What’s New? – A Brief Roundup Of Some New Resources

For most worship leaders, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all of the new albums, EPs, books, resources, and articles that are out there. I try to stay current, but by the time I’ve been able to fully listen to a new album a few times, I’ve almost missed its sequel!

I thought I would share some of the new resources that I’m aware of, which I’ve found helpful either on a personal and/or ministry level.

Paul Baloche – Your Mercy
I’ve been listening to Paul Baloche since way before his “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord” days. Way back then, he had something resembling a mullet, wore really cool sweaters, and was already cranking out really singable and congregationally accessible songs. And somehow, while his look, sound, and ministry location has changed (from Texas to New York City), he’s still the same gifted and humble guy, and one of the most grounded worship leaders around. I’ve never met him, but I’ve long admired him. And I’ve really been enjoying his newest album, “Your Mercy”. The very first song, a musical setting of Psalm 92, is just so refreshing. And while I haven’t listened to the rest of it enough times to figure out which ones might work congregationally, I’ve been really blessed by the simplicity, creativity, and depth of the lyrics and musical arrangements. Well done, Paul.

Prestonwood Worship – Songs of the People
The last time I checked, Prestonwood Church in Plano, Texas has about 452,894 members. Give or take. It’s a mega-mega church, and their worship mnistry (led for the last year by another worship veteran Michael Neale) mixes band, choir, orchestra, singers, new songs, and old songs. And while they employ many of the mega-church worship elements that, if unchecked, might lend themselves to a culture of performancism, I’ve been impressed by their obvious heart to encourage congregational singing and participation, and to clearly exalt Jesus and proclaim the Gospel. Their new live album, “Songs of the People” is really good. I haven’t used any of the songs at my church yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 2 or 3 find their way into the rotation over the next year. Most worship leaders will agree that 2 or 3 usable songs off of a new worship album is an incredible feat. Some of my favorite songs are “Grace So Marvelous”, “Let the Redeemed” (I can’t WAIT to do this one at my church with choir and band), “Our Story Our Song”, and “Your Love is Our Favorite Song”.

Coresound Pads
A few weeks ago, I got an email from Mike McGraff at Coresound Pads asking me to check out their “Deluxe Bundle” (full disclosure: he gave me a free download). To be perfectly honest, I was a bit suspicious at first. What was the heart behind this product? What was the marketing like? Were these “pads” going to be treated like the perfect solution to any worship leading problem, the one-size-fits-all bandaid for dead space in a worship set, or a technological substitute for the Holy Spirit? Now that I’ve worked with these pads for a few weeks (granted, in my office, or underneath a few of the testimony videos we’ve created at my church), I’m very happy to report that the heart behind Coresound Pads really is simply to help worship leaders who want a pad sound, but either don’t have the personnel to play it, or the equipment to create it, or both. Their goal is simply to provide worship leaders/worship teams with high quality pad sounds (guitar sky, orchestral strings, organ drone, warm serene, subtle sweet, and rich sparkle), and their heart is in the right place. These are good sounding pads, and if you’re need of this sound for your services, then I would recommend you purchase them from Coresound Pads. If you buy either the standard bundle or deluxe bundle, you can use the promo code ESAVE10 and get $10.00 off your order.

The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams – Zac Hicks
worship-pastorZac Hicks is one smart dude. He’s a prolific writer, keen theologian, astute liturgist, thoughtful leader, skilled musician, and pastoral worship leader. We’ve struck up a friendship over the last several years, and I’ve benefited from his ministry. He has a new book out called The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams and after reading through the first chapter, I can enthusiastically say that Zac has done the Church a great service in the writing of this book. This book is not filled with fluff or filler. It’s wonderfully dense, footnoted, thought-through, carefully laid out, and a good mixture of philosophy, principles, practicalities, and pastoral precepts. A worship leader who reads this book will be a better worship leader because of it.

In God We Trust – Stephen Miller
stephen-millerStephen Miller is out with a new EP, and I’ve enjoyed having this on in my car and/or on some runs. Whenever I listen to Stephen’s music, he points me to the truth of who God is, and what God has done for me in Jesus Christ. His music is consistently rich in content, and refreshingly gospel-saturated. This EP has 4 songs on it (one of which also appears on the aforementioned live album from Prestonwood, where Stephen is now one of the worship pastors).

Facing a Task Unfinished – Keith and Kristyn Getty
GettyThis new album by the Gettys is full of wonderful, singable, congregational, theologically rich songs. At my church we’re singing “He Will Hold Me Fast” and it’s been one of the best additions to our repertoire in months. I hope to use “The Lord Is My Salvation” soon, and the new arrangement of “Let The Earth Resound” makes we want to give this older song a new turn at my church as well. The Gettys are always so reliably solid, and this album is no exception.

1000 Tongues – Vertical Church Band
frontiersFinding good upbeat songs is always a challenge for me. This new song from Vertical Church Band‘s new album has really gone well at my church. The recorded key of G sits a bit high in the chorus and bridge, so we’ve done it in F. It works as an opener or as a closer. I like it musically and lyrically. The second verse is particularly strong: “And we have found our anthem / At the cross where sin is slain / Gathered under one name / Where every chain is broken / And every sorrow swept away / Gathered under one name”. This a good upbeat song that’s singable, not too-full of clichés, Christ-centered, and fresh. It’s the strongest song on the album.

God’s Highway – Sandra McCracken
SandraLast on my list, but CERTAINLY not least, I’ve really enjoyed Sandra McCracken’s newest album, “God’s Highway”. This is a collection of deep, meaningful, thoughtful, and well-crafted songs. One of my favorite things about Sandra is her total lack of pretense. She is who she is. She sings and she writes from her heart. She doesn’t hide her songs behind complicated layers of over-arranging or over-production. The message of the songs is able to stand on its own. She points to Jesus, and she consistently and sweetly helps paint a picture of a faithful God who’s worthy of our praise and trust in every season.

The Basic Principle

1One of things that having kids will do to you is force you to distill complicated things into simple summaries. It seems like I’m having to constantly explain big ideas to my kids in very simple terms. It’s good for them, but it’s even better for me. It makes me think!

This quote from Allen Ross’s book Recalling the Hope of Glory. Biblical Worship From the Garden of Eden to The New Creation provides a similarly simple (yet profound) summary of the basic principle of worship, and how that impacts those of us who wear the title of “worship leader”:

He writes:

…The basic principle in Scripture is that all of God’s creation, everything that has life, must praise Him. But whatever is done must exalt the Lord in the eyes of the people, focus attention on him and not the performers, and communicate truth about the Lord and not conceal or confuse it.

In short, music used in worship must be accurate in its theology, glorifying to God, and prepared well, and it must minister to the needs of all the people.

To be properly worshipful, music used in the public assembly of Christian worship must be guided by the theology of praise with its paradigm in Holy Scripture.

I think this is helpful.

So even more basically, according to Ross:

1. All creation must praise God.
2. Whatever is done in the assembly of his people should exalt God.
3. The truth about God should be clear not concealed.
4. So we should prepare well.
5. Good theology keeps us focused on what matters most

The worship of the Church, and the job of worship leaders who serve the Church, is all about God, and all for the glory of God.

Let’s not ever take our eyes off of this simple truth!

Let Me Repeat Myself? – Part Two

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on why we repeat things when we’re singing. Simply put, the bible encourages it. 

But there is such a thing as too much repetition, and it can be a valid criticism that worship leaders repeat things too much.

So how do worship leaders know whether to repeat or not repeat? I’ll try to get very practical here:

1. Assume that once is enough
Your baseline for a song should be to sing through it once. Simple.

2. Repeat something that’s unfamiliar
One way to think about leading discerningly is this way: effective worship leaders have four antennae up the entire time they’re up front. One for the Holy Spirit’s leading, one for the musicians who are leading alongside, one for the congregation, and one for the pastor.

If your congregation antennae tells you that they didn’t quite get that first verse or that chorus (i.e. it’s still new or the lyrics weren’t up in time), then it’s probably a good idea to sing it again.

3. Repeat something that the Holy Spirit wants to drive home
Using your Holy Spirit antennae, as you’re singing through the song, be sensitive for his prodding and prompting. For me, this comes in the form of a gut-sense that the Holy Spirit wants to drive a particular point home that we didn’t fully grasp the first time.

For example, this past week at my church we were singing the Matt Maher song “Christ is Risen“. At our second service, when we got to the second verse and we sang the line “In strength You reign; forever, let your Church proclaim…” I had the sense that we should sing that line again. We hadn’t rehearsed it, we hadn’t repeated it at the first service, and I hadn’t ever repeated that line of the song before (and our church really likes that song, so we’ve sung it a bunch of times).

But I was pretty sure that the Holy Spirit was telling me that we should repeat that line a few times. And so we did, and the band followed right along, and the choir and congregation did too, and the lyrics operator kept those lyrics on the screen, and as we sang that statement three times in a row, there was a palpable sense of faith and celebration building in the room. It propelled us into the chorus as we continued singing “Christ is risen from the dead! Trampling over death by death!”

That little bit of repetition made a big difference. But on the other hand…

4. Be aware that too much repetition works against you
One time: baseline.
Two times: Can be helpful depending on the group.
Three times: You’re pushing it.
Four times: You’ve crossed the line (unless you’re in a Pentecostal church).
Five times: You’re in your own world. 
Six times: You’ll never be asked to lead worship at this church again.

Once you start repeating things, be aware that you have to gauge whether or not your repetition will be adding or subtracting from the effect you’re hoping to achieve. Effective repetition is an underline. Ineffective repetition is white out.

5. Be aware of your congregation’s and musicians’ comfort level
If your congregation isn’t used to repeating anything, use repetition sparingly. Same for your musicians. Gradually get them used to the idea with practice, and by repeating only what’s really important, to show them how it can be helpful.

6. Are they still hungry?
There are times my two-and-a-half year old daughter won’t eat anything. Sometimes it’s because, while she is hungry, she doesn’t realize how good the food on her plate is. But sometimes it’s because she’s actually not hungry.

When you’re leading a song, try to be aware if they’re still hungry or not. Sometimes by repeating something you can help them realize what they’re missing and then they’ll gobble it up. Other times, by repeating something, you’re trying to pry their mouths open and force it down.

7. Favor repeating objective truth over subjective responses
Think to yourself when you’re leading worship: is there anything we’ve sung that we’d benefit from reminding ourselves about again? By repeating the truth about who God is and what he’s done for us in Jesus Christ we allow “…the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly…” (Colossians 3:16).

And that really is the point of repetition – to let the word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts. It’s not to work people into a frenzy or a mindless state, but to help them grab hold of the glory of God by helping them sing with understanding.

Wisely – and discerningly – using repetition as a tool, worship leaders can pastorally point their congregations to the one who is worthy of unending praise. May our use of repetition point to Jesus as an underliner, a highlighter, and a spotlight.

Let Me Repeat Myself? – Part One

One universal criticism of contemporary worship songs and the flannel-shirted people who lead them is that there’s too much repetition. Close your eyes and you can hear the question being lobbed somewhere around the globe at this very minute: why do they sing the same thing over and over again? Isn’t once enough? 

It’s a good question, and very often it’s a valid criticism. There is such a thing as too much repetition, and there are times when singing something once is enough.

But the answer to the question “why do they sing the same thing over and over again?” might surprise some of the people who ask it.

I want to first lay out a biblical case for repetition. But then, recognizing that it’s tough to know how to do this well and easy to repeat way too much, I’ll share some thoughts on how worship leaders can do it effectively.

1. It’s encouraged by scripture
Psalm 136 has 26 verses. Every single verse, after proclaiming something God has done, repeats the line “for his steadfast love endures forever”. Looks like repetition to me.

Psalm 47:6 says: “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” If that wasn’t enough “sing praises”, verse 7 adds: “For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!” How monotonous!

When Jesus prayed to his Father in Gethsemane, we’re told that after he found his disciples sleeping again in Matthew 26:44, he “went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (emphasis mine).

Whether we’re praising or we’re praying, there are certainly numerous biblical examples of repeating the same words to God. Worship leaders use repetition as a tool to let important proclamations and/or petitions not just fly by without the intentionality they might warrant.

2. We don’t catch most things the first time
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, in chapter 4:4 he said: “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Why did he repeat himself? Because he wanted to make sure they knew the importance of what they were reading.

Paul did a similar thing in Galatians 6:11 when he’s closing the letter, takes over from the scribe, puts the pen in his own hand and writes: “see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand”. Why did he write with such large letters? To emphasize that what they were reading was a big deal.

Jesus did it in John 3:3 when he addresses Nicodemus with, “Truly, truly I say to you…” Why didn’t just one “truly” suffice? Because with a second “truly”, Jesus emphasizes that what he’s about to say is important. Effective repetition in worship does the same thing.

3. We’ll be doing it forever
In Revelation 4:8, we’re told that the four living creatures around the throne “…never cease to say…” “…day and night…” “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

And whenever they do that (i.e. all the time), the twenty four elders fall down, “cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…’”

If we’ll be singing the same thing over and over again in heaven, we should get used to it here on earth.

Tomorrow I’ll share some practical ways worship leaders can think about how and when to repeat – and how and when not to repeat.

All The Sheep Matter (And Have Names)

1As someone who’s constantly scheduling/recruiting/managing volunteers, I’ve been reminded (and amazed) recently by how much it means to people when you tell them that they matter. That you appreciate their gifts, you want them to contribute, you know they’re busy, their presence makes a difference, you really like it when they show up, and you know their name.

At my church we’ve been seriously pouring a lot of time and energy into our loving our choir, helping it to grow, and launching into the Fall with momentum, energy, and unity. A big part of that was hand-writing letters to over 65 people, some of whom had been singing in the choir for decades, and some of whom had only given it a try once in their lives (if ever).

And in the weeks since those letters hit people’s mailboxes, I’ve lost count of the number of folks who have said how much those notes meant to them. To actually receive a handwritten card – to them – that wasn’t just some sort of spammy, church-lingo, form letter, meant the world. One dear lady told me (in tears) how when she read my note that she “was a blessing”, she broke down in gratefulness.

I wonder how many of our volunteers are just hungry for some sort of pastoral connection, however sporadically, by someone in church leadership, that shows that we know their names, we appreciate them, we value their contributions, and we are blessed by their gifts. I think for some people it helps them go from feeling like they’re filling a slot, to actually being a part of a body.

Now don’t get me wrong: we have a long way to go at my church, and this isn’t some sort of pat on the back for having “arrived” at our destination with our volunteers. We have a lot of work, and loving, and recruiting, and community-building still to do. I’m an introvert, I have three kids, and I’m constantly juggling different responsibilities and initiatives like everyone else. Personally, I’m trying to grow in this area, and these last few weeks have reminded me of the fruit that can come from taking the time to tell people they are loved and they matter.

For those of us in any ministry position where it’s up to us to schedule, recruit, or manage volunteers, we have an important lesson from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. The sheep matter to Him, and so they should know that they matter to us too.

Persevering Through Seasons of Ministry Discouragement


1I had just been presented with yet another list of my shortcomings as a worship leader when I drove home, brutally discouraged, and extremely confused. The house was empty, no one was home, and I knew I was in bad shape. What in the world had just happened? How in the world could I keep this ministry thing going?

In that moment of despair, it was almost as if God screamed at me: “Open the Bible to James chapter 1”.

And so I did. And I read:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
(James 1:2-12 ESV)

And just like that, God taught me some crucial lessons.

First, trials are good for me. They’re good for me because they drive me to have greater faith in Jesus. They grow me up – not in self-confidence – but in Christ-confidence. So I can persevere through discouraging trials and tests, because they have a purpose, which is to cause me to throw myself on Jesus even more. This increases my effectiveness in ministry by about 1,000%.

Second, God will give me wisdom. God doesn’t offer a fast-pass, a short cut, or a detour around turbulence. But he promises wisdom when I ask in faith, and he will guide me through, as a God who gives generously. So I can continue to walk ahead, even when it’s actually quite miserable, because I am not on my own. This is not all riding on my shoulders, my giftedness, my leadership prowess, and my navigational skills. I am following my Captain, my Lord, my King, my Ruler, my Guardian, and my Defender. I will not survive in ministry because I am good at it. I will survive in ministry because God is good at it, and he tells me what to do so he can use me.

Third, humility is the quality that will result in ministry longevity. Pride will inevitably lead to a withering of my fruit. It’s an unavoidable result of pride that can’t be ignored. But through disappointment, trials, tests, and even humiliation, God is keeping the soil of my heart more fertile, and more aware of its need for God. So, as counter-intuitive as it is, I can be grateful to God when he humbles me, however and whenever he chooses. It must mean I need it.

Finally, I have to keep the big picture in mind. My ultimate home is not a plum ministry position. My ultimate home is heaven. And until I am home, I will experience times of encouragement, and times of discouragement. I will be presented with affirmation, and I will be presented with lists of my shortcomings. And through it all, my faith is in Jesus, my wisdom comes from him and his word, and my job is to exalt him whether I’m comfortable or not. One day I will receive the crown of life, and on that day, and not a day sooner, all discouragement will cease.

Pressing On, Feeding God’s Sheep

dryYou’ve been a worship leader at your church for nine months now. When you took the job you had high hopes for your new ministry. You really clicked with the pastor and some of the search committee members. You had a deep peace that God was leading you to move to this new city and take on a new challenge. And you knew it would be a challenge. The worship team was a mess, the congregation was opinionated, the sound system was laughable, the song repertoire was weak, the drummer couldn’t keep time, and the previous worship leader had quit after six months. You were comfortable where you were but took this new job out of obedience to God.

Nine months later and it’s been more challenging than you could have imagined. You’re frustrated with your pastor. A few members of the worship team have stepped down and been vocal in their criticism of you. You look out on Sunday morning and it doesn’t look any one wants to be singing any of the songs you’ve chosen. Whenever you try to introduce a new song people ask why you “sing so many new songs”. You sit in your office during the week and feel like you’re trapped in a bad dream. You visit other churches or attend worship conferences and leave more discouraged and weary because you can’t imagine your own church ever looking like that.

Am I even all that good of a worship leader? What am I doing wrong? Was that person right when he quit the worship team and called me an egotistical control freak? Did I make a mistake taking this job? Would anyone care if I just slept in on Sunday and watched football? How amazing would it feel to tell my pastor “I quit”?

You’re confused, burned out, beaten up, angry, and disappointed. Your body is in church on Sundays but your mind has already packed up and moved away. It’s a lost cause. You’ve come to the realization that you’re not cut out to be a worship leader, the church you’ve been serving for two years will never change, and you made a mistake ever taking the job.

Don’t give up, worship leader friend. Press on.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! (Psalm 126:5)

You are in the thick of real-life church ministry. It can be discouraging, tedious, boring, low-paying, and dry. But your labor is not in vain. Every day you are able to drive to that church and serve those people, buy your drummer a cup of coffee and then head back to church and practice with him, talk with your pastor, and get up on Sundays with a desire to help people encounter God in corporate worship, you are making the soil more fertile. One drop at a time. You didn’t make a mistake taking this job, you might have just made a mistake thinking it would be easy. It won’t be easy. But if you’re faithful, it will be fruitful. You will reap that fruit one day.

You are doing the hard work a worship leader. It isn’t glamorous. Your worship team won’t be recording an album anytime soon but you love them and encourage them anyway. Your congregation won’t suddenly look like the crowd at the worship conference you attended but you model and encourage heartfelt singing anyway. Your pastor won’t be speaking at any huge conferences next week or writing any books but you honor and pray for him anyway. Your Sunday service is a bit boring and predictable but you keep praying for God to bring a freshness and vibrancy. There isn’t a worship leader in the world who can change a church through his polish and skill. There is a God who can change a church by his Holy Spirit. Keep doing the hard work in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So you’ve been sowing in tears for nine months. You can’t even imagine what shouts of joy would sound like. You’ve worked hard, labored faithfully, and done all that you know there is to do. Your high hope has become deep despair.

To the worship leader ready to quit and walk away in retreat, imagine the story in John chapter 21 went like this:

Jesus says to you, “worship leader, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

He says to you: “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus says to you a second time, “worship leader, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

He says to you: “Tend my sheep.”

Jesus says to you a third time, “worship leader, do you love me?”

“Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”

He says to you: “Feed my sheep.”

Press on, worship leader friend. May your love for the Savior compel you, and may the power of the Spirit sustain you. Your tearful sowing will one day turn to joyful shouting. Don’t stop feeding his sheep.