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A New Template for Planning Worship Services

Posted on Mar 17, 2014 in Resources, Worship Ministry | 2 comments

Is there any rhyme or reason to your planning? Or is every song set a new adventure with no real way of assuring consistent balance and depth?  I fear it is all too easy for worship planners to fall into a pattern of either oversimplifying (by simply picking a few songs with little thought to why) or overcomplicating (by becoming obsessed with theming). As I’ve mentioned before, I became disillusioned with planning my services exclusively around sermon topics. But I’ve long desired to write a follow-up post to offer a balanced alternative. In reading through Worship by the Book by Hughes, Keller, Ashton, and Carson, I had several brainstorms that led to this new worship planning model I’ve tried out over the past 6 months or so. It’s really more like a template and perhaps you can take ideas from it to use in your own planning process: PRAISE A song or reading that expresses praise to God for who He is and what He has done in our lives. While each of these elements can be placed in any order, I like to begin with praise. Especially, upbeat praise songs that get people’s blood flowing and their hearts focussed! Examples might include: Here for You   Great Are You Lord   Psalm 148 “…Let them all praise the name of the Lord. For his name is very great…”   BELIEF A song or reading that expresses what we believe about God. I also occasionally use Communion for this element because, by it’s very nature, it reminds us what we believe about Christ. Examples of songs and readings might include: Once and for All   Before the Throne of God Above   The Apostles’ Creed (To be read in unison with the church. Below is the version I use.) THE APOSTLES’ CREED I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and [sits] at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from [there] he [will] come to judge the [living] and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, [God’s holy Church], the [community] of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.   CONFESSION A song or reading that is either conducive to the confession of sin or confesses our need for God. Examples of songs and readings might include: Lord, I Need You   Jesus Paid It All   Psalm 51 “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins…”   ADORATION A song or reading that expresses our love and devotion to God. Again, while each of these elements can be placed in any order, I like to end with adoration....

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The Surmountable Challenge Facing Churches Using Hymnals

Posted on Mar 10, 2014 in Featured Slider, Worship Ministry | 5 comments

Let’s face it. Our society has changed drastically in a few ways over recent decades. I suppose technology is the most obvious and dramatic change. I mean, who would’ve dreamed in the 90’s that cell phones would become what they now are? Another change that may only seem obvious and dramatic to those of us living in the blue collar worship ministry world is the shift in musical know-how. The art & science of music was once widely taught in our culture: in schools, in homes, and in churches. From an early age, a person could be expected to understand at least the rudimentary concepts of notes and singing. Today, the only folks who know anything about sight-reading are those who volunteered to take electives in middle & high school like choir, orchestra, or band. Everyone else learns to sing in their car or with their big, shiny headphones on. In other words, listening for a melody and singing it out is the most we can hope for from the younger and unchurched demographics. Call it sad. Call it mad. Call it a travesty. Call it what you will but it’s reality today and it’s likely the reality in your church. And what does this mean for churches using hymnals?  It presents a challenge but not an insurmountable one. The challenge is: Hymns were written to be sung in 4-parts by people who had been taught which part best fit their vocal range and had at least a basic knowledge of how to follow the notes for that part. Those people are few and far between these days. They’re even rare in choirs that teach it. I sang in school choirs in middle school, high school, and college. Even in those settings, the true behind-the-scenes story was that only couple people at each part that actually read the music and everyone else was simply attempting to follow them by ear. Do you see the problem? 99% of the younger and unchurched demographic that may grace your church on a Sunday morning will try to sing the melody by ear (you should also know that 61% of my statistics are made up off the top of my head). And if you’re using hymnals, the melody will often be out of range for most of them (Some modern day song writers still place melodies too high for the average human). Does this mean the hymnals have to go? Nope. Not saying that. But churches using hymnals need a solution that will begin to engage a broader demographic in singing.  The way I see it, you’ve got 2 options: The Bad One You could launch a music education campaign in your local church to try and save the good ol’ ways. But I think you’ll find that boat has sailed.  Traditional choirs have generally been in decline for years and I suspect your entire church would follow suit if you try training them all to be a traditional choir. The Good One Or you...

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End It.

Posted on Feb 27, 2014 in Leadership, Resources, Tools, Worship Ministry | 1 comment

Welcome to next week’s post because today is February 27th, 2014–also known as “Shine a Light on Slavery Day” for those who are in it to End It. Tonight, I’ll turn on my sound system in my cozy church building and make beautiful (hopefully!) music to God with my team. Meanwhile, there will be people who are experiencing their own living hell in that moment. To worship God comfortably but continuously avoid, ignore, and show apathy toward justice and mercy and faithfulness is worse than wrong. And it would certainly earn us a strong rebuke from Jesus. Not that you or I have to individually engage boldly in every fight out there. There’s a lot of injustice in this world, a lot of mercy needed. That being said, ignorance is NOT bliss. And with an issue this well documented, ignorance is irresponsible at best. The good news: It doesn’t take much time to get informed and pass it on. And that IS doing something! And it doesn’t take much money to help others fight to End It. My wife and I donate monthly to the A21 campaign and believe their strategy is a good one. They could use your help, no doubt. Thanks for passing it on today! Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in...

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Why You Should Stop Avoiding Your Sound Booth!

Posted on Feb 24, 2014 in Tools, Worship Ministry | 7 comments

Look, I get it. I really do. Some of you love making music but couldn’t care less about the technical ins and outs of a sound system. Words like Gain, Phantom Power, EQ, Gate, Compression or even Reverb make your eyes glaze over and roll. The mere sight of all those knobs and faders on the sound board is enough to give anyone a headache, right?! I have to admit, I was in your shoes for many years. I love playing guitar. I love singing. I love leading a band and a church in song. But I would’ve just as soon “wrassled” a wild boar as tangled with feedback! Or any of that other sound tech stuff, for that matter. But over the years I’ve come to recognize that I truly need to be engaged in the sound ministry of our church. And, even though it’s still not my comfort zone or my favorite thing in the world, I’ve tried to learn and grow in this area. There are several reasons for this change of heart. And those are also the reasons you should stop avoiding your church’s sound booth! The Big Reason Sound volunteers’ time is limited. I’m guessing that those of you serving in blue collar worship ministries like mine, are in the same boat I am: We can’t afford to pay a pro! I’m blessed to have a couple of great volunteers but they don’t live and breathe worship ministry. How could they with tough jobs and busy families and even other involvements within our church? This shortage of time creates several little reasons: Little Reason #1 What about mid-week practice? I don’t know about yours but my sound volunteers already have enough of their nights taken up with other things they’re plugged into. They don’t need another weekly commitment to add on their calendar. So I need to know enough to get the job done and solve some basic sound problems on Thursday nights. Little Reason #2 What if they move or quit or die or something? Don’t tell my guys that I’m being so morbid concerning their longevity! But really, what will you do when your resident expert can no longer serve? Who’s going to train up the next sound volunteer? Or will you have to take multiple steps back in excellence because you didn’t invest the time to learn? Little Reason #3 Sometimes big sound problems arise. Trust me, they do. Suddenly your old sound board starts weirding out and speakers blow and all the “sound demons” come out to play at once :) Then a lot of research needs doing and many quick decisions need to be made. Who’s going to make time for that? It may need to be you. And finally… The Other Big Reason Who cares more about the quality of your church’s worship ministry than you? NOBODY! That’s why you need to know at least a little about everything worship-related. It’s a part of the ministry God has called...

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My “Where Are All the Electric Guitarists?” Solution

Posted on Feb 17, 2014 in Tools | 4 comments

One truth that blue collar worship leaders live with is: sometimes you have the instrumentalists you want and sometimes you don’t! At the church I’ve been blessed to serve at the last 6.5 years, we’ve continually had more than our fair share of talent. But even so, we’ve faced seasons where a certain instrument was hard to come by. One such season of drought has been pretty permanent and that’s guitar. Thankfully, I play guitar but I’ve always been an acoustic rhythm guy and some songs just beg for electric! Maybe you or someone you know is in a similar situation? I don’t know if my solution will be your solution but–if nothing else–you’ll find out there is hope beyond just waiting and waiting for a decent electric player to show up. I found that hope several years ago in the form of a hybrid guitar. The idea of such a guitar appealed to me with the idea that I could switch back and forth from acoustic to electric seamlessly in the midst of a worship set. I didn’t want to be that guy that has to switch guitars back and forth between songs. I felt that would serve to draw attention to me rather than Him. So hybrid it was and the then-new-ish Taylor T5 seemed to be the ticket. It was a bit of a splurge for me but I had paid my dues to frugality (as if that’s possible!). I was still playing the same guitar I’d had through high school and had promised myself a serious upgrade if music became a significant part of my income. I found a used one through Guitar Center and they cut me a solid deal on shipping, etc. I was so excited when it arrived but soon found myself truly disappointed! Mind you, I was (and mostly still am) completely ignorant of all things electric guitar. My goal had been to continue running direct through the house like I’d always done with my acoustics. But I quickly found sending an electric pick-up straight through the house doesn’t do much for you in terms of electric-wow! I needed an amp but I didn’t want an amp. Nor did I want the pedal jungle that so many guitarists drool over. Just not my thing. I landed on a little compromise called the Vox ToneLab LE. It actually has a small tube in it that helps give off that warm, electric feel similar to what an actual tube amp can provide. And it has about a gazillion amp & effect combinations to create a vast array of sounds. That meant a bit of a learning curve but it didn’t take too long to sort through their pre-sets and find a few I could live with or tweak to my purposes. All in all, the T5/ToneLab combo has been what I need for this season of ministry. Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to trade them both in for the acoustic guitar of my...

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Know Enough about Everyone’s Job to Get Yourself in Trouble

Posted on Feb 10, 2014 in Leadership, Worship Ministry | 2 comments

I recently read a good resource article by Wisdom Moon where he spoke to the importance of dynamics and, at one point, he said: “I don’t know how to play every instrument on stage, but I understand enough about each to give some verbal direction.”  I immediately thought, “Wow, that would make an article all by itself!” So here it is. Perhaps you’re familiar with the expression: “I know just enough about _______________ to get me in trouble.”  As a worship leader, you are probably a band leader. And as a band leader, you should know just enough about each instrument in your band to get you in trouble! (Really, I suppose these principles will apply across leadership contexts.) For instance, I can’t play drums.  While I’ve learned to keep two limbs in rhythm, four has proven more than I can ask of my uncoordinated self! But over the years, I’ve gleaned as much information about drummers and drum sets as I can because I believe they make or break a band. So I can tell you what each piece is called and I know what sound it brings to the table. I know what to tell the drummer to get the sound we’re looking for. Basically, I know just enough about drums to get me in trouble! The same goes for basically every instrument in our regular band set-up.  Now that I write it down, it sounds kind of overwhelming. If someone had told me I needed to know all this when I first started out, I may have just quit! Learn the details and lingo that goes with every instrument? How does one even begin such a daunting task??? Looking back, it wasn’t so hard as it sounds. Here are some tips to get you started: Humble yourself. This is the first step because if you approach this as a know-it-all, you won’t ever know anything at all. Ask questions. That humility I just mentioned will allow you the freedom to ask a lot of questions about everything. What’s that cymbal called? What do you call it when you do _______________ on the keyboard? Google it. Musician forums, how-to sites, and Wikipedia offer endless knowledge about whatever instrument you want to know about! Forums have the added benefit of exposing you to the lingo of that particular sort of musician. Take advantage of hindsight. Every once in awhile I still run into a song or situation where I can’t find the right technical way to communicate what I’m wanting. In those cases, I use whatever means necessary to get there.  It usually involves a crazy blend of adjectives. “Sloppy-messy-folksy…but on purpose.” “Silky-smooth and tinkly.” “Tribal-jungly.” I’m above nothing in these situations! But the important step is this: once you finally arrive at the sound you were seeking, find a shortcut for next time! Again with the questions: “Ok guys, now what would you have called that so I can get us there faster next time?” Take it for...

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The Truth about Teaching Your Church New Worship Songs

Posted on Feb 3, 2014 in Featured Slider, Resources, Worship Ministry | 6 comments

The image contained in this blog post is a free resource you can access at You’ve probably read a lot of advice about taking your time with teaching a new song. There’s a lot already out there.  So why bother adding my voice to the mix? Partly because I don’t think we take the advice seriously enough. But also because I try to tailor this blog’s focus to a specific group of worship leaders–blue collar worship leaders–and our ministry context is a little different than the context of the average worship advice-giver. For starters, we generally lead worship in churches of 500-ish or less people and those folks often have a higher median age. Reality Checks about Our Churches: They aren’t Tomlin concert attenders. They aren’t listening to the latest worship music in their car every week. They don’t learn these new-fangled melodies and rhythms very fast (or sometimes at all). Their attendance is very hit or miss from week-to-week. So to assume they’ll pick up a new song in a week, two weeks, or even three weeks is a rather large leap of ill-founded faith on our part! I mean, it’s going to take 2 or 3 weeks just for most of your church to have heard the song once.  If you don’t believe me, it’s time to pay attention to modern church attendance trends. I’ve even heard of pastors who preach virtually the same sermon for more than one week in a row so that most of the church actually catches it.  You might believe this to be a big-church problem or an urban problem but I don’t think so. I’ve seen this sporadic attendance phenomenon in my blue collar, bible belt church in the decent sized town of Springfield, MO. And friends of mine in small, rural churches report the same findings. I’m not complaining about it and I don’t think you should either. The church has spent too many decades complaining about trends we don’t like rather than working out how to best minister to people as these trends unfold. So, instead of shaking our fingers at folks who don’t go to church as often as we’d like, don’t listen to as much Christian Contemporary Radio as they should, or don’t have the musical savvy we wish they did…let’s talk a moment about how to responsibly teach them a new song. We’ll do it with the metaphor of a seed: Planting the seed. Figure out a way to let people hear the song before we ask them to sing it. Maybe you do some sort of pre-service music or something.  Maybe you can post a YouTube video to your church Facebook page or send a link out in an email (I know that won’t reach everyone but some people is better than none). Our church does a pre-service countdown each week and I’ve been trying to plug upcoming songs into those so people at least hear it playing in the background as they’re finding...

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Why I Ask My Team to Be a Little Disingenuous

Posted on Jan 27, 2014 in Leadership, Worship Ministry | 11 comments

WHAT??? Disgusting. Didn’t Jesus rail against hypocrites…actors…the disingenuous religious leaders of His day? Yes He did and, yet, I’ve sat across from my team as they’ve looked at me uncertainly and said, “What you’re asking…I’d feel like I was being disingenuous.” But I keep on asking because I believe we’ve lost sight of what it means to do our job. For years, the worship community has fought against anything that reeks of performance. We’re not to perform, we’re to worship. We want team members who are the real article: who they are on the stage matches who they are off the stage. Nice sentiment! And I whole-heartedly agree when it comes to the heart of the individual. However, this has carried over to the way worship is expressed on-stage versus off-stage. And I don’t whole-heartedly agree with that. I imagine we all have worship team members who feel that expressing worship differently on-stage than they do off-stage would be fake, phony, even hypocritical. Maybe you feel that way, too, and you’ve been rather uncomfortable with this blog post ever since the title. Well, some will call this being disingenuous. I call it doing our job. And what is our job? Certainly to worship God and genuinely, at that. But it’s more because everyone in the church has that job. Our unique task is to lead others to worship God with us. There are, perhaps, a handful of people in this world who can effectively lead a crowd just by being their everyday-selves. They just ooze charisma in their casual existence. The rest of us have to behave differently than we normally would in order to move, motivate, and lead people. We don’t question this in other arenas of life. Football players don’t run around smashing people in the streets and we never call them fakers for it. Motivational speakers aren’t that revved up around the dinner table at home but we wouldn’t label them phonies. Drill sergeants are unlikely to scream and berate their date the way they would their soldiers. Even in the church, we want our preachers to express themselves more artfully on stage than they would in everyday conversation. They’re just doing their jobs. Our worship teams have a job to do, too, and it’s time we ask them to do it well. I realize we all come from different contexts. On my worship team, there are many individuals who are uncomfortable expressing their worship outwardly. Period. Over time I gently ask them, coax them, to try and get past that because here’s the deal: Maybe they’re worshipping God in their hearts more intensely than anyone in the room but the church will have no idea unless they express some of that outwardly. And if the church can’t see us worshipping, how are we effectively doing our part to lead them to worship God in their hearts? Maybe your context is completely different. Maybe you have team members who are a little “too comfortable” expressing their...

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