In the 60 seconds or so that it took me to grab a mug from the cupboard, pour in a little cream, fill the mug with coffee, and then sit down with my computer in my lap, another 20 people somewhere in the world were forced to flee their homes, to escape war, terror, or persecution. This statistic, which comes from the UNHCR (the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency), is staggering--to frame it in another way, every day more than 28,000 human beings are forced to leave everything behind and flee for their lives though no fault of their own.
(For the purposes of the rambling thoughts that follow, I'm going to use "worship" to refer to the portion of a worship service that is given to corporate singing.
I had the opportunity recently, because of the kindness of a great friend, to attend a concert featuring one of the Christian artists who has been among the most influential people in my life as a musician and a Christian: Randy Stonehill.
I've been doing some thinking about the Advent season--partly because it's my job, putting Christmas Eve services together, writing the weekly Advent readings for Sunday morning worship, putting up Advent resources on the church Web site; and partly because we're in the thick of planning for Christmas gatherings and celebrations in our family.
It wasn't until after I had preached my sermon for the second time yesterday (June 12) that I heard about the horrible, brutal murders of 50 people (and injuries of that number and more) at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida in the early hours of that morning. As we know now, the shooter was a Muslim--there are reports that he called 911 prior to the massacre, stating his allegiance to the leadership of ISIS; ISIS representatives have since called him "a soldier of the caliphate in America," thereby praising his actions.
In the Psalms alone there are at least half a dozen references to "a new song"--"Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts (Ps. 33:3)"; "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God (Ps. 40:3)" (see also Ps. 96, 98, 144, and 149). Without getting into an exposition of the topic from Scripture, it seems clear that the things that God does in and through his people regularly inspire them to create new ways, new words, new melodies, and new sounds with which to praise him.
Another National Worship Leader Conference is in the books, and this one was a particularly good one. One reason was that for the first time in about a decade, I was able to take members of my worship team to a conference. It's always good to be at one of these events, but it's way more helpful to the team and to the church if the experience and content can be shared among two or more members of the team.
I've probably attended 10 or more worship arts conferences since I began leading worship regularly over 15 years ago. For worship leaders, gatherings like these are as valuable as any professional conference is for professionals in any field. The content is what you would expect--worship leaders teaching other worship leaders how to lead worship better. Every time I go to one of these conferences, there is so much content to take in over the space of a few days that it is truly overwhelming.
Fairly often, someone comes up to me after a worship service and wants to know the name of one of the songs we've just led, so I've been thinking it might be a good idea to publish our worship set lists each week, so that people who are interested in learning the songs can know in advance what we're going to be playing, and listen ahead of time. Or, if a particular song strikes them as particularly meaningful, they can check the set list to find the name (and possibly the artist associated with the song).