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Unread 05-27-2016, 03:31 PM   #1
Bryan J Emerson
Hobbyist Songwriter

Joined: May 2016
Location: Jonesboro, AR
Posts: 23
Original Worship Music

I would like to preface this post by saying that after talking to my current worship leader, I have made peace with this situation and have even come to agree with his point of view, but I would like to share a story and ask some questions to get a discussion of what I consider to be an important issue.

I have been a part of just about every aspect of music ministry (never worked sound booth): I have played bass, electric, acoustic; I've been a lay person, a deacon, an elder, an intern, and a full fledged Worship Leader (currently a deacon getting back into band rotation); plus I have an MA in Worship Leadership from Southern Seminary. I also write music for my own personal edification, but would like to eventually do more with it.

A little over a year ago, I moved from GA at AR (lived in GA for 3 years, originally from AR and currently at my home church). In GA, I went to a church that was small but had everything I wanted in a church. I agreed with almost everything the church stood for in every area (including church government), and most importantly my theology lined up as good as you could ever hope for in a church.

When I first started at the church, the Music Minister was getting ready to leave and plant a church in Portland, he and the Elders had appointed a new Music Minister, who kind of shared his leadership with a lay member. Knowing very little about any history of the church, I began a rotation in the band and really enjoyed it.

About six months into being a member, I started the process of becoming an Elder. During this time I found out the church was in the planning stages of planting a second campus. The lay member/co leader had just moved away (and the bass guitar player had just severely injured one of his fingers on a table saw) and I had become one of the staple band members (bass guitar).

As an Elder in training, I made it known that I was interested in taking on a Music Minister role at the church plant. This was met with positivity but never any sort of absolutism.

Then 2 issues arose, the first was a struggle with sin in my own life. I had just had my second child and I was under a lot stress and I let habitual sin creep in. I was caught and repented. I approached my pastor for counselling on the issue and in turn was dismissed from being an Elder. This was not the wrong call but it was met with a double standard as other Elders in training that went through the exact same process were not dismissed. This led to frustration to say the least. I was told that in 1 year the situation would be reevaluated, and it never was after a year and a half.

The second issue was that of a former member of the church returning after a failed attempt to lead worship at another church. He was in the process of getting a worship degree from New Orleans, and he was welcomed back into the church and back into the band with open arms (which was 100% the right decision).

These two issues clashed when he was asked to be the music minister at the new church plant.

Now, how does all of this fit in with the title of this post? Glad you asked!

After my repentance of sin, I was still a very active member in the church. I was still on very good standing with other members of the church, including many Elders. I was very early in my songwriting (and I was very excited and eager to share these songs with anyone who would listen). Many times, I asked our music minister for input, many times I asked if I could lead on days he was out of town, and many times I asked if he would entertain letting me lead a song of mine. These "many times" were spread across 2 years of "maybe"s.

When the decision was made to let the other guy start leading; he was asked to lead more and more and more. This was all done without talking with me (which no one was required to, but all of the Elders knew I still had that desire, more than a year had gone by since my repentance, and it would have been nice to have been approached about the decision). So the longer I was there, the more I felt ignored and the more I felt unneeded.

My then philosophy of original music in the church (and a view I still agree with) was that the church should use original music if it passes the tests of theological soundness and singability/quality. If God laid that song on the heart of a church member, and the song was of a certain quality, then it is *meant* for that church. On top of that, we did do a few original songs (so it wasn't a completely alien concept) of the Music Minister, but they had all been commissioned by the pastor.

What I found out during a lot of this time was that the old lay co-leader had been very pushy about leading and about playing his music (of which he was never allowed), and so I was being lumped in with him (but never had this explained to me directly). There were several double standards going on, and I fell on the bottom end of all of them.

Also during this time, I spent a great deal of time in prayer over whether or not I was in sin and being prideful. I feel that in some areas I was, but in most i was not. I worked hard to keep my pride in check and approach the issue with humility, but that became very difficult.

I had many other issues going on (got the runaround at my job, which never went where I had been promised it would go, could never establish community due to my job's second shift hours, could never get a job interview; and when I finally did get an interview and was the only qualified applicant, the money ran out; all of this also coincided with my wife being pregnant with our third child), but my church was the main thing keeping us from packing up and moving. And after all of the things with the music ministry (and after a ton of prayer), that is exactly what we did.

At our current church, I still have never had one of my songs played (and I can rarely get of the music ministers to ever listen to my songs); but I am much more at peace with the situation. I think the brunt of it was God knew what it would take to get me to move away from a church that I loved, because I believe I am supposed to be in AR right now (first evidence was our house selling in 6 days); and also I believe that I have developed another philosophy of original music in church after all of this (and after talking to my current music minister):

It is more important to have the church sing period than have them sing original songs.

This philosophy is an important one and adds a lot of understanding to the situation as a whole. At my old church, there was more singing, there was more reception to original music (some of the favorite songs were original); but *I* felt like *I* was being ignored (which I *was* being ignored, as the music minister told be shortly before I decided to leave that he "just didn't have the time" after I had asked him several times over a year and a half).


What are your perspectives on playing original music in church? I still believe that if the song passes the tests, it should be used so long as the church is in a spiritual place to receive the song. Pastors don't preach other pastors' sermons (at least good pastors don't!), so why do music ministers rely 100% on offering other music ministers' songs?

Obviously, it is a *GREAT* thing (specifically when playing new music) to sing songs the congregation will know (i.e. ones that are on the radio). I am still an advocate for playing original music (or at least giving it a fair listen/assessment), but I have a better understanding for *not* playing it as well.

So, why tell that long story? I wanted to explain the passion I have. This issue was a key reason for me to leave a church (of which I still feel justified for leaving; so I don't really want that to be the focus of this discussion).

What do you think? Is original music a good thing for the church? A bad thing? How should it be handled? Thank you.

Check out songs: soundcloud.com/bryanjemerson

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Unread 05-27-2016, 05:52 PM   #2
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I have no problem with original music being used if it is good.

I would also add that I personally believe a lot of the music used in churches today (old, new, hymns, choruses, you name it) is NOT good. There are some really good newer songs and some really bad old ones. Quality should be the #1 thing we look at.

I would suggest that it you're doing original tunes then you make the congregation familiar with them before trying to use them in a corporate setting. I would also suggest not overdoing it.
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Unread 05-28-2016, 12:34 AM   #3
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I've thought about trying to write some original music and introducing it as music with no other background. For the team I lead, it'd be easy since I teach the team most of the song from ground zero regardless of whether or not a recording exists.
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Unread 05-28-2016, 05:23 AM   #4
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When leading worship at a church a few years back I'd introduce the congregation to original music by first playing it during the pre-service time as a recording played back though the sound system. Then as a prelude (live). After a few weeks people kind of knew the song.

So I am all for original music in worship. It should of course be appropriate in message and style for the setting.

The people issues of control and double standards are the church hurt part of being a Christian that I don't like but acknowledge as something that will likely happen.

In my area I am blessed to have the chance to share original songs at Christian open mic events. Perhaps you can do that as well?
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Unread 05-29-2016, 07:47 AM   #5
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All worship music was/is original somewhere.

As to the rest of your experiences at this congregation, it doesn't sound like you're going to get a fair opportunity there. You're the "new kid" as opposed to the others who've been treated with more grace. It happens, unfortunately. I'll pray for a different outcome, but fear you won't be given the opportunity to flourish there.
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Unread 05-29-2016, 12:41 PM   #6
Bryan J Emerson
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Joined: May 2016
Location: Jonesboro, AR
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Originally Posted by Tony View Post
All worship music was/is original somewhere.

As to the rest of your experiences at this congregation, it doesn't sound like you're going to get a fair opportunity there. You're the "new kid" as opposed to the others who've been treated with more grace. It happens, unfortunately. I'll pray for a different outcome, but fear you won't be given the opportunity to flourish there.
Yeah, I am no longer at that church (or state actually). That church was in GA and I now live in AR. I find it sad that nothing worked out (not just the music aspect), but that church was and is a *GREAT* church (which is what made it so surprising). They preach the Gospel unapologetically, they search Scripture over tradition, they greatly value the teaching and preaching of deep doctrine; and they really love Jesus. They just don't value art (as most churches just don't, or they don't know what to do with it).

All in all, I personally believe God allowed those things to happen to me so that I would follow God to where I am. I was hesitant to believe God would be pulling me away from a great church, so God allowed me to get hurt in order to see Him and follow Him.
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Unread 05-31-2016, 10:34 AM   #7
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I've been leading worship for quite a while, have been employed as a worship leader at my current church for over ten years now, and I'd have to say that I am all for using original music in church.

I've done numerous songs of my own over the years. Some have been specifically for "special music" during the offering to help illustrate the theme of the message, others have been for certain seasons of the church year (I have songs I will often sing during the Advent season, or following Easter...), and others that are simply a part of our normal worship catalog sung throughout the year, that people have come to know and love and sing with passion (as far as I can tell, haha).

Granted, like someone mentioned above, as when introducing any new song, I feel it should be done with care and intentionality - I will often start off by playing it for the prelude or postlude, or during portions of the service where people aren't as expected to sing along (during the offering or Communion). At some point, I may share a brief background to the song as an introduction, and maybe even sing over the chorus a few times with the congregation to help them learn it.

And I’m not the only songwriter at my church. We've had a number of others from within our congregation as well. I think when there is freedom for one person to share, that freedom may inspire and allow others to step out as well. One person in particular was a girl who was on the team for a number of years with us... she played drums and sang (sometimes actually leading worship from behind the drums!), as well as playing piano and guitar when needed. And then she started writing songs. And they were excellent in every way. So we started working those songs in to the services as well. And I think, like you said, there is something powerful and unique to singing songs written from within your congregation. I've seen people really take an ownership in the song and songwriter, "That's our song, that's our (insert name of songwriter)" and sing it with a certain level of healthy pride, if that makes sense.

I know, as you mentioned, not all congregations allow or value the use of original worship songs. But I know it means a lot to me, and I think it really allows the Spirit to speak in a fresh and unique way, and it can often resonate with the congregation in a special way as well. I think about 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, where Paul talks about everyone showing up and having something to contribute (a word, a song, a tongue, a prophecy...) – all done in good order. This is our church family, and I feel it should be a safe place for people to bring and share what gifts they've been given. And yes, the church leadership should keep an eye on the quality, singability and theology of the songs… and if there are issues or questions, then that opens up an opportunity for discipleship, or a healthy critique and encouragement, to help develop both the songwriter and their product… but unfortunately, I find that many times instead of “taking a risk” on a new song (or allowing participation from other artists for that matter) churches will focus on the last part of that section of scripture "…done in good order" and throw out all of the rest of the involvement from the Body in order to achieve that “good order”. I know every church has their own cultures and ways of doing things etc… but I think they may be missing out on some beautiful blessings, but maybe that's just my perspective.

I am sorry to hear of your frustrations through these past few years. I appreciate your prayerful attitude and humility, and I hope you keep writing, and keep looking for opportunities to share your gifts and songs with the Body of Christ. BTW, have you ever read “God Songs” by Paul Baloche? It is a very useful and inspirational resource for worship leaders and songwriters. I’d highly recommend it!
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Unread 06-02-2016, 10:07 AM   #8
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I've been writing original music for a few years now, but only really buckled down on it since last December when I found someone who could actually write better than I could and really refined my skill. We don't write worship music, but we do rearrange hymns on occasion, including a really operatic and different arrangement of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." She was caught playing it after the Good Friday band's last rehearsal by our then-worship-now-executive pastor and was told to get it to the band for the pre-service rehearsal so they could play it instead of the Tomlin-Redman arrangement. All we did was add a chorus, but she got to lead it and, while I was a little nit-picky with the way they played it (songwriter probs), I felt it went over very well.

Besides our own hymn arrangements (we've also done original arrangements of "Hallelujah What a Savior" and a couple others that I don't remember), our old worship pastor wrote a song a few years back that we use a lot called "My Everything." I really enjoy it, and at that point I had never seen original music worth playing in a Sunday morning service. The chapel worship leader at my college also writes one original song to go with the chapel theme for each semester, and he's cranking out some really great stuff that I'm definitely going to try to use if and when I become a worship pastor.

On a different note, I'm really sorry that what happened to you happened, but on the other hand I'm extremely happy that you saw how God made good out of a bad situation. I'm listening to some of your originals and lyrically and melodically you're reminding me a lot of Ghost Ship. It's good stuff if a little clunky at times. Keep refining your craft and you'll start cranking out some incredible tunes.
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Unread 06-02-2016, 10:25 AM   #9
Bryan J Emerson
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Location: Jonesboro, AR
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I told my wife this morning (after tweaking with a song I am writing) that I really need to just get the first 50 songs out of the way so I can start getting to good stuff.

I do feel that each new song I write is leaps and bounds better than the last (some of that is "new car smell", some is just my craft getting more refined).

Some of the sting that came about with my past church is that I wrote a couple songs specifically for the congregation: Pillars of the Truth and Wake Up! Sleeper!

While those songs may never have gone well, I never felt the Worship Leader gave them a fair listen.

That said, I have grown very happy writing as an act of personal worship, and my kids really enjoy them as well (especially Wake Up! Sleeper!)
Check out songs: soundcloud.com/bryanjemerson

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Unread 06-22-2016, 12:12 PM   #10
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These are some originals I've written that we do at my church:

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

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Unread 07-21-2016, 03:23 PM   #11
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As a fellow songwriter, it would be great if others shared appreciation for the songs we write, but that is often not the case.
Sometimes kids are more appreciative than adults. Kids worship is especially rewarding.They usually haven't developed the critiquing culture of adults, i.e.; "It's too fast, too slow; too loud, too soft; too high, too low; too long, too short; too old, too new".
It is great that you have found fulfillment and enjoy just being in God's presence and not neglecting or discounting the special gift you have. As it brings joy to you, may others be attracted to that and join you in singing to the Lord.
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Unread 08-07-2016, 08:37 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Bryan J Emerson View Post
What do you think? Is original music a good thing for the church? A bad thing? How should it be handled? Thank you.
Of course!

Where did all those songs we already sing come from?
I've been a pilgrim on this earth,since the day of my birth, I'm a long, long way from my home.
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Unread 10-22-2016, 08:03 PM   #13
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I realize this is from earlier in the year, but figured I'd post anyhow. My first post.

I have a lot of experience with exactly what you're talking about. I don't think you're doing anything wrong, and writing music is great. We're even told that everyone should bring a song or word of encouragement when we meet together.

I've learned that a lot of confusion is due to simple group dynamics. In a meeting of 200+ people, you're a very small part of a production geared to make most of the people happy or encouraged or whatever. Not just churches... any type of gathering this size. At this level, there is very little room for Joe Parishoner to stand up and disagree or question the sermon, or Joe Songwriter to offer to play a song for the benefit of the congregation. Why? Group dynamics. It's a production where you actually have to pay someone to "lead music". That person's job is to facilitate worship by playing songs the most people will sing along to, in the style the most people can get behind. It's the same thing I do in cover bands.

In our house church, which ran for seven years or so, we could try out all kinds of things. One time we sang along to Stryper (awesome), another time our sister led a Jewish dance while we sang a Psalm. We finger painted to God, hiked, all sorts of stuff. We often brought out a basket full of crazy instruments and everyone just grabbed whatever they felt like, or just sang. You can try lots of things in smaller groups that you can't in "big" church gatherings because you're a greater part of the total.

In short, your congregation's bigger services may just not need you, either as an elder or songwriter. Sad, yes, but I'm a guitarist... there's a million of me too

But if you find a small group, or smaller church, you may find your ideas, wisdom, experience, and songs more in demand, not because you're so awesome, but because group dynamics.
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