Tuesday, January 23, 2024


 One of my pastors asked me to contribute a brief thought about how the music ministry--and choir in particular--contribute to the congregation's sense of belonging together. Here, somewhat expanded, is what I wrote:

 Reaching back to David's organization of the music establishment of the temple, we see that biblical worship carries the responsibility of a dual role in the worship of God's people. Some time take a look at 1 Chronicles 25 and see how thoughtful and thorough David's plan was. (There is a lot to unpack here, and I just may do that over a short series on this chapter.) For now, note that the musicians were of the priestly tribe of Levi. They prophesied with instruments and singing, offering thanksgiving and praise.

Musicians are ministers of the Word, functioning as priests--addressing God on behalf of the people, and speaking the words of God to the people. Music with words accomplish this dual function in relatively apparent ways: Do the words express the praise, prayer, longing (etc.) of God's people? Do the lyrics communicate biblical words and truths to the people? (If or when texts do neither, there is a problem!) In this way, sung music is meant to draw the congregation together--in community, and in our unity in Christ.
But we should note that, according to Paul the Apostle, this role for music is not limited to musicians! In Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, music is a "one another" ministry. Paul says that when God's people are together they express the fullness of the Spirit "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5); that the Word of Christ dwells richly in them as they "speak in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Col. 3). Again, lots to unpack here, and you may count on me spending time to do just that! Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are Spirit-filled ministry of teaching and admonishing--one vibrant and vital way that the priesthood of believers is exercised. Whether that is through a choir (as in the temple) or in small groups (as in Paul's churches). 
Sung music is meant to draw the congregation together, in community, in the Spirit, in the richness of the Word of Christ. We do this for each other when we sing hymns. The choir does this on our behalf in a kind of priestly role--a priest among priests--speaking both to God and for God.

Instrumental music provides opportunity for the gathered community to reflect on what has preceded it, to prepare for what follows, to pray, etc. In this regard I think of the Selah in the Psalms. Its meaning isn't entirely clear, but among the options proposed by scholars is that Selah is meant to indicate a time for reflection, possibly (likely?) with instruments playing. It might signal a repeat of what precedes the Selah. I like to think Selah is a time to stop and reflect; and this is what our instrumental musicians provide in our services. How does that contribute to our belonging together? Isn't it a "private" or individual moment? Without intentionality, yes, it is. But  if we each use the instrumental moments to reflect, prepare, pray, etc., then those moments are times when we each engage meaningfully--we become participants in the offering of music. 

 With these brief thoughts I want to encourage church musicians--vocal and instrumental--and the congregation alike. What we do is compatible, symbiotic, and priestly. The ministry of music is a ministry of the Word, meant for the building up of the Body of Christ, in unity.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

New Year . . . new me?

 2024 begins with me in a surprising turn. Eleven years after leaving a full-time pastoral music position--eleven years of study and collegiate teaching--I have begun a part-time position as director of music at New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL. (Are there any other Napervilles out there?) 

Having let this site languish . . . after a few fits and starts (more fits than starts) . . . now I am back in this great work on a weekly basis. Oh, this blog is not "the great work," I mean this new position. I hope to turn here to reflect, work out, and communicate about matters related to my vocation. This will also be where I maintain a "newsletter" for the musicians of New Covenant. So if it gets a bit local (hopefully not parochial), you've been warned.

2023 was not a great year for me and my family. So when I was first approached about this position it was easy to decline the necessary conversations. But at some point late in the fall it seemed wrong to keep my distance. Then (as so often in my experience) I found my interest, my eagerness, and my heart drawn in. New Covenant were kind to let me put off my start date until after Christmas--it was important that my family have an unencumbered season.

Now here I am again, partnering with preachers, scheduling musicians, directing a choir, and standing in front of a congregation who loves to sing. My decade in the university setting was deeply satisfying at many levels, and never dull. But yes, this feels like home.

If you are new to Te decet hymnus, follow the link from the panel on the right to find what the name means and why I have chosen it.

Sing on,

Sunday, January 7, 2024


I wrote this almost a year ago, got busy (and forgetful) and just realized I never published it!

Now as I plan to re-boot this page, upon assuming new worship planning duties  . . .  

Some time ago, a young couple, students in the Wheaton Grad School Church History program, sang in the College Church Choir. They came to Wheaton from a Christian college in another state, from a particular tradition. When I asked them about their interests in church history, they told me that the one church history course taught at their college began with 1940. Think of that. (And if you are a history of American church history you can pretty much guess the denominational background of said college.)

I am enjoying the history component of the worship course I am currently teaching. There is so much to know, and so much to learn from our ancestors in faith. It is the temptation of every generation to think of ourselves as the apex of development. It is a particularly modern temptation to discard the practices (and wisdom, perhaps) of the past--even the recent past. [See C. S. Lewis, "On Reading Old Books" for a bracing reflection on this.]

As protestant evangelicals, we often leap from the New Testament to Martin Luther (or 1940 USA). We may have read the Church Fathers and jumped from the 4th century to the Reformation (or the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the early 20th century). But it seems to me that we err if we do not take our time with the Middle Ages, the Eastern and Roman churches, and note the many reform initiatives, as well as the details about which we continue to be suspicious or dismissive. To see how the church handled change and reform--and how she also failed to change and reform--in many times and places, helps us see how at risk our own assumptions may be.

Worship practices that recognize the big historic picture of the public expression of our faith might just avoid some of the blinders and idols of our day. May those of us who plan, lead, and teach worship be committed to semper reformanda, "always reforming," with an eye to the wisdom and lessons of our past.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022


 The worship class met last week--online only, because my wrist is broken and I was still getting used to this cast. But we will be online each session anyway, as half the students are remote. I think, in retrospect, (and because I generally try to make the best of things) that this was useful because we could put the whole class in breakout rooms for introductions. 

Among the things I love about Trinity International University is that the I in TIU is really a thing. At the College, and even more so at the Divinity School (TEDS), we have a global community of students. Easily 25% of the students in my worship course are not native English speakers; of those we have several trilingual students. A fair number are experienced in ministry and are enrolled in the MDiv program to increase their effectiveness and strengthen their credentials. 

So I look forward to learning every bit as much as to teaching.

We do not meet today, the Martin Luther King holiday. I will write some thoughts about that later. For now I am limiting my one-handed typing time while my bones heal.


Friday, January 7, 2022

The Pastor's Bookshelf redux

 Martin Luther said that he did not approve someone for ministry who did not know and appreciate music. (I'll get around to that quotation more accurately and specifically later.) To which I would add: I can't imagine an effective pastoral minister who is not an avid reader. While I will use the image of the bookshelf here, I am less concerned that someone hold and read a physical printed artifact than that they read--deeply and widely. 

I'm thinking about that as I prepare to teach, for the first time, a seminary course, "Christian Worship and Pastoral Practice." I was invited to teach the course by the retiring professor who also gave me his notes, syllabus, and online resources. (Pro tip: when teaching an existing course for the first time, find and use the best syllabus and materials that someone else has developed. Then, after you've gone through the course once, make it your own.) The reading list and other recommendations were appropriate to the breadth of the course, and represent some of the best authors and practitioners. 

Naturally, though, I had some ideas of my own. So it was an interesting and fun challenge to make this part of the syllabus mine, without reinventing the whole list. (For those who may want to peruse it, see the note at the end of this post.) One significant change I made was to limit the required text to a single item, Constance Cherry's The Worship Architect. There is a LOT of other required reading, but students will choose a single title from each of five categories; the idea is that students reading in the same theme, from different authors, will have richer classroom discussions. 

In addition to the five categories, the syllabus lists titles that I will reference in class, and other resources under the headings of "worship" and "pastoral ministry." I hope that students will find this list useful as they consider how to stock their own ministry bookshelves. I hope students will read broadly and deeply in this class, and continue to do so in ministry, reading beyond what they find in Twitter, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube. All of which they (and I) will continue to benefit from.

 Along that line, I have just been introduced to a reading challenge for 2022**. I won't commit to all of the categories in this year, but it's a great constellation of areas in which an evangelical pastor ought to be reading. I do fault it for a paucity of fiction, and the complete absence of poetry--though some of the listed categories can accommodate those genres. And despite that criticism, I will keep this checklist in my "q.v." folder.

I have written on the "bookshelf" before. You can find those at THIS query. 

Read on!

AND FOR THOSE WHO DARE, if you'd like to see the reading portion of my syllabus for "Christian Worship and Pastoral Practice" leave your name and email in Comments. Your comment and email will not be published.

** upon reading more deeply in the group/site from which this commendable list comes, I want to distance myself from some of the more conservative elements of the organization. I am rightly challenged to rigorous reading, but do not embrace some (many?) of the views expressed throughout the website.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Back in (a different) saddle again

 Whatever 2022 brings, it looks like starting off well. 

I left my position at College Church in Wheaton (October 2012) to finish a MA in Historical Theology, with plans to pursue a ThD and/concurrent with a return to church music and worship ministry. As they say (inaccurately quoted here), "we make our plans, and God laughs." God may laugh, but he does not abandon us. And in my particular case, God kept me active in my vocation . . . but without a church gig to in which to exercise it.

So I have rather enjoyed eight years of full-time teaching (following one year as an adjunct) at Trinity College in Trinity International University. There I have taught courses related to music history (my first academic discipline) and worship music (my experience and first love). That all began to wrap up when TIU chose to close the music department effective May 2021. (No grumbling here, but this is still a very sore issue, and I'm happy to talk about it offline :~)

May 2021 began what I thought would be semi-retirement. I planned to teach (adjunct) the music history sequence--ending at Trinity College the way I began! nice, that symmetry--and directing the Trinity Choir. Then a seminary prof (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, TEDS) called and asked if I would teach the MDiv course in worship and pastoral ministry. Umm, yes please! So that was going to be my last year of teaching. And it seemed pretty good to me.

In August I received a call from the TEDS dean, inviting me to take a one-year, full-time position. This would include what I had already signed on for, plus TEDS director of chapel, and assist the Assistant Dean for undergraduate Bible and ministry students. Will this be my final year of teaching? Of teaching full-time? Of exercising my calling in a public manner? God knows, and I'm content to have him laugh at my ideas.

So anyway, teaching the seminary course, Christian Worship and Pastoral Practice, gives me a chance to again reflect upon and write along the topic for which this blog was established. Here we go . . . again!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

So, what are you reading these days?

As I enter my seventh year teaching full time (seven? how is that possible?) I am  returning again to the "music and worship" part of the cycle. My role at Trinity International University is a niche that suits me well -- and I hope the students and College, too -- with an academic background in music history and historical theology plus three decades of full-time pastoral music ministry. I teach a three-semester sequence in music history, and a two-semester sequence of core courses for church music and the College's new BA in Worship. This is my "worship year."

My current summer reading stack is about six books deep (all in progress) with a few others in line. I don't think I'm going to get through them all by the start of the semester. Books in both stacks fall into two categories:
* Books that are new, or at least new to me.
* Books that I started by didn't finish, or that I bought and didn't start.

Books find their way to my list by various routes: reviews in publications, publisher catalogs, recommendations or citations, and random free copies. I guess I am not a systematic reader-scholar . . . this may (almost certainly does) explain why I do not have a doctorate!

So, what is in my current stack?

Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime

Evelyn Underhill, Worship 

Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical worship from the Garden to the new creation 

Greg Scheer, Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders

Gerardo Marti, Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation 

Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling language for faithful ministry 

Still to be cracked before the fall semester:

Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrind, and Life--a Systematic Theology 

George Ellis ande William H. Schubert, eds., Reflections from the Heart of Educational Inquiry 

Kathleen S. Smith, Stilling the Storm: Worship and Congregational Leadership in Difficult Times 

These lists do not include a tall stack of books that I need to keep fresh as I prepare for the year ahead--textbooks I have used and that I am re-evaluating, recommended reading lists, supplemental material for my own presentations and to recommend to students, and so on.

As I read, I often consider the privileges I had serving as a worship pastor. In earlier posts I have reflected on my bookshelves. These days I ask myself, "will my students acquire books, develop a core working library of wisdom, inspiration, and practical ideas? Or will they rely on the quick access of the internet--blogs, YouTube, online courses, eBooks--as admittedly I also find myself doing? What should my approach be to the future pastoral musician in regard to lifelong learning, exploring the past as well as living in the present?  Among the students I have worked with over the past few years, a surprising (and, to me, encouraging) number still say they prefer to hold and read a physical book; there are those who purposely are building up their ministry library. At the same time, they live in the digital world--they hold dual passports to learning.

I probably don't have many years of full-time teaching in my future. While I'm at it, I continue to enjoy the books I have (read, to be finished, and to be started), look for more books to read, and pray I will be a good steward of the reading I am privileged to engage.