SUIT CHURCH (or...what i learned from a sell out worship leader)

There was this worship leader. And he was cool.

He wrote great songs, had hair that spiked up just right and always wore black t-shirt, ripped jeans and combat boots. And he played a guitar I'd never heard of.

Like I said, he was cool.

He was also a little bit famous. At least in Texas, he was known as a great songwriter and worship leader and would frequently pop up at big conferences and concerts. I loved his CDs and, on a few occasions, even tried to write songs like him. (Big mistake, by the way.)

And then, he disappeared. He wasn't at summer camps. He didn't make records. He wasn't online. And worst of all, no one was talking about him. (Gasp!)

Then he showed back up. At a big church. Like, a BIG one. The guitar was gone. The hair wasn't as spiky. He was wearing a suit and leading songs in front of a choir, holding a microphone. I couldn't believe it. What a sell out, I thought. I couldn't imagine what had happened. How had they convinced such a super cool guy to become a company man?

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I regret being so incredulous back then. Because here's what I've learned from that Sell Out Worship Leader...

God called him to suit church - so he put on a suit.

This thing we're doing - singing and planning and rehearsing and waking up early and going to meetings - is about the people. It's not about my personal preference. It's not about making sure my songs get applause. It's not about building a band I can take on the road.

I'm there to serve and lead the congregation - to craft worship that reminds them of God's mercy and calls them to live like Jesus did. And if I love my congregation, I'll happily sacrifice whatever is getting in the way of me accomplishing what God has for our church.

You see, I thought that guy was a sell-out.

Turns out he was a servant.

NEW SONG / FREE!

Well, it's that time again...time to give you another worship song for absolutely free!

This time, we're sharing "Redeeming Love," a song wrote this summer with my friend, Lee Black. Originally, this was a pretty simple song, but then I had an idea - what if I asked a producer friend (who's way cooler than me) to help me go a little bit outside the box on it?

The result is a hybrid: a hymn styled worship song in an electronic arrangement. Now, I'm not an electronic artist by any means, but I do love how this song turned out. I think it became something memorable and useable.

As a proponent of songs-that-bands-can-play, I was a bit nervous about such a new musical approach on this, but since I've already led this song live, I think it works in both simple - and complex - arrangements.

FREE DOWNLOAD

CHORD CHART (Key of D)    (Key of Eb)

AMAZON/ITUNES for those who want to buy

LINKS FOR YOU TO SHARE

THE SUNDAY TEAM - WORSHIP LEADER, KNOW YOURSELF, PART 1

Now, that we've spent time talking about "knowing your pastor," it's time to take a good long look in the mirror.

Yep. If you're going to have a great relationship with your senior pastor, you've got to know yourself! I'll be honest; some of these may sting, but you can rest in the fact that all of us worship leaders are at least a little messed up. Good thing God uses messed up people, huh?

I’ve been a fan of U2 since I was in high school. Like most guys my age, the delayed electric guitar and Bono’s preening swagger fascinated me. I bought albums and watched the music videos and talked about them incessantly. I became a U2-evangelist. They were bold and different and played as if they believed in something bigger than just rock-star status. Long-time fans will know that eventually, the band's desire to poke holes into the rock star identity eventually did them in. In short, they became what they wanted to despise.

The band emerged from that struggle - and a few bad albums - with more than just sincerity. They seemed to get more honest about themselves and all the effects celebrity can have on a person.

A few years ago, they released a massive book chronicling their career. Imagine my surprise when Bono - maybe the most confident, bold frontman to ever make records - confessed that there has to be something wrong with somebody who needs to stand in front of 10,000 people every night to feel normal. But it did more than surprise - it convicted me.

If this surprises you about yourself, it shouldn't. Put us in front of a few hundred (or thousand) people and we’re golden - we’re engaging, happy, funny and wise. But let one person find us after service and complain about a lyric and we come undone. We can explain God’s grace all day long ,but we instantly forget that He’s got the same grace for us.

This gets dangerous because an insecure worship leader is a selfish worship leader. If we're not careful, we'll let our own needs start dictating what songs we sing and how we order the service. And the modern church context makes it easy for that to happen - there’s very little chance a crowd will see our frailty when we’re lit by lumens and buttressed by decibels. But opting to ignore our insecurities creates a dangerous ministry context:  one where we run the risk of leading worship to fulfill our own personal insecurities more than our calling.

But you can fight your own insecurities in two big ways: First, we go to God's Word and remind ourselves that He loves us and is working things to bring glory to Himself. That puts a whole new spin on the difficulties we face. Secondly, we put ourselves into situations where we get to know people on a personal level - and they get to know us. You can't just exist on stage. You gotta' have people who know the REAL you.

(For other posts in the series, check the ARCHIVE.)

TYPES OF SONGWRITERS

If you're a songwriter who writes worship music, I feel your pain. Not only is it an extremely difficult songwriting genre (maybe the hardest), but the culture is also overrun with too many worship songs as is.

Let me encourage you to keep at it, though! If God's given you the gift of songwriting, He most definitely has a place in mind where those songs need to go! Keep listening and learning and praying - and keep writing!

I believe there are three types of worship songwriters. In my experience, these three categories cover the entirety of songs written for the church. Some of us write in all three categories, but most of us seem to be gifted specifically in one area. As you read, think about your songwriting and where you might land. Or even better, pass this post to a friend and ask them their opinion of your writing.

EXPRESSERS
These are the songwriters who capture it. My wife says this all the time when she hears a great worship song: "It says exactly what I feel and think about God." Expressers' songs won't seem like much on paper, but they will perfectly capture truth and adoration without even knowing it. Expressers typically write from a very personal place about what they're thinking/feeling about God, but their songs end up reaching people because they fit what other people are thinking/feeling, too.

PROCLAIMERS
These are the songwriters who teach it. These songs won't be as personal as the "Expresser" songs, but they'll have much more in the way of sound doctrine. Proclaimers' songs will typically have longer lyrics and more predictable melodies. These writers create from a place of responsibility, crafting songs that will instruct and educate God's people as they sing. We are in desperate need for writers like this!

ARRANGERS
These are the songwriters who present it. As of late, there's been a recent increase in Arranger writers. These songs typically have deep, nuanced musical settings - extremely creative, unexpected song-orders and top-notch musicianship. You'll find Arranger songs in the ambient worship genre as well as the hyper-produced pop field. Arranger's lyrics may be much more simple than the other two categories, but will make their mark by creating unforgettable soundscapes.

Knowing your identity and skill set as a writer will help you to take on the right projects. If you know what you're best at, you won't waste time trying to write things that you're just not gifted for. We all want to grow as writers, but don't neglect the thing you do best!

5 MISTAKES YOUNG WORSHIP LEADERS NEED TO MAKE

Nobody likes mistakes. We should avoid them, if possible.

But mistakes make great teachers. We learn from them. Worship leading mistakes may seem like the worst kind since they're often committed in front of a large group of people, but let's be honest - is there a better place to screw up than with a bunch of people who love Jesus?

We need to strive for excellence, but we also shouldn't forget to analyze our mess-ups. Some things you just gotta' learn the hard way.

DO TOO MANY NEW SONGS
It's a universal truth: young worship leaders do too many new songs. I don't encourage it, but it does teach a good lesson. Adding lots of new songs will teach you that songs that are awesome on albums may not be awesome in real life. Overwhelming yourself with new material will quickly make it clear that a worship leader's got to know his people and what songs work (both musically and thematically.) It will also reveal the importance (or overemphasis) on musical hooks. You'll start learning that some songs live and die by very specific parts.

PLAN SETS LAST MINUTE
This is a thing we do. Many of us start out as worship leaders thinking that what happens on Sunday can be scribbled on a sheet of paper on the way to rehearsal. Not so. The hard lesson worship leaders learn is that every minute matters in a service. Planning sets last minute will quickly reveal your own personal worship leading "crutches" and will quickly devolve into boring, rote setlists. Yes, it's fun to do something last minute, but leading a service this way will quickly teach you that this stuff is too important to be an afterthought.

DO THE STUFF YOU LIKE
When you start out leading worship, your personal preference is all you've got. That's how you pick songs, schedule videos, recruit volunteers. But this is a mistake. Why? Because there's way more people than you. Young worship leader who do only the stuff they like will learn a good lesson about pastoring people. Because eventually, somebody's gonna' tell you they hate a song you love. And you're gonna' be baffled by that. But after awhile, you're going to realize all these people aren't coming to church to watch you get your kicks up there on stage.

HANG ONLY WITH YOUR CREW
Everybody wants to hang with their friends...especially worship leaders after a good worship service! (Let's go out to eat and talk about how awesome we are!) This mistake will eventually reveal itself when you realize you don't know many of the people you're leading. Apart from your tiny clique, you're a lonely worship leader without much context for the people you're serving.

THINK IT'S ABOUT COOL
Young worship leaders often think that their job is to make their church the coolest in town. This usually means that the worship leaders spends a lot of time and money finding out what other churches are doing and trying to duplicate (or even outdo) that. The problem is that trends are fickle. Just as soon as you install that new light rack or the drum-setup-of-the-day, it's not cool anymore. But because the church sub-culture is so commercialized, worship leaders do well to learn early that it's never about the "stuff" you can buy.

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By all means, avoid mistakes. But if you do make them, make sure you can learn from what you've done!a

What were some beneficial mistakes in your ministry?

MUSIC I'M DIGGING

Haven't posted one of these in awhile, but a couple of worship albums have been grabbing me as of late. I've provided links so you can check these out and let me know what you think in the comments!

Robbie Seay Band - Psalms EP
I'm way late to these multi-volume EP projects from Robbie Seay. And even though I'm listing the newest, Volume 3, the truth is that I've been listening through all the EPs and enjoying them immensely. Personally, I dig how RSB builds groove. They've got a knack for finding the sweet spot between the modern worship stuff and more open, jangly almost alt-country attack. From a worship perspective, I love that good songwriters are now giving us the ability to sing the Psalms, something churches used to do a lot more. It's also not lost on me that writing songs directly from scripture is a massive undertaking. I can't imagine staying this close to scripture with this many songs. I think there's a lot to learn from this record...and a lot to sing! LINK

god-of-every-story-cover.jpg

Laura Story - God Of Every Story
For the past couple of years, Laura Story's music has been some of those most convicting, soul-enriching stuff in my library. I can't explain it, but her songs hit me in a deep place that most music doesn't even touch. I can't tell you how many times her songs have moved me to gratitude and praise.

Usually, if I like a worship album, I'm constantly thinking "when we do some of these songs at church?" but Laura's music ends up being almost devotional for me. It's been my go-to for reminding myself what it means to follow - and worship - Jesus. LINK

Urban Rescue - Wildfire
This is, by far, the most out-of-character recommendation in a long while. A month ago, I came across a tweet from a UK worship leader about the new album from this band called "Urban Rescue." I went to check out the first single and was surprised to find it was a poppy, 80's era synth song. What was more surprising? I loved it.

Two things have me listening to this record over and over: First, the melody. The music is way creative and trendy and would be almost impossible for most bands to implement, but the melodies are fantastic. So much so that I think these songs would work with any musical setting. The second reason I liked it is that I had just finished work on a new song with a more "electronic" feel and was inspired by Urban Rescue's music. LINK

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What are your listening to these days?

LEADING IS REASSURING

We've had a theme the past few months for our campus worship team: GET FREE.

My players are great. They show up prepared, they come with great attitudes, and they enjoy being around each other. But sometimes they're timid. They know the material and they watch the congregation very closely, but they're very often afraid to step outside the arranged order and improvise.

For the past couple months, I've been encouraging my team to be more bold in their playing, telling them that I trust them as musicians enough to let them be creative in the worship set. I think those can be powerful, Spirit-led moments and I want my people to have the chance to go after that.

But I'm reminded over and over that I have to do my part, too. I have to make sure my team feels safe branching out. I have to help them learn to discern those spontaneous moments and I have to teach them what to do musically in those settings. But most of all, I've got to reassure them.

I have to build some foundations for my team - some dependable elements that I'll take care of as the worship leader. As I free them up, I also need to model both the boundaries and dynamics of what we're doing.

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Last week, we did a tune of mine called Hallelujah For The Cross. I told the team that I expected the congregation to sing out on the song and that we might stretch the ending of the song. I told them to feel free to go after the song...that if they wanted to keep playing the song, to go for it. And then...I realized I had to reassure them.

You see, the song ends with a tag. We tag the last three lines, going to the VI chord. I realized that if we kept going after the ending of the song, they wouldn't know if to play a "normal chorus" or the "ending chorus" with the tags. So I made a decision and told them during rehearsal...

"If we keep going on that song, I'll to the 'tag chorus' every single time. Know that!"

Now to some, that might seem like too much planning or preparation, but for my team - where they are now - that was just enough reassuring to free them up to play a bit more spontaneously than normal.

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Leadership is never dictating. It's reassuring. That's the only way you're people will feel safe enough to take chances!

THE SUNDAY TEAM - WORSHIP LEADER, KNOW YOUR PASTOR, PART 5

Working under the leadership of a pastor can be a lot of 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.

I’ll never forget the Monday morning staff meeting. We were sitting around, waiting for our weekly recap of our service but our senior pastor was late. Imagine our surprise when he stumbled into the room looking like death-warmed-over. His shirt was wrinkled and his hair mussed. There were dark circles underneath his eyes.

It had been a hard week. There had been quite a few counseling sessions that week, hospital visits, budget meetings and a big, busy Sunday service. We made small talk, but eventually went around the table so ministry leaders could review Sunday's ministries. When it came to the senior pastor, he looked up and said this,

"I slept with my shoes on. That's how I felt about yesterday."

There were snickers around the table, but I was baffled. He told us he got home from church, ate a sandwich, walked to his room and fell onto the bed fully clothed and slept for over two hours. Once we stopped laughing, he explained that by the time he got home, he was just done. For him, that was the best (and only) thing he could do to finish up a week of ministry. It was a necessary and honest reaction to the completion of a ministry week.

Pastors don’t feel the same as musicians after serving. Preaching is exhausting - way more exhausting than playing five songs. Here's why: Your pastor doesn’t have a team to cover mistakes. Your pastor doesn't have a group up there who can pick up the slack when something goes wrong. It's the pastor - up there, all alone. There's no high fives when they're done. No hangout in the green room over donuts like the band does. That’s why most pastors celebrate by disconnecting - a quite afternoon at home, a couple of beers before bed, a dumb action movie on their laptop. This seems strange to us - musicians wanna’ party after they play - but for most pastors, it's a survival mechanism.

It may seem harsh or weird, but I promise this tip will make for a better pastor/worship leader relationship: STAY OUT OF THE WAY AFTER CHURCH. Once the service is over, let the pastor cope and recuperate - don't add stress by demanding you both spend Sunday night talking about every aspect of the service. By respecting your pastors need for some disconnection, you'll build tremendous relational capital for when you meet back up during the week. Giving your pastor space is a great investment in your ministry partnership.

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!

Click here for part 5.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.