Friday, February 23

HBC service gets reviewed

It's interesting to read someone's view of what you spend all of your time on. :-) Interesting. Anybody out there have other thoughts? Agree/ Disagree?

The Harvest (BC) is Plentiful!

This past Sunday, Jeannie and I visited Harvest Bible Chapel in the Chicagoland area.

I can see why HBC might appeal to a lot of 2nd Gens... Good teaching, but also they aren't too pushy... you can easily take your time in getting used to a new church and go at your own pace; or alternatively, you could just as easily remain a face in the crowd if that's your thing.

As we entered the main sanctuary, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Matt Stowell was the main worship leader. I knew that the former president of Moody Bible Institute, Joe Stowell, came over to HBC as teaching pastor. I had heard that it was because his son also served on staff, so I put two and two together and saw the family connection. However, I was thumbing through the church bulletin and it listed Joe Stowell Sr., Joe Stowell Jr., and Matt Stowell! I then figured that Matt must be a nephew or something, but no, turns out he's Stowell's youngest son.

In any case, Matt was a great worship leader, not too in-your-face, very soothing, in fact. I was somewhat surprised to see that they did some pretty old school songs (songs that I would have led back in my heyday): All Who Are Thirsty, Awesome In this Place, Enough, Breathe, In the Presence... I guess that's what you would call "Adult Contemporary."

Some technical observations from a worship-standpoint:

No one on the worship team used a music stand! The absence of stands made it feel like the worship team was more accessible (whatever that means). I did notice, however, that they projected the screen on 3 main screens at the front and one smaller screen at the back so that they team could read the lyrics. Pretty good use of technology to create the sense of intimacy. At the same time, it was kind of weird because we sat left of center, at an angle, and the male background vocalist was the only one facing us. He looked kind of isolated from the rest of the team and even more so since he didn't have a mic stand, music stand or anything!

The sound was good, but it seemed like kind of a waste: you could clearly hear the vocalists, but you had to strain to hear the quality music, which I would have liked to hear more of. I was also disappointed that the nature of the selected songs did not emphasize the electric guitar, which I love to hear more of these days too!

The songs were arranged well - you could tell they put a lot of planning into the order and transitions - however, when they wanted to quiet a song down, they were pretty free with their spontaneous singing (which, btw, was tastefully done - not over-the-top at all). There's a saying I learned in seminary regarding spontaneity: An environment of order gives the Spirit license to move spontaneously. The thought behind this thinking is that when you prepare well, and the Holy Spirit moves, then you know exactly how to respond to His moving.

Now on to James MacDonald! Well, many of us have heard him on Christian radio on Walk In The Word... I'll have to admit, MacDonald preaches rhythmically and very quickly... I don't know how he did it, but he preached through 72 verses in less than an hour AND... it's Tuesday and I still remember his message: When Christians obey God, we receive His blessings, we get persecuted, and then we receive more blessings. It was definitely not geared for "seekers" and I'd classify it as for mature Christians... but it was good to hear and a nice reminder that Christians cannot expect to coast through life when God is on our side; however, there is the promise of future blessings, maybe not on earth, but definitely in Heaven.

On a side note, you know how on the radio MacDonald comes off as "in your face"? Well, he really is... every time he walked over to where we were sitting, I was just praying that he wouldn't yell at me! He actually approached people in the congregation and conversed with them or yelled at them (to illustrate his points). I'm sure that when you're a member, you don't mind because that's just how your pastor is... but from a newcomer's p.o.v., I was terrified at the thought of him calling me out in public.

It'll be interesting to see where we go next week...


Beloved said...

How long ago was this service? I'm trying to remember if we were up here yet. I remember most of the five messages we've heard so far very well.

As far as worship goes, everyone on stage appears to be genuinely worshipping. I agree with this fellow about the "structure and spirit" thing. The way I say it is (and this applies in many arenas of life) "boundaries bring freedom". And I think you all exemplify this extremely well. I did read on the website, though, that you all only practice as a group for 2 hours, right before the service. I have to admit I was very surprised by that, considering the quality of what you all bring to the table. So that's the worship part of it, music aside.

Musically, I agree with him and disagree with him. The majority of services we have been to, I have had to strain pretty hard to hear the electric guitar. When I do hear him, he's great. Pretty "edgy" (he follows the artist's riffs pretty well, and avoids using distortion--AAAGGHHHH!), but not over the top with blues riffs left and right. In other words, he "does his job" very well. Same goes for everyone else. Seriously.

On to drums... both drummers I have seen have done an excellent job (and that's saying a lot, considering how I can never help but critique drummers, since I am one). There were 2 or 3 services where I felt like the drums were a little too muffled, but it seems like the last couple services have been much better. Of course, I'd always like to hear a little stronger bass from the kick... you know, to where you can feel it in the crowd. But you gotta respect the old folks... don't want to break their hearing aids (Those things are expensive!). ;-) That's a compromise definitely worth making.

As far as the solo singers on the sides, I can't speak from experience, b/c I've always sat relatively close to the center. I honestly thought the setup with singers on the sides was a wonderful idea. Much better than having them stand in a row to one side, or (heaven forbid) right in front. Eeek! I don't know. How you all have it set up makes it seem like every section has a "leader". You just have to make sure that everyone up there is leading, both vocally and expressionally. So far, that seems to me to be the case.

On a side note, does the bald-headed drummer get cold on stage or something? LOL. Just playin'.

It's always great to strive for improvement, no matter how well you are currently doing. But if I may add a little more encouragement, the first Sunday my wife and I visited, I could hardly sing along with you all because I was crying too much. It'd been so long since I had been poured into like that. Until then, it was I who had been pouring out, except for once or twice a year when I traveled halfway across the country to worship with the Passion guys.

Before the service was over, my wife and I knew we didn't have to visit any other churches. We knew Harvest was the place for us. And the four weeks since have just confirmed that more.

So, thanks!

Matthew Westerholm said...

wow. thanks, beloved. i'll respond to some more stuff if anybody else writes here.


jmoon said...

hi matthew. I've been attending since August of 2006, and I'm thankful to have Harvest in this season of my life.

Like beloved, I'm thankful for the musicianship of the group. It doesn't point to itself through showmanship or through poor quality, but acts as a means of worship and sometimes as a reason to worship.

After serving in a worship ministry for a long time at my home church, it's been so good to be able to focus solely on God and not "Where is my drummer? how do I lead 'not to us' from keyboard?"

There is also a sense of joy that pervades the entire service... a joy that springs not from some self-help garbage, but from the growing knowledge of God's amazing grace. Thank God for the sound Biblical teaching through preaching and music.

Speaking as an outsider, it is absolutely exciting to see a solid church in which God is moving so powerfully.

But egardless of where God leads me after this season, I am grateful for this pasture.

Three quick side notes:

1. What kind of organ do you use?

2. I have you to thank/blame for pushing me over the edge in buying a keyboard this past November. After leaving my previous church, I had neither piano nor keyboard... and that drove me crazy. The weekend after Black Friday, I left service thinking, "That's it. I want to play that song. I'm getting the keyboard."

3. The drum shield enclosure makes me sad. Both low and high ends sound muted. Any way to get a bright splash without completely killing the rest of the sound? :(

You're welcome to stop by alienme anytime!

Matthew Westerholm said...


thanks for getting [retro]d!

(1) I play a hammond organ. With drawbars, but no pedals. I love it, and can't handle the sythy attempts to duplicate the sound.

(2) What song was it from Good Friday that struck you like that?

(3) The drum cage is a good thing, I PROMISE. Don't blame the cage, blame the speakers.

We run off-stage amps for the guitars, off-stage leslie speaker for the organ, and run the bass direct (through that Line6 bassPod). Then, we yanked all the moniter wedges off-stage and went with in-ears through the aviom system.

Covering the drums also lets my drummers hit a little harder and (some of them) not slow down 'cause their trying to play "churchy."

At least we're not using electric drums. :-)

Kyle said...

Hi Matt,

I have to admit that this is the first "worship review" that I've read, and honestly, I never want to read one again. Here's why.

I think this author misunderstands worship. He spent quite a few words on style and technique, and very few words on experiencing the active presence of Christ. He talked about blend, and mix, and intimacy with the worship team, but not whether or not he was intimate with Christ.

I don't know, but my sense of Harvest and of you is that you're about much more than the technicalities of a service, and whether or not your sound is hot or not. You don't do "church" to be cool, you do it so that the people walking into your sanctuary have an encounter with the living God and walk away changed.

That's what I was missing from this review...

OK. Enough ranting. :)

Matthew Westerholm said...

Thanks, Kyle, for your words of encouragment. I have been thinking about our services in terms pretty well described by everyone's favorite, Bob Kauflin, in this fantastic post.

I just gotten to know "beloved" and from what I've read, "jmoon", would all agree with what you've written.

In our worship services, we're trying to become transparent and let Christ shine.

However, there are two different ways to be "seen". One way is to be so "bad" that people see you instead of Christ. The second way is to be so "good" that people see you instead of Christ. John Piper calls the balance "undistracting excellence," we call it "transparency."

Seeking this sort of input can be helpful as we seek to see the things that people "see" so that we can make them transparent and allow the glory of Christ to shine.

Kyle said...

Hey Matt,

For clarification, I wasn't referring to "beloved" or "jmoon" in my comment, but the original author.

I do agree that there needs to be excellence in what we do, and there is a time and place for review. It was just kind of wierd for me to read a "review" of a worship service from what I presume is an outsider, with zero mention of God, or the purpose of the worship service. I felt like I was reading a CD review.

I've been thinking through the whole "seen" vs. "transparent" issue lately, and I wanted to get your thoughts on the issue. Here's the question that's been on my mind lately.

Am I being an effective worship leader if I'm transparent?

"An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, thereby motivating the gathered church to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God."

I'm sure you have read that (being the Bob Kauflin fan you've become :) ). I want to zero in on one phrase in particular...

"thereby motivating the gathered church to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God"

For years, my prayer before I led worship was "God, make me transparent, so that people don't see me, but they see Your glory." I think that is a necessary prayer, and to this day, I still ask God for the same.

However, with that context in mind (hopefully humility), is there a responsibility to be seen. People are like sheep, and we need to be led. We need to be shown / told where to go. How do I know where to go in Worship if I'm not supposed to look at my leader and see where he is going?

What does (in your opinion) humble leadership look like, leading the congregation into worship, yet remaining transparent.

-Kyle (Yes, Holder)...

Beloved said...


We can never--ever--be reminded too much to keep our eyes on Christ. As a fellow worship leader, I appreciate the ability to talk about technical stuff for the reasons Matthew mentioned. But much moreso, I am encouraged by people such as yourself who continually interject, "But remember to keep the main thing the main thing!"

RE: the whole "seen" vs. "transparent" thing, I don't think it's either/or but both/and. In The Cost of Disipleship Bonhoeffer's chapter on the Body of Christ eloquently (and persuasively, I think) makes the case that the Body of Christ is indeed Christ on earth--that is, Christ is incarnate in His church, hence the metaphor. So, in a real sense, we do--and must--look at one another as Christ. Not in a way that diminishes His otherness, but in a way that recognizes the glory He shines through each of us. Which reminds me--it is not only vocal performance which is able to "worship" God. Instrumental musicians can either worship God/lead worship (or fail to) with their instruments, as can the video crew, sound crew, setup crew, and so on. When you look into the philosophy of being missional, you realize that the "form" of worship is often times as important as the "content", taking into account those to whom you're trying to minister faithfully.

I also wanted to comment specifically--I wondered if you might be getting to this--about the role of the worship leader to "motivate". Matt Redman does a great job in The Unquenchable Worshipper of revealing the absurd, Godglory-robbing efforts of some worship leaders to "pump up the crowd" like some cheerleader. I believe the author of the original "review" referred to this as being "in your face". There's a definite discernable difference between trying to work people into a frenzy and being "undignified" before the Lord as one leads in worship. The one is obviously a response to "the greatness and grace of God" (such as God's people did at the conclusion of Leviticus 9), and the other is a conjured up, self aware stunt to try and produce a response (such as the priests did at the outset of Leviticus 10) in order to make one feel that he/she is being effective. The one exults in Christ; the other, in self.

Thanks for the great conversation, everyone!