Stop me when this sounds familiar. I got a text from a worship director. It said, “I wanted to tell you that my wife felt ill and tested positive for COVID, so tomorrow I can’t be with you.”
These days, we see this scenario over and over. If it’s not a COVID issue, you can pick something else from the internet to freak you out, right?! There is a general spirit of fear over the earth, and we see more and more clearly.
While it’s no sin to be afraid, it is a sin to walk in fear, to make choices in fear, to live in fear.
Worship ministry is personal. It’s a beautiful weaving of the human and the Divine. It’s logical and unexplainable. It’s predictable and mysterious.
But if I’m stuck, my worship leading is stuck.
If I’m far from God, my worship leading is far from God.
If I’m angry, my worship leading is angry.
If I’m faking it, my worship leading is faking it.
I was pushing a wheelbarrow across the discipleship training school base next door on my way to pick up some dirt for our garden. I don’t remember the exact thought I had, but I do remember I stepped on a big crack on the sidewalk. The instant my ankle almost twisted, I was snapped out of that thought.
“It’s not futile.” I heard.
You know how sometimes you don’t realize you’re thinking something until the LORD brings it to mind?
The worship leader put a message out to the team. It said:
“What do you think of rehearsing only on Sundays before the service? I ask this for two reasons: you wouldn’t have to take out a night to rehearse, and we can just do one or two rehearsals a month only to learn new songs.”
I get the spirit of this question.
I asked my worship leader friend what his job was. He replied something like, “I just have to make sure there’s worship when we need it.”
Perception is powerful. Your perception has such a strong effect on you that we, as coaches, often say that it’s reality. You might be accurate or way off in your perception, but whatever it is, you believe it’s real.
How would you answer what your job is?
I sat in a meeting surrounded by 18 other worship team members from our church.
I almost want to put quotes around the word “our.” Because as I listened to my fellow worship team members share their experience with the church’s current senior leadership change, I realized something.
COVID stole something precious, that filthy thief.
You remember the Capital One commercial “What’s in your wallet?”
I’m asking with that same feeling, “What’s in your mouth?”
Is it the high praises of God?
Wait, what are the high praises of God?
It’s not just upbeat songs. I think the spirit behind that idea is a song that praises God boldly and exclusively coming from the depths of our hearts. It’s a song with anointing. Sometimes they are written, sometimes they are spontaneous.
Either way, it’s the anointing in the song that breaks the yoke. And dadgummit if we as a culture don’t have a yoke on us! We need to break us some yolks with the high praises of God in our mouths, with the new song of the Lord, with anointing from the mighty one of Israel!
I’ve been looking at lots of worship leader job descriptions lately as we help several churches look for staff. Almost all of them have some kitchen-junk-drawer statement at the end of the responsibilities that is some form of:
“And other duties as assigned.”
Talk about a blank check…for someone else to cash on your life!
Now, this Fertilizer isn’t about boundaries and being fairly employed. It’s about navigating the reality of being on staff and how to lead. Because leadership requires navigating change and uncharted territory and generally being resourceful enough to do whatever it takes.
When we first moved to a new country, GPS was a lifesaver. By “GPS,” I’m referring to Google Maps or Waze.
See, Costa Ricans are famous for giving directions like this:
“Once you pass the town of San Miguel, keep going straight until you get to the red house. Then turn right for 300 meters. When you get to the Pulpe Los Angeles, you’re about there. You’ll see a little break in the fence. Park in front of it, and that’s where you go in. From there, you walk about 1500 meters, and you should see the waterfall. It’s beautiful. You’ll really like it. Pura Vida!”
I was reading 1 Peter 4 and was struck by verse eleven.
“If you have the gift of serving, do it passionately with the strength God gives you, so that in everything God alone will be glorified through Jesus Christ. For to him belong the power and the glory forever throughout all ages! Amen.”
What stood out was the beautiful description of serving—empowered by God, full of passion, for the King’s glory alone.
Oh, that our worship teams would always fit that description!
Can we call them to that identity?
I often hear leaders refer to their teams as volunteers.
How do you show up to rehearsals?
Would you describe it as "fully prepared?" That’s a value embraced by one of the churches we’re coaching. I like it a lot.
What would "fully prepared" look like?
In our Five Faders system, I’ll answer for each fader.
The Artist would feel fully prepared if he had created an amazing riff loosely based on (but not exactly like) the one on the recording.
Headlines are designed to DO something in us: excite, sober, inform, activate, celebrate, persuade.
Persuade? That’s a fascinating thought.
Many a headline has persuaded us. We must choose wisely the headlines we read.
When we put songs in the hearts and mouths of our congregation, we’re giving them headlines.
What kind of world do we live in? Depends on what you read.
I spoke with yet another pastor who is looking for a worship leader. This one was lost to burnout.
Of course, there were valid reasons for the resignation - it could’ve been a busy life, a growing business or family, a change in calling, incompatibility with church culture, or hey, a global pandemic!
It doesn’t matter. Burnout was the likely actual reason.
Since it’s such a familiar story, there are probably several of you that wonder if it was your pastor I’m talking about.
God is not seeking worship. God is seeking worshipers. (see John 4:23)
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that worship is our lifeline, it’s how we fight our battles, it’s where the victory is won, it is a conduit of hope from heaven. And Jesus is eternally worthy.
I have never experienced a season where my identity as a worshiper has been more vital.
We made it! 2020 is 99% in the rearview mirror. Phew!
I’m not being glib. We have lived in the goodness of God this year.
Not your typical “when the world’s all as it should be” and more of “on the road that’s marked with suffering.”
I want to invite you into hope. Into a world with less anxiety. Into a less distracted, more purposeful, wildly optimistic living.
You and I have been allowing sludge into our systems. What is sludge? Dirty oil, mud, muck, mire, ooze, silt, dirt, slime, slush, slurry, sediment, dregs, grounds, residue, gunk, crud…you get the picture. (thank you, trusty Mac thesaurus)
You’ve felt it on your soul. It has affected your body. It weighs you down. It distracts you from the Father’s Business.
I can’t define what sludge is for you. It’s anything that fills your mind with things you can do nothing about.
Every leader needs someone to fill in for them now and then. And the complications and restrictions brought on by COVID are an added stress.
We gladly line up guest worship leaders for churches all the time, aiming to ask all the questions you may forget to ask, orienting the leaders to the uniqueness of your church, and finding the specific leader that will be a good fit for your team and congregation.
But often, I ask myself “Where are the other leaders at the church?”
This year has been both a punch to the gut and a kick in the pants.
How are you responding?
More importantly, what is the LORD saying to you? To your church?
I occasionally have glimpses into how far we’ve gone into this post-apocalyptic world. It’ll happen when I remember something that used to be common.
As a leader, uncertainty is your life. It’s your sweet spot.
Here’s a euphemism: 2020 has been challenging, and many of us have been thrown.
Now it’s time to prepare for 2021. Ready?
You don’t need to read the terms and conditions for 2021 to click “accept.” Because the LORD is with you and because He has called you to be a leader.
I’m sidestepping the theological debate about “Complementarianism versus Egalitarianism.” (confession: I had to look those terms up myself) I’m not trying to convince you to change your theology.
But regardless of how you interpret scripture on women’s leadership role, my goal for this Fertilizer is to help us create healthy environments for church leaders.
Losing our normal, hurts. We had rhythms. We had reasonably certain expectations.
How should we, as worshiping Christians, grieve our loss of normalcy?
As modern Christians, we stink at lament. Gripe we get, but lament? Not so much. Stay with the sad, on and off. Let the grief have its work in you. Write and lead songs that express our longing. (Advent is built on that longing!)
I was leading worship for a group of YWAMers this week, and in my first song, I noticed that my left hand had a tight grip on the neck of the guitar.
Poor thing. Didn’t mean to be choking it.
Because I noticed my hand, I could relax it. My grip reflected my heart. I wasn’t relaxed.
It’s hard to play or sing well when you’re not relaxed. Let alone lead well!
This COVID thing has stuck around longer than we expected.
Long trials require exceptional resilience, a healthy perspective, and an ability to stick with it. But we never thought we were in a sprint, did we?
I met with a leader, and she was recounting her and her husband’s recent dreams (nightmares?!) about snakes.
I had a bit of Indiana Jones’ reaction, “Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?”
Nothing personal about snakes, except that I hate them (the “good” ones and the bad ones.) The leader took it to be a sign of spiritual warfare. I easily agreed.
Her husband had cut off a snake’s head in his dream. But the head lived on, and he couldn’t shut its mouth. (Yikes!) The only person that was able to shut it was the worship leader.
"Join us this Sunday for trembling, rejoicing, and kissing!”
“Come out this weekend for our worship service: tremble, rejoice, and kiss!”
“Virtual or in person, for worship this weekend, we’ll tremble, rejoice, and kiss!”
What, you don’t think that will attract more folks this weekend? :)
Well, it didn’t before COVID either. But many churches are still searching for full biblical expression in worship. When it comes to trembling, rejoicing, and kissing, we need all three in our worship.
I recently rewatched the classic Matrix movie. At one point, the "Judas character" Cypher says to Neo, "I know what you’re asking yourself. I’ve been asking it since I came here. Why, oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill!?"
Morpheus had given Neo a choice between taking either a "red pill" that exposes an unpalatable reality or taking a "blue pill" to stay in dreamy blindness.
I don’t think we know how much that little three-syllable word affects us: Confidence: "firmly trusting, bold," as etymology.com says.
You might wish your singers were more confident. Or that the way you lead worship would be more confident. Or that your instrumentalists would play with more confidence. Or that your techs would mix with informed confidence.
Of course, I’m not talking about the Julie Andrews confidence. (Read: archaic reference to The Sound of Music) It’s not confidence in ME.
It’s confidence rooted deeply, securely, and singly in the I AM, the greatness of the Maker, in the One who calls me His.
Here are eight expressions of confidence that we can work on together from my trusty thesaurus:
Your church has vocalists who want to sound more comfortable and sing more confidently. (every church does!) Well, Alicia Carver has dedicated herself to help worship vocalists find courage and find their voice!
I’ve been hearing from church leaders that “many are saying that staying home and watching the live feed suits them just fine. They don’t plan to come back.”
Our worship services weren’t perfect. And I believe that we’ve over-emphasized and over-invested in them at the expense of…well, many things, including discipleship. BUT that’s not the point.
Of course, we’ve had to stop meeting for a bit. This isn’t about that.
I’m praying that one of the results of COVID is that our worship at home as families deepens and increases.
A worship pastor lamented to me that he recently had several conversations with fathers in his congregation who have no idea how to have worship in their homes.
Granted, we’re speaking of worship in song specifically. But I wonder if the level of worship in song that heaven hears has decreased?
I’ll start with my confession of the week. After almost a year of living in Costa Rica, I walked into my local Starbucks and ordered a grande Caramel Macchiato in English. My whole conversation with the barista was in English. He didn’t even bat an eye. I had a broad, internal grin at my secret.
It was a longing for the easy and familiar.
A longing most of us have likely had over the past six months.
As I began to make breakfast this past Sunday, I flipped on the live steam from one of our home churches in Pennsylvania. A guest worship leader was speaking.
It flooded me with peace about the world today and simultaneously made me overflowingly grateful at God’s generosity in giving us this season.
I’m not feeling very content these days. I open up the Book and begin to read.
He starts with, “Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life. Let joy overflow, for you are united with the Anointed One!” and “Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing.”
Then after a heartfelt thanks to his supporters, he says, “I’m not telling you this because I’m in need, for I have learned to be satisfied in any circumstance. I know what it means to lack, and I know what it means to experience overwhelming abundance. For I’m trained in the secret of overcoming all things, whether in fullness or in hunger. And I find that the strength of Christ’s explosive power infuses me to conquer every difficulty.” (TPT)
That Paul. Who does he think he is?! :)
On Friday, we drove two hours to the nearest beach. It had been seven months since our feet had sunk into the soft sand, and our eyes had beheld the glory of God showing off over the waters of South Jaco.
Seven long months of the world changing in unimaginable ways.
And all the while, God’s been showing off. But I’ve been largely too distracted to notice, to worship Him for it.
I received this from my friend Dan Wilt. I resonate so deeply with it and I want us to read it too. I asked and he graciously said yes. Because we’re Family.
The other day I heard a worship leader lamenting the losses that the Covid-worship-reality has brought our way.
My spirit leapt inside me, and the following words formed in my mind – both for me, and, I believe, for you if you are a worship leader.
Read this out loud. Sing it, even.
I love You, LORD. And I lift my voice to worship You (oh my soul, rejoice!) Take joy, my King, in what You hear. Let it be a sweet, sweet song in Your ear.
King of endless worth, no one could express how much You deserve.
Along a long enough timeline, we’ll find ourselves leading in an unhealthy context. It may be a pastor, a team member, a leader, a church member, or it may be systemic, like an unhealthy leadership culture.
But God often has us serving in far less than perfect situations. And it’s not a mistake.
I wanted to give you the posture and practice of leaders who can be fruitful in far less than ideal situations. These have carried me for thirty years.
On Friday, I watched the press conference where Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado declared it’s time to “put the hammer” to the virus. By keeping people at home so they can better trace who they’ve been in contact with.
Then they went on to tell us all the “sanitary restrictions” that they are imposing on us. Just like they did during Holy Week. We can only drive on Sundays and Thursdays. When will this end?
I rolled my eyes and thought, “I don’t know why they respond to this virus by asking us to hide. Won’t the same virus be there when we come out? Surely there’s a better way to beat it.”
I felt the LORD’s rebuke.
Maybe you’ve never heard of an atajo.
An atajo might be faster.
An atajo can seem like the right way.
An atajo has allure; it can seem better.
But an atajo is rarely God’s best path.
(At this point, I laugh a bit thinking of how you’re pronouncing the word “atajo.” Because it’s a Spanish word meaning “shortcut.” It’s pronounced ah-TAH-hoe)
You may not be a drummer, but everyone is affected by drummers. Singers, audio techs, pastors, and hey, even congregations are affected by drummers and their choices.
When we’re coaching, we often talk about how there are no magic pills, no “just do this one thing and everything will work” strategy. (Well, other than listening to God and obeying.)
Instead, we pay attention to all kinds of seemingly insignificant details, which have very significant cumulative effects. In other words, they don’t seem like much on their own, but when you do several small things right, it makes a surprisingly big difference.
Gabe Staznik had such a great time sharing with Tony Guyer and meeting many of you at the last Ad Lib Drums & Sound Clinic in February. He shares one of those “seemingly insignificant details” here.
I love worshiping with blind trust.
I believe it’s a redundant phrase, "blind trust." Seeing trust isn’t trust. That’s the whole point. You don’t see, you trust.
But it FEELS like you’re blind in the trusting. Like this:
When I can’t yet see the dawn
When I can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel
When I can’t even see the horizon, the clearing in the woods, the reason why, or the answer to my questioning cry
When I feel lonely, abandoned, confused
When nothing yet makes sense
I’ve been at a concert when a solo artist played guitar and sang, yet it felt like there was so much energy because of the way the guitar was played.
I’ve also been led in worship where there’s just a guitar, and it feels flat and unenergetic. Like it really lacked a band.
I once wrote about the “Myth of the Primary Instrument,” but this is what to do if you ARE the primary instrument because you’re the ONLY instrument!
We were observing a Sunday morning rehearsal.
"Why didn't you tell me about this before?" said the flustered senior pastor said to the worship leader. A couple of times.
We thought they might come to blows, and the worship leader was visually livid.
I mean, I did send the worship leader a text saying not to punch him at least until after the 11 o'clock service.
It turns out they’ve worked together for 20 years and are like an old couple that just puts up with each other.
“Still a long way off? The Father sees you and, filled with compassion, He runs to you, throws His arms around you, and kisses you.”
This is my favorite description of the Gospel.
Sure it’s missing some details, but in the hearer’s ears, it’s the most beautiful thing ever.
I’m always trying to grow as a leader. I was recently inspired by an article I read and would like to ask you some questions.
- Do you love your church but are showing signs of burnout?
- Do you feel like you’ve gone as far in your current role as you can on your own?
- Are you so swamped with the weekly grind that you no longer invest in your personal growth?
- Do you feel like you’re in over your head and can’t find a way forward?
- Do you love how ministry is going, but feel like you want to take things up a notch?
- Have you been unable to add new members to your team over the last year?
If you resonate with any of those questions, then a round of coaching may be just the thing. With the whole world swiveling around, we’re all taking a fresh look at…everything.
Our audio coach, Tony Guyer, bring us this Fertilizer.
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NKJV)
Often, while training audio teams, I am in a position to interact with what I have come to refer to as Sound Janitors. A Sound Janitor shows up before the musicians and flips the switch. They power on the system and make sure the volume knob is still at the Sharpie mark. Then they get their donut and coffee.
I like going to the top of buildings to get a different perspective, a good view.
On one such excursion, I rode the elevator to the seventh floor of the Prince Street Garage. The doors opened, revealing the sunlight, and I walked out into its warmth.
Something caught my eye. It was a red bell, like an old school bell, next to the elevator door. It had straw sticking out from behind the bell.
I took a closer look and saw that a short-sighted bird had built its nest in the temporary shelter of the bell.
I’ve been getting up at 4:30 AM the last couple of weeks to spend quiet, uninterrupted time writing and editing my past Fertilizers.
I’m putting them into a book to publish. You’ll notice this is the 233rd Fertilizer I’ve written. I started in 2009.
I’m going through each one and painstakingly and cruelly editing them. Well, that’s a bit dramatic, and it’s pretty enjoyable to do. I cringe occasionally, but I like revisiting most of what I’m seeing. And some of it I just love!
But I’m not doing it alone.
Maybe we feel disoriented because God is trying to reorient us.
As churches, we’ve been forced to rethink virtually everything about our weekly gathering rhythms.
Naturally, we feel a growing anticipation for when we can meet again. Once this storm has past, what will you restart and what will you put to rest?
And what if we don’t look at it as "when we come back" but "what God is inviting us into?" This is such a time of unusual opportunity. We must take the time to ask this question.
Lucas. Now you know how to say Luke in Spanish. Well, only if you pronounce it Spanishy.
But do we know what to do when a messenger from God shows up when we’re just doing our weekly service?
I was in my daily scripture reading in Luke 1. I felt a resonance with Zechariah and Elizabeth who were from…shall we say “a long line of worship leaders.” And Zach had just showed up to lead his weekly worship set. He was a good man, and godly.
And “God showed up.” Or perhaps I should say there was heavenly activity.
And he flipped out and didn’t know how to respond. He was “shaken and overwhelmed with fear.”
Our lives feel a bit like this picture of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The first picture is before the 2004 tsunami and the second picture is just after. I’m not trivializing the 230,000 people that lost their lives in that tragedy. It paints a powerful picture of what many of us feel in this time of global quarantine.
As we slowly crawl through this time, we can get disoriented, discontented, distracted, disillusioned…lots of things.
But stay the course, friends!
I remember the end of 2008. I was working at Starbucks and my store closed on November 22nd. Now what?
"You tend to feel in control of your life when our wills are in harmony." - God (via Sarah Young)
Control. Remember that feeling?
Life in sync. Options. Gatherings. Freedom. Routines.
As my wife read our devotional of the day, my heart perked up. …I can have a feeling of control simply by spending energy in aligning my will with the Father’s? Wow!
You might feel the pressure to be REALLY AMAZING! during quarantine.
But you may not paint the house or finally do all the honey-do list of projects or release an album.
Maybe resting and being with your family is the best thing to do to honor God.
Maybe it’s a good time to video call your sound team and ask them what they’ve been learning or frustrated with.
I’m having a coaching session with a worship leader today and she asked about three things many of us are asking as we launch into the (for many of us) uncharted territories of leading online. She wanted to know about:
- Authentically engaging and leading "living room" worship
- Best sound options
- Keeping other team members engaged
I’ll tackle number one in a sec, but first, here are some things giving me hope:
I want to give our Worship Fertilizer community practical steps to follow during these unusual times: Notice, Do Not Fear, Pray, Fast, Feast!, and Grow.
As Ad Lib, we have always been deeply committed to eradicating isolation and burnout. And with mandates of social distancing, we are resiliently thinking of ways to continue our mission while this temporary storm passes. Here's what we're coming up with so far.
I think it’s more important to discover culture than it is to set it.
What I mean is that we’re always trying to impose our culture onto our team and church. Or maybe more subconsciously, we have unspoken expectations of our team and church that irritate, depress, confuse, or exasperate us.
We have either these idealized visions (from being inspired by other churches), or prophetic visions (from time spent with God), or self-actualized visions (from trying to meet personal needs through ministry). Sorry, I got a little deep there.
But what if, what if rather than trying to plant our culture flag on whatever group we lead, we become explorers? What could we discover? What if we actually became insatiably curious about the culture of the people God has brought us?
The first time I led worship in Spanish in Costa Rica, I was doing so with my wife and a guitar in a small church. It was low-pressure but felt a bit high-pressure.
I hadn’t led worship in several months, and it had been several years since I’d led in Spanish.
About 15 minutes before the service started, they casually told me that two of the songs (the Spanish versions of Jesus We Love You and What A Beautiful Name) were NOT in the computer. So we’d just go without. That meant that they hadn’t sung them at the church.
I was visiting. As I sat there, all I could hear was the hissing and clanging from the radiators. I mean, I was glad they provided heat, but not only was I having trouble hearing people share during the service, but I was distracted out of my mind every time the clicked on.
We were there doing a “Service Evaluation” so we were tuning in to all the details. But here’s the thing:
When we met with the church to report our findings and recommendations, we mentioned the radiators (thinking they would say “yeah, we know and we feel terrible, but it’s too expensive to fix.”) They had NO IDEA WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT.
As my friend Kevin says, “They were nose-blind to their own stink.”
A worship leader just asked on the Worship Leaders Collective Facebook group the following question:
What things have you and your church done to help get the congregation in their seats by the time the service begins? Looking for suggestions!
The comments began to file in with the usual:
- Play a live "non-congregational" song just before the start
- Put a creative element first thing, so there’s something that they kick themselves for missing
- Use a countdown timer (and teach the kids to shout out the last 10 seconds!
- Use a video opener
Turns out that being a worship leader doesn’t make you exempt from making disciples.
- How do you schedule your team in such a way as to make disciples?
- How do you spend your time in such a way that makes disciples?
- How do you choose your songs in such a way that makes disciples?
- And that last question isn’t just about the content, I also mean the way that you pick them, whether alone or with someone you’re mentoring.
- How do you lead worship in such a way that makes disciples?
- And if you’re a leader, how many leaders have you discipled? Are there disciples in your wake?
Jesus is pretty clear in His commission to His followers: Go therefore and make disciples, unless you’re a worship leader. (Matthew 28:19 italics mine 😇)
I was leading worship and I felt like the congregation could take it or leave it. 💔
I mean, several people were deeply connecting with God, but I couldn’t shake this feeling like the American consumerism had taken hold.
One woman stood there singing pleasantly, holding her cup of coffee.
And that’s pretty common. I’ve done it myself.
Disclaimer: This is NOT a post about Amy Grant’s “Angels” song. Look it up, young people.
In Costa Rica, I am pleasantly surprised at how kind drivers are. They let each other in to traffic. They honk, wave, or flash their lights to give you the right of way.
There’s this kindness built into their culture.
And as I’m driving and someone in front of me lets someone in, I’m thinking, “Why would you do that?!”
I just learned the other day that one of the team members at one of my former churches took a break from the team and never came back. She’s at another church now.
I was so sad to hear that. And even though I’m sure there were other reasons, I couldn’t help but think that if we had only had a better system, she wouldn’t have burned out. She was always cheerful to serve, did a great job, and volunteered to help if no one else was available. Yet, I knew inside that it stressed her to serve and that I wanted to care for her.
I just didn’t have any accountability or intentionality in the way that I scheduled to make sure my people were serving at a livable pace for the long term.
Imagine calling yourself a chef. You have libraries of cookbooks…that you’ve actually read. You watch every show on Food Network and have even met some of the stars! You can even guess at the beginning of the show who’s going to get Chopped. You grocery shop and fill your pantries with supplies. You just love the smell of food cooking.
But you have never experienced the moment when the whisk in your tired arm actually begins to make the egg whites form peaks.
Worse, you’ve never fed anyone with the food you’ve dreamt about, but never made.
That’s silly, right? But our imaginary friend has completely missed the core of being a cook.
But follow me for a moment. What is the core of being a worship leader?
I got off the airplane when we first entered Costa Rica, and the customs official asked me “¿A que te dedicas?” “Músico” I’d answer.
I moved from chair to chair as the “line” crept forward until it was my turn to see the doctor. He asked me “¿A que te dedicas?” “Músico” I’d answer.
What does “¿A que te dedicas?” mean? Basically, “What do you do for a living?” But literally it means “What are you dedicated to?” And “Musician” has been my answer.
But what an interesting way of asking that question!
If you’ve ever said (or heard) any of these phrases, I have something to tell you about.
- One drummer hits too hard, one too soft
- Our drums sound terrible, dead, too loud, or like they are not part of the mix
- Our sound people don't know what to do with the drums
- The drums drown out the vocals
- If we balance the sound with the drums, everything is too loud.
- Our drummer has been begging to lose the electronic drums in favor for "real" drums. How can we do that and can our room handle it?
A worship leader asked me a question. I like his entire narrative, as I bet it’s more of a common scenario that we’d think. He said:
This year, for the first time since I can remember, I delegated the planning and implementation of the Christmas Eve services at our church to one of my worship leaders. Subsequently, at our worship leaders' gathering meeting we were all asked the question "What is God doing through your ministry during this advent season?"
As I reflected on this question, at first, I started to focus in on the word "your"... As I continued to ponder the question, I began to feel like the truest answer I could have given to the question posed was - "Nothing."
Not about (search theme:) heaven, but the ones that give voice to the longing that we all have for a time and place where all things are made right.
A place where God’s “nothing missing, nothing broken” shalom is present.
And Jesus wouldn’t have wanted us to wait until we get to heaven to experience heaven on earth. After all, He taught us to pray that the Father’s will would be done “on earth (my address) as it is in heaven (his address).”
Imagine your worship team on a retreat. On a missional retreat in Costa Rica.
Step into the cozy mountain lodge, the break you need to laugh and pray and worship together awaits. We will lead you through team times and opportunities for solitude. You’ll grow deeper in your relationships with Jesus and each other. Be reinvigorated in your purpose as a team. Retreat, recover, relaunch!
You’ve likely been at rehearsals where someone starts to play something in between songs and some or all of the band picks up and begins to play along…
…only to get scolded or scorned by the leader (or the timekeeper), reminding you to "get back on track with the music we’re rehearsing!"
Of course, there’s value in rehearsing the music. But what value does just "jamming" have? Any?
My Dad had written this quote from Edward Everett Hale and stuck it in his bible (that my Mom gave me several years after he caught his heavenward chariot).
Is your team "working together?" Like really working? And together? Firing on all cylinders?
What would it look like if you’d describe your team as "working together?" Not a measure of that, but in its fullness?
It was a tough day. I was in the kitchen, making dinner. The kids were asking for snacks (why do my kids always ask for snacks when I’m cooking?!?) My wife was having a bad day. It was hot. I had decided that peeling, hand grating, and sautéing camote (purple sweet potato) was a good idea.
I quickly regretted it after only halfway through the first one. “I told you to buy a food processor before we moved to Costa Rica,” my beloved reminded me.
And then I heard this sound coming from...well, I thought it was the front porch, but upon further investigation...it was the "baño."
I’m a lawbreaker, a rule breaker.
I once answered an internet poll asking "Describe yourself in three words" with "I am a rebel." (It might take a sec to let it sink in)
So when I see a scripture that gives me something to do that nobody can put a law against, my heart leaps.
I remember one of my favorite things to do when a regular customer came into our Starbucks and I was on the bar (the one making drinks). There’d be a line and I was making other drinks, but I’d hurry myself and make the drink just like I knew the customer would order it.
By the time he got to the register to order it, I’d hand it to him.
I loved serving like that!
When we signed up for 12 weeks of language school, my wife added a fitness class for me (because I’m…not yet thin) and the kids. We thought it’d be playing games, learning sports, and a little kid-friendly “working out.”
Our first day almost killed me. Granted I’m transitioning from a pretty sedentary lifestyle to one that is much more active, but it was tough. There was a little sliver on my cap that wasn’t drenched in sweat by the time we were done.
I had this nagging feeling that the "fad" of using clicks and multitracks might just be something I’d better learn to use. So rather than standing in judgement of those who relied on such tomfoolery, I hired someone to teach me how to use them.
My motivation? I just don’t ever want to be one of those leaders that stops learning, stops adapting, starts longing for the "simpler" past, and gets left in the dust.
So, I embraced it.
I had originally wanted to call this “6 Principles to Make Rehearsal Efficient,” but though these principles will absolutely do that, it’ll help our thinking and implementing to think about it in terms of being more relational.
I’m not talking about making a rehearsal into a small group, where you share your deepest needs and spend half the time… not playing music. But at some point, every leader realizes that you are making music WITH PEOPLE and that changes everything!
Sometimes I'm struck by a shallowness or a disconnectedness or simply a lack of authority and anointing on a worship leader (or team), and I wonder what causes it.
I was reading in Acts 26:16 where Paul is quoting Jesus when he met him on the road to Damascus. He says to him “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of Me.”
Worship leaders and teams must be a witness of what they have seen of God. If I haven't seen much of God, I can't be much of a witness. Oh, I can sing songs. I can even be a charismatic leader, but I won't have the PUNCH! unless I'm actually a witness.
Even in my 29th year of worship leading , when I get up on the platform, there is a pressure, mild anxiety, discomfort perhaps? Not in performance anxiety, but at not wanting to miss what God is doing in the next moments as we sing.
Do you have a Sound Janitor at your church?
You know, he shows up, flips switches, replaces batteries, starts the recording, and goes to get a donut.
Well, it’s probably not that bad. But the Sound Janitor is an identity to avoid. In their eyes, there's no difference between cleaning a toilet, replacing a light bulb, and turning up the faders on a soundboard.
You can't make music if you are focusing only on your instrument. You have to listen and respond to the rest of the band for it to be music.
Oh you can make it through the chord chart, but it’s not “making music.”
Have you ever felt bound to your chord chart? Ever felt scared that you were going to make a mistake and missed the whole moment of worship?
The worship leader - sound tech relationship is usually either pretty great or pretty not.
The reality is that each week, our sound techs serve heroically to bring our musical offerings to life. They often lack training, affirmation, and proper equipment. It’s super hard work. And usually thankless.
- I think you should hire Ad Lib to train your sound techs. We come to your church six times to train your team on your equipment. If you do nothing else, this alone will increase team joy and congregational engagement, not to mention the way things sound. I’m serious. It’s some of the best budget you can invest this year! Go here and get signed up.
- Build an actual relationship with your sound techs by learning to ask them helpful questions.
A friend asked me how long the music in church typically is.
There are two basic streams in the church:
- Non-Denominational churches built their services on two elements: the Worship and the Word. So there’s usually a chunk of one followed by a chunk of the other.
- Denominational churches have liturgy and sacraments woven into their orders of worship. They may have similar total times of music, but they are spread throughout the service.
This is clearly a gross oversimplification and generalization, but it gives us a little picture.
But that’s not the question my friend was asking. What she really meant was “Why does the music go so long sometimes? Can’t they tell we’re not into it?”
We went on an epic road trip. I think 2,249 miles with a family of eight (including a 3 month old) in our Honda Pilot classifies as epic. It was an adventure, I say, not a vacation. :)
At one of the hotels in Tennessee, my kids were craving the treasures held by the vending machine around the corner from our room. Sadly, it was one of those vending machines that was hungrier than they were. It gladly accepted their money, and then did…nothing. Ugh.
But not all vending machines are like that. You can totally get nourished by them. If you choose wisely enough. I’ve even seen refrigerated ones with sandwiches in them.
What do you do when things don’t work out like you thought they would? Not little things. Big things. Things you had given your heart, your best energy, your trust, your reputation, your dreams, your sacrifices. Big things.
Despair. Disappointment. Depression. Disillusionment.
We are bewildered. Disoriented. Spiraling. Everything has changed. Like my own heart got ripped out. Even I failed me. What to do now?
As an entrepreneur, leading an organization of worship coaches, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. Like I’m looking for my lost driver in a game of disc golf.
You know, stuck in the details, the dailies, the demands.
And it’s all good stuff. It has to get taken care of. I like a lot of it.
But being mired in the urgent keeps me from being able to look further ahead and do the things that are most significant. Sound familiar?
Like do you focus more on “Getting Sunday done” or setting your sites on “what should this look like in 10 years - who does God want these people to become?”
We had an exchange student from Japan stay with us over Thanksgiving. She showed us this funny exercise video called “Japanese Radio Exercise.” It’s basically a three-minute mildly aerobic stretching routine. (The one with Japanese voiceover is fun.)
We’ve been doing it daily since then.
Funny back story is that an insurance company tried to market it in the US, but it didn’t stick. Then it took off in Japan and every single school-age child and many working adults have done it every single day since 1928!
And we really feel better after doing it. It gets the blood pumping, it keeps us limber, and it is something to do together.
Living in the northeast United States, I tend to rant when it’s cold in the winter. It’s so cold, in fact, that when I walked out to the car this morning, there was a frozen turtle dove lying next to the curb. Poor little guy. He wasn’t just sleeping.
Two days ago, the high temperature was 18º F which was much warmer than the morning’s 6º F that felt like -12º F when factoring in the wind.
Cold, real cold.
I met with a worship leader this week. He said that he felt like he was on autopilot as a worship leader.
He said it like he was mentioning he’d like a refill on his coffee.
I heard it like he said he was the captain of the Titanic on April 11, 1912...about 3 days before sinking.
Why is autopilot so deadly?
And the twist, why do you need it?
My friend Tom Kraeuter from Training Resources wrote this post for our Fertilizer tribe.
Some people may not like this idea, but I think a big part of the calling of a worship leader is to train others. I’ve met lots of worship leaders who have never even considered the idea of mentoring someone else. Yet, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul tells us that the purpose of leadership in the Church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12)
As a leader, if you do all the work yourself, you’ve missed the point.
I was getting together with a worship leader. He was picking up dinner for us to eat at the church.
“What should I get for you,” he asked.
It was about 8:05 AM. “Get me a grilled chicken salad.” See I have this new thing that I'm doing. It’s a game where I order last and order the healthiest of anybody else because… I'm gonna lose weight, dang it! if for no other reason than my T-shirt sleeves are riding up and that's got to stop.
But back to my story.
If you've been signed up for the Fertilizer since it started in 2009, you may have noticed something: since June 2018, you have received one each week, like clockwork.
See, on February 20th, I added a three-hour appointment to my calendar that said "Write a Fertilizer." That helped. Then in June, it changed to "Write a Fertilizer in a coffee shop" with a particular destination (that week happened to be The Coffee Station at Landis Valley).
I keep having conversations with worship leaders that are thriving...except for one or two sticky relationships.
You know, the kind of people that might make your team better... simply by not being on it?
It’s our responsibility to shepherd the people on our teams, to speak to the treasure in them, not the trash. To truly love them and help them steward their gifts in way that maximize their effectiveness.
Some “worship leaders” are more worship than leader like some “young adults” are more young than adult. And some “worship leaders” are more leader than worship like some “young adults” are more adult than young.
What do I mean? Well, I see it as a dual role.
On one hand, at your core, you must be a worshiper of God. Being wholly given to Another. Live a life of intimacy before the Father. Having the Psalm 84:5 “highways to Zion” in your heart, able to worship at the drop of a hat. Adept in using music transcendently.
On the other hand, this is not your prayer closet. You must love people enough to desire to lead them somewhere. Be growing in influence. Know how to connect the dots. Be comfortable in activating people. Speak prophetically. Compose your thoughts succinctly. Communicate passionately.
So, where are you on the spectrum of:
worship . . . . . . . . . . . . . leader?
I don't read music well enough for it to be practical. I rely on my ears.
What I find fascinating about written music is that it allows people who are not able to create these parts actually be able to re-createthem.
It's beautiful and almost magical because something someone with one gift (creativity) can be re-expressed by someone with another gift (technical skill). It's fascinating!
A worship team replicating a recording is like a pianist playing from sheet music.
A worship leader recently asked "I'm struggling a bit... anyone have any new Christmas music that is actually worshipful... and not just Christmas-y?" I love Christmas music, but so much of it has become so ‘seasonal’ and not ‘worshipful’ - how I long to live in the wonder of God with us!"
I remember an old Kent Henry recording entitled "Christmas is for Worship" and how sometimes we struggle to feel like we connect with the Lord during the beautiful songs of Christmas.
So what works well for congregational worship during Advent?
I walked along the mid-fall sidewalk. A red Japanese maple leaf clung to the concrete with moisture from an overnight rain.
"Winter is coming," I thought. "I’m glad for the color of now."
Maybe coloring preserves the creativity and connection to life that helps us persevere through the upcoming winter drab.
But I mean actually coloring on paper. Like with freshly sharpened colored pencils or a box of new crayons.
Whimsical thought, no doubt.
I wonder what would happen if you showed up to your next rehearsal with a armload of white and a fistful of color and simply instructed your team to create for ten minutes.
About 40 years before Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier invented the papermaking machine, UMC hymnals had instructions printed in them. The year was 1761. John Wesley gave his Methodists some direction on how they were to sing in church. The problems he was addressing still challenge us today.
Here are some of his instructions, only slightly modernized. What if this was in every church bulletin?
How is your spring?
Not the season. Not the bounce in your step.
Rather, how's your hydrology? Are you drinking these days? I’m referring to living water.
I was reading the account of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman he met at her local well. It was quite the thing. A stranger answers her logistics question saying "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." [John 4:13-14]
I wonder if her mind raced, trying to catch up to everything Jesus just implied.
I’m used to sweating up until the service starts. And then sweating some more.
But worse than that, I'm used to starting a set of worship with a hurried, unsettled heart.
We've all been there, right? The mic isn't working, my monitor mix is off, I didn't have enough time to really learn the song, there's a strained relationship on the team, that drum fill still isn't working, my guitar is out of tune, I feel less connected to God than I'd like to, (insert whatever life circumstance is taxing you here), you know. Stuff.
I was talking with a worship leader who was frustrated because his team was not committing to coming to an upcoming retreat.
You’ve probably been there, no? You schedule a night of worship, a team fun night, a local worship seminar, and your team’s response has left you wondering if you’re in this all alone, and if you’re the only one who cares.
Shoot, it’s hard enough to just get them to ACCEPT/DECLINE the PCO invites, let alone an extra event!
I’m having a crisis of sorts. The last two weeks, my multitracks haven’t been working on Sunday morning. The first week, I checked the cables, restarted the app, switched the DI, checked the snake, and even dug into the input/output section on the mixer. Turned out that I had updated to iOS 12 and the app needed to be updated as well. The next week, the same issue was there AGAIN! I started troubleshooting and after burning about 10 minutes of precious time, I realized that the stereo/mono button on the DI was the problem.
Wait, why are You laughing God?
There were 7 of us worship leaders sitting around the table from different congregations. As we shared our recent highs and lows, several leaders' lows were lamenting that they had either just lost key musicians or were having trouble filling their teams completely.
Sometimes it can seem like good musicians are the unicorns of worship ministry, right?!
That's when I thought of my friend Jon. He is a systems ninja, a systems genius.
"Variety is the entrée of life!"
Um. I don’t think anybody ever said that.
The real saying is "variety is the spice of life."
A little spice goes along way. How does this apply to your worship leading in the songs you choose and how you do things?
I sat at at my local coffee shop, waiting for my access on the internet superhighway to rocket me past the on-ramp. As a regular "Guest Folklorian," I’m used to decent speeds.
But today was different.
Everything was just going slowly. I felt like I was being spinning-wheeled to death. Like I was back in the days using WebCrawler to google stuff.
"Performance" in church is talked about like it should be bleeped."Worship is NOT a performance" says the person who is detecting fakeness in an entertainer acting like a worship leader.
"Worship is NOT a performance" says the elder when the electric guitar player gets too flashy (in alternate picking speed or facial contortion).
"Worship is NOT a performance" says the Priest Archetype when the Artist Archetype asks for more time to work on a section of the song.
"Worship is NOT a performance" says the Shepherd Archetype when the team member bristles at having to wait before starting to play at rehearsal.
Later today, I’m meeting with a worship leader who is no longer in his former role. Happily, it’s for good reasons. And hooray, he’s even still involved in the worship ministry.
But it still a change.
And I’ve been involved in circumstances where a leader’s exit isn’t easy, healthy, or productive.
In the 90’s there was this shift in the Church. We called it being “Seeker Sensitive,” meaning that the church tried to be sensitive to those who were not believers or followers of Christ, but still seeking “in their journey.”
This meant that Aunt Sally could no longer sing her painful-to-listen-to solos. It meant we didn’t use insider Christianese when speaking from the front. It meant we chose music that wouldn’t sound foreign to unchurched ears. It meant we tried to not do things that would make us cringe if we had finally managed to bring our unsaved coworker to a service. It meant that we were simply aware that there were those in the room that weren’t yet part of God’s family and that we should do something different because of it.
And I think it was helpful.
The scriptures are full of commands and accounts of people seeking God. However, (dun, dun, duuuun)...
Not every church has the same top 20 songs. Not even close! Every church is so unique.
I mean, there are probably the few songs that every church has done multiple times in the past year...like This is Amazing Grace and 10,000 Reasons (but watch me be wrong!)
Why am I telling you this? Well, I recently guest led at a church and chose to lead four (out of five) songs that I’ve never led before.
And when you magnify something, you notice new details.
Our family of eight still has only one vehicle: a Honda Pilot. That means that sometimes we get creative with our scheduling and transportation.
On one such occasion, we played musical cars with my Mom. I dropped my family off at her house (along with the Pilot), and drove her car to the church where I was guest leading. They would take our car to Mom’s church. (Most times, we all go together, but sometimes it just works better this way.)
Our plan was to reunite at Mom’s after church for lunch.
You might think this Fertilizer is about how to find enough people to schedule a complete band this summer...with everyone on vacation and all.
It’s...maybe related, but it’s not.
If you’ve ever lamented "I can’t ask any more of my team...they’re only volunteers," then read on.
"How do you deal with pastors who desire to use CCM music instead of praise and worship all the time?" he asked.
Whether this is your question, or yours is more of what key to do a song in, what version, or how many new songs, or...any other repertoire related question, the foundational question to ask is:
What is your church's vision?
Started out this morning in the usual way. I woke up with a song in my head. It was Paul Oakley‘s "Because of You." So I listened to it, because that’s what I do when I have a song in my head.
There’s a place where the streets shine with the glory of the Lamb.
There’s a way we can go there, we can live there beyond time.
No more pain, no more sadness, no more suffering, no more tears
No more sin, no more sickness, no injustice, no more death
There is joy everlasting, there is gladness, there is peace
There is wine ever flowing, there’s a wedding, there’s a feast
More and more worship teams are beginning to play with a click.
You might be scared that your leader will suggest it, are scared because your team suggested it, or are scared in thinking about how your team will react/has reacted to it if you suggest it.
Or you’re using it and loving it.
Or you think it’s the worst thing in the world and are sworn to never use it.
Here’s the thing: A click gives the team both a common pulse AND a common thing to follow.
Last week, we answered a worship leader’s question:
"Can you help worship leaders know how to approach and address such types of dynamics in a way that builds teams and individuals, but doesn’t avoid necessary conversations?"
My first answer is to give direction before you start the song. But the second (and most important answer) is HOW. (Click here to read last week’s Fertilizer)
At Ad Lib, we teach worship leaders to be well-balanced leaders who can adjust their approach based on the needs of their teams and congregations.
The framework we created is called the Five Faders.
A worship leader sent me this question:
"Our team has been growing in building musical dynamics that really create openings for people to enter in."
Stop right there! I’ve never heard it said quite like that "Musical dynamics create openings for people to enter in." There’s so much there, but let’s keep reading.
"Can you help worship leaders know how to approach and address such types of dynamics in a way that builds teams and individuals, but doesn’t avoid necessary conversations?"
Annoying to say the least.
But we too can easily focus on our own needs that we don’t realize their impact on others. We miss out on what’s really important. Right? So what am I doing to my congregation, team, or leaders that feels the same way to them?
The feeling you get when you have smudges on your glasses, or your contacts get so COATED IN POLLEN that they’re cloudy (amidst tears) is not any fun.
Thing is, trying to see a way to get your team to grow musically can be like that. You blink, but just can’t see the way forward clearly.
Annoying as pollen in the spring. #HatersGonnaHate
Puts a damper on your whole outlook when you have the same musical snags week after week.
Everyone has ideas about the next new song to introduce.
Everyone has some criteria for their choice.
You’re going to learn to be GREAT about choosing new songs to have your congregation sing! Here’s how.
Two words: Objective Awareness
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 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 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 celebrating and is experiencing euphoria. He bakes cinnamon swirl raisin bread. And it’s heavenly, I’m told. (let’s see if this hint works)
But as a worship leader, when was the last time you felt like that?
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.
We met for breakfast. He sat there, cutting the whites off of his fried egg. I mean, all of them. Every miniature triangle. Until there was only a glorious orange orb of yolk left.
“What are you doing, Bobby?” I had to know.
“Oh.” Sheepish grin. “It’s how I always eat my eggs. I save the yolk so I can eat it in one bite.”
I’ve tried. Whether it’s the skill or the patience that I lack, I don’t know. I’ve never been able to experience having an entire yolk fill my mouth in one magnificent pop.
I got together with some friends, and I had seven gifts I wanted to give them. These gifts would provide a backdrop for testifying about what God had been doing. It was a real encouragement for us, and I wanted to bless you with those things. Here they are:
*Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” So may you have sweet peace today.
*Psalm 31:16 “Let your favor shine on your servant.” I have a disco ball in my office (true story!), and every time the sun rises over the horizon, it hits that ball, and all of a sudden, sparkles of light fill the room. And that’s like the Lord’s favor on us. It’s not just a hidden thing. When He is on our lives, when His glory and favor shines on our lives, we sparkle. So that’s what I pray for you…for sparkliness. We are (Isaiah 61) “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” So shine as the Lord favors on you.
Going it alone really, really stinks! Oh, it can kill you too. You may have friendly people on your teams, but how do you actually become friends?
Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of youth… sorry to get that one stuck in your head.
I'm stunned whenever I meet with a worship team that only does music together. Conversations are warm but shallow, we carry our own burdens in…and then out, we hear scripture in the songs but don’t open the Book together, there’s learning that’s happening but we don’t share it with each other, and we’ve never shared a meal or been in each other’s homes.
That’s so, so sad.
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.
I hope you were inspired by last month’s Worship Fertilizer to begin creating a Growth Plan, but chances are that it’s collected about 30 days of dust by now. Poor little Growth Plan. Following the outline below will help you put your own plan into motion.
You have talent, gifts, and the desire to improve. But you may not know what to work on or how to work on it (call it a lack of systematic intentionality). I believe that having a growth plan will help you get where you want to be.Why should I plan my growth? Why should I plan my team’s growth? I believe that the gifts I have are not my own, I’m a steward of them. What does the Owner expect me to do with them? Manage them? Yes, but not just that.
So when you went to your worship team rehearsal this week, what skill did you plan on working on with your team? Did you just learn the songs or did you learn how to play music together?
Because it’s the prefect lab for growth really: Two hours, five songs, and six (or three!) musicians PLUS the desire to learn and just a smidge of intentionality, and BAM! you've got a mini-seminar. And you can have 52 of them every year…at YOUR church with YOUR people! And it’s stinkin’ free!
I love questions. My friend Adam Saenz taught me to be a connoisseur of questions. Questions are so important because they tell us where to look, what to focus on. They shape our future.
I recently have been asking teams that I lead the following questions at rehearsal:
Who will be there on Sunday? Why are we doing this? What are we actually doing?
I’ll explain why these questions are important....
Here is a list of “best practices” to keep in mind as you serve as a Technical Artist.
I call you a Tech Artist because mixing live audio is both a science and an art. You have to think like an engineer and listen like an audiophile. You must make cuts like an accountant and create beauty like a musician. You get to mix colors with the accuracy of a hex code and the nuance of the little dude who painted “happy little trees” on TV. Godspeed to you!
The Four Main Elements
There are four main elements to how things sound:
You want current members to serve for a long time, right? And you’d love new people to join too, I’m sure! So do current worship leaders or worship/tech team members have short tenures? Are potential members unwilling to start serving because they are afraid they will feel isolated? Are current members burning out? Why?
Here are four common reasons for teams feeling isolated and burned out.
- They don’t get any feedback after they serve
- They serve with unclear expectations
- They feel relationally unconnected
- They serve where it’s not a good fit
So how do you eradicate isolation and burnout?
- They don’t get any feedback after they serve
"The most eternally creative thing you can do is make a decision.” – Dave Miller
Making decisions well is central to good leadership. You’ve likely seen some decisions that leave you shaking your head and wondering “what were you thinking?!” It doesn’t have to be that way.
The Church is two or more gathered [Matthew 18:20] and centered around Christ, acknowledging His authority and presence, discerning and declaring the will of God, making decisions for the Kingdom, declaring those decisions and acting on them corporately.1 We must always start (and complete) the decision making process with our hearts (read: affections), our minds (read: attitudes), our souls (read: ambition), and our strength (read: activity),2 centered on Christ. Unless you just want to build your church, instead of His. So how do we do this?
Why do we gather each week as a church?
Your answer might be one of the biggest assumptions (and therefore, trickiest set of unspoken expectations) you have when thinking about the weekend service.
It affects everything! What to sing. How loud it should be. What kind of songs to sing.
Whether or not to use theater lighting. How to preach. How to “do” the offering. How long to go. Who’s allowed to lead. Who to invite. How big of a screen to use. And how many. Really…everything.
When was the last time you took a breath, ready to sing the next line, only to slowly exhale, mumble, or watermelon through the next line because the words weren’t up in time?
Why isn’t everybody singing out at the top of their lungs? [this is, after all, the Almighty we’re praising!]
How often are the lyrics flipping through verse 1…chorus…no, verse 2! to finally land on the right one…only to catch the last 2 lines before the next search begins?
Why is it so hard for our congregation to learn new songs?
What if worship is display? Are you comfortable with that?
In Isaiah 61, with the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD on me, I’ve found Him give me something that defines me. Like a habit does a nun. It’s the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness. Then He calls me an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.
We usually know how to lead an event, a worship set, a meeting. A moment.
But what about a ministry, a team, a department, an organization? A decade?
Anytime you, as a leader, are saying “I’m a good leader, they’re just bad followers” you’re in denial. You must take responsibility for your actions. If you’re being defensive, posturing yourself, or being political, it’s likely because you’re weary, have been hurt, and have taken on offenses.
What’s the most important musical part of a song? Melody. It’s the DNA, the unique fingerprint. Which brings up the next question…how do I learn melody, especially if I don’t read music or don’t have the musical notation available?
This is how I do it:
Why do I need to know how a song is built? Why do I care?
Because knowing how songs are built enables me to:
~ Learn it without “playing it on repeat 18 times”
~ Rehearse it as a band without just “playing the whole thing 8 times”
~ Know what I can change in it so it’s still fresh and worshipful after singing it 28 times
~ Encourage the congregation to sing more (without asking for it)
~ Adapt it to my band…(especially if my electric guitar player still thinks solid state is king)
~ Heroically decide not to play it when I realize (before Sunday morning) that my rhythm section (that carries that particular song) just doesn’t have what it takes to pull it off (yet)
I love what Todd Henry says in his podcast The Accidental Creative: “It is the age of creativity. Cover bands don’t change the world. Don’t be a cover band, you need to find your unique voice.” There is no need whatsoever for making the songs that we do sound just like a recording.However, there are two really important assumptions that statement makes:
Doesn't this just have a great ring to it? Campfire. Eating together. Relaxed worship. Late night talks. Teaching tailored to your team. Friendships deepened. A break from your normal routine. God speaking...
And you don't have to lead a thing!
Pick a spot, pick a date, we'll do the rest. Ah, rest. Yep. Even you as the leader will get a rest. We'll lead times of worship, sharing, and teaching. You can pick the topics or we'll suggest one based on your church's needs. We'll even let you design the fun times...group games and activities (you know what best your team loves to do!)
Please tell me you've experienced the wonder of a worship team retreat. They are just amazing. Here’s how your team can have one.
My Dad’s “Coronation Day” was six years ago the day I wrote this. When I was first wading through my newly grief-soaked life, I journaled regularly on things I missed about him. Today, you get to be in on one of those stories.
We called it Santa’s Workshop. My Dad often put his masterful carpentry skills to work making presents for us. Just how many times did he work late into Christmas Eve putting the finishing [or beginning] touches on the gifts he was lovingly and skillfully making for us?
One year, I had this dream of a curved-front stereo cabinet. I drew it up and emailed it to Dad, not really thinking that he would actually bring it to life. But Christmas morning, standing with my bare feet on the cold garage floor, I couldn’t believe my dream had been turned into an outstanding birch reality.
Groove, Space, and Dynamics.
Three things that we can always have more of in the music we create.
No matter if you make your livelihood playing music, or if you’re a newbie, it’s good to be reminded of the fundamentals of playing music together. I’ll often use these as talking points as we begin our rehearsals.
I want to say thanks!
Thanks for being in the “trenches.” Thanks for faithfully creating spaces where people can meet with God. Your ministry in worship is vital…and those hours you put into it when no one sees you…they’re really making a difference! Thanks!
Knowing personally the importance and challenge of spiritually nurturing your team, I’m really excited to be able to bring yet another resource to you...
When was the last time you worshipped with other believers. Wait, but I mean not at "your" church? I mean when was the last time you joined believers outside of your congregation and fully engaged in worship in their Sunday morning worship gathering?"
So...when was the last time you dove in and really worshiped the Lord. I mean without leading anyone else. You weren't preparing for a rehearsal, at a rehearsal, or in a service. It was just you and the Lover of your soul?
You know how we wish that our church members would worship outside of Sunday mornings so that [among other things] there would be more life and engagement on Sunday mornings? So...what about me? Do I live that lifestyle?
I'm amazed at the consistent story worship leaders tell me as I coach them...
"I wish I would have more time to grow spiritually"
"I really need to work on my devotional life"
"I'm so frantic by the time I get to rehearsal"
"I feel like I'm leading on empty" ...
So, are you trying to figure out how to add more musicians to your teams?
“We just don't have any in our church.” Really? The super-common problem of “We just don’t have enough musicians” seems to have a simple cause, but let’s look deeper. What might be some of the hidden causes for the shortage?
Here are 10 causes for a lack of musicians...
Perhaps the reason that growth is often slow or difficult in churches is that we’re so focused on keeping people happy and satisfied, that we never have enough dissatisfaction to tip the scales for growth to happen. But don’t we usually try to minimize dissatisfaction?
Guarded as I am of “formulas,” I know this one to be true. Kathie Dannemiller’s formula for change is simply this:
Dissatisfaction plus Vision plus First Steps has to be greater than Resistance for change to happen, or in clever symbolism: D + V + F > R. Why do you care?
I was having a conversation with a worship team last week about how we connect with the Lord through worshiping together. I started describing my own process in connecting with God when stuff tries to block me from Him at a heart level. I thought about this verse...How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,in whose heart are the highways to Zion.[Psalm 84:5 NASV]
Your team doesn’t fully “get” your ministry’s vision. Don’t believe me?
What do you hear most from your people? What issues are take up most time at your committee meetings? If we can move the piano, coffee cups being left behind by the “contemporary worship” people, color of the new drapes, volume of the music, length of the message, how long the Christmas decorations should stay up…?
Issues surface because of lack of vision. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us that “Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish, they run wild, they are unrestrained. Basically, if people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves!” The more complicated our church life becomes, the more we must simplify it. Vision simplifies. Turn up the vision until it’s all you hear.
So, which of these phrases best reflects the way you serve together in your worship and technical arts ministry?
- We stay in a good mood when “life” happens
- We appreciate each other’s different talents
- We are honest and genuine with ourselves and each other
- We are never lazy, but work hard
- We take care of ourselves and don’t trash our bodies the night before we serve
- We are always ready to serve
- We are real: we don’t just pretend to love others, we love them deeply
- We are transparent and live our lives as openly as we can with each other
- We boldly are who God has called us to be
- We want God’s creativity, so we let Him reinvent the way we think
- We stay in a good mood when “life” happens
I’m really into lists.
So, in the spirit of lists, here are three lists.
- Lists keep me focused.
- Lists give me motivation. (seeing the task clearly before me)
- Lists are fun to check off.
- Lists can be scrapped.
- Lists take all the floating tasks out of my head.
- Lists give me concrete things to attack.
- Lists give me a sense of accomplishment.
- Lists keep me focused.
I'm designed to improve things. That's how I'm built, how I see things, how I listen, watch, and think. Sometimes that makes worshipping [when I'm not leading] a real challenge.
I remember saying once, "I want to be one of those simple worshippers that can just go for it no matter how uncool the music is, how whack the sound is, how whatever the whatever is." I remember seeing people next to me being lost in expressive love to Jesus, when I was being totally aware of the dynamics and technicalities of the music or sound. I needed the ability to "turn it off."
Now, get this - I'm not a judgmental person, but by design [and by training] I pick up on things that could improve. That can't control me when I'm choosing to worship God...I won't let it derail me. Our worship is a response to the revelation of God, and I must be pure in heart to see Him. It's a choice...
Whether you're a pastor, sound tech, drummer, vocalist, worship leader, or second keyboardist, you know the disappointment of a flat worship set where a song didn't work because of...well, what actually made that not work!?
There are tons of reasons that could cause a song to not "work," so let me ask you this to focus on one possible cause. How does your technology empower you to accomplish your mission? More importantly, how does your training empower your teams to accomplish your mission? Do you feel like the way the music is played and mixed helps or hinders what God wants to do?
"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.