What has been getting me out of bed on these cold, dark winter mornings?
The anticipation of hearing Psalm 23 again. Really.
On the twenty-second of November, I responded to a challenge. A forty day challenge that Louis Giglio gave me in the eighth chapter of his book Goliath Must Fall:
Every morning before I've done anything and every evening after I've done everything, I either listen to or read Psalm 23. Very first thing, very last thing. I've done this every day for the last four months.
Once you use iPads rather than paper charts for a month, you’ll never want to go back. Why?
- You don’t need to make copies.
- You’ll never file again.
- The wind doesn't blow your charts away.
- You can change keys on the fly.
- You have a built-in metronome.
- You can make notes just like on paper.
- You can listen to recordings right from Planning Center Online.
- You can even sync the iPads so that when the leader switches pages, everyone else’s pages switch.
- You can lose those BIG black music stands. (removing barriers between your team and the congregation)
- You can see your music even in the dark.
- You will never shuffle paper on your stand again!
- You don’t need to make copies.
This weekend I was feeling down. I literally said to my wife Heather "Babe, do you think life will ever click, click, click and feel like it's all right again?"
I felt like we were on this parallel track to what our lives should be...only a few clicks away from where "right" was.
How much energy do our teams expend in engaging and encouraging our congregation (versus performing and simply worshiping personally) when leading worship?
It was a question that sparked a discussion at a recent meeting of worship leaders. My coffee started off hot and when we finally came to some resolution, the coffee had reached the temperature of the room.
So "Is it enough if the team plays the music well and worships while they do it?"
The Body of Christ is changing the world.
Yesterday morning, I sat in a circle of leaders. We mourned, we shared, we prayed, we cried, we strategized, we partnered. It was beautiful.
A week ago, one of the worship leaders in the group was in a terrible accident and has been in ICU. (you can follow Jonny's story here.)
I looked in the mirror this morning.
Peeking out from my cool flannel, was a face. Sending me a reminder.
It was a face that resembled many a worship leader. Intense. Pained. Passionate. Striving.
I was reading my daily scripture passage when something from Luke 22 stuck me. The disciples are tasked with something like making a huge Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Or like planning a big Christmas Eve service. And verse thirteen simply says "So they prepared the Passover."
I stopped and asked "Wait. Does that mean that the (soon-to-be) world famous twelve apostles cooked a meal and put the forks out? Did they even know what side of the plate the forks go on?!"
People that change the world don't go it alone. I like the saying "To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together." Sure it will be messier, but so much sweeter. (who wouldn't rather a s'mores than a paper plate with a dry marshmallow, right?)
Next Tuesday (October 31, 2017) is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 Thesis to the Castle Church door. (I bet the trustees had some "words" with him!)
You show up to rehearsal, all pumped and ready. And then you hand your guitar player a chord chart in Bb. The look on his face tells you how flat this rehearsal is really going to be!
There are a handful of guitar players out there that can either transpose in their heads (well) or can actually play barre chords (well). And your team might be conversant in the Nashville number system, in which case you don’t need this Fertilizer.
But the majority of us might be saying “there’s gotta be a better way to do this!” Outside of taking the time to scratch off the printed chords and write in the new ones (only to have them squinting to read them as they hack through the song), here’s the solution:
Daily bible reading. What a cool way to be a tree planted by streams of living water, right?!
We all can struggle with serving. Here's some real encouragement to keep you on the right track for a long time!
I've been eating at Chili's since...my college days! Bottomless chips and chicken crispers have been my go-to. I always ask for an extra side of honey mustard dressing for the fries. (don't judge)
I had an amazing conversation with a new friend yesterday as I enjoyed that very meal. We even ate more chips after our main course was done. And it was a late lunch too.
I got home, and within an hour my wife asked me to start supper prep.
The beloved person providing lyrics for the congregation to sing is like the silverware at a meal. I mean, you can eat the food without silverware, but it sure is a lot messier. But as vital as this role is on the worship team, it can be hard to put it into words that are clear and succinct. Here’s my shot at it:
- Show up early
- Be easy to read
- Inspire worship
Simple as that. Now let me unpack it a tiny.
- Show up early
Have you ever noticed how incredibly clear and decisive a traffic cop is? I mean imagine if you came to an intersection and he was like “Um, yeah you can go now. Oh wait! No let this other guy go first. No wait…! Accidents would happen, wouldn’t they?!
When the drummers on our worship teams don’t signal sections, it's like you're sitting at an intersection and the officer directing traffic isn't clear. Everybody hesitates and there are accidents. The leader makes the call for the arrangement, and the drummer communicates those calls to the band.
The drummer’s basic job description (beyond keeping time) is to signal sections, to direct traffic.
I recently jumped in to lead worship at a church where the worship leader was out with an emergency surgery. (I'm pretty sure the hair plugs took) 😇
Since they record their services on video, I want to take the opportunity for us to learn about giving and receiving feedback.
Would you be willing to watch this video of me leading worship and give me feedback? Risky, I know.
I took stock. I noticed. I paid attention. I realized that I've been leading three to four Sundays a month over the past twelve months. That was ok for then.
But it was time to change.
It was time for other leaders to step up and be launched.
The worship leaders at your church probably rarely meet together. Oh, they see each other at church. They may occasionally play on each other’s teams. They might even be a part of the same small group.
But they just don’t journey together as worship leaders.
I recently received this question from a pastor:
"How do you describe the minimum level of vocal ability that a person needs to possess before they will perform on a Sunday morning? As you might guess, this is prompted by a church member who very much wants to sing with the team, but frankly probably falls below the standard of what we would like to have on stage...."
Important question, right?! A simple, unemotional, yet empathetic, clear criteria is so important in this area. The way I like to go about it is something like this:
Have you ever tried to actually measure how loud the congregation sings?
You may have heard of dB meters or decibel meters. They're little tools that audio techs can use to measure how loud the sound system is. (to be fair, that's an oversimplification...there are many factors that can make a reading of 82 dB sound much worse than 92 dB...but that's a different Fertilizer, or you can ask Chris to go deeper)
But have you ever, EVER(!) considered using a dB meter to track the congregation's volume output rather than the loudspeaker's volume output?
Each week, you receive this Fertilizer. It helps your thinking about worship. It equips your hands to play better. It helps you keep the main thing the main thing. It nourishes your life as a worshiper and team member.
That's our hope in giving it to you!
And yet, maybe you're a worship leader that is caught in the unrelenting cycle of leading weekly worship gatherings while managing songs, arrangements, schedules, teams, relationships, and life.
The best way to play better music, get along with your teammates, serve the congregation well, and enjoy it all is...what? How would you answer that?
I answer that question with a little phrase I once heard called "serving the song."
We're heard of serving the Lord, serving our congregation, serving our team, serving our leaders, but...serving the song? Isn't the song just a tool?
The measure of a worship leader’s success is not better services, but building worshippers."
Today I'm sharing an article written by my friend Tony Stoltzfus (and yes, I had to check that I spelled it right). He's a coach, author, and a long-time subscriber to the Fertilizer.
This one may make you ask questions you haven't asked before or they may give voice to a growing discomfort you have deep inside. It might make you uncomfortable. You might really disagree with what he says. I trust that it will help you think well about leading worship.
I'll get right to the point.
If you want to play piano in modern worship, there's one primary word to help you: LESS.
Sometime when I'm worshiping at the piano, my kids will join in. Here, Clementine was sitting on my lap...singing (read: melting her Dad's heart!) With one hand I played. The other was wrapped around her.
The worship leader announced the song, started it, and then sat down in the pew with the rest of the team. The lyrics kept scrolling on the screens. Would the congregation keep singing?
What would happen in your church?*
Worship requires something from us.
We ended the song with the entire room singing loudly. It was a reflection of what was happening in their hearts – they were “all in!”
If you’ve never experienced leading a room like this, run and sign up to lead at a pastor’s meeting, or have a dozen worship leader friends over, or volunteer to lead at the next National Worship Leader Conference. (just kidding about that last one)
But experiences of gathered worship like this “ruin us for the ordinary.”
At a recent conference, we were asked the following question:
How do I better prepare to play bass without a team so that I can show up to rehearsal prepared? (I feel like I'm more prepared when I get to play with the team)
I was leading worship at this church. I greeted the assembled worshipers and… got back a very wimpy response. I felt like I was looking at a room of corpses. It wasn’t that I was expecting them to cheer, but I did want the Body of Christ that had gathered to have at least a breathing expectation that God would meet us. This is what I did next.
But before you unsubscribe, let me tell you a little story.
I was tucking my son into bed the other night, and I noticed some trash on his bunkbed shelf. It was the remains of an old, burned up, plastic coke bottle.
As we approach the end of 2016, I encourage you to take a moment between sips of 'nog (stay tuned for a killer recipe) to reflect on the state of your team's relationships.
Use these simple questions to jumpstart your process:
- Do you eat together? When was the last time you had a team member over for dinner?
- How do you feel at the end of a rehearsal or service?
- How do you hammer out arrangements as a band?
- Do you eat together? When was the last time you had a team member over for dinner?
I recently flew to Nashville. During the flight, I was reading the Psalms out loud to be a witness to those around me. No, not really. But as I read (silently), something lit up inside.
Have you ever wondered why we sing as Christians? Sure, to praise God. And this is certainly accurate and fitting. He is eternally worthy of every song of praise that will come from our lips!
But wait, there's more!
The audio tech is likely the most under-appreciated, yet most vital roles in a church worship service. I know the times that I've filled that role, I leave feeling like I wasn't even at church that day...there was so much to pay attention to!
Being an audio tech has two main components:
- Technique (the science, the art, the know-how, the ear)
- Attitude (the I-love-people, the I-really-care-about-the-details, the I-get-totally-stressed-out-if-I'm-not-set-up-in-time-for-when-the-band-shows-up, the is-there-anything-else-I-can-do-to-help-you-feel-more-comfortable?)
Technique is pretty easy to teach. Attitude? (exhale) Sometimes all you need is a little metaphor to help the tech understand.
Last Sunday marked the end of the Church calendar year.
This Sunday launches the beginning of a whole new year of celebrations, feasts, and..."ordinary time." But first, we start with Advent! It's a season of anticipation.
Advent has its own music...and with it it's own joys (and concerns). Some of us love Christmas music. Some of us love singing it in church worship services. Some of us can't bear the thought.
On the night the 2016 World Series kicked off, another sport began its season. I've always been a big Spurs fan. Even when they were terrible. Like before the David Robinson era terrible. In the 80's, my small Christian school basketball team played against another school on the Spurs' court and then got to stay to watch Spurs play. I was hooked.
"I can worship better when I'm on stage." Have you ever said that? I have. Most worship team folks I've talked to echo the struggle that they have in those (sadly) rare moments when they're standing in the congregation for worship.
But wouldn't we be able to lead more effectively if we learned what it takes to be engaged when in the congregation? Everyone we're leading, after all, is...in the congregation, not on stage. Stay with me...it's really going to help us lead better.
Seasonal allergies aside, I think this is a great idea.
Do you have a traditional and a contemporary service with separate teams for each?Get your teams together! Have a team gathering with everyone that serves in BOTH services. See, right now it's likely that there are two cultures, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Be Together. What if this was the banner over your music and tech teams? Not likely the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about church tech and music teams, is it? We more likely think of these when we consider our production values for weekend gatherings:
Be Better. Be Excellent. Be Unique. Be Relevant. Be Bigger. Be Amazing. Be Passionate. Be Inspired.
“Be Together” looks a bit like the youngest, smallest brother of the big, obvious choices above. But being the “David” of the group may be just what God has in mind.
Over the winter, I'd been riding my stationary bike. It gave me time to watch teaching videos on my iPad while getting some much needed exercise.
I got the bike for free on Craigslist, so it's a pretty simple bike. I can raise or lower the resistance by two up/down buttons on the handles. But I treat those level buttons like your average rookie church sound guy - I set it and forget it. (but that's for a different Fertilizer)
I keep it one manageably consistent level.
I found an old recording of a journal entry of mine from 20 years ago. Seems like I was in a wilderness.
Then it hit me: I'm in a wilderness season now! About 18 months ago I responded to a call that was clearly from the Lord, and it's landed me smack in the middle of a classic wilderness. It would've been a harder choice to get on the bus if the ticket would've said "Destination: Wilderness" on it. Nevertheless, here I am. Has this ever been true for you?
What do I know about the wilderness?
My pastor is a college prof and he just finished the semester. He turned in his grades and closed the book on a job well done. He felt so great that he baked bread. That's how you know when he's really celebrating and is experiencing euphoria. He bakes cinnamon swirl raisin bread. And it's heavenly...I'm told. (let's see if this works)
But when was the last time you felt like that as a worship leader?
I had tears coming down my face. In fact, I almost had to pull over. The song on the radio had taken me to a place with Jesus of nearness and love. I was singing right to Him...to the very last note.
Have you been there?
But then, my moment was shattered. The DJ burst on the air giving THE NAME OF THE ARTIST AND SONG, THE STATION CALL LETTERS, AND THE PROMISE OF MORE MUSIC...AFTER THIS! It’s like he wasn’t even listening to the song. He clearly didn’t know where I had just been. It felt insensitive and violating.
It sounds impossible, but it happens every week at your church. You try to create music in a style that is different from the one in which it was written. You try to play modern songs with traditional ways of thinking. And it’s not pretty.
I was listening to my friend Geoff Twigg teach a band workshop at last month’s training event with The Worship Link, and he said something that articulated a pitfall I’ve seen over and over. It was brilliant, really.
Maybe you’ve never wondered if your church should be “worship-driven.” In Matthew 16, Jesus asked His disciples how relevant to the culture He was. Then He got in their faces and asked them what personal revelation they had of Him. Their testimony? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He proceeded to make a standard-creating, normative statement. I’m going to build My church on My revelation and not even a church split will be able to defeat it. Sure that’s my paraphrase, but you get the idea.
Have you ever been frustrated, confused, or saddened by a lack of response from the congregation that you’re leading in worship?
What can you do about it? And how do you know you’re even working on what’s really causing it? Well, let’s talk about just two of the dynamics.
"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."
I mean ouch, Dave! This quote from General Shinseki in Tom Peters book "Re-Imagine!" always challenges me to fight through the pain so I can enjoy the fruit that embracing God-directed change brings.