TRUE THINGS SAID BEAUTIFULLY

One of the bright spots in the worship leading world is the resurgence of hymns.

Now, hymns are just as good as they always were, but a lot of worship leaders (and churches, for that matter) decided to leave them behind at some point.

If you're a worship leader who doesn't use a lot of hymns - or even wants to up the quality of the hymns your church is singing, here are some things that may help you on your journey to introduce hymns back into your church life!

TYPES OF HYMNS
The categories below aren't the academic definitions. It's a list of the four types of hymns circulating in church life these days.

1. Known Hymns - These are your tried-and-true, beloved hymns. Sung the way they've always been sung. Consider "It Is Well" or "Blessed Assurance." These are the hymns people will recognize (and sing almost instantly.)

2. New Hymns - No, not talking about the Gettys here. These are old songs that your people haven't heard before. You find songs like this by going further back into hymn history or even exploring the hymns of other denominations. To most of your people, these songs would be brand new.

3. Retuned Hymns - These are "new hymns" that have been reworked musically. In fact, many old hymns have had so many different melodies that it's hard to find the original version. The retuned hymn movement seeks out old, unknown songs and adds new melodies and sometimes new song sections (i.e., verses and choruses.)

4. Modernized Hymns - These are typically known hymns that have been modernized with new melodies, edited lyrics and newer, "worship choruses."

WHICH ONES DO I USE?
Like lots of things in worship leading, you have to think about your congregation when choosing hymns. While we certainly don't want to pander, we do want to limit distractions when we lead. In some churches, a known hymn with a newly added worship chorus is going to be distracting. In other communities, an antiquated melodic structure may be an obvious distraction and departure from the flow of the worship. If you're wanting to use hymns, think more about the congregation's context than your own.

WHAT WE DO AT BETHEL
At my church, we do tend to focus more on Known Hymns and Retuned Hymns. A lot of our known hymn arrangements have different chord structures that are streamlined. (Although, I'm not above a big II major chord now and then!) However, I try to make sure than the melody stays the same. I don't think we gain anything by trying a new melody for "How Great Thou Art." I think it's distracting, even.

Because the retuned hymn movement is so big now, there's lots of options out there. In our case, we try to do a little bit of teaching before using those songs to give some historical context. In some cases, the vibe of the song may not sound like a hymn, but I think it's important for our congregation to know when we're singing something powerful and true...from hundreds of years ago!

WHY NOT TO DO HYMNS
Don't use hymns for nostalgia. Don't do them to make the old people happy. Sing hymns because they say true things beautifully. They remind your people that the battles we fight aren't new. The struggles we face aren't original. Jesus-followers who have gone before us faced the same challenges and found hope and purpose is songs of faith.

And what's more? Most of them are way better than the latest/greatest worship hit on the radio.

WORSHIP TRANSITIONS, PART 3

Every worship leader knows about "transitions."

We hear about them all the time - when we go to worship conferences, on YouTube, in magazines, etc. That's because what you do in between songs is important. For two reasons.

One of the downsides of all this transition-talk is that it makes what happens in the service into a gimmick. Lots of leaders seek out transition ideas not because they want reverent non-musical elements in their service, but because they need a filler in between the songs.

Of course, transitions to help you get from one song to the other, but they also have a tremendous impact on your congregation. Transitions are both connective and formative. In the list below, you'll see why the transitions work on both levels.

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SONG TEACHING
For this transition, the worship leader takes the congregation through a small section of the song. (Ideally, the chorus or bridge section.) He or she teaches the section of the song slowly, with one or two repetitions. One the last time through, the band can join in and transition right into the actual intro of the song.

Connective/Practical - This transition pay off in the last repeat when the band joins. Because you've slowed the tempo down and made time for the congregation to learn the song, the band entry into the piece is a nice momentum build for the people you're leading. Your people will feel like they're a "part" of the song itself.

Formative/Spiritual - There is a powerfully spiritual benefit to a congregation hearing itself sing. This is more than just something "cool" for a crowd of people. In fact, people hearing themselves sing actually creates more passionate singing. And that's the kind of formation we want!

DEVOTIONAL
A devotional transition is when the worship leader breaks between song to teach or encourage the congregation in a manner of spiritual/Biblical talking. This is, by far, the trickiest transition because so many worship leaders lack the ability to speak clearly and effectively. But, if you can do it, the effect is powerful.

Connective/Practical - The component of teaching is vital to corporate worship. In any room, you have people who don't understand what's going on. Why are we singing this? Why are we standing at this point? Transitioning with a devotional thought makes room for - or acknowledges - that people are at all different places in their spiritual journey. Teaching between songs is a kind, thoughtful transition.

Formative/Spiritual - Obviously, it's not your job to preach a sermon. However, tying what you've been singing to what we believe as Christ followers creates a memorable moment for your people. If they can attach a truth about God with what they've been singing, they'll be better for it!

What other transitions have worked for you?

FREE SONG DOWNLOAD!

It's here! After months of work, we're finally ready to release our all new FREE MP3/CHART download at bethelsongs.com!

We started leading this new tune earlier in the year and have been encouraged by the response. So, we thought, "Why not record it and give it away for absolutely free!"

Over the summer, a few musician friends and I tracked the tune with the help of my friend and producer, Toby Baxley. (tobybaxley.com) The end result is a fantastically produced song that still sounds like "us."

I love writing songs for the local church and am hoping this song will be blessing to many people at Bethel - and at other churches, too!

HERE'S HOW TO DOWNLOAD: CLICK HERE!
If you're a musician and you'd like a free chart for the song, click HERE!

ANOTHER WAY YOU CAN HELP:
Copy a link to the YouTube video below and pass it around on your various social media formats. It's a great way to share the song! And send people to www.bethelsongs.com to download it!

Thanks again for allowing these little moments of self-promotion...let's get this song sung by churches!

THE SUNDAY TEAM - WORSHIP LEADER, KNOW YOUR PASTOR, PART 4

Working under the leadership of your pastor can be hard work, but with God's grace and a little wisdom, it can also be one of the most rewarding ministry relationships you'll ever have.

At one of my first churches, our staff meetings were brutal. Every week, we’d all file into a giant conference room for two hours of the most awkward, unproductive afternoons imaginable.

Because it was silent.

Our pastor was struggling. The large staff was filed with strong personalities and our new pastor just wasn’t equipped to lead such a diverse crowd. It seems as if we tried every management approach possible. I imagined stacks of business books somewhere in the pastor’s office, all read in the hope that we’d land on some formula to make meetings better.

Nobody talked, and when that happened the pastor would get stressed. And when the pastor got stressed, the agenda items became grew more accusatory and defensive. By the end of the afternoon, the meeting had turned into a list of all the ways we were letting the church down. 

There’s something worse than complaints...SILENCE. Nobody likes criticism, but for those who preach, sometimes hearing nothing can be the worst part of the job.

Most pastors are “fixers.” They want to know what’s working and what isn’t and they want to make it work. But they can't do that if they don't know what's going on. Many leaders can leverage their skills to make the church more healthy, but it can't happen in a vacuum.

That's why assessment is such a great gift to your pastor. You don't have to schedule a big meeting - just find times to talk through church life and help your leader think on how the church is doing. Don't be afraid to be honest about problem areas, but make an effort to be an encourager as well! Find places that are healthy and celebrate that! Grab lunch or send an email - find some way to be a vocal presence in your pastor's life. I promise that both of your ministries will be better for it!

8 WORSHIP TRANSITIONS, PART 2

Every worship leader knows about "transitions."

We hear about them all the time - when we go to worship conferences, on YouTube, in magazines, etc. That's because what you do in between songs is important. For two reasons.

One of the downsides of all this transition-talk is that it makes what happens in the service into a gimmick. Lots of leaders seek out transition ideas not because they want reverent non-musical elements in their service, but because they need a filler in between the songs.

Of course, transitions to help you get from one song to the other, but they also have a tremendous impact on your congregation. Transitions are both connective and formative. In the list below, you'll see why the transitions work on both levels.

_________

LEADER INSTRUMENTAL
This transition is probably the second most common among worship leaders, but it's still a good one. But this is more than just leader-starts-the-song. What makes this a transition work is the leader can do this as he or she is praying, talking, etc.

Connective/Practical - Starting song underneath whatever you're saying has two huge benefits. First, it helps the congregation to know you're the leader. When a worship leader starts the song instrumentally, it puts to rest any tension about awkwardness between songs. Secondly, it helps your band to know how to approach the song. It may remind them of the tempo or cue them to take a different approach.

Formative/Spiritual - A leader instrumental is also a great alternative to the big full-band-songs so common in worship music. There's definitely a place for a big rocking song to explode of the stage, but so often those big introductions can make the song (or service) seem like a show. A more mellow transition into the next song reminds your congregants that you're all gathered to worship together - not watch some band play.

BAND INSTRUMENTAL
These can be tricky, and typically work best as an opening/closing song as the congregation is entering/exiting. This sort of transition should be used wisely to prevent your service from turning into a concert.

Connective/Practical - Plain and simple, this is a way to let your band shine a bit. Getting out of the way and letting them transition into the next song allows them to use their talents for the Father. What's more, congregations typically enjoy those moments of hearing good musicians play well-practiced parts - it's pleasing to the ear!

Formative/Spiritual - There's an emotional depth and spiritual strength in instrumental music. Don't be afraid to entrust the atmosphere of a moment to your musicians. God's Spirit can work through their hands and feet and can open hearts in a way that a vocal might not. Don't be afraid of instrumentals!

SOLO INSTRUMENTAL
A variation of the band transition, this is when you let one instrument responsible for the move from one song to the next. Maybe it's a fingerstyle acoustic piece or a solo piano moment. It's a great way to bring the overall volume of the room down and yet still progress the set.

Connective/Practical - There's one complaint worship leaders never hear: "The music was too soft today." Your people will appreciate solo instrumentals both as a break for their ears and a symbolic take-a-breath moment in your set.

Formative/Spiritual - Quiet moments are powerful opportunities for God to move on the congregation. It's also a great spiritual practice for your band to exercise humility by not playing on every moment of the song.

CHECK OUT PART 3

DOVE AWARD NOMINATION!

Hey, gang. It's been a busy week at church this week so I haven't had much time to post. (Apologies - Part 2 of Worship Transitions and The Sunday Team will resume next week I promise!)

If you follow me on FB or Twitter, you've probably seen the news that Vital Worship: Songs For The Living King was nominated for a Dove Award for Special Even Album Of The Year. This album features my recording of Hallelujah For The Cross that I co-wrote with my friend, Ross King. As you can imagine, we are very surprised and grateful. Our competition in the category is pretty major, but we're enjoying the heck out of even being in that group.

Friends and family were excited for us, so I did a quick lyric video for the song so that people could share it online. I really believe in this song and what it says and if I'm honest, I'd love to see in sung in thousands of churches. If you have a minute, would you mind sharing the video link with your circles? The more people singing about the cross, the better!


THE SUNDAY TEAM - WORSHIP LEADER, KNOW YOUR PASTOR, PART 3

You're not going to be best friends with every pastor you serve. But you can work to know your pastor - strengths and weaknesses. Investing in a healthy, honest relationship with your church leader will make your ministry more enjoyable and efficient. In this (very long) series, you'll find tips on how to make these leadership relationships work.

When church is over, my wife and kids usually have one question: “Where are we going out to eat?” Maybe your family is the same way. Eating out after church is a tradition for lots of you! One Sunday in particular, the worship set had gone great. The band hit all the stuff we rehearsed, the transitions were smooth, lyric projection timing was perfect, etc. We all have those days where everything goes according to plan now and then and I was feeling pumped. I wanted to go have a big meal and relax. I had worked hard on the set and rehearsed for a couple of hours and I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

My wife asked the pastor’s wife to join us, so our little caravan headed over to a favorite lunch spot. We sat down, ordered our drinks and I leaned over the table to talk about the service with my pastor. The music had been awesome and the sermon had been Biblical and convicting. What a day!

But my pastor wasn’t feeling it. He said he hated the sermon. He had run out of time and had to cut a huge portion of the closing. He was frustrated and obviously didn’t want to talk about it.

I couldn’t understand it. His sermon had been good. Why was he so bummed? Rehearsal.

Even when a pastor practices a sermon before preaching, it’s not the same as a band rehearsal.

With a rehearsal, there are very clear markers for musicians (i.e., landed that key change, stayed with the click track, vocalists remembered the double chorus, etc.) There are visible and audible things that allow the band can know if they’ve succeeded or not. But pastors don’t get that. There are very few benchmarks in a sermon that a preacher has rehearsed. (And it's even harder if the preacher doesn't rehearse the sermon!)

They stand up, preach God’s Word in the hope that it will connect, but there’s often no way for them to know if they nailed it or not. They serve in the void, hoping - but not knowing if - their ideas connected.

You can significantly bless your pastor by giving good feedback. Do a little extra work to find out how the congregation is connecting with the teach and then encourage your leader with that. You’re able to get much more unbiased response that your pastor ever will. Don’t betray confidences, but when someone speaks positively about the pastor’s impact, ask that person if it would be okay to share their story with the pastor. It will be a tremendous help to your pastor.

Click here for Part 4

8 WORSHIP TRANSITIONS, PART 1

Every worship leader knows about "transitions."

We hear about them all the time - when we go to worship conferences, on YouTube, in magazines, etc. That's because what you do in between songs is important. For two reasons.

One of the downsides of all this transition-talk is that it makes what happens in the service into a gimmick. Lots of leaders seek out transition ideas not because they want reverent non-musical elements in their service, but because they need a filler in between the songs.

Of course, transitions to help you get from one song to the other, but they also have a tremendous impact on your congregation. Transitions are both connective and formative. In the list below, you'll see why the transitions work on both levels.

__________

PRAYER
Praying in between songs is an intuitive transition, but often overused. Prayer when you need to pray, not just to fill up the space!

Connective/Practical - Praying in between songs is a great tool for your musicians and technicians. It gives them a chance to tune, get ready for the next song, make changes or remind themselves of what's coming next! It also a nice breather - you don't have to fly from song to song to song!

Formative/Spiritual - Praying is pastoral. It's an opportunity for you to proclaim and declare truths about God. And that informs what your people think about God. In a lot of churches, the congregants don't pray when the worship leader prays. They listen. Praying is an awesome privilege as it models humility and reverence for God.

SCRIPTURE READING
Reading scripture (either by the worship leader or someone else on the platform) is another great way to transition between songs.

Connective/Practical - One of the best things about scripture reading - from a practical perspective - is that it ISN'T PRAYER. Unfortunately, we all tend to fall on crutch phrases or prayer cliches. Scripture reading is a great way to stay God focused and keep yourself from just making stuff up on the fly!

Formative/Spiritual - Reading scripture helps to reinforce the truth that there's a reason for what we're doing in the congregation. We don't just gather together because we want to. We didn't invent worship. There's a source we're drawing from. There's a directive for us. Scripture reading is an awesome way to remind people that worship is God's idea.

CORPORATE READING
Congregational readings (confessions) have blessed the church for hundreds of years, but a lot of churches don't do them and miss out an awesome expression of worship.

Connective/Practical - At its most basic level, corporate reading lets the people hear each other. One of by-products of sound amplification is that in most churches, there are times or spots in the room where the band's too loud. We try to avoid that, but it happens. And when it does, it becomes harder for the congregation to hear each other. Having them read something out loud and together is an opportunity for them to once again realize they're supposed to be involved in what's going on.

Formative/Spiritual - One of the biggest challenges in worship leader is getting people to focus. You have people who are distracted, arriving late, angry, hurt, etc. By inviting them to read something altogether, you effectively put truth on their tongues. God says that His Word will do what He wants it to do. It won't fail. It won't come back empty. Why not use your time to get God's Word into the mind of your congregation? Who know what wonders it might do!

CHECK OUT PART 2

WHAT WE DID: 8/3/14

Another Sunday at Bethel Bible Church! Here's what we did in worship!

 

FAIREST (Spotify)
Big day for us as David, our keyboard player moved over to acoustic piano. Since our previous piano player has moved to our new Whitehouse Campus, we promoted (or demoted?) David to acoustic piano. He did a great job. Acoustic piano is so much different than playing pads, but he worked really hard to find the groove. We also had a guest drummer named Wes who is a professional drummer, so we were all feeling pretty solid up there!

I'm not sure if it was the crowd or us, but the first service felt a little subdued. We weren't real tight on the rests in the intro/turnaround, so that made the song feel a little wobbly. Nothing terrible, just not as tight as normal.

THIS IS AMAZING GRACE (Spotify)
Didn't do a very long transition on this one. Since Fairest ends on a down-verse, I had Wes get click ready for this song. With Fairest in D and This Is Amazing Grace in G, I had the band all fall back in on a G chord (the IV chord of the key of D) and let it ring. Then drums started over the decaying G chord - just a simple, loopy beat with no kick. After a pass of drums, we all fell in.

We don't do this one exactly like Wickham, but it's close. I've been having the band go "riffless" lately. I'm not into doing cover versions, but if there's a signature riff, I usually have somebody play it. However, I'm wanting the band to get better at building their own arrangements. So, we didn't play the signature riff. Instead, I had Smitty make up some stuff on electric guitar. It was way more fun that a synth intro!

PRAISE TO THE LORD, THE ALMIGHTY (Spotify)
Since This Is Amazing Grace ends so strong, I had our congregation applaud in honor of God's wonderful grace. As they did, I threw on a capo and launched into this hymn adaptation we did last week.

I very rarely do songs just because I love them, but dang, I love this song. I was glad to hear our congregation singing along - I don't think it's a familiar hymn to them, but I love the poetry of this song. "Ponder anew what the Almighty can do!" and "Let the amen sound from His people again!" - What fantastic lyrics!

COMMUNION
When we're able, we LOVE doing Communion during the worship set (as opposed to at the end of the service.) On some Sundays, I lead Communion from the stage. I explained Communion, then had the congregation read Psalm 51:1-6 and 1 John 1:8-9.

DEBT IS PAID (Spotify)
We slow-jammed this one by bringing it down by about 10bpm. Smitty moved to mandolin and Wes played with brushes to give a slightly more mellow vibe. I like our full, fast version, but this song worked perfectly for communion. (I am ALL ABOUT the slow-jam, y'all.) Once the ushers had served the congregation, I had every one stand and read Luke 22:14-20. We sang one pass of bridge and final chorus after everyone had taken the elements.

A good day with a few new players - some flubs here and there, but overall a great atmosphere for worship! What did y'all do?

THE SUNDAY TEAM - WORSHIP LEADER, KNOW YOUR PASTOR, PT. 2

"The Sunday Team" is a series of posts written to help worship leaders and pastors do a better job of knowing, encouraging and serving one another. Powerful things can happen when these two leaders work together!

Work in a church for even a little while, and you’ll start to realize that being a pastor involves a whole lot of drama. Complaints, insecurities, overwork,and family stress all combine to create a pretty tense work environment.

Pastors internalize a lot of stuff. They hear secrets and confessions and they often get to see the worst parts of their congregation on a daily basis. It’s no wonder that God speaks so seriously about those called to teach His Word and to pastor His people! You can’t know everything your pastor has to deal with, but if you’re aware of some of the big challenges, you can be a great friend and encourager.

A friend of mine was looking for a church. He and his wife had moved to a new town to start a business and knew they needed to find some place to worship. Eventually, they met a pastor who came to their restaurant on a regular basis. Every week, the pastor would come in, order lunch and make small talk with my friend. Eventually, the pastor asked my friend about church. My friend told the pastor he had been raised in church, but didn’t really hear the Gospel until he was nearly an adult. Because of that, he told the pastor he was very determined to find a place that prioritized the teaching of God’s Word. The pastor assured my friend that his church was exactly that kind of place.

The following Sunday, my friend and his wife showed up at the church. He caught the pastor’s eye across the sanctuary. After the singing was done, the pastor launched into a sermon - a Gospel drenched, zealous sermon.

The problem was that the pastor used all of my friends quotes from the week before. My friend and his wife later said it seemed like the pastor wasn’t very practiced with the Gospel and only was repeating what he’d heard in the restaurant. In the end, my friend left the church believing the pastor had cared more about gaining members than actually sharing the message of the cross.

__________

Some pastors want the numbers - having a full sanctuary or lots of people on the membership list is their pinnacle of ministry success. Other pastors want the weekly sermons to be the linchpin of the church’s identity. Others want community groups to be the legacy of their ministry. Whether you agree with your pastor or not, rest assured that there’s a highly valued pastoral goal in mind when it comes to your church.

Knowing your pastor’s goal will do one of two things - first, it will create a strong bond between you both. Secondly, it will help you be a support to the leadership. It’s entirely possible that your pastor may have a few skewed priorities (like the guy in the story.) Knowing those goals - good or bad - will give you the ability to serve at your best.

Knowing what your leader is working toward will allow you both to find common ground when assessing corporate worship services. Knowing the goals makes it way easier for you to work with your pastor.


Click here for Part 3.

WHY SONGWRITERS SHOULD BE ON TWITTER

One of the hardest parts about songwriting is brevity, or how-to-create-the-most-emotional-impact-in-the-fewest-amount-of-words.

Ever had that happen? You go back and look at a song your wrote and realize you've crammed WAY too much stuff in there?

TRY TWITTER.

Because Twitter is a social media platform, it is naturally littered with self-promotion, dumb internet arguments and political posts. But in spite of all that, it's a great exercise in efficiency.

140 characters. That's all you get. That's the rule. And that character limit will force you to rewrite. 

If you've never tried it, sign up and try it. It may not help you write the next radio hit, but it will build those muscles that help you write more efficiently. It will, over time, reveal to you the beauty - and variety - of words. Twitter can help us to realize that are lots of ways to say the same thing.

If you do sign up, follow me! I'm twitter.com/toddwrightband. You'll find most of my tweets are really stupid - BUT EFFICIENT! 

WHAT WE DID: 7/27/14

Since this site is about the stuff we do at our church, I figured I'd start sharing the worship set each week. When possible, I'll try to post either audio or video links to the songs/elements we used.

Bittersweet day for us as we said goodbye to Karen, our piano player. Karen and her husband are going to start attending our new Whitehouse campus. We're excited for them both - they're awesome, gifted people who will be a huge asset to the new Bethel campus. We spent our devotional time reading some of our favorite things about her and praying for her new ministry adventure.

PRAISE TO THE LORD, THE ALMIGHTY (F) Spotify
I've been wanting to do this hymn for quite some time, but have had trouble finding a good version for us. That was delighted to find a really solid acoustic version from one of my good friends, Toby Baxley! I hit him up for a chart and sent it to the band. We made a few tweaks in our run-through, but kept the overall vibe consistent. I really like the chorus section that Toby wrote and was excited to see how it went over with the congregation. I was a little concerned during practice that we were too slow with the click track, but with such a wordy song, the tempo was perfect. (Think we did it at 50bpm.) Had a fill-in drummer who was super talented; having him on such a tricky song arrangement really helped. I've heard the first verse 1 done two different ways and ended up singing the wrong lyric on the last line during the second service. Not a huge flub, but I'm glad my church is gracious to me when I mess up!

Transition
Did a quick welcome and encouraged people to be sure and sing loud, even if they had terrible voices! Hopefully that encouraged our more fearful congregants to sing out.

LORD ALMIGHTY (A) Spotify
The pastor who was teaching asked a couple weeks ago if we could sing something from Psalm 121 since his sermon was from the text. We've sung this song so many times over the past couple years, it was an easy add. During our run-through, I realized that both songs were about the Lord being almighty. (Worst worship leader ever...people think I plan this out and here I am being surprised by own setlist?!) Tune went great in both services. I think our intro could have been a bit more smooth, but oh well.

Scripture / Romans 10:9-11
Lately, I'm really enjoying going right into scripture readings. When we read corporately, I do a bit more lead up, but when I just want to read in between songs, it feels paced better if I go right into it:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

YOU ALONE CAN SATISFY (E) Spotify
My church has always loved this tune. We hadn't done it in awhile - it was fun to bring it back! Instead of having the electric guitar do the signature riff after the chorus, I had our keyboardist play it on a bell pad. Gave the song a little flava! We also did the ending like the album version, which was fun. I'm consistently surprised this song isn't a bigger deal. It's written by some amazing worship leaders and writers and I hope one day this song is sung by millions!

Prayer
Prayed the Gospel - thanking God for our satisfaction being found in Him, but also asking His Spirit to convict and draw those who don't know him.

HALLELUJAH FOR THE CROSS (Bb) Spotify
This song went great. Another tune we hadn't done in awhile, but once the first chorus hit, I remembered how much fun it is to lead. The band did amazing on this tune. It's a hard drum song because it's so focused on the floor tom, which makes for a big sound, but there's not really a big crashing open hat chorus or anything. The congregation responded really well and the song was a good reminder for us to never forget the cross.

What did y'all do?

THE SUNDAY TEAM - WORSHIP LEADER, KNOW YOUR PASTOR, PT. 1

"The Sunday Team" is a series of posts written to help worship leaders and pastors do a better job of knowing, encouraging and serving one another. Powerful things can happen when these two leaders work together!

Work in a church for even a little while, and you’ll start to realize that being a pastor involves a whole lot of drama. Complaints, insecurities, overwork,and family stress all combine to create a pretty tense work environment.

Pastors internalize a lot of stuff. They hear secrets and confessions and they often get to see the worst parts of their congregation on a daily basis. It’s no wonder that God speaks so seriously about those called to teach His Word and to pastor His people!

You can’t know everything your pastor has to deal with, but if you’re aware of some of the big challenges, you can be a great friend and encourager.

I was one of those kids who grew up in church. Dad was a Sunday School teacher, Mom was the church secretary, and I was at literally every children’s ministry function ever produced. I really did “grow up” in that church. We went there for decades.

We loved our pastor. Everybody did. He was a passionate preacher and an imposing figure of authority and truth. To this day, I can remember sermons he preached from when I was a kid. He was that good. I was that in awe of him.

I kept going to the church after I got married and served on the worship team. As my worship leading got better, I began spending more time up at the church office. These late night planning sessions and rehearsals fostered my love of the local church and gave me the opportunity to see how church really was “done.” I was especially excited to get to know this pastor better. He had always seemed larger than life and I was becoming one of his team.

Except I never saw him.

Maybe he’d pass me in the halls, but for the most part, he came in the back entrance and went to his office, where the door remained closed. As you can imagine this was a huge shock to my system. Why was he hiding from everybody? Did he not like us? Did he think we were doing a poor job? At the time, I thought so. I was hurt by it and didn’t understand why he was so disconnected from his team. Twenty years later, I know exactly why.

__________

Many pastors don’t feel the freedom to voice their frustrations for fear that doing so might discredit them or make them seem somehow less than perfect. In addition to causing pastors to bury their fears, this lack of transparency makes pastors suspicious of people who want to “get to know” them on a closer level. This makes it hard for pastors let their guard down. If you want to build a better relationship with your pastor, work hard to establish trust. Your pastor needs to know that you are a co-laborer in this ministry and that you’re not going to be offended by fears or anxieties. Your pastor will still need time alone to work through those hard moments in ministry, but it’s a lot easier knowing that there’s someone there to listen.

Click here for Part 2.
 

WHAT WE DID: 7/20/14

Since this site is about the stuff we do at our church, I figured I'd start sharing the worship set each week. When possible, I'll try to post either audio or video links to the songs/elements we used.

JOYFUL (D) Spotify
Band is so solid on this Brenton Brown adaptation of "Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee." In fact, we even keep the lyrics intact instead of doing the two more modernized words that Brenton uses.

Had David start with a low D pad and Gabe gave me click. I started with the big D chord intro and Gabe fell in with floor tom. My favorite part of that song is when the band drops in at the end of V1. It was especially full this week since I had an extra guitar player with us. I don't often use two electrics in a set, but our guest was slated for banjo on the last two songs so I figured I'd throw him on electric for some power up top. We don't fall right into the bridge, but rather jam it instrumentally for a bit. In retrospect, I should have had us pull back a little more - it was probably too big. Sounded like the V3 repeat/drop caught somebody off guard and they went to the wrong chord, but at least it was a chord in that key!

Transition
I wanted to get us right into the next tune. Since Sarah was leading the next tune, I had her welcome everybody so we could get right into song #2. Rehearsal was a challenge because I had forgotten that we do this song in two different keys - G and F. I had planned on doing it in F, but accidentally linked the G version to the band. We took an extra two minutes and made sure everybody could transpose it down to F. Wasn't hard, although I was a little worried about our keys player, as he had learned the synth riff in G. Never fear, though - keyboards have a handy transpose button, so he knocked it down no prob.

BECAUSE HE LIVES (F) Spotify
We learned this one for Easter but it was too good; I had to bring it back! I wish it was longer - we may have to add a verse or something next go 'round. This is a great hymn adaptation because it doesn't mess with the song. The melodic structure is the same, the chords are simple and even the four-on-the-floor approach works. (Seems like lots of hymn remakes have four-on-the-floor, by the way. Weird.)

Sarah sang this song beautifully and led with some real power. Loved having our electric guy play high suspension stuff up on the neck. I've found that hymns don't need a lot of extra "power" in the way of overdrive/distortion. Because people sing so strongly on the choruses, bands don't need to do as much. Hymns are great that way...you just play 'em and get out of the way.

Scripture (Psalm 119:165-168)
Did a corporate reading of Psalm 119.
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
I hope for your salvation, O Lordand I do your commandments.
My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.
I keep your precepts and testimonies,  for all my ways are before you.

I AM (G) Spotify
I was a little nervous about this song, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the octave width makes it pretty hard for most people to sing. I dropped it down to G so that I could sing verses and choruses in the same register. The other challenge is the odd counts that happen at the end of each line. Sometimes it's the IV chord for 8 count, sometimes it's 6 beats of silence, etc. When I charted it, I noted 8 beats at the end of each section to make it a little bit easier on the band.

Because it lives in between two genres, it's a little hard for a normal band to play. I had one of our guys play the banjo intro like the mp3, which was great, but the drum parts took some getting used to. Gabe did a great job duplicating a more programmed drum feel, but without a more traditional beat, I ask the band to play "big" in the big parts regardless of how the drums felt on stage. Overall, the song was good and folks sang. We obviously lost some energy without the octave jumps, but it wasn't a huge handicap.

Prayer
Prayed that God would continue to guide us - that we were, indeed, "holding onto" him.

BE THOU MY VISION (D-E) Spotify
We love the Village version of this song - all the more when we have banjo in the mix! Kinda' can't go wrong with this tune. Folks love to sing it, plus has such great lyrical strength. And for some reason, I love playing guitar on this tune. It's nothing all that complicated, just some smart chord choices.

What did you do at your church?

WRITING FOR WORSHIP, PART 2

On July 26, I'm speaking at a conference called the Songwriter's LAB. One of the sessions will focus on "writing for congregational worship" and thought I'd share an abbreviated version of those talks here on the blog!

IT'S GOTTA' BE GOOD
There's a reason why you're people like the songs you sing in church: because they're good songs.

If you're going to write worship songs for churches, know that the competition is pretty fierce. In fact, most churches only add 4-6 new songs a year, which makes for a crowded field. All those "professional" worship songs operate a high level of production and songwriting quality and if your songs going to sit alongside them, you better be good at it.

Nobody can necessarily tell you how to come up with good song ideas, but you can learn a lot from the attributes of other strong worship songs.

1. ARRANGEMENT - Good worship songs are expertly arranged. These songs have been meticulously crafted with dynamics - in other words, the song is a journey. This "progression" can be found in all good worship songs.

As you're writing, think farther than just your voice and your instrument. How's this song going to play in a room full of people? What's the lesson or emotion needed at the end of the song and how are you going to get there? What will the band do?

2. TIMING - This doesn't just mean the overall length of the song. Timing matters in every section of what you're righting. Every section of your song needs to be timed with wisdom. (Ever wonder why it seems like every Verse 2 is half-as-long as Verse 1? Timing!)

Timing usually equals "re-writing." This is where you go back to a finished song and edit it. You make things more efficient, tweak chord voicings and work on transitions. Go back to a finished song a few weeks later and the timing issues will be apparent.

3. ECONOMY - Pro songs know what they're about. You can write a worship song that covers justification and sanctification and mercy and social justice and creation and adoration...just don't expect people to sing out. if you want your songs to sit alongside the professional stuff, write with this goal in mind: MOST POETIC THAT'S MOST EFFICIENT.

That isn't easy to do, but one thing can help you get started. When you being working on a song, write out a thesis sentence. Ask yourself to describe the goal of the song in one sentence. Then as you write, measure your lyrics against that sentence. If you're veering too far off course, your song may suffer.

WHAT WE DID: 7/13/14

Since this site is about the stuff we do at our church, I figured I'd start sharing the worship set each week. When possible, I'll try to post either audio or video links to the songs/elements we used.

GLORY TO GOD FOREVER (B) Spotify
Been a while since we sang this one, but I rediscovered a live version of from an old North Point record a few weeks ago and had to try it. We kept our version a little bit shorter than the recording, but I dig the floor tom/guitar riff intro. Our guitar player, Smitty, was pretty smart - instead of playing just the single note riff, he worked out chord voicings where he could include the riff. This gave the intro a much bigger sound.

I also like the bass/drum pushes in the bridges of this live version. Our bass player had to remind the drummer, but once he called it out, they locked up. I'm surprised this song plays and sings so well still. I keep a running list of all our songs so I can see how many times we've led them and in almost six years, we've done this song 25 times!

TRANSITION
This was really fun. Because I knew we had a big church announcement later in the service, I was trying to be efficient. I didn't want there to be a big stop between the first and second song, so here's what I did. As we ended Glory To God Forever, I led a final chorus on acoustic guitar. I had our drummer kill the click, dial in click for the next song and start it while I was finishing. It was a little hard to not be distracted by the new click, but I think I did okay. When I ended the first song, I went to the IV chord of the current key (B) which was an E chord. Which was the key of our next song! BOOM!

I did talk over that intro of that song, but try to keep it very God-focused, reminding people of this new song and what our purpose was in singing it.

GUARDIAN (E) Spotify
Second time to do this song. I really dig how laid back the verses are. It's a nice challenge for our band to drop into those subtle verses. I like having piano start this one, too. Not enough piano pop songs in churches these days! Our piano player did a great job. Congregation sang pretty well, considering it was new. I knew from the previous time that people had the chorus down.

We ended the tune with a couple of tags (like the record.)

SCRIPTURE - Psalm 107:10-16
I read the verse as soon as we ended. I had intended to go right into it, but my liturgical tendencies tend to pop up on stuff like this with a "hear the Word of the Lord" or something like that.

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, or they had rebelled against the words of God,  and spurned the counsel of the Most High.

So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;  they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. 

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he shatters the doors of bronze    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

REDEEMING LOVE (D) No link yet!
This hymn has been really fun. It's a little short, so we threw in an instrumental chorus - which we love, considering what we like to project on slides during that time. The keyboard player, David, picked the perfect pad for this song and our guitarist went with a drop-D, tremolo electric part. It was great. The song has such an old-feeling melody, folks joined in quick.

PRAYER
As we ended in D, I had our keys guy hold a low D-note with a high A-note. As I prayed, he let off the D so that the high would establish the new key.

FOREVER (A) Spotify
Impossible to hold back on this song! I've never been a huge fan of the Bethel stuff, but this song is so well written. We followed the live version arrangement of heading back to the pre-chorus after Chorus 1. (We don't stretch it for eight minutes like the record, though.) Great song that reminds of the Gospel. It's nice to find a song so passionate and expressive AND so Biblically sound.

What did you do at your church?

WRITING FOR WORSHIP, PART 1

On July 26, I'm speaking at a conference called the Songwriter's LAB. One of the sessions will focus on "writing for congregational worship" and thought I'd share an abbreviated version of those talks here on the blog!

IT'S GOTTA' BE SINGABLE
We all know that songs need to be "singable." We're leading worship - of course, we want people to sing along! But because every congregation is different, there are very few hard and fast rules on how to make songs singable. However, there are some principles that can guide you.

1. KEYS - Guess what? It's not about keys. It's about melody. You need to have at least a rough idea of what sort of melodic range you're people can sing. This varies from church to church based on your congregation's age, gender makeup and musical preferences. Once you know what notes fall out of range for your people, you'll write song songs that they can easily sing.

2. PHRASING - This is the secret sauce of congregational worship writing. And it's where we see the impact of a "performance culture" on our songwriting. Meaning that when you write a song, you write it and sing it in the way that feels best in your mouth. Maybe you put a little vocal run on the end of the chorus or stretch a two-syllable word into three or put a rest before a line in the third verse. All of those things are cool, but make it really hard for a couple hundred people to join. To write for congregational worship, you have to phrase things simply. The more people you have trying to sing, the simpler it needs to be.

3. SYLLABLES - This will help your phrasing immensely. You may not end up keeping this pattern, but when writing for worship, go for a consistent syllable count in your verses. Not only does this challenge you as a lyricist, but it also helps phrasing. As the song progresses, you might bend the rules a bit, but it's a great exercise - at least for starting songs.

Do you write songs for congregational worship? What sort of guidelines do you use?

[If you'd like to attend the conference, head over to songwriterslab.org to register.]

THE PROBLEM WITH SEMINARY

I live in a seminary world.

My fellow pastors at Bethel are some of the most educated and brilliant folks I've had the privilege of spending time with. Each week, I see first-hand how an intense seminary education bears fruit.

Maybe you've heard the joke about how hard it is to survive seminary with your faith intact, but that may more fact than fiction. And lately, I keep seeing the scary reality of this when I hear newly graduated students talking about the state of the Church.

To my eyes and ears, it seems as if the seminary system produces pessimists. Tweets and blogs and conversations with seminary grads seem to all have a common theme.

"The church is in trouble."
"Things are terrible out there."
"There's lots of wrongs to be righted."

I don't disagree, by the way. I think the church at large is serious business. I also believe we need smart, zealous people to protect the Church as she continues to be infiltrated by narcissism and greed.

But we need excited people, too.

It's my hope that seminaries are building joy into their students as well as sobriety. Maybe schools are doing this, but it doesn't seem like it in the seminary blogosphere.

(Not that seminary students have time to write blogs...but they do tweet. A lot.)

As worship leaders, we can help our pastors fight negativity. We need to encourage our senior pastors. We need to remind them that there's no more joyful, contented place that serving where God wants you. We need to be the voice of reason. We need to help our leaders to balance the enormous weight of pastoring a church with the fantastic joy of making the biggest impact possible on human lives.

Serving the church is hard. But it's also awesome. And we should be doing it joyfully.