Monday, July 2, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Spontaneity in Worship

If planning is classical music, spontaneity is jazz. Both are important for serving the church faithfully with our gifts.

Pursuing spontaneity isn’t simply about breaking our routine or being creative. We want the Spirit to manifest his power through us in as many ways as possible so people’s hearts and lives can be affected. Spontaneity can be a means to that end.

Spirit-directed spontaneity
From passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we see that the early church exercised spontaneous spiritual gifts that were “manifestations of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Martin Lloyd-Jones encouraged preachers in such Spirit-directed spontaneity, and his comments can easily be applied to those who lead congregational worship:

"Do you expect anything to happen to you when you get up to preach in the pulpit?… [S]eek His power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when this power comes, yield to Him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let Him loose you, let him manifest His power in you and through you." (As quoted by Tony Sargent in The Sacred Anointing, 57)

Freedom to Respond
Spontaneity give us the freedom to respond to present needs and promptings and can increase our awareness of the Spirit’s active presence. This could include an unplanned comment, a prayer, a Scripture reading, or a prophecy. Smaller churches may be able to do this more frequently, but even in a large church we can make room for unplanned moments. Whether your church is big or small, it’s important that contributions are evaluated by a pastor. Valuing spontaneity doesn’t negate the need for wise leadership.

Charles Spurgeon shared these wise thoughts about spontaneous impressions:

"I have been the subject of such impressions myself, and have seen very singular results. But to live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you."
(From Sermon #878, A Well Ordered Life)

However, “to live by impressions” is different from simply being receptive and responsive to them. If our feet are firmly planted in the sufficiency of God’s Word, we are then more prepared to benefit from listening for the voice of the Spirit as we lead.

Here are a few practices and principles that have helped me grow in spontaneity, both spoken and musical, over the years:

1.Don’t plan to do too much. Too many items on the agenda limits interaction with the Spirit and the congregation. If this happens, we can’t repeat songs or parts of songs for emphasis, and we certainly can't expect anyone to have time to actually think about what we’re singing.

2.Practice musical spontaneity alone. Sing your prayers or Scripture, make up a new melody to familiar words, or make up new words to a familiar melody. Break out of your routine.

3.Practice spontaneity with your team. That sounds like a paradox, but it’s helpful to work out with your band how and when to listen for your direction. Some musicians do this naturally, others don’t have a clue.

Spontaneity isn’t an end in itself. But it can open doors that will enable us to regularly experience a fresh awareness of the Spirit’s presence when we gather.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

10 Essential Traits of a Worship Pastor/Leader

One of my life’s greatest privileges has been serving as a worship pastor, and with this responsibility my eyes have been opened to so many different facets of what the job really requires, as opposed to what I imagined it required.

I believe in my heart of hearts that the worship pastor of a team does not have to be the most talented, the most eloquent, the most gifted writer—although to be skillful at your craft is a must. But this role is truly all about care.

The worship pastor must care that people have an understanding of why we worship and not just how we worship; the worship pastor must carry the heart of the church and its leadership tenderly with great respect and unyielding support. The worship pastor must love the team and their families more for who they are and their journey in Christ than for what they do for the church.

Yes, the worship pastor is shepherd first, musician second—a true worshiper, one who leads with skill, wisdom, and godly devotion.

I have written my Top Ten teaching thoughts for worship pastors to share with their teams—to give you some absolutes to pass on to those entrusted to your care.

1. The Worship of God Is Holy
God is not common; hence worship is not a gig, not a right to prove our abilities, not an opportunity to sing our favorite songs. We worship because he is a holy God, and we the created—made for his pleasure—worship and serve the Creator because he alone is worthy.

2. Regarding Excellence
We bring our finest, because we care that our sacrifice is truthful and brought with integrity of heart. The first fight in the Bible was about a worship offering (Gen 4), and to this day, people bicker and disagree about what is genuine worship. No matter how we present our worship, only God knows the true intent of our pursuit of him. And it is in the authentic pursuit of him that we find excellence in worship.

3. Authentic Lives of Worship
We train in so many things consistently, but nothing can replace each individual’s commitment to an authentic life as a worshiper. So that when your inner life is revealed, what is seen and what is unseen by humans is one and the same.

Bill Hybels wrote a great book called Who You Are When No One’s looking. Work at making sure that you are one person: the person we publicly know, and the person God privately knows.

4. Serve the Lord With Gladness (Ps 100)
Gladness is not just an emotion; gladness is a byproduct of joy, which is substance, a fruit of the spirit. You can literally live on it. Joy puts others at rest.

“He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart” (Eccl 5:20).

5. Worship Is Not Just a Lifestyle.
Worship is our life’s response to the grandeur and magnificence of our God. Worship as a lifestyle sounds like we would treat the Cross of Christ casually. But our ability to enter his courts and live in his presence actually cost God his all—for us. Never treat his worship as a lifestyle option.

6. Build a Culture That Embraces the New
We see that the Levites were trained and skilled in making music before the Lord (1 Chr 25:7). Never compare or be skillful for the sake of it, yet always encourage people to be developing their gifts, to try new things, new ideas. Be vigilant to train and grow and strive for freshness in all that you have been given, for the glory of his name. As the Scripture says:

■Sing new songs (Isa 42:10).
■You will be called by a new name (Isa 62:2).
■I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them (Ezek 11:19)

New songs, new day, new start, new hope, new mercy, new possibilities, new ideas, new ways, new people, God says “new heaven and a new earth,” “ new covenant,” “new self,” “new heart,” “new command,” “new creation”… new, new, new!

7. God’s Presence Is Great Power
Our role is to declare and announce that God is here. If we just play and lead to please the ears of man and satisfy our own desires to play/sing, and march into services without a holy awareness of his presence and magnificence then we rob people of their spiritual inheritance. Lead people to the courts of our God.

8. We enter “his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Ps 100:4)
This sequence is God’s idea, not just the delight of all sanguines worldwide. Be confident to lead people in the high praise of our God. Announce that our God reigns.

9. Speak a Kingdom Culture
If your team knows how to play music but the culture is one of negativity, defeat, resistance, offence, pride, lack of self esteem, jealousy, even of unbelief, then your team will never grow together into a culture that is based on kingdom principles. Kingdom music is crafted in the heart of a human being who gets a glimpse—a taste —or hears the sound of the kingdom of God.

10. People of Prayer
It is a very presumptuous person who thinks you can live an effective Christian life without prayer. Prayer is our lifeline; prayer is our first language; prayer is our direct access. This is made clear in the Psalms—a magnificent book of prayers that teaches us so much about our language before our God. Enter with thanksgiving, bring him everything, love him, adore him, ask of him; this is the language of prayer. As you develop your life of prayer, you are developing your life of faith—and your life of worship.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Your Worship Isn't Enough

Worship is more than a song. But the song really matters, too.

Sometimes church feels like a surreal high school pep rally. The guy with the bullhorn (worship leader) pumps up the fans (congregation) to go out and win the big game (do the right thing, live missional lives, pursue justice, draw others to Christ, etc.). Like pep rallies, these worship services fulfill a particular, focused purpose: they are a means to a victorious end and preludes to the “real action” of life.

Do we worship to give us the emotional energy for the application part of our faith? Tim Hughes, a worship leader, writes in one of his choruses, “Keep us from just singing, move us into action.” While his message is important—that we are living lives of meaning and mission and not ones of stagnant faith that lacks deeds (James 2:14)—these lyrics could be misconstrued to assume “just singing,” just worshiping, isn’t as important as the action.

To be fair, the hierarchy of mission and worship is easily flipped for many Christians. These people are perfectly content going to church, worshiping and living without a greater awareness of our world, or even the neighbors around us. In The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton says, “The crisis the church currently faces is that our individual and corporate worship do not produce the fruit of justice and righteousness that God seeks.”

But, if we rank mission over worship or worship over mission, we end up sabotaging both; worship and mission are equally and intrinsically linked. If worship is merely the thing that makes us feel good, feel “full” so we can go and do the important, active stuff, we lose. On the other hand, if mission is the thing that’s flippantly tacked onto our faith, we lose. Either way, our definitions of worship and mission are sickly and insufficient. We are missing the engaging, challenging, and courageous call of the Church to enact both.

Worship as Mission

In worship, we encounter not just a good feeling or a boldness for justice; we encounter the living person of Jesus Christ—the embodiment of perfect justice. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins His public ministry by quoting Isaiah:

“[The Spirit of the Lord] has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

The good news Jesus is talking about is redemption for the whole of life: spiritual, physical, emotional, social, etc. Our attempts to fulfill this Gospel mission fall short unless we are being transformed more and more into the image of Jesus: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In the presence of Jesus in worship, we behold His glory and realize that it is only He who can save us and our sinful world. We are transformed into a just community; we actually accomplish and enact justice. The injustices of this world are socioeconomic, political, systemic and individual, but first and foremost, they are spiritual realities (Ephesians 6:11-12). When we offer praise as a community, we enter into this spiritual conflict as we encounter God and participate in His holy mission to liberate the oppressed.

Mission as Worship

Meeting God in worship impels us to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world. Mission flows directly from the worship of the Church and the two cannot be severed. In her book Everyday Justice, Julie Clawson writes, “Worship doesn’t merely involve enacting the cultural rituals of worship or personal piety, but more importantly, it involves how we treat others. […] Following God in full obedience in as an act of worship, which means that acting justly is part of what it means to worship God.”

Living a life of true worship means feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. In fact, Jesus promises that when we do these things, we actually meet Him in the faces of those we love and serve (Matthew 25:31-46). Here mission and justice become worship.

Matt Redman addresses the connection and cyclical nature of worship and mission in his song “Mission’s Flame”:

“Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame
We’re going with a passion for Your name
We’re going for we care about Your praise
Send us out
Let worship be the heart of mission’s aim
To see the nations recognize Your fame
‘Til every tribe and tongue voices Your praise
Send us out”

The first lines from each verse describe mission flowing from worship and mission flowing to worship. The aim of mission is God’s holistic restoration (physical, spiritual, emotional, socio-economic) so that all people can come into His transforming presence. In the bridge of Redman’s song, he describes the scene from Revelation 7: people from every tongue and tribe and nation will one day be clothed in white, gathered around the throne of God in worship.

Breathing with Both Lungs

We need worship and mission; they are essential and inseparable. In our church, we talk about worship and mission as two lungs: we need both to breathe. A hierarchy of either leads to asthmatic Christians and churches, shallow-breath worship, and missional wheezing. So breathe deeply of worship and mission, the way we were intended to live.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Medium Matters: Is Music as Important as the Message?

Don't Waste Your Music
Some Christians might argue (especially in Reformed circles) that as long as gospel truths are present in the songs we sing together, our gathering has been a success. Helping our people see and respond to Jesus with biblically orthodox words is the most important factor in worship services, but don't waste your music. God has made music a powerful tool. As a body of believers we can communicate, memorize, express, and emotionally connect with truth through music in ways that no other medium allows. When we see music in its proper place, our job as worship leaders and pastors becomes less about truth and good music being at odds with one another, and more about utilizing great music to highlight truth. Let me unpack this.

Style Polarizes a Crowd
If someone walks into your church service and hears your new pop-country band for the first time, I guarantee you they aren't paying attention to the words. They are either thinking about how much they hate the music or how much they love it. Music is not a neutral tool. It polarizes a crowd. People draw much of their cultural identity from the style of music they listen to.

Can Musicians Be Too Good?
Nothing is more distracting than the guy who wants all eyes on him, and not on Christ. The front man isn't the only worship leader on stage; the players are too. Our gatherings can't be a musician's competition between his glory and God's. We have one target in mind, and all band members should be shepherded to aim there together.

Don't Water It Down; Change It Up
Since stylistic choices and musicianship can be a distraction, the tendency in churches is to make worship music "broadly palatable." Watering the music down may remove a stumbling block to some, but it can also dilute the power of the medium. If we have to work in the confines of music and all the cultural baggage it brings, we must also take advantage of the cultural benefits. Keep in mind that there is diversity in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:4-5). Change it up from week to week. A good sign that you have the right balance of styles is if every congregant has one band they love and one band they hate. Seeking to find balance is our lot as worship leaders and pastors. One day we won't be distracted by musical style or sin, and every tribe, people, and language will come together (Rev. 7:9-10) singing praises to our Savior! This is a hope we look forward to. Until that day, we will make the most of this gift that God has given, using it as a tool to point to his unparalleled worth and glory.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I recently had the opportunity to take a look at some cool new technology on the IPod/IPad. I am not a ‘worship techie’ as much as some people, but I do like to look at technologies to arm the small church and small group gatherings, because this is where I do most of my worship leading time and where I like to target our worship resources.

Backing tracks and technologies to play them are great. Loop programs such as Ableton, GarageBand, or even just a keyboard are great to allow the band to ‘virtually’ come alongside a vocalist or single guitarist for a fuller sound. The biggest issue with loops is allowing spontaneity – how can you repeat a part, loop a part, or even just jump to a quiet instrumental then back into a chorus? Well-trained live bands can do this and they know how to do the transition, but a looping program is lacking for this.

Enter iSingWorship, from The Innervation Trust in the UK, iSingWorship is an app for your IPhone 4 or IPad that is based around some groundbreaking technology designed to solve the free-flow problem I described above. What these folks have done is to craft a way for a backing track to seamlessly jump around in a song, from any part to any part, and sound natural. Say a song is written like this:

Chorus (quiet)
Chorus (loud)
Chorus (x2)

With iSingWorship, you could do

Chorus (Loud)
Chorus (Loud)
Drum/kb interlude
Chorus (quiet) (x2)

Or any other arrangement you want. You could preplan it or change it on the fly, as you go. The interface is simple and clear, you can just touch the part you want to do next. There are options to remove the vocal or acoustic guitar, so you can set it up for a vocalist or single guitarist/vocalist. There is also a feature to show you lyrics and chords, and to project your lyrics against backgrounds using a video out cable from your IPad or phone. Basically, you show up, hook your IPad to a speaker, hook your output to a TV, and you are leading worship with a band. Its all very simple to use and sounds great. The main interface looks like this:

What is neat about this and why this technology works is what iSingWorship calls Smart Audio Transition Technology (SATT). What this does is allows the track to be recorded and processed so that all of the transitions, no matter what order you select, sound natural. You are in control of a virtual band that seamlessly does what you tell it, naturally. The technology knits together instrumental tracks (called stems) in a way that the sound of each transitional section is natural. Its a neat technological trick.

Besides the one-man worship leader role this technology enables, iSingWorship would also be a great tool for teaching new songs, practice time for instrumentalists or vocalists, teaching melodies to new songs, or even serving as a virtual songleader in a pinch! Like other programs, iSingWorship has a set of available songs, primarily oriented around CCLI top 100 content at this point. Songs are reasonably priced for the small church at $1.99 each. iSingWorship developers Zarc Porter does have a desire to build up their song catalog to a wider variety of material. including offerings from independent artists. The program is free to download and there is a sample track that you can try for yourself and see how it all works.

Simple to use, reasonably priced, great technology, and a growing catalog – iSingWorship will definitely find a niche in those smaller churches and home groups. Highly recommended and free to try. Just log in to the app store and give it a go.

Check out the iSingWorship website for more info:

Monday, May 7, 2012

3 Priorities When Preparing Music

By the time your Sunday services begin, thousands of decisions have been made—both macro and micro. In each of these deciding moments is an opportunity to be faithful, or not, to the purposes God has called us to. If we are to be faithful, we must set our priorities in order long before even the smallest decision is made.

Priority #1: Truth
As Paul says in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Truth from Scripture must be the framework and standard by which every other priority is subjected. If we have a gathering with killer music but no truth, we have a pointless gathering: we’ve led people astray by placing their focus on something far less important and valuable than a God who redeems broken sinners. The songs that we sing need to not only have the ability to stir affections (any pop song can do that), but also to teach. The choice of song can be as simple as “Agnus Dei” or as deep as “Before the Throne,” as long as it is shows our people who God is or who we are in light of him.

Priority #2: Corporate Response
If the songs we play are only true, but not singable, memorable, or enjoyable, our people will be far less likely to have their hearts stirred by the truths we are presenting. They will be distracted with trying to get around the music instead of into it. Songs that teach and admonish are best when they are SUNG! Jonathan Edwards says that what we see on the outside “is no sign one way or the other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high.” Responsiveness is hard to gauge. Just because hands are in the air doesn’t mean hearts are being changed. At the same time, if everyone in the congregation is staring at your lyric slides like zombies, chances are their hearts aren’t being changed either. God looks at the heart, and whether corporate worship is a true reflection of the lives within our church or not, it will be seen by the fruit we bear in our day-to-day worship.

Priority #3: Musical Style, Arrangement, and Execution
When we gather to sing, the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are the means by which truth is prompting people to respond. Though this is our third priority, it is only because it is in subjection to priorities 1 and 2. The music serves truth and responsiveness. I say all of this because the medium matters.