Ten Earnest Pleas for LCMS congregations that use “Praise Bands,” part two

Continuing from Part 1 of Ten Earnest Pleas


  1. Consider carefully your liturgical model. Conf crowd-3Consider the sequential form of your gatherings.  What do you do, in what order do you do it, and why?  The order of events within a worship service is simply not arbitrary.  They are arranged that way for a reason.  Are you aware of what those reasons are?  There are two dominant liturgical models within Christendom, with infinite variation within the major structures.  There is the historic model, used by the overwhelming majority of Christendom, both presently and especially historically.  This is centered around Word and Sacrament as the crux of Christian spirituality.  It worships God as if he were actually, physically, corporeally present in the room with the assembly, with all the reverence that ought to accompany this.  The second liturgy, popularized by the revivalists and infinitely fluid in structure and elements, is based on the proposition that if we can make our worship services appealing enough, then the unbeliever will be compelled to drink our cool-aide.  This is a version of Christianity that thrives under Constantine.  It does not exist under Nero. Under this model, personal preferences are sought out in order to win the popularity contest of the ecclesiological buffet, under the guise of “evangelism” (see soteriological utilitarianism).  This is directly responsible for the climate in which moralistic, therapeutic deism has thrived, it is completely antithetical to the cause of the Christ who seeks the lonely and the outcast, and it stands in direct opposition to our confession that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him…  Form your assembly rituals around Word and Sacrament, and let God work through those to draw whom He will.
  2. Consider carefully your volume. One of the thrills of modern music is attending a concert with towering speakers that dwarf the average residence.  When the drummer hits the kick drum, you can actually feel it like a punch in the chest.  It creates quite a thrill in the concert arena, but this does NOT belong in worship.  Churches who do so are often targeting a younger demographic, at the expense of the older.  When we get too loud, we show that the elderly are not important to us, and that young and old do not need to worship together.  There is no reason why the young and the old cannot worship together, whether you use a praise band or an organ.  We should be turning the hearts of fathers and children towards each other, not driving another wedge between them, as does the rest of society at every turn.  Many of the elderly are actually caused physical pain by the kind of volume that kids like at their concerts.  Do we want to send them the message that they’re not wanted in our assembly?  That doesn’t model Christlike maturity for the youth we want to “reach.”  The Church IS multi-generational, so our worship should reflect this.  It is possible to achieve a compelling, dynamic sound at reasonable decibel levels.  Also, when people are unable to hear themselves participating in the corporate song of the church, it encourages passive spectating.  There is a time and place for this in worship (the anthem), but it isn’t the entire service.  Let’s aim to fine tune our sound systems to facilitate participation in the pews.  They are there to worship, not to observe a production.  You are there to facilitate the song of the church, not to replace it.
  3. Consider carefully the role of music in the church. Your challenge is not to attract people to your congregation in order to bait-and-switch them a good time for a religious cause.  Your job is not to connect with outsiders in order that they might begin to identify with a message they do not believe.  Your responsibility is to put the Gospel on the lips of the people of God through song, in order that the Word might dwell in their hearts through faith.  This is also the most evangelistic thing you could possibly do with your Sunday morning.  That is a tall order for a diet of disposable pop.  We need more than “God is wonderful, Jesus is really nice, I love Him so much and I’m gonna sing sing sing…”  Let’s first sing songs that strike at the core of our identity as Christians.  Let us sing songs the confess the Gospel, and emphasize lyrics that actually give us a reason to sing.
  4. Consider carefully your selection of melodies. If we make it our goal to cultivate the song of God’s gathered people, overly syncopated melodies can only impede this.  Please do not rely on the “Bono effect,” it is short sighted and foolish.  Just because fans can sing along with the songs they know, it doesn’t follow that the melodies are suitable for worship.  Don’t we want our gatherings to be inclusive to people from a wide diversity of cultural backgrounds?  If the average Joe off the street can’t pick it up with minimal effort, consider that he is being subtly told that his vocal contribution is not wanted.  I’m not saying that challenging music has no place in the church:  would that we actually challenge our musicians with genuine art over commercial jingles.  But if accessibility isn’t a high priority, we impede the singing of the saints in the pews, which the reformers fought to restore as an expression of the priesthood of all believers.
  5. Consider carefully your physical expression. Point 10In traditional worship services, movements such as standing, sitting, turning, and kneeling are all loaded with significance which doesn’t take a brain surgeon to decode.  Typical praise band service postures include closed eyes, raised hands, and ecstatic facial expressions, but what is the purpose and meaning of these?  Best case scenario:  The eyes are closed as in prayer, and the facial expressions stem from an earnestness of pleading.  But the lyrics of such songs generally express otherwise.  I grew up in charismatic churches, and based off my experience in multiple congregations, examination of song lyrics, and absorbing a significant quantity of their teaching, I can say with confidence that much of the time, the reasons are:  We close our eyes to tune out the world and focus on God, we raise our hands to receive God’s love or connect with Him in some intangible way to express our devotion, and the strained look is either the result of an intense spiritual experience of God’s presence or earnest longing for it.  These enthusiastic ideas of God meeting us apart from Word and Sacrament ought not be encouraged in our churches.  We must point our people to where Christ has promised to be found.  I’m not proposing a rule against closing our eyes while singing.  I’m suggesting we not be naive to what doing so has the potential to communicate about the nature of our worship practices.  Let us make more intentional use of gesture and posture to immerse our people in a spirituality that confesses the Gospel in purity, rather than defaulting to norms and patterns driven by revivalist subculture.  There are many techniques in our tradition that leverage movement and posture to focus attention on Christ and His cross, rather than push us deeper into our personal subjective experiences of spiritual ecstasy.  If we fail to make use of these, we miss a crucial discipleship opportunity and, in the context of praise band services, we open the door for a less than subtle endorsement of the Jesus who comes to us apart from Word and Sacrament.

Genuine, compelling artistry is prophetic, and speaks to the culture by challenging it, rather than acquiescing to its inherent propensity towards decay.  If your congregation is heading down the “contemporary” trail, led by their wet finger to the wind, I caution you to consider that the end of that trail is a cultural ghetto full of cliche and celebrity mimicry, which is just as foreign a language to unbelievers as traditional liturgy.  I humbly implore you to  consider these ten requests and contemplate how even slight application of them could enhance the worship life of your congregation.  But above all, know what you believe and why you believe it in order that you can test your worship practices by one criteria:  “What does this confess?”

In the congregation I serve as a musician, we use “praise band” type ensembles three out of four weekends a month.  We’ve labored hard to follow these ideals, and the result has been a more lively, vibrant, and organic worship culture than we could ever have achieved by simply splitting into separate “traditional” and “contemporary” services.  Our approach might best be described as “traditional worship integrating contemporary instrumentation and select modern hymnody.”  If your church uses a praise band, use it to support Word and Sacrament, not as a quasi-sacramental alternative spirituality.

About Miguel Ruiz

Miguel Ruiz is a post-Evangelical adult convert to confessional Lutheranism and a vocational church musician. He is a commissioned Minister of Religion in the LCMS, serving Our Savior Lutheran Church and School in Centereach, New York, as the director of parish music and music teacher. His journey down the Wittenberg trail began when he was roused from his dogmatic slumber by the writings of Michael Spencer and Robbert Webber. After a period of Cartesian doubt seeking a confessional identity, he finally found his home in the Lutheran church. When he isn’t busy running upwards of 12 rehearsals a week, he loves writing as a way to interact with other perspectives and to pontificate on his doxological agenda. He enjoys exploring the treasury of 2000 years of sacred music, and has found his life’s calling as a cantor, with a mission to “put the Gospel on the lips of the people of God through song, that the Word might dwell in their hearts through faith.”


Ten Earnest Pleas for LCMS congregations that use “Praise Bands,” part two — 23 Comments

  1. Thanks for the two-part article. Could you provide video examples of how you do:

    “traditional worship integrating contemporary instrumentation and select modern hymnody.”

  2. Thanks, Miguel. I really like your ten recommendations. One of my personal “pet peeves” as a pastor with contemporary music are those LCMS churches that use contemporary music flippantly and without much thought to the long term ramifications of their choices. Choosing a popular melody and changing the lyrics is particularly irritating. I heard this done with Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”. It was changed to “Free to Praise Him”. Not only did this take me out of a place to worship, but it also ruined Tom Petty’s song for me on the radio. (Actually, I am not sure which part of that irritates me more!)

  3. @Rev. Robert Weller #2
    I painfully recall one (non-LCMS) military chaplain who had “discovered” that one could sing Amazing Grace to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun.” (Great, now it’s even worse.)

  4. @Pr. Jim Schulz #1
    The music in my Anglican parish could be described in the same way; our songs are taken primarily from the 1940 Hymnal supplemented with a few modern choices (primarily during Communion), usually sung in four-part harmony, and played with guitars, drums, and piano. Video of some recent services can be streamed from our Ustream channel.

  5. It could always be worse; in Finland, the “Metal Mass” or Metallimessu is popular. According to Wikipedia, at least they are purported to use “traditional hymns (that) are adapted to heavy metal style, following a Lutheran service pattern.”

    Wonder which DS that would be…..

  6. @Jan Payne #4
    Now, if we had Finnish metal mass instead of that ear-curdling saccharine easy-listening pop, I’d take back every thing I said about CoWo… well at least I’d take back the things I said about it being ear-curdling.

  7. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #5
    I’m ok w/ the Animals in the proper context. When I want to sing about grace though, I prefer, “von gnaden soll ich selig werden” (“By Grace I’m Saved Grace Free and Boundless” LSB 566.)

    In the case of beer I accept that mediocrity saves money, and so I’m less judgmental; it’s harder to make a case for mediocrity in the case of hymns. Singing the best doesn’t cost a cent more.

    -Matt Mills

  8. hope they are teaching this at the seminary in St Louis, in their worship class, since they advocate the use of praise bands

  9. @Pr. Jim Schulz #1
    Unfortunately, Jim, we haven’t been able to capture a ton of good footage. A lot of our hymnody, when it isn’t being driven by the organ, sounds a bit like this:

    But generally speaking, we make the Lutheran Service Book our primary resource by following it’s liturgical structure, using it’s liturgical texts, and using as much of its hymnody as we can. For example, in the Epiphany season we are singing through Divine Service setting four, and this weekend I have a small ensemble (piano, guitar, bass, accordion, and cajon) leading distribution hymnody and a few other things from the choir loft, while the organ accompanies the rest. It’s very traditional (you could follow along out of the hymnal), but the additional instrumentation gives it some additional aesthetic interest. Most of our hymns are also from the LSB. It often sounds very “contemporary,” but it’s largely traditional stuff presented in a different way (like in the video).

  10. @Miguel Ruiz #10
    We have a pipe organ and an excellent organist, but she is occasionally accompanied by a trumpet player; and we have a number of classically inclined musicians that contribute pieces during the offertory or distribution with piano, flute, violin, etc.

    Our Lent and Advent services have more variety and have included pieces played with acoustic guitar. Same traditional hymns, just a different instrument.

  11. Ben Nichols :@Jan Payne #4 Now, if we had Finnish metal mass instead of that ear-curdling saccharine easy-listening pop, I’d take back every thing I said about CoWo… well at least I’d take back the things I said about it being ear-curdling.

    Is David Ellefson from Megadeth still in the SMP program? Maybe he could work on that….

  12. @Jan Payne #11
    That sounds lovely. I wish we had more instrumentalists of that type. Our main flautist (my wife) is not able to contribute as much playing now that we have small children. I quite hiring brass for Easter and Christmas due to a budget crisis, but in the long term hope to develop more in-house talent for major feasts and festivals.

    Everybody, if you have those kinds of instrumentalists in your congregation, consider yourself blessed and give them opportunities to serve.

  13. @Jan Payne #5
    I personally think the metal mass is a fun idea for a concert, much like a secular performance of Mozart’s Requiem, but without so much artistry. It’s a bad idea for church, though. It smells like niche marketing, and it seems like a spectator event. It is always good to get orthodox hymn texts into the heads and hearts of our youth, but it is better if they can learn to sing it with their parents and grandparents.

  14. @Miguel Ruiz #14
    Any band members among your high school students (and their parents)?

    My son had a pretty good little “parent/child” ensemble to accompany hymns a few Christmas seasons. And he had a small church. [He played tuba himself in high school, college and community summer band after seminary.]

    College orchestra, no, but they practiced and it was nice.

  15. Thank you Miguel. 2 very compelling points to add.

    1) Our Lutherans Confessions bind us in numerous comments regarding worship. We are a liturgical Church to use the historical liturgy and thus most CoWo is outside of our Lutheran Confessions (that all pastors and congregations have taken oath to uphold).

    2) And most wretched of the CoWo moment -the weakest among us, the young who cannot read, the blind, the aged with declining faculties, the mentally handicapped are NOT WELCOME AT COWO services! My sister and father are be unable to participate in CoWo services, yet fully participate in the historical liturgy.

    I’ve never understood why someone would want to eliminate the Scriptural songs of heaven in the liturgy, to replace them with anthropocentric songs. As for most CoWo songs, just “google” most popular CoWo songs and look at the words, count the personal pronouns, see who is usually the doer of the verbs (man). Most every CoWo song can be sung by Muslim, Mormon, Jew and they would not be offended because the song neither confesses or teaches the faith as do hymns.

  16. Rev. Weinkauf : Most every CoWo song can be sung by Muslim, Mormon, Jew and they would not be offended because the song neither confesses or teaches the faith as do hymns.

    I like to apply what I call the “South Park” test, if you can substitute the word “baby” for the name of Jesus and it fits contextually, then it probably isn’t appropriate for worship.

  17. @helen #16
    I only teach choral music in our church’s small K-12 school. Our very small band program is contracted out, and almost none of the instrumentalists are actually members of our congregation. My focus has been integrating the youth into the worship life of the church primarily through singing. At times I’ve had nearly half the youth group in the church choir, and many of them don’t even like traditional music. We have three men who sing in the choir with their teenage daughters, and one woman who comes with her teenage son, so I’m looking to put together a lovely piece for the eight of them.

  18. Miguel, you did a great job with this series, and you’re spot on with your points.

    Unfortunately (and I’ve seen this first hand many a time, having been involved with CoWo for nearly two decades of my life) one of the worst things about CoWo advocates is that they are often just as stubborn and intolerant about refusing to compromise their position as can be. Ironic that they will criticize traditionalists for being “stuck in their ways” when the truth is that a CoWo advocate can be just as “stuck in his ways” (and even more so in a more subtle and sad way).

  19. @Miguel Ruiz #19
    My focus has been integrating the youth into the worship life of the church primarily through singing. At times I’ve had nearly half the youth group in the church choir, and many of them don’t even like traditional music.

    Same principle, on the vocal side… good work!

  20. @Miguel Ruiz #19

    Have you thought about the names given to bands or musical groups, especially as it relates to the type of service it is musically involved in?

    You say “praise band”, OK. for a “Praise Service”.

    So as I say, come to my Church, we worship! Oh yes, the setting just happens to be Lutheran liturgical. We may add a praise service (not really), but if I did, I will call it a “praise service”.

    Why not say “worship band” for a “Worship Service”.

    As you may tell from some of my “of late” comments, I see a definite difference between what is Biblical Worship, and the cultural worship loved of late.

    As of now, I refuse to call worship, traditional, blended, contemporary, etc.

    Worship is worship, praise is praise; they are different.

  21. Dear BJS,
    Dear BJS,
    Why no takers on talking worship?
    I think I may ask BJS for a Worship slot, so I can bring back a proper Biblical understanding of Worship, that we have, many have abandoned.

    In Hebrew, worship is “to prostrate oneself.” And then to listen to the Lord.

    Call Contemporary service what it is, “contemporary praise”.

    In the end, worship is God to us oriented.

    I may still one day do an old fashioned praise and altar-call crusade, but it IS NOT worship as we know it, or should. I may gather up some people to bring them to His House for worship.

    Worship is a verb, God’s action to us, through His gifts.

    As for now, the word COWO is dead, or should be. Even traditional worship, but culture forces us with bad terminology.

    We gather in worship, to come before the Lord and receive what He has. And if we listen, we go out, to be merciful, loving, etc.

    If we never uttered a word, it is still worship done well.

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