I've had the priveledge of getting my hands on a real copy of Casting Crowns' newest CD, "The Alter And The Door" a few weeks before it's released to the public. The following is my personal review, track by track. The only bummer with these pre-release CDs is they often are not complete versions of the final cut...this one's missing the last two tracks that will be on the final CD.
"What This World Needs" - The first track is perhaps the best IMO. It starts the CD off well, and made me think for at least 4:41 that C2's sound had evolved since their last release. This song offers a very modern sound with a cool digital loop, driving kick/snare and bass line and some heavy guitar effects (think Hillsong United or Chris Tomlin's "Let God Arise"). This first song does let you know right off the bat that the one thing that hasn't changed about C2 is their hard-hitting message to and about the church. Good stuff...
"Every Man" - Track two is much more "traditional" C2...piano driven, male/female harmonies, and again, those driven lyrics. This might be the first big radio hit from this CD. Good song and something to keep on the radar to use in church one day. Listen to the nice bass licks in the last 40 seconds of this one.
"Slow Fade" - Perhaps the most biting song of this project...taking direct aim at the moral failures of Christian leaders. Another more modern sounding song with a driving feel with the acoustic guitar. A great song to use when talking about character/moral discipline.
"East To West" - (The first single released on iTunes right now) A solid song about security in our faith and release of guilt and acceptance of forgivness (Think Audio A's "Ocean Floor").
"The World Is Alive" - A song about the Word coming alive in our lives. The first song in 6/8 time, which is always a nice change...it works well with the melody of the chorus especially.
"The Alter And The Door" - This song, unfortunately (and this is just MHO), is the beginning of the end for this CD. This track, and just about every other track 'til the end loses the modern alt rock sound for a more soft rock/country sound. The lyrics are still good, but the sound of the second half of this CD is radically different than the first half. The only thing I really like about this song, musically, is the second verse...they should have had the girl sing this entire song.
"Somewhere In The MIddle" - Great lyrics, good melody hook in the chorus. Vintage C2 with the piano/violins.
"I Know You're There" - Glad to hear the ladies get a song of their own...their voices are too good to be kept so much in the BGV's. Although, lyrically, this song seems to be more of a "filler" than any of the others...one of two songs not written by C2.
"Prayer For A Friend" - Written by Mark when he was about 15. While the lyrics are not nearly as polished, and the music/melody show their age, it's cool to see that Mark was even writing such honest lyrics at that age. The simplest song, musically, of the CD with just an acoustic guitar, violin/cello and pad.
"All Because Of Jesus" - The second song on the CD not written by C2...penned by Steve Fee Maybe the only song written and meant for congregational worship. A mix of the modern and country sounds found on this album.
Hidden Track - There's a "hidden track" at the end of the CD, I believe titled "White Dove". It's maybe the oddest hidden track I've ever heard...a Korean/English "classical" sounding song... Apparently, this song was performed by the band during its recent goodwill trip to North Korea. Sounds like it belongs on the "Sound of Music" soundtrack...
Bottom line, I am a little dissapointed with this album as a whole. I'm hoping that the last two tracks that I've yet to hear may help to redeem it. Lyrically it's just as good as anything C2's done yet, but the soft rock/country flavor on 4 of the 10 tracks just left me wanting much more, and a few songs seem more like fillers than anything else... But, I'm guessing that this CD will do better than "Lifesong" because it will apeal to a broader musical pallet.
One of the most common and aggravating characteristics of an evangelical church service is the presence of fluff. Fluff is anything that takes up any amount of time in a worship service that is not really necessary to the overall purpose of the church service.
What can you identify (either in your church or another) as fluff?
Do you care about fluff, and if so, what do you do to insure that you minimize the fluff in your church service?
For those who have been keeping up with My Wife, please pray for us now as she's in the hospital again with some breathing problems. Our baby is almost at 24 weeks, which is the earliest that she can survive outside of the womb. Thanks!
The way I see it, there are three distinctive styles of worship service flow:
1) The Stop & Go - every song is it's own separate piece of the worship gathering. Every song has a distinctive beginning and end, with a pause between each song (either dead time, another element of the gathering or some talking/praying/lead-in for the next song). The emphasis tends to be on making each song unique and memorable. You'll see/hear this style at a Bon Jovi or Casting Crowns concert.
2) The Emotional Flow - every song seams to seamlessly flow into the next using extended musical interludes between songs, as if an entire set were just one long song. It's hard to tell where one song begins and another ends. The emphasis tends to be on using individual songs to create one big emotional experience for every set of songs. You'll see/hear this style at a Coldplay or Hillsong United concert.
3) The Anti-Climax - one song leads right into another, building the energy with every song. It's easy to distinguish the individual songs (with solid beginnings and endings), but there is no musical break between...this tends to be a blend of the first two styles. The emphasis tends to be on building a huge wave of energy and emotion with each song in the set. You'll see/hear this style at a Bruce Springsteen concert or...actually, off the top of my head, I can't think of a Christian artist who really utilizes this style well.
There are positives and negatives with each style, and every band needs to determine what their preferred style is going to be based on their own preferences and their own audiences/congregations.
We've determined that our style bounces between #1 and #3 depending on several factors. #1 is definitely the easiest, #2 probably requires the most amount of talent and awareness, and #3 requires the most amount of energy and charisma.
So, what do you think? Can you identify other distinctive styles? Has your band purposely determined your preferred style, or are you still trying to find your way? Let me know.
This Sunday will probably be the last time I'm able to lead worship at my church for a while. That makes me sad. Few things bring me more fulfillment than leading my friends in worship of the True God.
My wife is going to be in Durham for at least a few months (learn more about that story here), and my church has released me to be with her during this time. I'll still be doing as much work as possible away from the church and my normal hands-on ministry, but it definitely won't be the same.
But, I am looking forward to the break from the stress of Sunday mornings and to the opportunity to spend time with Tricia during this time. I'm finding that every moment with her is becoming more precious to me.
I'm also looking forward to giving the people who I serve with the opportunity to step up and carry on without me.
It is said that one of the signs of a good leader is the ability of those he leads to function well and even excel without him/her. I am confident that my people will do well, because I know their abilities and their hearts for God, and I know that our ministry is so much more than me.
Just a friendly heads up. I bought Todd Agnew's Christmas album "Do You See What I See?" last year around this time, hoping to find some good stuff to use at church. HUGE mistake...biggest music purchasing mistake of my life, in fact. I didn't even make it through one full listen. I remember almost throwing up in my mouth.
Agnew's voice makes me want to sit on a holly bush, and the arrangements and music choices were horrible. I literally deleted the entire thing from my computer before I ever listened to it all.
I'm usually not this negative on my blog, but I couldn't live with myself if I sat by and allowed the people I love to make the same mistake I made. I'm sure Todd's a great guy, and we even have used a few of his worship songs in church, but you wouldn't know it from this album.
As I was watching LOTR "The Return Of The King" a few days ago, I was thinking to myself that it would be very cool if Peter Jackson could direct a movie version of "The Hobbit". As I was driving in my car today, thinking about Peter Jackson and the incredible lengths that he took to make the LOTR trilogy, I heard on the radio that indeed, PJ has signed on to direct "The Hobbit" as two movies. Check it out!
For those of you who sit on the edge of your seat every day awaiting my next post (I know there's at least one person out there like this), I'm sorry that I've been less than average with the number of posts the past few weeks. Tricia and I are settling into full-time life here in Durham, and, although I need to make at least one more trip home, it will probably be at least a few months before we are back on the beach again. We've been busy with pregnancy/CF stuff as well as some last minute Christmas shopping, and to be honest, the absence of daily stimulation of being around the church and ministry has left me less than inspired to write much.
Living in a hotel has its upsides...the maid will come every day and clean (which is nice because Tricia can't and I don't want to), and I eat breakfast every day and dinner 4 nights a week in the hotel lobby (which saves money and time on groceries and cooking). But, ultimately, it's not nearly as fun or comfortable as home. We'll be spending Christmas here, but my family is coming up for a few days, so that will be very nice.
Anyway, I hope to get comfortable enough here to get back on track with my posting. I certainly have plenty of time to do so. Thanks for your continued prayers.
I'm a published author! OK...not really, but they did post me over at Worship.com. It's nothing you haven't seen before if you've been reding this blog for a while, but I figured it was a good way to get my feet wet.
I'm basically in charge of everything, although one of my greatest responsibilities is empowering others to be involved and even lead in ministry so that it's all about the ministry and the team and not about me. I organize, create, research, etc. for the band. I lead our practices and worship gatherings. Lot's of other things, but that would take too long to write or read.
2) Do you play an instrument and for how long?
I've been playing the acoustic guitar for about 10 years.
3) How long have you been involved a part of a worship team in general?
I've been involved in consistantly leading worship in a local church setting for about 12 years.
4) How long have you been leading worship?
I consider this and the last question to be the same...
5) What are your strengths and weakness as a leader?
I'm very good at getting people involved in and excited about ministry, working with others, being creative and accomplishing short term projects. I'm very bad at long term projects, anything that has to do with organizing paper-work, music theory and keeping my legs still.
6) How many members in your WT?
We have about 12 in the band(s) (musicians and vocalists), two audio techs and four video techs.
7) Is your church big or small?
That's relative. We're big for our area, but about average on a national scale. We currectly have about 150 members but average over 300 in attendance year-round.
8) What songs are most popular in your church right now?
It's hard to tell. Our people basically love anything we use, and we don't have a local Christian radio station (praise God), so nobody has much of a biased taste. We do a lot of Chris Tomlin, some Lincoln Brewster and Hillsong United and other stuff. We're always looking for new stuff.
9) How do you go about preparing for a service (picking out music, deciding how it will flow, etc.)
I try to keep it pretty simple. We believe that the primary goal of our corporate worship gatherings is to worship God, and we believe that everything we think, say and do can and should be an act of worship, including every element of our Sunday mornings gatherings. We prioritize having a flow in our gatherings (no dead time, easy transitions from one element to the next, no "fluff") and focusing on a main theme/point each week, so everything basically evolves from our priorities.
10) What region are you from?
I was born in VA, US, but have spent most of my life here on the OBX of NC.
11) And if there is any other info you want to share about yourself such as worship style or your idea about worship etc.
Feel free to look around this blog, and you'll figure out what I'm all about.
A new post is up at Worship.com. There is so much I dissagree with in this article that I don't even know where to begin. I spent several minutes writing my thoughts out, but I just can't make them flow in a practical, positive way, so I figured a discussion (not a debate or bashing) would work better. Take a few minutes to read the artical (link posted below) and tell me if you also see anything wrong or if you agree.
So, remember that fun college game from the 90's, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? I found out a few weeks ago that I am officially two degrees of separation from the actor, Kevin Bacon. Let me explain...it's a short one, obviously (the names, other than Kevin Bacon, have been changed).
I have a good friend named George from my grade school days who I still keep in touch with. George has an older brother named Phillip who lives in Wilmington, NC (which has become the Hollywood of the East Coast) and is working his way up in the movie business in some off-camera jobs. Phillip is a few years older than George and I, but I knew him back in the day and have seen him a few times since high school.
George and his girlfriend recently ate lunch with my wife and I. He shared with us that Phillip is working on a movie with the one and only Kevin Bacon. Now, normally I would not take that to mean that I am two degrees...but, George went on to explain that Kevin was required to shave his head on camera in this movie, and this is apparently something that he had not done before and wanted some practice beforehand (I guess you really only get one good chance to get a scene like that right). He asked Phillip if he could practice by shaving Phillip's head, which Phillip readily agreed to (who wouldn't?).
IMO, that makes Phillip and Kevin Bacon intimately related, creating just Two Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon for me, and only three for anyone who reads this blog.
So, help spread the Kevin Bacon love by telling everyone you know to come read this blog. You could become the coolest person at the next college party game night!
And, if you don't believe me, just look for the movie.
> Numbers were low this morning. Or maybe, so many people are sitting at the tables that it seems emptier? Either way, people seemed more engaged than last week, which is good.
> Long day...some of the band got together tonight to play at a youth event at the church. Fun, but it made for a long day for me. I never even made it home this afternoon.
> My new favorite church song is Hillsong United's "Kingdom Come". If you haven't tried this one out at your church, you need to give it a look/listen. So much fun to play and sing.
> Looking forward to going back to Durham and seeing my wife and tomorrow. Left her up there this weekend...her mom went up and stayed with her. She probably won't be back on the beach until after the baby's here.
> I'll probably only be home for a few more weekends, if that, until I'll be spending more of my time with Tricia in Durham. Not looking forward to being away from work and our church family and leading worship with the band, but I am looking forward to the break from the stress of Sundays and being with Tricia.
> Thanks to the people who nearly every week give us care packages and gas money. We love our church family!
> Speaking of our church family, we talked this morning about the importance of belonging to a home church...I can't imagine what our lives would be like right now without ours.
> I'm really getting frustrated with ProPresenter...I don't know if it's just our copy or what, but we seem to have way to many bugs.
> I've been taking a little bashing in a few different places concerning my opinions about "The Golden Compass" and my anti-boycotting. Bring it on!
> My friends over at C3 Church are moving into their new building and will be celebrating their first services there the Sunday before Christmas. I'm really excited for them and about getting to see it in action. It's a lot like our building, only a whole lot bigger.
> Our Youth Pastor (also my uncle) bought a Mac this week. I should seriously be making commission from Apple...I've had a hand in about 6 Mac purchases over the past year.
Here's the graphic for our Christmas Eve Gathering. Didn't spent as much time on this one as normal because it's only going to be used in-house. I'm usually more of a perfectionist when it's something that is going to be displayed outside of our church.
Here's what our announcement loop looks like on Sunday morning. I went ahead and built this in PPT, and saved it as a movie, which I've never done before, so I don't know why the shadow looks so pixilated. But, you'll get the basic idea.
Normally there's a little more flow between graphics, but we're using some Christmas graphics for the season.
Yes, I went and saw This Movie, and yes, I still believe in God.
Seriously, though. I went in with an earnest desire to want to enjoy this movie. I really did. I'm not into boycotting things that I know nothing about (outside of the of reviews I've read from people, most of whom haven't seen the movie either). I'm not into dismissing a movie based on the book it is meant to follow. And, I'm not into telling the world I am a Christ follower by telling them about the things I frown upon.
I really wanted to like this movie, because I knew if I did, I could, with an unbiased opinion address the "Christian" concerns that have been raised. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
The special effects were great. The special effects were really cool. And, the special effects were very entertaining. Beyond the special effects...let's just say I'm glad I had a free ticket and did not pay for this one.
This movie was way too complicated to be only about 113 minutes long. It's really hard to introduce an imaginary world without spending a lot of time explaining the story behind the story...that did not happen here. It jumped right into the plot, and I swear it took me half the movie to figure out what was going on.
The movie was incredibly anti-climactic...I kept waiting for the big payoff. I kept waiting for the big bad guy to get his, or for the hero/heroine to completely save the day. It never happened.
Neither did much character development. The movie could have easily gone another 20 minutes if that time had been spent explaining some of the characters a bit more. I left the theatre knowing just a little more about the main characters than I did going in.
The heroine, a little girl named Lyra, spent half of the movie being kind-hearted and purely heroic, and the other half giving the mean adults evil looks and figuring out ways to lie and deceive her way out of dire situations. She was cute enough, and her motives seemed good, but I finished the movie liking her little animal soul thing more than her.
Beyond what I've already mentioned, the one huge dynamic that was really missing was humor. I can't even remember smiling once, much less laughing. All of the other fantasy adventure stories that this movie (and by his own admission, stories that the author wants to be compared to) has been compared to had the humor element...it was sorely missing here.
This movie was surprisingly dark and violent. (and not because I'm a Christian...) I can't see many kids under 10 or so enjoying this movie without some nightmares. There were a few moments of serious tension...not just a mean adult chasing a little kid, but a bunch of adults talking about and trying to torture and kill the little kids. I was more than a little shocked when a polar bear dies in a fight by having his lower jaw swiped off by another bear...
And, as far as the controversial "anti-Christian" themes...unless you were looking for them going in, there's a good chance you would have missed them altogether. God definitely did not die, nor was he even mentioned. There was a very obvious anti-church message, but being an evangelical, I'd say it was more of an anti-Catholic message than anything else...and, to be completely honest, that doesn't really bother me.
Anyway, like I said, I was very disappointed. I left feeling like nothing had taken place, and without much of any interest in seeing the next movie in the series. The author did a great job in writing a story to hold up against the likes of Narnia and LOTR...so good a job, in fact, that I felt that I was watching a boring and confusing retelling of those stories. I certainly don't want to tell you not to go, because I'm sure this movie will pull in a good revenue and easily pave the way for the second in the series...but, don't say I didn't warn you.
(Before you read any futher, please know that I typically do not post negatively like I'm about to, nor do I like to use other churches (at least not giving you the name of the church, etc.) as examples of how not to do things. But, I came across this and could not resist the urge to use it to illustrate a point. I know the pastor of the church that produced this video, so I don't feel quite so bad.)
is a great example of why we stopped using PPT a while back at NHC.
Few things do more to further the world's perception of church as a bunch of boring people stuck 10 years behind the times more than a cheesy PPT slideshow with bad Christian music. This video is something you may have seen in our church even a few years ago, but not any more.
If your goal is to propel your church people further back in time and to never reach any unchurched people, please, by all means, utilize clip art, bright colors, custom animation and slide transitions. But, if you're actually wanting to communicate to everyone in a relevant way, just take some time to look at tv commercials, internet pop-ups, newspaper ads, etc. and compare to what you're using in church.
Most times, less is more and simple is effective.
PS. I'll try to make a similar video of our pre-gathering announcement loop. BTW, Forefront Church and Willow Creek had the best pre-service announcement loops I've seen in a church.
So, I've been invited (actually, I kind invited myself) to be a contributing author at the blogs at Worship.com. I'm not sure exactly what it means yet, and you probably won't see me post much there that I don't post here, but I think it's cool that I'll be posting with the likes of Dan Kimball & Steve Fee.
Worship.com is a solid resource for lots of stuff related to leading and being involved in true worship. Check it out.
Here's our first family picture taken several weeks ago:
Here's the story:
(If you don't know already about Tricia's story with Cystic Fibrosis, please take a few minutes to Read This)
On September 1 during our Sunday evening communion gathering at church, I shared for the first time with our church family (which is basically many of our closest friends) that Tricia was going to be placed on the active transplant list...PT was to begin the very next day. Tricia was not there that night because she was not feeling well. When I got home, she had some very scary and exciting news to tell me...we were (and still are) pregnant. She had literally found out as I was sharing the transplant news at church. While we had been trying to become pregnant for several months last year and early this year, we were no longer trying.
At that point, she was about 5 weeks along. She is now almost 4 months along. She is incredibly high risk...about as high risk as any woman can possibly be. Although we immediately told our doctors and family and closest friends, we have waited this long to tell anyone else because the chances of losing the baby in the first few months are especially high, and the added stress of trying to answer a bunch of questions that we couldn't answer was not something we desired for our lives at that time.
(after we told them that aborting the pregnancy was not an option) Our doctors told us that the best thing for Tricia and the baby would be to begin the PT as planned, which, of course, made it very easy to not have people ask questions. Of course, Tricia was immediately disqualified from transplant candidacy. (our prayer is that she will be healthy enough after the pregnancy to be re-evaluated and placed on the list)
Tricia has been monitored especially closely by her CF and OB docs for the past three months. Of course, this complicates everything to the nth degree. Tricia now has diabetes. Her meds have been changed. She has only gained about 2-3 lbs. She is on oxygen almost 24/7. I could go on and on, but that's not what we're focusing on...
So far, the baby is healthy. Everything has come out normal (and we've had a lot more tests than normal). We learned several weeks ago (see picture above) that we're having a girl. Just this past week, we saw and felt her move for the first time. We are excited beyond words, especially as we consider that it is a miracle that we even conceived, much less that we have made it this far.
The due date, according to the size, etc. of the baby is April 24. A fetus can survive outside of the womb at 24 weeks...anything we get to beyond 24 weeks we'll count as an added blessing.
We're guessing that Tricia will need to permanently (at least through the pregnancy) relocate to Durham sometime within the next several weeks. The docs want her close by to keep close watch and to keep her from traveling as much as we are right now.
So, now our focus has entirely changed from transplant to pregnancy. The risks are much higher, as are the rewards. We are taking every day on at a time, counting each as a blessing. The prayer requests have changed and grown as well. I'm sure you can figure many of them out on your own, so I'll mention them in detail later.
We told our church family tonight, so now we're telling you because the word will spread fast. Thank you all for your continued prayer. We're headed back to Durham tomorrow to resume PT.