It was popular last year, so I am doing it again. Here are my “new song” recommendations for each of your Lectionary-based worship services in the upcoming church year. On most of the Sundays I have included a choice of songs. I have not used all of these songs in worship and some of them were released in 2015 so please have your Pastor review all the lyrics prior to use.
Here is an excerpt of the song choices:
Contemporary Song Choices for 2015/2016 based on the Lectionary Readings
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Eph 5:19,20
But sometimes we forget. So he said it again:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. – Col 3:16
We need musical variety so our worship doesn’t become routine, stale and boring.
Did you now that we share the gift of music with angels? It says in Rev 5:13
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
Attending a Christian concert can be a really good time and an uplifting experience but it is not meant to be a replacement for attending a church worship service because we need to be participants and not just spectators.
As a church musician, my goal is not to copy what I hear at a concert because I am not there to entertain, I am there to serve and it’s a huge difference. The most important piece is not the sound quality or how well I play my instrument; it’s how people are being fed God’s truths and given the opportunity to join in praise as we sing together. And for this reason, no one really cares if I make a mistake. In fact, the people in the pews are like family to me. They are not supposed to be musical critics. They are worshipers.
But we are sinners and that means that we sometimes get critical even to the point of deciding what style and what instruments God prefers. I often wonder if God really cares much about musical styles because styles come and go like the wind. I am however sure that He cares about the hearts of those that make and those that sing the music. It is after all music that gives us a language and a vocabulary of engagement with God that is pleasing and beautiful.
In the end, we are all servants united by a common purpose and we are not defined or divided by style.
A review of the latest CD release by Contemporary Christian recording artist Mike Westendorf.
by Steve Brown
What Songs Do You Carry? Isn’t it true that we all carry a bag of songs along with us throughout our lives? I know that I do. I still remember the song that my wife and I danced to at our wedding – it happened to be “If” by Bread. I can hear it in my mind right now as we tried our best to gently foxtrot across the floor. I remember songs from certain funerals that I have attended, I remember songs from my youth, and I certainly have my favorite hymns and other Christian songs that help to carry me through the roughest times. I recall hiking with my wife once on some high mountaintops (she is afraid of heights) and after the hike she told me that during the highest lookouts, while standing as near to the edge as she dared, she would sing to herself “Right Here” by Jeremy Camp because it’s in those fearful moments that she wanted to know that God was nearby and she made the connection using a song that she carries. Songs that we carry have a special meaning to us, they comfort us, and they remind us of fond memories. I believe that Mike’s CD contains some of the songs that he carries in his heart and that it gives him overwhelming joy to share these songs, which are a piece of his soul, with the church. Some of Mike’s songs are a bit more personal than you might be accustomed to in church, but they show a very comfortable side of the relationship between Mike and his Savior. It’s a heart-felt relationship that many of us long to have.
Where Inspiration is Birthed When I first listened to Mike’s CD, I thought to myself, “Mike is a storyteller more than a lyricist.” After listening to his CD several times, I took out the liner notes and read that he refers to himself as a storyteller as well. This is evident as you listen to his music. What’s interesting is that Mike states that some of his songs “were written just for me” and that these songs “will be a sort of refrain to a larger story that God is working out in our lives.” These quotes ring true with me and echo my very thoughts.
I contrast Mike’s words to mine: “In Ephesians 2:10, God’s word states that we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Some pretty powerful words indeed! That word “handiwork” is actually translated from the Greek word “poiema” from which we get the English word “poem.” The Bible is filled with poetry. The traditional church’s music overflows with rhyme and meter. In a very real way, my life is unfolding God’s poem for me. I am the poem, the thing being written and so are you. God is the poet.” – Steve (excerpted from the book “Lifestyle Worship”)
What’s Your Story? God is crafting a marvelous story for each of our lives. Both Mike and I are actively pursuing our stories, we are in fact all in pursuit of God’s story for our individual lives. Mike’s music is making a statement and this statement is part of the ongoing story that God has planned for him. What is your story? What poems are in your heart? What is God doing in your life? What songs do you carry?
Ephesians 2! But the similarities between Mike and I go even deeper. Mike and I write about poems and lyrics written that are just waiting for a melody and we each claim Ephesians 2 as playing a significant role in inspiring our work (as does my brother who is a writer as well!). I quote Eph 2:10, my brother quotes Eph 2:6 and Mike quotes Eph 2:1. The strange thing is that I have never met Mike in person. We are FaceBook friends and we are brothers in faith, but one day, our great Creator will introduce us to one another, of this I am sure. At that point we can talk about the colorful songs we have carried throughout our earthly lives. I encourage you to read Ephesians 2 yourself and see if God inspires your story through it.
The Sharp Keys The CD is well produced, sounding beautiful to my ear and uplifting to my soul. I would say that all of the music except one song is guitar-driven as opposed to piano-driven and my guess is that Mike likes the sharp keys – G, D, A and E. Some of the harmonies are so tight and sonorous that you might think they were sung by a brother and sister team.
Every Picture Tells a Story The CD cover artwork is humble and introspective, using brownstone muddied tones that depict a man who loves worshipping his Savior, enjoys life and family, holds music in high regard, and as a fellow guitarist I can appreciate the fact that Mike is holding and playing his instrument in all six photos. Included with the CD are all the lyrics and a special message from Mike. I listened to all the music first, a few times, then read the lyrics and finally Mike’s message. After doing this, I was compelled to listen again and in more detail because his music just seems to invite the listener into his world and to appreciate all of God’s graces and majesty.
Mike’s lyrics are bit unusual, but I mean this in a good way. There are so many Christian songs coming out today that all seem to be saying the same thing – one giant amalgamation of praise. But Mike avoids the rote cliches with his unique phrases that will engage the listener and pull you into his message; which is a good thing for a song to do.
The Songs that Mike Carries
Here is a quick rundown of the songs:
I Will Sing – The bridge will surprise you. Suffice it to say that John Newton’s most famous hymn fits in with the story of this song. Excellent electric guitar work as well; I loved the intro, the outro, the power chords, the riffs – the whole enchilada. This song was inspired by Psalm 89.
My Own Best Friend – A very warm and heartfelt message that I think Mike is singing to one of his sons. Not a song that you would probably use in worship but priceless nonetheless. The bridge contains a particularly endearing plea. Thanks Mike! You blessed me through this piece.
You Are – A good song to sing in corporate worship. The bridge uses a portion of Psalm 23 which is the kind of nice surprise that Mike tucks into his songs. The CD also includes a performance track of this arrangement for use in worship.
Coming Soon – This song is epic! The lyrics portray a conversation between us in worship and Jesus. The chorus is bombastic and the vocals soar.
In the Garden – Is Mike talking about Eden, or Gethsemane, or something entirely different? You must listen for a fresh take on “The Garden.”
Worthy (All Glory to Your Name) – Another great song to sing in worship along with the provided accompaniment track. The inspiration for this piece was Revelation chapters 4 and 5.
Climb the Mountain – This is Mike’s motto. He usually signs his name with it. When I first saw this I had no idea what he was referring to. I think that I now finally get it. The mountain is the pinnacle of our worship experience and we climb the mountain as we grow closer to God. Mike’s heart is to help to give you the best worship experience possible, and he does this through his music and the work of the Spirit. You can watch Mike tell the story behind this song here: https://youtu.be/eKIkb3qn8h4.
Safely Home – Another touching arrangement from Father to son or daughter beautifully embellished by cello. This piece would be an amazing song to have a soloist sing at a Confirmation service. The Holy Spirit, I am quite sure, would see to it that there would not be a dry eye in the house. I just love the lyric where Mike turns things over to his child by saying “You’re older now, the pen is yours, you’ll write all new pages, the story now becomes your own new chapters without end.“
At a Time – The only piano-driven arrangement in the collection. It’s a simple yet beautiful song encouraging us not to lean on our own understanding but to rely on our God for strength to get through those tough days. Talk about a sign from Heaven! – watch this – http://youtu.be/6fGLVN1yOPs.
It is obvious from this CD that Mike has a passion for sharing God’s word through music to children, teens and young adults that is fed by his own love for Christ and the work of the Spirit who is working powerfully in and through him. The Church is blessed to have a man, a musician, an artist, and a worshiper with this amount of passion towards this age group. I pray for much success to Mike in his efforts to reach the weak, the wavering and the lost through his music and that he continues to climb the mountain to see his unique story unfold.
Are you a musician, an artist, or both? Are the best musicians artists? This post attempts to answer these questions.
In the secular world, you can watch any popular singing talent show and hear the judges tell the contestants that ‘artists’ make the song their own. And it’s the incredibly talented ‘musicians’ that back-up the singers.
A musician is a person who plays an instrument to make pleasing sonorous sounds either solo or in joyful combination with other musicians. Musicians can be highly technical and accomplished to the point of sight reading nearly any piece of music and from any style or genre. They are detail oriented and like things ordered.
By contrast, an artist usually has the musician’s skill set but adds to it an individual interpretation. The artist is a creative type by nature, she sees things a bit differently, she innovates and interprets a piece of music beyond the printed notes – they like to be the ones with the box of crayons. He is a trendsetter with something burning in his heart that he just has to share. The artist is more personal and less of a perfectionist and typically uses the right side of the brain more. Artists tend to be somewhat thin-skinned, sensitive and more emotional than other people. The artist sometimes needs the musician to help bring their musical creation to life.
Both are needed in God’s kingdom. Both are servants. Both are gifted by God. Both are passionate. Both are loved by God. Both are God’s children. We need both. We encourage you, as the church leaders to foster a community that engages both in harmonious worship.
Unfortunately, in the traditional church where Steve and Mike roam, the musicians tend to dominate and the artists are somewhat looked upon with judgmental suspicion. This is sad because it’s what’s in the heart that matters. But based on the definitions and observations mentioned here, both musicians and artists can have humble, servant hearts with a passion to serve their Lord and the congregation. Let’s put it this way, King David was most likely both an artist and a musician.
In the church, we actually need to learn how to harness the artist’s gifts better. Here is some advice:
Artists are particularly well suited for special events such as concerts, picnics, outreach events, teen groups, special bible studies, festivals, etc. Give the artists a little room here and watch their imaginations bring glory to God.
Artists can be used in the worship service but might need a little guidance from the Pastor in terms of song selection and protocol.
Combine the artists with the musical worship team for a bounty of beautiful music.
Have the artists work with your musicians to help to improve their craft, and vice-versa.
So which are you? Me (Steve), I am a musician and not a very good one. Mike, he’s an artist and too humble to say, so I’ll say it for him – he is a gifted one. In the end, it of course doesn’t matter; what does matter is your belief in Jesus as your personal savior from sin.
A special thanks to Mike Westendorf for joining me on this post and sharing his insights. Mike is a church ‘musician’ and a recording ‘artist’ in the Milwaukee area. For more information, or to discuss booking arrangements at your church, contact Mike at:
Other places to learn more about Mike and his music:
It was popular last year, so I am doing it again. Here are my “new song” recommendations for each of your Lectionary-based worship services in the upcoming church year. On many of the Sundays I have included a choice of songs.
Email me at sjbrown58 “at” yahoo “dot” com if you would like a copy of this file.
Contemporary Song Choices for 2014/2015 based on the Lectionary Readings
Good musicians say that it is not the notes but the pauses between the notes that make music.
Our God just pours out blessings upon blessings on us believers through His gracious gift of music. We need to use it wisely to His glory. Just pause for a moment and think about how great music really is.
To take the gift of music and use it for the reason God gave it to us is nothing short of miraculous, no matter how simple or how elaborate the offering is, how new or old it is and whether it is accompanied by one instrument or one hundred. As long as it proclaims truth and comes from a heart of praise, our singing delights the heart of God. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
• The Holy Spirit fills the heart of the musician to the point of overflow.
• Filled musicians will easily find the “pocket” of the song.
• A good musician is humble, with a heart longing after God’s.
• A good musician does not want to be on a platform. They desire the opposite; to be made “less of” so that God may increase. They understand that if you don’t have a hunger for the things of God, then you must be full of yourself.
• A good musician will not only lead a congregation in worship, their actions will command it. Being filled with the Spirit, they will engage you to sing, to praise, to pray, to feel the music and to listen with your heart. People will want to join in and sing.
• Good lyrics embrace me. Like a rare earth magnet, they can pull you into the song.
• Good lyrics are memorable. They are truthful, Christ-centered, gospel-focused, bursting with grace, filled with scriptural language and remind us of hope. I recently heard the word hope described as this acronym: “Hold On, Pain Ends.”
• Good lyrics become part of your vocabulary.
• Good lyrics stimulate your emotions, especially longing to be with God
• Music is a symphony of harmonies blending together around a melody and being carried by a groove that diffuses into your heart.
• A good melody is easy to sing and as memorable as Yankee Doodle Dandy. It is enjoyable. It adds strength to the lyrics. It matches the mood and feeling of the worship.
• A good beat gets your foot tapping; even the most stoic Lutheran.
You’ll know when you have heard a good song, offered by a gifted musician who understands the source of the gift, with finely honed truth-filled lyrics and a beat that drives the message into your melon – it’s the song that you’ve chosen for your funeral! My guess is that it’s hymn.