April 1, 2017 | Get free updates of new posts here
A few years ago I wrote a series of posts focused on help you write worship songs for your church. As much as I love to lead worship and equip leaders, I love writing songs and being part of a church community that love to work together on songs for our church to sing.
Of course we sing songs from Hillsong or Bethel or Chris Tomlin or Elevation because those are opportunities to join in with the church around the world in a unified song of praise to God. But there are also some songs that our church needs to sing that nobody else can write for us.
God is doing things globally which can be sung through our collective songs but God is also doing things locally which need to be sung in unique ways by your own church.
To help you with this I’ve gathered all ten of these posts as a guide “from inspiration to completion” on how to write worship songs and it’s available now here as an immediate PDF download:
Worship leaders wear many hats and one of the things we get asked to do is write worship songs for our churches. This is a good thing – writing worship songs that come from our congregation’s own experience and speak to our congregation in its own language is a privilege for worship leaders and an opportunity they should definitely pursue.
To write worship songs for your own church is to help give them the language of praise.
This book covers ten important steps from inspiration to completion when it comes to writing songs, cowriting and how to develop as a songwriter to write better songs for your church to sing.
The ten chapters I cover in this book:
3 People To Talk With Before You Write Worship Songs
The Most Important Conversation Before You Write Worship Songs
3 Ways The Bible Inspires You To Write Worship Songs
3 Reasons To Write Worship Songs With People Inside Your Church
3 Reasons To Write Worship Songs With People Outside Your Church
Where Do You Start – Lyrics Or Melody?
5 Things To Remember About Lyrics When You Write Worship Songs
5 Things To Remember About Melody When You Write Worship Songs
Share & Re-Write & Share – Great Songs Are Re-Written
March 24, 2017 | Get free updates of new posts here
No value judgements, no statement on whether these are good or wise or helpful questions. So much has changed over the past 10 years that what was present only in the biggest, most forward thinking churches is now possible in almost any church in most of the world.
As we lead in a new world and raise up new leaders who will lead in new ways we haven’t even dreamed of, we all have new questions we have to ask. The beauty of change is that we’re forced to wrestle with what we do and how we do it and sometimes asking new questions reveals better and more effective ways to reach more people with the gospel.
So, pastors, what questions are you asking now that you didn’t have to ask 10 years ago?
Here are some that I hear pastors asking today:
Should we have one Facebook page for our whole church or one for each ministry?
How do we deliver teaching by video to each of our campuses?
Are we okay with our musicians reading sheet music off their iPad when they play with the worship team?
How can we use YouVersion to help people in our church read the Bible more often?
Should our church build an app?
How can Google Adwords helps us serve more people in our community who are not part of our church?
Should the music director or the drummer run click and cues for the worship team?
Is automated giving better done through direct deposit, text-to-give or by an app?
How do we disciple people through Facebook Live and our online campus?
Should we be present and active on all social media channels or focus on the ones that get us results?
March 2, 2017 | Get free updates of new posts here
Technology has been both a blessing and a curse for worship leaders. What we can are able to do now in our worship services is at the same time easier and more complex. Our phones and tablets can now carry so much of the work which took so much time before.
We also have so much new technology at our fingertips that it can be hard to sort through it all and find the ones which are genuinely helpful.
As technology improves we can now find different and new ways to do our jobs as worship leaders. The goal is not to use as much technology but to find the right apps and tools to help us do our job better.
It’s hard to imagine what we’re able to do with these small devices in the palm of our hand but at the same time there are so many apps out there how do you even begin to find the best ones??
I first released this ebook in 2014, a revised edition in 2016 and now and updated version for 2017 with the best iPhone, iPad and Android apps for worship leaders.
I’ve compiled my new Best Apps for Worship Leaders: 2017 Edition with updates, additions and some removals of apps that either aren’t available or have been surpassed by other, better apps.
Once again I’m making this available totally free a downloadable ebook. It’s available below through the signup box and will arrive right away in your inbox:
February 20, 2017 | Get free updates of new posts here
One of the responsibilities of leadership is not only to lead but also to identify, inspire, motivate and develop future leaders. Helping others see the potential of their own leadership – even when they may not see it themselves! – is an incredible privilege we have as leaders.
Face it, you have not always been the leader you are now and at some point you were given an opportunity to step forward in a new way. Someone saw something in you that made them think you were worth investing in. And now you get to pass that on and do the same for someone else.
And remember, all leaders are temporary. Whatever role you’re in now – whether you’re a worship leader or pastor – you won’t be there forever. Your time will come to an end with a new opportunity or a new position and someone will need to take your place. What better way to ensure that your successor continues your work in the direction you’ve set than to raise up that leader yourself!
But how do you identify who these potential leaders could be? Especially if you’re at a small church it may just come down to a numbers game. You may ask yourself, “Is there even a pool of people I can draw future leaders from?”
Every church is going to have its own criteria for what makes a great leader. You’ll have expectations on spiritual state, ministry experience, church involvement but even within a group of people who check all the same boxes there are still some people who are ready for leadership opportunities and some who are not.
So how do we identify the ones who are ready?
I’ll say right off the top that there is no foolproof method in this. Part of the art of leadership (as opposed to the science) is going with your gut, knowing when failure is okay and understanding that sometimes you will invest in a leader who will not take the investment seriously. You have to be okay with this and understand that over the long haul a commitment to investing in future leaders is undoubtedly worth it.. even with some bumps along the road.
So here are the three indicators that tell me someone is ready and willing for some serious leadership investment. These are things that trigger my leadership antennae and tell me that they are ready for a new opportunity where they can grow and become more effective as a leader.
This is the biggest one for me. I look for people who simply show up. People who come early, stay late, come to the team nights, take the training opportunities and are a constant presence at your church or with your worship team.
Showing up should not be taking lightly and it’s a key piece of advice I give to young leaders. You will learn so much simply by being present and it’s the biggest signal for me that someone has leadership potential.
Don’t neglect the powerful potential of simply showing up.
Some people will show up.. and show up.. and show up.. but the reason they’re showing up is because they want to be part of the family. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
But when it comes to identifying potential leaders at some point you want to see people step up into new opportunities. Taking initiative, expressing curiosity about learning a new skill or just wanting to be involved in a new role is another big trigger in telling me that someone is ready for a new leadership opportunity.
Showing up is how we build the family, stepping up is how we build leaders.
After showing up and stepping up what I’m looking for now is people who grow up to confirm that a continued investment in them as leaders is worth it.
Growing up means taking ownership and responsibility, not just filling a role. Helping rethink how we do what we do so that we’re more efficient and more effective. I’ve even seen young leaders be the ones who are best at identifying other young leaders – this is a great example of growing up!
Of course the greatest example of growing up is how we grow in our faith. You should be expressing and living out more of the fruit of the Spirit in your life, serving more in the areas of your spiritual gifts, deepening your dependancy on Christ and becoming more effective at sharing your faith with others.
Whether you’re a worship leader or a pastor part of your responsibility as a leader is to identify future leaders within your own church and help develop them into their God-given potential as leaders for the kingdom. Imagine the impact of developing leaders who can continue to develop leaders this way but starting out this way will get you headed on the right track.
Look for potential young leaders who show up, step up and grow up!
February 3, 2017 | Get free updates of new posts here
Over the years as a worship leader I’ve had all kinds of relationships with the pastors I worked for and the teams I led. Almost always those relationships have been fantastic and have been the fertile ground where God was able to grow His work in the lives of people in our church.
One of the key relational dynamics between senior pastor and worship leader is figuring out how songs are chosen for the church to sing in worship services.
Is song choice up to the senior pastor? Does the worship leader get to choose the songs? Who gets to make the final call when there’s a disagreement or lack of clarity around what songs should be sung?
I’ll preface this by saying that in some churches there is very little decision-making to be done. Either because of liturgical requirements or sometimes depending on the philosophy in a multi-site church the worship leader of that congregation really has no input at all in song choice.
But in the majority of modern evangelical churches the responsibility for song choice in a worship service is going to fall somewhere on a spectrum between the worship leader/pastor and the senior pastor.
Let me illustrate with a fine little diagram ?
Let’s go to the extremes first and think about some of the pros and cons of each of the ends of the spectrum:
Senior Pastor Decides
This is certainly one way to do it and probably in smaller churches, church plants or churches where the senior pastor has built the ministry out of their history as a worship leader this is a more likely scenario. This allows the senior pastor to keep the vision of the church fully integrated within all expressions of the church including the worship ministry and is probably a scenario that works well when there is a new relationship between a seasoned senior pastor and a younger worship leader.
The flip side of this scenario is that over time you will end up with a worship leader who is simply implementing the will of the senior pastor. Without an equipping relationship where the worship leader understands very clearly the purpose of the songs and even some of the theological reality underneath song choice when it comes to the order of the service this will, over time, result in a worship leader who loses interest. The pastoral responsibility when it comes to equipping requires that we build into worship leaders an understanding of why certain songs are good choices outside of the fact that they’re our favourites, the church loves to sing these ones, these songs go together really well in a set list.
Senior pastors – how can you help equip your worship leaders to choose great songs for your church to sing?
Worship Leader Decides
The other end of the spectrum is that the worship leader/director/pastor decides the song selection with no input from the senior pastor. This obviously will work best where there is a healthy, trust-filled relationship between the two, where the worship leader has proven not only their musical ability but also their theological thinking in choosing songs for worship. Pastorally the worship leader is also able to lead the congregation in worship and help them grow as disciples, not just play some songs that the people like to sing.
The shadow side in this kind of relationship is that one day the senior pastor may wake up and realize that their vision for the worship services at their church hasn’t really come to fruition and the worship leader has taken the sound/feel/vibe in a different direction than was intended. Obviously this requires lots of communication within the senior pastor/worship leader relationship and also a very high level of clarity in communication from the senior pastor as far as what is expected, what is required and where they’d like the church to go.
Worship leaders – how can you choose songs that help to implement the vision your senior pastor has for your church?
The Middle Road
The truth is that most churches are going to find themselves somewhere between these two extremes along the spectrum. At the end of the day there really isn’t a proven right way of making song choice work for every church in every place so this is one of those relational realities that senior pastors and worship leaders need to work through.
The conversation around this should start as early as a job interview if the worship leader is a paid position or in some kind of talk around expectations if it’s a volunteer role. So many of the relational pitfalls happen simply because there hasn’t been clarity and the expectations are misunderstood on both sides.
Senior pastor – have you been clear with your worship leaders on the kinds of songs you’d like them to choose? Have you been clear about the sound you’d like to hear from your worship teams in your weekend services? Are you equipping your worship leader to understand a theological framework of the worship service and how songs help to tell the grand story of God’s redemptive purpose for the world?
Worship leader – are you submitting to the authority of your senior pastor even in your song selection? Are you communicating clearly with your senior pastor around why you are choosing or introducing certain songs for the congregation to sing? Are you pastoring and discipling the congregation not just to sing songs but to grow in their following of Jesus through their worship?
What about at your church? Where does the responsibility lie for choosing songs? Does the senior pastor or the worship leader have more influence when it comes to the songs your church is singing in the worship service?
January 2, 2017 | Get free updates of new posts here
One question that comes to me all the time for worship leaders and senior pastors is how to build an audition system for your church worship team. The concept isn’t difficult – identify people, give them an opportunity with some kind of evaluation – but it’s the details of worship team auditions that people get stuck on.
I’m here to help you!
Since being in full-time worship ministry in 2003 I have auditioned hundreds of musicians and we’ve now developed a system that identifies the best musicians, helps them succeed, builds your worship team and keeps you as a worship leader from going crazy!
Before I lay out the full plan it’s important to get this analogy.
I love baseball. Do you love baseball? Even if you don’t you’re probably familiar with the way that baseball teams can build their roster. Generally there are three ways – you make trades, you sign free agents and you draft young players.
Now a worship team is not a baseball team but the analogy is helpful when we think about the idea of what kind of team do we want to build? Over time your team will take on some characteristics and one of the ways you can build the character of your team is through auditions.
Think of auditions like building through the draft.
You need to identify the vision of what you want your worship team to be and then build for that vision through multiple avenues, one of those being your auditions.
For example, if you want a certain skill level or a certain kind of musical style for your worship team then you need to build that into your audition process so that you’re building your team with the skill and style you’re looking for.
If you are hoping to build a worship team that has a very southern gospel or traditional style you will want to use your audition process so that you are not bringing very classical or very modern musicians on to your worship team. Or at least you’re using the process so that the musicians understand what is being expected of them in terms of style.
Also auditions are also a great way to build any character expectations into your team. You can lay out very clearly at the beginning of the process of someone joining your worship team what you expect of them as a part of this ministry.
One of the beautiful, difficult realities of having a leadership role is evaluation. We are asked to evaluate new ideas alongside existing realities. Leaders are constantly evaluating where things are and where things could be. Leaders are asked to evaluate people, events and systems at every stage along the way.
When it comes to a leadership role in worship ministry, evaluation can take on some added complexity. We are sometimes asked to evaluate someone based on their ability, their talent and what they have to offer our church. While this seems like an easy task in principle it won’t take you long to figure out that all kinds of circumstances can contribute to the complexity of evaluation.
Auditions are one of the ways worship leaders are asked to evaluate. We are evaluating the ability and compatibility of someone who has a desire to lead our church in worship.
This responsibility for evaluation is part of the role of the leader and you mustn’t run from it, you can’t apologize for it and you should never be afraid of it. God has called you, equipped you and empowered you to lead in the context where you are leading and part of that leadership is evaluation. Leaders must live out their leadership in many ways and evaluation is one of those ways.
The catch is often how do we evaluate, what do we evaluate and where are we trying to lead people. If we don’t have answers for those questions it will make our responsibility for evaluation difficult and the people who we are leading will be confused, disappointed and eventually disillusioned with your leadership. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
In our evaluation if we focus exclusively on ability, we will have a team of great sounding musicians who may or may not get along, who may or may not care about the greater mission of our church and who may or may not have their hearts in the right place. “They’re a killer player!” is never reason enough to let someone play on your worship team.
If we focus exclusively on compatibility, we will have a team of nice people who love to serve but you probably won’t have many people in your church telling their friends about how great the music sounds. “They have a great heart!” is never reason enough to let someone play on your worship team.
There has to be a balance. Ability with compatibility. Skill and soul. Competency and chemistry. Hands and heart.
When I talk about this with people on our worship teams I will often bring them to Psalm 78. Through the psalm we read the cyclical story of God’s faithfulness, Israel’s disobedience, their repentance, God’s forgiveness and God’s continued faithfulness.
Psalm 78 ends with this verse:
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
See it? Heart and hands. Soul and skill. Character and competency. Both are important.
If we’re honest, ability is fairly easy for most of us to evaluate. Can they sing? Do they have good tone? Do they care about having quality gear? Are they able to match harmonies?
Compatibility can be a harder thing to evaluate but it is just as important when it comes to the formation of our worship teams. In fact, compatibility may have more impact on the long-term success of our worship team and the worship culture of our church than ability on its own.
What you’ve read so far is a pretty good description of the why behind our audition process so let’s talk about the how. Your how will probably not be exactly like mine and that’s okay. We don’t need clones but take what we’re going to talk about in the next few pages and make it work for your own context. Make sure you get to the why of what you’re trying to do and the how will come from that.
December 27, 2016 | Get free updates of new posts here
So the year is wrapping up, we’re all looking back and remembering our successes and failures of the last 12 months. Some of you are filled with joy and pride because of what you’ve been able to accomplish this year and some of you are disappointed, frustrated and wondering where you go from here.
Enter.. New Year’s Resolutions!
All of a sudden we feel like we can go from success to success or from zero to hero simply by placing some magnificent goal in front of us and committing to that behaviour for 365 days. Whether it’s the number of books we read, how much we pray, how many times we work out or how many Bible verses we memorize there is this attraction to new behaviour at this time of year which tempts us with the promise of new results and new success.
I’m not here to rain on your resolution parade but if you are part of the 92% of people who fail to keep their New Year’s Resolution through to completion let me offer you an alternative.
New Year’s Evolution.
Don’t think resolution, think evolution.
Why charge out of the gate with a commitment to read one book a week when you struggle to read one book a month? Why proclaim you’re going to read the whole Bible twice this year when you don’t really spend regular time reading it at all? Why waste time sticking to a ridiculous goal when you haven’t laid the groundwork already?
Hear me out for a second. I’m not discouraging audacious goals and I don’t want to squash your dreams.
I want to help you succeed and I want to encourage you to change your thinking from resolution to evolution.
One way this changed for me was when I began thinking about the quality of our worship services – how well we lead people, how clear we are about the gospel, how we encourage people to come back next week, how we point them to Jesus. Whatever your wins are for Sunday, how can you work as a lead to help your team increase the quality of your worship service?
Evolution, not resolution.
Think of the 52 Sundays which are coming in 2017. If you could improve the quality of your worship service by a factor of 2% each Sunday over the next year, what would happen? All of a sudden you’d look back one year from now and you’d see an overall improvement of 100%! Woah. That’s big. (And yes, technicalities would say 52 x 2% = 104% but let’s assume you’ll miss your target a couple of those weeks!)
Is 2% improvement a sustainable evolution over the course of a year? You better believe it is!
How can you get 2% better each week? Here are some ideas just as an example of seeing this transformation as evolution instead of resolution.
Call to worship – can you make the opening of your service 2% better this week than it was last week? Spend time thinking about the first thing you’ll say as a pastor or worship leader to open your service.
Transitions – can you make those change points in your service 2% better this week than they were last week? Think about lighting, timing, language and the emotion in the room and how you can help create a more meaningful experience for people who are participating.
Next steps – can you make the application points of the message/service 2% clearer this week than they were last week? Think about relevant ways that what the Bible says can impact the lives of people in your church.
This is the power of cumulative change or compound interest or bringing multiple team roles into alignment with each other. The small changes you make week after week all of a sudden bring multiplied impact not only to the area of change but really to the whole thing you are working on.
In my mind this applies to so much of what we do as a church but also to each of us personally.
Want to double your Bible reading this year? Think evolution, not resolution. How can you make small changes in your Bible study reading habits that will have exponential impact over the course of the year?
Want to learn a new skill this year? Think evolution, not resolution. Start small, commit to the process and look for ways to stay engaged with creativity and new learning.
At the end of the day growth is not optional. What you can control is whether you are going to increase or decrease in your effectiveness this year as a worship leader, as a pastor, as an artist, as a speaker, whatever your role is. One year from now will you look back to see the evolution of your ability or will you only be looking for the next resolution that you think will finally solve your problem?
Let me encourage you again to think evolution instead of resolution. I can’t wait to hear about some of your New Year’s Evolutions and how a year from now you have developed a new skill, increased in your effectiveness as a leader or seen some new opportunity because of the growth that has happened. I’m cheering you on!
December 16, 2016 | Get free updates of new posts here
Everyone’s looking for a shortcut. Everyone’s looking for a way to get more bang for their buck. Everyone’s looking for opportunities to come up with new ideas and new solutions. Creativity is one of those mechanisms that helps us go from obstacle to output but where do these creative ideas come from?
One of the fallacies of creativity is that people who are labelled as creative have access to some secret stash of inspiration that’s not available to the rest of the mortal world. Whatever it is that you find to be the most inspirational for your creative output – nature, technology, conversations, art – is the same inspiration that is available to the people who are known as the most creative.
Inspiration is not the difference.
Attention is the difference.
If you want to be more creative,
you have to pay more attention.
I wish there was more of a shortcut than that but there really isn’t. Once you pay attention you begin to see new things, think new things, dream new things. You begin to see patterns and connections between events or songs or words that you didn’t see before. You begin to understand what it is that impacts people beyond the beauty of the work you do.
So what are some ways that anyone (whether you have that label of creative or not) can take advantage of to be more creative? What are some creativity hacks to help you pay attention?
1. Stay curious
When is the last time you learned a brand new skill? Have you ever pursued a hobby or interest with which you had no previous experience? Keeping your brain engaged on new skills forces creativity simply because you are forcing yourself to work through new problems.
This is the main reason why we started keeping bees a year ago on our property. Did I know anything about beekeeping? Nope! Was I willing to invest time and a bit of money to learn? Yep! So now the result is we’ve got two healthy bee colonies in our backyard, some delicious honey but more than that I’ve kept pushing in my desire to learn a new skill and to stay curious about something I knew nothing about.
And ask my friends, they’ll tell you that I’ve learned to apply some of what I’ve learned through beekeeping to other parts of my life and my leadership.
What is something you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t said yes to yet? Stay curious enough to be engaged!
2. Capture the moment
Creative inspiration and ideas will happen at the craziest of times and despite your best efforts and your self-assuredness, you will not remember that great idea when you get home or when you have a chance to write it down. Inspiration is a flash of lightning and if you don’t catch that shiny thing in a bottle it will vanish.
I’ve also found that when I do happen to remember that idea or inspiration down the road, I’m much less drawn to the idea and I’m less willing to give it a chance because it feels like it’s lost some of its shine or excitement.
You must have a way to capture inspiration right in the moment. For me it’s the notes app on my phone. I can tap out some words, I can grab a quick picture, I can make a quick voice recording. Everything is right there for easy access.
In the past I’ve used the Evernote or Google Keep apps but if you’ve got a smartphone you’ve got a great capture solution in your pocket almost all the time.
For larger, more complex ideas or to turn an idea into a more fully formed concept I keep a Moleskine notebook in my briefcase which comes with me pretty much everywhere I go. I love my Moleskine and knowing that I can transfer notes from my phone or event from a moment of inspiration down onto paper right away gives me a great way to capture that moment and not lose it forever.
3. Long hot showers
Ok this one may be a bit tmi for some of you but it’s the most hack-ish of the three ideas. I can’t give you all the science of why this works (read here or here or here for more on this) but giving yourself time for a long shower with warm/hot water hitting the back of your neck or the lower part of the back of your skull will release dopamine.
The combination of the dopamine with a distraction-free environment of the shower and the opportunity to let your mind wander is an incredible way to let creative ideas flow. Memories stored away, inspiration which has hit you over the past couple of days, recent significant events will all bubble to the surface and you will have the time and the creativity to process these ideas in new ways.
Of course then it goes back to #2 and you need a way to capture those moments, even in the shower!
Inspiration is not the difference.
Attention is the difference.
Creativity is really the habit of paying attention and applying that inspiration to some form of output that generates a response from people. There are so many ways to generate these attention-increasing habits in our lives but these three – stay curious, capture the moment, long hot showers – are ones that have worked for me over the years.
What about you? What are your creativity hacks?
Share a link to this post and include your best creativity hack!
December 13, 2016 | Get free updates of new posts here
I’ve been thinking lots lately about creativity – what exactly that means and how that word has been segmented down to a class of people we call creatives who seem to be this magical breed of human who come up with bizarre ideas and want to test them out on people.
Creativity seems to be this magical ability of these unicorns known as creatives who can conjure up weird, wacky and wild ideas that get our attention in ways that a powerpoint presentation just can’t.
And yet at the same time we get nervous around these people known as creatives and we love their output but not always their input and so creativity becomes this hocus pocus that happens with some cauldron in a backroom and the expectation that these creatives will be able to conjure the right spell to present a video, a song, a graphic, a fill-in-the-blank that will help the powerpoint presentation make sense.
But how does the adjective of creativity get turned into the noun of creative? How did we get to the place where creativity has been simplified down to describe only the group of people who are able to produce some kind of creative work?
Creative has become a label reserved for a certain group of people and that word is now a noun instead of an adjective.
“Let’s get the creatives to come up with something…”
Creative is the word which should describe an aspect of what it means to be human and creativity is the noun which describes the mechanism by which we generate new ideas.
The truth is that everyone is creative, whether you like it or not! As a human, you are created in the image of God. And His image is creative – “In the beginning, God created…” Part of the imago dei is creativity.
So what is this creativity?
The definition I’ve always gone back to is that creativity is finding new solutions within limitations.
In the church, there is no shortage of limitations. Whether it’s finances, people or time we all face some kind of scarcity in terms of what is available to help accomplish the thing God has called us to do.
We need a video.. but we only have three days. We need some stage lighting.. but we have no money. We need to start a new ministry for our community.. but we have no leaders to run it.
Creativity is required not only by the ones who are using their creative ability to make new things but by leaders of all kinds. Part of leadership is solving problems and finding new solutions and part of the way that happens is through creativity because we’re all dealing with limitations!
Songwriters are creative by taking words and melodies, putting them together within the limitations of familiar song structure, tonal range and time limit to create the solution of new songs for us to sing.
Painters are creative by taking tools like a brush and paint and applying them to the limitation of a canvas which is only a certain size to create the solution of new artwork for us to enjoy.
Preachers are creative by taking words from the Bible, their own education, abilities and life experience and working with the limitations of time limits, distracted audience and cultural baggage to create the solution of preaching the gospel of Jesus in a dynamic and engaging way.
Now some of us have been born and developed certain talents or abilities which allow that creative nature to be combined with the act of creativity in creating great artwork. Painting, poetry, songwriting, mapmaking – these are all examples of creative ability worked out with creativity to produce something new. This is called art.
We are all creatives.
We are not all artists.
But we all behave creatively and have the potential to produce creative work.
Whether it’s part of your job description or not, creativity is something intertwined in your DNA. You don’t have a choice. Every time your heart beats a little faster, every time you play out the scene of a book in your mind, every time you take on the challenge of learning something new – this is creativity at work!
So how can regular everyday non-artists who still possess incredible creative potential increase their creativity and be more effective? I’ve got some more thoughts on that and I’ll be sharing more of those ideas soon.
November 26, 2016 | Get free updates of new posts here
“Our worship should be excellent!” “Our worship should be authentic!” These seem to be the battle cries of two different groups of people who are at war in some sort of battle over what it means to be creative.
Those who fly the flag of authentic worship will ask, “Can something that is excellent – rehearsed, polished, prepared – really show enough of our humanity, our imperfection and our weakness to be used to honour God and encourage people to engage in worship?”
And on the other side of the battle lines, those who fly the flag of excellent worship will ask, “Can something that is authentic – spontaneous, personal, intimate – really display enough intentionality, enough purpose, enough clarity to be used to honour God and encourage people to engage in worship?”
It really is a classic debate that seems to paint big groups of people and wide ranges of artistic expression with very broad brushes and if we dig a little deeper we’d probably find the heart behind the two different questions is pretty much the same and there is the opportunity to see each other much more as allies than as enemies.
For example, nobody I know who would place a high value on excellence in worship (and even by saying that I do so knowing there is a broad range of meaning in that word) would say that there is no place for authenticity or for humanity or that anything less than perfection is a failure.
Can we expect perfection in our churches from our worship teams?
Of course not.
Worship teams are made up of people and we are, by nature, imperfect. Worship musicians are not robots so not only is there no place for perfection we should be very wary of any leader who places an expectation of perfection on the people they lead. It’s just not possible.
Excellence and perfection are not the same thing and those in the authentic camp shouldn’t portray those in the excellent camp as believing that they are.
So what then is excellent and how can we – even those who would place themselves in the authentic camp – agree in the purpose and the intent behind the value of pursuing excellence?
There are several examples in scripture of what would describe excellent worship and help us to develop a theology of worship that points toward excellence as a value:
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. Psalm 33:3
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
2 Corinthians 8:7
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9
Each of these verses talk about excellent worship in a different context. Psalm 33 in the context of corporate gathered worship, 2 Corinthians 8 is a passage on giving but the description from Paul is that you should “excel in everything” – including our worship. 1 Peter 2 highlights that our excellence comes out of our royal identity and our chosenness by a God who is excellent and is honoured through our excellent worship.
Would those in the authentic camp disagree with the description in these verses? I don’t think so. I think there are many who would say that the way our worship is then expressed – rooted in the truth of these same verses and others – would be different than how it would be expressed from the excellent camp.
(I should also say at this point, because I can hear through your computer screens that some of you are saying it, that not everyone would say that excellent can’t be expressed as authentic and vice versa. I would certainly agree. All I’m trying to do here is show that there may be some common ground for these two camps who at this point would see themselves as having no overlap.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.)
But what about this idea of authentic worship and how it can help to display the goodness, mercy and grace of God in a way that has no burden of excellence or expectations of perfection? Where could we look in scripture and see what this might look like? Here are a couple of examples:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
2 Corinthians 2:1-5
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Both of these passages and their contexts point to something beyond the excellent expression of our worship as the way to honour God but that there is meaning and depth and significance to the lives that we live as an authentic expression of our worship which actually does more to point people to the greatness and wonder of our God than anything excellent we could ever produce with our own hands.
And in the same way that those in the excellent camp shouldn’t be portrayed as perfectionists, those in the authentic camp shouldn’t be portrayed as lazy, uncaring or sloppy. None of those I know who would say authenticity is a real goal in their worship gatherings are people who I would describe in any of those ways.
Authenticity and meaningless are not the same thing and those in the excellent camp shouldn’t portray those in the authentic camp as believing they are.
So where do we go from here?
Hopefully I can propose a third way that I’ve seen bring real clarity in my ministry and the teams I lead.
Do I want excellence? Of course I do. I believe God is honoured when we display our talents for Him to the best of our abilities.
Do I want authenticity? Of course I do. I believe God is honoured when our worship comes from a place of sincerity and genuine love for Jesus and for his people.
Psalm 78:72 has been so vital for me in my leadership as I try to bridge these two values which seem to be opposing but can actually be very powerful when brought together. To lead in a church that values excellence and authenticity means we need to believe first that this is at all possible and then second that there is a way to get there.
And I do!
He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
The last verse of Psalm 78 which is this beautiful description of the authentic heart of David (“With upright heart he shepherded them”) and the excellent skill of David (“and guided them with his skillful hand”) tells me that not only is this kind of leadership possible but since we see it in the life of God’s anointed king we have to say that there is a value God places on a life lived this way and a way to get there.
Upright heart, skillful hand. Authenticity and excellence. Neither one held higher than the other, neither one neglected for the sake of the other, neither one attacked as the enemy of the other. Both held as allies in the life of the worship leader, in the lives of people on our worship teams and in what we are trying to cultivate in the lives of the people we are leading.
Let me give you three ways I think this plays out in practical terms:
Audition for character and skill
I’ve written about this before and the response was so big that I put together an ebook for you and your team. Essentially I believe that you can expect both great character and great skill from those on your worship team and as a leader you have a responsibility to set a clear path for people.
Think about it this way. How do baseball teams get better? Generally through free agency, trades and the draft. The draft takes the longest but it’s the best way to ensure that you are developing the kind of organization you envision. Auditions are the same. As you are bringing people into your worship ministry you are helping them engage from the very start in this dual priority of character and skill, authenticity and excellence.
Thanks for your interest in the Audition for Change ebook. Click here to download your free copy.
Don’t let the jerk play
I am so grateful that I have never in all my years of worship ministry leadership had to remove anyone from our teams on a permanent basis because of a character issue. Would I? 100%. The priority of upright heart and authentic worship before the Lord is so significant to me that despite any excellence or skill qualifications I would remove someone from our teams or ask them to step back for a time until those character issues can be solved.
Don’t let the jerk play. Just because someone is a killer guitar player or drummer or singer or keyboard player doesn’t earn them the right to be a jerk. Character matters. Lead the way and set high expectations for upright heart and character.
Great hearts don’t always sound great
As a leader I guarantee you will one day find yourself in a situation where you are presented with someone from your church who should get a chance to sing on the worship team because they’ve got a “great heart”… whatever that means.
I’m sure they have a great heart and they’re a lovely person and I’d enjoy sitting across a table from them drinking tea but that’s not enough of a qualification, in my opinion, to be on a worship team. Great hearts don’t always sound great.
Make no apologies for expecting a certain skill level on your teams. People are not led in worship by great hearts, people are led in worship by skillful musicians who have invested time, energy and resources into developing an excellent ability.
At the end of the day we are dealing with two fictional groups of people. We all know there aren’t really any churches out there saying they are 100% in the authentic camp and 0% in the excellent camp and vice versa.
Hopefully I’ve laid out a way for churches and leaders to perhaps reexamine some of your own biases and to see a way forward that wouldn’t cast negative light on worship teams or churches who place priority on these areas of authentic worship or excellent worship in ways that are different than we might choose to do it.
There is a third way. Upright heart, skillful hands. We can bring together authenticity and excellence in a way that honours God, celebrates Jesus and lifts people’s eyes when we gather to worship Him.