extends to our roles as artists as well. If that is the case, then we should also view our artwork as subversive expressions of the Kingdom of God.

Writer Andy Crouch rightly asserts that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it.” In other words, it is not enough to critique or copy or consume our culture.  To change culture, to make a difference in the world, we must also create culture. (For a more in-depth discussion, I encourage you to read this blog, Being IN the World.) So one of the roles of the Artist-Friendly Church is to be outwardly focused—to encourage artists of faith to boldly take their artistic expressions out into the world and let them shine.

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Churches are often hotbeds of criticism. You can never please everyone, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for senior pastors and elder boards, who naturally just want everyone to get along. So some churches adopt an unspoken culture of risk aversion. They avoid things that might elicit controversy or change. But a culture of risk aversion is a killer to the Artist-Friendly Church.

Artists are risk takers by nature. Whether it’s in the way they dress, or the way they express their art, or how they see the world, or even how they make a living, many artists are risk takers. Artist-Friendly Churches create a culture where it is safe for individuals and ministries to take calculated risks and originate change.

7. Finally…

At the expense of appearing self-promoting, much of this is discussed in greater detail in my book, Imagine Thatwhich I recommend as a resource for the Arts Leader, Artist of Faith, and especially for Small Group Study.

Also, I only had Six Habits, but I thought that sounded strange.

Manuel LuzManuel Luz is passionate about worship, coffee, the Oakland Raiders, and the intersections of faith and the arts.  A songwriter, author, speaker, and creative arts pastor, Manuel’s first published book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (Moody Publishers) is a practical and personal theology of the arts. Check out his blog, “Adventures in Faith and Art” (Manuelluz.com), or his four solo CDs (iTunes or CDBaby.com).

The post, “Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church,” is a follow up to the blog post, “81 Things You Can Do To Be a More Artist-Friendly Church.”

Acappella Memories: He Leadeth Me

He Leadeth MeEven to this day, I still get comments about the song He Leadeth Me. This song was the title track to an early hymns album by Acappella and friends. The album was out of print for quite a while, although I think it has been reprinted and is available once again. What strikes most people when they hear the album is the diversity of styles present and the joy that permeates throughout. What very few know is that this album grew from a funeral.

The year was 1989 and I had been in Acappella almost a year. We were on tour through Oklahoma, on the way to another extended run through Texas. That particular night we had stopped for an event in a town somewhere in southwest Oklahoma, I can’t remember the name now. Late in the afternoon at our host home, I received a phone call from my dear friend Craig Martin. Craig and I had grown up together in Lubbock and he was the CFO for Acappella Ministries at the time. I was surprised to hear his voice, but it changed quickly when his first words were, “Gary, are you sitting down? You need to sit down.” Those are never good words to begin a phone conversation.

Orlando Moyers

Orlando Moyers

He went on to tell me that my father, Orlando Moyers, had suffered a massive stroke and was in the hospital in Lubbock. I was still single at the time, although my reconnection with my future wife grew out of this event (another blog post coming up). Before I really knew what was happening, the youth minister at the church (I can’t remember his name, bless his heart) had given me the keys to his car and Keith had told me to get to Lubbock quickly. They would cover for me at the concert.

Six hours later I pulled into the hospital parking lot and walked into the ICU waiting room. It was filled with people from church and my mother was sitting in the middle of them. The next 24 hours were a blur of hospital, home and family. My father was in a coma, but I had time to speak to him and pray over him. He passed away the next night.

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Planning a Weekend Worship Service

Worship time

Occasionally, I enjoy strolling through my old posts to see what I used to think. I ran across the following post from October of 2006 and I thought it was worth reposting. It details the process we went through of planning worship services during my time at Christ Family Fellowship in Corpus Christi. I still look back in amazement that we were this involved with a staff of two and a church of about 150 or so. This is not something I could convince Golf Course Road to try, nor have I even attempted with Broadway (considering I am the volunteer coordinator). If you are involved in worship planning, I’d love to know what you think about this. Enjoy…

*****

As I speak to other worship leaders across the country, I am amazed at the varied processes they use to plan worship services. Anyone who does it very often understands this is a process that is constantly changing, but I thought I would explain how I go about it. Maybe it will spur some ideas in someone else.

I took the Willow Creek model and married it to the leadership systems concept taught by Ministry Advantage. It may seem cumbersome at first glance, but the end result is very nice. It requires lots of advance planning by the coordinator (read: “Worship Minister”) and it in includes a large number of volunteers (read: “unpaid lay ministers”). This is born out of the concept that worship planning is too important to rest in the hands of one person planning it for an entire church body.

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Joyful Worship Pt. 3

I first started this Joyful Worship series in early 2007 when I was working for the Golf Course Rd Church in Midland. Broadway has asked me to pick it back up again. This article ran in this past Sunday’s church bulletin. I hope you enjoy…

David's Fallen TentFor many years, I kept skimming over a passage in Acts that I didn’t understand. I’m sure you know what I mean. You see something that doesn’t quite make sense, so you keep reading. I was sitting in a class at a retreat a few years ago and found myself listening to a very learned man talking about the very scripture I had so often dismissed. It comes from Acts 15 where James stood up to address the crowd and quoted the prophet Amos.

“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it.”

It was the “David’s fallen tent” reference that had eluded me. I had been raised hearing that David was known as the “man after God’s own heart.” He was the author of many of the Psalms and a man of great compassion. He was also an adulterer and murderer. I honestly had trouble reconciling those two profiles. Was it truly possible to be such a passionate follower of the Lord, called by His name and still make such mistakes?

I believe it was David’s tent that made the difference.

As we know from the book of 1 Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant went on tour throughout the land of the Philistines in 1088 B.C. God proceeded to make them very sorry that they had acquired it and it was sent back to the Israelites within a short period of time. The Ark made it to the border and stayed in the house of Abinadab in Kiriath-jearim for 92 years. At that point, 2 Chronicles 1:4 tells us that David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem “for he had pitched a tent for it.”

This is interesting for two reasons. First, the Tabernacle of Moses was still in existence at the time. It was sitting in Gibeon, waiting for the return of the Ark. Gibeon was only 6 miles from Jerusalem, but that was apparently 6 miles too far for David.

Secondly, it appears that David had unfettered access to the Ark. The bible speaks of David wearing an ephod, or priestly garments, as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem and set up in the tent he had prepared.

David hired musicians to sing and worship 24-hours a day at the new Tabernacle. At any point, David could step out of his palace, into his courtyard, and enter the presence of the Lord Most High. He was surrounded by the praise of the people, which was centered on God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was David and God. No priest to go between them. No special day once a year to enter the Holy of Holies.

David lived in an intimate atmosphere of worship… and he did so for the next 40 years until his death.

And what does that mean for us? James tells us that David’s fallen tent has been restored. You and I live in the full presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No priest must go between us. Christ Jesus is our High Priest. There is no special day that we must reserve for worship. Our life is our worship.

Worship is more than singing a few songs in a service. It’s more than snacking on a morsel of cracker, sipping some juice and slipping out the back door. Worship is life. Life is worship.

We live inside the resurrected tent of David. The presence of God is always before us.

Lord, give us an awareness of Your presence. May all that we do reflect Your glory and bring praise and honor to Your Holy Name. May our worship be truly joyful.

Training A Capella Worship Leaders

I had an interesting conversation over lunch today. A dear friend of mine was lamenting the fact that a good education for an a capella worship leader is generally hard to come by. For generations, learning to lead worship in an a capella church consisted of Wednesday night services when the youth had a chance to lead singing. We’d throw some Jr High boy up there, let him start a song in the wrong key, and the regular song leader (sitting on the front row) would join in (in the correct key). Then it was off to the races.

There are a few organizations who spent summer sessions teaching young men how to lead, and I believe some of those are still out there. I would hazard a guess that they are much less attended than they used to be.Things have changed a bit (understatement).

A large number of churches have not changed at all. They still proceed with worship as they always have, and more power to them. I suspect that, as the years go by, it’s getting harder and harder to find new song leaders. It’s nice to see motivators like Keith Lancaster pouring themselves into training leaders (see his Worship Leader Institute).

Many a capella churches are moving to the “team” concept. I say “moving” as if this were a new concept, which it is not. Many churches have being doing this for years, but more and more are heading that way. This may seem like a foreign concept to those of you reading this that are not from an a capella church. Believe me, it’s a big step from a solitary man leading singing to a worship leader with an 8-10 person team.

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Project #2 and WFX

One good use of blogs, I suppose, is to let people know when you’ve finished a project. Or maybe it’s just a way to celebrate finishing one even if no one else cares. Either way, project #2 is done.

Or at least as done as a website ever gets. They are continually under construction. But this one’s pretty done. Medium well, at least. The new Moyers Sound Solutions site is the subject of my salient soliloquy. You can see it here in all it’s glory.

For anyone else traveling next week, I will be at WFX, the Worship Facilities Conference and Expo, in Houston. Moyers Sound has a booth there and I’ll be hanging out talking with church tech people. If you’re in Houston and would like to attend the Expo free of charge, let me know and I can send you a link that will get you through the gates.

I guess I took a step this past weekend. Burke Brack was leading worship at GCR and they were short on tenors. He asked if I’d sing with the team. I haven’t been on that stage in, well let’s see… almost 15 months. I did not want to go up there because I knew my heart would not be right. I still had some troubles, but overall it went well.

Afterwards, Marc Kondrup (my former assistant and now he pretty much runs the show) asked me if I was interested in regular rotation on one of the teams. My reply? “One step at a time, dear Savior.”

Dust

Over the past few days, I’ve found myself in a cycle of depression, anger and confusion. I am told this is normal in my circumstance (loosing my job, for those of you who have not read down further). I’ve caught myself blaming God, then feeling guilty for thinking those thoughts, then blaming myself, then feeling stupid.

Then I’m usually hungry. Some things never change.

I ran across two things in the past few hours that helped. The first is a song by an artist/producer named Joe Beck. It may not mean much to you, but it helped set my perspective a little clearer. Here’s a verse and a chorus:

You magnify my helplessness
That I might see Your faithfulness
I stand in awe because of who You are
Creator of my heart, O God

The Mystery of You in words
When Heaven’s mercy kissed the earth
The price completely paid by You alone
I fall before Your throne and I cry

I am dust
I am frail
I am weak
I fail
You are God
You are King
Over all the universe You reign
And I stand amazed that You could truly love
This dust

Then this morning I picked up a book that I was reading and had set aside for a while, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. I vaguely remembered that where I left off had seemed something that I wasn’t catching. The importance of it had not settled into me. So I opened up the dog-eared page and looked at the title of the section where I had quit reading.

The Dark Night of the Soul.

It seemed a little more appropriate now. I quote Foster:

What does the dark night of the soul involve? We may have a sense of dryness, aloneness, even lostness. Any overdependence on the emotional life is stripped away… The dark night is one of the ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that He may work an inner transformation on the soul… When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often a temptation to seek release from it and to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness… Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.”

And so I quietly wait. I am dust.