A youth camp song list

For the past few years I’ve been a leader at Übertweak, a Christian youth camp. In addition to being creative with technology, playing complex outdoor wide games, and becoming progressively more sleep deprived as the week goes on, each morning we set aside some time to focus on learning about who God is and what he’s done, and part of that is music. Next camp I’m the music team coordinator, so the task of choosing which songs we’ll sing has fallen to me. Song lists could seem quite incidental, but I think they’re important. There are many competing factors which make it tricky, so I thought I’d share how I chose the songs I did.

A Futurama Fry meme: Not sure if song about God / or boyfriend

The factors

Great words and music: This one should go without saying, but sadly it can’t. Colossians 3:16 says that we are actually to use songs to teach each other, so I wanted ones that had substance to them, with at least some specific Biblical content. Before choosing the final list I asked for suggestions from the other camp leaders for songs which focus on who God is and what he has done, so that if Fry came to camp he’d have no need for his trademark expression! Each Übertweak camp has a theme, so I also tried to find some which fit this one’s theme: God’s Awesome Plan.

Appropriate for campers: We have to be mindful of who we’re choosing songs for. In this context that means 12-17 year olds, some from Christian families and some not, some with a strong mature faith, some with a new faith and some with none. While we want to avoid Christian jargon if possible, it doesn’t means we should pitch down to the youngest campers; instead we should pitch up, it is a time for teaching after all. We also have to be careful with what I call “responsive” songs. Hillsong’s This is our God might be an appropriate song to sing in church, but at a camp with comparatively few strong Christians it would either disengage those who aren’t, or they may get swept along with and feel they must sing what their heart does not really believe.

A range of tempos and moods: This was the easiest factor. In addition to making a list of songs I also planned out a schedule for each day. We’ll start with some fast songs to wake everyone up, before moving towards slower contemplative ones.

Old favourites vs new hits: It’s hard to learn a large bunch of new songs at once, and though that may be unavoidable for some campers, I wanted to minimise it if possible. Out of the eleven songs on the list at least seven have been sung at previous camps. And as Übertweak is non-denominational I wanted to choose songs from a range of different Christian circles. (The list below has who I associate some of the songs with. Unfortunately no songs from Emu/AFES made the final list, though No Other Name by Trevor Hodge came close.) The camp schedule means we’ll be singing 22 songs in total. I wanted to give the campers a chance to learn the songs, so the new songs are introduced one per day, and almost all including the old ones are repeated twice, with our theme song being sung four times. This is a shorter list than some of the previous camps, but repetition is good, and it’s easier on the music team!

The songs

All because of Jesus by Steve Fee (2007): This is one of our openers.

All I have is Christ by Jordan Kauflin (2008, Sovereign Grace): This is a new song for camp. We sing it at church and I think it’s a good song to finish with.

Amazing Grace (My chains are gone) by John Newton/Chris Tomlin (2006, Passion): I really dislike Chris Tomlin’s version, but the team thought this one would be good to include; it’s also the only song from before this century! I’ll be mixing up which verses we sing because I cannot stand the “You are forevvvver minnne” part at the end.

By Faith by Keith & Kristyn Getty (2009): This is our theme song! It’s a great to encourage us to trust God’s plan, and a good song in general.

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher (2009).

Creator by The Lads (2002): An Übertweak tradition, it’s not possible to go through a week without Creator! We’ll start Friday morning with it.

Happy Day by Tim Hughes (2006): Another opener.

Indescribable by Laura Story (2004, Passion).

Our God by Chris Tomlin (2010, Passion): Chris Tomlin makes it into the list twice with this, one of our closers. (I always say I don’t like Chris Tomlin’s songs, but I think that’s more his adaptations of old hymns, such as Amazing Grace and the Wonderful Cross. Some of his original songs are quite decent.)

Promises by Sanctus Real (2012, the radio!): When I heard this song on 96.5 I thought it would be a great addition to the Übertweak music list, and it fits the topic so well too!

Tell the World by Joul Houston (2004, Hillsong): Another Übertweak favourite, and the first song we’ll be singing on camp.

What’s wrong with publishing ministries? Part 2

Early this year I wrote about some of the problems I see in the Christian publishing world. This is a follow up.

My hope is for an eventual transformation and reform of the Christian publishing scene (and for secular publishing too!). No one could force such a thing, nor would that be desirable. Instead I am committed to opening accessibility for resources I produce (choosing for example to submit papers only to open access journals) and gently suggesting ideas to the other publishers I meet. Overall it’s about giving up the rights our government grants us for the good of others. It’s sacrificial, hard, and completely counter-cultural in this rights-obsessed society we live in. I’m convinced such changes are what we need, though the specific way in which each person will give up their rights will be different.

I want us to ask a hard theological question though: how does the thoroughly Biblical concept of supporting Christian ministry fit with copyright royalties? I believe it is a wrong model for financing ministry and could at times lead to problems. For those who are incredibly successful, it could lead to laziness or the idolising of wealth (those in Australia may have noted certain examples on TV this past week). For those who are not successful it could result in the end of their ministry. We wouldn’t say that the William Careys of mission (perhaps those in Japan today) have failed if people don’t come to know Christ, but we might say that a publisher has failed if its volumes don’t sell.

More likely, for those whose publishing is a side ministry, is that the resources remain marginalised. An unfortunate example is Ruth Buchanan, whose music is unavailable on SongSelect, nor on her website. There is not even an option to purchase the albums online, but instead we must email her for more information. I honestly cannot see how this is good for anyone. Presumably Ruth receives a sufficient income from her other work/ministries, so if the default was that Christian resources were open then she would be no worse off, and my church would be using her work in our praises (and possibly supporting her, or some of our members might support her privately). If a publisher was in financial strife then rather than restricting access to their resources they would support raise as other ministries do.

I am not suggesting that we all completely quit using collecting agencies like CCLI, or whatever other strategies we have. But I do think more people would have access to our music if we told them they could freely download and use it from our websites. We could still keep the music on SongSelect etc. as well. I am for the opening and enabling of access to resources, so it makes no sense to close off one avenue which works now!

Recently I proposed to Garage Hymnal that they automatically grant to everyone the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL (was PCL) licences. These licences don’t effect album sales, instead they restrict what songs a church can sing on Sundays (and other days of the week!) Every person and every church should be free to sing good Biblical Christian music, without having to pay to put the words up on a projector. I proposed supporting them financially, matching what they currently get from those CCLI royalties, so that there would be no potential loss of income due to making their music available elsewhere as well. If ignoring royalties they were still at a stable financial position then reducing copyright restrictions should have no negative effect. And any bonus income from royalties could even be given to other ministries.

If you’ve read this and you believe Christian media resources are valuable, can I suggest that you do a number of things:

  • Please pray for a Christian author, musician or publisher that you know! Thank God for what he is doing through them, and that he continue to enable them to serve him.
  • Consider supporting them financially, not giving for the results of past work, but giving so that their future time may be free to serve God, no matter what the results might be.
  • Ask them to consider giving up some of the copyrights on their works, so that through their resources God’s word might spread even further. A good possible licence might be the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivslicence. It puts restrictions on using a work for commercial purposes and altering the work (so a work’s doctrinal orthodoxy wouldn’t be at risk) but otherwise gives you the freedom to share a work. Or perhaps they could just give the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL to all, so that songs can be sung in church without restriction.
  • And if their business strategy so depends on royalties that their resources are only available to those who pay, challenge them to remove that dependence.
  • Finally, write to them, saying how their books or music teaches, encourages and challenges you, and that you’re supporting them prayerfully and financially (if you are).

What’s wrong with publishing ministries?

So today when I was looking at the music I was playing for church I read this, and finally realised why I think CCLI is wrong: “This score is illegal unless used with a CCLI licence. Please don’t undermine our ministry – support it!”

I’ve felt for a long time that there was something wrong with the CCLI model of music distribution, because it seemed to restrict and put up miles of red tape around what should be our free praise. But what could we do, it is what the law demands. But when I read this on the bottom of the sheet music I realised something I hadn’t before, which is that these publishers are ministries, which now makes me even more convinced that the general publishing models they have are wrong.

I wondered whether Christian music composition should really be thought of as a ministry. It’s not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, but then there were musicians in the temple. More importantly, when it’s done well the writing of good Biblical songs should be thought of as what the Bible calls a “word ministry”.

The Bible describes and supports many forms of ministry: part time or full time, tent-making, asking for support, not asking for support. All of these are fine. What is not good is selling the gospel for personal profit (2 Corinthians 2:17.)

Now I can’t say that the Bible definitely excludes the way most Christian publishers operate, but I think it does present a different way of supporting ministry. The main way is that other Christians support ministries, through prayer and financially, to enable the Christian workers to use all of their time to do God’s work freely. To receive that work is entirely free – even if you do support them. But we don’t support these authors, composers and publishers like that (usually). Instead of supporting them so they are free to work freely we instead buy the results of their ministry. And for the composers who wrote the music I played tonight there is basically no way at all in which I can benefit from their ministry other than paying for their music (or paying someone else to buy it.) This is wrong.

I am not sure I am seeing the whole Biblical picture here, and would love to be corrected. I want to call on all Christian publishers to change their distribution models. They are operating as secular publishers do, but instead they should operate as other ministry and mission agencies do – being supported by fellow Christians so they can afford their living essentials, while offering the products of their ministries for free. This doesn’t mean they have to offer their big expensive books for free, just as if you requested a copy of your church’s sermon they might ask for a dollar or two to cover the disc. But it does exclude charging much more than the cost price, because they are not getting a living from the profits of their work, but from being supported by other Christians. And there’s no reason why they can’t offer electronic copies of their resources for zero monetary cost.

Thank you to the few publishers which do offer all you have freely!