My Fathers’ Music Part Three

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What is the Role of the Family in Public Worship?

Psalm 145:4 NKJV

One generation shall praise Your works to another and shall declare Your mighty acts.

Family Love

Author’s note:  Part Three is a story of unity with diversity.  The principles of my fathers’music—all of them— takes me over seas and across the United States making music and ministry with established leaders and ministers and always seeking out the young anointed ones. Two principles guide me:

  1. Semper Reformanda! “Always Reforming” This is the fourth great principle of the Protestant Reformation. No one generation completes the job of worship renewal.  Passing truth and tradition on to those who come behind, we equip them to do their own part in keeping worship culturally relevant and scripturally valid.
  2. Generation to Generation Worship is about more than the moment in which it happens. We must come before the Lord and do so in a way that engages all the generations and subcultures within the congregation.  This demands outstanding musicianship and mature sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

These challenges keep me on the road teaching and at the computer writing. Along the way, I still get to make My Music!

From Generation to Generation
I am a Baby Boomer musician, trained professionally in band, choir, orchestra, music theatre and in the music of worship.  I have my own music, but I love the music of my Father’s generation and the music of my kids and grandkids.   I see the value and power of all of it and I know that it contains the heart-songs of many of those whom I seek to lead in worship.  Above them all, is the music of my Heavenly Father! It is music from all styles that exalts the Lord, edifies the church, and flows in a fitting and orderly way.  His music is music of the heart (Spirit) and the mind (truth). If the generations within the congregation are to enjoy an ongoing dialogue about the glory of the Lord, we had better learn how to listen and to love each other’s songs.

Learning to Love Someone Else’s Music
Every worship leader serves as a limiter on the worship of the church.  It is inevitable that our personal musical tastes will be evident in our selection of songs for public worship.  Some are happy with this and expect the church to bend to their tastes and philosophies if they want to worship. Others, for the sake of generational sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit, will seek to minimize their limitation factor by developing a respect for valid worship music that is outside of their own set of tastes.  If you are one of those, you may be wondering how to go about learning to respect and then to love other people’s worship music. There are steps we can take to be less of a limiter on the worship we lead.

Step One: review your own story.
I have told you some of my story.  Before I had my own music, I had the music of my father and my teachers.  Remembering the processes that brought you to the set of musical preferences you bring to worship leading can be a powerful revelation.  Your likes and dislikes have been formed by these processes.  You have things that you really like and things that you really don’t like.  Identify your “fathers” in music. Examine those influencers in the light of Scripture.  Which of their ideas are consistent with biblical principles and directives and which are at variance with them?

If you have never done this, this may involve an intensive biblical study of worship.  A worship leader must know what pleases God if he/she expects to be led by the Spirit of God through a lifetime of ministry.

Step Two: Review the church’s story.
Every church is a collection of worship subcultures.  Some of these will not be relevant to the current move of God and some of them will.  The worship leader must know the people he/she seeks to lead in worship.  Identify the music of the relevant subcultures and experience it.  It is easy and a bit lazy to immerse oneself in one’s own worship culture to the exclusion of others in the congregation.  Listen to several recordings until you have the essence of a song.  Find something to respect in the song itself and envision the possibilities of how the song might fit into the worship you lead.

Step Three: Recognize the validity of the “Heart-song.” 
Every identifiable subculture or generation has a heart-song—a textual theme and musical language that opens the heart of the worshiper.  It is not difficult to discover the heart-song of a group.  Simply listen to and analyze the songs that move them to worship.  Jesus said that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  This is certainly true of worship music!  Here are my observations of the congregations I have led in worship.

  • The Builders are my parent’s generation, the World War II generation. Their sensitivities were formed by the Great Depression and World War II.  Their heart-song is “Jesus is my Savior.” They like to celebrate all the things the Lord has done for them and those things He has promised to do.  Their songs are binary in form (2-parts: verses and a repeated chorus) and feature memorable tunes and sweet 3-4part harmony.
  • The Baby Boomers are the children of the Builders. We have been marked by the failure of leadership (assassinations and political scandals, Viet Nam, etc.)  We celebrate Jesus as our Savior but our heart-song is “Jesus is my King.”  Our songs have many styles: scripture songs, warfare marches, joyful songs in minor keys, altar songs, and anthems of high-sounding praise. Stylistically we are diverse, using everything from blues and jazz to symphonic to film-score sounding arrangements.  Songs are generally binary but often feature a third part—a bridge leading back to the chorus.
  • The Generation Xers are our children. Their music is more free-form and rhythm based.  They tend to prefer smaller groups than choirs and orchestras.  The heart-song for this group could be said to be “Jesus is my Friend.” This is the daycare, latch-key  generation who are not as close to their parents as those before them. In fact I have encountered some who despised the music of their parents.  Many have been segregated from adults for most of their worship-lives so they seek relationships within their own age groups.  They expect their preferences to be attended to.
  • The Millennials are the latest generation I have observed. Their worship music is much simpler, usually composed with simple, repetitive chords playable by guitarists of minimal skill.  The songs themselves seem almost formless, almost like improvisations rather than compositions.  Their heart-song is “Jesus is my Rescuer.”  They are passionate in their desire for a relationship with Jesus, reaching out to him with emotional, vivid lyrical content which can seem narcissistic to older worshipers. They also, have been segregated from adults in their worship experience and are steeped in their own culture.  When they are exposed to the music of older generations, they are quite open to it, if it resonates with their heart-song.

Step Four: Recognize the importance of structure and function.
Songs are tools to do the work of worship.  The structure of the worship service should be a primary concern.  Having the right song for the right moment in the service is the essence of spiritual leadership.  The worship service unfolds through its structure.  The primary biblical expression of this structure is seen in Moses’ Tabernacle:

  • The service begins with thanksgiving. (“the Gates of Thanksgiving”)
  • It proceeds through the Outer Court of Praise and Repentance. (“Altar of Sacrifice”)
  • This is followed by the Holy Place of Worship. (“The Table of Bread,” the Word of God; “The Altar of Incense,” Prayer; each in the light of the “Golden Lampstand,” The Holy Spirit”
  • Ultimately arriving at the Holy of Holies. (The Ark of the Presence and Covenant, the promises and healing presence of God.)

Songs function at these parts of the service.  They help us

  • give thanks, proclaim praise, humble ourselves before God, (Outer Court)
  • pray and confess the Word as we follow the leadership of the Spirit, (Holy Place)
  • Receive from the Lord in prayer. (The Holy of Holies)

Both new and old songs help us do all these things!  Like the content, the function of songs can bring about a convergence of the old and the new. Worship leading is so much more than stringing songs together!


Your music is essential.  Each generation captures the prophetic voice of the Spirit of God for its time of ministry.  This has been going on for generations!  When worship leaders stretch beyond their own generation to respect and use the heart-songs of all the people in the congregation, our worship services can rise above mere songs to the ministry of the Spirit of God.


Psalm 145:4 NKJV

One generation shall praise Your works to another and shall declare Your mighty acts.

Semper Reformanda!

Stephen Phifer

My Fathers' Music Part Three

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