From Joshua Spacht

1Almost two years ago I had the joy of meeting Joshua Spacht for the first time. Joshua is an amazingly gifted worship leader, orchestrator, composer, arranger, and musician extraordinaire. He’s become a great friend, and in his relatively-recent role as Director of Worship at McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia, he’s also become a neighbor. I’m impressed not only by Joshua’s worship leading and wisdom, but also by his musical creativity (you can hear his string orchestrations on this Advent EP that I produced and sang/played on with my former church last year, or at his Sound Cloud page). I asked him some questions about music and worship leading and I think you’ll find his answers encouraging and helpful.

1. How do you stay fresh musically?
I listen to music – lots of it! I listen at several different levels. Everything from superficially skimming through an album to listening to one section of a song over and over. I have friends whose musical tastes are different than mine, and I ask them to provide me with songs, bands, or entire albums that I “need” to listen to. I then systematically work my way through the recommendations. I don’t have time to sort through lists of best­selling recordings or scour blogs for what’s new and fresh. So, I ask others to fill me in and keep me in the loop. Even music I don’t prefer can have a positive impact on my writing and arranging.

If I only expose myself to my musical preferences, I will stagnate as a writer and all my ideas will inevitably begin to sound the same. Listening to things outside your comfort zone is like trying to increase your vocabulary. You have to actually find new words before you can begin to use them in normal, everyday conversation. The same is true with our “musical vocabulary”.

2. What are two things the average worship leader could do to grow in musical creativity?
Listen to things you don’t gravitate towards naturally – particularly music that doesn’t have an immediate payoff and may require several listens. This is one of the beauties of classical music. It’s layered, nuanced, and requires an investment of time and thought to fully be appreciated. I’ll often make CDs of classical music for my rhythm players – particularly baroque music if they’re a drummer or bass player. Rock­-and-­roll didn’t appear in the 20th century, it existed long ago in the music of rockers like Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel! There’s a drive, pulse, and “pocket” in their church music that long pre­dates Chris Tomlin.

The other thing I’ll often recommend to worship leaders who want to grow creatively is that they simply watch themselves leading worship for several weeks (or even months) in a row. The recording doesn’t have to be professional or fancy, an iPhone will do. But look for patterns, monotony, thoughtless patterns that creep up in playing, speaking, or praying. We don’t just want to eliminate mistakes in our leading, but we want to eliminate those quirky things we all do that aren’t obvious to us (but often are to others). Sometimes the best way to give a freshness to our worship leading isn’t by adding more elements, but by removing unnecessary phrases, licks, whatever. Space can be a beautiful thing!

3. How should worship leaders handle criticism when they’re pushing the musical envelope in their congregation?
Arguing my case and musical convictions has yet to produce one convert to my perspective! You can’t strong­arm or manipulate people into realizing the “superiority” of your opinions. You earn trust over time, which then allows you to speak into the “music transition” issue with credibility. You need to first build relationships with team members and those on your committee/elder board. Take people out to lunch – start with the most difficult cases. Leadership isn’t as simple as telling disgruntled individuals to “take two Bible verses and call me in the morning”. Change takes time, time, and more time. We should all understand this because of the slow process of growth we see in our own lives. You need to pray – not just that the Lord changes others’ hearts, but that He melts yours with love for the folks you’re supposed to be leading.

Don’t talk about music, talk about Christ! Reinforce this statement at every meeting, rehearsal, and service: “Content is King”. Few people will oppose that statement. Rally your music ministry and your church around the truth that what we sing is far, far more important than the form of our singing.

Be deferential and loving to naysayers by being willing to do things and choose songs/hymns that are meaningful to their particular spiritual­heritage and tradition. After­all, contextualization doesn’t only mean adopting practices that are perceived to be “hip and cool”. We also need to contextualize for those who are more traditionally and conservatively oriented than we are.

4. What’s some of the best musical/worship leading advice you’ve ever received?
I asked my dad, who was a minister of music for 30 years, this question on the phone in the last meaningful conversation we had before he passed away. He paraphrased Robert Murray M’Cheyne and said, “Pursue holiness. All else you do will be null and void without spiritual integrity.” There’s a lot of truth in that. We can debate techniques, philosophies, musical styles, sound amplification, drums as the day is long. However, all those issues are secondary to the importance of pursuing godliness.

Now, I know it’s Christ who qualifies us salvifically before the Father. And I know it’s Christ that mediates for His children as they sing, not our integrity and practical righteousness. But, let’s not pretend that our personal pursuit of the spiritual disciplines has no affect on our hearts and dispositions – your spouse will be the first one to agree with that statement! How much more will you benefit, protect, lead, and serve your congregation by pursuing Christ through His Word and prayer and by actually saying “no” to sin and “yes” to what pleases Him?

On another note, my dad used to say the phrase “loud and proud” to describe how a worship leader should speak when giving short exhortations or reading Scripture, etc. We all need to slow down and ruminate on what we’re actually saying. Don’t be hasty or apologetic. Be predictable, coherent, and purposeful in everything you say and sing.

And one final nugget of advice from Chuck Spacht, let’s occasionally pretend like we enjoy what we’re doing and smile at our people (note sarcasm)! It might feel a little awkward and doesn’t do much to feed our “rock star” personas. But, it goes a long way to demonstrate that we’re happy to be there and we’re not the “worship artist” that’s putting on a show and can’t show weakness. A smile says “I’m one of you. I’m a worshipper, too. Let’s rejoice together!

Thanks, Joshua, for these fantastic words of advice, encouragement, and wisdom!

From The Drummer

1My older brother Matt is a great guy and one of my best friends. He’s also an incredibly talented drummer, and phenomenally gifted at playing drums in a worship context. I asked him a few questions about his experience and advice as a worship drummer to worship drummers, and here are his answers.

1. What is the job of a worship drummer?
This didn’t really hit me until about 5 years ago.  I knew the importance of drums as well as their overall role in music, especially the more rock/contemporary style in my church.

It wasn’t until one particular Sunday during the first song that morning.  I forget what song it was but it was very upbeat but, just as we rehearsed, I was waiting until the first chorus to come in.  I looked around the room and noticed some people engaging in worship while looking over in my general direction pumping their fist to the beat.  It was as if they were saying “Come on! Let’s go!”  As I began to play it felt as if there was already this energy or emotion in the room and that the drums really help capture that.

Now, I try to be sensitive to the message of the song, what style the worship leader wants, and where the spirit may lead us during that song.  Some parts may have heavy tom pounding.  Sometimes, just some light cymbal splashing.  Even other times, it may mean not even playing at all.  Yes, there are actually parts of songs where by back off completely the drums are adding the most to the feel of that song!

Recently, someone who has been a member of my church for years complimented me by saying “you play so tastefully“.  Usually, I try not to dwell on compliments (or complaints for that matter), but that stuck out to me.  It wasn’t speaking to my skill or even style, but rather that I had an awareness of where things were going musically and helped facilitate that.

2. What are some big mistakes worship drummers make?
A mistake I made for over 10 years was simple.  Showing off or overplaying.

For many years growing up, I would be in small bands that had no bass player.  I played at some large event with a full band and really went at it.  I was quite impressed with myself afterwards seeing as how my sextuplet runs were performed with precision and I was even able to sneak in a couple Carter Beauford style fills.

When I was asked back to that event a few weeks later, the worship leader informed me that the bass guitar player really didn’t like to play with me. “Me?  How’s that possible?”  I wondered “I really rocked out! Didn’t you notice?”  What I didn’t realize back then was that the drums and bass guitar help set the rhythm or “groove” for a song.  In order for that to happen, the bass guitar player should be generally playing when the drummer is hitting the kick drum.  Well, that was impossible for this bass player as I was all over the place!

It took me years to refine how I play with bands.  In marching band, our drum captain taught us that simple and clean is better than complex and messy.  Musically most worship songs are not that complex.  It’s great that I can play along to funk, gospel, reggae, etc. when I practice but I don’t need to cram all that in to a Chris Tomlin song.

Drums by nature stand out.  Put them on a stage and people are going to see them and that’s fine.  I’m not suggesting that drummers play backstage (though I had to do that once when there wasn’t enough room on stage.  It was awkward) or that they should avoid all fills whatsoever. But be sensitive that your playing doesn’t scream “Hey everyone look at me!  Look at how good I am!” Have fun and be creative but, as I mentioned earlier, be sure to remain “tasteful”.

3. What is going through your mind when you’re playing drums during a service?
I try and be mindful of the message in the songs we are leading.  Some drummers can sing and play.  I can’t.  (I can’t even really sing for that matter so I’m better off behind the drums).  I’ve come to see my drumming as my body singing.  I’m worshiping God through my playing.  This helps me stay in tune with the worship leader.

It also helps to be positioned in a way where the leader and I have a clear line of site with each other.  An experienced leader will be able to give quick cues to the band.  The more comfortable I am following a leader musically, the more freed up I am to worship as I play.

4. If you could give three pieces of advice to worship drummers, what would you say?
Your gifts don’t define you.  They are just that, gifts.  You’re no more special when you play a great set than you are a failure because you made a lot of mistakes.  Anyone in ministry who is visible is subject to the temptation of being prideful or needing to be validated by what we do on stage.  God could care less about how well I played if I’m not living a life that’s pleasing to him.

Play humbly but with confidence.  Just as it’s important not to overplay, it’s equally important to not play hesitantly or weak.  Think of drums as a foundation to a house.  The rest of the band, even the singers, depend on that foundation to be solid.  That means keeping a steady beat, building up or down as needed and just overall saying “I know where this is going.  Follow me.”  Come to practice and service comfortable with music.  Meet with the leader to make sure you’re on the same page about feels and cues.  If you have the capability to have in ear monitors, I highly recommend playing with a click track.  It will take some getting used to but will help you immensely in staying on beat and keeping the tempo.

Stay fresh.  Drumming for me is fun and therapeutic.  However, during different seasons I’ve been the primary drummer at my church.  I’ve had to ask for a month off here and there to recharge my batteries.  Every time, I come back feeling and even playing better.  If you’re feeling burnt out and that your heart really isn’t into it, ask the leader to let you take a step back for a while so God can refresh you.

Thanks to Matt Brown for these good words of insight and advice! If you have any questions for Matt, or thoughts of your own, please chime in (pun intended) in the comments below.

From A Worship Leader’s Wife

1I’m currently on vacation with my wife (Catherine) and our three little girls, and in the middle of a wonderful interim time between ministry positions (with my next one starting in August). After blogging here for five years, I thought you might like to hear from someone else, so I asked Catherine a few questions. I come off looking awfully good, but I promise I let her answer these however she wanted!

I hope it’s helpful to hear from someone who’s been on the other side of a worship leader’s ministry, in the hopes that this encourages other spouses out there, and worship leaders too.

1. What has it been like being married to someone in worship ministry?
For the most part, its been great.  I grew up in a ministry family so the challenges aren’t new to me and I hoped I could marry someone in the ministry even before I met Jamie.  But I will say that it hasn’t been like it expected it to be. I hoped that I would be able to be in ministry with my husband, volunteer at church etc. In reality, I am able to do LESS on a Sunday morning than some of my non-church-staff peers. They can trade off taking care of kids with their husbands. Sunday morning is the one time when my husband can’t do anything to help out with the kids. Its worth it to me and it is only a season, but its not what I expected. One of the major perks is that I always get to be a part of a church where I know the music will be great (or getting better!) and the worship ministry will be focused on God, not the worship leader.

2. What’s been hard about it?
There are always the challenging times when Jamie has to work a lot. When a CD is being produced or a retreat is being planned, there are definitely days/weeks when he works almost every waking hour…and doesn’t have enough sleeping hours! That obviously brings challenges because I miss him, his company, and his help with the kids and around the house. But that doesn’t happen often, especially when compared with the travel schedules and work hours of others I see in the DC area. I’m thankful that Jamie actively works to avoid travel without us and to keep his work hours manageable. Even when he has to work almost every available minute, I can count on him being around from dinner time to bed time. He very rarely misses singing his little girls to sleep.

The most difficult thing for me has been when people in the congregation or leadership of the church have been unreasonably critical towards Jamie. Its one thing for someone to give constructive criticism that can sting for a time but be effective in the end. But just because its the church doesn’t mean that all the feedback is well-meaning and constructive. Jamie has had his share of cruelty from others in the church. The most difficult thing for me is to hear about the cruelty and then to see those who have so harshly hurt my husband when I go to church. There have been several Sundays when I’ve had to bite my tongue or hide away in Jamie’s office to avoid saying some equally mean things back. I think this is harder for me because I want to be in right relationship with everyone, but in this kind of situation it is just not appropriate for me to approach someone who has hurt my husband and try to work it out with them. In the end I’ve had to remember that, just like us, everyone in the church comes with baggage and weaknesses and sin. Jamie and I hurt people in our sin and brokenness. And we will be hurt by others. If I can remember that, it helps me to forgive.

3. What are some practical/spiritual ways you’ve found effective to support me?
I try to know the people Jamie works with. That has become less possible now that I have kids and am less able to be at everything the worship team does, but I still do what I can to be around. The girls and I make banana bread or cookies and “surprise” Jamie (after texting to find out if its a good time) at work with them. Then we walk around the offices and offer them to the church staff. I sometimes bring the girls to rehearsal and let them dance up and down the aisles of the auditorium.

I also try to be aware of what is going on in Jamie’s work life and respond accordingly. I’m (slowly) learning that, during and after a stressful situation, he needs space to process. When he goes out on to the porch after the girls are in bed, I don’t assume that he wants me to follow him… and I try not to get hurt when he wants to be alone. (Normally after the girls are in bed we would spend that time together.) Basically I try to be aware of how he responds to stress and make room for that when necessary.

I really love what Jamie does. I think he’s good at it. I love that he’s not self-promoting. I’m proud of his wisdom and skill and talent. And I try to tell him that and encourage him in it.

In that same vein, I try to notice at least one positive thing about the music every Sunday. Its not always easy because, honestly, its usually all great so the bad things are the things that stand out. And I have 3 kids under 5 with me, so noticing anything can be challenging. :) After the service I try to avoid criticism and focus on the good. Anything that needs to be corrected either isn’t important or can be talked about on Monday.

4. How can worship leaders support their spouses at home?
One of my favorite things that Jamie does is not exclusive to worship leaders. Throughout the day he texts me 2-3 times to say, “What’s up?” or “How are things?” That’s my opportunity to write back about how the baby has a runny nose and both big girls have been arguing all day. He normally writes back with something like, “I’m sorry”, but he also sometimes has ideas or just encouragements like, “why don’t you turn on some music and dance with them to change the atmosphere?” or “I’ll be home in 2 hours to help”. He also texts me about any major things that happen while he’s at work. That way, when he gets home, we both have a general idea of how each others’ days have gone.

Second, take advantage of any freedom you have with your job. Jamie works many, many hours a week, but a lot of what he does can be done at home (especially if the kids are asleep!) If I’ve had a rough night being up several times with the baby, Jamie will feed the kids breakfast while I sleep a little longer. Sometimes that means that he gets into the office a bit later, but he can make up those hours in the evening. When our first two were very young (19 months and 1 month) and I hadn’t slept through the night even once since the first was born, Jamie would come home at the drop of a hat because I was overwhelmed. He always got his work done, but was able to help me out if needed. There are enough evenings where you have to be gone, nights spent trying to perfect a song list, and Sunday mornings that your spouse spends alone. When you do have flexibility, take advantage of it.

Third, take your vacation time! You and your spouse, your kids, and your church will benefit from it. You will find out that the world doesn’t end even if the music is absolutely terrible for a couple weeks a year. (And it probably won’t be that bad.) Your church will realize that you are human and need time off. And your spouse will enjoy being together for an entire Sunday morning!

5. Anything else you want to say?
I can’t think of anything, and I’m not really an expert in all of this, but I’m open to questions.

Lessons From the Last Decade: Criticism, Controversy, and Conflict

1It’s been a wonderful ten years in ministry at my church. And it’s also been very hard.

Some of the hardest moments have come when I’ve been the recipient of criticism, the cause of controversy, and involved in conflict. Sometimes the criticism was justified, and I needed to hear it, but other times it was just someone being mean and hurtful. And sometimes the controversy was because I had unknowingly ruffled some feathers, while other times it was because I stumbled into some spiritual strongholds. And sometimes the conflict was over insignificant things like whether or not we should have drums play during communion, and sometimes it was over major things like whether drums are Satanic in origin or not (they’re not).

For many years I struggled with responding to challenges with defensiveness, all the while getting my feelings hurt, my ego bruised, and my identity in limbo. I’d write multi-page emails responding to a woman’s harmless complaint about volume, or I’d be a bit of a jerk in a meeting with someone who thought the 4/4 rock beat was going to cause people to lose their salvation, or I’d get depressed, lose sleep, and get overwhelmed.

Ministry can be very tough and lonely at times. Especially when you have detractors. What do you do?

Cling to the good news of Jesus Christ
You. Are. Hidden. In. Christ. That’s very good news. And you can’t let yourself forget it when you’re someone’s target. You are safe, you are loved, you are accepted, and you are covered by Jesus’ blood. It’s amazing how freeing this is, and how bad things can get for you when you forget it.

Rest assured: most of the time it’s not about you
When you have the unfortunate experience (and you will) of being the target of someone’s displeasure, remember that it’s most likely not about you. Maybe it is. But most of the time it’s not. Address their concerns, listen to them, and respond with grace. Apologize if you need to and then move on. Don’t let someone fixate on you. If they’re mad, it’s probably because they’re sad.

Practical tip #1: stay away from email
Email is good for everyday stuff. It’s bad for weighty stuff. An in-person conversation is ALWAYS better. Always. One of the biggest mistakes (or, sequence of mistakes) in my last ten years was keeping a multi-week dialogue over email running with someone who was very upset with me. It was terrible. I should never have allowed it to go on like that.

Practical tip #2: have hard conversations in neutral territory
Another one of the biggest mistakes I made was insisting that someone come to my office for a difficult conversation. Understandably, they flat-out refused. Never insist on dealing with difficult issues in your office. It immediately places you in the “winning” position. Find a public place, like a Panera with semi-private-yet-public booths. The dynamic is instantly more favorable for a good conversation, not a confrontation. If a conflict has reached a point where it needs to be in an office, have it in one of your pastor’s offices with him present.

Be quick to make it right
Just get it over with and reach out to someone with a personal card, or a phone call, or a coffee, and put the difficult issue to rest. The longer it drags on, the more the molehill becomes a mountain.

Be steadfast
Too many people in ministry are incredibly afraid of the slightest whiff of criticism, controversy, or conflict, that they’ll do anything to avoid it, including changing their mind, accommodating the critics, weakening their convictions, and literally trying to keep everybody happy. This is one definition of insanity. Sometimes you just need to stick to your guns.

Never forget: you have been called by God
God is faithful. He will defend you. He will accomplish his purposes in and through you. No elder board, no angry member, no petition, no nasty email, and no “I’m going to leave the church unless…” should frighten you. You can sleep well and let him deal with your problems for you. You’ll be much happier in ministry and you’ll last a lot longer too.

Lessons From the Last Decade: Leading A Worship Team Well

1When I came to The Falls Church Anglican ten years ago, I inherited a worship team of about 20-30 members, made up of men and women of different ages, backgrounds, musical experiences, etc. Over the last decade there’s been almost complete (and constant) turnover in the team (Washington D.C. is a very transient area), though there are a few that have been with me the whole time, and I have really enjoyed this part of my “job”.

But I’ve not always done a great job at leading a worship team. I’ve made some mistakes (!) and learned some lessons, and I offer these suggestions for those of you who have any role in the leading, caring, and feeding of a group of volunteers/musicians in your own church.

Recruit to a vision
Don’t just fill musical slots. Recruit people who want to be involved in serving the congregation in a pastoral role, using music as a tool to point the church to Christ.

Add slowly
It’s easier to add someone to a team than it is to ask someone to step down from a team. Resist the temptation to put someone up front before you’re sure (and they’re sure) they’re ready to be a committed member of the church.

Add carefully
Don’t just audition someone musically. Ask them to tell you their story. Ask them why they want to serve. Listen to their testimony. Tell them what you’re looking for. See what questions they ask you. Let them come to a few rehearsals. Let them play on a Sunday or two before they’re officially on the team. Look for the three Cs: character, competency, and chemistry.

Build community
Your team’s effectiveness in worship leading will increase exponentially if they love each other, have fun and laugh together, pray together, worship together, go out to eat with one another, have inside jokes with one another, and enjoy each other’s company.

Don’t lose momentum
It will take years to build the kind of community I describe above. But you can torpedo it in a matter of weeks or months if you don’t keep cultivating it, through intentional time together outside of Sunday mornings.

Be a clear leader
In your musical and pastoral roles, be as clear as you can be about what your goals are, and what your expectations are. People respond well to clear leadership. They shy away from timidity.

Be organized, dependable, and consistent
A disorganized leader breeds a messy team. An undependable leader breeds a flaky team. And an inconsistent leader breeds a dysfunctional team. You set the tone.

Always pray when you’re together
No meeting, rehearsal, or service should happen without you calling your team to a time of prayer. Never give people the impression that you think you don’t need God’s help.

Keep people laughing
People love to laugh. If your times together as a team are marked by laughter, then people will want to come back, even if it means getting up early, staying out late, or spending an entire morning at church. Laughter is a powerfully magnetic tool.

Laugh at yourself
Be the first person to poke fun at yourself. This will set a tone of humility and self-forgetfulness that will permeate the whole atmosphere of your team.

Don’t ask too much of people
The members of your team are real people with lives, families, jobs, other commitments, etc. If being a member of your team has a detrimental impact on their lives, you’re asking too much of them. When the problem is that you’re asking too much, you need to reevaluate your system. But if the problem is that someone is just too busy, then you need to be quick to release people before they get burned out.

Don’t ask too little of people either
Call people to a high standard of service, musicianship, involvement, preparation, ministry, and commitment. Then expect them to step up. It’s possible to do this in a way that’s not at odds with people’s family/personal lives and careers (and it looks different depending on where your church is). People want to be challenged, they want to grow, and they want you to help them.