Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Have you ever had a plan backfire on you?

Recently, I decided to try and get in touch with other worship leaders who had decided to devote their lives to the 43,000 people in our little commuter town. I had recently been doing all that I could to feel less isolated, including gathering with other worship leaders one of the bigger towns. I thought it would be a great idea to see who else is devoted to leading worship in my little city.

Well, upon further review, there are about five churches in town begging for worship leaders, a couple of others with leaders who live up in Phoenix or Chandler, and one with a worship leader who didn't know she was the worship leader until my message was referred to her.  In other words, it is not an illusion. I am pretty darn isolated.

Anyone else know what this is like? Anyone looking for a church to lead worship at? I know a few now :-/.

Also, 5 points if you can name the ball with the face on it in the movie depicted above.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


So I've been working on my electric guitar skills, and I've gotten to the point where I can do some of the simple "Hillsong" solos (think Hosanna and Freedom Is Here). As I've begun incorporating these new things in the services, I wonder sometimes how my congregation will react. I would love to be like Lincoln Brewster, that ridiculously talented guitarist and worship leader who is convinced that solos can be a part of worship. But...

I just wonder if there is a point where I will get serious pushback. So far I've gone from Acoustic Guitar to Full Band (bass, drums) to Electric Guitar... and am now at basic solos and distortion. Part of the adventure of creating a new worship experience is figuring out the worship style of your congregation. How has this gone for the rest of you worship leaders? Sensitivity is a must, I know... and that's never been my strong suit.

Ahh, sweet adventure!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's Been A While

Time is the most valuable resource.

If you have enough time, you can do the work. You can create and repair and contemplate, all of the things you need for success. You can rest. You can relate with your family, your God, and your friends.

Without time, all of the money and talent in the world won't do you a bit of good. You are created with a certain capacity for "doing", and once you begin to reach and exceed that capacity...

I found myself in this situation. I was ineffective or undereffective in almost every facet of my life. I sat before a mentor, and was told that burnout was inevitable if I didn't start quitting things. I hate quitting, but I have precious little respect for those who burn out and quit on their churches. I had to begin prioritizing, finding what God had called me to and leaving behind what he hadn't. It was tough.

But now I'm here. I am better, partially because of life in general slowing down just a little bit, but mostly because I've realized my limits. I realized that making the most of your time isn't about doing more stuff. Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.

Have any of you had fights with the clock lately?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


They say that you can only be truly excellent at 1 or 2 things. To be excellent in anything takes time, practice, and dedication, which are three finite resources. In ministry, there is no doubt that the work we do deserves, and demands, excellence.

There is a problem, though, for part-timers and bi-vocational ministers. We are called to do everything as unto the Lord, and to work as if it were for Him. Already, this puts us behind the 8 ball. If we are to strive to excel in our work, what is our second thing? It can be worship leading, but that entails a couple of things. Will we work to be great at Sunday Mornings, or foster great relationships on our teams?

And what if we are doing other things? What if we are going to grad school, or leading youth as well? What do we leave behind? What do we strive for?

I wish I could be two people, so I could be excellent at four things. Already, that sentence shows how excellent I am at math...

Darn, that is a fifth thing. Now I need to be a third person.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You're Not Alone

There is something amazing that happens when we realize that we aren't alone. This is the reason for this blog's existence; that there is a real enemy, who wants to wear us down, and convince us that we are alone. Worship leading can feel like this, with the intense vulnerability that comes when you sing in front of a congregation (whether it be 30 or 3000). What you are doing is intensely personal, and therefore you are critiqued with an emotion and ferocity that others can't really understand.

Eventually, you are going to be hit so hard that you fall. You are going to be told something that you just can't move past, or be treated in a way that you can't reconcile with any semblance of what you imagine "Church" to be. It is in these moments that we need someone who can pick us back up.

But how do we find these people? How do we foster these relationships and this accountability? I talked last time about not being a "Lone Ranger" type of leader. Now I want to give you some practical ways to gain such relationships.

1. Seek them out: We have to humble ourselves in this, and make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. Not everyone wants accountability or a shared experience. Not everyone views you as someone worthy to share experiences with. Still, we must press on, and seek out wise counsel by asking to be mentored, and asking to be held accountable, and asking how you could serve others in this same capacity. It doesn't just happen in the world of worship leading. We need to make it happen.

2. Recognize them: We most likely have built-in accountability and encouragement in our lives through the relationships we are currently in. We need to foster that. My wife and my pastor are two such people, who have been encouraging and supportive. I am blessed with two great people, and you likely are as well. I also have some pretty good friends, although I will fully admit I've let some relationships falter. You need to keep up these relationships, because friendships don't naturally outlast time and distance except for special situations.

3. Pray for and with them: This is an intensely personal aspect of a relationship, that will lead to the type of spiritual unity that allows great accountability and mentor relationships to develop. What we do is beyond mere notes and lyrics. It is a spiritual interaction with the Creator, in which we lead others to the throne room. We need peer relationships and mentorships that operate at a higher level, because we are talking about interactions with the Eternal.

This is what has worked for me. I hope it helps!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No Lone Ranger

Tomorrow I have the privilege of meeting with Austin Ryan and some other Worship Catalyst peeps. I am looking forward to this a lot, getting to meet with other worship leaders. It is easy, in our artistic little worlds, to feel isolated. We were never meant to be isolated.

One of the ideas that has been promoted as tough and strong in our culture is the idea of the lone wolf. The Lone Ranger, taking care of everything on our own, following the "if you want things done right, you have to do them yourself" logic. That makes sense, except that it is completely wrong.

Church plant worship leaders, and small church worship leaders... we can't do this alone.

Even the Lone Ranger didn't do it alone. He had the horribly-named Tonto as a sidekick, and he had his awesome horse. We need people around us who are strong where we are weak, because we are invariably weak somewhere. We need someone to pick up the slack when we get tired, because all of us need a break sometime. We need brothers to lean on, who relate to what we are going through.

It isn't just worship leaders who need this, but remember... we are leaders. We are examples, trying to live lives that allow us to say, like Paul, "imitate me." If we don't stay connected, and stay accountable, why would we expect others to?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Get Your Mind Right

Sometimes my perspective doesn't allow me to see God active in my life. Sometimes I am so self-centered that I believe I can do something for God on my own. It is at those times that I easily become convinced that God Is Nowhere.

Can we get spiritual for a bit? I got to sit in on the sermon at Waypoint Church this week (I usually go lead a youth study), and got to thinking about how anxiety can be a sin. Philippians 4 tells us not to be anxious, and there is no way to explain that away. This is hard for me, because there is always something to be anxious about, like a microphone that is shocking you because of a loose ground, or a distortion pedal always on "crappy crunch". There is always the band member randomly (or not so randomly) not showing up for some reason, or the tech guys all out in the same week, or that buzz that seemingly won't go away.

If it isn't church, it's life that's got me anxious. There is always something out of my control, that I wish were under my control. And that is my issue... I want control. And when God doesn't pave the way for me, and when I encounter struggles and roadblocks, I feel... for just a moment... like God is Nowhere...

But when I give it all to God, and realize that He is and always will be in control, I stop worrying about a lot of things. It's like when my wife is in the car... she isn't worried about where we are at that present time, instead focusing on music or her phone or a book. I used to wonder why she never looked around at where we were or what was on the road ahead, but I suppose it is because she has the gift of faith and trust. I admire her in this way.

When I have the same mindset that she has, I realize that God Is Now Here...

Because for some reason, I always want to be behind the wheel. Leaders tend to feel this way, but Jay said something else that hit home this week... the Bible tells us to do that which does not come naturally to our sinful selves. To trust God is to know His constant presence, but that trust does not come easy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day Job

I wonder if Paul liked making tents.

I mean, I know he felt the apostle call, and had purpose in his work and writings. I am sure he had much bigger concerns than an unfulfilling job; imprisonment and beatings probably sucked worse than a boring day stitching tents.

But still... did he get bored? Did his mind wander, or his work suffer because of his preoccupation with saving the world? Or did Christ bless him with fulfillment and skill in his stitching and mundane patch jobs?

I think those of us who are bi-vocational deal with these questions on a daily basis. I rock a headset and get yelled at and hung up on and lied to all day, by people who asked for help getting into college. I love people, and it hurts to constantly hear humanity at its most pathetic. Perhaps, though, this is how God feels with us. He can help us, and inside we are crying out for help, but we refuse to receive it. We cop an attitude and act like we've got everything under control, or we promise to act and never actually follow through.

Perhaps this is the insight we gain working "day jobs." We learn more about the world around us. Plus, we are given opportunity to talk about God to someone other than our church friends.

Still, I gotta wonder if Paul ever looked around and told himself "If I see one more tent today, I'm gonna lose it!" I'd like to think so.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Sound System Gremlins

Any of you seem to have a few gremlins in the church sound system?

It rarely fails. You are getting set up, and for no apparent reason, the amp/speaker/snake/mic doesn't work. Your guitar is popping and your bass player has some sort of Sunday Morning flu. The epic worship service you had planned and gotten excited for has turned into you, a drummer, and a keyboard. Oh, and by the way... the keyboard is making the soundboard peak and the compressor kill every other sound attempting to come through the system.

Somehow, you hit some semblance of order about 5 minutes before service (when you planned to be ready 30 minutes before... haha, silly you). You pray and try to get focused as the timer goes to 0:00 and you step to the mic.

And then a baby runs across the back of the stage. Well, technically it's a 3 year old, but that doesn't change the fact that it shouldn't be running across the stage. You start to lead, everything sounds decent, and maybe this week will be alright. You had a good laugh with the baby, and now everyone is smiling and praising God and clapping, and then the guitar... is just... gone. No wait! There it is again... nope, never mind. It's done.

"Let's just sing out to God" (as I frantically wave to the incredibly focused drummer to stop). Of course, your frantic waves cause him to stop immediately, and everyone in the church to look around you to see if a bird or some small woodland creature has attacked you. You attempt to bring the focus back to God, and as you take your seat after the songs are over, with your head hung low, your pastor gives you that smile that says "if this were a bigger church..."

Okay, so maybe not all of that has happened in one Sunday. The baby thing happened on Easter Sunday. Everything else...

Yeah. Can you top that? Let's hear your best story.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Where are you leading them?

So last time I posted, I asked why you do what you do.

(I realize that no one answered, but if you've ever been in one of my youth ministries you know that showing up is what I do best. I keep showing up until God does something... and I suppose that is what is happening with this blog. In my heart, I know there is a need for community among church plant worship leaders. This is my way of showing up. But I digress.)

I ask this because I've noticed that the answer to this question is ultimately the root of our successes and failures in worship leading. I have been tempted to lead worship in such a way that I please the most people, and get the most compliments possible. I don't stray into songs or activities that might be "too much" to someone. In this way, I follow the biblical example of... well, no one worth mentioning.

See, this isn't the way that David led worship. This isn't the way that the singers led worship before the armies of Israel, or the way early church leaders worshipped. David led in directions few of us would dare to follow (dancing naked, whining to God for several verses, asking for the destruction of his enemies). And yet... to be completely free of the desire to please others, and to be able to both lament and rejoice with an attitude of worship... to know that there is spiritual war on all sides, and that the battle for the human heart rages with a fury we can't handle alone...

This is worship leading at it's finest. This is the example we are given.

I am reading No More Christian Nice Guy as all of this is going through my head, and I am realizing that sterile, people-pleasing worship isn't going to cut it anymore. We were called to something more, and as a worship leader, it is my honor and privilege to lead without shame or fear. It is not about people-pleasing; it is about leading people into the holy, powerful, awe-inspiring, dangerous, beautiful presence of God.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Reason

What is your reason for doing what you do?

My next post will contain an answer, but first I want to give you a chance to talk. I feel like I'm hogging the conversation.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tomlin vs. Smith

Chris Tomlin vs. Michael W. Smith

Who wins in a...

1. Guitar Throwdown?
2. Indian Leg Wrestling Match?
3. Freestyle Rap Battle?

Best answers get five points!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I used to think that getting sidetracked was a problem only bi-vocational, part-time, and volunteer ministers had. I thought that if I were able to minister for a living, I would be an unstoppable force for Jesus, like Chuck Norris in the spiritual realm.

Then I got the opportunity, for 15 months, to be “full-time” at a big church. As it turns out, I still got sidetracked from ministry on a regular basis. Apparently the problem was me, and not my situation.

This was a pretty disheartening revelation.

This is when I realized that God doesn’t “call the equipped”. I have the attention span of a 5 year old with a pixy-stick. I forget song lyrics at the most random times. I occasionally forget my own name. Yet, God has called me, and given me gifts and abilities that allow me to serve others through music, which is so fun that it almost isn’t fair. He has also blessed me to be able to work with teenagers, and be there the way my youth ministers were there for me when God changed my life.

Still, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve ourselves. So I pose this question… how do you keep yourself focused?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ridiculously Big Dreams

Sometimes my heart is bigger than my brain.

This isn't always a bad thing. I certainly believe that God puts dreams in our hearts for a reason. I am excited when I catch a glimpse, a hint of a bigger dream and a bigger purpose. I could extol the virtues of these moments, and it would probably make me feel pretty good. I'm sure the owner of the cart above felt pretty good about his packing job as he was hitching it to this unfortunate steed.

We put the cart before the horse. We expect that, conservatively, we can expect about 500 people in our church after six months. We dream that, given the proper amount of time (usually about a year), we will be starting a revolution and seeing people run forward weeping and begging for salvation, and that the thousands lifting their hands will make a special Jesus goosebump moment happen.

Or heck, maybe we just dream of the day when we'll be able to quit our day job.

Either way, when we live as though our dreams were a spiritual mandate from the very mouth of God, we tend to become disappointed and bitter pretty quickly. Sunday morning we close our eyes and see thousands of passionate worshippers, and we open them to see 30 people singing with all of the excitement of a dental visit. We go to sleep on Sunday knowing that another week of tedious work awaits us in the morning. Just before our eyes close, we hear of another pointless argument from those people that just can't seem to be supportive of anything (I mean seriously, if you thanked God for puppies and sunshine, they'd complain about dog poo and skin cancer).

We get frustrated, and we question where we are and what we are doing. We think that the dream is dead.
Only, the dream isn't dead. In fact, it is still in it's infancy. Dreams need to mature, to become visions that can shape the actions of those we have developed around us, those who are willing to strive with us for the long haul. Giving up on them early is like giving up on a baby for not being able to read or write yet, and for not accomplishing anything after six whole months!


Does this look like a failure to you?
Of course not. It is a cute baby. In fact, it is what came up when I googled "cute baby" and clicked on the cutest baby I saw.

So don't give up on your ridiculously big dreams. Feed them, and "teach" them by learning as much as you can about how they might some day become a vision. Feed that vision, until it grows up and becomes something amazing. Give it time.

Let the baby grow up.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Too Much Good Stuff!

Some people devote their lives to the ministry, working for a church and trying to reach people for Christ in their own gifted ways. Some people are career oriented, and work 40 hours a week to provide for their family. Yet others are scholars, who spend all of their time hitting the books and obtaining degrees.

The craziest of the bunch, however, are those who decide to do all three. Who has two thumbs and is just that crazy?

This guy.

Now each of these things, in and of themselves, is a good thing. Many of you who read this (or one of you, if only one of you reads this) are the same way, doing as much as you can, because in your best moments you can make it work. If one good thing is good, wouldn't two good things be better?

I relate to Martha in the "Mary and Martha" story. This is weird, because I used to relate to the Mary in that I loved to just chill with God. However, now I am the one looking down my nose at those who "only" do worship leading, or "only" do youth leading, and admonishing their laziness. I think this was Martha's main problem... not that she was busy, but that she was proud of her busy-ness.

I feel like I am often proud of my busy-ness, thinking that I am getting extra Jesus points for doing more (with bonuses for being in a church plant and being bi-vocational). Yet, in this pride, when we are focused on what we are doing rather than Who we are doing it for, we worship our own skill and endurance rather than our Creator's provision. The saddest part is, we get so busy we don't even know when He's in the room. We are too busy being busy.

Does anyone else struggle with this? I feel like Church Plant Worship Leaders would struggle with this, since we are usually doing this along with work and/or school. Am I right?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stepping Stone, Milestone, or Cornerstone

When you look at where you are at, what do you see?

Some people who lead worship for church plants see their position as a stepping stone. They want to eventually lead worship full-time, preferably in a big church. They may want the position to grow with them, or they may have another destination in mind. Regardless of the specifics of their situation, whether they are volunteer or paid, they saw an opportunity, and were glad to accept it. They have hearts that long to worship God, but maybe not through 3 hours of set up/tear down every Sunday. Also, they long for the day when they can have an actual church office, rather than just a room in their house with a computer, a guitar, and their collection of star wars memorabilia/vintage video games/vinyl records (whatever their spouse won't let infect the rest of the house).

Other CPWLs (this is what I will use for "Church Plant Worship Leaders") just happened to be able to sing, and perhaps play an instrument. They are musicians who responded to a need. This is probably one of the only times in their lives they will lead worship. For them, this is a milestone, a moment when they responded to the call to help a young church. They have hearts that long to worship God, but not necessarily on a mic from the front. They are also genuinely confused about the sheer amount of people who are interested in influencing their song selection. Who knew that "I Can Only Imagine" was still so popular?

Finally, there are a few who are called to both Church Planting and Worship Leading. Where they currently are is the cornerstone of where they want to be, and they are personally invested in the highest order to the health and well-being of the church. They are pastors who sing, ministers who play guitar, and builders at the core. They have hearts that long to worship God, and spirits that long to see something amazing happen, no matter how long it takes. They are also slightly crazy, as most people would not move to new cities or new jobs for what is essentially a part-time position at a currently tiny church. For some reason, when you call them crazy they get positively giddy. Don't be scared.

Each of these are commendable, and while I find myself as one of the third type, I thank God for the other two. I think the challenge that the Stepping Stone CWPL faces is one of patience and investment; patience in waiting for that opportunity God has created them for, and investment in where they are now. You will never regret the God-centered relationships you make, so embrace the chance the impact lives and make lasting friendships. I have a heart for such people, because I felt what they are feeling in reverse (in that, I knew I needed to be doing something that involved church planting, while God had me experiencing being a "normal" worship leader).

The challenge that the Milestone CWPL faces is one of confidence and humility; confidence to know that God will give you the strength to accomplish His purposes for you, and humility to know that it is God, and not your own sacrifice, that is truly impactful. Being in smaller, poorer churches for much of my life, I have a heart for these as well. In a way, we are kindred spirits, because to this day I pray for people like you in my first couple of churches.

However, it is the challenge of the Cornerstone CWPL that I will address the most, simply because this is what I know. That is not to say I don't want the others represented; in fact, I would prefer to have all kinds of contributors to this blog. I am simply letting you know where my own voice is, and the range of contexts that Church Plant Worship Leaders find themselves in. There are other subsets, like the fish out of water, or the leader in exile, or the do-everything worship leader (I am one of these, being also a youth leader). While this blog subject, Church Plant Worship Leading, seems like one that would be rather narrow, I can assure you that this is not the case.

Also, some things we post about will be general worship-leading stuff, like musings about why Chris Tomlin insists on singing so many great worship songs in such a high register, or why David Crowder songs don't sound as awesome without the beeps and boops (and perhaps stories of failed attempts to emulate said beeps and boops). Either way, I hope you enjoy this, and that you will consider contributing. I will write every other day until we have someone else who will contribute, but I am worried that I will run out of ideas pretty quick, so the sooner you decide, the better!

And seriously, is "I Can Only Imagine" to the 90's what Rich Mullins' "Awesome God" was to the 80's? I feel like I'll be hearing that song until I find myself surrounded by His glory. I hope I am dancing, and I hope He's pleased with my tremendous "sprinkler" and "lawnmower" dances.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Church Plant Worship Leader

Maybe you used to do this full time, at a stuffy "established" church. Maybe you got restless, knowing that God called you to build rather than maintain. Maybe you longed for adventure, and pined to live like Paul and "make tents" while blazing a new trail. Maybe you got tired of the backbiting and the acrimonious church "business meetings," and the endless critiques of your music selection and quality. Maybe you thought church planting would let you get away from all of that, and create a utopian worship society where every form of music is accepted and creativity is appreciated.

Maybe you've been doing this long enough to know how that turns out. I'll ask you to kindly stop pointing while you laugh.

Maybe you have come up with a young pastor, leading worship in houses and youth groups, and around campfires and on beaches. Maybe this is your first time being "the guy" in a church, and you are both excited and clueless. Not just that, but you have no idea what to do when your sound guy doesn't show up… or maybe you are the sound guy. Either way, you sure wish these church plants came with instruction manuals.

Or maybe you are like me. Maybe you have felt called to be that second guy, the one who is a leader without being "the leader" of a church plant. You lead worship, you lead youth, you fill in leading small groups, and you generally do whatever else the is needed. You have become a jack of all trades… but it's time to become the master of (at least) one.

Wherever you come from, you are now the worship leader of a church plant. You probably have a trailer where everything lives, and are already pretty good at turning your school/coffee shop/movie theatre/bar/living room into a "house of worship" in 45 minutes flat. You talk to other worship leaders, and they whine about some words being typed wrong, or a slide not moving, but you have more pressing issues… like when (not if, when) the screen is going to fall during service, and how durable your drum set (and drummer) are. Hopefully they can survive screen-a-geddon 2011.

I am fairly sure you don't know many people who do what you do, because I have the same problem. That is the reason for this blog. It is time to create a community of crazies, a band of brothers (and sisters?) who have taken this fool's errand and ran with it, confident that God does indeed use the foolish to confound the wise. Let's unite with other worship leaders who are intent on chasing God rather than chasing safety, and strengthen each other through our mutual knowledge, fellowship, and prayer.

Maybe together we can get an idea of what works (IKEA lamps on stage) and what doesn't (three year old on stage). So... what is your name, what is your quest, and what is your favorite color? (5 points if you get the reference)