Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Relationship With Christ: A Means or an End?

To the extent that I am a follower of Christ, I am a theologian. I always preferred learning how to do the work of the church and practical ways of teaching God's truth to sparring with other believers about the minute details of a God who is so much bigger than we are. But this week, I realized something that challenged what I've thought for a long time. Growing up, I learned from a number of pastors and teachers that we are saved by having a "real relationship" with Christ. In other words, it wasn't enough to know about God, but we had to know him personally, and this was a requirement for our salvation.

After chewing on this concept with a friend of mine and bouncing it back and forth, it has occurred to me that to me, this may not be entirely correct. Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by grace through faith that is the gift of God--not by our works. Romans 10:9-10 says that if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. So where does the relationship come in?

I think in this case we often get the cart before the horse. I think a relationship with God is the byproduct of our Salvation, not the cause or source of it. Claiming that our salvation is based on our relationship with God puts us on a slippery slope. If we say our salvation is based on putting our faith in Christ, we can say that we've done that. But if it is based on a relationship with Christ, at one point is that relationship deep enough to give us salvation? At what point to we go from knowing "about God" to "knowing God" in such a way that justifies us before God? How good is that relationship supposed to be?

Not to split hairs, but I think that a relationship with God that is developed through prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other believers, and service to others should be a natural result of our putting faith in Christ. It also is evidence that we have put our faith in Christ. To say that our relationship with Christ is a pre-requisite for salvation leaves the believer constantly questioning the depth of his relationship (not in a positive way that leads us to a deeper relationship, but in a negative way that leads to fear and doubt of one's salvation). For example, if my salvation is based on a relationship with Christ, at what point have I prayed enough, read the Bible enough, served others enough, to know that my relationship with God is real? Also, emphasis on this relationship as the source of our salvation leads us to have an elitist attitude that implies that if your relationship with Christ is not like mine, then you must not have a true relationship or that a bunch of people who think they are saved are really not. So, to me, a relationship with Christ is the end result (even though it continues to grow) of our salvation, not the means of our salvation.
So, since I am human and do not have all the answers, I would welcome your comments. I do not intend to start a debate, but rather to share something that has challenged my thinking and caused me to re-evaluate an important truth. Your thoughts?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Working With Youth Bands: Adding Horns

I've been working with youth worship bands almost as long as I've been doing youth ministry. There's just something really amazing and fulfilling about seeing young students use their passion for music not only to glorify the Lord, but also to improve their skills and get better as a group and to learn to play for the Lord rather than for the approval of others. One problem always haunted me, though in working with teenagers: what to do with wind instruments. With so many students playing in jr. high and high school bands at school, it stands to reason that an average youth group would have at least a couple of horn players. But the typical worship band format calls for a drum set, bass guitar, and a guitar or keyboard. Horns are not usually figured in.

One reason for this is that horns are tuned to different keys, so when a guitar player is playing in G or C, a horn player will actually be playing in A or D respectively. Also, full orchestration parts are available for popular praise choruses but they don't work well without a "full orchestra". Another problem with the horns is that students who play in school band only know how to read music whereas many guitar players are self-taught and only know how to play by ear, chord charts, or TABS--not real music.

So this year, I had a young trumpet player approach me about playing in the youth band. Since I considered myself to have an average knowledge of music and very little experience writing out music, I explained to him the situation I was in, but assured him that if we committed to learn how to do it together, we could make it work. Well, here is what I found that works and may work for you and your youth band.

For about $50, you can purchase a program called Finale: Songwriter Edition at With this program and a little basic knowledge of single-note melody lines, you can chart out a basic melody, counter-melody, or harmony part for your horn player. Just tell the program what key your band is playing in and what type of horn part you are writing, and it will automatically transpose to the horn key. Once you start writing out the notes, the program will play it back so you know exactly what you are writing (my sight-reading skills are pretty bad). You can also hook a keyboard or other midi device up to your computer and play the part on the keyboard and it will write it out as you play. If you are not sure if your horn player can play in that key, you can easily transpose to the keys that are close to it in range (up a step or half step, or down a step or half step) to come up with a key that will work for both your horn player and your guitar/bass/keybaord players. You can also do multiple parts for multiple horns. If you're really not sure what to write, try writing a simple melody, or just try having the horn play the root note of each chord. So if the band is playing a song in G that plays four counts each on the chords G, C, Em, and D, then your Bb trumpet player will be playing in A and you can write whole notes on A, D, F#, and E. You can also simplify the charts by just having the horn play on certain parts of the song like the chorus or the bridge. This will automatically add depth and texture to your song because certain parts of the song will be quieter and have fewer instruments.

While not all horns are condusive to worship music (i.e. trumpets, saxes, flutes, probably fit better than tubas, French horns, and euphoniums), you may have to be selective as to how you implement certain horns into the group. Also, while it may take some time to work up a few horn parts for your popular songs, you don't want your horn player getting bored at rehearsal. See if she can play some percussion stuff (shaker, tambourine, or even COWBELL) on the songs where she's not playing her horn. Getting kids involved in your band will be a plus for the player and for the band.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Youth Bands: Taking Summer Off

I've always had a fear of cancelling certain activities and events for extended periods of time out of fear that when it came time to start them up again that we would be building from the ground up. This came especially true when it came to working with youth bands. Since building a worship band required more time and energy than other youth activities, I felt that it was a more delicate program and if cancelled would run the risk of never starting back.

But this summer, we did some things differently in our youth program. Since many kids go out of town during the summer, we scaled down our Bible study times to more of a hanging out/small group format. We didn't use Power Point or very many video clips, and we met in one of the smaller rooms of the youth building rather than the big room where we normally met. And, reluctantly, we cancelled youth band at the end of last school year, and didn't pick it up until the schools had started back up at the end of August. Last weekend we had our first practice in over two months. I found that students who had fallen away from the band came back and some who had interest before now were excited about joining. I also found that our players had been practicing over the summer because they were not having regular practicing was a sort of boredom buster for them. This also created less stress on families because they didn't have to worry about working band rehearsals into their summer schedule. My friend Russell Martin reminded me that everything has a season and I think that is certainly true with youth-led worship bands.

The Grass is Always Greener...

I don't exactly remember when, but I do know it was a long time ago, I first heard an expression that says "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." Now, I don't know if the person who coined this phrase was a farmer, or just really wanted to be a cow, or what. I don't know why grass was used here for the metaphor. But the gist of the statement is that things are always better somewhere else, than where you are. This can apply to a relationship, a job, a church, a home, or really just about anything.
But the truth of the matter is that wherever you go, things will always be better somewhere else. Sometimes we are presented with opportunities that just seem like they are so much better than what we already have. But, when we examine those things closely and then look closely at what we have, what we often find is that we are much better where we are. Our current situations seem to look bleek because they are comfortable and normal--sometimes too much so. But when things come up that offer a change of scenery, we can examine what we have for what it truly is...and many times, that's not bad at all. In I Timothy 6 Paul writes to Timothy concerning a group of false teachers who were teaching that godly actions were a way to bring about financial gain. Paul writes that "godliness with contentment is great gain." When we have contentment, we quit worrying about what's on the other side of the fence, and can see what we have for what it truly is.