"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Cynthia Cullen Interview (Part 1)

Cynthia Cullen

SM - Many ministries play fast and loose with copyright laws. How do you get permission to play other people's songs and use the lyrics?

CC - We use two copyright companies - CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International, find them at http://www.ccli.com/UnitedStates.cfm ) for all of our songs and CVLI (Church Video Licensing International - http://www.cvli.org/cvli/index.cfm ) for video licensing. Many churches don't realize that you need to get permission for any movie clip that you use, even when you're not charging anything.

SM - And sometimes different movie houses have different restrictions?

CC - Yes. For example, Dreamworks is a very difficult publishing house. I've read that Dreamworks doesn’t allow you to use clips that are more than 2-1/2 minutes long. Period. You just can’t do it.

We try hard to stay within these guidelines for copyrighted movies and music. I believe that God has called us to uphold our society's laws. Sometimes we find the perfect clip, but we know that we can't legally show it. We have to say "no." I hate being the ax man, but God's called us to a higher standard. Being a song writer myself, I feel for those who write songs and have others use them illegally. But it's not just about money; it's about respect. We must respect a person's creative work. We're not perfect in this area, but we really try to live above board.

Not long ago, complying with copyright law was a pain. Today, CCLI has made it easy, giving us a password to their site to help us find the lyrics to any song we want. Every three years we fill out a report of what songs and clips we've used.

SM - So you pay a yearly fee?

CC - One annual fee for both licenses.

SM - This is reasonable for even smaller churches?

CC - It doesn't cost much, and there are many benefits of membership.

SM - Charles Wesley used to take tunes to songs when they first became popular and then rewrite them using spiritual words. Many of our traditional hymns were set to tunes that were popular at the time. I've heard of churches doing this with today's popular songs, after getting permission to use the tunes, of course. The benefit is that a lot of people already know the tunes so they don’t have to go through that learning curve. Have you had any positive or negative experiences with this?

CC - I have done that. Willow Creek has done that with many songs. Yet, generally at NorthStar we try to find a song that already fits as is rather than change a song to make it fit. We stay away from songs where people will say, "I already know that" or "I’ve heard that." When everyone's saying about a popular song, "I love that song," I wonder if the song has already run its course and had its impact. People have to think more when they encounter a new song. Yet, we want people to have some degree of familiarity and comfort.

A worked in a church in South Florida that used popular tunes a good bit. They targeted people who had never been to church, and it seemed to work well. At NorthStar we've got more of a mix of churched and unchurched.

SM - What kind of training do you need to lead a worship ministry? How did you train for this ministry, both formally and informally? Since your parents were bi-vocational church planters, working in small churches, you had some unique experiences. How did that background help you?

CC - There are pluses and minuses to growing up in church. Those who didn't grow up in a Christian home have the advantage of carrying less traditional church baggage than I had. I've had to go back to the Scriptures to unlearn certain views of God and the church that I picked up as a child. Those who didn't grow up in church get to learn everything fresh as an adult. Since they never got accustomed to the older cultural forms of Christianity, they may be able to more easily spot and eliminate insider forms that have no meaning to most people today.

On the other hand, I had the advantage of loving parents who taught me to walk with the Lord at a young age. I saw God change people's lives. Mom and dad never protected us from seeing God do something, even if it wasn’t a very comfortable situation. I’m grateful for that. I think that has been the greatest key to my ministry. Experiencing it as a young person, I don't have to relearn it now.

Musically, I grew up playing the piano. My mom was a piano teacher and she started teaching me when I was 3 or 4 years old. I quit when I was 12 or 13. Then I began going to concerts and saw pianists and keyboardists playing without music. By the smiles on their faces I could tell that they loved it. So at about 13 years of age I thought, "I could do that!" and proceeded to learn to play by chords and by ear.

Now that I was motivated to play, I learned under a teacher in high school and entered classical competitions. I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science in Sacred Music with an emphasis in piano and voice. It was also helpful that I had a youth ministry minor. I’ve always loved working with students, probably because of my high school experience. My music teacher kind of wrapped his arm around me when I was about 13 and really invested in me. He let me play at things where I’d be freakin’ out, thinking I couldn’t handle it. But he believed in me and made me want to do the same thing for other students.

So I have a youth ministry minor as well, which was great. I think my youth ministry classes and my psychology classes were probably more beneficial to ministry than any other classes.

Looking at my formal music education, I’d say most of what I’ve learned in worship has been by watching and listening and reading. In college I traveled with a semi-professional group. We did concerts all over the country, including big political rallies. Those experiences taught me a lot about performance and technique.

Many worship leaders could use a music theory course. Even just one semester could help lead worshippers understand music and communicate with their team. At NorthStar, I lead four or five other worship leaders, fifteen band members and fifteen singers. Four or five of them have music degrees. I need to know the fundamentals of music to be able to communicate.

Concerning worship and ministry, I read a lot. You’ve got to read everything. Don't limit yourself to one favorite author. Read the gamut and discover what other people are saying about the subject. And if you agree with everything that you read, you’re probably wishy-washy. You need to read something that you don’t like in order to challenge your process. Some of my teachers encouraged me to challenge the process and to read to discover what I believed.

To read Part Two of this article, click HERE.