music

Challenges to Think Through as a Worship Pastor

In today’s ever-changing culture, the worship ministry finds itself facing new challenges almost daily. Worship pastors are tasked with planning and executing worship services that speak the unchanging Word of God to a fluid culture. This challenge exemplifies the growing need for intentionality in ministry, since the culture seems to pivot on a dime week-by-week. Not only that, but worship pastors must be ahead of the game in thinking through issues that can and will arise in many of our situations so that they might answer their people's inevitable questions.

Here, we’ve provided a short list of questions for you to ponder to help you think through some of these issues. Our hope is that by engaging with these questions, you’ll be better equipped to serve the needs of your local congregation, whatever the context. Can you point to a biblical passage that speaks truth into each situation? Please note that many of these questions do not have concrete, neatly packaged answers and will often vary from church to church. Our goal is not to endorse one line of reasoning over another, but simply to help you think.

  1. If your church has multiple services, do band members take the Lord’s Supper each service, or just once? How would that affect their example of leadership?
  2. If your church has multiple services, do band members need to sit in the congregation and listen to the sermon every time, or just once? Is it alright for them to sit backstage during one of the service for a bit of reprieve?
  3. If your church has multiple services, do you sing the same “spontaneous” song in each service? Is the song even spontaneous at that point? If you don’t sing it, is this shorting out the other congregants from a powerful time of worship experienced by another portion of the church?
  4. Do you need hard guidelines for what makes a good song, or are you laxer in certain areas if you are desperate and looking for songs to round out your repertoire? How far will you compromise, if you do?
  5. What do you do with songs that you teach your congregation over a few weeks only to begin to realize that its not clicking with them at all? Do you keep singing it, or simply throw it out?
  6. What place do solos have in your service? What makes a solo or small ensemble performance different from a choral anthem? (Related to that, what place, if any, do instrumental solos have during the middle of congregational song?)
  7. How does social media play into your expectations for worship team members? If they post something questionable, do you sideline them? But, nobody’s perfect, right? Do you hold the nursery worker or greeter to the same standard?
  8. Are you okay with singing songs from churches with questionable theology, even if the song itself is gospel-centered and/or theologically sound?
  9. Should you use only the musicians your church has available, or are digital music production programs acceptable? Does Ableton and other looping programs ultimately create an inauthentic atmosphere, or can they meaningfully enhance worship?
  10. Is it inauthentic or culturally dishonest to recontextualize music specifically written for one style and rearrange it to another? For example, changing a black gospel song to a country-bluegrass style? Or adding a funk beat to “Come, Christians Join to Sing?” What’s the line that can’t be crossed between stylistic differences, if there is one?
  11. Is it appropriate to sing in another language if only a subsection of the congregation can speak it? Is there a way to teach non-speakers what the words mean? Can you have the congregation sing in two languages at once?

As you think through some of these questions, what are some other topics and dilemmas that come to mind? Let us know in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you so that we can think through these issues together.


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

New Christmas Album Released!

"Christmas at Southern" featuring fresh arrangements of Christmas carols from Norton Hall Band, Lexington Road Band, Boyce Vocal Band, Cannons Lane Collective, and Doxology is now available! You can find this first volume of Christmas carols from the IBW on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play Music, and other major music providers.

Click to head over to the album page to listen to previews of each track!

Click to head over to the album page to listen to previews of each track!

Click the links below to download lead sheets of these new arrangements!

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus - Lexington Road Band
O Come, All Ye Faithful - Norton Hall Band
What Child is This? - Doxology
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Christ is Born) - Boyce Vocal Band

Fortress, Refuge, and the Word of God: Luther’s Vision of Psalm 46 (Part 2)

One of the most important thing that I tell my students in my Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs class is that a good hymn should make us thirsty for Scripture, and thirsty for God. “A Mighty Fortress” certainly does so. In the class we identify scripture passages on which a hymn is based and examine how they are used. As is evident from a comparison of this hymn text with Psalm 46, Luther chose not to paraphrase the whole of that Psalm. Instead, he focused on the flood scenes in the first three verses and the cosmic battle in the latter part of the Psalm, where Yahweh shows himself victorious over the rebellious nations of the earth. Luther’s original contribution in this Psalm paraphrase is a vivid, near-cinematic depiction of the battle in which the “flood of mortal ills” and a “world with devils filled” (both lines recalling the Psalm’s opening images of rising torrents) are at war with the armies of the living God. Particularly gripping is his portraiture of the “ancient foe” and the victorious Christ. The unifying refrain found at the middle (46:7) and end (46:11) of the Psalm, “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge,” resonates throughout Luther’s hymn in spirit if not in exact wording.

A New Translation

Since German is my first language, and since I grew up hearing this hymn from my parents first in German, I wanted to attempt a fresh version that might clarify a few obscure spots in the English text. The venerable 1852 English translation still sung by most American Protestants is that by Frederick H. Hedge. Incidentally, his is hardly the only translation available; there are dozens in all. The version by Scottish essayist, social commentator, and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) has long been the accepted translation in England, according to the late leading hymn scholar Erik Routley, and still holds that place in many British hymnals.[1] My version appears in italics below.[2] My longer article with annotations and translation notes, “A Fresh Look at Martin Luther’s ‘A Mighty Fortress’” appears on the Southern Equip blog.

A massive fortress is our God,
A strong defense and weapon.
He alone helps in all the needs
That have us overtaken.
Our ancient, vicious foe
Aims to seek and destroy,
And armed with might and lies,
He wars and terrifies,
And none on earth can match him.

In our own pow’r we’d only fail,
We would be lost forever.
But fighting for us is the Man
Whom God Himself has chosen.
You ask who that might be? 
There is no God but He −
Christ Jesus is His name,
Captain of heaven’s hosts,
And He will hold the field.

And though this world were full of fiends
All trying to devour us,
We know we do not have to fear,
Our God will still empow’r us.
The ruler of this world, 
However much he roars,
Can do our souls no harm;
He is already judged,
One word of God condemns him.

That Word no powers of hell can touch,
It stands, though demons swarm us.
God with His Spirit surrounds His church,
With holy gifts He arms us.
Though men may take our lives,
goods, honor, children, wives,
Nothing will they have won,
His kingdom still will stand;
It must endure forever.

--translation E.R. Crookshank, 2017

[1] Erik Routley, Panorama of Christian Hymnody, expanded and edited by Paul A. Richardson (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2005), 288. For Carlyle’s full text see “A safe stronghold our God is still,” https://hymnary.org/text/a_safe_stronghold_our_god_is_still, accessed October 26, 2017, 3:20 p.m. This is the comprehensive, scholarly online resource for texts, tunes, and biographical and publication information.
[2] While not a perfect singing translation, I preserved the German line meter nearly throughout.


Dr. Esther Crookshank is a Professor of Church Music at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. She teaches in the areas of hymnology, musicology, applied ethnomusicology, and musical aesthetics.

Songwriting Seminar 2017

In the Spring of 2017, The Institute for Biblical Worship hosted a Songwriting Seminar for worship students. Funded by a generous gift from Ed and Sara Fu, three students were chosen to collaborate with Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music and Craig Adams of Lifeway Worship on their music and text. After spending a weekend editing, writing, and rehearsing, the students along with Norton Hall Band debuted the songs live in concert.

We also have lectures given at the conference by Kauflin on Congregational Song and Adams on Keys to Great Christian Songs.

These songs are written for local congregations. Please feel free to use them in your church.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”

  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”

  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!


Dr. Scott Connell is Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Putting Words in Your Mouth

Have you ever been locked in riveting discussion with someone, points and arguments flying back and forth, only to hear your case misrepresented by some crafty rephrasing from the other side? It’s a fact of life: no one enjoys having the wrong words put in their mouths. We get frustrated when people imply or state something that we never said or meant, and so we take special care to make sure the words we say are clear and direct. Putting words in someone else’s mouth is viewed with such stigma in today’s world of individuality and subjective perspective being the keys to self-expression. It’s taboo and wrong for you to speak for someone else. And yet, worship pastors are called to do just that.

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col 3:16 CSB)

Did you catch that? We teach one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Music is not just about the artistic expression of the worshiper as a response to God’s revelation, but it is also about spiritual formation. The word of Christ dwells richly among his people when they glorify God and edify one another through song. We disciple one another by singing the truth. “What more can He say than to you He hath said?” So, put the words of the Word in their mouths. Oftentimes, well-intentioned Christians who seek to apply biblical principles to their lives walk away from a worship service after hearing the Word preached and taught to them, only to forget the main points just hours after lunch. Yet, how often have you walked away from a worship service, still singing the same songs days later? Paul and other New Testament writers appeared to be aware of this phenomenon. Throughout their letters, we find fragments of early Christian hymns (Eph 5:14, Phil 2:5-11, Col 1:15-20, 1 Tim 3:16, Heb 1:1-3, 1 Pet 2:21-25). These writers understood the power of music: how it hangs in the mind, how it forms the poetic language we use to describe our circumstances and our lives.

Music plays a vital role in allowing us to recall the hope of glory in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we need to make everything about the music itself. If we are to let the Word of Christ dwell richly among us, we need to make sure the words we sing are the Word itself. The trend is to focus on the music, providing an avenue for emotional response on the part of the worshiper, expecting to see hands raised and eyes closed as we give ‘em the beat, boys, and free their souls so they can get lost in the rock ‘n’ roll. But we must avoid the lie that music determines and causes our responses. 

No song is peppy enough to stir the emotions of the human heart unless the Word of God dwells richly within it. There is no BPM fast enough to lift the spirits of the mother who got a call on Saturday night that her 17-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver. No major key on its own will speak truth into the life of the 32-year-old single father of 3 young girls who just found out his cancer is terminal. Have you as a worship leader put the words in their mouths for them to be able to say in these times, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul,’” or in more modern terms “Christ the sure and steady anchor through the floods of unbelief; Hopeless somehow, O my soul, now, lift your eyes to Calvary”?

The Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). So, worship pastors, sing the Word. Let it dwell richly among your people through song. Don’t just choose songs for their ambient textures or cool guitar riffs. Put the Word in people’s mouths. They’ll thank you for it.

May the words of my mouth
     and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
     Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14 CSB)


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.