Sunday, February 26, 2006

Live Audio Basics

So you've just invested in a new PA system, and now you're trying to figure out how to run it? Check out Down 2 Earth's DVD training course on "Live Audio Basics." As it's name implies, this three-hour course covers the basics -- and in the process, it gives some good tips on how to avoid common mistakes, and does so in a lively enough way that it captured (and held) the attention of the high school students who run our church's PA system.

Yes, at $70 it is a little pricey. And I wish that talked more about the ways you can tie in "auxilary" systems (such as tape decks and CD players). But if you're looking for a place to start, this is the place to do it.

Follow the money

Big article in the Washington Post about money problems in the Orthodox Church of America -- donors say it wasted millions to in paying off the credit-card debts of its leaders. (There are even charges that some donations went to pay blackmail!)

I've always said that, if someone really wanted to reform the church, they'd start something like the Journal of Adventist Church Finances, and provide accurate information on where they money goes. Wouldn't you like to know, for instance, which Conference spends the least on overhead . . . and which spends the most?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The children of Jubal

Rock-and-roll is over 50-years old. Christian Contemporary is at least forty. And even Rap has been around for thirty-years.

So why are we still fighting about music in church?
Because our taste in music is pretty well set by the age of 18. And because the Adventist health message enables us to stick around even longer to fight about it.

That sounds rather cynical.
Music is important. So is worship. But even after 50-years, most of our discussions about music boil down to “I like this. I don’t like that. And I know God feels the same way I do.”

So what would you add to the discussion?
Two points: one is that God can use just about any kind of music. The second is that the devil can use just about any kind of music.

But how could God speak through . . .
The Blues? I can’t think of any music that is more rooted in misery, despair, and sin than what Mahalia Jackson used to call “the devil’s music.” But when Thomas Dorsey wrote “Precious Lord,” the Blues bowed down in worship.

But surely some kinds of music are just more . . .
Elevating? Back in the 20th-century, remember, nobody did more to promote good “Classical” music than Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

So you’re in favor of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM)?
I actually prefer Pink Martini. (Hey – I’m 48-years-old; what do you expect?) But my daughters listen to CCM, and that’s fine with me.

Would you play it in church?
In my community, I would be better-off going with a “Country & Western” church service. As it is, our church has four Praise Teams. Two are traditional. Two are “contemporary” – though you’ll notice the quotation marks. We’re not talking Reliant K, or even the Newsboys here; more like Peter, Paul, and Mary.

No, it comes down to one of my biggest complaints about CCM: the stuff is actually more difficult to perform than a “traditional” worship service. You need more musicians. They’re playing more songs. They’re using more electronics, putting more demands on the PA system, and illustrating it all with handy-dandy PowerPoint presentations that always manage to freeze up halfway through the song service.

Practice, practice, practice.
Yeah, and who has the time? Then too, a lot of CCM works better in concert than it does in a worship service. People listen, but they don’t sing along.

Why is that?
Some of it is just hard to sing along with. Then too, you have to work the volume a little harder with CCM than a traditional service – and that means you need a good PA system operator. Too loud, and people just shut up to listen. Too soft, and people lose the beat.

I wondered how long it would be before you brought up “the beat.”
All music has a beat – and if you’re leading a song service, then you need to set the beat. If you have a dozen people, you can do it with an acoustic guitar. If you have 75 or less, you can do it with a piano. More than that, and you need a conductor, an organ, or drums.

Drums in church?
Been there. Done that. And the good news is that a good drummer can add life to any song service – traditional or contemporary.

The bad news.
The bad news is there aren’t many good drummers out there. And since the drums will be the loudest instrument playing, that means your song service will soon take on a dreadful sameness. If the song’s in ¾ time, for instance, it will sound like this: “BOOM-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-BOOM.” And if it’s in 4/4 time, it will sound like this: “BOOM-cha-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-BOOM-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-cha.”

So what’s your advice?

  1. Use the musicians you have as much as you can in whatever format they feel comfortable using.
  2. If you switch to a CCM worship service, then get ready to practice a lot. (This includes the person who runs your PA system . . . and yes, you will need to upgrade your PA system as well.)
  3. Use kids as much as possible. It's good for them; then too, most of your Seniors will be so happy to see them in church that they won't care what kind of music the kids are playing.
  4. Pray a lot. Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Too soon old, too late smart

William Willimon notes that it takes three or four years for a new pastor to make the mental transition from attending school to leading a church.

Myself, I think he’s over-optimistic . . . but thinking about his statement, I came up with the following list of the ways my time at school was different than my subsequent life in the ministry.

1. In school, I knew I was working hard if I stayed up late (i.e. “I was up till 2 AM working on that paper!”) In the ministry, people judge how hard I’m working by how early I get up in the morning. (In fact, I’ve had several church members who’ve made it a point to find out!)

2. In school, I knew what the questions were, I knew those questions had answers, and I eventually found out what those answers might be. In the ministry, none of this is always true.

3. In school, I was required to answer every question I was asked. As a pastor, I’m usually better off if I answer with another question – or even just shut up and listen.

4. In school, all things eventually come to an end – the papers are completed, the exams finished, the grades handed in for the semester. In the ministry, there’s always a sequel.

5. In school, the highest values are truth, creativity, and self-expression. In the ministry, the highest values are loyalty, reliability, and community.

One more thing – in school I learned Greek and Hebrew. While I’m glad I did, I’m beginning to suspect I might have been better off learning Spanish.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Why churches burn

Arsonists torch an average of 15-20 churches every week. Click on the title of this post for a good article in The Christian Science Monitor on what's behind this statistic. The chief culprits? Burglars who are covering their tracks. But yes, we do get hit by the occasional knothead with a grudge.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Adult Sabbath School lessons

Need help teaching this quarter's Sabbath School lesson for adults? This link takes you to a series of "relational" studies that I'm writing for my Sabbath School teachers -- a new lesson gets posted every Thursday PM.

The Trouble with Tough Love

So you have a teen in your church who is out of control, and the parents are asking you if they should look into one of those "tough love" programs -- the kind of program that takes kids out in the woods, takes away their priveleges, and gives them mega-doses of structure and control.

Well . . . maybe. But as this article warns in the Washington Post, some of those programs may do more harm than good.