How to Lead an Effective Rehearsal in a Really Short Amount of Time

1So let’s talk about rehearsing your worship team for a few minutes:

Rehearsing is like wasabi: Just the right amount of it does the trick. Too much of it makes you want to scream. Not enough of it and everything tastes too raw.

I’ve written a few posts on this topic before (here, herehere, herehere, and here) but today I wanted to approach it from a different angle: How you can lead an effective rehearsal in a really short amount of time. I’m talking anywhere from five minutes to 30 minutes. Anything longer than that is not really “short”, but that’s another topic for another day.

You can lead effective rehearsals in a really short amount of time. How?

First step, have the sound system, monitors, music stands, music, mics, cables, etc., ready before rehearsal starts. Sound engineer at the desk at start-time.

Second step, ask the sound engineer: what do you need from us? Let him tell you what he needs to hear in order to set gain levels, monitor levels, etc., until he’s happy and gives you a thumbs-up.

Third step, break the songs down into categories: 1. We know that. 2. We don’t know that. 3. We still need to work on that. 4. Transitions.

Fourth step: Start from the beginning.

Go through the songs in order. When you come to a song that everyone knows, skip it. If everyone except one person knows it, consider running through that song with that one person after rehearsal is over.

When you come to a song that’s new, talk the team through it. With whatever time you have, run through the main sections of it. If there are multiple verses and/or choruses that are arranged similarly, you don’t need to run those. Hit the parts that are different from the other parts.

If you come to a song that’s familiar, but has a tricky part, or something out of the ordinary, point that part out. Rehearse it if you have time. Or just say “does that make sense?” until everyone nods their heads at you. Move on.

Finally, make sure you talk through transitions. How you will get from one song to the next smoothly.

Keep things moving. Keep control. Don’t get bogged down in side-conversations. Make a joke every few minutes. Don’t let one person who didn’t rehearse drag everyone else down. And don’t forget to pray.

When it’s all over, gather your team together and pray. Pray that God will lead you, help you, fill you, lift your eyes to see Him, and give you a heart of love for the congregation. Then you’re ready to go!

Usually, just a little bit of rehearsing can go a long way. Just like wasabi. You don’t need to overdo it!

Jordan Ware Sings “He Giveth More Grace”

A few months ago, at my father’s funeral, my good friend Jordan Ware sang my arrangement of the old hymn “He Giveth More Grace”.

Here’s the recording.

You can download a free lead sheet here. Thanks to my friend Zach Sprowls for creating this lead sheet. (He also played guitar on this recording.)

You can download the 4-part harmony here, and/or string quartet arrangement here. Thanks to my friend Joshua Spacht for creating these arrangements. (He also played piano on this recording.)

Some more of my friends (wow, I’m blessed with a lot of good friends, and they blessed my family greatly at my dad’s service), Andréa Picard Boekcer and Marlisa Del Cid Woods, played violin 1 and 2.

These words have been ministering to me a lot throughout the last few months, and hopefully they’ll bless you too.

Lyrics:

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater

He sendeth more strength as our labors increase
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy
To multiplied trials He multiplies His peace

When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision
Our God ever yearns His resources to share
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure
His power no boundary known unto men
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again

Words: Annie Johnson Flint. Music: Jamie Brown.
© 2013 Worthily Magnify Music. All rights reserved. CCLI Song # 7055874.

Leading and Evaluating a Multi-Facted Worship and Arts Ministry

1When I arrived at Truro Anglican Church two years ago, my hope was to “hit the ground jogging”. Silly me. By the end of my very first day at work, I was simply overwhelmed by all of the moving pieces, different volunteer groups, needs, demands on my time, and weekly/monthly/yearly deadlines and expectations.

My question then, and my question now, even two-years in to the job, is: how can I move beyond just simply maintaining a ministry, but actually leading it and helping it grow, in multiple areas, with different needs, all at the same time?

The answer is a combination of many things: lots of prayer, listening, delegating, meetings, planning, administration, meetings, constant volunteer recruitment, thank-you notes, apologies, meetings, building a good team, laughter, clear communication, meetings, and a realistic recognition that you just can’t do everything and you just can’t please everyone.

I thought it would be helpful to share a bit of the scope of the Worship and Arts ministry that I help lead: 

  1. Weekly services
  • 7:30am
  • 8:30am (or 9:00am in the summer)
  • 11:15am
  • 5:00pm
  1. Church-year services
  • Carols by Glowstick
  • Lessons and Carols
  • Christmas Eve (two family services and two big evening services)
  • Christmas Day
  • Epiphany (featuring a family-oriented (no pun intended) three wise men pageant)
  • Ash Wednesday (family service and evening service)
  • Palm Sunday
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday (noon, family, evening, extended worship)
  • Easter Saturday (occasionally)
  • Easter Sunday
  1. Other congregational events with a large Worship and Arts component
  • Retreats (men’s, Alpha, parish, choir)
  • Annual congregational meeting
  • St. Paul’s Theological Center (runs two-three times per year, six Saturdays in a row, each requiring worship leaders and AV support)
  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Alpha
  • Monthly staff communion
  • Weekly staff meetings
  • Genesis Arts Camp
  • Miscellaneous
  1. Groups under the oversight of the Worship and Arts AOM that serve these services and/or congregational gatherings
  • Worship leaders
  • Adult choir
  • Children and youth choirs
  • Children and youth hand bells
  • Dance ministry
  • Instrumentalists and vocalists
  • Sound engineers
  • Projectionists
  • Altar guild (the people who set up for communion at our four weekly services, and special services throughout the year)
  • Flower guild
  • Lay Eucharistic Ministers, or LEMs (these are the people who help serve communion at all of our services)
  • Acolytes
  • Lectors (readers)
  • Ushers
  • Wedding coordinators
  • Sermon audio editing/transcription

As you can see, there’s quite a lot going on. Truro’s services are at once Anglican, contemporary, traditional, liturgical, spontaneous, and everything in between. It’s fun, but also requires a large infrastructure to support. And thankfully, in addition to a great staff team, there is an army of volunteers who serve faithfully each weekend to keep the ship afloat.

So how do I evaluate all of these moving pieces without losing my mind? Here are some “metrics”, for lack of a better word.

Evaluating weekly and/or occasional services

  • Level of engagement during the congregational singing. Are the people singing?
  • Attendance numbers and/or trends
  • Punctuality (starting on time, not running over, managing time well)
  • Presence, or lack, of technical, audio, musical, and liturgical mistakes
  • Managing costs of printed materials. (We just completed a significant overhaul of our Sunday worship guides, and greatly the reduced the cost/waste of paper every weekend.)
  • Protecting parishioners’ hearing (We are days away from installing a drum isolation booth, so we can get the drum level under control, and help us to have band/choir/organ/congregation coexist)
  • Ability to stay rooted in scripture and tradition, and do “traditional” well
  • Ability to change and adapt, and do “contemporary” well
  • A pursuit of a well-balanced, scriptural, Christ-centered, generations-spanning repertoire
  • Meaningful up-front participation of children and youth

Evaluating our various volunteer groups

  • Numbers of volunteers
  • Age spread of volunteers
  • Attrition rate
  • Effectiveness of our training
  • Recruiting enough new LEMs, ushers, readers, musicians, etc. each year to GROW the ministries (pursue ministry growth, not simply stabilization)
  • Successfully maintaining and pastoring our choir core, while growing fairly quickly. This a huge priority
  • Maintaining excellence in the acolyte ministry, and ensuring the smoothness of its leadership transitions from year to year
  • Quickness and pastoral nature of our outreach to grieving families to plan funerals
  • Organization (and streamlining) of our wedding planning process
  • Ability to integrate those with young children at home

I never get to all of these things every week. Sometimes I go weeks, or months, without giving much attention to some of these questions, or groups. I can do that because I trust the volunteer leaders, coordinators, and the rest of the Worship and Arts staff to do their jobs and let me know when there’s a problem. I don’t need to micromanage anyone, and even if I wanted to, I don’t have the time. I have to learn to let a lot of things go, and trust God, using the gifts of other people who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to different aspects of the worship and arts life at Truro.

My main focus from week to week is planning worship services that are Gospel-centered, congregationally accessible, well-led and executed, and faithful to Scripture and our Anglican tradition. Beyond that, I do a lot of planning, administration, thinking down the road a few weeks and months at a time, and making sure the different pieces are moving in the right direction. Things fall through the cracks, emergencies come up, and I realize I’ve let a ball drop from time to time. But I extend grace to myself, and to my team, and that grace is reciprocated, and we keep plugging along.

And in the midst of all of the busyness and programming and planning and administration, I remember that I am simply a temporary steward of this ministry. Some day, I will hand it off to someone else. And they will lead the ministry their own way, before they hand it off to someone else. That’s all we are. We’re stewards. May God help us steward our ministries well, not simply as “maintainers” but as “leaders” and as faithful shepherds and servants of His flock.

The Golden Calf of the Golden Years

1“Those were the golden years.”

We’ve all used that phrase, and we’ve all heard that phrase. It hearkens back to a bygone era of success, vibrancy, and comfort. An era which has now passed, and an era which beckons us to experience again its glory. And so the phrase “those were the golden years” escapes our lips as a lament. We lament what has been lost, as if we’ll never again attain that level of blessing or joy.

People in the pews remember the golden years. They were when so-and-so was doing such-and-such, and when this-and-that was happening, until this-and-that happened, and we stopped doing such-and-such, and then we lost so-and-so.

People in church leadership remember the golden years too. They were when the budget was bigger, attendance was higher, the buzz was buzzier, and the grass was greener, until summer turned to winter, the cold winds blew in, and everything dried up.

Oh for the golden years. If only we could have those years back again. If only we could recapture that magic. If only we could just do what we did then. If only we could take matters into our own hands. If only, if only, if only.

The people of Israel fell into this trap in Exodus 32. From a toxic combination of forgetfulness, impatience, sinfulness, fear, and disobedience, came their decision to take matters into their own hands, and to make for themselves their own god: a golden calf. Astoundingly, the people then attributed their deliverance to the idol they had made with their own hands. Big mistake. Because, in fact, their God was at work in ways they couldn’t see, leading them forward through the desert to a new land.

It’s tempting to look back on the golden years when you’re wandering through the desert. Even if those golden years were actually not as rosy as you’re remembering.

How often do we do the same thing? We know we’re wandering, we know we’re not where we used to be, and we’re scared. But we know that we used to do was working, and we know how to do that, so let’s get busy building what we know, and then stand back and watch our deliverance. Big mistake. Because, in fact, our God is at work in ways we can’t see, leading us forward through the desert to a new day.

The person who rolls his or her eyes at the faithful trusting in a God who leads his people forward into new lands is a person who has made a golden calf out of the golden years. But the person who waits, expectedly and faithfully and longingly, for God’s sovereign provision and perfect timing, has placed his trust in the right place.

So look back on the “golden years” and remember. Remember God’s faithfulness and goodness.

But don’t idolize those golden years, and attempt to take matters into your own hands, and recreate those years. Instead, trust in the same God who was faithful and good then, trusting that he is faithful and good now, and follow him wherever he leads.

Spirit-Leaning Worship Leading

1Early on in my experience as a worship leader, I heard someone paraphrase Jack Hayford who said something along the lines of: “My greatest fear as a pastor/worship leader is that our church services could become such a well-oiled machine that the Holy Spirit could leave altogether and we wouldn’t notice for six months“.

It’s a bit dramatic and intentionally hyperbolic, but he gets his point across. And the possibility of that scenario playing itself out is something that rattles me to this day.

Could I let something like that happen? Could I (and my worship team, or choir), and could my church, become so good at “doing church” or making good music, or sticking to our liturgy, to the point that we’re no longer asking for, expecting, and depending on the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in our midst? Yes, I could.

When my worship leading becomes dominant over my Spirit-leaning, I get into dangerous territory. And you do too.

Here’s what happens when our worship leading becomes dominant in our eyes: We allow the excellence (or lack) of our musical/liturgical/technological execution to determine for us whether or not the Holy Spirit was at work. As a result (in our judgement), a tight band, a beautiful Cranmerian prayer, and flawless sound engineering all equal a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, and we head off to Sunday lunch very pleased.

Conversely, a lousy band, a pitchy choir, a dead liturgy, and constant squealing feedback all equal (again, in our judgement) the complete absence of the Holy Spirit, and we head off to Sunday lunch feeling worthless.

But what if it’s more complicated than this?

What if our criteria for determining whether or not the Holy Spirit was actively present in our services is not so black and white? What if we’ve allowed our worship leading gifts to become dominant over our calling to be Spirit-leaning?

Is it possible that we could experience a flawless service on every level: from the parking lot attendants, to the greeters, to the nursery and children’s church workers, to the technical team, musicians, preacher, and fantastic church coffee (is that possible?), but we’ve not actually asked for, or left room for, or relied upon the Holy Spirit to undergird and work through all of it, for the sake of the exaltation of Jesus Christ and the efficacious preaching and hearing of the Word of God?

And is it possible that we could experience a messy/unpolished service on every level, to the point that we feel like there is NO POSSIBLE WAY the Holy Spirit was even in a five-mile radius of our church, but he was actually very much at work in powerful ways?

I know I’ve experienced this kind of upside-down reality in my experience as a worship leader. You probably have too.

There have been times I’ve planned and executed a service with so much planning, rehearsing, technical excellence, musical flare, and seamless transitions, that the Lord would have been crazy not to let the train of his robe fill our temple. But the service ends and I don’t get a single comment, not one email, not one “great job” in the parking lot, and no one had any visions of angels dancing up and down the aisles.

On the other hand, there have been countless times where I’ve felt unprepared and disjointed, I’ve noticed a bunch of mistakes in the slides, we have multiple musical issues, the reader messes up and reads the wrong Scripture passage, the drummer forgets how to play drums, and the congregation looks like a room full of mannequins. But the service ends and I hear from person after person who were deeply ministered to, who were clearly and unmistakably pointed to Jesus, and who had a profound sense of the nearness of the Holy Spirit.

I think back to Jack Hayford’s concern: that our services could be so well-oiled that the Holy Spirit could leave altogether and we wouldn’t notice for six months.

But there’s another side to that concern: that our services could be so ordinary, and so unpolished, that we would become blind to the very real and sweet presence of the Humble King himself, by his Holy Spirit, walking up and down the aisles, with his face beaming, while the worship leader is too distracted by his broken string to notice.

Am I saying that the Holy Spirit isn’t always present with us? No. Of course he is.

Am I saying that the Holy Spirit isn’t present in well-oiled services? No. Of course he is.

Am I saying that the Holy Spirit is only present in the services that we think are lousy, so we shouldn’t strive for excellence, or to remove distractions? No. Of course we should use our gifts and skills as well as we can.

Here’s what I am saying to worship leaders: to stay needy. Stay dependent. Stay expectant. And stay faith-filled. Our Spirit-leaning must be dominant over our worship leading. Never the other way around.

Stay needy for a God who will empower you with his Holy Spirit for the work of ministry. Stay dependent on that Spirit to keep you fixated on Christ. Stay expectant that the Spirit will do what he alone can do, and don’t try to do his work for him by over-programming or over-thinking or over-filling every possible detail that you can.

And finally, be full of faith in a God who can work through you, or around you, or in spite of you. This way, you can head off to Sunday lunch with full assurance that regardless of whether the service was amazing or average, you were faithful, and the Holy Spirit was at work. Our trust and identity is in his unchanging grace, not in our weekly (or daily) performance. This is good news.

So You Want To Write A Worship Song

1Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a seminar at the National Worship Leader Conference held in Centerville, VA. The title given to my seminar was “You CAN Write a Worship Song”. Obviously, with my reputation as the writer of such well-known songs as “Be Thou My Vision”, “It is Well with My Soul”, and “How Great Thou Art”, I was the perfect person for this seminar.

Yeah, right.

I had to laugh when I got the email asking me to teach this seminar. It came on the very day I had been working on a song I was trying to write, and literally saying to myself (and my wife) “I can’t write a worship song”. God has a sense of humor.

I’ve written a few songs that have seemed to work well in a congregational setting. I’ve written far more songs that have never seen the light of day. So I share the following song writing advice as encouragement first and foremost to MYSELF, and then hopefully it can be helpful to you too.

The most important thing in a discussion about writing songs for worship is to agree on the fundamentals of worship leading. Why? Because songs are the tip of the worship spear. I suggest that the fundamentals of worship leading can be summed up with the “three Cs”: Christ centered, congregationally accessible, and consistent.

If our heart is for Christ to be exalted, for people to be singing along and magnifying the Lord together, and for our congregations to experience this kind of focus on a consistent basis (even from song to song, much less Sunday to Sunday), then that will impact not only our worship leading, but also our song writing. If the soil of our hearts is conditioned rightly, then the songs that sprout up will be fruitful.

The second most important thing in a discussion about writing songs for worship is to distinguish between the KIND of song we’re writing. I suggest there are three types: personal, presentational, and congregational. The first two types are not meant for the congregation to sing along. In the “personal” category, you can write whatever you want. It’s for your own personal devotional life. In the “presentational” category, you are writing songs to be sung FOR your people, almost like a message is preached over them. There’s nothing wrong with personal or presentational songs. But we go off track as worship leaders when we expect our congregations to sing along with them.

Writing congregational worship songs is tricky. It’s not as easy as it looks, there are a lot of competing pressures and temptations pulling on us, we struggle with cliches and overused chord progressions, and we always have the nagging desire for our desire to get picked up by Chris Tomlin. So how do we proceed with writing congregational worship songs?

Ten quick tips:

  1. Write for your people
  • Picture them in your mind.
  • Don’t write for an arena if you’re not in an arena, or for a big band if you don’t use a big band. Write for your people who stand in front of you
  1. Write for a specific purpose/season
  • Ask “What is our congregation’s SONG during this season?”. Or “where am I unable to find an existing song to serve this particular purpose?”.
  • The Psalms are always tied to an event… Are your songs?
  1. Write a lot
  • I once heard Keith and Kristyn say that they may write hundreds of songs per year. They might only harvest 5-10 usable ones out of that lot. And this is the Gettys we’re talking about! If we only try to write a song once every few months, it’s no wonder that perfect songs aren’t just flowing from our fingertips.
  • Exercise your muscles or they atrophy! Write more than you’re writing now and you’ll improve as a writer.
  1. Write with focus
  • What is this song about? It should be about one thing. Can the title of your song fit into any verse or bridge?
  • Stay focused.
  1. Write enjoyable melodies
  • Lyrics matter most. But melodies make those lyrics memorable! Oh the power of an enjoyable, memorable, melody. Can people remember the melody, or the main melodic hook, of your song after hearing it once, or at most, twice? If not, you have work to do.
  1. Regurgitate biblical truth
  • Scripture is the sword of the Spirit!
  • What are you listening to? What are you reading?
  • Experiencing writer’s block? The problem (I guarantee it) is a problem FIRST of diet.
  1. Remove filler
  • “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus”
  • Get to the point.
  • I like to ask myself a strange question when I write: “What would I want to sing if I stood up in the middle of international arrivals at Dulles Airport?” I would need to say what I wanted to say pretty clearly. I would want to get the meat of who God is pretty quickly.
  1. Request and receive feedback
  • Record it. Send it out. Get feedback. Make changes.
  • Every good song writer in the world does this.
  • Bob Kauflin did this with me (and the filler point too) with my song “Come You Sinners”. My first draft had a chorus full of “oh oh ohs” and cliches. He said I could do better. He was write. I went back to the drawing board, which is when the Augustine quote came to mind, and a more interesting melody came out of nowhere. I’m glad he gave me his honest critique.
  1. Resist the urge to pursue fame
  • The odds of getting attacked by an elephant hiding in the trunk of your car are probably greater than you making it big with your worship song.
  • Wanting your worship songs to get famous will seriously impede your ability to write for YOUR PEOPLE.
  • We need more faithful, pastoral worship leaders, who SHUN the spotlight. The worship world has enough celebrities. Serve your people, and write for them.
  1. Repeat as needed
  • Don’t get discouraged
  • Even if no one else ever hears or sings your song, you should still write
  • Why? Because you’ve been raised from death to life.

Lessons From My Lamenting

1Three weeks ago my father passed away unexpectedly at the age of 62. Writing (and reading) that sentence still doesn’t seem real.

I don’t know where I am in the whole stages of grief thing. It depends on the day, on the time of day, and sometimes on the minute of the day. I have every bit of confidence that my father’s life now with Christ is “far better” than his life was here on earth (Philippians 1:23), but that doesn’t stop me from wishing he had remained “in the flesh” a little bit longer (Philippians 1:24). Yes, I am rejoicing. But I am lamenting.

And I can’t just turn that lamenting off when I lead worship these days. In my planning and in my leading, I am finding myself grappling with how this experiencing is shaping me.

I want to sing what’s true
Sentimentality is paper thin. Gospel truth is rock solid. I’m more mindful now than ever before of how much it matters that we sing is true. If it’s not true, then it’s simply a waste of time. I need the word of Christ to dwell richly in me these days, and I need to be taught and admonished in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16) lest I begin to grieve as if I have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The good news of Jesus Christ is worth singing about, even in a time of mourning and loss.

I want to sing what my father is singing
My father knew and loved Jesus. He is with Jesus now, and he is joining in with the “great multitude… from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!‘” (Revelation 7:9-10)

My father is worshipping Jesus now in heaven, and yet I can join in with him (and the saints and angels) from here on earth. My father is with Jesus, and yet I felt close to him as I led worship on Sunday, knowing that he and I were doing the same thing but in different locations. 

I don’t want my emotions manipulated when I sing
My emotions are raw right now. One moment I’m fine, and the next moment (hypothetically speaking, of course…) I’m in a puddle of tears at a Tex-Mex Restaurant with chips and salsa stuffed in my mouth while the waitress is bringing my food.  When I’m choosing or leading music these days, I’m freshly aware of just how unhelpful it is to go after a particular emotional response. I want to go after proclaiming and rejoicing in the Living One who died, who is alive forevermore, and who has the keys of Death and Hades in his hands (Revelation 1:18) and let the emotional response (if any) flow from that.

I need the hope of the resurrection, or else all of this singing is in vain
Paul says bluntly: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)

Thank God that my hope, and your hope, is grounded in a Risen Savior, who has raised us up with him (Ephesians 2:6). I can sing (and invite others to sing with me) from a place of lament, because the cause of my lament (i.e. death) has been defeated by Jesus Himself.