Posted August 31st, 2011 by admin with 1 Comment
I remember when someone gave me “Hope Anthology Volume One” back in ’02, & to some people’s chagrin, I would hazard a guess that I was one of the first 2 or 3 people in the world to lead “How He Loves” corporately, even though – I admit – I wasn’t sure how people would respond when I did it.
I love good songwriting – a song that touches me & inspires me is like nothing else on earth, & John Mark is up there with my favorite Christian creatives: Gungor, Jonathan David Helser, Burlap to Cashmere, & Over the Rhine.
So I’m excited that John Mark is releasing samples of new songs on YouTube, like this one:
I admit it: I probably won’t be doing this one at church, but at the same time I dare not refuse to call it worship. Some of the most powerful “worship” songs I’ve ever heard – and honestly, some of those I’ve written – are more geared for personal time with Jesus than for the church gathered, & that’s okay.
So, there are times when I write a song that I think couldn’t POSSIBLY be corporate, then I share it as a special, & others begin to ask for chord charts & begin to use it corporately!
“Joy in the Morning” is the song from which the title of our next CD – MORNING WILL COME – originates. It sorta fell out of me one day, three times as long as it is now, & was edited down into a somewhat manageable song by my wife’s outspoken – but very helpful – criticism. To my surprise, the response – particularly in “charismatic churches” – has been very encouraging, & a few churches/gatherings are already using the song.
Here’s a recent recording of the song (sadly, my wife had laryngitis, so she was unable to sing, but our drummer’s wife & my sister-n-law carried the harmonies quite nicely)…
Posted August 30th, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
This past weekend my wife & I guest-led worship at the Greenville campus of Seacoast Church, a multi-campus church based out of Charleston. It was a particularly special weekend because one of my band members was an old friend from Athens, Kevin Heuer, the former drummer of one of my all-time favorite bands, Vigilantes of Love.
The D.N.A. of Seacoast is much like our home-church, St. Simons Community Church, except this particular campus served a significantly younger age-range (mostly 28 to 40, I would guess).
Here’s the set for our two services:
SERMON (Greg Surratt via video)
Apart from a few minor false-starts, God appeared to be really moving, particularly during the 2nd service – hands were lifted in praise, & some were even worshiping on their knees.
Overall it was a great Sunday & we enjoyed our many new friends.
Posted August 23rd, 2011 by admin with 1 Comment
I originally posted this blog back in March and it got a lot of attention… now, having given it more thought, I thought I’d “re-post”, but with a few changes, even including a number of quotes from comments on the original.
Many of my “heroes” have said it: Bob Kauflin, Paul Baloche, Greg Scheer – all men I admire and respect – I’ve read their books, listened to their teaching, and listened to and sung their songs. All of them would teach that there is an ideal range or “sweet spot” for worship songs. And I used to believe it – I really did. In fact, I still use their suggestions as a guide, to a great degree, but I’m just not always convinced it can be applied universally, and here’s why:
Example 1.) I have lead worship for middle-school and high-school students more than anything else. I’ve found that, especially with the middle school youth, if I re-key a Tomlin song down from Tomlin-range, they – even the guys – usually mumble rather than sing. I once did an experiment using a local Christian School that I lead Chapel worship for, simply using the song “Our God” by Chris Tomlin and friends – which was already a very familiar song. Now, at church on Sunday we usually sing “Our God” in G, but when I led their current favorite song in this “adult key” for this group of middle-schoolers: near silence. You would’ve thought I’d asked them to recite a section of the constitution: a low, imprecise rumble and scattered murmurs throughout the room. The following week, I sang it in A, and the level of participation was significantly greater. A few weeks after that, I sang it in Tomlin key – B – and the room was a literal ROAR. The “right key/range” simply didn’t work for them.
Example 2.) Conferences. I think I could end right there – you probably know what I mean. Sure, we could say, “When you get that many worship leaders together – they’re mostly singers anyway – they can handle the higher keys!” That’s not what I’m talking about. Go to ANY conference, retreat, or special event – not just worship conferences. No one cares what keys the songs are in – in fact, the higher, the better (within reason, of course): the higher the key, the harder you need to push to hit the note, and that striving – giving out that emotional energy – effects us on many levels. And, often, that’s a good thing. I rarely hear people complaining about the range of a song when people are genuinely excited about Jesus and overflowing with a passion to worship Him corporately – I just hear a lot of really excited – and hoarse – people talking about how powerful the worship times have been and how good God is!
Example 3.) I have a high vocal range. Most of Tomlin’s original keys are not at all a strain to me – in fact, they’re quite comfortable. As a worship leader, do I not only have a responsibility to – yes, sing the song within a range that the congregation can potentially reach as well – but also to lead a song as strongly as possible – so I can sing the melody confidently and even – yes – with passion and energy? If I’m mumbling notes and slipping consistently off key aren’t I potentially a distraction and not as effective worship leader as I can be? A personal example: it is a serious struggle for me to sing the verses of “Everlasting God” by Brenton Brown in the key of A with any passion or conviction. I struggle to lead that song in the “Sweet Spot” – it works for me best in B, but I can still pull it off in Bb. And when I lead the song well, others are more likely to join in and follow my lead.
Example 4.) I’ve been to many “worshiping churches” where the worship leaders have done an excellent job of teaching and training their congregations in the area of singing to God, and the keys they sing songs in their seem to be of little to no consequence: they just LOVE TO SING! I mean, I’ve been in environments where the worship leader (a guy) sang “How He Loves” in D! D! You heard that right: D! Even I lost my voice trying to keep up, but the room was a ROAR with passionate singing. Honestly, that’s when I first took note of this issue.
So, I know this will be controversial: I understand the heart behind wanting to key songs so everyone can sing comfortably, but I’m not convinced of it as a hard and fast rule. In fact, there are instances when I wonder if we are keying ourselves down to the lowest common denominator, trying to make worship “easy” and “comfortable”, when that’s not the point – sometimes we NEED to reach – to be called to discomfort in order to offer a “sacrifice of praise.” In fact, experience tells me that we are hard-wired to do so: it alters my experience of God when I give everything to Him in worship – I have a greater sense of both His presence and I even feel His “smile”.
I consider prayerfully how I key each song, and try to consider all of the factors involved – but in my case, the “sweet spot” is only one factor of many.
As my friend Ryan Egan stated, one “Golden Key” is not a key at all, rather it is knowing your community and keeping them in consideration when choosing songs and keys.
Can you think of any other “Golden Keys” to consider when preparing for leading a song corporately?
Posted August 21st, 2011 by admin with 1 Comment
I’m participating again in TheWorshipCommunity.com’s Sunday Setlists.
Okay, not EXACTLY, however four out of our six core members were on stage – plus one associate member – along with some long-standing SSCC regulars. It was the ideal line-up to introduce our new corporate worship single to our Sunday AM attendees.
WALK IN: “Your Mighty Hands” (Original – Lewis & Dalton)
1. “Our God” – Redman, Tomlin, Reeves, et al.
2. “Everlasting God” – Brenton Brown
3. “Song of Moses” – Unhindered & Aaron Keyes
4. “Your Name” – Paul Baloche
We start church about 5 till with – usually – an upbeat, fun song – sometimes a secular cover, sometimes something stylistically we wouldn’t do corporately, & sometimes – like this morning – we use that time as an opportunity to introduce something new & upbeat. Apart from a false-start at the 9 AM (drummer’s earbuds weren’t on yet), both sets went very well, technically, however the 11 AM service was really where it was at. I had such a deep sense of God’s presence that some thought I might have had something bothering me (I was asked as much), however I was unusually “in tune” – very aware of God’s holiness & grace – to a deep sense of what God really wanted for our people. God’s intention is never to leave us comfortable – stagnant – but to push us forward towards Christ-like-ness. I had a sense of that happening in the hearts of many, particularly during the 2nd service.
As arrangements go, I was excited to have stumbled upon – in my own personal worship time – a simple medley of “Our God” with “Everlasting God”, flowing directly out of the end of the first, into the pre-chorus of the latter. My heart, however, connected most deeply when leading “Song of Moses”, a powerful modern hymn that deserves to be sung in churches everywhere. Lastly, there’s never a wrong time to sing “Your Name” – a beautiful reminder of God’s greatness, and an appropriate way to close an otherwise strong service. Heather owned verse two, as well – she’s really coming into her own as a worship leader.
So, that’s all to say that it was a wonderful Sunday morning. Looking forward to worshiping with my Seacoast friends in South Carolina this coming Sunday!
Posted August 17th, 2011 by admin with 5 Comments
Back in ’02 while on a solo tour in support of Set on Edge’s “A Story to Cling To” I stopped at a tiny little church in some tiny little town in a big field somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. You see, I believe – unashamedly and unswervingly – in the importance of the local church. And I love to get a taste, on occasion, of those various expressions of Jesus outside my culture and comfort zone. On this unique occasion, I accomplished that.
You see, I was saved in a Church of Christ, grew in college via a traditional Wesleyan church, a charismatic United Methodist church, and – on occasion – also took part in services at both Lutheran and Pentecostal churches (sometimes hitting them all in one Sunday). Entered the real world, diving head-first into a L’Abri-affiliated reformed house-church, helped plant a P.C.A. Presbyterian church, while hanging with a non-denominational charismatic church full of hippies on the weekends. After relocating to my current home, I plugged in for a time at a charismatic renewal church, helped lead worship at a contemporary Methodist church, then landed at a Seeker-Aware non-denominational mega-church. I love church.
This particular Sunday in ’02, however, I was exposed to ‘the other side’. To many the above church list seems to be such a contradiction, but part of each of those traditions is in me: I love the seriousness with which Methodists take holiness – I love the HUGE view of God of the Presbyterians – I loved the expectation of the Spirit’s move that I encountered among the Pentecostals/Charismatics – AND I loved the seriousness with which the Church of Christ approached the Bible and salvation. But one common thread has connected every church I’ve ever planted myself in: GRACE. And I don’t mean “we’ll look over it this time” sorta stuff, but radical, wreckless, “you can’t be serious?” type grace! The sort of grace that’s so radical that one might THINK it too lenient. It’s that same sort of grace that – paradoxically – actually transforms lives.
But this Sunday I entered the back of this tiny backwoods church and from the moment I stepped through the door I became a project…
During worship, individuals were sliding over to me, trying to “witness” to me – oblivious to my responses that 1.) yes, I loved Jesus very much, 2.) was not only “saved” but – at that time – a campus minister, and 3.) I was traveling around on tour support a batch of songs I’d written from that deep well of faith. It was no use: my hair was scraggly, I had a nose-ring, and was the only person at church not wearing a suit. I just COULD NOT POSSIBLY be saved. The preacher fire and brimston-ed me with a portrait of hellfire and condemnation that went far beyond – not only the Bible – but which would have make Jonathan Edwards blush!
I tried so hard to stand under the pressure – I tried to speak kindly in response to the constant barrage of Chick-Tract fodder – but one person would still be firing at me, when the next would join in. I left church that day exhausted. You see, guilt doesn’t motivate me – grace does.
Paul seems to say in the Word that grace – properly understood – brings up some frightening questions… true, Biblical grace is so radical that one might think it a license to sin. It’s not, but if the question doesn’t at least arise, our picture and practice of grace is not graceful enough. True grace, lived out, makes many serious believers ask, “Yes, but…” sort of questions… it can’t be escaped, if someone has any sense of Biblical holiness. Yet, that’s the sort of grace that changes people.
Sure, there is a time for the law – Jesus throws the law around often, usually at the people who think they’re beyond it – the self-righteous – the religious, but observe Jesus dealing with the sinner. Radical – even uncomfortable – grace.
There is no life that ultimately flows from guilt and manipulation: let’s try a little (or rather, an uncomfortable LOT) of grace.
So be it.