WORDS

THE SETUP

"He Is Yahweh" is a Vineyard song written by Dean Salyn and published in 2001. I first heard it years ago on an indie worship album by a group called 1000 Generations.

I still remember a few things about the song. First, I remember that it was piano-based. That may not seem like a big deal, but in 2001, most every worship album was driven heavily by guitars of both the acoustic and electric variety. The fact that this tune used electric guitar as a texture and not the foundation was a big deal to me. Secondly, I remember the concept being very striking. If you've never heard the song, let me explain: each verse of the song is a list of questions about God ("who is standing on the mountain and on the earth below?" "who is He that brings me comfort?") and the chorus is a list of answers. More specifically, a list of the names of God. The chorus ANSWERS the verses and as a young songwriter, I found that very compelling.

I hadn't heard the song since the early 2000s and was surprised to find it last year on a new Vineyard album. On that collection, the song was led by The Neverclaim. It took me a minute or two of "where-have-I-heard-this?" but eventually my mind went back to 2001. It was a fun little jog down memory lane, but I quickly forgot about it.

Until three weeks ago.

That's when I happened on a YouTube video of worship leader, Cory Asbury, leading this song for Bethel Music. I was familiar with Cory's music from his IHOP days and thought perhaps this video of "Yahweh" was a new tune of his. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was this old song I used to love.

I watched the video a few times. Then a few more. I loved the arrangement and enjoyed Cory's vocals. Most of you know I'm not a huge Bethel Music fan, but I can appreciate the musicianship and delivery. So...like most songs I enjoy and find myself listening to over and over, I thought, "Hmmm...maybe I should lead this song soon" and began my normal process of deciding on whether or not to lead the song. This is usually a long process for me as I try to dig into the song as deeply as I can before adding it to our catalog.

And then I hit a word in Verse 2 that stopped me. Here's the lyric:

Who is He that makes me happy?
Who is He that gives me peace?
Who is He that brings me comfort
And turns the bitter into sweet?

THE POINT

Why did I balk at the word, "happy"? Some sort of silent warning was going off in my head when I hit that word, but I couldn't tell why. Was it some sort of Spirt-led STOP-DO-NOT-GO conviction or was it something else?

It was something else.

I lead worship in a Bible church. A good, healthy, growing Bible church. And while my church doesn't wave the banner of "We're a Reformed church" or "Hey, we're Calvinists over here!" we do affirm God's sovereignty. In fact, if you were to poll our people, you'd find a lot of us - probably the majority - are Reformed (or Reformed-leaning) in our theology.

You wanna' know a word that Reformed churches don't use very much? HAPPY. In fact, I'd theorize that most Bible churches use that word in the negative more often than not: IT'S NOT ABOUT YOUR HAPPINESS or GOD ISN'T OUT TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. It's a word with a negative connotation. We'll use "joy" or "contentment" or "satisfaction" but not "happy."

I'm not sure I'm ready to throw out the word, but that's not the point of this (very long) post. The point is that words are tricky. The point is that every church has its words that we don't use. Maybe it's justified, maybe not. As worship leaders, we have to care about words. We have to think about think seriously about words. We have to evaluate them, and maybe even defend them. We have to be smart about semantics. We have to become very wise about language and what we want our people to be singing.

And you know what? Following God does make my happy. Much more happy than I'd be without Him.

IT DOESN'T GET BETTER

You'll have to indulge me on this post, gang. Normally, I write these things with worship leaders in mind. Every time I sit down at the keys, my aim is simple - to take the lessons learned from my worship leading experiences and share them online as a way to encourage others.

But sometimes, I write these for me.

I still maintain that worship songs and hymns are the hardest form of music to write. There are so many unique challenges in trying to create something a congregation will both benefit from and enjoy singing. But as difficult as it may be, those of who write these sorts of songs are hooked. (We can't help but write 'em and think about 'em and analyze 'em!) And once you start building some skill in songwriting, something happens.

YOU START THINKING YOU'RE GOOD.

People in your church are singing your songs telling you how much they enjoy them and you suddenly realize, "Hey, I'm a legit songwriter. What's next?" You keep writing, but you're also thinking about other churches doing your songs - cause that would mean you're a FOR-REAL SONGWRITER. Or making an album - that would definitely be a PRO SONGWRITER move. Or what if your songs started showing up on other peoples' albums? That must feel awesome, you think.

But here's what I know after leading worship and writing songs since I was 14 years old; after all the camps and retreats and DNOWs and churches I've worked at, I'm convinced of one thing as a songwriter:

IT DOESN'T GET ANY BETTER THAN YOUR PEOPLE SINGING YOUR SONGS.

A check from CCLI or your name on iTunes pales in comparison to hearing the people you care about being blessed by something you wrote. That's it. That's the pinnacle of songwriting - not signing a contract or making records or gaining a reputation as a writer. You'll never reach a career accomplishment more profoundly humbling or important than your church singing your songs.

Aim for excellence. Write a lot of songs. And by all means, if God blesses you with a songwriting career, go for it. But never forget that you started out trying to write things people could sing. And it doesn't get better than that.

IT'S NEVER WHO I THINK IT IS

A little over two years ago, I posted (on my personal blog) some thoughts why we don't use multi-tracks in worship at my church.

I won't repost the whole article, but the link is here if you want to read it. But I'm not just here to rehash an old blog post. As the use of backing tracks grows, I'm realizing a disparity among the churches who use them and those who don't. Here it is: the churches using backing tracks never are the churches I expect. 

When you research tracks, the overwhelming thing you'll hear is that tracks allow you to add in parts of the song you don't have. Then the examples will be something like, "your bass player has a flat tire and can't get to church; with tracks, just unmute the bass channel and you're all set!" or "maybe you're a small church without a drummer; these tracks will give you the full band sound you're looking for, with the ability to control drum volume."

The problem is that I don't know any small churches who use backing tracks. It seems as if the churches who might most need the versatility of multi-tracks are never the ones who are using them. In my experience, the only churches i know using tracks are big churches with big music teams, complete with a rhythm section, multiple guitars and keyboards, as well as vocals. Which means that loops, programmed kick drums and string sections seem to be the features most utilized through track software.

So, what's the point? If I'm not using this resource, why should I care about it? (Much less, write about it!)

Because it's an industry. Worship leaders are more targeted and marketed-to than ever before. And if we're not careful, if we don't ask questions about the stuff we're told we need, we'll just keep wasting money on stuff that's not really made for us. Because there's nothing wrong with a church (big or small) using backing tracks. There IS something wrong, however, with a church buying something because a company told them they need to buy it.

Be careful with your budgets, worship leaders. Make every purchase count toward what God's called you to do. Just because somebody buys a full page ad in a magazine or site you like, that doesn't mean it's for you. If it works, work it! If not, that's okay! Let's be wise about the resources we buy!

FREE SONG DOWNLOAD - SHIELD

It's time for another FREE SONG GIVEAWAY! 

BETHELSONGS is releasing three free worship tunes this year and I'm excited for y'all to hear the new one! These are songs written from my church and for the people I lead. My hope is that you'll be blessed, too! 

SHIELD is inspired by Psalms 3. I had the line, "many will rise and say of my soul" for about a year before I started actually singing it. I worked on the song for the better part of a year before deciding it was done (or "done-enough" to lead in worship.)

Since I do all my songs live before they ever get recorded, the experience of leading SHIELD was a big factor in deciding if I should commit to tracking it. I have to give credit to the band at Bethel for helping me build the arrangement of this over weeks of setlists. The song worked because of their input. The track was recorded, engineered and produced by friend, Spence Peppard, and his partner Jim Taylor. Spence did an awesome job on the track and played on almost every track.

You can download the song a couple of ways. First, by clicking the MP3S & CHARTS button at the top of the page. The links for the mp3 and/or chart for SHIELD are at the bottom of that page. You can also head over to toddwright.bandcamp.com and download for free. (Bandcamp is awesome because it allows you to pay for the download if you so choose...thank you to those who are always so generous!)

I'm also including a lyric video below if you'd like to help me spread the word!


HOW TO BE A WORSHIP LEADER IN THE PEW

Sooner or later, you're gonna' be "in the pew."

(Do churches still have pews? Or have we just gone full-blown crazy and put movie theater seats in them now? I digress.)

Maybe you'll have a Sunday or two off and it will allow you to sit out among the congregants.
Maybe you'll take a sabbatical and you'll get to check out lots of churches.
Or maybe there'll be a time in your life where you're not actively leading worship but you'll still be in church.

How do you do that? How can you still use your gifting to support the folks up their leading without a microphone or instrument?

SHUT UP AND SING

First off, worship your guts out. If you've led before, you know what it's like to look at a room full of people who don't seem to care very much about what's happening, don't you? If you're in the pew, be the person who shows up early, stays late, sings, prays and stays focused during the worship time.

Don't try to figure out what's wrong with the band or make mental notes on what's wrong with the sound system. As much as you are able, turn that part of your brain off and support that worship leader by following his or her lead.

IF YOU GOTTA' TALK, BE AN ENCOURAGER

Once the worship leader finds out there's another one out there, they're likely to wanna' meet you. Take that opportunity to encourage them - mention parts of the service that went well or elements that obviously took a lot of work to pull off. Basically, say the stuff you wish people would say to you.

If that worship leader wants advice or constructive criticism, they'll ask. Don't waste their time with how you used to do it or point out failures on the platform.

BRAG ON THEM

Pull the pastor aside or send an email. Tell the leadership who you are and that you've been a worship leader. Then spend the rest of the time acknowledging the hard work of the worship leader. Don't tell the pastor all the stuff you would change or try to angle for a worship leading gig. Be concise and encouraging.

Somebody, somewhere once bragged on you. You probably never heard it or saw it, but it happened. Why not anonymously bless another worship leader with your praise? Pass it on!