Friday, March 18, 2016

Sunday Set List: Palm Sunday

Need a little inspiration for your Sunday Songs? Here's our list... feel free to share yours!

Opening Song: My Redeemer Lives (Hillsong) [Key of D]

This is an oldie for some, but it is a new song for us, and our style is a little bit folksy pop. So we are playing this on the 'cool' side, rather than driving. It's fun, uplifting, and pretty simple: Verse, chorus, verse, chorus chorus, bridge chorus, chorus.

Prayer, with keyboard pads in the background.

Revelation Song (Jennie Lee Riddle) [Key of D]

This song is a personal fav of mind because of the reference to heavenly worship and Revelation. This song needs movement, so we start soft, singing gently with awe and wonder, building into the chorus, and quiet again on the verses. Sometimes, we end with the last chorus fairly slow and soft, but this time we are continue to build, then letting the last chord linger.

Crown Him with Many Crowns (Bridges and Elvey) [Key of D]

This song originally had a plethora of verses - we sing just 4! No introduction, just starting right in on the verse, in unison, quietly with only keyboard accompanying and a bit rubato.
Instruments in on the 2nd verse and building to the end.

Because it's Palm Sunday, we are adding in a little bit of old tradition with Hosanna, Loud Hosanna after the children's message, accompanied by keyboard and little light perc, as well. All Glory Laud and Honor to close the service out, followed by God Be With You Till We Meet Again as sung by the worship team after the benediction.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Tracking your emotions the day after

Did you ever have one of those mood rings that was supposed to reveal your emotional state by changing colors? Each color represented a different 'mood.' It's been years since I've had one, but I fully suspect that the color changes were based on body temperature, not really mood. I'm pretty sure there was a Wet N Wild lipstick that did just about the same thing! Wouldn't it be nice if there was jewelry that sensed our bad moods coming? Perhaps a watch that vibrated when we are about to lose our cool, reminding us to stand down? What if we received a text alert when we are feeling overly sensitive. SIRI might tell us, "Let it go! Let it go!" If I had a mood ring, I think it would be red on
Mondays.

Mondays are typically adrenaline dump days - that day when my body processes the adrenaline surge from Sunday's time of ministry. I wonder how many of us aren't even aware that we are struggling with this? Personally, I find myself exhausted, physically sore, and more sensitive and more irritable than usual. I often don't even recognize it until I'm crying at the gas pump or rolling my eyes at the junk mail. It's only then that I realize how ridiculous I am being. The attitude suffers right along with the rest of me. A nap might solve some, the rest of it needs kept in check with a big dose of self-control, prayer, and grace. Lots and lots of grace.

Self-awareness is the best way to manage adrenaline dump - if you don't recognize it, you just can't fix it, right? Spire is a wearable activity tracker that is supposed to sense when you are tense or stressed, and send you text messages to help you deal with it. It might be worth the $150 investment, although I would imagine our spouses, children, and friends could give us the same information for free. Or you could download a mood tracking app or even take notes in a journal throughout the day.You can learn to catch yourself if you know the patterns that occur.  And once you figure out those patterns, you can come up with ways to mitigate any negativity or unwanted behavior.

What is the pattern to your moods on a Monday? What consistencies do you notice? Does it change throughout the day? What strategies will you make to cope?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

3 Easter Worship Set List Ideas for Blended Services


Easter is getting close - have you figured out your Easter service set lists yet? Here are a few ideas
that I've toyed with for this year - which one do you like best? What songs will you be singing Easter Sunday to celebrate our Risen Lord?

The Garden Scene Set List 
Begin with keyboard pads, 
While reading John 20:11-18,
My Redeemer Lives -Hillsongs  
Begin with the chorus, singing softly
Because He Lives (Amen) - Matt Maher
Prayer over keyboard pads
Because He Lives -Bill and Gloria  Gaither

The Lamb Set List
Crown Him with Many Crowns (Bridges, Thring, and Elvey)
Keep the feel ethereal with keyboard pads/strings 
Skip the intro of Revelation Song and begin with the verse
Revelation Song - Jennie Lee Riddle 
Soften the last chorus to create a smooth transition into the next song
Miracles - Jesus Culture
Repeat last chorus softly and slowly, pray over keyboard pads
Majesty - Jack Hayford

Cross, Grave, and Sky Set List
Start slowly and quietly, 
building in volume and intensity throughout the set list

Love Ran Red - Christ Tomlin. 
Start with acoustic guitar and male or female soloist, 
slowly building in volume by adding singers and instruments 
(Read 1 Peter 2:24 during intro)
Read Luke 24:6-7: "He is not here, He has risen!"
 while softly playing the verse of the next song
Up From the Grave He Arose -Robert Lowry 
Verses 1 and 3  
Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
He Lives -Alfred Ackley 
Repeat Chorus Grandioso



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What's cooking at your Easter worship service?

Easter Sunday will be here before you know it - what do you have cooking up for your Easter worship service(s)? Have your plans been simmering on the back burner for awhile or will you pop them in the microwave at the last second? Or will you just pull something out of the back freezer and defrost a few days before?

Whatever you planning style might be, let me ask you this question that I have wrestled with for awhile. Do you change worship styles for special Sundays like Easter? If your church has always used a traditional style of music or if it has always used a contemporary style, this may not even be a question for you. But if your church is in the process of transitioning from traditional to more modern, or if it uses a more blended style of music, do you change it for Easter?

I have been a part of churches that have been more contemporary in style on a regular basis, yet when it comes to Easter, they would throw open the organ and pull out all the stops, so to speak. They believed that people prefer to have a more traditional sound on special Sundays, especially those people that only visit on Christmas and Easter. I understand the point of that, of celebrating tradition  with something however, isn't it better, on a Sunday where a church is more likely to get visitors, to faithfully represent the normal identity of the church? Wouldn't a visitor be confused if they heard one thing on Easter, only to come back later and hear something completely and totally different? Or am I over analyzing a special way to celebrate a glorious Sunday?

That being said, how do we make special Sundays special while still being true to who we are as a church body? Are you enlisting the help of special music, a special choir, your best musicians, special songs? What's your plan, and just as importantly, why? Are you maintaining a musical status quo or are you proverbially pulling out all of the stops?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Inter-generational Worship


I love the church. I love it in all its forms, shapes, sizes, colors, strengths, and weaknesses. The church is the beautiful Bride of Christ.  But one of the greatest frustrations I have with the church-at-large is our penchant for splitting the family. Oh, I get it - every age/grade has its own Sunday school class so you can customize a lesson to give it more impact. From a learning perspective, it's quite logical. But from a family perspective, it's tough to split everyone up, especially when there are SO MANY church events to be a part of - worship services, Bible studies, VBS, etc. I don't get to see my kids when I'm at work or they're at school, so it makes it that much harder to head out for a church event knowing we are going to be divided. I would love to see a different paradigm be incorporated into our worship services. I'm talking about inter-generational worship services, or multi-generational worship services. Rather than having Children's Church, a Youth Service, a Young Adult Service, what if we just had a family service?

Oh, I believe that most churches would absolutely say that children are welcome to sit in the service, but perhaps those same people have never felt the eyes burning into the back of your head as your child with extra needs is (a little too loudly) asking questions about the lights, the bulletins, the song, the pastor, and everything else that distracts him. What if we could come up with a worship setting that was as comfortable for kids as it is for adults (wait, are those hard pews actually comfortable?). What if the sermon was written in such a way that children found it interesting, too (adults, are you listening to the sermons, I mean really listening? You should be!), and the music was singable and enjoyable by all ages? What if we truly created a worship setting where everyone was truly welcomed - and not just those that can comfortable sit and listen for an hour to an hour and a half? What would that look like?

Musically, the words would need to be simpler, with easier, more memorable melodies and less complex rhythm, but the style could be anything that suits the community. Seating arrangements might be better served as a table and chairs so children and adults could take notes or doodle while they are listening (adults learn by doodling just as much as kids!). Chairs that are made with a little bit of give for rocking would go along way to help wiggly ones enjoy staying in their seats. Maybe having several smaller sets of speakers throughout the room, putting out less volume, would be more listenable than one large set of speakers blasting from the front. Perhaps some comfy seating as well, a couple of toys on a blanket on the floor. And of course, coffee. Everyone is always more comfortable with coffee.

I don't know how we got to our current evangelical worship format, but I don't think it necessarily looks like the New Testament church did, where they met together, ate together, worked together, shared together. But I think we can do a little better to create multi-generational worship services with our current formats without a radical shift that would upset the proverbial or perhaps rotten, apple cart. What could we do differently this week to make our service, our music, and our time together more accessible to families? How would your planning change if you knew you were focused on families rather than adults? What would your music sound like? How can we bring all of the generations together to do worship as a community united?

I would love to hear your stories of how you made your church worship setting more family friendly... Please share in the comments and feel free to link to your church or worship center.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What do you know about your church's musical identity?



Every church has its own culture, it's own genetic makeup. Musical style is just one of those factors. It also includes age ranges, professions, meal preferences, activity levels, family size, church location, median income, etc. It might also involve attitudes, theology, genealogy, clothing choices, and lifestyle. These statistics and descriptors come together to make up the overall culture of your church. Think about it - how is the culture of an urban neighborhood different from a more suburban neighborhood and a rural neighborhood? 

For example, people who live in an urban area have little parking but easy access to public transportation. On the other hand, people who live in a rural area may have plenty of places to park but no access to public transportation. This in turn will affect the activities that a church plans or the things that a church might do together. One church may have room for lots of picnics but little indoor space for group meals, so church dinners only happen when the weather is nice. Other churches may have little outdoor space but plenty of room in the basement for potluck so church dinners are pretty routine. 

The music of a church works much the same way. Think about what style of music you use during your worship services. Do you have a worship band, an orchestra, a piano, or an organ? Do you typically use music that is fast and loud, slow and mournful, or a combination? Do you sing strictly traditional music, Gregorian chant, or modern? Or do you use all kinds of music? Is your church trying to copy the music of famous worship musicians? Say, Chris Tomlin, Hillsongs, the Gaither band, or perhaps Bach himself? Does your church have it's own unique musical sound, based upon the strengths of the musicians on your team? 

Now think about what music the people of the church listen to when they are not in a worship service. Guess what - if your church is primarily made up of Baby Boomers - do you think that they will they be listening to the music of the 60s and 70s? Do they like top 40? What if your church is largely Gen Xers, does this make your worship team sound like Depeche Mode or Bon Jovi? Does the music of your church people match the music style or styles that you use on Sunday morning? Why or why not? What's the current music trend and are you using that style in church? 

How about your church's neighborhood? What is the cultural identity of the people who live near your church? Do people walk to your church or do they drive long distances to get there? What do the people of your church's community like to listen to? If you don't know, try visiting the local shops and listen to what people are playing on the radio. Is there any common ground? What language or languages do you hear? Big box (I.e. Walmart and chain grocery stores) stores are more likely to play top 40 tunes, but be sure to listen to the music being played for the customers in the local small businesses. What do you hear on people's radios in their cars, and as you pass by them listening to their iPods? Does the music in your worship service match the style of music that is being enjoyed in your church's neighborhood? 

Lastly, as the pastor or worship leader, what are your musical tastes? And how do they affect the music that is happening in the church? 

Why is this at all important? Like Paul, are being all things to all people? Are we able to meet people where they are musically, or are we doing or own thing to cater to the people behind church doors? Are we reaching out or reaching in? Some would argue that the church's music should be different, set apart from the culture. That's a valid point, but sometimes it seems to be made by folks who resonate with more traditional styles of music. Those traditional styles are born out of a time period when they were considered the 'popular music' of the day.  

The Bible doesn't tell us what musical style to use in our churches. It doesn't say that one instrument is more holy than another, or one type of song is more Christian than another. It doesn't tell us how many songs to sing or when we've praised God enough. There is no magical music formula that will call down God's blessing on us!  It does tell us, over and over, to sing praise to God! The Bible tells us to sing new songs, and psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. And the Bible tells us often to love others, serve others, and put others' needs before our own. 

If you're dependent on a certain style, type, or series of music to get you to worship God, then my guess is that something is missing in your personal time with Jesus. If you can't get in the mood to praise because the music is too fast, too slow, not good enough, or the wrong style, than you're probably missing the point. The point is that we come together to worship God as a community - as a family - for who He is and what He has done - and musically we will need to find some kind of common ground to do so. Why don't we take this opportunity to use our common ground music to also reach out to the community around us? To help our church's neighbors feel welcome and comfortable and part of the family, too. 

What do you think? 




Friday, March 4, 2016

Whoppers and Worship Music: freedom of self-expression and cultural relativity in our worship music

According to Fox News/ Associated Press, in 2014 Burger King dumped its 40 year old advertising campaign, "Have it your way" in favor of an updated version, "Be your way." In their brand new ad campaign, Burger King attempted to hit our cultural hot buttons: to live as we please, be who we want to be, and let our self-expression take precedence over everything else. (You can read over the article here). I have no idea if it was a successful campaign or not, as I typically only ever eat a Whopper under duress, but BK's campaign effectively reflects some of the culture that we live in. From Frank Sinatra to Bruce Jenner to Miley Cirus,  we as a society feel stifled, if not even abused, when we can't freely express ourselves and our personas. But what do whoppers and worship music have to do with each other?

I think that when it is so ingrained in society that we should be who we are, say what we feel, and have what we want regardless of what anyone else thinks or needs,  it's hard to keep that feeling out of the church. We just don't realize how steeped in culture that we are. And it isn't all bad, because we love our freedom in all its forms! It's just who we are as a society, and perhaps one of the reasons why we are so hated but other societies. Freedom is a good thing. But selfish freedom can be a bad thing. What if everyone came to church for a worship service and then sang their own favorite worship song, chorus, or hymn all at the same time for the purpose of praising God through our own self-expression? It would be a cacophony of sound, chaotic, and definitely not enjoyable. We have to develop a common ground for our worship services, even if that means setting aside some of our particular preferences for the sake of unity and cohesiveness.

I would never say that one style of worship is inherently better than any other, because I believe that God loves variety- look how He created us! But God also loves unity, so we need some kind of a consensus in our style of worship services. And since every church is different, it's going to look different in every church. For some, it may be more blended, for some, very traditional, for others, very modern.  That's ok! However, if we want to be reaching new people for the Gospel of Christ through our music, we might want to think about how we can be culturally relative - how we can relate to the music tastes of the people in our church's community - how we can be in the world but not of the world.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NLT, from Biblegateway.com) talks about using our freedoms for good. Look at this:



Paul sacrificed his freedom for the sake of others! Paul willing gave up his freedom of self-expression in order to fit in culturally so that he could help others know Christ. To him, self-expression and personal preference were nowhere near as important as reaching others for the Gospel of Christ. So do you think that this idea should carry over into our worship music? Should we give up our freedom of musical expression so that we can connect with the musical tastes of those in our church's community? Why or why not? 
Next time, we'll look at how we can get a feel for our church's musical culture and how to compare it to the culture of the people in your church's community. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

There's no such thing as worship leaders...


Real or not real? 
There is no such thing as a worship leader. That title, Worship Leader, is a misnomer, even though it's what we are. 
My title is Worship Leader, but I cannot make a single person worship God. 

Perhaps I could coerce a person to sing, or threaten them to the point that they comply with liturgical expression, but I cannot make them worship. I do not bring anyone into the throne room of God. I  do not have that superpower. I cannot control people's hearts. Nobody has that kind of power. That's why I think there really is no such thing as a worship leader. We are always in the presence of God. And it is the Holy Spirit's job to soften hearts and lead people in responding to God in worship. As someone who is called a worship leader, my job is simply to create the opportunity for a corporate worship experience. 

And to be completely honest, it is not the job of the Contemporary Christian music movement to provide worship songs for congregations to sing. Oh, it's great when there are songs that easily cross over from CCM to worship service.It makes teaching the congregation a new song that much easeir when they've already heard it on the radio. But not every song can serve both purposes well, and it is the worship leader's responsibility to know the difference. 

I get it, Worship Leader. Like me, you're busy. Like me, you work more than one job. Like me, you have a family that needs a lot of attention. Like me, you love music, you love your congregation, you love Jesus, and you strive to do an awesome job at helping others to worship. But you can't just pick any old song onthe radio that falls under CCM, can you? 

You need songs that are theologically correct. Oh, I love having a local Christian music station. But sometimes I just shut it off, because  musicians aren't necessarily theologians, and the poetic license they employ sometimes clouds the truth of who God is. This isn't always a black and white area, because every denomination has its own theological bent, and a song that works in the Methodist Church on one end of town might not really fit the Pentecostal Church at the other end. Sometimes, I hear a song on the radio and know that it's a great fit for our church. Other times, I cringe inwardly, because I can't get on board with what that song is really saying about God. It's even harder when a member of the worship team requests a song that you can't agree with theologically. It is not legal to change the words of a song that is not in the Public Domain without permission, so you won't be able to get away with using a song by just changing a word or two. Worship Leader, it is your job to know if this song will fit.  If you don't know, ask for help. 

You need songs that are singable. There are some amazing CCM artists on the radio whose voices are pretty, and they have great big ranges, and amazing vocal agility. But the average church attender can't sing like Mandisa or Chris Tomlin. Listen for songs that keep most of their melodies between middle C and the C above so that most voices can sing them. If the rhythms are too complex, the range is too wide, or the verses too different from each other, the congregation won't be able to pick them up. However, if you choose songs that are too repetitive, your folks might start getting bored. This is your job, Worship Leader - to find those songs that are the most singable. 

You need songs that your band can play. If you work with a team of instrumentalists, you need to know their skill level and ability. That awesome song you just heard might be perfect for the team of professionals that spent months rehearsing it, but maybe your volunteers can't play in the key of F sharp minor. Or maybe they don't have the chops to carry out that insanely cool guitar lick. Let it go, Worship Leader. Let it go. 

You need songs that touch hearts. That might be the hottest song in all of CCM, but is it moving people closer to God? Is it helping people to worship God? Skip the fluff, Worship Leader, and find the songs that tell stories, dream dreams, and touch the heart and soul. 

You need songs that fit your congregation. Churches are not one size fits all, and I am pretty sure that our God loves the variety that makes up His Bride. But that also means your church is different than the one down the street, and has different needs, styles, and strengths. Maybe the church body is in a season of discouragement and need songs that reassure them that God has not forgotten. Maybe they are in a season of celebration, or maybe they need to learn that it's ok to respond to God in song.  Know your people, Worship Leader, and find the songs that fit their needs, help them grow closer to God, and worship Him. 

Worship Leader, this is your job. Not to make others worship. Not to force them to sing. Not to copy the hottest songs on Christian radio, not to be another Chris Tomlin, Lauren Daigle, or Jennie Lee Riddle (even though we love them), but to lead the music that helps your congregation respond to God for who He is and what He has done.  What does that look like in your church? 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Do we really need to boycott the worship industry?


Boycotts are just not my thing and I'm not really sure that it's appropriate for the church at large to support them as a general rule. However, Jonathan Aigner's article titled, "It's Time to Boycott the Worship Industry" raises some keen points that are worth taking a good hard gander at. There are pros and cons to everything on this earth- worship industry included. Aigner's article, regardless of whether we agree or disagree on his individual points, creates a great starting place to discuss worship practices in our churches and worship teams.

First and foremost, Aigner discusses the topic of money, saying that the worship industry is driven by its money making capacities which affects the quality of music and theology that is produced. This is a good point - if we are taking music from the worship industry to use for worship services in our churches, what standards are we using to make sure that these songs are appropriate? There are quite a few songs that I must admit I disagree with theologically, but they receive an abundance of air play. Because they are popular and performed by famous Christian musicians, they are accepted as "gospel truth," but as a worship leader, I feel they don't have a place in our worship services. 


The United Methodist Church examined the top 100 CCLI songs (many of which are directly from the worship industry) for theological content and singability. You can find their results here. While they examined each song with rigorous standards, the results were pretty positive for the music they believed to be in accordance with the doctrine of the United Methodist Church. However, they only posted the songs they felt they could endorse. I would love to see the list that they felt were not appropriate for church use and the reasons why. I commend the UMC for creating a focus group that strives to make certain our worship is sound.

Another point on money - according to www.therichest.com, Chris Tomlin's net worth is approximately 2 million dollars. For an average worship leader like myself, that's a lot of cash! And that makes it seem like his music is money driven. Then again, compared to Justin Bieber's net worth of $200 million, it's just a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, the Bible tells us that a laborer is worthy of his hire, and perhaps the grueling schedule of touring life is worth a couple million.

Speaking of Christ Tomlin, Aigner also discusses the idea that the worship industry creates musical idols, such as Tomlin himself. That's a great point, because we need to make sure that our worship music centers on Jesus, and not on someone else. It is difficult for us average folks to measure up to the talent, level of production, and team of support that Chris Tomlin has for his musical aspirations, so there is really no hope of us creating music like his anyway. Regardless, God loves diversity; He didn't create us to be carbon copies of someone else. But perhaps Chris Tomlin is as popular as he is because his music is theologically sound and beautiful (although not too many folks can sing in his keys!). His music is consistently excellent, theologically sound, and well-written, so why not use it?

The best point, in my opinion, that Aigner makes in his article is that the worship industry follows culture and is aimed at creating a passive audience rather than passionate worshippers. This is a great point. As worship leaders and ministry leaders, we aim to cultivate the congregation's response to God for who He is and what He has done. We give words and music to their experience so they can worship, but if we are using music that is created for passivity, where is the congregation's voice? On the other hand, the benefit to using popular music in the worship service is that the congregation already knows it. For those that listen to Christian radio, it is easy to introduce a hot, new song because the congregation has heard it over the airwaves again and again. And they are excited to use these songs in their worship repertoire. Would the congregation have a fuller, more passionate, more true response to God if we used only original music that was not a part of the worship industry or CCM movement?

If you know your church music history, you might be aware that many of the old favorite hymns were once popular tunes of their day, some even originating as drinking songs in old time bars and pubs. The music was relatable to the people because it followed the cultural norms of the day. They could easily learn it and sing it. It is the theology and musicianship that have made these songs stand the test of time. Only future generations will know if today's worship music will last.

Aigner also discusses the emotionalism of songs from the worship industry as well as the need to stop allowing ourselves to be satisfied with watered down worship songs. His points are excellent and his logic is clear and well -written. He gave me a great pause and a small chuckle with this line: "It’s time to end the Tomlinization, dethrone our jesusy American Idols, and once again foster creative beauty and artistry, especially in our children." It's a great point - but I don't think we need to boycott the worship industry in order to do this. I wonder if Aigner listens to music at all outside of church? What could he possibly listen to on the radio or on a CD that doesn't involve the music industry in some way? And I wonder what Aigner's solutions are for today's busy, bi-vocational worship leaders who just don't have time to find music that isn't from the worship industry?

I like Aigner's article even if I do disagree with some points, and I appreciate his willingness to share ideas that may not be popular, even if they are worthy to be discussed. I also like Chris Tomlin's music, and I use it in my church's worship because it is theologically sound and beautiful and people are already familiar with it. Next time, we'll talk about how we can have our worship industry and great worship music, too.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Words Matter


What you say is important. I’m pretty sure that God designed it to be that way. The books of Genesis and John both speak about some very important words that God used. We see that Jesus is the Word of God. (John 1:1-5). God’s Words created the world in which we live. He spoke—and it came into existence out of nothing. God’s Words create life. Jesus used His Words to heal, to forgive, to preach, and to save. He is the Word and His words changed eternity. The Bible is God’s Word to us. And prophets in the Old Testament would receive and share a Word from the Lord. If God used words in such important aspects of the life He gave us, then we can be pretty sure that God places a lot of importance on words. What we say matters.

We’ve all had times when we fumbled for words, said the wrong thing, sounded tacky, or unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings. We make mistakes. And we make mistakes with our words. But it’s time for the Church, church leaders, and everyone who associates with the body of Christ, to strongly consider the importance of their words and the effect those words have on others around them. We need to be intentional with our words. It matters.

1. Person-first Wording.
As a church, if we are striving to be inclusive in our worship services and in our churches (and if we’re not, why aren’t we?), then we need to look at the words we use in reference to those in our ministry. Specifically, person-first wording should infiltrate all of our speech patterns...

Goal Setting: Growing Spiritually as a Worship Team

St. Augustine said there were really 2 churches: the visible and the invisible church. The visible church is the people that we see each week, those that show up for services, who serve as an usher, who do childcare, who are on the worship team.  And then there is the invisible church - the church that only God sees - these are the true believers. According to Augustine, only God can truly know whether someone is a believer with a growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus or whether they just claim to be.

It's not really our job to know.

With that in mind, I think that in an ideal world, the worship team would be comprised of spiritual giants, those that make my faith journey look new and immature, as it probably is. But the reality of our worship teams is that we probably have a few spiritually mature Christians, a few who may never have accepted Jesus into their hearts, and the rest are somewhere in between - maybe they believe in Christ, but who couldn't grow deeper and fall farther in love with Him? So how do we grow spiritually as a worship team?


Devotions - group devotions are a great way to grow spiritually as a group. Many teams will choose a book of the Bible to study, or choose a book by a devotional author, or even take turns leading a devotional or study. They don't have to be long to be effective. You might want to focus on what it means to worship God, or you might focus on the attributes of God, or study verse by verse through a particular book such as James or even John. You don't have to reinvent the wheel - there are plenty of materials available at your local Christian book store (Rory Noland has great materials for worship teams!) Or look on youtube for free devotional videos, just make sure to preview them first! Ask God to put something on your heart to share with your team. If possible, create a plan so that you can provide continuity and consistency. If you haven't done devotions as a group before, is God revealing to you that you He wants you to?

Do life together - One of my favorite seasons of worship leading came out of a team that really did life together, and they did it with or without me present.  They treated the team as if it was it's own small group. There were dinners out, dinners at each other's houses, picnics, helping each other move, praying for each other, visiting in each other in hard times. There was a little fighting and drama, as you might find in any creative group of people, but then there was much forgiveness and reconciliation. And there was so much love and opportunity to be like Christ. The team truly learned what it was to be a Christ centered community and grew together in Christ.

Pray together. Pray for each other and pray together - during rehearsal, outside of rehearsal, before church services. Prayer is powerful. As the leader, take it upon yourself to teach your team to pray well. There are many methods for a balanced prayer life - I like the ACTS method - Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Spend a little time praying in each category so that your prayer times - both corporate and individual - don't become a laundry list of wishes for God to accomplish, but rather, focus on Him and become a conversation with Him.

Connect the Dots. One of my favorite - and to me, one of the most important - ways to grow together is through the music that we use to worship God. If a song isn't worth talking about, it's not good enough to sing. If it is worthy of being sung in the service, then it must have good theological or relational content. Take the time to explain why you sing this particular song and what it means. Read through the words together - how do they enhance each member's relationship with God? Are there any theological implications that need to be discussed? What Scripture is being referenced in the song? Pray the song. Then sing the song, together, to God. Don't worry about rehearsing it for a few minutes and just spend time in the practice of worshipping God through music.

Worship together. We spend a lot of time hashing out notes, reviewing song forms, and parts, and chord changes, and that pesky bridge that never sounds right.... But sometimes you need to just let it all go and practice worship. Have you ever considered taking your team on - or creating your own - spiritual retreat for an evening or weekend so that your team can worship together?

Do a service project.  Your team can grow together as a group and spiritually by serving God and the community outside of the church. Be creative and have fun with it - work at a soup kitchen, collect clothing, help build a house, or just do odd jobs for someone who is disabled, or go un-Christmas caroling to a shut in. Be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who needs it and you'll see Christ working on the hearts of your team.

Get help. It doesn't hurt to bring someone in if you feel like your team has hit a spiritual rut. Maybe a mentor, a pastor, a friend from another church. Have your special guest share their story, their perspective, or ideas from their team. Take your team to a worship conference (worshipleader.com) or watch a webinar or interview online. Or have a team from another church come and lead your team in worship, and vice versa, so that someone can help your team worship as they help others to worship.

Be a model.  The best thing you can do as a leader to help your team grow spiritually is to be in a state of growth yourself.  As Christians, we have never 'arrived' at maturity. We are never done learning, we never can say we have grown close enough to God or become Christ-like enough. Are you struggling with something? Share with your team if it's appropriate. Where is God working on your heart? Where is He working in your life? What are you doing to grow closer to God? (See this post if you need ideas!)

We are never too mature to revisit favorite Bible stories. We never outgrow the content of our Sunday school lessons. But sometimes, we allow ourselves to be immune to God's Word because, if we are long standing church members, we've heard it all before. And sometimes, we may have heard a verse but never let it change our hearts. Sometimes, we find people on our worship teams that haven't ever given their hearts to Jesus even though they know all the Bible stories. Then there are times when God shows us something fresh and new from the same scripture passage we've read again and again and again. Never underestimate the power of God's Word to change your heart and help your team grow.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Spiritually as a Worship Leader




As a worship leader, I feel like my work is never done. I never feel like a song is complete, so I could practice forever and a day and still feel like a song is never quite ready. There is always a little bit more creativity I could I put into a worship service, a Scripture that fits better, a prayer that needs edited just a bit more. I always feel the need to do 'just a little bit more.'  But there is a problem with my pursuit of perfection. First, it isn't actually attainable. Live music has so many variables that no performance of it will ever be good enough. And second, heading for perfection, rather than excellence, is incredibly time consuming. And that's not good.

Satan wants me to be too busy. He doesn't mind if I spend hours and hours practicing some minuscule part, because all of that time I spend on something unnecessary or unattainable is time that I am not spending with God. And herein lies the problem. 

Ministry is busy - there is always something else to be done, a phone call to be made, a person to see, a song to write, a chord chart to practice, or a rehearsal to plan. But the work of ministry must be second to something else - our time with God. In my opinion, nothing causing ministry burn out faster than letting the busyness of ministry get in the way of growing in our relationship with Christ. 

So the question is, how do we grow spiritually as a worship leader or person in ministry? 

First, I think it's important to realize that this will look different for each person, but certainly is not less critical for anyone. We need to stay connected to God. We cannot help others to worship God, respond to God, or experience God if we are not doing those things ourselves. And, like everything else in my hectic life, if I don't plan it, I won't do it. I find that it works best to make a plan for a 2 to 4 week period, then evaluate to see if it worked, and adjust for the next 2 to 4 week period. This helps me stay flexible for busy seasons like Easter and Christmas, but keeps me on track and disciplined. Without a plan, it just doesn't happen. 

As a mom of 6 small children, it takes a lot of planning. My wee ones are up at 5 and not in bed until 8pm. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get them to nap all at the same time. Someone is always awake and someone is always demanding my attention. And that's ok, because that's what small children need most. My house is big enough to fit our needs, but doesn't leave a lot of space for private, intimate moments with God.  I have to be creative. 

For one thing, getting up earlier doesn't really help. I am too tired at 4am to even think about reading my Bible, much less staying awake for prayer time. I've tried it. And all it did was hurt and make me tired and cranky.  Sure, I can blog with toddlers milling about, I can even practice choir music with my loves playing along side of me. But private time with God? That's much harder to do amidst of a big family. 

I find that I am at my best later in the evening, when the kids are asleep. And while I always have a plethora of work and housework to catch up on, I know I have to prioritize time with God before anything else. And while spending time with God for the sake of a sermon or set list is important, it doesn't usually count for personal prayer and worship.  So I have to set a time when my husband is available to handle a baby feeding or a toddler nightmare, and block it out just for me and God. (Trust me, this is no small feat and I have failed repeatedly).

Sometimes, it works out to just sit down and open my Bible and read something. But I would rather be intentional about what and how I'm reading, in order to give me something to think about and look forward to. Biblegateway.com has many Bible reading plans that can go straight to your email inbox. One of my favorite plans is to read the Bible in 90 days. It takes a bit of a commitment, but what a great way to get a picture of the Bible as a love letter written to us through the life of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, I like using the Bible on my iPad. Sometimes, I prefer a real book, with printed pages and a space to make notes. Pick the one that works for you right now in this place and time of your life. 

I also like to journal a bit as I spend time with God. I like to journal my prayers, incorporating adoration and praise, confession, thanksgiving, and of course supplication for myself and others. I like to jot down anything from my reading that stands out - perhaps a name of God, an attribute of God, or thoughts that God has given me about His Word. And I like to ponder about what God is doing in my life - where is He at work? What is He working on in my heart? What does He want me to do or to be? Or to stop doing or being? And I try to spend some time just being in God's presence, and being still and listening for Him to speak. 

The more time I spend with God the more I want and need to spend time with Him. Making that time takes a bit of discipline and creativity, but using that time with God restores me and helps me to care for my family and be prepared mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for leading worship. How about you? What methods do you use to grow spiritually? How do you grow closer to God in the midst of a hectic season in life?

Next time, we'll talk about other ways we can spend time with God, to remember that we are always in His presence and continue to grow spiritually. 







Thursday, January 21, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Musically as a Worship Team

If you feel like the worship music has become a little bit stale, it might be time to bring things up a notch musically.  Start with a vision for growth. That means taking an honest look at your teams strengths and weaknesses and envisioning what you want that to look like in a year, a month, and next rehearsal. you could even sit down with your team and ask them to think about how their piece of the puzzle fits into this. What are the musical problems that crop up when you think about where your team is musically and where you would like them to be?



I'll give you a great example. Once upon a time, in a far away church, on a legendary worship team, there played a drummer. I'll call him Cedric.* Cedric loved hard rock. He had a natural ability to listen to a hard rock praise and worship song and recreate it almost exactly. Cedric was old school - he was strong, he was loud, and he only ever wanted to play on an acoustic set.

Faraway church loved Cedric's playing, but the church needed to sing more than just hard rock songs. Faraway church needed to sing some simple, quiet, love songs to Jesus. Cedric refused to play slow quiet songs because he felt like a bull in a china shop. How could the music pastor save Faraway church from it's lack of love songs without making Cedric feel like a terrible musician?

Should the music pastor avoid quiet love songs to Jesus?
Should she fire Volunteer Cedric and search for a more well-rounded, even if less talented drummer?

With some brainstorming and a little creative problem solving, the team was able to widen their musical style to include softer, quieter songs without getting rid of valiant Cedric. Sometimes, they sang songs without any drums. Sometimes, they used simple auxiliary percussion to add feel without using the set. And Cedric agreed to try using brushes instead of sticks to play some of the softer songs. Eventually the church replaced the acoustic set with a much more manageable electronic set so that the sound tech could control the level of drums. Cedric wasn't thrilled with the electronic set, but agreed to try and work on it for the sake of good music.

No one wanted to single Cedric out because he was very talented and very willing to share his time with the team. And we are all Cedrics in some way or another - we all tend to rely on our strengths and avoid our weaknesses.  So what are some other ways we can solve this and similar problems that hamper musical growth? Maybe there aren't specific 'problems' that you can think of, but your team lacks musical interest.  Sometimes we just need to think about things a little differently to really bring out the nuance of a song so that its message can reach all the way into the softest parts of the people's hearts. Have you tried any of these ideas?

1. Dynamics. The ebb and tide of flowing dynamics can make or break a piece of music. An average worship song may have a soft verse and and a medium loud chorus, with a crescendoing bridge into a loud chorus and back to a soft chorus. It's pretty predictable, but does give good flow to the song. Make sure you are exploring the full range of dynamics of a piece - and if you don't like the dynamics that are there, you might need to create some of your own.

Encourage your musicians to play softly and really listen to each other as you learn new songs. This is a great exercise to increase the musicianship of your team. As you rehearse a song, watch the lyrics and melodies for places where dynamic changes will really pop.  It is amazing how much more in sync a team can play when they rehearse softly as opposed to rehearsing at the full volume of the song.

What if you took a hard, loud, fast song and softened it up? What would happened if you took a soft song and sang it loudly? Sometimes, a hushed chorus creates just the right mood for folks to hear Jesus.

2.  Vary instrumentation. This is a great way to add some creative flavor to your songs and makes your musicians sound more professional. Avoid having everyone playing all of the time. Mix it up - drop out the instruments for a full chorus of drums and vocals while keeping the momentum going. Try starting a song with just keys or just acoustic guitar, allowing other instruments to join in on verse 2, and then fall out again at the end. Have your percussionist leave the set for bongos, or exchange your piano-strings (my go to sound) for a little electric piano, rock organ, or ???? Try a little distortion and a lot, but don't keep it the same all the time. Experiment and have fun, and remember, you don't have to mimic the CD but do what your worship team does best.

3. Vary the harmony. Don't fall into the trap of always singing in unison or always singing in harmony. Mix it up! Throw in a few solos, duets, and trios, try using unison or harmonic singing to draw attention to certain lines in the song. Take turns giving melody to different vocal parts, allowing harmony to fall above or below the melody as needed. If you're congregation is singing strongly, take a risk and back off the mic and let them hear themselves singing praises to God.

4.  YouTube it. A great way to learn technique is to find sample videos on YouTube. Pass them on to your team with a light-hearted request to add it in to a specific song. A well placed glissando, guitar lick, or bass solo can make a worship song come to life.

5. Model. Be a model for your team and demonstrate great dynamics, techniques, and harmonies. Jot down a few ideas before rehearsal to enhance your songs.

6. Encourage! A wise physical therapist used to always give prizes to her young patients because, "Everyone wants to get paid." Worship team volunteers are there to worship our Lord and Savior, but a little thanks and encouragment goes a long way to keeping them excited about making music for God.

Give your Cedrics lots of thanks and praise as you encourage them to break out of their comfort zone in small ways. Look for fun, creative solutions and interesting ways to enhance the musicality of your songs and increase the abilities of your team. This positive atmosphere of growth will help fuel your teams passion for creating excellent music that glorifies God.




*Names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Personally as a Musician

What are you going to do about the status quo in 2016? 


It doesn't matter how old your church is, what type of music you sing, or what kind of venue you have. All churches can get stuck in the status quo or caught up in their typical routines. And that's ok to a point, because it can be good for people to have an idea of what to expect each week. But even non-traditional churches manage to create their own traditions, and congregations that are solely contemporary in music style are just as liable for getting stuck in a musical rut as older, more traditional congregations are. Getting a little too comfortable is always a risk we take when we are involved in church music. And when we start thinking "well, we've never done that before," we might just be headed down the slippery slope of complacency.

But we serve a God who loves variety, life, and growth. We serve a God who said look, I'm doing something new! (Isaiah 43:19). We serve a God who deserves not only our best, but our everything. So here we go in 2016 to not just maintain what we've got, but grow the seeds that God has put in our care. For now, let's take a look at one of the more apparent aspects of music ministry that deserves attention and growth: musicality.

One way to burst out of a musical rut and get out of the status quo is to grow musically as an indifvidual and as a team. As a leader, you set the example! If you want your musicians to get better at their craft, you'll have to be working on yours. The most obvious choice is usually to sign up for some lessons on your main instrument, but that can be very cost prohibitive, especially on a professional level. Instead, you might take some other approaches:

1. Invest in  new repertoire. If you usually play Billy Joel-esque songs for fun, switch it up and try something classical. If Bach is your go to, then go grab some show tunes and give it a go. Love classical guitar? Pick up a few well-known riffs. Pick out a few new and different pieces - something out of your comfort zone - and make a plan for when you're going to have it learned. Let your team know that you're trying something new - and how hard/easy/fun/rewarding/good for you that it is. It will help them to see you struggle with the nuance or notes or techniques that you're not used to using. Can you encourage or challenge them to do the same? Hopefully they'll see the benefit of your hard work and try it for themselves.

2. Try learning by a different means. Do you always learn by ear? How about brushing up on your sight reading skills. If you're a pianist, just grab a hymnal and see what you can do. Or if you always play by sheet music, try brushing up on your listening skills. There are oodles of ear training apps to help you do just that. Listen to the radio and see if you can write down the melody you hear. These types of exercises will definitely expand your musicianship.

3. Pick up a new instrument. It will give you an appreciation for the beginner players on your team, and it will widen your musical horizons. And it will totally break you out of your comfort zone!

4. Master a new technique. Always wanted to learn to play a glissando, a bar chord, or a lip slur? There is a plethora of knowledge on YouTube just waiting for you to dive in. You're bound to find plenty of demos available for your new skill. Find one, learn it, and get to work practicing it so you can incorporate it with your worship team.

5. Do the thing that makes you nervous. Is there a piece of music you love but are nervous to play in front of others? Are you great on the worship platform, but performing in a different type of venue terrifies you? Get yourself out there! Find a little coffee shop, karaoke stage, or open mic night and try it.  You love your instrument but don't think you can teach? Give it a try! Do that hard thing just once and see what it does for your confidence and musical maturity.

What other ways can you think of to grow musically as a leader in 2016? What have you tried in the past and what worked or didn't? Remember to set a measurable goal that you can complete within a reasonable time frame -and then go for it! Even if your progress is slow, you'll still be further along than if you hadn't tried.  God loves us and He loves our music, so let's make it the best we have to give.

Next time, we'll talk about how to help your team grow musically in the worship set. After that, we'll look at growing spiritually as a leader and as a team.

Pray for me and I'll pray for you!





Monday, January 11, 2016

What fuels your worship team?

What is the driving force behind your worship team? What is the passion that fuels their song? What motivates your teammates to sacrifice their time and share their talents for Sunday morning worship? What is your motivation for singing or playing or leading or participating?

 I'm sure we all know what the 'right' answer is.  We know what we should say; we know the answer we think God wants to hear. Just stop for a second, and take a look at the real condition of your heart. You might as well be honest with yourself - God already knows the truth about you (and He loves you anyway!). What is your real motivation?

My heart is a mixed bag. On any given day, I want to lead worship for a lot of different reasons. And yeah, some of them are self-serving. Should I be afraid to admit that? Not all of my reasons for leading worship are selfish, but I am a sinner and sadly, some of them are.

There is hope for me yet, and you, too, if your motivations are kind of like mine.  Christ has covered our sin and selfishness, and He can use even our most meager gift for God's glory. That's a relief! I don't have to be perfectly motivated to do what I do. On the other hand, I can't afford to be complacent about my the state of my heart, attitude, and motivation.  This is what  I want my heart to look like:

In the Old Testament, in the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah the prophet has been called by God to share a specific message from God for His people. Jeremiah wasn't thrilled about his assignment, he knew it wasn't going to a message that made him popular in the people's eyes. But this message was God's Word! And what does he have to say about that? Jeremiah says,

""But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV, www.biblegateway.com)

That about sums it up. I want God's Word to be such a fire in my soul that I can't help but let it out. I want to be so full of God's Word that His praise wells up and busts out when I sing. I want God's love to burn inside me so strongly that I simply cannot keep it in.

Dear God, Please set fire to my soul....

Monday, January 4, 2016

Being present in Christ's presence.

It is the Monday after New Year's. It is back to reality. It is back to routine. It is back to life after a hazy, crazy, over-filled, over-spent, worship-filled, hugged-out Christmas season. It was a good Christmas, probably my most favorite ever, since it includes the most children I have ever had. And chickens. It included my first ever flock of chickens, too.

But what good is a Christmas if celebrating the birth of Christ hasn't worked on my soul?

What good are presents if the presence of Christ hasn't forever changed me?

What good is a New Year if I'm not using it to further the Kingdom of God?



I'm not going to tell you to make New Year's resolutions for your ministry. That would be completely heretical on my part. On the other hand, I do believe it is time to reflect on what worked and didn't work in 2015. It's a good time to think about how we can continue to grow musically and spiritually in our worship in 2016. There are plenty of fun  and exciting plans and programs that can help you - check out worshipleader.com, therocketcompany.com, worshiptogether.com, and praisecharts.com for tons of ideas, inspiration, and methods. Listen to some new Indie musicians and some music veterans for worship inspiration. But nothing compares to going right to the source. The one Source.

Who doesn't want to thrive personally and professionally this year? Who doesn't want to rise above their circumstances and succeed in amazing ways? Who doesn't want to make this their best year ever? I want all these things. But here's what I really want.

I want to be a worshipper - one who knows Jesus and responds to Him. I want to be God's friend. I want to know Him better than anyone else. I want to see His power working in my life and through my life every single day. And I want the same for my worship team - I want them to know Him even more deeply this year. To worship Him freely, not because that's what their supposed to do as the worship team, but because they completely and honestly can't help worshipping God because of how good He truly is. And I wish that for you.

But that will never happen unless I order my days. It's not going to become reality unless I do one thing - spend time with Jesus. We can't just show up in body, reading through God's Word, we need to show up in mind and spirit. And so my goal is to be present.

Present with God in my planned devotion times, present with God in public worship times. Emotionally and mentally present in my family so I can show them God's presence in my life. This means a lot of things - making devotional time a priority, not putzing on my smart phone when I could be interacting more with my kids, not wasting time on things that don't matter, going to bed early so that I am not too tired to be present.

God is present - am I aware of Him? I received a few great Christmas presents this year. But the Christmas season brought forth something even better in me - a stronger desire to know the presence of Christ in my every day life and the possibility of reflecting Christ's presence to those who are present in my life. I don't think I could ask for a better gift.

What gift have you received this Christmas? How does it change 2016 for you?




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