Last week I had the privilege of speaking and leading worship at the Calvin Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Why I chose to go to Michigan in January is a question I still haven’t answered.
On Thursday, I taught an all-day seminar called Musical Arranging for God’s Glory. I shared thoughts not only on ways we can arrange music, but suggested three biblical reasons behind the choices we make: to serve the word of Christ, to serve the context, and to serve the congregation. Hosting me that day was a gentleman named Greg Scheer, whose book, The Art of Worship: A Musician’s Guide to Leading Modern Worship has recently been published by Baker. I had started reading Greg’s book a few weeks earlier, and was delighted I was going to meet him. I wanted to personally thank him for writing what I think is one of the best practical guides for those who lead congregational worship with a band. Here’s my review.
Greg states in the Introduction that he doesn’t want to convince traditional musicians to defect into the contemporary camp. He’s not out to “convert” but to serve. He wants to “enable church musicians of all kinds to better understand one of the dominant musical languages of modern worship, to be thoroughly equipped to lead that style, and to foster communication among the musicians of the church of Jesus Christ” (p. 12). He has done just that, and done it extremely well.
Greg never wastes the reader’s time. Every paragraph is purposeful, helpful, and based on years of experience. He also recommends numerous resources throughout. The first chapter addresses reasons why a church might decide to use a more contemporary music style and how to go about it. It’s filled with pastoral wisdom. Chapter 2, “Assembling the Team,” contains the most comprehensive and helpful material I’ve seen on conducting music auditions, or interviews. The third chapter, “Building Repertoire,” provides many helpful categories for evaluating songs, and also highlights the different strengths of hymns and contemporary worship songs.
In Chapter 4, “Planning Worship,” he shares principles that can be applied in liturgical, thematic, or free-flowing worship settings. Again, he offers many practical, concise ways to think about a service. His section on modulations will help anyone who has wondered how to change keys skillfully. Chapter 5, “Making Music,” is the longest chapter, and rightly so. He takes time to spell out the purpose and usefulness of every instrument in the modern worship band, starting with the vocals, and moving on to the rhythm section and various solo and orchestral instruments. He makes it clear that the instruments should support the sound of the congregation, but encourages using them to the fullest for that purpose. Any church music team that suffers from muddiness, overplaying, or poor arranging would benefit from careful study and application of this chapter. He also shares specific thoughts with sound engineers on how to make individual instruments sound best in a band context.
Chapter 6, “Timeless Hymns in a Contemporary Context,” briefly addresses the how and why of updating hymns. While communicating a deep respect for two thousand years of hymnody, Greg also realizes that, “if we care about the great hymns of our faith, we need to find ways of building bridges between old hymns and new worship contexts” (p. 182). He encourages a thorough knowledge of a hymn’s lyric, melody, harmony, and purpose before changing it, and offers practical ideas on how to do so.
The book finishes out with two chapters on “Rehearsing and Leading” and “Looking to the Future.” Both are filled with specific, clear, practical counsel. In addition to Spirit-led planning, he also encourages an ongoing dependence on God’s Spirit during the meeting. “This may mean repeating a song more times than you had anticipated, changing your funky arrangement of a song into a slow ballad, or even choosing a different song on the spot” (p. 210). Wise counsel. I found his thoughts on rehearsals very thorough, but wished his section on song leading was filled out and more theologically driven.
I had just a few quibbles with the book. Greg states that “in a very real way, music mediates the worshiper’s experience of God in the Praise & Worship context” (p. 212). I’m uncomfortable referring to anything other than Jesus as a mediator between us and God, and it seems what we often think is an experience of God is actually an experience of music. I would also have appreciated a greater emphasis on theological foundations, the Gospel, and heart issues. But then it would have been a much longer book.
In any case, I highly recommend The Art of Worship for any pastor or corporate worship leader who currently uses or is thinking of using contemporary music in their service. This book should be around for a long time.