HBC Service Redux: 31 October 2010

Last week’s Sunday service was definitely something different, for a number of reasons:

  1. It was a wonderful baptism service where five people gave testimonies of how God’s turned them from darkness to new life in Jesus Christ.
  2. We celebrated Reformation Day, the day when fallible people read the bible for themselves and recovered the gospel that we boldly proclaim today.
  3. It was the first time we used a choral group to lead the church in musical worship!

By God’s providence all three of these exciting things happened to fall on the same day… so it was a busy week preparing for this one! Here’s a recap of the service (31 October 2010).

Service redux

1. A Mighty Fortress – Martin Luther. It’s commonly known as the battle cry of the Reformation, and based loosely on Psalm 46. A line that is sometimes lost on us today, has heightened meaning when you consider the trials and persecutions the early reformers went through:

Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever!

2. Glorious and Mighty – Todd Twining, Joel Sczebel. There’s quite a few churches that have done excellent choral renditions of this very easy-to-sing, rousing song. We opted for an easier part which dropped the extended choral bridge, but kept the interesting descant parts of verse 3 (you can hear two different arrangements — both done well —  here and here).

I also like how it doesn’t shy away from declaring: “Over all the plans of the nations Your judgements reign”.  The lyrics are straight from Psalm 96, which is worth pondering on whenever the pangs of this fallen world become overwhelming and disheartening.

Testimonies, Baptisms. We had a guy that was saved by watching a Youtube clip of the gospel, another that was an ex-Mormon, former alcoholic, one that gave her life to Christ when pondering on life after friends she knew died in the Elim drowning tragedy. All glory to God for these testimonies.

3. I Hear the Saviour Say (Jesus Paid it All). A beautiful hymn to follow the baptisms, and to carry on the Christ-centric theme of the morning.

“Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow!”

Bible reading. The following was from my notes (and Peter referred to the same thing in his sermon):

A leading figure in the reformation was a man named William Tyndale. He was the first to translate the bible from the Hebrew and Greek texts into English, so that everyone could have access to the Word of God. For his work in doing this, and being part of the reformation, he was tried for heresy, strangled and burnt at the stake in 1535.

To celebrate Tyndale’s legacy, that by God’s grace we have today the sacred scriptures in a language we can understand, let’s all read a passage together. Our scripture reading today is from Colossians 1:15-23.

4. All I Have is Christ – Devon Kauflin. We have to be careful not to do this one too often, because each time we do it the church really engage and respond by exulting with really, really loud singing! This song is the equivalent of a movie blockbuster in my mind… and I think when the gospel is spelled out so clearly in the 2nd verse, you just can’t help but sing at the top of your voice:

“Hallelujah, all I have is Christ!
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!”

You can watch a clip of the “HBC choir” in action with this song:

Sermon. Peter prepared a special Reformation Day message, honing in on one of the “solas” of the reformation — solus Christus, or  “Christ alone”. He showed from the bible how Jesus is the only way, the only mediator, and the only hope for this world. You can watch him in full flight here.

5. In Christ Alone – Keith Getty, Stuart Townend. On Peter’s request, we closed with the same song as the week before. But what other song would work better to follow a strong, stirring message that in Christ alone is our only hope?


Some observations and lessons learned from this service:

  • I think if we were to do a singing group again, it would be helpful to have the conductor separate to the worship leader. While my first time  swinging a chopstick for the choir was quite fun, it meant that my back was turned to the congregation for the most part, and it was harder to cue them in during the singing. I had to turn around and give a fist pump(!) to get everyone back in for one of the choruses – probably funny to watch, but a bit unorthodox…
  • Often, less is more. Choosing fewer strong, well-known songs seemed to be quite effective, compared with other Sundays where we’ve crammed seven or eight songs into the same timeframe. This week’s lighter set list also helped the singers to spend more time practising the parts for song, and also to work at things like blending, dynamics and the shape of the melodies they were singing.
  • A lot of people commented on how it was “so good to have a choir again”, and I definitely saw some of the benefits of having a group of confident singers up the front that the church could model and be encouraged by. I’d want to be careful that creating a choir would not encourage any elitism in terms of setting apart “choir-level” singers from the rest of the church.

With the diversity of musical giftings in our music team, it’s been really refreshing to see that our church is game enough to worship the Lord in music accompanied by a four-part choir one week, and accompanied by a well-oiled rock band another week. As one person said to me afterwards: “Man, I can’t wait to hear what musical styles we’ll get in heaven!” If anything, I’m sure it will surpass all our expectations and shatter our own limited preconceptions.


– William Chong

HBC service redux: 24 October 2010

Just thought it might be helpful to share in a post, a bit of the thinking that goes in the background when planning a Sunday service. Throughout the week, there’s a fair bit of prayer, communication with the preacher, bible reader and the rest of the music team to do our best in leading the folks at Howick Baptist in corporate worship.

Here’s a recap from the Sunday just gone (24 October 2010).

Call to worship

The following is taken straight from my worship leading notes:

From Hebrews 2:6 we read:

It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:6-9 ESV)

And as the writer of Hebrews quotes here from Psalm 8, he’s onto something here… he shows how this Old Testament passage wonderfully foreshadows and points to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. It’s a reminder that the whole of scripture points to, and bears witness about Christ. My prayer is that our praises, our songs, our readings, our message, all of it this morning will also point to, and bear witness to Jesus, our blessed Redeemer.

Let’s stand and worship together: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

1. How Majestic by Mark Altrogge. We had a tight group of contemporary-style musicians this week (guitars, bass, drums, piano, singers), which helped to give the song the energy and drive for this lively opening song, based on Psalm 8.  Ended the song on the dominant, on a sustained C chord, to make the transition from this song (in F major) to the next one (in E major) more natural.

2. Glories of Calvary by Steve and Vikki Cook.  A firm favourite at HBC. It’s a call to believers to remember that the gospel isn’t just a ticket to get into Heaven, it’s what shapes the rest of our earthly race. My favourite line, which has so much meaning packed into it:

“Lord take me deeper into the glories of Calvary”.

3. Jesus Came to Earth by Solomon Campbell, Dave Campbell, and Bob Kauflin. This song first came to my attention when I snuck into a Sunday School service a week I wasn’t on team. The children have a separate time of singing for about 10-15 minutes, and one of the songs that stood out to me was this one. It’s as clear a presentation of the gospel as you’re going to get (in the vein of Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 declaration). I think the smiles on the kids’ faces when we started playing the song was worth the effort learning it!

4. How Sweet the Day by Stephen Altrogge. The thinking behind this one is that Peter recently asked the worship leaders to give some fresh Advent (or Christmas-appropriate) songs a go, to supplement the healthy staple of Christmas carols that we usually do. This one came to mind as one that the congregation might possibly be able to pick up. It’s got a light, happy tune and a catchy chorus:

“Oh sing for joy, lift up your voice
Let us sing for joy, the whole earth rejoice
Let us sing for joy to the Son
For Jesus our Saviour has come!”

5. The Greatest of All by Pat Sczebel, chorus by Fanny J Crosby. A song we taught during Peter’s study through Romans 8:1-17 a few months back. The chorus is taken from Crosby’s hymn “Redeemed”, but set with a fresh rousing melody. The verses are almost a paraphrase of the main themes from Romans 8.

Scripture reading: Revelation 5:1-14. Cyrus did a super job of engaging the congregation with the reading of this passage. You don’t sit and drift off when his booming voice is going!

6. The Power of the Cross by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. What more needs to be said after singing this:

This the power of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame, bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross.


Sermon: 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Our senior pastor Peter Somervell preached a convicting sermon from the text, imploring us to pray and intercede for the lost, no matter how distant from salvation we may assume they are. There’s none to lost to save, and if we don’t intercede for them in prayer: mayors, politicians, co-workers, relatives, friends, enemies… who will?

7. Let Your Kingdom Come by Bob Kauflin. I’d actually prepped (and the team rehearsed) with another closing song, Jesus Thank You. But after reading the outline of Peter’s sermon, I realised I had totally misjudged the thrust of the sermon topic (believing it would be geared towards verse 5, Christ as mediator). But the big-picture story he laid out convinced me that it was better to end with a song to encourage the church family to be faithful in the Great Commission, and to sing:

Let Your song be heard everywhere on earth
Till Your sovereign work on earth is done
Let Your kingdom come!

So it does pay to check emails on a Saturday night!


Some other thoughts:

  • This morning’s songs were deliberately geared to proclaim and recall different aspects of Jesus Christ. This was partly to reflect one of my favourite verses in this morning’s text, 1 Timothy 2:5 – “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”
  • It was only when Simon pointed it out on Thursday that I realised that the set list, bar one, consisted entirely of Sovereign Grace Music songs. It’s a testament to how our church has steadily grown over the years to be more and more accepting of contemporary, theologically-rich worship songs – and I guess it just so happens that SGM put out many of them!
  • For some reason during the fourth or fifth song, the effects pedal for my guitar died. Lesson learned: don’t rely on battery power for this effects pedal!


P.s.: For those who are waiting for the next in the Colossians 3:16 worship music blog series… well so am I! I’m mainly waiting for more time to flesh it out and write again. It’s been pretty busy with work commitments, and unlike Jamie Brown or Bob Kauflin, I’m not a full-time worship leader!

– William Chong

A blueprint for worship music part 2 – “… dwell in us richly…”

Piano Keyboard Macro - wlodi @ flickr

Last week I shared some thoughts on an important criteria we should apply when choosing and selecting music for worship services: that the music should be Christ-centered.

This point, and the next few criteria, are all drawn from Colossians 3:16, a verse that specifically calls followers of Jesus to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…”.

In this post, let’s look at another important consideration when choosing worship music:

2. “… dwell in us richly …”

The worship songs we sing in service should help, rather than hinder, the word of Christ to dwell in us richly.

The word richly here is translated from the Greek word plousiōs, and is used in a number of other places to describe either material wealth (1 Tim 6:17), or spiritual abundance (2 Peter 1:11, Titus 3:6). In each of these contexts, it’s an adjective to explain that something has been given over and above what we’d expect.

If you have ever had a line of a song stuck in your mind for days, or find yourself humming a tune days on end, you could say those words are dwelling in you richly! I believe this is one reason why God gave music such powerful properties.

There have been many times where a well-crafted song lodged itself in my mind.  Here’s the most recent one: on Sunday the music team (led by Craig Starrenburg) presented a beautiful a cappella version of “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”, by Julia H Johnston and Daniel Towner. After hearing it, neither Cheryl nor myself could stop humming the chorus for the rest of the day:

“Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within,
Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!”

In this example, by using a well-crafted, memorable melody, the truth of the doctrine of grace has a better opportunity to dwell in the listener.

And I’m sure in a similar way, many of you will be able to recall a line or two from worship songs such as: “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Shout to the Lord”, and so on. And I know when introducing a new song to the church, a big factor in how well the congregation will take to it comes down to how easy the tune is to pick up, and to recall.

However, melody isn’t the only consideration that worship/song leaders need to take into account.  Vocal instructor Karyn O’Connor explains an important point that many music teams and worship leaders (myself included!) can forget:

“The average person in the congregation both expects and needs the worship songs to be singable – from melody to key signature to tempo to arrangement – so that he or she can participate fully and without distraction.”

Elements of effective music: some questions to ask

For those more experienced with musical terminology, here are some specific questions you could ask when considering the how effective a song, and some of its musical components, might be in helping plant God’s truth deep in us:

  • How easy will it be to follow, remember, and recall the melody?
  • Does the harmony help direct the church to sing the correct tune, and start/stop at the correct places?
  • How easy will it be for the church to pick up the correct rhythm of the tune? Will any rhythmic devices (such as ornaments, syncopation) add to, or detract from the ability to sing and dwell on the words?
  • Will the church be able to adequately follow the structure of the song? Are song elements (chorus, refrain, verse, bridge, instrumentals, solos) marked out clearly, and easy to follow, or will it confuse and distract from the song?

Granted, the way these questions are answered will vary, depending on the musical experience of your church.  For example, if most of your congregation are familiar with the nuances of contemporary music, then songs like “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman (with its heavily syncopated verse and Verse/Chorus/Bridge structure), and “Revelation Song” by Jenni Lee Riddle (with its more complex, meandering melodic/harmonic combo in the verse and chorus) will work just fine.

But take the same song and teach it to a congregation completely unfamiliar with rhythms that don’t stay on beat, melodies that are varied or embellished each time they’re repeated, or song components such as bridges and repeated choruses, and it will likely be more difficult for these saints to remember and recall these songs.

As worship leaders and musicians, therefore, we should practice discernment in ensuring that our selection of  worship songs are an aid, and not a hindrance, in helping the word of Christ dwell in us richly.


When recalling his own testimony of salvation in a letter (1 Timothy 1:12-17), you can almost picture the Apostle Paul bursting into song:

“To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!”

In the same vein, wisely selecting and presenting songs with music appropriate for the congregation can help build up the church, help the word of Christ dwells in them richly, and stir our hearts to praise the Lord as Paul does!

So here’s a question for you: what songs have you sung in church, or heard on the radio, or on a CD, that have helped the word of Christ dwell in you richly?


-William Chong

A blueprint for worship music part 1 – “Let the Word of Christ…”

So last week I started unpacking my own convictions about worship music. In the first post, we set the scene by establishing the biblical basis for why we even have music at all in our worship: in a nutshell, it’s simply because God tells us to (Col 3:16-17, Eph 5:19, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 150).

One of the verses we mentioned last time, Colossians 3:16 really stuck out to me during my own study. It might be useful to point out the wider context of this verse: it’s part of a passage describing the lifestyle and conduct of a true Christian. By the time we get to chapter three of this letter (addressed to the church at Colossae), the apostle Paul has outlined a comprehensive argument for Christ being the only means of new life. Paul then and urges the readers of the letter to respond: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” (Col 3:1). Paul expands on a host of things that those who follow Christ should now do, in light of their new status as born-again believers. They are to put earthly desires to death (Col 3:5-8), put away old lying selves (Col 3:9-11), put on compassionate hearts, forgive one another, put on love, and more (Col 3:12-15).

And so in the midst of all this, the readers of the letter are then called to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). It’s clear here that a worship in music is an appropriate, and desired part of a believer’s worship, and new life in Christ. But I think this verse offers a number of noteworthy and specific signposts on how our worship music should be.

To me, Colossians 3:16 is a good blueprint for some of the goals of the music ministry at Howick Baptist – the home church where I serve as one of the worship leaders. From this verse, we can glean the first of a number of biblical criteria for our worship music:

1. “… the word of Christ…”

Our worship music should be Christ-centered. I think most people appreciate how catchy and infectious good music can be, so it’s crucial that the content and message found in the lyrics are biblical and Christ-centered. After all, the entire bible points to, and declares the amazing story of Jesus Christ! A successful worship song shouldn’t be judged by it’s ability to stir up pure emotion, or to cause us to sing and remember words that do little to magnify Christ in our hearts and minds.

Bryan Chappell, the President of Covenant Seminary, notes:

“Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God’s forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God’s blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.”

Some songs we love to sing at HBC that do this include: “In Christ Alone” (Getty/Townend), “Amazing Grace” (John Newton), and “Soli Deo Gloria” (Mark Altrogge) – of course, there are many more. But in all these examples, the words not only help us to sing and proclaim Jesus, but help us to sing biblically sound reasons for doing so!

For example, singing:

“I am satisfied with nothing less | To feel the closeness of Your breath” (this is a real worship song!)

is confusing, borders on self-centredness, and does little to proclaim the Jesus from the bible.

Instead of vague words like that, it would be much more edifying to sing:

“In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light my strength my song…” (In Christ Alone)
“We resolve to know nothing else but Jesus Christ | Jesus Christ and Him crucified…” (Soli Deo Gloria)
“The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures | He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures” (Amazing Grace)

So when I’m researching, or being confronted with the latest worship song, or some rediscovered hymn, the first thing I need to ask is this: “Does this song have lyrics that proclaim the word of Christ?”

In the next post, I’ll draw another useful criterion we try to apply to our music at HBC, from the next part of the verse.


-William Chong

Preferences in worship music

Last night we had an HBC worship ministry tune-up night. It’s an evening where our musicians, leaders, sound engineers and projector specialists — and their families — get together for a meal, to enjoy fellowship, sing together, have a short bible study, pray for each other, and in general encourage each other in the worship ministry. It’s been really helpful to get together and do this, and I know I’ve personally benefitted each time we’ve done it.

The topic of study and discussion last night was on the issue of worship music style. Let’s be honest – it’s an issue that most churches grapple with to some degree, as believers wrestle over the question: “What style of music is most appropriate in corporate worship?”. For some churches, it’s a non-issue, as the church family all seem to enjoy worshipping under one musical style. In other cases, churches split into different-styled services (e.g. an early morning hymn service, versus a contemporary family service), catering to different preferences but dividing the church family in this way. And in extreme cases, church members argue and fight, and even split into different churches, because the tensions of “traditional” and “contemporary” music aren’t reconciled.

HBC, God has blessed us with a congregation that spans multiple generations. In our Sunday service, we have octogenarians and other seniors worshipping alongside high-school and university-aged students. We have folks from different cultures and countries, all worshipping “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:5-6). Naturally, this brings together folk who have very contrasting preferences regarding musical style, and so this is a practical and pertinent topic for us.

So during our tune-up night, we had some honest and robust discussion on this issue, and we worked through some passages in the Bible to help orient our thoughts and direct the discussion.  There were many good points made, I know many of us were convicted as the truth of God’s word was applied to each of our own preferences in worship music. Time, however, passed very quickly, and  I thought it would be practical and helpful to share some of the things we talked about, over a couple of longer posts.

Worship music: God’s idea

The first (and most important) thing to point out is that God has plenty to say about music in worship. After all, music was God’s idea, and he saw it fit to ask David — a man after God’s own heart — to schedule skilled musicians to regularly play as part of various temple ceremonies (1 Sam 13:14, 1 Chron 16:5-7).  In the Psalms, God’s people are repeatly called to “sing a new song to the Lord”, and to “praise Him with musical instruments” (Psalm 33:1, Psalm 150). In addition, Jesus Himself saw it fit to sing with his disciples (Matthew 26:30) before he was crucified: you could almost see Him and the twelve disciples forming a decent a cappella vocal group…

To me, the two passages that describe worship music most clearly are found in two of the Apostle Paul’s various epistles. In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)

Paul repeats this instruction to the church at Ephesus, when he notes that being Spirit-filled comes with the desire to be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Eph 5:19)

So in all of this, it’s pretty clear that God desires music and singing to be part of our worship. In the next post I’ll use Colossians 3:16 as a basis to outline the criteria for which HBC’s worship music is based on. In the meantime, if I may ask — what discussions do you have at your church/fellowship regarding choice of music? What’s the worship music like at your church? Are there any explicit criteria set out for the music at your church?

“The highest form of worship is hearing God’s Word with an obedient life and then living in submission to its truth.” – Martin Luther


– William Chong